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August 03, 2005


so we can target Dem congressional districts with soft money, but to target Dems house-by-house we need hard money. What is the level of resolution when it switches? The question probably is irrelevant if one thinks in terms of funding tv broadcast ads, but if one thinks in terms of organizing house parties, organizing block-by-block, it could matter.

Thanks for the helpful breakdown, I otherwise would have assumed ideology not technical rules on finance had been what set ACT apart (and in turn were responsible in part for its breakup).

As a general rule for GOTV that I've been involved in for candidates (where the issue wasn't about funding sources but simply efficiency, as in does it make sense to put a door hanger with the Dem candidates on every door in a neighborhood), the cut-off point is usually 65% Dem performance and higher. That way, your random selection is probably going to be 2 to 1 Dems over Republicans. Anything under 65%, and certainly anything under 60%, you're starting to get into some vague territory. As to the level of resolution where it switches, the best you probably have is the precinct level. Here in Michigan, there are plenty of places where you would want to do GOTV and go after just about everyone in a neighborhood/precinct to help out statewide candidates even though the area is within a strongly Republican congressional district (such as Grand Rapids, Lansing, Muskegon, Benton Harbor, Kalamazoo and Pontiac). Between those six cities, there are probably more than a couple hundred precincts where it would make sense to do ACT-like work, even though the CD is pretty strongly Republican. But in each of those cities (except Benton Harbor) there are places that are Republican enough that you wouldn't want to do anything except GOTV/persuasion that's highly targeted down to the household.

I think there are many fallacies built into the ACT strategy. First off, I don't think you can build party identification and consistent voting behavior around that identity without connecting it up to specific candidates.

My own solution to "who does the ground game" is to build up local groups with the proper competencies, and then attach these to local candidates who understand that they have to work with them on behalf of the whole ticket.

One group that works with this approach is Wellstone Action -- and it is a total non-profit (not a 527) that focuses on training -- candidates yes, but also campaign managers and local GOTV coordinators. In 2004 they had any number of trainees who worked with state legislative races (defeating at least 20 Republicans) with each GOTV effort specifically designed for the district. Part of the training is about how to strategically match tactics with the demographics of particular districts. It is the theory of shifting the tools down to the most local level possible.

Evaluation of ACT's work in 2004 needs to also look at it from the bottom up. I've heard just too many reports of poor quality work done by students and other workers paid 8 dollars an hour that ended up having to be re-done. Voter Registeration cards, for instance, not completely filled out, requiring someone to go back and have them completed. If this is done by a local candidate with volunteers (and I am a strong advocate of providing Gourmet food for your volunteers) -- you get much better quality control.

Sara: I don't think it's an either/or situation. Most of the places ACT worked there aren't competetive general election races, so there's no candidate-based GOTV that's going to happen. I can assure you that if in Detroit, for instance, we relied on the state legislators or even Conyers and Kilpatrick to deliver the vote, no vote would be delivered.

Now, because in Michigan labor is so strong (compared to the rest of the country except probably NY, AK and HI), they've covered us relatively well (especially in SE Michigan). But in few states is labor as engaged in GOTV as they are here, so there's a big void unless somebody else steps in. ACT did that very well, as the results show.

As for the quality control, I agree. In some places it was very good, others less so. Considering it was the first campaign cycle, I would consider this to be "lessons learned for the future," were there to be a future for the organization.

I agree with Sara.

One of the enduring questions of 2004 is how and why so much money and idealism was used so "vaguely."

we just don't really know the impact...(and I get the feeling K/E didn't really either)...

of the massive ACT drives, of the cell phone calling, of the double and triple contacting of voters, of the "failed registrations", how the "netroots" money impacted the campaign.

On the ground level in Oakland....2000 was focused on Oakland, with volunteer power and people working "in community." We all got mixed together, but it was a smaller operation using old fashioned techniques.

In 2004, the activism level was HUGE, but we were split in smaller groups...with many activists simply going out of state, many folks doing ALL their activism from private homes or cell phone banks that were not close to public transportation. Downtown was still the HQ....but even downtown had a different vibe, with large numbers of young kids doing paid work in an office down the hall...and volunteers coming in off the street and sitting on the floor.

My feeling, in retrospect is that for folks who did all their activism at cell phone banks in more well-to-do settings is that this was a true loss for us. We lost a chance at building a connection between Democratic activists across race and class lines here in the East Bay in a year when folks were truly energized.

We need to bust down what happened in 2004. So thank you DHinMI for this essay.

My feeling. We need everyone in the same room. "Salon cell phone banking" is a huge mistake for the long haul. And low paid volunteers were, at least to me, unimpressive in the extreme.

And, yeah, food is really important. Downtown Oakland would ship in Pizza for the paid kids....and somehow it would end up coming right past all the hungry volunteers in our separate room. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.

What I mean by food for volunteers is decidedly not a Pizza delivery. I mean real food that says, We love you, and we very much appreciate what you are doing.

So -- food for the ground game. If it is still warm (August-Sept voter registeration door knocks) you serve a thick cold soup -- Gazpacho made from field ripened tomatoes from the local farmer's market -- or cold leek and potato soup. With it you offer home made bread, cut thick, with either herbed butter or a cheese spread. You have home made desserts, with waters, soft drinks, and a reasonable wine available. And yes, coffee and teas. If it is later in the fall, and colder outside, then you offer a home made vegetable soup served hot and I like to serve it with hot corn bread -- but you can also do the home made bread idea. In the fall you always have hot cider as one of your beverages. There are lots of people who cannot door knock but who will make a soup. Use their skills as part of your volunteer effort. If your volunteers leave the event feeling well fed, they will come back again and again.

I agree, in Michigan it might be appropriate to ground a GOTV effort in the Labor Movement -- but I would also take on Conyers as to why he is not building a political community. I do know why -- most incumbants in safe seats actually feel threatened by such. I live in such a district too -- in fact my Congressman got the largest margin in the nation in 2004 -- but we still force him to show up for door knocks, by making him a co-sponsor of many of them.

Here in Minnesota we do have a reward built into our political system that encourages elected officials at the local level to actively campaign and develop campaign organizations. It's small, but the number of delegate slots to future conventions representing your district is based on a formula that rewards DFL turn out in the last three elections. By having more delegate slots, you have more weight in the selection of state wide candidates, and the make up of delegations to national conventions. This is a small thing, but it can be done within party rules (in fact the DNC encourages it), and it is the party activists who benefit.

Doing GOTV work is one crucial area where you can connect "the party" and the "elected officials" with movements that are independent of party. It doesn't happen automatically however, you have to organize it.

DH, I've always admired your commentary, and not just cause it has often been the most accurate analysis of ACT.

As one of the 28 people whose paychecks will stop coming at the end of the month, I'd just like to point people to these results we've made public:

While they're not the most specific numbers, I can assure you there is more internal research which backs up the overwhelming effect that ACT had. The numbers don't lie. When you take our universe of targets, keep meticuolous details over how and when they are contacted, and then match that back to county data showing who voted, you find that our universe of voters turned out to vote. And while our targets varied in many places, many of them were infrequent voters, just the kind of people you have to work to turn out. And this is even more important in off-year elections like 06.

The other thing people underestimate is the benefits to the entire progressive community which came from ACT's early efforts. By the time unions were ready to committ members, and volunteers ready to knock on doors, state plans had been put in place, repeated direct mail dropped, vans rented, voter files cleaned and ready to use, offices staffed, paid canvasses operating, and all the other nuts and bolts which have to happen before you can do GOTV. We were up and running in every state by I believe March.

By no means was everything perfect, but where ACT focused, getting the vote out in Dem districts, ACT performed a valuable service that will be sorely missed and can't just be duplicated by local parties or the grassroots.

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