Keep It Going Tom

Earlier this year the Democratic National Committee (DNC) elected a new Chair in a hotly contested election pitting two factions of the Party against each other. The victor (by a small margin) was former Labor Secretary Tom Perez who represented the more establishment wing of the Party. His rival, who he wisely included in the new power structure, was Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison who represented the more progressive wing that thought policy first, feasibility and implementation second. It was to a great degree the Obama-Clintons people versus the Sanders people. Out of that bad start we appear to have gotten a good result. Let’s explore.  

The healing started almost immediately because of Perez’s move to reach out to the defeated by embracing Ellison. I did not take a position during the contest. Philosophically I am in the Bernie camp; from a strategy standpoint I am much more in the Obama-Clintons camp. If I had been a DNC member I probably would have ended up voting for Ellison who I hope lands in Al Franken’s seat in January of 2019. That being said, both the blame and the credit end up going to the person in charge which currently is Perez.

Under Perez’s leadership (with the significant involvement of Ellison) the Democrats have scored three significant statewide victories: Phil Murphy in New Jersey, Ralph Northam in Virginia and Doug Jones in Alabama. New Jersey is a blue state and the outgoing Republican Governor Chris Christie is incredibly unpopular so that win was to be expected; the only thing the DNC had to do was not mess it up. Virginia is a purple state and Northam was not exactly an awe inspiring candidate. I liken Jones’ victory to a basketball team going into an opposing gym where the home team is a twenty point favorite and coming out with a two point upset victory; that is a quality win any way you slice it!

I do not like to read too much into a special election win. Those elections are always unique and don’t always portend the future. However, when you look at the common factors in the three, particularly Virginia and Alabama, I see a controllable pattern emerging.

Under Perez the DNC is concentrating on providing resources to state, and to a lesser degree, local Parties. They are more likely to send in supplies and trainer/mentor people along with data then to make a huge advertising buy. In other words the national Party will provide the resources and research but the local Party will supply the local knowledge and bulk of the bodies. To me that is the optimal blend of the new and the old. Local and state parties often do not have the money, expertise and/or resources to provide the “infrastructure” of a ground operation, but they know the turf and are in the best position to recruit and supply the “troops”.

I am a huge believer in data, but it is only useful if there are “ground troops” to knock on doors and make phone calls. I believe in old fashioned campaigning and believe the key to turnout is actually asking people for their vote, shaking their hand, petting their dogs and kissing their babies.

Robocalls (which give you incredible bang for your buck), television, internet and radio ads are great but they will never replace human contact. In some elections Democrats will actually have more money than Republicans but overall we will be on the short end of that stick and cannot win an “air war”.

In reality Jones should have never been able to win in Alabama. On Election Day morning if you had forced me to make a prediction it would have been a narrow Moore victory. An unsung hero was Republican Senator Richard Shelby who said he had cast a write-in vote. That made it OK for Alabama Republicans to follow suit and enough of them did to allow Jones to win by about 1.5%.

As in most close elections turnout was the difference and that can be enticed by a great ground game. The Democrats worked hard and the African-American turnout exceeded the 2008 turnout for Barack Obama. On the other side Moore ran almost a stealth campaign and Bubba underperformed by sitting home in large enough numbers to allow Jones to win.

One of my themes this year is for the coalition that will vote Democratic to concentrate on the things they can control, like turnout, and not complain about the things they cannot control, at least in the near term.

Years ago I had an old football coach tell me that no matter how much the game changed it still boiled down to blocking and tackling. Politics still boils down to getting your people to the polls.

It has become my practice to take the end of the year off from writing. Therefore today’s article was written well before publishing.

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