Some election news this week. Jon Ossoff, Democratic party candidate in the Georgia 6th congressional district “jungle” primary topped 48% of the vote tally, which is impressive in Tom Price/Newt Gingrich territory but still a couple of points below an outright victory. As always, the Republicans furiously worked the refs on this race, establishing the easy-bake narrative that Ossoff needed to win an outright majority and that anything short of that would be an abject failure. The mainstream media, of course, adopted this line because it’s simple and requires zero analysis (a lot of stories run this way), so the news shows the morning after the election were full of Democrats falling short postmortems. Useful.
Okay, because I am at heart a fair person, I will admit that the likes of Joe Scarborough said something that I actually agreed with this past Wednesday – something to the effect that Democrats need to rediscover getting out the vote, knocking on doors, calling people, etc. I agree. If Dems are ever going to return from the electoral wilderness, they need to start building their ground game right now. With the Georgia race and the contest in Kansas for that open House seat (lost to the GOP by seven points), that point has now been underlined and circled in red. (Okay, you can go back to despising Scarborough again.)
This doesn’t amount to a repeat of the same “air war” strategy the national Democratic party keeps running over and over again, dropping TV ads at the last minute. Democrats need to be a factor on the ground; they need to be a positive force in people’s lives. In my region, the congressional seat is held by a tea party Republican, way to the right of her district. We have only elected one Democrat in my lifetime – Michael Arcuri back in 2006. The only reason why he won was that the Democratic party invested in the race. They sent paid, seasoned campaign organizers to the district. They invested in a sizeable call center. They ran phone banks and knocked on doors. That – not the ads – was what put Arcuri over the top. I remember one of the party organizers giving a pep talk to the volunteers, telling us that a good ground game can add three percent to the vote total on election day. “We’re going to need that three percent,” he said.
There’s a coda to that story: two years later, there was none of that. Calling was done out of a cramped room in the local labor council office, and Arcuri just barely squeaked by in a presidential election year. In 2010 he got knocked off; same problem. This past fall, I was dialing for the Democratic candidate at the labor council again, working from a pretty crappy list. It’s not just lack of investment – it’s lack of the right kind of investment that kills our chances.
We have to start winning elections. It’s not the only thing we have to do, but it’s goddamned important.