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Saturday, August 04, 2018


Others have aspirations
We have an operation

from #NN18 in New Orleans

As progressives, our first instinct is to think or our way out of the wilderness. Or technology our way out. Or message our way out. But elections are not just contests of ideas. They are contests of skills. To win, we need to perfect our slider, retool our backswing, and practice exploding off the blocks. Visualization alone won't do it. Election Day is a little late to start working on strength and technique.

A quick story for local party volunteers. You all know these guys. They show up at your headquarters every presidential election. You’ve never seen them before, don’t know their names. All they want is a yard sign or a bumper sticker.

But while they wait at our place, they see sign packages lined up along the walls, labeled and staged to go out. They see boxes of sample ballots bundled for Election Day. A parking lot full of cars. Volunteers arriving for a phone bank. People hustling up and down the hallway.

Occasionally, these people who are never going to knock a door or pick up a phone – unprompted – reach into their pockets, pull out a checkbook and ask, Who do I make the check out to? And leave $100.

Because they can see with their own eyes our team has got it going on. And they don’t even know what It is. But it smells like napalm in the morning. It smells … like victory. And they want a piece of that.

So do volunteers. That's why ours keep coming back and contributing money. Because we don't just have aspirations. We have an operation. That inspires confidence and builds esprit de corps. We're not even a campaign. We're a local Democratic committee providing logistical support for three dozen campaigns across the county. Honestly, a couple staffers from the local Clinton 2016 office who had lost faith in their program came to work after hours with us.

Just over a year ago, I started placing a link to For The Win, my get-out-the-vote planning primer, at the bottom of my morning posts. This is a particularly wonky project no one else seems interested in pursuing, but it means to address a chronic infrastructure gap. It's a "lead a horse" effort. This is nuts-and-bolts, supply and logistics so basic nobody thinks it important enough to train. Creating and distributing sample ballots. Recruiting, training, and supplying electioneers for dozens of polling stations. Coordinating manpower and logistics for dozens of local, state, and national campaigns. It's not sexy, just vital.

Progressives by nature immerse themselves in issues, policy, and candidates. When they first engage in party politics, we expect we can dance before we can crawl. We want to engage in an ideological contest of ideas. but what we lack starting out are basic skills. We want to drive the car. Now. We're not interested in how to build one from parts. We want to do all the sexy stuff before we can put our pants on one leg at a time and tie our shoelaces, in that order.

If you're like me, you learned whatever you know about GOTV mechanics by the seat of your pants over multiple election cycles, and when you left what you knew left with you, and the next generation began again from scratch.

Sadly, that's still the way most people learn — from those around them. Problem is, if those around them know little, that's what they learn. Many local committees don't do more because they don't know what more looks like. If you live in a more rural county, odds are the governor's race isn't setting up shop out there. Barack Obama isn't parachuting in a team from Michigan Ave. to show you how a high-energy, months-long campaign operation runs. This cannot stand. That learning curve has to shorten. It's good to be right. It's better to be good, too.

For The Win is not messaging or strategy or targeting or canvassing or fundraising — things campaigns can and should do for themselves — or precinct organizing state parties teach every year. I'm trying to teach under-resourced and less-experienced counties the raw mechanics, the nuts-and-bolts no one teaches for coordinating a countywide effort to elect all their candidates. It's about tasks that supplement, not duplicate, what candidates and their campaigns are already doing. It's about how to make them happen with little money and minimal computer skills. In fact, I de-emphasize "techy" answers many retirees (often a county's volunteer base) will struggle to master. Basic Office software can do a lot.

A lot of planning goes into a county committee's election operation, things like appointing election judges that by law (here anyway) go through the party infrastructure. As I wrote the other day, affiliated groups getting people to promise to vote is terrific. Once they arrive, convincing them to vote for all the down-ballot candidates they've never heard of (school board, for example) builds a party's farm team for state legislative and federal offices. Recruiting and supporting down-ballot candidates and point-of-sale electioneering for important ballot initiatives (and state judges, where applicable) has to happen in 3,141 counties. And it doesn't happen on its own. It takes planning, mechanics, and logistics.

An experienced election protection attorney from Boston was in our headquarters on GOTV Weekend in 2014. On Election Day, he walks up three hours before the polls close and says, "I've never seen an operation like this." Now, we're exporting it.

With so many post-2016 activists facing their first-ever general election, For The Win may help bring them up to speed fast. Democrats need more than good candidates and money this fall. They need county-level teams with "game."

We've touched 2,300 counties in 48 states and given webinars for dozens of NC counties. Over 1,000 have downloaded For The Win since last August.

Winning starts with a plan. So does fundraising.

* * * * * * * * *

For The Win 2018 is ready for download. Request a copy of my county-level election mechanics primer at tom.bluecentury at gmail.