Saturday, June 13, 2009

Mike's Primary Wisdom

Although I supported Jody, I thought Mike Signer ran a good campaign, based on ideas, with a long range view to the future. I noted that he ran well in several Valley localities - a fact that I attributed to him making some visits to the area and a dedicated group of GOTV volunteers who made the calls and knocked on doors, posted on blogs, and handed out the literature. Mike also ran well in other rural/small town pockets mostly west of Richmond.
Because he got in the race late and raised only about 1/3 of the dollars that Jody did, Mike was less competitive in the suburban/urban areas where money buys TV, direct mail, staff, and other components of a modern statewide race.
Mike sent out the following email, thanking folks who worked for him and looking at lessons from the campaign. Some of Mike's wisdom:
Now, a few words about our campaign. I began this race as an activist and an advocate, whether on electoral reform, the environment, racial reconciliation, or national security issues. The power of activism and advocacy, of an individual or a group, applying themselves to effect change, motivated this entire campaign.
On the strength of this idea, this campaign received over 60,000 votes. To put this in perspective, four years ago, Leslie Byrne—the Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor and someone for whose endorsement I was incredibly grateful—received about 38,000 votes. Turnout was over twice as high this year as in 2005, to be sure, but the fact remains that we must have been offering voters something that excited them to receive such a large number of base votes.
I want to call your attention to those 60,000 votes. I grew up in Arlington, and you might therefore expect that I would have difficulty connecting in rural Virginia. But in fact, some of the most stunning victories we had were spread throughout rural Virginia. In the end, this little, scrappy campaign, which was outspent three to one, won the cities of Bristol (in the 9th Congressional District, at the far corner of Southwest Virginia), Harrisonburg (in the 6th Congressional District, in the Shenandoah Valley), and Martinsville—by over 60% (in the 5th Congressional District, in deep Southside Virginia). Along the way, we also picked up a number of counties, including Halifax, Henry, Lunenburg, and Pittsylvania, and received 40% of the vote in the 5th Congressional District.
These are real victories, and there is a lesson in them.
I believe that what unifies the very different cities of Bristol, Harrisonburg, and Martinsville, and the others areas where we did well, is that they all need something far different from government, and from public officials, than they are getting. Everywhere we won, there was a hunger for a restless, creative spirit from public officials. And this has something to do with the “progressive” campaign we ran.
The idea of progressivism goes back to last century, and it has to do with rooting a philosophy of government in the experience of people’s everyday lives—so it’s immensely practical and focused on working people and their families. Yet progressivism also aims for ideals that are achievable. Barack Obama told the crowd who had nominated him in Denver, citing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” What he meant was that we are all part of a greater cause, which is to make the world—and Virginia, and our community—a better place.
That’s why I think our campaign, with its focus on the economy and green jobs, the environment/energy connection, veterans’ issues, and strengthening our democracy, including through the restoration of rights, received so many votes despite being outspent by so much. Our message resonated. We had young people and unions, farmers and social justice activists, and rural, suburban, and urban voters excited about a new candidate with a message of taking Virginia to the next level.
For an underdog campaign running against a candidate who very capably secured the support of the vast majority of our Democratic elected officials, I was also gratified, in a few short months, to receive so much “institutional” support. This included the endorsements of dozens of elected officials from across the Commonwealth, five newspapers, over 1,300 donors, including some of Virginia’s major Democratic donors, and almost every Democratic blogger in Virginia.
Jody Wagner, to her great credit, raised over $1.2 million and was able to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on television ads, by far the most powerful medium in political campaigns. By contrast, with a little over $400,000 raised, we were only able to rely on radio and a single piece of direct mail. As one political consultant told me, our campaign was like “bringing a butter knife to a gunfight.” We watched as candidate after candidate withdrew when faced with the impressive force of Jody Wagner’s campaign.
Yet I decided to stay in the race because I thought the fight was worth fighting and the ideas worth pursuing. And the fact remains that in the areas where our message was able to compete through the mediums we chose and through public events and “earned media,” we saw our message connect.
We didn’t win this time around, but I believe we did influence the field to be more substantive about ideas, to focus more on economic fairness and social justice, and to provide for voters a stronger account of how the Lieutenant Governor could serve the public, rather than just future elections. Along the way, we also saw our nimble, creative campaign influence others—our YouTube “Coffee Breaks,” our policy plans, our emphasis on veterans, and our press statements were all replicated by other statewide campaigns.
A few words about Creigh Deeds, our nominee. Many of you know that I once worked as Creigh’s Legislative Aide. I first met him in December 1996. I had never heard of Bath County before, much less Creigh Deeds. Creigh met me in the morning at a Shoney’s on Broad Street in Richmond. Over a terrific mess of buffet brunch food, I was deeply impressed by the contagious excitement of the young lawmaker and realized that he was someone I’d be proud to work for.
Working for Creigh made a profound impact on me. In the years since, he’s been a mentor and friend and a leader I have watched with great admiration, as he has achieved great results in the House and Senate for thousands of Virginians, whether on jobs, the environment, education, or health care. I also realized then how important it is for Virginia Democrats to have a statewide approach and to focus on the issues and challenges of underserved areas, whether in rural or urban Virginia. I do not think we could have had such a connection throughout rural Virginia had I not worked for Creigh at such a young age.
I think that we are incredibly blessed to have Creigh as our nominee. He will run an incredible campaign focused on bringing the promise of the Warner/Kaine years to all of Virginia and will be a tremendous governor. I’ll do whatever I can to help him throughout this year, and urge you to do the same.
I also want to congratulate Jody again. She'll be a terrific nominee and an even better Lieutenant Governor, and it was an honor to compete with her. I told Jody on Election Night that I’d be very happy to help her in any way I could, and I mean it. I look forward to campaigning with and for her in the weeks and months to come.
I’d like to close with a thought about our democracy. We have a democracy, and it takes the courage, spirit, and dedication of each of us to take care of it. After years of experience in activism and public policy, it was a humbling and exhilarating experience to dive into the electoral side of things.
Elections are rough and tumble affairs. Democratic primary voters take their responsibility to select our leaders seriously, as they should. It was no coincidence that Barack Obama often referred to them “kicking the tires.” I often felt, over the last several months, that I was such a tire. But it was an extraordinary experience to be put through the electoral wringer. Think about what free elections produce—leaders who hopefully have judgment and wisdom, who will ethically and capably bear the people's trust in their responsibility for carrying us through our challenges. As I tweeted on election night, “Watching folks run to vote, soaking wet, through a thunderstorm, I'm humbled yet again by the power of the American idea."
As we turn our attention to the fall, it is clear that Deeds/Wagner/Shannon and all our HoD candidates can learn from the primary. Yep, as the old saying goes, "money is the mother's milk of politics." Money is necessary for all the components of a modern campaign. It was evident in the gubernatorial primary that you don't need the most money, but a candidate does need sufficient money to get the message out.
But, it is equally clear that people power can take a candidate a long way. Folks to knock on doors, to make the calls, to write letters to the editor, to blog, to work at county fairs and town parades, to host candidate meet/greets, to handout literature on Election Day. All these grassroots GOTV activities can make a big difference - in small towns as well as in the sprawling suburbs.
Money + people power = victory. Anything less will mean Taliban Bob in the Executive Mansion and falling short of 51. How will YOU help?

1 comment:

Riley Murray said...

Thanks posting Mike's email. He was great candidate and I considered it a privilege to work closely with his campaign in Augusta County. Results being correlated to hard work in field was especially rewarding. I'm sure we will see more from this fine young man.

But -- now we MUST quickly pivot and bear down hard on the work ahead, to elect DEEDS - WAGNER - SHANNON - MARROW - CURREN - PRICE - HART - LESINSKI in our little corner of the Shenandoah Valley!