How does a campaign earn national support?

Two weeks ago, Congressman Earl Blumenauer was blogging over at DailyKos - and he was asked why Carol Voisin didn't receive much support from national funders for her campaign against Congressman Greg Walden.

Earl's answer is one of the best explanations of how this stuff works. It's worth repeating here:

In regards to your question about supporting Carol Voisin, my answer is very simple. We had extraordinary success in encouraging people to run for the US House. There were very few uncontested races, but virtually everybody running under the Democratic banner was well intentioned, had good values, and if they made it to Congress, almost without exception would have been far superior the Republican they would be replacing.

However, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to recognize that not everyone will be elected and with limited resources, you can't help everyone. During her campaign, Carol asked for my advice about how to get established in the inner circle of people from competitive races who receive the majority of support at the national level. My answer was simple: the way to be regarded as competitive is to demonstrate that in fact that you are competitive. What sets people apart is their organization, fundraising, establishing campaign benchmarks and achieving them.

Amongst the at over 200 quality candidates, the ones who received support demonstrated that they had name familiarity in their districts (and could prove it with survey research), raised significant funds from their own efforts, and organized a strong network around their districts. Last, but not least, candidates needed to organize successful campaign events generating enthusiasm, excitement and attracting media attention. These are all things that demonstrate ability and organization. Over the course of the campaign, we found people who earned their way into competitive race status and added them to the "list". Although I devoted a great deal of time, energy, and money to the national effort, I too had limited resources and I picked from amongst the ever-expanding (but still finite) lists of Democratic campaigns where I felt I could add value.

By no stretch of the imagination did my support go where a Democratic success was assured, instead concentrating on areas where there was a chance, not a certainty.

For example, with two weeks left in the campaign I campaigned in Boise, Idaho—a district that George Bush had won in 2004 with about two thirds of the vote and the state with the highest percentage of Republican elected officials in the country. Our candidate, Larry Grant, had demonstrated that he had a shot. He dedicated year of his life to the campaign, raised several hundred thousand dollars, and had demonstrated editorial support and grassroots organization. I was happy to invest money and my time campaigning on his behalf because of what Larry had already accomplished. It was one of the most difficult districts in the country for a Democrat. In the end, he came within a couple percentage points, but only after the National Republican Party spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and brought Dick Cheney to the district twice.

Running for office is a tremendous experience win or lose. I would recommend it to anybody. You are able to share your thoughts and you learn so much about your community and the people in it. But as long as time and money are scarce political resources, I will continue to concentrate on candidates who reach a threshold that distinguishes them in the upper tier. It was a formula that we followed successfully to victory in 2006 and it is going to help us maintain and expand our majorities in 2008.


  • LT (unverified)

    Earl's response is great IF candidates filing for offices up and down the ballot are made aware of all of that BEFORE they file for office.

    My experience has been that there isn't really anyone doing that in an organized fashion.

    Someone on another BO topic posted a comment saying "hard to think of what we have left to conquer" or something like that, ignoring how many Oregonians still have Republicans representing them in the legislature or elsewhere.

    Now, just months after the election, might be a good time for someone to take on the project of mentoring people who have not run for office (or have not run for office at the level they contemplate running in a particular election) and explaining the above "facts of life" to them. Otherwise there are going to be some ordinary folks whose friends know (even if it is not discussed publicly) what running unsuccessfully for office cost in terms of depleted savings accounts, time not spent with family, etc.

    Or do Democrats not want to recruit people with great life stories if they haven't been activists for the last decade or more and don't have a clue that "Last, but not least, candidates needed to organize successful campaign events generating enthusiasm, excitement and attracting media attention."

    I do recall sitting in a PCOL meeting where members were discussing how to recruit people to run for the legislature who were not either quite young and self employed, or rich enough to take time off, or retired. The thread of their discussion was that the legislature could benefit from some mid-career folks as legislators, but the cost in time, money, and lack of attention to work made that difficult if not impossible for many to even contemplate.

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    Earl's response is great IF candidates filing for offices up and down the ballot are made aware of all of that BEFORE they file for office.

    Well, we've now posted it where several thousand politically active Oregon progressives have seen it.

  • Garrett (unverified)

    This is a great article. I would have missed it on DailyKos. I have a pretty good idea how to get at someone like Walden. What do you hate about volunteering for a campaign? I hate checking all the boxes that say I will not phone bank and then get nothing but phone calls to phone bank? Why not organize and hold trainings for volunteers in places like Eastern Oregon where people can gain the skills to run a contest where they could take someone like Walden out. Get them going now regardless of the candidate. People then have a level of comfort with their volunteer work and they can be twice as effective on the ground when a candidate emerges.

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    Carol Voison is back! She's organized, she's determined, she's intelligent and she's seriously running for the position of Chair of the DPO (Democratic Party of Oregon.) Her experience as a candidate running against Greg Walden and his Republican money machine in the 2nd Congressional District convinced her the DPO is the place for her. She will support future Democratic candidates, strengthen the 36 County Democratic Central Committees,and increase the Oregon Democratic role in the National Democratic Party. Delegates voting in March for their new DPO Chair would do well to give Carol a hard look. It is time for the DPO to "crash the gates" and increase it's important role in Oregon's political future. Carol is the beholden to know one, she is not part of the Multnomah County crowd. She has traveled the state and knows ALL of Oregon Democratic voters need thier voices heard. She earned 40% of the people's vote in her first time run against Greg Walden and his Republican money machine.

    Earl's thoughtful advice has been key in her decision to become the future Chair of the DPO.

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    Earl's advice, coupled with LT's suggestion that running for public office is tough on the savings account, and tougher on the family are all points well taken.

    Here's my advice for anyone considering taking the plunge in a district that doesn't have a Democratic voter registration advantage or who is going against an incumbent who is not perceived as vulnerable:

    Treat your campaign like a small business. Expect to do all of the heavy lifting on your own, with help from supporters in your local community.

    DO go to all of the major organizations on the progressive side to ask for their support and make a specific request for money and/or material support.

    DON'T expect to receive more than token support from any of these groups if you don't live in a district that has been targeted by the caucus.

    DON'T be surprised if political professionals for groups that you believe in, including the caucus, ignore you if you aren't in a targeted race.

    If you know major funders in Oregon, and you aren't in a targeted race, DON'T be surprised if the caucus or its staff treat you like a competitor for financial resources.

    If you don't live in a targeted district, DON'T sell or give your supporters AND/OR donor lists to anyone, including the caucus, unless they are willing to give up their lists in return.

    The best support that you are likely to get will be from your local Democratic party, and other local progressive organizations. DO cultivate those relationships before you run.

    DO try to get a physical office.

    DO hire a paid staff -- preferably someone who knows you and believes in you, and who has some life's experience -- preferably in office management and events planning.

    DO take full responsibility for all of the messaging for your campaign.

    DON'T let anyone push you into using messaging that doesn't fit with your values or your campaign.

    If you are running against an incumbent, DO NOT expect to get money from the lobby. You are probably better off not meeting with any professional political group that is not clearly crosswise with your opponent.

    DO go and speak to every community group you can, including the ones who you don't expect to support you.

    DO spend at least 10 hours per week canvassing (preferably more).

    DO knock on the door of every likely registered voter rather than just talking to Democrats.

    If you have sufficient budget, DO send mailers to people of all political parties, not just D's or I's.

    Every R you get to vote for you is worth two D's.

    If you don't live in a major media market, DO buy cable ads if the market penetration is at least 45-50 percent. Cable in such markets is dirt cheap, and highly effective, compared to other forms of advertising.

    DO encourage people to hold coffees and dinners for you. Ask them to invite their neighbors and friends, and give them literature and/or invitations to pass around their neighborhood.

    DO try to meet with every member of the editorial board for your local newspapers individually before you have the formal endorsement meeting.

    DO ask everyone you know to inform you of any contact your opponent makes with them (i.e., print, phone, etc.). Ask them to save phone messages and/or mailers.

    DO respond to any and all voter contact from your opponent immediately, especially if they go negative or distort your record in any way, shape or form. Tell the press. Ask your friends and supporters to tell the press.

    DO challenge your opponent to debate you publicly in as many venues and communities as possible. Encourage community groups and the newspaper to sponsor a series of debates.

    DO try to get community cable or the local radio station to cover these debates.

    Just my $0.02

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    At times in the past, Sal and I have been at cross purposes, but I have to say, that post he just wrote was great.

    I think it is a crying shame that people who ought to know better, like Congressman Blumenauer, can't see beyond the "way it is" to a better way.

    If we truly want progress, progressiveness, and/or more Democrats elected; we have to learn to be competitive in geographic areas where we currently are not competitive. We cannot depend upon registered Democrats to get candidates elected, we have to depend upon Independents and Republicans. Sal was more than right when he said that support from a Republican was worth two Democrats - we sell ourselves short by not going after Republican voters.

    The way the "system" is organized now, the Democratic Party has created a political ghetto out of our rural areas where the voter registration tilts Republican. No one in my area will ever be able to reach the threshold for support as articulated by Blumenauer. Yet, voters here can be turned to vote for Democrats IF the message can be delivered.

    What we need is seed money. Voisin had around $30,000. She scared Walden to death, and made him spend more than he wanted, around $1.3 million. If his money were available to spend elsewhere, we might have not seen the success we did in other Congressional races. What if Walden's money went to another race? This time it probably wouldn't have mattered, but in other times - who knows?

    Anyway, having at least a minimal campaign helps tie down our opponents and forces them to spend their money where we want them to. This is a huge strategic advantage that is completely overlooked in the Blumenauer quotes about the way it is.

    But beyond that, to keep a majority in the Oregon House and Senate we need to work on those Independents and Republicans. There are too many doors to knock on, and over here, those doors are miles and miles apart. We need mailers, we need Cable TV ads, we need signs.

    I am okay with targeted races, and decisions on the allocations of funds based upon the concept of who can win, but we also need threshold levels of support. The Voisin campaign, with $100,000 would have been able to get mailers into every household and run a more robust campaign.

    As a Party, the Democratic Party of Oregon continues to miss strategic opportunities, and the opportunity to move/progress to a more certain majority.

    In fact, while the "Blumenauer" method (it's not really his, but his name was used here) got us a win in 2006, we need to remember that this targeted race methodology was the foundation of why the Democrats were in the minority in Salem for 14 years. By maintaining a scarcity mentality, we create scarcity. Give us a wall to wall campaign across Oregon to get Democrats elected, and that seed money will grow. We can get more donations, when we see things happening in our local areas. All politics are local. Help make a local candidate viable, and local money will come to play that is currently not available to anyone.

    I could go on and on, but restrain myself.

  • LT (unverified)

    Steve and Sal, you are so right!

    And I live in a district which was "forgotten" rather than target, but by golly we held the incumbent to a couple thousand fewer vote victory margin than previously. Not only that, but the incumbent is now more attentative to constituents, even doing outreach to local groups who hadn't seen any before.

    On the right hand side of this page is a picture of Howard Dean and the words Thank you Howard! The 50 State Strategy worked!

    It is time to have a full blown debate which goes beyond "well, we won in 2006" or "that's just the way politics is, nothing anyone can do about it". Seems to me that Dean's philosophy has done more to revitalize politics than all the target stuff Earl talks about.

    To read what Earl blogged, you'd never guess that in his long political career he was once a young legislator and was a national convention delegate the year an unexpected candidate won the Oregon Presidential Primary. That was a year when the "establishment" all supported another presidential candidate. "Professionals" and insiders don't always understand the views of ordinary voters and volunteers.

    I have told friends today to read this topic. When I told one about some of Sal's do's and don'ts, the response was "Those sound like good rules".

    I am a strong believer in Dean's view of politics, and see that view in Steve's comment. I understand there are people who don't share Dean's view. But let's have a full discussion of "our philosophy of campaigning is better because..." and get this all out in the open now, when everyone still has fresh memories of exactly what did and didn't happen in 2006.

    Otherwise, the folks who worked their hearts out on "impossible" campaigns in 2006 (esp. in rural/downstate districts) may just decide that the top of the ticket races (President, US Senate, statewide) are more worthy of their 2008 time than volunteering early on a legislative campaign only to find out it is deemed unimportant by people who don't live in the district but are "political professionals".

  • Carol Voisin (unverified)

    Sal's epistle is very good. It warmed my heart. Our campaign did 90% of what Sal suggests. We were truly grassroots and netroots. I learned in my year of campaigning in the 2nd district that it is a complex and diverse district with its 20 counties. There isn't a district in Oregon like the 2nd CD. It is a microcosm of the United States with its mix of urban and rural counties. The Democrats have much to learn from the 2nd CD. We Democrats can't neglect or ignore ANY county in the state. Likewise, we Democrats can't neglect or ignore ANY Democratic candidate running for office. Our reason for existing is to elect Democrats to office.

    As Paulie said, I have decided to run for Chair of the DPO. From my experience in running for office I learned that our party must find common ground to present a united front in 2008. I'll have my website up and running in a few days There I'll post my platform.

  • LT (unverified)

    Carol, Good to see you are running for DPO chair. I haven't been on State Central Comm. for about 20 years but will communicate with some friends who currently do have a vote there.

    Don't let anyone tell you it is impossible. You might want to look into the history, but as I recall the DPO chair elected in 1985 was an appointed legislator from S. Oregon (Klamath?) who didn't win election in her own right but then ran for DPO chair and won.

    There are many things that need to be openly debated, and that requires a candidate for DPO chair with an attitude other than "we've always done it that way, and professionals know best".

    Actually, I suspect lots of people living downstate are tired of folks from Portland telling them how politics should work. I wish you well.

  • Chuck Butcher (unverified)

    A little correction, Carol was in the low 30s. Still better than the previous 2 results.

    The 02 CD is NOT most other CDs, nationally or especially in OR. What will work in other districts is physically impossible in 02. It is simply too big to work all the connections with personal appearances in 1 cycle.

    I've thought long and hard on this question, it would take a lot of money and one would have to You'd have to show your face over and over. Then there's the issue of the candidate, you'd have to appeal to our redder than average Indies and still peel some R's off. The last 3 campaigns have not made it to 40%, that's a butt kicking of epic proportions, who is going to cough up money on that bet?

    I like Carol a lot, but this is the wrong district for her as candidate. If somebody wants this mess, they'd better get started.

  • Grant Schott (unverified)

    I grew up on a ranch in Wheeler County, Oregon's smallest county and one that is very Republican. Voisin could have raised $1 million and still lost big. It is a conservative district and she is way too liberal to win there. The fact is that Walden is viewed as a good fit for the district and, although not many people live on ranches anymore, the ranching/timber/hunting culture prevails and people from that culture tend ot be Republican. The last Democratic COngressmna from the district, Al Ullman, was a moderate from Baker COunty.

    There are pockets of Democratic counties and house districts. I was Jim Gilbertson's manager and he almost won Dist 59 against John Dallum, with almost no party or labor support. Judy Steigler was competative in Bend in '04. Bob Jenson won as Democratic in '96 in Umatilla/Morrow counties. SO, there are a few winnable house districts, but the 2nd CD is simply unwinnable for Democrats.

  • Carol Voisin (unverified)

    I think that a Democrat can win the 2nd CD with enough money. We did an unscientific poll of Republican women in Jackson County. Over 50% didn't even know who Greg Walden was. In the fourteen county fairs that I attended and the hundreds of people I met 50-75% didn't know who my opponent was. These were random encounters. Walden is known at election time because he blasts us through the media. Not just Republicans received his 6 pieces of 8x11 full color flyers, Dems and Indys did too. He has name recognition only at election time that's his campaign strategy. Along with presenting himself as a moderate Republican he wins. Of course we all know he isn't a "moderate", he is a "conservative" who is now blowing with the wind. Oregon is going to receive another seat in the USHouse of Representatives. This will shake up the districts we have now. Democrats will not be able to simply "give up" on a district when we have 6 CDs. We haven't won because we haven't been smart.

  • LT (unverified)

    This will shake up the districts we have now. Democrats will not be able to simply "give up" on a district when we have 6 CDs.

    So who will draw the 6 CDs, and where will Walden's home fall?

    Someone mentioned Al Ullman. There was a big debate in the last election with 4 districts---when Al was representing Salem. It went something like this: "Should we hold our noses for one more cycle and re-elect Al, or should we send him a message".

    The "message" primary challenge got 45% of the vote, the national coffers then opened up for Denny Smith, there was a 3rd party candidate as I recall, and Denny sneaked in. He chose to run in the Salem area district and leave the rural 2nd to someone else when the 5th district was created. That first 5th Dist. primary was more like the most recent 2nd Dist. primary than anything else I could compare it to.

    None of that could have been predicted in Jan. 1987, which is the corresponding year to what we are in now---and in 1988 the candidate who took on the "entrenched incumbent" Denny Smith lost in a recount. I should mention that 1988 was the year the DCCC believed their own poll saying the Democrat didn't have a chance, and not the Oregon pollster who didn't think a squeaker of an election was unlikely. The head of DCCC that cycle ended up sending an apology letter for not taking the campaign seriously, and in 1990 (after Denny spent his last term talking about his "Boeing victory" of 707 votes) Oregon's 5th District was one of about 5 in the country where an incumbent was toppled.

    I know nothing about Carol but am willing to bet that if that 5th Dist. primary winner in 1982 fits the definition of liberal (science prof. at Mt. Hood Comm. College, state legislator whose personality matched her red hair, avid supporter of women's rights and the nuclear freeze, as outspoken as Bella Abzug or Cindy Sheehan, not soft spoken like Darlene Hooley or many other women politicians) then Carol doesn't. I'm not sure what that term means anymore.

    Seems to me what is important is the way forward this year. A strong new DPO chair and an awareness of what a second district candidate is up against ("The ideal candidate would...." sort of profile might be a good idea), and making sure there is a strong Sec. of State for 2008-2012 to draw the Congressional Districts if the legislature can't do it (unless there is a revision of the redistricting process between now and then--anything is possible) are what we should be concentrating on now.

    Finally, Grant, with all due respect, Gilbertson's almost win against Dallum is proof that amazing surprises can happen on campaigns. 2nd District has cities like Medford and Bend, and someone who carries those cities could win without winning the rest of the district, just like Gordon Smith can lose Multnomah and Lane but win statewide if he does well enough in Washington and Clackamas counties and in the "red" / "purple" counties like Marion.

  • Grant Schott (unverified)

    The numbers will largely determine whether or not a candidate can win. The 2nd CD is something like a 15%-20% point R distrcit, just as the 3rd is a 15-20% D distrcit. I don't think that either Walden or Blumenauer are worried about a challneger form the other party. They are probbaly more worried about a primary challenger. Dist 59 is much less Republican, with 12,000 Rs to 10,000 Ds. Democrat Jack Lorts won 43% there in '04 even though he was outspent by a lot, so I think you could call that 43% the base vote in distrcit 59, vs a 30% base vote for the 2nd CD. Also, Jim is a farmer and former mill worker who received an A rating from the NRA, was able to spend his own money, and walked intensively in Jefferson Co, which he carried by 10%, amazing for a D. In a congressional race, there are simply too many voters to make much of a difference with canvassing. Carol campaigned and did a great job of motiavating the activists, but she had the image of Ashland liberal just as Peter Buckley did in '02, and that might be a good image for Ashland and Hood River, but not for the district. I think that when the seat opens up ALan Bates would be the one Democrat who might have a chance, but a slim one at that. I think Carol has built a good name for herself in Jackson COunty for elective office there and well as a good base for her DPO chair bid.

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    Hey Grant,

    Carol Voisin, born in Kansas and raised in Denver has lived as an adult in North Carolina where she administered programs at Duke University. She's been a small business owner in Northern California, a teacher and administrator in the Bay area, sold real estate in Oregon and now teaches "Ethical Thinking for the 21st Century" at Southern Oregon University. She's earned a Masters and Doctorate in Theology. While campaigning across the 2nd Congressional District against Greg Walden she experienced the incredible lengths each County Democratic Chair would go to support her campaign. Through their eyes she learned the strength of the Democratic Party of Oregon and the strengths of each County. She knows from a congressional candidates perspective the areas the DPO can improve upon when it comes to candidate support and strategies.

    Carol is known for her organizational skills, knack at coaltion building and public speaking prowess. Carol really cares about people and listens to her conscience, not just political consultants when she takes a stand. As the Chair of DPO she'll owes favors to no one. Her thinking will be strong and fresh as she moves the DPO forward toward Howard Dean's 50 state strategy. If there has ever been a time for crashing the gates of old think about how Oregon Democrats can win in every part of our great state of Oregon, Carol Voisin is our next leader of the DPO. She's a woman with true grit who beat out four Democratic candidates in the primary because she once you meet her, she is clearly a stand out among Democrats. Find out all you can about Carol Voisin because she is the future, not the past of the DPO.

    Paulie Brading Chair, JCDCC

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    the lack of words praising the DPO is significant. here we are, into 2007, and they can't even get a decent website running. i taught myself to use Drupal and made a strong, deep and information-packed website in my spare time. we have 1200 subscribers to our online, bi-monthly newsletter -- again, done in my (and Linda Plaschke's) spare time.

    more significant is the ambivalence towards the 50-State Plan and transforming it into a 36-county plan. Jim Edmundson seems to understand the ideas underlying the Plan, but the leadership we saw last year came from Jeff Merkley, FuturePAC and local candidates (and the Bus Project vroom). i don't know Carol Voison at all, but if she is dedicated to working with DNC and making the DPO a servant, so to speak, of the grassroots, she needs to make a bold statement to county parties across the state and make clear her intention to "Deanicize" Oregon.

    it's not good enough for DPO to work quietly in the background, and i'm not sure they are even doing that. here in Benton County, we simply got tired of waiting and took care of our own needs ourselves. and now we're reaching out to our neighbors to help them -- if DPO isn't going to do it, then we will. it's gotta get done.

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    The Jackson County Dems have their own site. By the by, I visit your site often and enjoy keeping up with Benton County. Go Beavs!


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