Last week some OFA California volunteers got a special treat - a personal visit to our LA and Oakland offices from the architect of the 2008 Obama campaign, and a recognition of how our ground game is critical to success this fall in the midterms.
As I tweeted after he arrived:
David Plouffe was there to get us even more fired up about Vote 2010, OFA's plan to bring the Obama surge voters back to the polls again this fall. He was stopping by on his way to a fundraiser -- and had made a similar drop in at our LA office the day before -- to talk to us about how we can rewrite the narrative on the November elections.
It's one of those crazy, big challenges that seems almost impossible, but if it did work we would make history.
Stop me if you've heard this one before . . .
There's a reason Plouffe titled his book The Audacity to Win. It takes a certain imagination and confidence to believe a candidate like Barack Obama could become President. And that's the same thing that is in play right now as we look toward the midterms.
Conventional wisdom says that the voters who turned out for Barack Obama in 2008 won't come back this fall. After all, those first time 08 voters registered and voted because Obama was on the ballot. Typical midterm voters -- and many of those "likely voter" models you see reflected in polls right now -- don't tend to overlap with this "Obama surge" vote.
Who are those new voters that turned out in 08 and pushed Barack Obama over the top? They are predominantly young, and a large proportion are African-American and Latino voters, according to post-election reports.
These folks are the ones who can make a difference in close elections this fall, but only if we can reach them and turn them out. OFA created the Vote 2010 program to do just that:
More than 15 milllion Americans cast their vote for the first time in 2008. But history shows participation often falls off in midterm elections. New first time voters vote at only half the rate of regular voters. But in 2010 we have a chance to re-connect with millions of Americans who could make the difference in close races across the country.
So that's it - pretty simple. Get those first time 08 voters back to the polls, and register and turn out as many more new voters as possible. And we make history again.
You may have noticed I'm not hanging around here as much lately. It's because I'm so deeply committed to Vote 2010 as a game-changing political strategy, and because doing that requires a ton of offline, on the ground work. For me it isn't just about holding the line this November. It's about turning what we achieved in 2008 from a single election into a permanent long-term shift in the electorate. Here's how I described it back in April:
Midterms are always tough for the incumbent President, and with the economy and the challenges we face, I'd expect the Republicans to gain seats. But I'm expecting far less of a gain because I think we will get out some portion of the Obama surge vote this year.
And here's why that is so exciting - it has an effect that goes far beyond simply winning seats in November. Research shows that the more often people vote, the more they become likely voters. The first time voters from 2008 right now aren't considered likely to come back because they have voted only once. Get them to vote again, and for a Democrat, and you start to lock down these voters -- many of whom are young voters and people of color -- for the long term. And that's what can start changing the Democratic Party in ways many of us would like to see.
And now, after hearing the strategy straight from the top, I am even more sure that this is really the most important thing I can be spending all my time and energy on.
Plouffe offered a few key reasons we should look at this as a crazy big challenge but not an impossible one.
First, we are people who don't give up on tough fights. He reminded us of what happened after the Massachusetts Senate race, and how we all kept making calls, pushing for healthcare and refusing to let folks walk away from a lifetime's work at the last moment. Holidng onto the belief that "change is possible" in the face of adversity is a tremendous source of power.
Second, he told us that this election matters, because it offers a choice between continuing to move forward or turning back the clock. In his words, the other party "does not deserve to lead." Really, as if the choice in this election were not already crystal clear, we have the GOP's outrageous effort to block unemployment relief as yet another example of what we are fighting for. And whatever the frustrations voters have with Democrats, they have even less kind views of Republicans. We have a lot to work with in persuading people it is worth it to come out and vote.
Third, he made it clear that we have a real plan, one backed by research and experience and based on proven practices. We are offering first time voters commitment cards, like the ones used in some key states in 2008. We will be using the personal contacts on the phone and at the door that are the most effective way to turn them out. We will be relentlessly tracking and measuring everything we do. That's what I've been working on since late spring here in California -- making sure that our state has a highly trained group of volunteer leaders who can use our campaign technology effectively, and that we are managing our calling and canvassing efforts as efficiently as possible.
Finally, he offered the biggest reason this might not be your typical midterm election. Us. The legions of volunteers that OFA is beginning to mobilize across California and across the country. As one of my fellow organizers emailed me this weekend: "what enthusiasm gap?" This weekend we held voter registration events and phonebanks in California as part of the July Vote 2010 action weekend, and I saw stories from all over on the Vote 2010 blog. It's early yet, but we are already seeing excitement and energy on the ground - check out these great photos of the weekend.
No one has ever tried to use volunteers on this kind of scale for a midterm election before. But as Plouffe himself told us in Oakland:
Never before successfully done? Check. High stakes? Check. Serious plan to win? Check. Historic impact? Check.
And as soon as he left, we got back on the phones to our first time voters.
And if you are headed to Vegas, check out OFA's Netroots Nation panel From Online to Offline: How OFA Leverages the Web and Social Media for Real-World Organizing, or join the Nevada team to register voters who might help us hold the Senate. I can't be there in person this year, but I will definitely be there in spirit (and hopefully in virtual). I probably won't be posting very often because my days now are pretty consumed by conference calls and trainings and when I get online it is usually to get into one of our databases. But when I can I'll be by to give you updates on what it looks like on the ground. Because this is what change looks like:
I am a volunteer with Organizing for America in California. When I write here I speak for myself and not for the organization in any way. My diaries and all the words in them are my own.