Whatever happened to the Agrarian Activist?

So, what did the Farm Team do this election cycle, and what did we learn?

Early last summer, I didn't know what the Farm Team should do this year. The one serious under-30 candidate - who will claim my title as the youngest elected Democrat in North Carolina when she's sworn in - wasn't going to have any trouble winning her election. Candidates like Marcus Brandon won their race when they won their primary. I think young politicians knew this wasn't going to be a good year for Democrats. I planted $150 of seed money in a couple State House races (where the candidates had helped young Democrats), but without young candidates we really didn't have a fundraising angle.

So I decided that the best way for the Farm Team to make an impact this year was to help lift all boats, and I went head-on into the US Senate race, using our limited resources (but all of my volunteer time) to raise Elaine Marshall's profile online, to hold Richard Burr accountable, and to raise money for her campaign. With those goals, we did a great job given our resources, but a lukewarm job on the fundraising.

If I could go back and change what we did, I would have ridden the coattails of the first PPP poll after the runoff and started hitting hard for Elaine then. There is a time to strike when the iron is hot, and every Democrat should have stepped up for Elaine when the poll numbers showed victory was a possibility.

But I don't think it was a mistake to try and go big this year, because we learned a lot - and we're ready to look in to winning back the General Assembly.

Speaking of State Legislatures ...

Many of you already know about the massive amount of independent expenditure money dropped in North Carolina. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of that money came from the Republican State Leadership Committee. They've been planning to control the redistricting process for a long time, and they succeeded. They put Ed Gillespie, a respected Republican strategist, in charge of the committee. And they decimated our team:

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “Republicans gained at least 680 seats on Tuesday” outperforming the 628-seat Democratic gains in 1974, the 472-seat Republican gains of 1994 and more than double the 322-seat Democratic gains of 2006. In addition, the NCSL reports “Republicans now hold about 3,890, or 53 percent, of the total state legislative seats in America, the most seats in the GOP column since 1928.”

Money matters. Some of the RSLC's money went towards Real Jobs NC mailers - over $1 million. The spending doesn't stop in North Carolina, as the RSLC also:

1. Spent $1.4 million targeting four New York State Senate seats, winning two and potentially controlling the New York State Senate (GOP currently ahead in enough seats to gain control, but recounts are expected).
2. Spent nearly $1 million in Pennsylvania House races, targeting and winning three of the toughest races in the state (House Districts 39, 54, 130).
3. Spent nearly $1 million in Ohio House races, targeting six seats, five of which were won by Republicans. Additionally, five of these six legislative districts were carried by President Obama in 2008.
4. Spent $1 million in Michigan working with the Michigan House Republican Campaign Committee and Michigan Republican Party to pick up 20 seats in Michigan.
5. Spent $750,000 in Texas as part of an effort that resulted in 22 House pick-ups.
6. Spent $1.5 million in Wisconsin to take control of the Senate and Assembly, including spending $500,000 to target Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker. The RSLC was the only group to target Decker who was defeated soundly by Republican Pam Galloway.
7. Committed resources to Colorado (over $550,000), North Carolina (over $1.2 million), and Alabama ($1.5 million).

The RSLC also invested more than $3 million across a number of other states including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Tennessee, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, Washington, Nevada, New Jersey and Oregon. In total, the RSLC raised more than $30 million for the 2009-2010 cycle, spending $18 million after Labor Day alone.

To take back these legislatures, Democrats will need something more than the DLCC (Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee), which didn't even see the danger of losing both houses in NC this year. The DLCC is the Democratic equivalent of the RSLC, and they lost big this year. They didn't have the money, and they faced a terrible national mood. They were one group in a sea of conservative money.

Lessons, please?

We may have kept all but one Congressional seat, but otherwise NC Democrats lost in a rout. I've heard people point fingers at NCDP, the Marshall Campaign, YDNC, the DSCC, SEANC, the House and Senate caucuses, and at anything that breathes and bleeds blue. At the risk of oversimplifying, here are some observations and suggestions ...

I believe, in spite of our limited resources, that we made the right choice at GFT PAC to support the top of the ticket, because had that race been closer the legislative races would have been closer. If yellow-dog Democrats come out and vote straight ticket, no amount of Pope money can change that. The top of the ticket, OFA, and the NCDP failed to GOTV. Richard Burr had ads on almost every webpage in North Carolina showing people how and where to vote; the College Dems were one of the only organizations on our team that went above and beyond to GOTV. Unfortunately, like the Farm Team, CDNC doesn't have hundreds of thousands of dollars.

We need the national committees to know that when they concede a top of the ticket race, like the DSCC did with Marshall this year, they hurt our General Assembly campaign. Elaine Marshall is the first woman to lose a statewide, partisan general election in NC, and that didn't help the frankly more important task of keeping the General Assembly.

On the State & National level, we let the narrative get out of control. At the state level, we never really had control because Easley & Perdue's campaign finance troubles got more attention than Democratic accomplishments. Americans for Prosperity has a much easier job when they don't have a rational, factual narrative to compete with, and we didn't put one out at the National or State level. I would love for someone to disabuse me of the notion that 30-second spots featuring our President or even Speaker Pelosi listing our accomplishments would have helped immensely.

One complaint I got from every General Assembly campaign I talked to was that the VAN (aka VoteBuilder) was completely ineffective for GOTV this year. If you've worked on a campaign, you know that's a bad thing, and can't happen again. If the legislative races can't get out the vote, we can't win at the top of the ticket. Think of it this way - if we had a Democratic candidate in every legislative race, and over the course of a 6 month campaign they were able to get 10 more "straight-ticket" Democrats to vote each day they campaigned, Elaine Marshall would have won.

With this many defeats, cultivating young progressive leaders is even more important. We need our next generation to eschew corruption, lead on important issues, and change the narrative. Our goal at the Grassroots Farm Team over the next year is to find some of these people and position them so they can take back the General Assembly.

In closing...

Thank you for supporting the Farm Team over the last two years. Let's work together over the next two years to do what we've worked to do all along:


If the Hagan/Neal race taught me anything,

it's the importance of being on the telly. Both campaigns had strong ground-game volunteers, but (as much as I hate to say it) that and fifty cents will get you a cup of coffee. In a U.S. Senate race, if your media exposure is wanting, you ain't going to D.C.

Bad election season or not, the DSCC could have helped Elaine close the gap with Burr, maybe all the way. And they could have done so with a fraction of what they spent overall this cycle. Instead, there was a complete disconnect, and the reason has yet to be explained to my satisfaction.

I think Hagan/Neal was

I think Hagan/Neal was different. Ground game didn't matter because you were already dealing with maximum turnout. Name ID was everything - if all Jim did was raise $400K, only spending it on billboards or TV, he would have broken 30%. Then again, there's something to be said for certain kinds of ground game - Jim got the BPC endorsement in Charlotte, and won the vast majority of the precincts where someone - didn't matter whom - was handing out the BPC endorsement sheet. Also, in General Elections, you have the straight-ticket factor that just isn't present in primaries.

Nevertheless, $2m would have made a world of difference in Elaine's race. Many friends of mine don't watch TV, and told met that GFT facebook ads were the only pro-Elaine or anti-Burr ads they saw. The DSCC hit a home run with Hagan, but maybe they thought the seat was unwinnable after Cal forced a runoff. Or they didn't think Elaine's fundraising numbers were good enough. Or it was sour grapes. Who really knows?

I will say that when a friend of mine made the case for Elaine and others to a top official in one of the national Dem committees, they didn't care about the redistricting argument - even though it will certainly affect their chances of taking back the majority. I don't know what their math is.

I know, I know

I'm just grumpy about Elaine's loss. Ground game is just as critical as media exposure, especially in a mid-term.

Another reason for my pissiness is because, when I bitched about the DSCC's lack of involvement a few months ago, someone (of consequence) sent me an e-mail reading me the Riot Act about how I was actually hurting the campaign's chances of getting assistance from that quarter. Which, as you can imagine, made me feel about 1 1/2 inches tall. And angry. I started typing (and subsequently deleted) like 5 different responses, each one featuring the "F" word somewhere in the first sentence. ;/

Apparently it still bothers me...


As the campaign manager of one of the "targeted" legislative races I will slightly disagree on the effectiveness of the OFA/NCDP GOTV effort. They did their part in our district, it is just that "our" voters didn't vote. The precincts that we needed to get out, simply didn't in spite of the all the calls, canvassing, mailers, and events.

I have not seen the exact numbers but I have been told 17% of the under 25 year olds and 22% of the minority voters in our district voted.

You can lead a voter to the precinct but you can't make them vote.

As the former GOTV exective officer for Wake in 2008

I think the problem was the OFA method - it simply doesn't work in elections were Obama isn't on the ballot.

It failed in the following elections:

2008 GA Senate Runoff
2009 NJ and VA Gubernatorial elections
2010 MASS Senate Special Election

And I knew it was going to fail this election. Since so many of the Obama For America staffers were running the show at Organizing For America, the NCDP and the Coordinated Campaign, I had a funny feeling that this election wouldn't go well.

I got voters out to vote in my precinct by doing things the old fashioned way. I either met or exceeded targeted numbers and percentages of votes in my precinct for our candidates. I feel that some voters were distracted by the IRV race - Dems and Republicans BOTH felt it was a confusing waste of time, especially since there is no certified software to count the votes and it was an unfunded mandate. We had a record number of spoiled ballots and overvotes cast - and the poll workers felt that it was due to IRV.

I posted this in another thread - it's two versions of the "young bull vs. old bull" that show why the hyper-manic, full-time campaign mode OFA method doesn't work. It's not very well coordinated and thought out - hitting your numbers doesn't mean squat if you don't target the right people with the right message.

Ever since I read it in the "Great Santini" by Pat Conroy, I've always told this story about young bulls vs the old bulls as an example of my personal philosophy: "slow and steady gets the job done":

A young bull and an old bull walk of the barn and see a field of cows. The young bull looks over at the old bull and says: "let's run down there real fast and impregnate one of those cows!" The old bull looks over at him and says: "nah! let's walk down there real slow and impregnate ALL of THEM!"

But after this election, I have decided to change my story to reflect my disgust at some of the silly, wasteful, hyper-manic, campaign-mode bullshit that I have been asked to do this year - especially after much of that stuff was a big part of why we lost and lost big-time this election:

5 young bulls and 5 old bulls went to the barn door, looked out and saw a field of 30 cows. The young bulls ran down to the field real fast and grabbed the first five cows they saw, and began to impregnate the same 5 cows, one after the other. The old bulls walked down real slow, went past the 5 young bulls, and they divided up the remaining 25 cows and impregnated 5 different cows per old bull.

The old bulls got more work done, but the young bulls got an e-mail link to a youtube message from David Plouffe thanking them for all their hard work! ;-)

It's very strange that here in NC, we only lost one Congressman, but we lost control of BOTH houses in the General Assembly. Do you have any idea how baldy you have to f@#k up to flip the GA so that the GOP will have nearly the same majority that we've had. This is something that hasn't happened since 1898 - and that happened because of fusion voting.

We lost control of the US House of Representatives. People thought we'd be looking at the sort of lose that we had in 1994, but we went back even further - to 1948.

This was a catastrophic failure on many fronts. How do we fix it?

For one thing, get rid of the influence that OFA leadership and former staffers have on our party at least at the state level. Cut the cord between the NCDP and the Governor and the House and Senate Caucus - realize that with this cord intact they are more worried about keeping the money laundering operation running that party building and actually getting out the vote. The people who make money off politics make it whether we win or lose.

Bring back Howard Dean's 50 state-strategy and Jerry Meek's 100 county-strategy. Rebuild the party from the precincts on up. Encourage Barack Obama and the rest of his campaign staff to become "team" players - ask the remnants of the Obama volunteers from 2008 to get active in the Democratic Party. If you go by Plouffe's figures, 20% of those that are left won't do it - but we will welcome the 80% who would do it if only Obama asked them to.

Show these voters that when they become precinct officers & delegates, they have real leverage and power. They actually sit at the table, and they get to vote on who chairs the party. If we had an average of 50 volunteers per precinct - and a decent message (perhaps one crafted by real professional ad/PR/marketing professionals (not just someone who recycled the OFA logo into the new "DNC" logo), then perhaps we'd have had a fighting chance.

From now on, if you want me to go out and work for the Democratic Party and our candidates, if you can't come up with a better strategy than the one that this old bull has been using for years, I'll just continue to do my part and deliver my precinct. When the rest of you are tired of following kids that don't know the state and aren't dedicated to the party, just remember that you can't take back your country if you don't take back your party first.

And taking back our party starts NOW - when we get ready to pick a new NCDP chair in January. Only pick someone who has some strong background in the party - a precinct chair, county party chair, district chair, SEC member. Failed candidates for elected office don't qualify simply because they have had their face in the media. And don't pay attention to endorsement from Bev or any other elected public official - they just want us to rubber-stamp someone they can trust to keep the money-laundering operation running smoothly, no matter how badly we do in future elections.

We need to focus on both finding a good candidate for NCDP chair and getting them elected, but we also have to focus on getting all the 2763 precincts organized. Once we do that, we can then elect 100 county chairs who won't be rubber-stamps for failed leadership at the top. With a good team of "coaches", we can field good candidates and make sure that they win our Fall elections with the agreement that they work to turn our platform into public policy - and not pay so damned much attention to fulfilling the wish-list of the rich and shameless.

Chris Telesca
Wake County Verified Voting

I like that analogy

I think the problem was the OFA method - it simply doesn't work in elections were Obama isn't on the ballot.

In 2012 he will be. How do we strike the best balance the energy of the new, and the reliability of the old methods?

And taking back our party starts NOW - when we get ready to pick a new NCDP chair in January.

Who in your mind could represent the new? The old? The balance?

Not really sure a balance is needed

Obama will be on the ballot again in 2012. But so will 468 other Dems running for Federal offices, as well as ALL the NC House and Senate, Gov, Lt. Gov, Council of State, judges, and county races as well. We can't let Obama or any other elected official hijack the party ever again!

The OFA methods worked for Obama, but not really for many other candidates on the ballot. OFA wasn't spending time pushing Obama and every other Democrat on the ballot, plus judges who were Democrats.

We need to build up our party in every precinct. We should have had help from the Obama campaign AFTER the election, but we didn't get the names of those volunteers. So what if 20% of the ObFA vols only supported Obama and wouldn't support other Dems - 80% of them WOULD have done that but they wouldn't tell us who they were.

One thing for sure - we cannot let ANY ONE CANDIDATE or their CAMPAIGNS take over a county, state or national Democratic Party ever again. The people who run those campaigns are very selfish and they don't think beyond doing whatever it takes to win for their candidate - even if they stab other candidates or the party in the back to do it. And some don't care if our candidates or party wins - because they get paid no matter what.

I really don't think that worrying about the new and the old is the best way to pick a party chair. I'd like to see someone who will work to build the Party first and foremost - to pick up new active members, to come up with a plan to market the value of the Democratic Party to non-active Dems and also to non-Dems (UNA, Greens, moderate Republicans, etc.). Our party platform is a great statement of who we are and what we want our government to be about. We need more leverage from the grassroots on up to get our candidates to keep their promises to turn our part platform into public policy. Because if they don't deliver to us, our members will find new candidates to challenge them in primary elections.

You see - I feel that the whole "new methods" thing was a sham. Sure, we got people organized at the grassroots, but it was only to get Obama elected, then to push whatever agenda Obama wanted. What if what Obama wanted pushed wasn't what the people wanted? Surveys showed overwhelming support for single payer or a strong public option. But we didn't get it. OFA didn't want us out there pushing for single payer or a public option - only to rally and demonstrate for whatever plan Obama wanted. While he may be President, Obama is merely the nation's highest elected public servant - they all serve US, not the other way around.

We need to incorporate the new methods into the old. Some of us have already been doing that with Votebuilder access, but it remains to be seen if we will still have it for party building activities like precinct organization.

Here in Wake, we were already ahead of the curve with plans in 2009 and 2010 to put our entire partybuilding, precinct organization & GOTV together organized by House Districts (from 2004 and 2008) then with "turfs" (groups of 4-6 precincts in a particular House District) that we got from the Obama campaign. That plan was never fully implemented because the NCDP was pushing this "Carolina Blue Crew" plan that was more about winning elections than building a sustainable party. The plans for the CBC kept changing all the time and they never really seemed to be very well thought out. Volunteers reported getting calls from as many as 6 people (from the Wake Dems, the NCDP, OFA and various campaigns) all with different agendas for a particular activity that seemed to be more about getting the vols to do survey's and other things that had nothing to do with party building.

Sure enough, some people got more than one call. That meant that some people weren't getting ANY calls. But I am sure that those duplicate calls counted to help some young campaign worker meet their goal.

Chris Telesca
Wake County Verified Voting

What's next for the NCFT?

I know your still in lessons learned mode, which is an opportunity that shouldn't be missed.

But before we start taking everything back, the 2011 election period is coming up fast.

Two things are that on the horizon for me are the marriage discrimination constitutional amendment referendum that is likely to be on the ballot and locally the re-election campaign for Mayor Kleinschmidt, a candidate the NCFT supported last time around, for an office that is voted on every two years. I remember filling out the application for support last time from NCFT for candidates under 40 (which the mayor was then, but wont be at the time of the election, will there be any grandfather clause for previously supported candidates... or allowance for those who advocate on behalf of/reach out to younger candidates regardless of age?)

What are the NCFT's priorities for 2011? How many places have local elections around that time across NC? Seeing any promising candidates?

Well, we want some nfl jerseys

But seriously, I'm open to suggestions on ways to kill that amendment.

Sorry about that ;)

Sneaky little Chinese robots.