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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Matt Compton

Running for Legislator as a Geek

(Note: This item is cross-posted from the site of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee).
It’s not easy being a first-time candidate running against an incumbent. Especially if you are a Democrat campaigning in Kansas. To be successful, you need to have something going for you — even if that’s just the drive to outwork your opponent every day.
But it really does pay to be smart.
Sean Tevis is an information architect from Olathe, Kansas. He’s running against Rep. Arlen Siegfreid, a deeply conservative Republican (even by Sunflower State standards), and apparently, he’s got polling showing him running three points back.
He’s also a geek.
Faced with the challenge of raising the $26,000 it will take to make this stage of the race competitive, Tevis found a brilliant, clever way to tell his story and in doing so has captured the imagination of a certain part of the Internet.
Writing in the style of xkcd (a web comic read by the geekiest of geeks), Tevis laid out his reasons for running and asked for 3,000 people to contribute $8.34 to his campaign. And then the Internets responded.
His appeal was picked up by BoingBoing — an incredibly popular geek culture blog — and promoted thousands of times by news aggregators Digg and Reddit. All the traffic overwhelmed the servers hosting his website, but the donations kept pouring in.
By 9:30 on Monday morning, 5,298 people had given to his campaign. Previously (as Tevis notes in his comic), no state rep campaign in Kansas had ever attracted even 650 donors, and more remarkable still, Tevis lives in a district where just 6,327 people voted in the last election.
Obviously the specifics of Tevis’; story can’t necessarily be repeated (no way that every candidate will be able to finance her campaign with a clever comic strip), but there’s a whole lot to be said for his creativity.
This is the Internet — a place where leaders can connect with thousands of passionate potential supporters…if the campaign can find a way to stand out.

Refusing to Honor Senator No

On Monday, North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley ordered all flags at government agencies throughout the state to be flow at half staff in honor of former Sen. Jesse Helms, and L.F. Eason III — a laboratory manager in the state Department of Agriculture — refused to comply with the directive at the facility he supervised.
His superiors then gave him a choice: Eason could change his mind or he could retire from the only job he’d ever held, effective immediately. Eason chose to resign:

The brouhaha began late Sunday night, when Eason e-mailed eight of his employees in the state standards lab, which calibrates measuring equipment used on things as widely varied as gasoline and hamburgers.
“Regardless of any executive proclamation, I do not want the flags at the North Carolina Standards Laboratory flown at half staff to honor Jesse Helms any time this week,” Eason wrote just after midnight, according to e-mail messages released in response to a public records request.
He told his staff that he did not think it was appropriate to honor Helms because of his “doctrine of negativity, hate, and prejudice” and his opposition to civil rights bills and the federal Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

While I have a hard time bringing myself to say something bad about the dead, I appreciate a certain degree of symmetry here. For 16 days, Helms — standing alone — manage to thwart the passage of a holiday honoring the memory of Dr. King. For most of the time that it mattered, Eason managed to delay an action honoring Helms. How’s that for a tribute to Senator No?

Partners: The DLCC Online

Editor’s Note: The Democratic Strategist welcomes submissions on the activities of “partners” who share similar goals on the political or intellectual battle-fronts. This piece from longtime TDS contributor Matt Compton is about the new online project of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which works to support Democratic state legislative candidates around the country.
Contributors to the The Democratic Strategist wear a lot of hats. By day, I’m the communications director for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.
Today, we are launching a redesign of DLCC.org.
I bring this up on the Strategist because I want to note how our new online presence reflects an evolution in the way we approach political messaging and a reaction to the changing way that voters consume media.
A recent study for the Pew Project for the Internet and American Life found that fully 46 percent of all Americans have used the web to get news about the 2008 campaigns, share their views, and mobilize others.
That point is significant. The Internet has become an important resource for voters because it allows them to access candidates and campaigns directly without the filters of the media or the scripted distance imposed by television.
There are 7,382 legislators across the country, and they represent every conceivable kind of district. Most have been using radio, television, and mail for years, but for many, the Internet remains unfamiliar. They see its potential but have reservations about its complexity and challenges.
This cycle, our committee has partnered with Wired for Change to introduce a resource that reduces the barriers for campaigning online. We call it DLCCWeb.
Our goal is to make the Internet simple and affordable enough that all of our legislative candidates can build and update their own websites. They can choose from a range of templates and color schemes to create the best design for their campaigns. Blog publishing is built right into DLCCWeb, along with advocacy tools, online fundraising, and social network integration.
This cycle, more than 200 Democrats in 30 states (with a whole range of technology comfort levels) are using the Internet in a way that they haven’t before because of this service. To me, that represents a major step forward in participatory democracy and a big advantage for our party at the state level.
For our committee, a new website is the next logical step.
DLCC.org will be a clearinghouse for news about statehouses and legislative elections. The centerpiece will be a blog, hosted right on the front page, which will be updated multiple times a day, at least five days a week. Most posts will be short and quick, though each will include some sort of commentary and context. Most content will be written by our staff, but as we move forward, we plan to encourage contributions from our elected leaders and allies.
We want to start a conversation about our nation’s statehouses. We want to engage readers online to help us identify the next generation of leaders, to set real Democratic agendas in the legislatures, and to build new majorities before the next round Congressional redistricting.
I hope you’ll take a moment to visit the site and let me know what you think. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment here or there or send me an email — compton@dlcc.org.
Update: Check out a little marketing video that Wired for Change put together about DLCCWeb here.

We are all Husseins

If you log into Facebook and search for the name “Hussein,” you might be in for a surprise. For instance, the very first person to pop up in my results is a former co-worker — Dan Hussein O’Maley.
If I didn’t know him by that full name when we worked together, it’s because the Hussein is a fairly recent change.
Dan is part of a spirited group of Obama supporters who are changing their names to show solidarity with their candidate in response to conservative attacks. The New York Times covers the phenomenon this weekend:

The movement is hardly a mass one, and it has taken place mostly online, the digital equivalent of wearing a button with a clever, attention-getting message. A search revealed hundreds of participants across the country, along with a YouTube video and bumper stickers promoting the idea. Legally changing names is too much hassle, participants say, so they use “Hussein” on Facebook and in blog posts and comments on sites like nytimes.com, dailykos.com and mybarackobama.com, the campaign’s networking site.
New Husseins began to crop up online as far back as last fall. But more joined up in February after a conservative radio host, Bill Cunningham, used Mr. Obama’s middle name three times and disparaged him while introducing Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, at a campaign rally. (Mr. McCain repudiated Mr. Cunningham’s comments).

The Internet makes a movement like this possible. These Obama supporters aren’t legally changing their name (for the most part) because that requires far too much bureaucratic hassle. But with email, instant messenger, Facebook, and blogs, they don’t need to go through those hurdles to make a striking impact. And of course, online, these folks have the ability to find each other.
But the Internet itself doesn’t inspire a movement like this. Instead, it speaks to something very unique about Obama’s candidacy. It’s one thing to build an army of volunteers and raise money from millions of people. It’s another altogether to motivate hundreds of individuals to take the step of adopting Obama’s middle name.
It’s not as though the President of the United States has convinced his supporters to adopt the middle initial “W.”

The HD Election

When I got my “stimulus” check from the federal government, like any good American, I decided to do my patriotic duty and buy something. I am now the proud owner of a 40 inch, 1080p Samsung HD-TV. It’s beautiful.
But there are a couple of funny things about watching television in high definition. First, you can’t really hide anything in HD — the wrinkles, blemishes, age spots, and scars all seem too vivid. Second, you start paying attention to those imperfections whenever you watch video — whether its on HD or not.
That’s especially true if you’re John McCain. This technology is just so unkind to him.
This being the Internet, I’m not the first person to make this observation.
But seeing McCain tonight offset by Barack Obama was almost painfully jarring. From the content to the venues to the sheer physical presence of each man, the two speeches could not have been more different. And I was watching MSNBC’s standard feed. When these two men debate in the fall, on the HD channels of each network, the visual contrast will positively pop off the screen.
There’s no way to deny that McCain wears a lifetime of hardships on his face, and I don’t write this to make light of his well-documented and often-heroic times of suffering. The man is former prisoner of war and a cancer survivor — he’s earned his scars and wrinkles. But the image that they create is a hurdle his campaign must now overcome.
I’d love to see some consumer data outlining the penetration of high def televisions among likely voters. Maybe the campaigns have those numbers, and that is why the Republicans aren’t scared. The prices of these televisions, however, keep coming down, and people keep buying them.
That fact makes it awfully hard for me to picture eight years of a McCain presidency, with everyone watching him age before our eyes in 30,000:1 contrast ratios.

McCain and His Nonprofit Helper

It’s hard to believe that Sen. John McCain used to known as a champion of campaign finance reform.
Back in February, he used some questionable legal maneuvering (and the complete helplessness of a quorum-lacking Federal Elections Commission) to wiggle out of his previous commitment to accepting public matching funds for the presidential primary.
Now the Washington Post reports that the Republican nominee may have used a nonprofit to provide some serious public relations support to his presidential bid: :

For weeks, Republican presidential candidate John McCain had been hammered for supporting the Air Force’s February decision to award a $40 billion contract for refueling tankers to Northrop Grumman and its European partner. Democrats, labor unions and others blamed the senator for a deal they say could move tens of thousands of jobs abroad.
McCain’s advisers wanted to strike back against key Democratic critics. But they did not mount an expensive advertising campaign to defend the candidate’s position. They called a tax-exempt nonprofit closely aligned with the senator from Arizona, seeking information and help.

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) immediately came to the senator’s aid — working with Northrop to organize a multi-faceted public relations campaign which just happened to support McCain’s position.
Both the nonprofit and McCain’s campaign maintain that no election laws have been broken, but of course, this isn’t all that CAGW has done to support the Arizona senator. Its political arm endorsed McCain in February, and its lobbying organization has given more than $11,000 to the Republican since 2004.
And if that wasn’t enough, CAGW is also tied to Jack Abramoff.
Two years ago, staffers for the Senate Finance Committee investigated the nonprofit and concluded that the organization’s emails “show a pattern of CAGW producing public relations materials favorable to Mr. Abramoff’s clients.”

Turning Out the Lights

One way or another, this Democratic primary will be done very soon, and barring an unthinkable tragedy or scandal, Hillary Clinton will be making a decision about how to end her campaign for president.
She’ll give a speech where she’ll reflect on the victories she won and the barriers she broke. She’ll thank her campaign staff, her activists, and her donors. She’ll try to pay her debts, conduct an audit for the FEC, and then return to the Senate to think about what might have been and what might one day still be.
And that’s it, right?
Not exactly.
No matter what the office, every campaign is about building a network of support. The end result might be a collections of names written on index cards and bound with a rubber band or it might be data for a million supporters in a voter vault.
But for the presidential campaigns, it also includes the sometimes small but actively engaged networks they’ve built on sites across the Web.
Hillary Clinton has 198,664 friends on MySpace, 155,486 supporters on Facebook, 13,851 subscribers on YouTube, and 3,793 followers on Twitter.
Each of them represents a person who made a conscious decision to connect with Clinton and her campaign. They deserve the dignity of an appropriate goodbye and thank you.
Unless, that is, Clinton has an idea about what she wants to do next.
She began her bid for the presidency with a YouTube video where she called for a national conversation about the challenges facing the country. That doesn’t have to end just because her campaign does. Particularly online.
The Web offers Clinton (and every other politician) the opportunity to connect with people directly, without the filters of the mainstream news or the impersonality of a campaign rally. That’s a valuable resource no matter what Clinton’s future holds. She would be smart to continue developing it.
But if she does choose to close up shop, she should take a careful look at what John Edwards did and learn a lesson.
As he ran for president, Edwards carefully built a presence on more than twenty social networking and media sites. He updated them regularly right up until the day he suspended his campaign. And then all of a sudden, there was nothing. His last update on Twitter still reads:

On my way to Finley hospital in Dubuque, Iowa to talk with nurses and local SEIU members. Then I’m off to a community meeting in Montice

That’s a big mistake and one that’s undone some of the good will he’d managed to build online.
A loss is always hard, but a politician who wants to campaign online can’t just walk away when the race is done.

Demographic Destiny

With all the talk about the consequences of Barack Obama’s big victory in NC, there’s been less analysis than usual about how, exactly, he did it.
Tuesday morning, there were a lot of people who believed that the race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in North Carolina would be close. There were rumors that Obama’s support among white voters had plummeted, speculation that turnout among African-Americans might be down, and just days before Clinton predicted that North Carolina would be a “game changer.”
Then, the polls closed and the networks immediately projected Obama as the winner. On MSNBC, the language used to describe the victory was “decisive.”
So what happened?
A Democrat needs a biracial coalition to win just about any race in North Carolina — particularly a primary. Clinton’s support among blacks was just 7 percent. As Matt Yglesias cheerfully pointed out, George Allen got 15 percent of African-American voters in neighboring Virginia in 2006. In the exit polls, black Democrats made up a third of the electorate on Tuesday. To offset that advantage Clinton needed to get better than 70 percent of the white vote, and it didn’t happen.
For a big part of the state’s history, by agreement, the governor’s mansion rotated back and forth between politicians from the east and politicians from the west. Each governor was limited to a single term and the state party was often controlled by a machine, so the transition was easy. But modern political history has been dominated by the eastern part of the state, which has provided a political base for governors like Jim Hunt and Mike Easley, senators like Jesse Helms and John Edwards, and even legislators like Senate President Pro Tempore Marc Basnight. Obama won the east easily, and that region made up a quarter of the state’s vote.
Everyone know that Obama was going to do well in North Carolina’s urban areas. To offset that advantage, the Clinton campaign dispatched the former president on a tour of the state’s rural areas, hoping to drive up the vote there.
It didn’t work.
The vote was so high in some cities that voters were still standing in line and waiting to vote even after CNN had called the race for Obama. Obama won the Charlotte area by 11 points, the Greensboro area by 16 points, and Raleigh/Durham by 30 points.
By the way, Obama also won the rural part of the state by a 52-45 margin.
There’s been a lot said about Obama’s need to win “beer track” voters, but in North Carolina, those with at least some college education made up 70 percent of the electorate last night. Those with college and post-graduate degrees made up almost half of all voters. Obama won every single education group by double digits, but his margins among the college educated allowed him to run up the score.


I think Ed’s post below is essentially right — the results in North Carolina and Indiana changed nothing in terms of actuality.
But yesterday, I watched MSNBC until just after midnight when Tim Russert said, “We now know who the Democratic nominee is gonna be, and no one’s going to dispute it.”
It’s amazing how much that one remark seems to have changed the perceptions of the race.
Perhaps the truth is that the press corps had already quietly come to the conclusion that the math mattered and Obama was going to be the Democratic nominee. Maybe they were just waiting for a word from Russert to validate that thought.
But for whatever the reason, the narrative has shifted. It now favors Obama, just as the math does.
The next 48 hours will be the test. If Russert’s pronouncement is influential enough to force a bevy of superdelegates to show their cards or switch support from Clinton to Obama, then his words will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The race will be over.
But then, how does the Obama campaign deal with the twin problems of West Virginia and Kentucky?
Just as demographics favored Obama in North Carolina, the voter makeup in these two states is clearly stacked in Clinton’s favor. Polling paints a pretty bleak picture for the Illinois senator. It’s just a fact that Clinton will likely win Kentucky and West Virginia whether she’s in the race or not.
How awful would it look for the presumptive Democratic nominee to lose these contests to a candidate who isn’t running anymore?
Last night was a good one for Barack Obama, but this race isn’t going to be over until at least May 20th. And honestly, that might be the best possible result.
Update: Maybe the superdelegates are listening. Four have announced their intention to support Obama today, compared to just one for Clinton.

More NC Clues

This morning, my mom drove out to our rural precinct location on her way to work. She collected her ballot at 7:00, filled it out, and fed it through the voting machine. The polls had opened just 30 minutes before, and there wasn’t a line, but more than 300 people had already voted.
I’m hearing a lot of similar stories when I talk to friends in North Carolina, and the same message is coming from election officials in the state. All the signs indicate that we’re in for a day of record turnout.
That’s unsurprising.
But it means we’re going to be left with some serious questions when the polls close at 7:30 tonight. How long is it going to take for results to be calculated? What are the exit polls going to tell us?
There was a staff post earlier today which linked to a story in The Politico outlining some good places to look for answers. Much of that analysis was really sound, and I’d only add a couple things.
Clinton should do best in the western part of the state, and if election returns come back similarly to how they did in Virginia, that area should report first. Can she build up a lead there that is big enough to cut into Obama’s advantages elsewhere? I’ll be watching the totals in Buncombe county to get an idea for how Clinton should do in the Appalachians.
To get a measure of Obama’s performance, I plan to be watching the vote totals in Durham and Mecklenburg counties, where there is a big African American population and a lot of college educated voters. If turnout in those two counties is in the hundreds of thousands, he’s in for a good night.
One last thing — the State Board of Elections has just upgraded the results page for its website. It’s pretty snazzy.