(I'm cross posting this from The Pennsylvania Progressive)
Barack Obama campaigned for President on the message of Change. Many changes were necessary amidst the failed policies of the Bush White House. The country was going in the wrong direction and we were in a major economic collapse. As President Barack Obama has made many changes, most for the good. One, however, was bad. He replaced Gov. Howard Dean as Chair of the DNC and appointed Tim Kaine who immediately dismissed the 183 DNC field organizers and terminated the 50 State Strategy. That concept is failing and, as a consequence, Democrats are suddenly losing elections. For four years under Howard Dean the Democratic National Committee funded a 50 state strategy which paid for DNC field organizers on the ground in every state. These organizers built local and county organizations which assisted candidates at every level. What happened and how do Democrats turn things around?
The program was officially called the State Partnership Project. The various state parties hired field staff who were paid and trained by the DNC. A high ranking party official with whom I spoke praised the program highly because it gave each state the independence to do what it needed: "we knew what was best in our state." The result was exciting as true grassroots organizing improved the Democratic Party from the precinct level up. This Blue Jersey story provides a glimpse. A Democratic activist and labor leader tells me this about how the program worked in his state:
I loved the 50 State Strategy rhetorically, strategically, politically. The SPP was a godsend -- and electorally really effective (we retained a governorship, won a swing Congressional seat, and took over the majority in both houses of our legislative in the 4 years we had the SPP). I raised about $120,000 for the DNC on my good word that the SPP and the 50SS were crucial.
It is a goddam shame that Tim Kaine, David Axelrod, and Rahm Emmanuel, three guys who probably don't agree upon much, were able to all but kill off the SPP and 50SS.
This is the sentiment I received from people all across the country as I researched this article. What happened?
There's been a lot of analysis about why Democrats lost the Massachusetts Senate race, because it was so obvious. Failing to accomplish what you campaigned on depresses your base, emboldens the enemy and convinces independents that you're a loser. The lesson is not that Democrats went "too far" - but that they didn't go far enough. If I had faith in President Obama and the Democratic Party, I would be hopeful that they learned that lesson. But only one person seems to get it - former DNC Chair Howard Dean - who was unceremoniously kicked to the curb last January. It was Dean who gave Democrats a backbone in the run-up to the Iraq War. It was Howard Dean's "Fifty State Strategy" (as opposed to Rahm Emanuel's recruitment of Blue Dogs) that won Congress in 2006. And it was Dean's playbook that Barack Obama used to beat Hillary Clinton in an historic campaign. Beltway Democrats resent Dean, because he cares more about helping progressives win than stroking their ego. And - what's most unforgivable - he's been proven right.
Nancy Keenan, head of the national NARAL group (and most obedient of the obedient losers) was apparently personally promised before the health care battle by the Obama administration that they would look after the organization's constituency interests in the health care bill and preserve the status quo. In return, NARAL was asked to stand down its activism.
They did. So with all their colleagues, they got caught with their pants down when a floor vote on the Stupak amendment was imminent.
Today, I got a press release from the DNC, and their Organizing For America project, on their plan to drum up more support for the health care reform bill: targeting Republicans.
It says nothing about women's healthcare. Nothing. Like it isn't even at issue. OFA is still watching NARAL's back, women's backs, as well as they always have.
OFA is crowing about the 500,000 phone calls they've prompted on the health care issue. Were any of them centered around preserving reproductive health care when it mattered? Ha! As Femlaw says at the link, "The idea is to build organizational capacity, so when really critical moments in the campaign happened, OFA could deliver huge numbers."
Targeting Republicans is critical. Encouraging Democrats to stand together for women's health and rights, not critical.
Whee, Joseph Cao voted for the House bill! Too bad it contains the worst blow to women's rights in a generation, while Obama and his pet DNC's reactions continue to be tepid.
(Psst - Did you know that women are supposed to not only get a yearly physical through their family doctor, but have a separate ob-gyn well woman checkup every year from puberty onwards? That's where they check for cervical cancer, look for signs of domestic or sexual abuse, etc. You know, little stuff, but we're supposed to get it checked. Well, neither Obama, nor Congress, nor the DNC seems to know that nor cares. Medical care that all adult women are supposed to get every year won't be going in the required benefits package and there has been no organizing around it.)
The WhiteHouse.gov homepage says nothing about any of this right now. Their women's page says only this:
John Aravosis has the story. Here's a leaked e-mail from Andy Tobias, DNC Treasurer, to donors:
1. An email went out asking activists to make calls to New Jersey. It was insensitive not to omit Mainers from that email. I apologize that no one thought to do that. I can't imagine it could have cost No On One even a dozen votes, but I still wish someone would have thought of this in time to catch it. Mistake noted.
2. A different email went out to Mainers urging them to vote. As the only thing of substance anyone was voting on in Maine was Question One, and as Democratic activists vote our way, this was a small but positive effort to be helpful.
I would have liked to see that email discuss No One One directly, in case there may have been an email-enabled Organizing for America activist someplace in Maine who did NOT know where Maine Democrats stood on this issue. (Out of the country without Internet access until the night before the election?) But I'm told there was concern that advocating specifically for a ballot initiative, whether LGBT or otherwise, would set a precedent for every other ballot initiative. Bureaucracies are nervous about setting precedents.
So a couple of things:
John was in Maine with me the last couple of days, and I spoke with him while all this was going on and he was getting responses from the DNC. We now know that the DNC official either deliberately lied or misled John to squash the story, or the DNC official hastily and stupidly spoke to him without the later facts (that it was a glitch). Either way, it's fucked up.
I spoke with another DNC official today after my piece on the OFA's fuckups/refusals to help, and that official told me "Some Mainers inadvertently got the email, but it was not sent to our Maine list." I was also told that this was a "glitch", and the quote above confirms that. Okay, one might think, a glitch is your system has a few people with the wrong zip codes in them, so they get a blast meant for someone else. Whoops. Fine. That's not actually what happened. What happened, per Tobias' e-mail, is the DNC did a large e-mail blast on this, and wanted to make sure Mainers didn't get that e-mail, for fear that the gays might find out and ask, how come we didn't get this kind of help?
It's kind of like being forwarded a party invite the host doesn't want you to come to, and when you show up, everyone gets silent and it's a-w-k-w-a-r-d. The party, in this case, was electoral help, and OFA wanted to make sure people didn't find out it was being grossly insensitive by not extending an invitation to the gays in Maine. Awesome.
Andy Tobias needs a serious date with electoral organizing reality. He wrote of the insensitivity, "I can't imagine it could have cost No On One even a dozen votes". Just like the White House saying "but but but we invite them to conference calls!" over the "internet left fringe" comment, this misses the point by a mile, and belies a misunderstanding of how campaigns work.
The point is that mobilizing Maine OFA members could have done wonders for the campaign. If Maine OFA members had been mobilized to canvass, give, phonebank, and other activities at different points in the campaign, then we absolutely would have picked up well over a dozen votes. I remember going to Arlington, VA to volunteer the weekend before Election Day 2008. They turned me away because they had more volunteers than they needed. In Maine, there were canvass sites on the weekend before Election Day that did not have enough volunteers in them.
I personally know both of the leaders at DriveforEquality and TravelforChange, who worked insane hours to collect donated airline miles, set up ActBlue donation pages, and coordinate logistics of hotel rooms, rides, etc. to get volunteers from other states into Maine. People wouldn't have had to take time off work and spend money to travel to a corner of the nation if OFA mobilized Mainers to help in their own state. They didn't.
Andy seems to mock LGBT complaints in his #3 point by saying it would have been nice to ask Mainers to vote No "in case there may have been an email-enabled Organizing for America activist someplace in Maine who did NOT know where Maine Democrats stood on this issue. (Out of the country without Internet access until the night before the election?)"
Again, Andy, you're missing the point. One of the biggest priorities for this campaign in an off-year election was turning out young voters, and that was no secret. Lots of OFA activists are young people. I've organized GOTV for young people in 2004 at my alma mater. Young people don't vote just because they know where Maine Dems stand on the issue or they get a bland OFA e-mail reminding them to vote. College students vote after you've given them 25 reasons to, dorm-stormed, called them, set up voter reg tables in the student union, set up shuttle buses to polling places (which the No On 1 campaign did at UM-Orono), have Dave Matthews Band perform at their campus to encourage voting, and basically drag them kicking and screaming to do it. If you want to win campaigns, you have to mobilize people, not just send them an e-mail and pat yourself on the back.
So rolling your eyes and saying "but OFA activists knew where Maine Dems stood on the issue anyway, and we sent them an e-mail, so what's all the fuss about" is irresponsible.
The "concern" that getting involved in ballot initiatives would force them to get involved in every initiative is false. As John pointed out, the DNC sent $25,000 to the No On 8 campaign in CA. President Carter came out against the Briggs Initiative in 1978. I'm sure there are more examples of the party getting involved in ballotland. And what's more, we're talking about an e-mail here, people. Not multiple campaign stops, which Obama gave Corzine and Deeds. Not vast organizing on a grand scale. E-mails.
It is getting harder and harder to give LGBT people a good reason to actively support this Administration and the DNC. I, for one, would like to see an apology from the DNC over all this.
I present to you, The Doctor's Option (transcript for the video-impaired below the fold):
This is our video for Organizing for America and the Democratic National Committee's Health Reform Video Challenge. Written/Produced/Directed by Will Urquhart and Mitch Malasky. Starring Yvette Lewis and Dr. Joann Urquhart, MD. A special thanks to David Hart for helping to make this video happen.
If you enjoy this, please go to the video, rate it/comment on it/favorite it and share, share, share. The more attention it gets, the more likely OFA/DNC will pick it for the 20 finalists.
As the author of a book on the history of the American political debate, this new ad out by the DNC makes me laugh very hard. I make the point in The Progressive Revolution that all the Republican ideas and rhetoric are the same ideas and rhetoric conservatives have been serving up for 230 years, but it's increasingly obvious that not only are their ideas and rhetoric really old, but their actual leaders and spokespeople are really old as well.
In recent front page entries on OpenLeft like We Must Stop Raising Money For Blue Dogs Chris Bowers and others have done a great job of discussing mistakes being made and where the focus should be in general terms. I chipped in a late comment No No No on that particular post that I've heard myself saying a lot over the past two years.
In real terms, RIGHT NOW there are two primaries that have one obvious choice for real Democrats - Virginia's 2009 Gubernatorial primary and Florida's 2010 Senate Primary - both open seat races in bluing states.
Another story we have been following on Open Left is the fate of the fifty-state strategy now that Howard Dean will no longer be DNC Chair. During the festivities here in D.C., I ran into a source close to the transition at the DNC who was able to provide an update on the new outlines of the DNC strategy, which does diverge from the current form of the fifty-state strategy in multiple ways:
Increasing Centralization: The shift in resources away from paid media and toward on the ground organizers will continue. However, these resources will be more directly controlled by the DNC itself, rather than by state parties. In other words, the SPP program where the DNC pays for organizers chosen by the state parties themselves is, as previously reported, done. Instead, the DNC will likely hire and assign organizers themselves. State party grants will also likely be transformed into more centrally directed expenditures by the DNC.
More swing state, less fifty-state: Many, if not most, states will have more resources spent on them during the next four years than during the previous four years. In addition to increasingly centralized control over how these resources are spent, there will also be a return to a swing-state focus for 2012. However, it is important to keep in mind that the Obama campaign's version of a swing state strategy was broader than either the Gore or Kerry incarnations.
In short, the DNC will be moving away from the long-term, decentralized, fifty-state strategy of Howard Dean's tenure, and toward serving as a short-term, centralized re-election effort for President Obama in 2012. It will continue the move away from paid media ushered in by Howard Dean, maintain or increase the amount of resource expenditures in most states, and the number of states it targets will be a broader effort than the narrow focus we saw in 2001-2004 (but more narrow than 2005-2008). However, it will return to the traditional role of the DNC as a supplement for the sitting President's re-election campaign, rather than as the long-term, localized institution building operation that is was from 2005-2008.
The fifty-state strategy of 2005-2008 is going to be replaced with the "re-elect President Obama" strategy of 2009-2012. Both have their advantages, but I still consider firing the 200 state party organizers a real blow to the long-term development of local Democratic Party talent and infrastructure.
I've been meaning to write about this since I heard the leak, but I wanted to wait till it was official. After all, seeing what Barack had to say, what the Committee members had to say, and most importantly, what Tim Kaine had to say, was going to give a lot of context to the replacement. Blue Leader was right to expect that I'd have a lot to say, but even though I have an explosive temper and no fear of running my mouth, I do have a little bit of patience. Anyway, since the bourbon's out of the bottle, we may as well drink up. With the appointment of Kaine to the DNC, I am still upset that Dean is without a job, if it's not to be Dean at the DNC, I am cautiously optimistic that Kaine will do a good job.
I have mixed to positive feelings about Dean's tenure at the DNC, and now the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza is asking where Dean will end up. But it's important to recognize Dean's power base, which Cillizza gets wrong.
And, in early 2005, when Dean made clear he was running for the DNC chairmanship, many members of the permanent political class in Washington searched desperately for an alternative -- only to be overwhelmed by Dean's loyal following among the netroots...
Dean is beloved as a prophet by the blogosphere and derided as a flash-in-the-pan by many within the party establishment.
Dean's power base was never the netroots (though there were strong alliances), it was disaffected state party chairs and eventually, certain local Democratic elites in red states that had been starved of party resources. During the race to become party chair, 'the netroots' got zero votes; the fight was over how funding was allocated, and Dean's campaign to push cash to the state parties was very popular among the state parties who got the money. It sounded like a good strategy, but I also haven't seen a lot of evidence one way or the other as to whether it worked. Obama by and large built his own network, and there were robust party and external groups working in 2006 and 2008.
Over the last two weeks, I have written about how roughly 200 organizers whose salaries were paid for by the DNC, but who were chosen by, and embedded in, state Democratic parties, were laid off. These 200 organizers formed the bedrock of the fifty-state strategy, which was the cornerstone of Howard Dean's tenure as DNC chair. The fifty state strategy had the following basic differences from earlier DNC regimes:
Distribute national party funds evenly to states based on their size, rather than based on their value as swing states in presidential or congressional campaigns. This is designed to build up the party nationally and over the long-term, rather than on a temporary basis for each election.
Through direct grants to state parties, shift the location of party resources toward the states rather than Washington, D.C. This is designed to give a more local focus to the Democratic Party, and allow local parties to become more effective.
Through the 200 organizers chosen by and embedded in state parties, provide an increased emphasis on field organizing at the expense of paid media. This takes power away from Democratic media consultants, and also invests in the development Democratic political professional talent.
That's the basic idea, at least as I have always understood and supported it. Over an entire four-year cycle, it is a superior use of resources than hoarding cash for paid media in swing states during the final few months of the presidential elections. It is also smart politically, since state parties hold a large number of votes in the DNC.
Naturally, it was extremely disturbing to hear that the 200 organizers in the state party program were being laid off. While I did not participate in the numerous conference calls Howard Dean held today, I did receive a written response from the DNC in regards to the only question I would have asked him:
Chris: I couldn't make the call, sorry about missing it. However, is there a new statement from the DNC on the future of the 50 state strategy, and word on what will happen to the organizers in the SPP [state party program]?
DNC: There's no indication officially about the 50 state strategy, though Obama's people seem very committed to it and want to keep it going and all the signs are encouraging.
The SPP staffers contracts run out at the end of the month and we're being helpful to people who are SPP staffers who are communicating with us or looking to come to Washington, though they all have picked up a lot of skill sets and it's the best time to look for work in Democratic politics in my lifetime. After the new chairs come in, early next month some may likely pick up the staffers as part of their team or restart the SPP part of the program.
That is all I wanted to know. It is true that this is a time when a lot of people in Democratic politics will be looking and able to switch jobs. It also does seem possible that the full fifty-state strategy, or some variation thereof, will be restarted early next year when the new chair or chairs come in. However, I would disagree that all sign are encouraging. While rhetoric favoring the fifty-state strategy is both easy and politically necessary to make these days, ending the contracts of the staffers in the SPP program points instead to an almost certain termination, or at least re-organization, of that aspect of the fifty-state strategy.
I will keep an open mind, since the strategy will probably live on in at least some truncated form. The first few weeks and months of the new DNC administration will be very interesting, and important, to watch. Losing the fifty-state strategy would be a major step backward for Democrats.
Everyone at the DNC remains very dedicated to the SPP and the SPP staffers who made up the success of the 50 state strategy over the past four years. When the program was first adopted in early 2005, an MOU was signed with the state parties that concludes at the end of this month. This date made sense since it corresponded to the end of the election cycle and was in conjunction with upcoming elections for some of the state party chairs. It was always important that as state parties began the new election cycle they had an opportunity to review what worked, and build upon the earlier infrastructure and hard efforts of those that preceded them. I am sure as the new team arrives at the dnc they will have an appreciation for this program and would like to see it continued.
However, I also obtained part of the email that was sent to the 200 organizers who were fired. Here is the relevant graph:
"Because of your efforts and hard work, last night we made history on November 4. Barack Obama is the President Elect and the world, as we know it, is forever changed. This is a bitter-sweet moment because this great victory comes at the end of our SPP program, which was funded only through November 30. Therefore, this memo explains your final paycheck and the transition from the program."
In a follow-up email, I asked the source the following:
Do you think "transition" means a new job, or is it corporate speak for "you're fired?"
The source replied "you're fired." More in the extended entry.
Former Vermont governor Howard Dean, who rose to national prominence during a failed bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, will not seek a second term as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, clearing the way for a loyalist of President-elect Barack Obama to be named to the soon to be vacant post.(...)
"At this point he has said that he doesn't intend to run again," said a DNC source granted anonymity in order to speak candidly. "He has said so publicly for a while. He has not said what he will do next."
And, confirming earlier reports, the nearly 200 locally based organizers who form the core of the fifty-state strategy have all been fired (more in the extended entry):
Of the most recent general election polling, the only one not showing a decent lead for Obama is that CNN/Opinion Research poll which has him only up by 1 point, 49-48 and had the race tied at 47 the week before.
But that same poll also asked for impressions about the parties, and the results are much more encouraging:
"Next, we'd like to get your overall opinion of some people in the news. As I read each name, please say if you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of these people -- or if you have never heard of them. The Democratic Party."
Almost 60% of the country approves of the Democratic party. As I noted back in June, candidates should clearly and repeatedly embrace the "Democratic" label. It is a winner. For the good news on that other party's numbers, come inside: