While there was certainly big news up ticket last night, there was also big news down ticket — and the 33rd Middlesex State Rep race did not disappoint.
Steve Ultrino, a true Democrat and a strong progressive, won a decisive victory in the Democratic primary, besting his more conservative DINO opponent, Neil Kinnon, by almost 20 points (Full disclosure: I am Steve’s field director). Not only did we win big, with a margin that far exceeded anyone’s expectations, we came incredibly close — within fewer than 60 votes — of beating Kinnon is his own ward, which he has represented on the City Council for many years.
The 33rd Middlesex is comprised of about 2/3rds of the City of Malden. (For some excellent background on the district, this race, as well as what is to come in the general election campaign where we will face an Independent, see excellent posts by my friend and fellow Malden activist Linda here and here.)
So how was this race won so decisively? The short answer is: organization and ground game.
Since the resignation of John Kerry from his US Senate seat, Malden has in many ways felt like ground zero. First there was the Markey US Senate campaign, then the MA-5 campaign (won by Katherine Clark, who is from Melrose but has a huge base of support in Malden), and then the 5th Middlesex State Senate campaign (won by Jason Lewis, who made Malden a key part of his strategy). All of this intense political activity on our doorstep, as well as the organizing in Malden from the Elizabeth Warren campaign, the Obama campaigns of 2008 and 2012, and the more recent RaiseUp MA campaign, have given Democratic and progressive activists in Malden and surrounding cities/towns the impetus to get organized. We’ve built up relationships and experience — and engaged folks in grassroots campaigning. To be very honest, without the experience of the past few years, we might not have had the capacity to deliver effectively for Steve’s campaign.
In addition to organization, we spent a lot of time and energy on our ground game. We started door knocking and phone banking at the beginning of May and over the course of the next four months we did two complete passes of the entire district. By the time late August rolled around, our volunteers had built up a very healthy number of IDs. Kinnon had a ground game of sorts — but it wasn’t on par with ours from what we could tell. He did, however, have lots of money and institutional support so we certainly didn’t take him lightly at all. We campaigned like we were underdogs, which meant a ton of work — by the candidate himself, key supporters, and volunteers. Steve himself knocked on hundreds and hundreds of doors for months.
One of my favorite stories from yesterday makes plain how vital this work is — and how powerful it can be on Election Day.
As I was knocking doors yesterday to pull voters to the polls, I met an elderly gentleman out washing his car in the driveway. When I asked him if he’d had a chance to get to the polls, he said that he and his wife had both voted — and they voted for Steve. He added that Steve was the first Democrat he and his wife had voted for since…wait for it…John F. Kennedy in 1960. That got my attention, so I asked him to explain why. He told me about the time several weeks before when Steve knocked on his door to ask for his vote and this gentleman was very impressed with Steve as a person. But he also mentioned that he was incredibly impressed with Steve’s campaign — and most specifically how many times we had reached out to him and his wife — he had counted 6 or 7 times. He liked the fact that Steve and his campaign were working really hard, showing we cared about individual voters like him.
Finally, we also benefited from an incredible roster of endorsements — including Congresswoman Katherine Clark (who went out on a limb early and endorsed Steve at his kickoff in May), the entire Legislative delegation representing Malden (State Rep Paul Brodeur, State Rep Paul Donato, and State Senator Jason Lewis), former and current members of the City Council and School Committee (many of whom worked incredibly hard for Steve’s campaign because they’d worked with him on the City Council and they knew firsthand he was the better candidate compared to Kinnon), as well as over a dozen unions and advocacy groups, many of whom came through when we needed them most with support and bodies for our GOTV effort.
Yeah it’s a cliche to say campaigns are team efforts, but it’s a cliche because it’s true. And Steve made that point very well last night during his victory speech: “We all won tonight.”