About a week ago, I decided to take two days off of work in Chicago and go up to Milwaukee to help Sandy Pasch's campaign on Monday and Tuesday, election day. My wife and two teenagers, 14 and 16, helped on Monday. My mother in law was recovering from cancer surgery so they went to see her on Tuesday and I went back to Milwaukee alone. These were pretty much the two most gratifying days I've spent in a long long time. Highlights and observations below the squiggle.
I grew up in Milwaukee and attended the University of Wisconsin in the early seventies. Much of my family still lives there and I'm a Packer, Brewer and Badger fan, so my connection to the state is strong. I was profoundly affected by the events of February and March, but our lives in Chicago are active, leaving little time to actually do stuff in support, beyond posting the occasional diary, commenting frequently and donating to ActBlue as well as I could. As August 9 approached, though, I felt the opportunity to contribute to this effort in a meaningful way was slipping away. I told my wife and kids that I wanted all of us to go and work on the campaign as a family, in part so they could experience activism firsthand, and also so they could see what their dad is ranting about when one Republican outrage or another gets his goat.
We all worked Monday canvassing and I returned Tuesday to canvass during the day and phone bank later in the afternoon. It was not hard work at all, especially compared to efforts of the the dozens of volunteers and staffers, to say nothing of the candidate, Sandy Pasch -- all of whom had been working tirelessly and selflessly for months. But still I was gratified to contribute, and we were made to feel extraordinarily welcome.
No spoiler alert here. Alberta Darling won by about 5,000 votes out of 73,000 votes cast. In light of the energy unleashed, people inspired and organization enhanced, I do not consider it a defeat though. We are still gearing up for the big fight -- recalling Scott Walker. As most Kossacks keeping up with this know, these were six battles in largely red districts challenging state senators who had survived the 2008 tsunami. Obama carried Wisconsin by double digits. Random thoughts follow.
We Had the Right Candidate. Sandy Pasch is a nurse by training and it shows. She was patient, optimistic, well spoken and fearless; none of the smarminees too many politicians develop as their public face. She inspired her supporters, myself included. Too many lawyers in politics. It would be nice to have more humans - this is being said by a lawyer. Hers was a well run, motivated, energetic campaign.
Wisconsin is Highly Polarized. Sandy carried her north suburban Milwaukee county precincts by 62% to 38%, just under 9,000 votes out of 36,000 cast. In the other counties - more exurban, red meat places - Darling won by 14,000 out of 37,000 votes cast. In one of these counties, the vote was 2900 to 8000. Ugly. Craig Gilbert's blog in the Journal Sentinel argued that turnout was too good for the Dems. I do not disagree. Overall turnout was just under that from the 2010 election that gave us Walker. Darling slightly underperformed Walker. Still, they were as motivated as we were - but there were more of them in this senate district. The GOP has redrawn the borders, so there will be no contest here in the future. There was a great segment on This American Life on this polarization in Wisconsin. It is entirely true. Much worse than in Illinois.
This Was Just the First Step. Tuesday was not a loss. It was a beginning. We cannot succomb to instant gratification impulses. This has tee'd up the Walker recall. Remember we only lost the Supreme Court race by 7,000 cheated votes and turnout in Milwaukee sucked. The Walker recall will be statewide and if we repeat the Supreme Court performance, and boost Milwaukee, it will look good. These recalls are building the muscle we need. There are many battles and we cannot get discouraged. Digby had a heartfelt post on this point last night.
Technology Is Our Friend. This is the closest thing to a critique of what I saw, and I could very well be wrong. Hope I am. I was surprised by the lack of technology I saw. The humming networked laptops may have been behind the scenes, but I didn't see any substantial number throughout the headquarters. That said, I haven't done any campaigning like this for, say, 25 years, so I am totally unfamiliar with how technology is used in campaigns these days. The computers may have been further up the food chain. But I didn't really see social networking (or even email) used to reach voters, or remote communication with volunteers, or transmitting canvassing and voting results electronically, etc. No visible rapid transmittal of information. Also, it may have been used in the other parallel campaigns (eg, We Are Wisconsin). Nonetheless I had this sinking feeling that Darling had all these corporate-oids fiendishly manipulating data and deploying troops, while we relied on good old fashioned blocking and tackling, legwork and sweat. I don't think it would have changed Tuesday's result, but I think strong implementation of tech better leverages our human and financial resources.
That's it for now. I am thankful for the opportunity I had to make this small contribution with my family. I would encourage anyone reading this to do the same. And I am so immensely proud of my fellow progressive Badgers, the marvelous people that I met, that words fail me.