Dukakis explains grass roots rising

Washington Monthly on 7 January, speaking of the Warren campaign:

But I think clearly at the national level, and certainly in my state, we demonstrated without any question that if you’re serious about grassroots organizing at the precinct level, you can win, and you can beat big money anytime. That’s something we Democrats have to understand, and we have to practice that every election cycle. Quite frankly, we haven’t been doing it, except in the presidential campaigns, and some Congressional and Senatorial campaigns. But the Warren campaign stands out as being a great example of that. I’ll take a little bit of credit for that, but not much. She deserves it, because she listened, and she said, “okay that’s what we’re going to do.” On election day, she had 26,000 volunteers out. That was the culmination of an increasingly powerful grassroots campaign that just blew Brown out of there. Not surprisingly, he had money, but no grassroots support. In fact, he was bringing young people in from DC, which gives you just some sense of how weak his grassroots support was in comparison to hers.

I don’t think many of the professional politicians or people in the political industry believe this. It’s easy to see why insofar as grassroots-based politics doesn’t carry big ad buy commissions, which is how many political consultants make much of their money. As Upton Sinclair famously observed: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

A flaw in Dukakis’ thesis with respect to the Warren campaign, of course, is that Warren was “big money:” she raised $42 million to Brown’s $28 million. (Annoyingly, she keeps demanding more with every email: first professing deep personal gratitude, and then slipping in the ask. One might think that $42 million would earn a week or two of commercial-free emails).

Nonetheless, Dukakis is exactly right that politics is changing, at least in Massachusetts, driven in large measure by the Internet. Nationwide, whichever party manages to drive Obama- and Warren-quality technology all the way down to the local assessor and dog catcher level will reap huge gains that may last for a long time. There is no technical or financial reason why they can’t: there is virtually no marginal cost to adding a few thousand users to a database management system built for a national or state-level campaign. Indeed, if Karl Rove had spent his millions on building Internet infrastructure instead of wasting it on TV he might have accomplished something in the last cycle — but he also wouldn’t have gotten his commission. The NRA is a case in point of how a small but well-organized extremist group can control the whole country, and this is a natural model for the Republicans to ape as their base continues to shrink. So far, they have been as incompetent and ineffective as Republicans usually are when faced with a real-world problem (should I have linked here?). But they may not stay that way.

Dukakis also more or less endorses Markey at the end of the interview:

Ed Markey has already announced. He’s a terrific guy, and I’m a big fan of his. He’d be a great candidate, and a great Senator. I don’t know who else is going to announce, but he should be out there in front, and working hard at it, and more power to him.

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8 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Dukakis & Kitty

    I just want to take a minute to say thank you to Governor Dukakis and Kitty. They worked so hard for Elizabeth. They worked the convention, they knocked doors, they were surrogates. As a longtime fan, I have to say, Governor Dukakis gives politics a good name. He is an honorable man and he and Kitty are devoted still to making the lives of others better.

  2. Depends how you define big money

    I consider ‘big money’ to be contributions from large, moneyed special interests such as Wall Street. Under that definition, Brown was big money and Warren was not. If you define big money as your campaign having lots of it, though, then they both were.

    The problem with not relying on Big Money as I define it is that it’s harder. It’s a lot easier logistically to meet with a few large donors than to try to raise the same amount of money from lots of little contributions. Not only is it less time consuming, but it’s much easier for a mediocre candidate, who just needs to have a few meetings and fundraisers and vote the way his or her donors want. Not every mediocre candidate with a good voting record is going to be able to have 26,000 volunteers out on Election Day.

    You’ve got to really move people to convince them to take off time from work (or many other ways they could spend the day) to go out and knock on strangers’ doors. That’s a much higher bar than getting someone to vote for you or even give a small contribution.

  3. Not giving Obama enough credit

    Obama blew Romney away with a solid ground game in Florida and Ohio. Even Republicans were impressed (more likely stunned) that he brought out voters they didn’t even knew existed. It was a combination of technology creating a giant data mine to micro target-making sure every email and flier was tailored to a specific kind if voter. But it was also neighbors using that information to personally ask for votes. That’s what it was all about. As Tip used to say “people like to be asked”.

    • They're both right.

      Dukakis is absolutely right about the basic task that needs to be accomplished. What the Obama campaign did is find new and extremely effective ways of using technology to make accomplishing that basic task much easier given the time and resources available (while the Romney campaign’s technological efforts failed hilariously). Bravo to both.

  4. Warren had to depend on

    big money, just to defend herself from Brown’s mudslinging. And frankly, most of the advertising I saw was defending herself from his baseless attacks.

    But the grassroots efforts were undeniable. A group of people in my town met several times with representatives from the campaign did phone banking and multiple visibilities. I know we weren’t alone. At the polls, we had random people joining us in holding signs. Brown did too, but not on our scale.

    In today’s political climate, grassroots are necessary, but not sufficient. They are, however, indispensable for clear victory.

  5. Grassroots is hard

    because you need to have, first and foremost, a candidate that inspires the grassroots.

    You can fake it with a media campaign, you can fake it with consultants, you can fake it with debates. You cannot fake it with the grassroots – they either love you or not.

    However, winning over the grassroots is a LOT less hard than most conventional campaign thinkers believe. You just have to look like you’re TRYING.

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