Sunday, August 26, 2007

Impressions of the DNC Summit

let's win in november 2008! that's the rallying cry from the dnc summit. people from all over the country, including the illinois democratic party co-chair, state rep. constance howard, and state senator iris martinez (both of chicago) attended. howard moderated the session on election protection.

three presidential candidates showed up. bill richardson, who had a heavy contingent among nevada participants (i'd guess that they were evenly divided between bill richardson and hillary clinton), made an appearance on thursday, speaking to the full session and then hosting two events, including one aimed at hispanics. mike gravel spoke to the opening session on friday. and dennis kucinich made an unscheduled stop in on friday, as well. he gave his standard stump speech to the friday morning session and then dropped in on the breakout groups as well.

the other candidates had a heavy presence and several hosted special events. hillary had a table up for the first two days and "nevadans for hillary" hosted a reception friday night. former mayor wellington webb from denver (host to the dnc convention) was the featured speaker on her behalf (as well as state senator and minority leader dina titus). obama and edwards were well-represented. both biden and dodd had tables, with dodd having someone there. i thought it was interesting that you could only buy hillary swag (this was true at yearlykos as well) but obama stickers and posters were free here (unlike yearlykos).

events like this are classicly part-cheerleading (go team!), part training (or indoctrination) and part sales pitch. just like at yearlykos, the dnc is touting their partybuilder and votebuilder tools. as some of us were aware, the party just held an intensive training for their 154 (155?) spp field staff in cleveland, and gave each of them a goal of finding 150 "jeromes" or precinct level activists in their region in the next five months. (each of these "jeromes" will then be asked to find three more volunteers in their precincts.)

these "jeromes" will be given access to votebuilder (or van) in their precincts, and they will be asked to identify their friends and neighbors. the list they see will be weeded of known hard-core republicans, whether from primary participation or other indicators (ie, contributors to rnc, club for growth, etc). so the list they will be choosing from (and given) will be dems, independents and soft partisans. after they've picked their friends and neighbors, if they didn't reach the 50 voter goal -- which it's not expected that people would -- they will be assigned other voters so that they are basically responsible for contacting 50 voters from now on.

"jeromes" will be expected to have 7 personal contacts with each person in their voter universe, whether it's a knock on their door (i'd think this appropriate for the first and last contacts) or a postcard or phone call. so it's a manageable request for a volunteer over the next 450+ days -- 350 instances of some form of personal contact with people in your neighborhood.

that sounds great, but there's more! the dnc is very proud of their partybuilder tools that allow you to individualize your message to your voter universe. you can make your own flyers, etc. using their templates, including the ability to put in your own logo and contact information. your creation will go through a summary approval process, to insure that dnc generated materials are on message, but they will be your own -- if you want.

the final element of this program was that "jeromes" would be responsible for their voter universe on election day, making sure that their democratic voters (the assumption or hope seemed to be that all their voters would be democratic voters) turned out to vote. this aspect was much more vague, and needs to be expanded upon, but the election is more than a year away.

what was made more explicit this time (in contrast to yearlykos) was their desire to reach out to bloggers and get them activated in the streets. now we know that 75+% of democratic bloggers have been active in political activity for democratic candidates, but that was ill-defined. their hope is to get bloggers into this ongoing project of reaching out to voters in their physical community, taking the energy that they show online to the streets. at yearlykos, some aspect of online outreach was discussed as well, but that was not presented in las vegas.

what was much more obvious this time is that they are thinking about accountability. the emphasis on metrics was clear at yearlykos, as well, but i didn't get the sense there that "jeromes" would be guided by -- and accountable to -- their field coordinator. this will be good, because no matter how many experienced "jeromes" there are, there will always be some who have never done this before, or suddenly get busy (or move) -- people who would get lost to the campaign before election day, when the campaign was counting on them the most. now if the dnc meets their own goals, with each of their 150 spp field staff recruiting 150 "jeromes" and those "jeromes" recruiting another three volunteers in their precincts, that's 90,000 dnc volunteers that they (the dnc) can turn over to the nominee to compliment the nominee's volunteer base and field program.

that's impressive. and while you can be impressed by the massive task that the dnc has taken on, a little comparison is appropriate. in 2004, the bush campaign had 164,000 volunteers participating in their neighbor-to-neighbor program in ohio alone. but it's not only a good start, it's an early start. republicans had 98% of those volunteers by the summer of 2004. they started early (actually they started in 2001). this is a big first step for democrats, because it realizes that competitive elections are won and lost on election day, and that gotv doesn't start two weeks out. gotv is the culmination of your field program and even if more money is spent on the air war, it's the ground game that makes a difference.

this basically reverses the 25+ year trend where democrats relied on media to turn out their vote. this works -- as long as democrats put republicans away before october. but it's not decisive in close elections. and the intense partisan climate of both the democratic and republican electorate means that we are locked into close elections for the time being.

in the end, it depends on you. it depends on all of us. the dnc, thanks greatly to howard dean's 50 state strategy, is planning ahead. it may be the first time ever. but they are reaching out to us, and we need to respond...

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