Monday, November 19, 2007

The Lack of Candidate Organizations

Yesterday in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger's editorial page, David Hampton had an excellent article on candidate laziness. He wrote about the lack of organization of candidates and candidates mainly rely on big bucks for advertising. He is absolutely right.

The Democratic and Republican county executive committees should be the impetus for an organization for candidates. They should provide the foot soldiers for getting out the vote. Walking door-to-door is a pain in the neck (and feet), but that is the way to get out the vote. Telephone banks are becoming more and more ineffective. Many people are dropping their land line phones and using strictly cell phones, where the numbers are unlisted (so far). And a lot of people don't like being called because the calls are canned or scripted.

Whether the candidate is running for a Legislative House seat or a statewide campaign, he should have foot soldiers in every precinct and a strong organization that can coordinate the campaign. Most candidate organizations do not have that. Instead, the candidate thinks spending the big bucks will give you the victory. In many cases, that is so. But in a close race, the candidate with the best organization wins.

I served on Republican county committees in two states. In the state where I went to college, the requirement was if you were on the Party committee, you HAD to walk your precinct. Each precinct had a committeeman and a committeewoman. The two of them would walk the precinct together and report to the district chairman. And the district chairman would report to the state chairman. I remember giving up ten to fifteen Saturdays every two years walking precincts for the Republican slate. Two of us would walk the street. We'd walk from 9AM to 12PM, from 1PM to 6PM, and then from 7PM to 8:30PM. Sometimes, we'd get the door slammed in our faces. Other times, the voter would treat us to lunch. We would write on our note cards about the houses we visited, the reactions and whether or not there was a need for follow-up. By the way, this state had party registration. On Election Day, we had a caravan of cars to transport voters to the polls. Plus, we'd have precinct walkers to make sure people voted. Usually, the GOP candidate won. Money was not the big thing in the campaign. It was the campaign organization.

Mississippi has Party organizations, but they are not known for walking their precincts. Plus, the Party structure in the counties is poor. Each precinct should have a committeeman and a committeewoman. Now I know that would mean the Party Committees would be huge. In Rankin County, that would be 104 members. But these would be 104 hard-working members willing to work their precincts. The committeeman and committeewoman can monitor their precinct and note changes. This is the nitty-gritty of grass roots politics.

In the 2007, our neighborhood did not receive ONE visit from any candidate or his (her) representative during the general election campaign. In fact, there were ONLY two candidates who had people walking my precinct--- Charlie Ross's representatives and Mitch Childre himself. And that was during the primary campaign.

Money in a campaign is fine. Speaking engagements are fine. But a candidate and his workers should walk door to door on some days. You may think that's a candidate's waste of time. But that is where he connects with the voters and finds out what they are thinking. I know Gov. Barbour did that for State Sen. Richard White (who lost). But very few candidates do that.

A candidate considering a run for office should get his organization together a year or more before he runs. He should have organizations in every county and in due time, in every precinct. That is time consuming, but that is one of the big keys to a successful campaign. County chairmen should have frequent meetings with the precinct workers. I found out walking precincts can be very effective if you have two people working a street. You may have a neighbor you are not crazy about and the other worker could visit him. Besides, the fellowship and exchange of information is much better with two people. These precinct people would report to the county chairman and let him know what is going on. With almost everybody having cell phones, that shouldn't be a problem.

Do you remember Mike Parker's unsuccessful run for Governor in 1999? The biggest complaint was not the money. The biggest complaint the GOP had very few grass roots workers to get out the vote. There was no enthusiasm for the candidate and getting workers was a pain in the rear. I read many an article about the GOP having very few volunteers to walk the precincts or phone to get out the vote. A lot of the GOP poo bahs were willing to give the big bucks to the candidate but would not walk the precincts or get friends to walk the precincts for Parker. He was heavily favored to defeat Lt. Governor Ronnie Musgrove. Instead, he lost by a very narrow margin.

Party organization is a new political animal in Mississippi. Until 1972, there was hardly anything called a Republican Party. County Party executive committees exist mainly to certify candidates running under their banner and raise bucks. The Rankin County GOP brags they raise $30000 to $40000 a year for candidates. That is very impressive. But how many of them are willing to walk the precincts to get out the vote? I have found out voters like that one-on-one contact. They are much more likely to vote for the candidate you walk for.

For a very effective Party Committee, there should be a committeeman and committeewoman from every precinct. In many Party Committees, many small areas are shut out and have no representation on the Committee. Not only does that create resentment in the area that has been shut out, it could mean that precinct may not be worked during the election campaign (Admittedly, it may be nearly impossible to find a person from that area.). Party caucuses in that precinct would elect the committeeman and committeewoman. The next week the newly elected precinct people would elect officers for the Party executive committee and delegates to the state Party convention.

Yes, there are 1899 precincts in the state. That would mean a potential 3798 Party workers throughout the state. That is one strong grass-roots organization. Having Party people give bucks to the Party is great. But isn't it time we brought back the people who walk the precincts and knock on the doors? Both parties would benefit by doing that. And maybe politics can get back to the grass roots as it used to be.

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