I have had a tab open for Debra Bowen's website for the past couple of weeks. California Secretary of State Debra Bowen is, pretty much, my favorite politician in the state; I hope one day to vote for her for President. The news of the day is this:
Secretary of State Debra Bowen Campaign Manager Dan Chavez issued the following statement regarding the May 17 Special Election:
"This has been a very spirited campaign and it remains very close. There are 9,811 ballots that still need to be processed — more than enough to make up the difference. We are confident Debra Bowen will be in the runoff."
It is premature, therefore, to say that Debra Bowen has finished 206 votes behind wealthy Rancho Palos Verdes Republican businessman Craig Huey and will not be part of the runoff. For the purposes of this diary, it doesn't matter.
If you lose control of your car driving down a rainy freeway and spin out at high speed but somehow end up not hitting anyone or anything, but are instead facing the right way in traffic so that you can proceed driving, the proper reaction is not "well, that sure turned out all right!" but "what the hell just happened?" It's time to pull over to the side of the road to reassess. I hope that this reassessment comes not long before the news that Bowen will be in the runoff on July 12; either way, it needs to be done.
There are three major points to assess:
(1) Pretty much none of us saw Tea Partier Craig Huey coming.
(2) We could have helped Debra Bowen win, but most of us didn't.
(3) That we didn't do so is, this time, not so much our fault.
There's a fourth point that I'm guessing will take up much of the oxygen today; I'd like to make a vain attempt to shoot it down now. Plenty of people will complain about Marcy Winograd having fell for Janice Hahn's trap and run against Bowen, splitting progressives and taking a little over 5000 (about 9%) of vote.
That is not for we Bowen fans to criticize today. The sorts of voters who will prefer a Winograd to a Bowen in such an election are not going to change their minds -- or, if they are, they can speak up for themselves rather than be browbeaten. That is their business. They are part of the environment in which a progressive but mainstream Democrat is going to run. Bowen has no more standing to complain about Winograd splitting the progressive vote than Republican "frontrunner" (or so we thought) Mike Gin does to complain about Craig Huey splitting the Republican vote. Everyone gets to follow their bliss. You never know, in a race like this, and Winograd fans were as entitled to follow their dreams that she could make the runoff as Huey's supporters were from him. The question is what we Bowen fans should do about it.
First, we should recognize that, if you take Huey out of the picture, this race finished with the candidates ordered and spaced about exactly as expected. Hahn at about 24%, Bowen at 21.5%, Gin at 10%, Winograd at 9%. We didn't see Huey coming -- we didn't see 22% of the vote coming. That is the news of the day.
I searched for "Huey not 'Huey Long'" on Daily Kos from March 1 through the day before election day. Almost all of the references were still about Huey Long; second place went to the Huey helicopter. That suggests that we had some problems with our on-the-ground intelligence from the region and we need to work on building it. Calitics was better, noting about a half-dozen times since late March that he had a lot of money -- though no alarm bells rang beyond that.
The netroots' role
I had been meaning on writing about the Bowen campaign for weeks now, but (for reasons explained below) it seemed not to be necessary. The situation appeared to be in control. The "real election" was in two months. May 18 was to be the day to begin preparing for it. So, rather than engage in the Bowen-Winograd sniping and Hahn slapping that took up most progressive discussion on the race, I decided to wait until the storyline was more clear. I wore her sticker at the state convention, talked her up to friends in the party (and the less-political people I knew in the area), and that's about it. Normally, I'd be beating myself up about this right now, except for one thing: if I had done differently, it would not have mattered, because of a choice made by the Bowen campaign that should provide an object lesson to progressive candidates everywhere:
The Bowen campaign made no provision for remote phonebanking.
The loss of words
When I entitle this diary "a loss for words," I'm not talking about my ability to talk about the result; obviously, you're reading those words. The words that I'd have liked to contribute to the Bowen race were ones I could have put in on the phone to her constituents, raising her profile, leaving personalized messages, identifying undecided voters and helping counter some (in my opinion) pretty sleazy ads and attacks from the Hahn campaign. That is the advantage of having a statewide and even nationwide profile: people who can't contribute money can still contribute effort and enthusiasm.
This has been one of my hobbyhorses here for years, cropping up most recently in the Kloppenburger-Prosser race for Wisconsin Supreme Court If you just passively read about that race, rather than participating in it, you missed out -- and your support was missed. We've had some wins and losses over the years, and even a time or two where netroots calls may actually have made the difference. The CA-36 open primary was a perfect example of how and where intervention from outside the district -- you know, the sort of thing that donors and endorsers do all the time -- could have made a difference.
That's why I kept Debra Bowen's page open. I wanted to see if she was going to set up a remote phone bank. If she ever did so, it was not advertised on her page.
Go to her page. There's a section labeled "Get Involved." You can "Join Us" (get e-mail updates), "Contribute," learn about "Upcoming Events." and "Volunteer." Click on volunteer: it's a sign-up sheet. It doesn't say what you're volunteering for. That suggests that you're invited to come in -- if "call from home" is an option, a campaign generally lets you know. (If they had a remote phonebanking system set up and didn't advertise its availability, then whyyyyyyyyyy??? But I don't think they did.) I'm about a $10-$20 round trip drive from her campaign headquarters, depending on which car I take; if I wanted to spend that money to support her for a little while, I'd just send it to her. But I do have time, plenty of cell phone minutes, and a willingness to bust my hump.
Progressive candidates, take advantage of that!
I don't know how much it takes nowadays to set up a remote calling system. That Kloppenburg had one for her non-partisan Wisconsin race suggests to me that it's not prohibitively expensive; much of the cost may depend on the quality of the lists. The technology has improved tremendously in recently years from the viewpoint of the person making the calls.
Someone in the Bowen campaign made the decision that this was not an avenue worth pursuing. It competes against mailers and internal polls and many other things. Some of that may be due to the spotty track record that we've had at getting people out to make calls -- and we here in the netroots can do something about that. But this was a race where remote phonebanking could have made a real difference -- and they didn't try to take advantage of it.
I would much rather be writing a scolding diary today of how we could have done our part in what turned out to be a close race, but didn't -- I've written several in the genre before. That is, at least, something under our control. But this diary today is sadder than that. We didn't have netroots champion Debra Bowen's back -- because we weren't given the tools and the opportunity to do so. Too bad. It was a close race.