lessons from America

Reimagining the west

I’ve just spent a long weekend in the mountain west.  Denver and its immediate environs aren’t really typical of the rest of Colorado or the other western states, but I got some kind of snapshot of politics in an area trending more Democratic; or at least purple.  Colorado has a Democratic Governor and a Democratic Senator (hopefully soon two).  Brian Schweitzer, Dave Freudenthal, Bill Ritter, Janet Napolitano, and Bill Richardson are all Governors of western states.  Likewise Jon Tester, Max Baucus, Ken Salazar, Jeff Bingaman, Harry Reid and Ben Nelson are Democratic Senators, serving rural, western constituencies.

However, the perception amongst the media and voters is quite different.  As reported in a Daily Kos post earlier this month:

“Far too many voters out here in the middle, they’ve just come to accept without question that they and their neighbors are all Republicans, that their own senator or governor is just an anomaly, and that Democrats have been utterly irrelevant to their lives. The Democrats are those people out on the fringes (literally, on the coasts) of the country. Slowly, and increasingly, Democratic candidates across the region are working to change that mindset.”

The Democrats, because of past policies and strategies and personnel, have been portrayed as the party of urbanites, as opposed to the party of the rural west. As the Daily Kos article explains:

“It all came down to the Democrats wanting to take away your guns and your land to give it to some kind of bird or something that nobody had ever heard of. Once those beliefs about Democrats had been established, the rest was easy. Democrats were portrayed as only caring about urban America, and worse, wanting to impose “urban values” on the rest of the country.

The way the national Democrats, pre-Howard Dean and the 50 state strategy, approached the region left little for a Democrat out here to hang on to.  … Along the way, the Democrats that live in some places out here, who have lived out here all along, lost heart. They stopped meeting, stopped talking to each other, forgot that other Democrats even existed. They didn’t dare talk about politics in public settings. This was true even in the Clinton years, when prosperity reigned.

Since Schweitzer’s 2004 election, the purple has been spreading, and with it a growing conversation that reminds people that they don’t have to be a Republican. It’s a conversation spurred by having someone like Gary Trauner showing up on your doorstep. By having someone from the Scott Kleeb campaign call to ask what you’re concerned about in this election. By having a presidential candidate actually come to your state.”

The energetic campaigns in Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada are reminding people who might not have seen a Democrat in decades that we don’t have horns and forked tails. And that we might just have some good ideas on how to fix the mess that one-party rule has gotten us into.”

We’ve had the same problems in the UK: where the Labour party is sometimes seen as as the party of metropolitan areas and the (former) industrial heartlands, and the Conservatives are the party of the rural and outer suburban areas.  And it can be very hard to change perceptions, even when the facts on the ground aren’t so black or white (or red and blue rather).   But the right candidates and the right strategy – and even the right kind of voting system – can have a real effect: the electoral map can be re-imagined.

October 30, 2008 Posted by | 50 State strategy | , , , , | Leave a comment

Indiana irrelevant no more

Somewhere just beyond the Rustbelt and not quite to the corn fields of Iowa lie a proud and peaceful people: the Hoosiers.  They have suffered and been ignored for a long time.  And they have taken this with quiet dignity. Until now they have taken the logical path of resignation and acceptance of their fate.  It is not in their character to be like some of their more noisy neighbours or even subscribe to the Todd Palin school of secessionist thought.  All they want is a bit of love and attention; a good listener; someone who is willing to put in some investment of time and money to show that they are serious in wanting their votes.   And it appears that finally, this year, they have found that one.  

Or to put it in slightly a less whimsical fashion:

“One noteworthy feature of Indiana is that it has had rather low turnout in recent elections, perhaps because neither party has really bothered to campaign there. As such, likely voter models which are rooted in past voting history may be unreliable. And according to Tom Jensen, Obama has a 68-24 lead among voters who did not cast a ballot in 2004. These are the sorts of statistics that the Obama campaign is looking at, and they’re why they remain very engaged in the Hoosier State.”  (Nate on 538:)

Chalk up one for the 50 State Strategy. Indiana is just further evidence of that old adage: uncompetitive elections and/or taking voters for granted often leads to lower turnout.  Where as competitive elections and/or actively pouring resources into campaigning and getting out the vote encourages higher turnout. Obviously we still await election day itself and the results to bear this out. So Hoosiers, it’s over to you ….

October 30, 2008 Posted by | 50 State strategy | , , | Leave a comment

The TV battleground

I haven’t yet written as much as I’d hoped about the progress and practical realisation of the 50 State strategy.  But seeing this table of recent TV ad spending by the campaigns, has inspired me to write a quick post. 

The headline figures – of McCain nearly doubling his TV ad spend to $9.3 million this past week, and Obama still outspending his opponent by an almost 2:1 margin – aren’t actually what I find interesting.  It is using the State by State breakdown to work out where the campaigns are going on offense and targeting.

There is significant expenditure in the major swing states (with the expensive media markets) you’d expect: Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.  And sure the less populated and cheaper swing states get their little slice of the pie too – the likes of New Hampshire, Iowa and New Mexico.

But the most noteworthy aspect is that Obama in particular is still trying to keep the battle up in a number of other states that wouldn’t normally get much attention.  North Carolina – yes North Carolina –  is one where he looks to be aggressive spending / targeting.  Indiana is another. There are small but significant ad buys in Montana and South Carolina (offense) and Maine (defense), all of which are places where McCain hasn’t spent a dime on TV advertising on in the past fortnight at the very least.  And West Virginia even gets a little look in, from both sides.  

While 19 is far from a full 50 State strategy, with a month to go til the election Obama is still trying to actively expand the electoral map, even with his TV advertising.  The resources pouring into the ground game I suspect are even more widely spread.

October 9, 2008 Posted by | 50 State strategy | , , | Leave a comment

Dean speaks strategy

Earlier today, friend and top blogger Sean Quinn of 538 got to interview Howard Dean, chair of the Democrat party and originator the 50 state strategy. 

“We asked him to explain how the 50-state strategy had benefited Barack Obama and Democratic candidates during this 2008 cycle. He was ready with the answer – when you go into places like Utah and South Carolina and Alaska, you give yourselves the opportunity not only to develop the Democratic voter file there, you lay the groundwork for having the infrastructure to support legitimate candidates like Mark Begich, a slight favorite to topple the indicted Ted Stevens.”

Read the full interview,including the importance of the ground game, here.

October 3, 2008 Posted by | 50 State strategy | , | Leave a comment

The retreat from 50 officially starts here

I’m starting early my post party conference season plan of blogging near daily.  Just back from Manchester and the Labour Conference and will put up a post at a more sensible hour about comparing Denver with Manchester; being in the hall for Brown versus being in the stadium for Obama.  I know, an unfair comparison, but thought it’d be fun to run with it anyway. 

For now though the disappointing – though inevitable given the way the electoral system/college works –  news that Obama’s 50 State Strategy is that bit diminished. 

“The Obama campaign has pulled paid workers out of Alaska and North Dakota and is pretty soon going to be concentrating on a dozen states. Goodbye Utah, hello Colorado. The battlegrounds will be a couple of Kerry states, most probably Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, as well as Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and maybe Georgia in the South, Ohio in the rust belt, and Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada in the West, plus maybe a couple of others. There was never any way all 50 states were in play. Which is not to say Democrats can’t win in strange places–the governors of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, Kansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, and North Carolina are all Democrats–but Obama is not a home-grown Southern or Western Democrat.”

September 25, 2008 Posted by | 50 State strategy | , | Leave a comment