California campaign begins-questions

(Cross posted at Happening-Here)

Democratic party heavy hitters came to my 'hood this morning to launch the local subset of the fall California campaign. This doesn't happen a lot. I live in San Francisco's Latino district; the rally site at 16th and Mission is not only day laborer terrain, but also drug dealer crossroads and leftist land. It's much more gritty than pretty. (Note the pigeon in the picture.)

Alerted by Calitics, I charged off at 9:30 to what was billed as a 9:30-11am rally. Not surprisingly, I was more than on time. Just to be clear I should say I'll be voting for Angelides and probably walk a few precincts, but I don't have a huge attachment to this race (my political work this cycle will be outside California.)

The crowd, not counting TV cameras and reporters, was very sparse, about 100 people, mostly from organized labor, SEIU, UFCW, a few UFW, Bricklayers. The only identifiable community organization that had sent folks was ACORN.

My little neighborhood sure got the full alignment of big wigs. Pictures below the fold.

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I got focus grouped!

Last night I participated in a "progressive issues focus group," designed to test market a pitch from the Latino-oriented voter registration group, Mi Familia Vota. They didn't make the 10 of us who participated sign any kind of confidentiality agreement, so I am going to tell you all about it.

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Help: training community groups for elections

I am currently working with the Progressive Technology Project on curricula for community groups that want to involve themselves in elections. Don't worry -- we do try to make sure they know and observe the legal rules. But we also try to get them into the right mindset and that takes some doing. We'll be teaching some of the concepts in this post. Comments and suggestions are very welcome.

Community groups frequently come to electoral work with all sorts of misgivings, but seldom with an understanding of the most important fact about elections: elections are almost certainly different from anything your organization is ordinarily doing. You are about to play in a new game with unfamiliar rules.

It probably doesn't look that way at first: after all, getting lots of people together, raising money, talking to the press, convincing people of your point of view -- that's what you do all the time. On the surface electoral work looks similar, but it usually is not. Here's why:

1) Elections are a zero sum game, a war conducted by non-lethal means.

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Winning as outsiders

Cross posted at Happening-Here

This week many in the blogosphere were lamenting our inability to instill passion or install spines in Senate Democrats opposing the elevation of Justice Alito. More than once I dropped something like this on a comment thread:

Folks are going to have to get really used to understanding that we are outsiders. That isn't the end of the world. When the country was founded, a majority were outsiders -- not white, male property owners. The outsiders have progressively forced their way inside. The current Right wants to shove a lot of us back out. So we have to organize like outsiders, expecting very little from the Democrats except when we make them behave.

Sure, it is awful. But there really is no choice.

Guy Kawasaki was one of the "evangelists" who sold the creative, antic appeal of the original Macintosh to a world that had believed computers were for geeks or bean counters. He is now a venture capitalist whose blog Let the Good Times Roll serves as an amusing marketing experiment for his current ventures. Recently he put up a post aimed at start-up entrepreneurs about what he calls The Art of Bootstrapping. I find it interesting to think about what Kawasaki's advice to fledgling businesses might mean to outsider advocacy or candidate campaigns. In the following material, Kawasaki's advice is in italics.

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California absentee voting

As a voter, I love casting my ballot by mail, voting "absentee." I have time to figure out all the obscure propositions and can do my civic duty from home.

As a person who works to maximize turnout for my side in elections, I hate absentee voting. When people vote all at once on Election Day, you know when you have to reach them. If they don't vote, you can figure this out by mid-afternoon and chase them down on the phone or in person. And there is something about participating along with everyone else that helps voters feel that they are performing a meaningful activity. That's good for continued political participation, I think.

Today's San Francisco Chronicle reports that:

Next Tuesday's special election could be the first in which half of all votes cast are by absentee ballot. ...

"Last November, absentee voters were 37 percent of the turnout," [Acting Alameda County registrar Elaine] Ginnold said. "In this election, they could make up between 50 percent to 60 percent."

Different types of absentee voters have different voting patterns. Of the absentee ballots mailed out for this election, 613,000 are from voters requesting a ballot specifically for this election.

Those voters tend to have the highest return rate, averaging more than 90 percent. Permanent absentee voters tend to vote at levels 5 percent to 10 percent lower.

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