Rove to Walz: Where did you find voters?

Karl Rove asked Tim Walz where he got his voters: /templates/localnews_story.asp?a=274958

On Monday, he attended a new-members reception at the White House, where he met President Bush and political adviser Karl Rove, who was convinced Walz would lose. "He said, 'we had the numbers on you, we thought we had enough, but where did you find the voters?'" Walz said.

MN State Party Chair Brian Melendez tells us how in this DailyKos Diary: /192946/61 .  Excerpt in the flip.

How We Really Won

       Election Day 2006 was a tremendous victory for the DFL Party. We gained two statewide constitutional offices, holding the Attorney General's office (Lori Swanson) and picking up the Auditor (Rebecca Otto) and the Secretary of State (Mark Ritchie), who will administer future elections.

      We not only held the Minnesota Senate, we gained six seats. We gained 19 seats in the Minnesota House, took back the majority, and with it the Legislature.

      We elected a United States Senator (Amy Klobuchar), who will go to Washington with a Democratic majority. We gained a seat in Congress (Tim Walz), helped take back the majority, and brought two key committee chairs (Jim Oberstar and Collin Peterson) and a spot in the House leadership (Betty McCollum) to Minnesota, while electing the first Muslim (Keith Ellison) in American history.

       "This year was easy," some will say. "We really got lucky," others will say. "We didn't win, the Republicans lost.""The Democrats would have won this year no matter what.""We just rode the wave."

       Uh huh. The view from the cheap seats can be pretty simplistic. But viewed from the trenches, this election cycle was anything but easy, lucky, or simple. We can now celebrate one of the greatest victories in the DFL Party's history. And yes, we did benefit from a trend that favored our candidates. But this election could have slipped through our fingers, and resulted in another cycle of Republican misrule, in any of a dozen ways - quite a few of which nearly happened. But in a grueling year-and-a-half campaign that could have gone either way right up until the final hours, we outfought, outnumbered, and outsmarted the Republicans at every turn.

       Throughout this cycle, I have largely refrained from commenting publicly on the Party's strategy. For example, while the Republicans were out bragging to the media about their "Voter Vault" and their "72 Hour" get-out-the-vote strategy, we were building an even better voter file, and implementing a superior strategy . . . without them knowing about it. Now that Election Day has come and gone, and our strategy has paid off, I can share the top dozen ways that we won:

1.  Great candidates. The endorsing conventions last spring gave us an outstanding slate of candidates, from the top of the ticket to the bottom, all across Minnesota. And the Party stood behind those candidates, even against aggressive intraparty challenges. So just how much difference does the endorsement make? Out of 236 endorsed candidates, 235 of them - 99.6 percent! - came safely through the primary and went to the general election. The Party and its endorsement process are the strongest that they have ever been.

2.  Synergy between the activists and the campaigns. The precinct caucuses in March hit a 24-year high for attendance in a non-Presidential year: 29,067 DFLers attended their caucus. Not since 1982 have so many activists attended the Party's caucuses in a non-Presidential year. And the Party and its campaigns activated, motivated, and mobilized those activists, from the voter-identification work in the spring and summer through the get-out-the-vote drive in the fall, with local party units as the driving engines. The collaboration among the State Party, local party units, and campaigns was as close as it has ever been.

3.      A true grassroots organization. Two years ago, the Party's permanent staff was based entirely in St. Paul. This year, the Party hired a permanent field director for each congressional district, on the idea that each district director would coordinate campaign work in the even-numbered years and focus on party-building in the odd-numbered years. This field program has taken an unprecedented commitment of resources to local organizing. But it has paid off handsomely.

4.      Strong outreach to allies and key constituencies. The officers and staff have opened up communications not only with party units and other activists, but also with other key allied constituencies such as elected officials, organized Labor, and donors, all of whom were given reports on the Party's work throughout the cycle. The Party has also reached out to key voter constituencies under a strong outreach program led by Outreach Director RoseAnn Zimbro. And of course, the best outreach of all was candidates from traditionally underrepresented constituencies - especially Representative-Elect Keith Ellison, the first African American elected to Congress from Minnesota, and the first Muslim ever elected to Congress; Senator-Elect Patricia Torres Ray, the first Latina elected to the Minnesota Senate; and three women (Amy Klobuchar, Lori Swanson, and Rebecca Otto) elected statewide.

5.      Wise stewardship. The Party raised more money for this cycle than ever before. But more to the point, we deployed our resources prudently and effectively. We slashed spending on consultants, who delivered advice but not votes, and focused on identifying and contacting voters. We shifted our focus from strong Democrats, who were already likely to vote for our candidates, to "drop-off" Democrats - the persuadable voters who might vote for our candidates if they heard from us a time or two. Not only did we raise more dollars than ever, but each dollar got more bang for the buck.

6.      A state-of-the-art voter file. Last year, when we were hiring a new Voter File Manager, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee called Jaime Tincher a "rock star." The voter file that she (and a few thousand volunteers) built proved it: the DFL Party now boasts the most sophisticated, interactive, user-friendly, comprehensive voter file in the nation. When the Democratic National Committee measured Jaime's microtargeting, her modeling was the most accurate in the nation, and is now being studied as a basis for the national modeling for the 2008 cycle. (And besides running such a top-notch operation, we ran it under the radar - while the Republicans were bragging about their Voter Vault, they had no idea that we were massively outgunning them, because we weren't broadcasting our strategy.)

7.      The most sophisticated get-out-the-vote drive in Minnesota history. The voter-identification work that goes into the voter file in the spring and summer isn't an end in itself: it supports the voter-contact work that drives turnout in the fall. This year, the voter-identification work and Jaime's sophisticated modeling and microtargeting ensured as efficient as possible a get-out-the-vote drive. Not only did we identify the best high-turnout, high-performing precincts for lit drops, door-knocks, and persuasion calls, we actually identified which voters were the most persuadable. Coordinated Campaign Manger Mitch Stewart planned and executed a statewide sweep that took the best advantage of the voter file when it came time for voter contact.

8.      Cooperation among candidates, caucuses, organized Labor, and the Party. Politics can be an everyone-out-for-themselves, dog-eat-dog world, even within the same party. But this cycle, the candidates, the legislative caucuses, organized Labor, and the Party pulled together with unprecedented cooperation. The new interactive voter file helped change the culture, once the campaigns realized that their candidates were benefiting from the other candidates' voter-identification work, so there was no need for competition among proprietary candidate-specific databases. But the cooperation went far beyond the voter file: candidates at all levels banded together and helped each other in ways that we don't usually see. (And while we're on the subject, let me give a shout-out to the individual who, besides the Party organization and staff, has devoted himself to helping all the Party's candidates at all levels, from the U.S. Senate race to legislative races: Senator Mark Dayton.)

9.      A coordinated statewide campaign. Some cycles, it has seemed like the State Party focused on federal and statewide elections at the expense of lower-level organizing. But "all politics is local," and it's by winning at the Legislature and on the school board that we will transform this society into the Minnesota that we want to live in. This campaign began translating that philosophy into action, with both statewide and local campaigns identifying voters for each other, and with the State Party as a clearinghouse delivering information and services to candidates at all levels around the state. It culminated with a first in the Party's history: the joint field operation in the campaign's final weeks. Instead of the traditional practice of running parallel and duplicative field operations, the Klobuchar, Hatch/Dutcher, Swanson, Ritchie, Otto, Walz, McCollum, Ellison, Wetterling, Peterson, and Oberstar campaigns - all the statewide campaigns, and all the congressional campaigns with field staff - as well as the state Senate and House caucuses rolled their field staffs into a single coordinated field staff with Mitch Stewart in command. This unprecedented cooperation resulted in the largest, most efficient voter-contact operation in Minnesota history.

10.     A coherent, coordinated communications strategy. For more than a year, Communications Director Jess McIntosh and Deputy Director Nick Kimball laid the groundwork for the messages that helped elect our candidates and helped undermine their opponents: Mark Kennedy was President Bush's lapdog. Tim Pawlenty pledged that he wouldn't raise taxes, but his policies resulted in dramatic increases in fees, health-care premiums, and property taxes. These messages come naturally now - but a year ago, they were novel and untested, and it was by steadily repeating them over many news cycles that they sunk in with the activists, with the media, and with voters.

We got those messages across because Jess and her team crafted a solid theme, backed it up with facts, then enlisted the activists and the campaigns in its delivery - for example, by sending weekly talking points to party-unit chairs and activists, and by meeting weekly with the Senate and House caucuses, so that a consistent message was going out across Minnesota from the State House to your coffee house. And when the Republicans attacked, we hit back, hard; we stuck to our message; and we never let them gain ground. We even co-opted some traditionally Republican themes, like accountability and fiscal responsibility.

11.     A world-class staff. Minnesota was such a hot battleground in this cycle that the State Party could cherry-pick the top-notch political operatives from other states. And we did: Andy O'Leary from Indiana, Mitch Stewart from South Dakota, Jess McIntosh from New York, Jaime Tincher from West Virginia . . . each one the best in the business, who joined an already top-notch staff from Minnesota (plus some that we have since hired, including David Weinlick and RoseAnn Zimbro). Not only was this staff a unique combination of top-notch talent, but they came to Minnesota with their loyalty only to the State Party, not to favorite candidates or constituencies within Minnesota. Their professionalism, and their neutrality, let the Party play its role as honest broker among the campaigns, and built up a level of trust that helped foster cooperation rather than competition for resources in the Coordinated Campaign.

12.     A positive, issue-oriented campaign. The Republicans ran on wedge issues: abortion, gay marriage, immigration, and a strategy of smearing as unpatriotic anyone who criticized their failed policies. You can run on those issues, but you can't govern on them. The DFL Party ran on the issues that affect people in their daily lives: education, health care, jobs, transportation, environment & energy, tax justice, and withdrawal from Iraq. Our candidates ran a positive, issue-oriented campaign. (And when we did occasionally criticize our opponents, it was always factual, and never personal.)

       These innovations were practically all new in this cycle, and many of them transpired only after strong push-back in favor of the old status quo. Without any one of them, we may well have lost this election.

       Now, finally, the people of Minnesota have taken back their government, and they have done it through the DFL Party. But the battle isn't over. Politics isn't short-term work, and it didn't end with yesterday's election. The 2011-12 Legislature - elected in November 2010, two biennial cycles from now - will enjoy the chance of actually drawing Minnesota's political map for the following five cycles. The Party's long-term goal, having won back the Legislature in this cycle, must be holding the Legislature and winning the Governorship so that we can redistrict the state in the manner that the Constitution contemplates. (For the past four decades, a divided Legislature has failed in fulfilling its constitutional mandate, and the battle over redistricting has ended up in court.)

       This cycle was the first of the three that we must win in order to accomplish that goal. We're one-third of the way there.

       Meanwhile, let's celebrate the fact that a Democratic majority will again advance a populist agenda in St. Paul and in Washington. And let's look forward to the day - now not too far off - when another Democrat will take the oath as President of the United States.

       Brian Melendez, State Party Chair

Tags: Elections, MN (all tags)


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