Saturday, January 16, 2016

It's Not a Race to the White House. It's a Walk.

"You are more powerful than the most powerful rich man or the biggest corporation. Because when you go to a voter's door, that's the most powerful thing that happens in politics. People fast forward through the TV ads, but a volunteer at their front door is galvanizing. Someone cared enough about this candidate to walk up and down the streets pounding on doors! No TV ad can touch that for impact on a voter. Think about it. When was the last time a volunteer came to your door in a political campaign?"...... Quoting from another of my postings and backed up below by the NY Times.
"Neighborhood canvassing is the least glamorous of political jobs, especially in an Iowa winter. But it is also the only personal link most voters have with a candidate, and research shows it to be the most effective way to motivate them.".......NY Times  January 21, 2016

I learned this in 1968 when I was the first woman to ever run a political campaign in California, perhaps in the nation. I knew nothing, but it was a heavily GOP district so the Democratic party people didn't care who did anything about this Congressional primary race. Strangely enough a well-financed think tank guy jumped into the Democratic primary against us, complete with a paid campaign manager and a public relations/publicity firm.

I only had the help of some United Auto Workers who showed up to walk precincts in the heavily Democratic percents.

Against all odds, we won the primary. I got copies of the election results in the individual precincts, and there was the answer to this seeming miracle. Where we had walked the precincts, we won. Where we didn't, we lost. The precinct were side by side and identical demographically. The only factor accounting for wins and losses was precinct walking. I coud take no credit for the result but my reputation was made. No one thought to credit the precinct work. Because the old-time Democrats had got lazy and ignored doing any precinct work. Or maybe they didn't want to say that's what had done it because then they would have to start using precinct work too. The simple truth is that if you have a good precinct effort, you don't need all that money and paid advertising.

PhotThe race for the presidency is not a race at all. Like all political campaigns it is really a walk. A walk by volunteers through the neighborhhoods. We now wait to see if Bernie Sanders has as big a volunteer effort in Iowa as his crowds and polling numbers would seemingly promise. If his volunteer effort in the precincts of Iowa is a flop, that's probably it for Bernie. He will have been beaten, though not by Hillary's war chest.The great American myth is that political campaigns are won by money. They are not. They are won by volunteers walking door to door, voters lists in hand, identifying a candidate's supporters, and then getting them out to vote on election dayThis effort can beat any amount of money

I learned this when I ran my first campaign in 1968, on behalf of the first Japanese American ever to run for federal office on the mainland. He was a Democrat running in a Republican district. I learned, of course, that it's virtually impossible to beat a Republican in a GOP district. Thus the party old-timers had been secretly happy to let a minority person run in that district and a woman manage the campaign, unwittingly making me the first woman to ever manage a campaign in California.  But that orphaned campaign taught me how to win elections and do it without money.The chief learning occurred in the primary. We won though grossly outspent by our rival Democrat, including heavy advertising. So after the primary I looked at the results precinct by precinct. Where we had walked, we won. Where we had not walked, we lost. Happily we walked enough precincts to win. But we didn't walk them all. The precincts in that district were demographically identical and lay side by side in the same subdivision.  Walk a precinct = win it. Not walk a precinct = lose it.We were grossly outspentWrite that big on your walls! You won't find it written anywhere else.
So why doesn't everybody in politics shout this to the skies?  Because no one in politics, except Bernie Sanders, wants to admit that the super-pacs and obscene amounts of campaign money aren't necessary. What is needed is people. Volunteers. (Paid workers do a poor job walking the precincts.) You need a little bit of money, hopefully raised locally with raffles, passing the hat at picnics, silent auctions. When the volunteers raise the money themselves, it's their campaign and they will work their tails off. You just need enough to rent a modest little HQ to call a home, put in a landline or two. Get the list of voters for each precinct that has a substantial percentage of Democrats. A few activities to keep people revved up. Some "work" to do at the HQ like painting signs, or phoning from their cells or homes. Or contacting everyone they can think of on the internet. Or waving signs at roadsides. You'll need some pin money for campaign pins which you then sell at the HQ for more than you paid so as to finance other stuff. Same with bumper stickers. There should be coffee and donuts in the HQ in the mornings; pizza after the Saturday precinct walks. P.S. All your printed material including the pins should carry a union shop insignia.

The whole thing should be cozy and fun. It should be like a community. Americans have very little community life, and in a political campaign they can have the joy of a community activity. They'll love it so much that some actually cry tears when we close an HQ after an election.

So does this kind of campaign work beyond local races like the Congressional one I ran in 1968?  It sure does. In 1980 I was a county co-chair for Ted Kennedy in the Democratic presidential primary against Jimmy Carter. We beat Carter handily in the precincts we walked and lost in the ones we didn't. Fortunately we had enough volunteers to cover our huge territory except for one small corner. We thus helped get a large number of Kennedy delegates on the California delegation to the national convention.

In Iowa we will find out who has the "ground game", i.e. the volunteer precinct workers. In fact, Iowa is a grueling test of that. Getting people to vote is one thing; getting them to go to a caucus on a cold winter's eve in Iowa is much harder.

Does Bernie have the ground game to match his soaring popularity? Or is he another Howard Dean, whose manager in 2004 apparently didn't know precinct work or didn't want to bother. That manager spent over $40 million, a huge sum in those day.  It was all gone right after Iowa, gone just as the primary season was starting. Unconscionable. Nonetheless, the campaign manager had just done what lots of modern campaign managers or "consultants" do. He blew the wad on advertising and other non-ground game stuff.

Why do these "professionals" require tons of money in campaigns? And virtually ignore the cheap-o ground game? First of all, they want their salaries paid. Second, they usually don't like working with volunteers. They don't know how to get people to pull together without the power to hire and fire them. (At the same time they won't admit that paid workers typically don't do the actual walking but just take the money and run. Or are lackluster at it because money doesn't buy their hearts.)

These managers/consultants also want to have the big bucks to buy lots of advertising as a way of lining their own pockets even beyond salary. Ads cost a lot, especially on TV, and the paid staffers placing them (or the agencies doing it) get a percentage of the ad-buy on top of their salary. That's typically a ten or fifteen percent fee. If it's ten percent of $20 milion that's $2 million, a lot of whipped cream on top of the salary.

And what good does all that advertising do? Not much. It can take an unknown — usually in a very local campaign — and make her name known. That will get votes. But it doesn't take a lot of advertising to get a name known on a local level because the territory is small. On a state or national level, the name should get known through publicity about the candidate, what she's done, what's she's doing, and what she says she will do. A good publicity person can do far more than paid ads can because the news still has more credibility than paid ads do. Thus Donald Trump has bought virtually no ads but is so good at getting news coverage that he's had a virtual free ride to the GOP top spot.

Does anybody even watch the political ads? People hate them. Hasn't the current political world heard about fast-forward?

Why do the candidates put up with this money game? Either they don't know any better, or they're scared to break out of this box, or they want their own cut. How do they get a cut? Easy. The candidate sells out to the fat cats for the big bucks and belongs to them ever after, but the fat cats also belong to the candidate.They are going to be very sure that he is taken care of the rest of his life. Big speaking fees, paid trips, seats on board of directors, low cost loans. You get the idea. It's like the spy game. Take care of your agents or you won't get any more.You want to be sure your politican stays bought and stays happy forever.

So how does this big money thing get fixed?

You fix it

That's what Bernie Sanders is telling you. It gets fixed by lots of us putting up the bucks ourselves. Just $10 or $20 apiece can pay the rent for those little HQs and buy that pizza. And we also have to do the precinct work and get-out-the vote.  Give about 8 or ten hours in an election year, thereby wiping out the big money campaigns and making it a better country for you and your children.

You are more powerful than the most powerful rich man or the biggest corporation. Because when you go to a voter's door, that's the most powerful thing that happens in politics. People fast forward through the TV ads, but a volunteer at their front doors is galvanizing. Someone cared enough about this candidate to walk up and down the streets pounding on doors! No TV ad can touch that for impact on a voter. Think about it. When was the last time a volunteer came to your door in a political campaign?

Now the question is: How many of Bernie's supporters will go to doors in Iowa for him and drag those voters to those caucuses?

We shall see. In less than two weeks.

Footnote: That 1968 orphan campaign produced some happy results even though we lost in the general to the larger GOP registration. Among the results was a major change in federal law to prohibit mass detention without due process. Because the candidate I was helping was a Japanese American, the campaign also inspired the Japanese American community to rise, thereby getting an apology from their own American government and reparations for their internment in WWII. The '68 campaign also produced one hundred housing units for migrant farm workers. A lot of winning for having lost!

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