Since I got back from Maine yesterday, I've been thinking about a few topics- tactics for achieving LGBT marriage equality; how progressive allies organize and operated around elections this year; and where we go from here. This is a piece analyzing some of the successes and failures in operations around the election. Part 2 is here.
1. The No On 1 campaign and LGBT allies. I spent several months working with the campaign and their online operation, including the final few weeks on the ground. I thought the campaign's operations were stellar. The decision-making process was streamlined, our ads were great, the online team and allies who joined us was honed, the fundraising gave us the resources we needed (second-highest total for a ballot initiative in Maine ever), the organizing and donation of resources from allied LGBT organizations was solid, the external organizing of Maine surrogates and supportive religious groups was good.
More than a few people I talked to in or allied with the campaign on the ground expressed problems with the field model- valuing door knocks over contacts; insisting that fundraising as part of a field script continue late in the game despite the fact that we were in amazing shape financially and losing volunteers who were unwilling to fundraise; and a number of other issues. One external allied partner who did field in Prop 8- which, by all accounts, had close to zero effective field operations- were working with the campaign in Maine as well, which may have been a mistake. I was told by one field expert that if turnout is below 45%, we're screwed; if we break turnout above 45%, we're in better shape; and if it's above 55%, they're screwed. Turnout was at 58.5%- a state record for an odd-year election. And we still lost. In two consecutive ballot elections on marriage we've fallen short in part because of field, and that is something serious that needs to be addressed.
2. Undecided voters. I can't give specific numbers, but there was an expectation on the ground that undecideds, which were a significant chunk in polling, would break our way. They ended up almost all breaking towards the Yes side. Whether it was because of our own version of the "Bradley effect" is unclear, but it was a factor.
3. Tunnel vision by progressive allies. I have to say first that the netroots, including you, were incredibly supportive, and I can never thank you and others around the blogosphere enough. There are too many folks to thank.
That said, working in Portland running on no sleep on Monday, the following infuriated me:
(a) A moneybomb for Alan Grayson was launched on Monday, the day before the election (yes, I'm aware OpenLeft participated). Not only was over $500,000 raised for it at the same time as we were frantically raising to counter an opposition media buy, it took up space on other blogs where others could have urged people to GOTV in Maine, and clogged inboxes while we were trying to ask for GOTV help in Maine. Folks will say that they also posted asks for Maine or other races, but they know full well people do not have time to read every single blog post or devote time or money towards every single e-mail blast, and this was not timed well.
(b) Also on Monday, I got an e-mail from the DSCC asking me to give money to "support our Democratic majority". Last I checked, our Democratic majority is being voted on in 365 days. My election was the next day. Which is a higher priority?
(c) Also on Monday, Organizing For America clogged my inbox on Monday with an e-mail titled "Remember" asking me to- get this- "share a brief story about your best memory of the final days of the campaign" in some sort of one-year anniversary celebration. This is the best use of activists' time and attention the day before an election?
I'm not saying these elements would have made the difference between a win and a loss, but online activists do not have a bottomless pit of money and time and attention, and they could have been better used. The "we can walk and chew gum at the same time" only works if there is enough gum to go around. That's the same stupid rationale that gave us the National Equality March, another suck of people's time and money in a limited resource environment. There is no reason- none- why any of these e-mails could not have been launched on Wednesday, Nov. 4th. In fact, that might have made for better returns. "Last night, progressives got hammered across the country. Contribute to Grayson/the DSCC/OFA to make sure we don't lose key races in 2010".
4. Organizing For America/Obama refusing to help to the point of sucking away resources. In the following ways:
(a) As John Aravosis reported, OFA did a GOTV blast on Monday. Without asking supporters to vote No On 1. But they asked New Jersey voters to support Corzine and Virginia voters to support Deeds. What would a No ask have cost them? Obama already came out against the measure.
(b) Following that, I got back to my supporter housing on Monday night to be told by Alison, who was hosting me, that she received an e-mail asking her to call five voters in not Maine, but New Jersey, which John later reported on AMERICABlog. She's lived in Maine for 17 years and was a prominent local activist. Another person came forward to say they received the same e-mail. OFA refused to comment.
(c) The DNC contributed $25,000 to No On 8 last year. Stonewall Democrats asked them to contribute to No On 1. They refused. As we were doing a frantic fundraiser to up our media buy on Monday- with a goal of, you guessed it, $25,000- it occurred to me it would have been nice to have had that money from them. Nope. Zero.
(d) When asked its position on the initiative, the White House earlier issued issued a tepid, vanilla, "discrimination always sucks" statement without mentioning the words "Maine" "No" "Question 1" or anything that would, you know, actually influence Obama fans in Maine to vote No or support the campaign in a tangible way. What would such a statement have cost him?
The failure of the OFA and Obama to stand up for LGBT families here is just stunning. No, OFA, I will not be sending in my favorite memory of working my ass off to elect an Administration that barely lays a finger to help us win our own elections one year later. Thanks for nothing.
A lot of people are chiding to not do finger-pointing and laying blame. But there is a difference between blame and asking for better performance. This is not a "progressive allies/bad field/OFA/Obama lost the election for us" piece. I don't believe that they did. But I do think better actions could have been taken. We need to learn from our mistakes, debate strategy in places like OpenLeft, and do better next time in the areas where it's possible.