You can't win if you don't show up to play
by Tom Sullivan
Troublesome Gap is not just a place uphill from our farmhouse. It's the hole in Democrats' grassroots training. Candidates and campaign staff? There are multi-day seminars for them. At the precinct-level? State parties each year run new recruits through basic training: precinct organizing, canvassing, pulling lists from the voter file.
Fine. But now you've volunteered to run the county committee. My county is 660 sq. mi., 193,000 registered voters, with 2-1/2 weeks of early voting at 20 sites, 80 precincts on Election Day this fall, and maybe three dozen Democrats on the ballot. As chair, what is your job? Ask precincts to organize harder?
After For The Win rolled out in 2018, a woman emailed to say she'd never gotten off her couch before Donald Trump's election. A year later, she was party chair in a red county in a purple state and faced with organizing her first get-out-the-vote effort ... ever. The people she replaced left her with nothing. Her district chair was incommunicado. The state party wouldn't return her calls. I was the first person from the Democratic Party to offer her help to do her job.
That fall, I asked the former mayor of a major American city why so many Democratic committees across his state could not muster so much as a free Facebook page. Oh, they have them, the mayor said, brushing away the question. The aide standing off his shoulder lowered his eyes and shook his head, no.
There's that troublesome gap. Democrats out there have no "game." Other than learning by the seat of your pants over multiple election cycles, there is no training on how to coordinate GOTV efforts across an entire county. Well, almost none.
Gov. Howard Dean hoped to address that gap with his 50-state plan.
“We’re going to be in places where the Democratic Party hasn’t been in 25 years. If you don’t show up in 60 percent of the country, you don’t win, and that’s not going to happen anymore,” Dean, then DNC chair, told the New York Times. He meant to grow the party out of the boom-and-bust adolescence of presidential years and maybe build some enduring infrastructure. His plan did not survive Barack Obama's election.
Democrats lose in places they haven't been in (now well over) 25 years because training county leadership how to elect a full slate of local officials ... who become state officials ... who become federal officials ... is in no one's mission statement and no one's budget. National Democrats put money behind federal candidates. Candidates put theirs behind themselves. For state parties with limited bandwidth and budget, it's all they can do to manage precinct training.
County activists outside major cities must fend for themselves with minimal resources. They don't know what they don't know, and it's not their fault. "You can't be it if you don't see it," a community organizer told Netroots Nation last summer in Philadelphia. Out where the big campaigns don't go, locals never see how it's done. So, I'm showing them.
For The Win (3rd Ed.) is now on its way to as many county committees as have any digital footprint. There are roughly 3,200 counties or county equivalents in the 50 states, the territories, and the District. It's not a large market, and an under-resourced one. That's why For The Win is free. (I accept donations.) From planning to poll greeting, sample ballots to rides to the polls, the primer is field-tested to help even the smallest counties assemble a high-energy GOTV program with little money and limited computer skills. Because that's where most county committees are. No strategy, no messaging, no targeting. This is not a manual. It's a cookbook.
After them, I contact district and statewide candidates in key states. They have a vested interest in getting themselves elected. They need ground support and have leverage I don't with county committees. This is a census year. State legislatures are at stake and U.S. Senate seats. Texas and Wisconsin will get special attention.
Activists in Idaho wrote after 2018 to say they won two state legislative seats Democrats had never held. "Your book inspired us to get started in 2018 ... best Dem turnout in a decade," said someone on my digital tools webinar on Sunday. An activist in southeast Alaska wrote to ask about the update. There are many more users in Florida. It's enough to keep going.
For recipients reluctant to click a download link from someone they don't know (I wouldn't), this cycle I've launched a website where they can request the guide.
You can't win if you don't show up to play. You can't compete if you don't have game.
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For The Win, 3rd Edition is ready for download. Request a copy of my free countywide election mechanics guide at ForTheWin.us. This is what winning looks like.