This is not a diary where I have a lot of information to offer, but rather one where I have a lot of information to request. I will hope for a spirited discussion.
It recently struck me that while we have now had a cycle and change of netroots campaigning behind us, I have not seen what I had expected to see by this point: a "Lessons Learned" report. Such reports are commonly generated at the end of a project. As you can see from the Google search above, the military has a strong devotion to "Lessons Learned" reports, but so do engineers, law firms, government agencies, and any other group that has to do similar things repeatedly and wants to learn from collective experience.
Maybe there's a wonderful Lessons Learned report on Netroots Campaigns out there and I missed it; I don't read MyDD as often as I should. Maybe people don't want to share information, though that would be uncharacteristic of us. But, as we're already talking about 2008 netroots candidates now -- hi, Rep. DeFazio! -- we should also be talking about What Works And What Doesn't. This diary is intended to prompt such a discussion.
Note: honestly, if you have something of value to offer, don't feel you have to read this before leaving your comment. These are just my own observations and many here will have better ones.
I have only a bit to offer based on my work for Jack Carter this past fall in Nevada's U.S. Senate race. (Many of you active here then probably already met my alter ego.) I have not written about my involvement in that campaign mostly because it struck me as, at least implicitly, breaking some trusts. But I think I can say enough about it to get the ball rolling here.
Lesson Learned #1: It helps to have a rock star in your corner
In our case, we had two rock stars, Jack's Koster daughter Sarah R Carter, who blogged here and on the campaign sight with unceasing good cheer, and Jack's father, of whom you may have heard. Both did an excellent job of getting out the news to the community and creating a substantial buzz; both were routinely high atop the Rec List. My sense is that most of that buzz converted to fundraising rather than other benefits, but given how badly we were outspent that was nothing to be sneezed at. (I don't know the total figures on Web donations.
The problem: few netroots candidates have access to rock stars who can create that sort of buzz.
Lesson Learned #2: It is harder to get people to donate time than money
I started out pretty starry-eyed about what might be accomplished via the net roots, which for me meant pretty much DKos. And while I made some good contacts and did find some people willing to help, by and large the response was far less than I originally envisioned. Some of that problem derived from my not getting back to people quickly enough, which in turn derived from my not having clearance to go ahead with certain projects as quickly as I had expected. What one commenter predicted would turn out to be the "killer app" of blogs turned out to be much less. I don't know that that was inherent in the system, or due to the mad dash of the 2006 campaign, or due to my own failures to take advantage of what was available. I only know how things turned out.
I had originally told people that I wanted their involvement in several areas:
- opposition research
- issue-oriented research to inform and facilitate campaign position papers
- media/marketing ideas and approaches
- generating strategy and tactics, noting especially innovations from other campaigns
- translation (Spanish and otherwise)
- developing and pursuing legal strategies to preempt and counter voter suppression efforts
I'll devote individual lessons to each, following the next, critical lesson.
Lesson Learned #3: "Half-fish and half-fowl" is no way to leverage the netroots
Now, I don't know what the way to leverage the netroots is, but I can tell you what seems to cause problems. Our campaign had a traditional organization for the most part, with ties to a lot of traditional Democratic consultants. (Some of this was a hell of a lot of fun, by the way. There are worse ways to spend a day than sitting in a room with Jimmy Carter's Press Secretary Jody Powell, writing an Opening and Closing statement for a debate. As it turned out, they didn't get used, but it was still a fun day.) Sarah (doing fundraising and blogging) and I (trying to find people to do the above list of tasks) were the campaign's main emissaries to the netroots. But the integration of the netroots-based efforts on my end with the more traditional approaches on the other end was poor. Lots of projects were started and fell by the wayside because I wasn't in a position to get approval for them, largely perhaps because I was selling something untested within the campaign. (This might have turned out differently had Jack not taken ill for three weeks and almost died, but that's the hand we were dealt.) So for me, one critical lesson learned is that if you're going to do something out of the ordinary, you have to have the campaign hierarchy on board. Of how many campaigns will that be true?
Lesson Learned #4: Diminishing returns
My first call to battle for Carter campaign volunteers got 73 comments. My second got 19. My third, 10. There's a lesson there about going to the well too often. For many campaigns with less intrinsic interest, I'm not sure if they even get that decent first swipe.
Lesson Learned #5: Opposition research: a partial success story
If there was a bright spot in "leveraging the netroots" as more than a piggy bank, it was in opposition research. A number of people -- I don't want to embarrass anyone by overlooking them, so please shout out if you'd like public acknowledgment -- stepped up and delivered some useful material. (We didn't get the big break in the Abramoff scandal, as I'd hoped, and my efforts to push dengre's consistently excellent work as a major campaign theme came to naught -- everyone had their own issues and I wasn't able to interest people enough in this one. Admittedly, the story was complex and our opponent, John Ensign, had given back donations that he'd received, although I always felt that there was more to see there.) One Koster created a great database of Ensign contributions which I used extensively; others provided detailed help in their own areas of expertise. I also got some great rapid response help after our first debate and this diary led to my being e-mailed some great suggestions for questions to ask Ensign in the debate that allowed a fair amount of space for that. (I don't recall if we used any, largely because the moderator screwed up the debate format.) So, making use of the creativity and knowledge of people in the netroots: worth my time.
Lesson Learned #6: Beware of the hobbyhorses
The second item listed above is "issue-oriented research to inform and facilitate campaign position papers." This was a more limited success. The problems were that (1) everyone wanted to do this, and (2) they wanted to stress their own, usually quite meritorious, issues to the exclusion of the ones where we needed the most help. I wonder whether what needs to be created is some sort of an "invisible college of the air" where positions papers of potential interest to many campaigns could be generated, kept, and sent off to campaigns as needed. I spent a lot of time apologizing to people that we weren't able to make more of their work. Not a real success here.
Lesson Learned #7: Media strategies and strategies from other campaigns
We didn't get much help here. In fact, the best thing I saw on this was something that we put out for the benefit of other campaigns. One exception: one person put a lot of effort into producing a lovely videogame making fun of Ensign. But the state party didn't put in on their website, apparently being more interested in state races and the close Congressional races. There really should be some better way of sharing this information, although perhaps DKos just isn't the venue for it. (Swing State? MyDD?) Beyond this, there is early spadework to be done (that had to be done well before I arrived on the campaign, in fact) about understanding the district -- even knowing what to look for -- that wasn't done. This is an area in which the mavens in the netroots can have an effect now, by helping people understand how to analyze a district and prepare to run a campaign.
Lesson Learned #8: Translation
Not much help here, but that was largely due to limitations on the campaign's being able to make use of what volunteers I found. In areas where translation would be useful, this would be a good program to set up, to serve many campaigns, well in advance of the last three months of an election.
Lesson Learned #9: Polling
My biggest disappointment in the campaign was that I wasn't able to set up a volunteer polling effort, as I'd hoped. I was not able to make contacts in the local university communities, as I'd hoped, and then the campaign decided to go pro, despite the extra cost. Near the end, when they decided that it would be good to supplement with volunteer polling, it was impossible to get the (overlooked and by now otherwise committed) volunteers into shape. But there also weren't as many volunteers as I'd hoped in the first place. We could use some work on this, if we want to be able to provide a service to campaigns. This is a serious volunteer contribution, if netroots activists (and our friends in social science and stats graduate programs) would like to take it on.
Lesson Learned #10: Legal strategies
I'd love to see something like this put together well in advance. There is no reason that netroots activist-lawyers can't have boilerplate complaints written up for all states, into which the necessary facts could be spliced. There are turf issues: this is the DNC's baby for the most part. But while I talked to some good people in this project, I wasn't very impressed with the execution. The netroots can educate people about vote suppression problems, and we didn't do it. Could we put together some sort of training material, and distribute it well ahead of the next election? We need to do more than complain; we need to act.
That is, I think, enough for me to get the ball rolling: what did you learn in your campaign that can help others be more effective in theirs?