The Ground Game
Sat Oct 21, 2006 at 03:50:19 PM PDT
cross-posted at Deny My Freedom)
As some of you may or may not know, I did some canvassing for the now-Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate in Connecticut, Ned Lamont, this summer. A lot of sweat, sore feet, and time went into what many thought was an impossible feat only 6 months ago: defeating Senator Joe Lieberman (now of the Connecticut for Lieberman party), a one-time vice presidential nominee for the Democratic Party and a 'very popular' senator from the Nutmeg State. No one gave Ned a chance. Hell, most of us probably just wanted to send a message to Lieberman about his outright disloyalty to the Democratic Party. But dreams sometimes have a strange way of becoming reality, and on August 8, we shocked the world by doing what supposedly couldn't be done, by succeeding when failure was supposedly the only outcome.
Recently, though, many of us have been worried about recent polling that has shown Lamont falling behind by double digits. This week is my school's fall break, so while I was back in New York to relax, I decided to make the trip back to Connecticut to see firsthand if all the hand-wringing that's been occurring in the blogosphere is justified.
Unlike the primary, the office in the 4th Congressional District no longer sits above a fast-food restaurant at one of the most visible intersections in Norwalk. Instead, it's now in East Norwalk, probably a mile or so down the road and over an inlet from the Long Island Sound. The office is certainly much larger than the old one was, and it probably comes in handy when there's a lot of people in the office. To say the least, there is no longer the need to have to create the kind of fire hazards that were in abundance the final days before the primary in August. I'm not sure whether I would've taken the bigger office over the excellent location and visibility that the campaign had with the previous location, but I think the idea was to house the entire Democratic ticket in one building (the offices for CT-Gov Democratic candidate John DeStefano and CT-04 Democratic candidate Diane Farrell are also at the same location). There's also a new district coordinator; the previous one, Ryan McLeod, had to leave because of law school. That's one thing in particular that I noticed; the staffers during the summer had been predominantly college students (even some in high school were staffers), but nowadays, they're a little bit older. That being said, the new coordinator is someone who should be familiar to the blogosphere. In addition, Senator Russ Feingold's PAC, the Progressive Patriots Fund, has some people in Connecticut helping out in the state. Just to get it out of the way, I did ask them if they had any idea whether or not Feingold will be running for president. Unfortunately, their guess is as good as yours or mine right now.
Today was a big day of action for the campaign. During the primary, I was regularly tasked to canvass Lieberman's hometown, Stamford, but today I stayed in Norwalk to canvass what, in my best estimation, is a lower-working class neighborhood. To my chagrin, I forgot to charge the battery for my camera before heading out, giving me only one picture before it became nonfunctional, so I can't really describe it too well without the visual aid. I'd like to allay some of the fears that some folks are having about volunteers. 3 weekends before the primary election in August, I would say that we probably had 10 people - at most - canvassing in the entire district (if I recall correctly, the actual number was slightly less). Today, we had several times more than that amount burning shoe leather for Ned. In other words, don't get deflated just because the poll numbers don't look so great. There are more people than ever volunteering their asses off to win this election, and no one believes it's over yet. That being said, I did speak to the volunteers I canvassed with, and they were a little concerned about what the recent numbers have been showing. It's definitely in people's minds, but it's not something worth dwelling over. Boots on the grounds win elections, not moping around because of what one of the great pundits of Connecticut polling has been saying.
Per the usual for canvassing on a Saturday afternoon, there were a great many people who were not home. You haven't experienced a true autumn day until you spend a day like today in New England - cool weather, but not too cold, with a forceful breeze blowing the leaves off the trees. Nevertheless, to say the least, it was a fine day to spend outside the house. As I've noted in several past canvassing experiences, whether it be in Connecticut or in Pennsylvania, one thing the Democratic Party could do better with its database is to include apartment numbers when we encounter multifamily residences and apartment buildings. Time is money, and every moment spent trying to figure out who lives where is a moment that could be spent knocking on a door that we definitely know belongs to who we're targeting. That's a problem that is probably difficult to rectify in the near future (e.g. this election), but I hope it will be addressed as the party continues to be rebuilt from the ground up. In a future entry, I will elaborate more on what I think are the best targeting strategies for our ground game.
The good news is that I met some voters who were the kind of Democrats that we all like: straight-ticket Democrats. Given Lieberman's awful ballot position, it makes it less likely that Democratic - and Republican, which matter the most to Lieberman - voters will bother trying to find his name. It's an ironic twist, I think, that the same 'low-information voter' strategy that the Lieberman campaign attempted to employ during the primary will once again come back to hurt them in the general election, albeit it in a different way. Others I spoke to were too busy to have a chat, so I instead left them with literature about the entire Democratic ticket, all the way down to the races for the state legislature. One elderly woman I spoke to was particularly puzzling. She said she hadn't made up her mind about who she was going to vote for, and it was clear that she was weary of all the television advertising that's been occurring in the run-up to the election. Despite it all, she said she's voted consistently in the past. That being said, as soon as I mentioned that I was canvassing for Lamont, she became a bit distressed and said 'No' repeatedly. It was a bit of a surprise, to say the least, and I thanked her for her time and quickly departed. I'm still not sure what would incite that particular reaction, but it wasn't the greatest way to finish up the day.
One person in particular, though, is worth recounting. He had finished cleaning his lawn of fallen leaves when I spoke to him about the upcoming election. Although he didn't know who he would be supporting in the Senate or in the local races, he did say that he was going to vote for Republican incumbent Gov. Jodi Rell, and that he was leaning towards voting for GOP Rep. Christopher Shays as well. "She's done an outstanding job," he said, even though she hardly has any substance to her. Since I'm not as familiar with Connecticut-specific issues (aside from the omnipresent traffic on I-95), I sat down at his request on his house's steps and made the pitch about Ned - obviously, I mentioned Iraq, but I also discussed other issues on his platform, such as universal health care and making sure that small businesses stayed competitive. I noted that Lieberman has been a staunch supporter of the Iraqi conflict, and he has no other plan than to stay the course - which is not a plan but an exercise in intellectual laziness. He seemed to understand, and I left him with some literature and walked off to hit the next house on my list. "So you're for this guy Lamont," he called out. He asked me for more details about how exactly we'd get out of Iraq. I noted that Lamont wanted to get out within a specific time period using a phased withdrawal, not just literally pick up and leave. There's a clear difference between that sensible plan and what Lieberman believes in, which is doing nothing to change the status quo. The man nodded, and I thanked him for his time. My canvassing partners discovered the same thing with the people they talked to as well. They weren't as interested about the economy or health care or the environment. Every time, the main issue that came up was Iraq. I know that the campaign understandably needs to broaden its platform for a general election, but in the end, the core issue that is on the minds of voters is the bloody civil war of our creation that we are stuck in the middle of. Iraq as an issue still has a lot of life left; if you look at the recent polling that shows Lieberman ahead, it's clear that a majority of Connecticut voters are not in favor of our direction in the country. It needs to be hammered home repeatedly until Election Day that Lieberman and George W. Bush are of the same mind when it comes to the war.
p[When I returned to the office, there were still several teams out canvassing, even though the sun was beginning to set. It's a good sign that there are so many more volunteers now than there had been during the primary. Furthermore, it should be a message to all of you that this is not over, not by a long shot. One of my canvassing partners - he's been volunteering his time with the campaign mostly during the general election - noted that he has not yet seen any ground activity from Lieberman's campaign. The junior senator probably thinks he can coast on his 'golden' name alone. We proved him wrong in the primary. With all of your help, let's prove him wrong again in the general election.
Forget the polling. This election is going to go on turnout. Lieberman has no one to get his people to the polls. No way of knowing who needs to go to the polls, no way of canvassing which neigborhoods would be receptive to street teams. His first act should have been to get a field team in place. Because on election day, Lamont will blanket the streets and Lieberman will be invisible.
Remember, his middle of the road voters are not activists, they don't do causes. Which is why the GOP goes to the fundies, because they pound the streets.
Lieberman may get enough votes to win, but it looks worse than it does in the polls. Because the GOP pulled out their close wins by turnout.
posted by Steve @ 12:23:00 AM