Conventional Un-Wisdom: We lost because they beat us at Vote by Mail (or Early Voting), next year we will focus on closing the VBM (EV) gap.
This Un-Wisdom was heard in a number of states following the 2010 elections, often spoken by prominent establishment figures as part of recapping the 2010 elections and setting the agenda for 2012. I can’t know that they weren’t just trying to put forward a positive tone coupled with an easily quantified and correctable problem. What I do know is that this is a dangerous path to follow if we want to actually do better (which would include winning) in 2012.
Why? Deficiencies in Vote By Mail and Early Voting GOTV efforts are real, and should be taken seriously and corrected/improved wherever possible. However, in many cases you will find it wasn’t the GOTV programs that were deficient, it was the inputs to the GOTV program. What are these inputs? Quality candidates and campaigns that motivate people to want to volunteer and vote. If people are not motivated to volunteer, not enthusiastic about the candidate/campaign, they don’t transfer their energy to others, successfully activating them to vote and volunteer. Hence, they don’t Vote by Mail, nor Early Vote…because they don’t vote at all.
That makes the correction even more obvious, and yet infinitely harder to enact. Present conviction and activate the base, by spending the early phases of your campaign identifying, energizing, and empowering those most inclined to support the campaign. Too often Democratic candidates are or project themselves to be moderate, or soften their stances on key issues, making them less appealing to the Democratic Base, less likely to activate and energize. The end result is less support of all types and a greater reliance on expensive media efforts, particularly negative advertising.
That is why we, as the base, must get more engaged at influencing the process much earlier. Like now. Whether a candidate emerges from being “pushed forward” by the establishment or “from the grassroots,” or they just stumble (or charge) on to the stage seemingly from nowhere, we must aggressively vet them, for their values, their capacity to campaign and for their conviction. We must think about what inspires candidates to run and how we can improve the quality of their candidacy and campaign, should they prove worthy of our support. We must speak out and challenge flawed candidacies early, and demand primary challenges of both challengers and incumbents when they fail to measure up. Primaries are good, they make good candidates better.
We must help all candidates running as Democrats run better campaigns, be better candidates, it is our brand they are diminishing when they flounder. We should trust that in the end, the voters will judge their worth, and we will likely play a role in influencing that process later in the campaign. From the onset, we must direct all candidates interested in running as Democrats to taking the right first steps. Once they have built their foundation and given us something more quantifiable to judge, we can choose among them the strongest and best voice of our values. Polling in the early stages should be ignored, or even mocked. It has little bearing on the outcome unless you give in the credence to sway hearts and minds. It is a flimsy campaign that focuses on insignificant factors to trumpet their strength. Look for the candidate/campaign the portrays confidence without expressing disdain for their opponents in diminutive terms.
When we empower all those willing to step forward and put their names on the ballot as Democrats to run higher quality campaigns, we as a party emerge victorious. We will have activated more voters, more volunteers and more donors. We will strengthen the candidate and campaign that wins the nomination for the rigorous challenges of the general election. They will already be on a steep upward trajectory when the flag drops to start the general election campaign, volunteers and staff moving at full speed all the way to the finish line. The emotional bonds from supporter to candidate will be thick and durable, a strong deflective shield for the upcoming attacks of their opponent and even potential missteps of your own campaign/candidate. Or you could coronate your candidate as the nominee two (or four) years out, ignore the issues that motivate the base, and lose to a billion dollar thief.
Vote by Mail and Early Voting should absolutely be a part of your GOTV Plan, but the first component to your GOTV plan should be to remember that it is “Get out THE vote,” which should indicate to you that you need have already identified and motivated people to want to vote. Otherwise it should be “GORV”, Get out Random Voters. Before you can GOTV, you must know who your voters are and that there are more than enough of them to hit your win number. To get your win number, a GOTV plan and to be sure you are doing it right, contact MPA Political now.
Focus on closing the vote gap — be less concerned with how people vote and more concerned with getting them to vote at all. It would be great for your entire universe to vote the first moment they can, but you keep working for more votes and get them in by whatever method you can anyway.