PA-06 Analysis - Top-down campaign is a loser

PA-06 has cropped up somewhat frequently amidst the various credit due/credit stolen diaries and comment threads.

Here's my take for posterity and, more importantly, as a starting point for a different outcome in '08.

As I posted in a number of comments on both DKos (here, here and here) & MyDD (here, here, here and here), there were a number of contributing factors to the 3000 vote loss we suffered.

I've no doubt that if the campaign had found a way to jettison the oh-so traditional media campaign in favor of almost any flavor of innovation, or managed some kind of coherent plan to counter the robo-call semi-sneak attack (I say semi because it wasn't all that different from the call overload problems of '04), or managed to bring the field operation in Berks County up to the level of the Montgomery County field, things would have turned out different.

But what I really think did us in was something more fundamental. What I think did us in was the curse of the top-down, command & control campaign. There was no defined mechanism for bubbling up or propagating innovative ideas from the large cadre of volunteers. There was no recognition of the potential and unrealized value of perhaps several dozen experienced grassroots volunteers (who if given some resources and let lose could have done great things) and no room at all to influence any of the mail and media effort that sucked up the lion's share of over $2.5 million spent on the campaign. As a result, there were no innovative commercials, no innovative mail pieces, no innovative response to the robo-attacks and no innovation-driven, grassroots-fueled excitement for Lois to seep into the general 6th district electorate.

As I looked at a random sampling of precinct results, especially in Chester County, the drop-off from Rendell and Casey to Lois was huge. Clearly Republicans and independents who crossed over in droves for the top of the ticket crossed back before they got to Lois. Yes, I understand that Swann was toast and ran a lousy campaign and that Santorum's negatives were so high as to give him a nosebleed, none-the-less, the Murphy Campaign ought to have been able to hitch a more effective ride on the available coattails; it didn't.

In just a relatively few minutes talking with a co-worker about the rubberstamp meme falling flat as Gerlach successfully painted himself as an independent voice on the strength of the votes the GOP let him stray on we came up with 2 effective concepts - juxtapose his "I'm Bush's Man" '04 campaign with this year's "I'm Independent Man" campaign & do the flounder thing; instead of "Voted 84% with Bush", how about "Voted 100% with Bush when the GOP chips were down".

Talking with Barbara McIlvaine Smith's campaign manager (STILL fighting to win the 156th PA House seat - down by 16 votes before hundreds of absentee and provisional ballots are counted) for 20 minutes just last night and came up with "bring your toddler" late morning coffee or "bring your wall-bouncing pre-teen to the gym" or "bring your shopping list and our high school/college kids will get your groceries while we chat" house parties.

There were dozens and dozens and dozens of great ideas (and lots of clunkers that got tossed) that floated up to the top or just got done by the DIY grassroots during the Dean for America and Kucinich campaigns, continued by Democracy for America and Progressive Democrats of America members and fed into many dozens of local, state and federal races across the country.

This is what is needed in PA-06 (and elsewhere) if we're to send the likes of Gerlach packing, even (especially?) in expensive media markets like Philly. But it isn't going to come from the next campaign manager out of DC, that is for sure. It's either going to come from what grassroots we have here in the 6th or it isn't going to come at all and that would be a major league shame.

[Cross posted at DailyKos)

Tags: Campaign Strategy, dccc, Lois Murphy, pa-06 (all tags)



Re: PA-06 Analysis - Top-down campaign is a loser

Gerlach is a capable campaigner who won a tough fight.  Maybe a new face is needed.  Murphy couldn't get over the top.  

The bigger story in PA, though, is that their Congressional redistricting, which was supposed to be a winner for Republicans, has failed.  With the three legit takeaways this year plus Holden's win in '02, that makes 4 R seats that have turned blue.  They put too many Dem votes in Repub districts and now have paid the price.  Revenge is sweet, even if it took four year.  

I didn't count PA-10 because that seat was handed to Carney with the revelations of Sherwood's "sins".  Granted, he did a good job taking it and will be credible to hold the seat in '08.  

by flatblade 2006-11-11 03:48AM | 0 recs
Re: PA-06 Analysis - Top-down campaign is a loser

Re Holden, actually the district they created was designed to have more Republicans, get rid of Holden who had already won in a district that was somewhat red, and make the new district safe for Gekas, who, of course, lost. So the Republican redistricting lost Gekas's seat immediately in 2002, even though he was given still more Republicans.

by joyful alternative 2006-11-11 04:10AM | 0 recs
Re: PA-06 Analysis - Top-down campaign is a loser

Alternate take: Patrick Murphy and Sestak ran on the war; Lois didn't as strongly.

by Adam B 2006-11-11 05:03AM | 0 recs
Re: PA-06 Analysis - Top-down campaign is a loser

Was there ground game better too? From reading psifighter's post's, it seems that Patrick Murphy's campaign put a lot of effort into constant canvassing of the district to try to persuade people to vote against "moderate" Fitzpatrick. Did the Lois Murphy campaign do the same?

by adamterando 2006-11-11 06:54AM | 0 recs
Re: Was PA-08 ground game better than PA-06?

I don't have first hand experience from the 8th as I do for the 6th, so I can't do a truly fair comparison and in the 6th I was mostly in Montgomery County and it's Berks where things fell down.

What I can say is that canvassing did have a high priority. That said, the lack of local people involved in organizing the canvassing was a problem. I lent quite a lot of help to the MontCo folks who were from out of town and didn't know the lay of the land. Lots of inefficiencies in that.

by Joe in Wynnewood PA 2006-11-11 01:36PM | 0 recs
Re: I was asked for feedback

I drove GOTV canvassers around the MontCo/Phila border precincts. Yesterday I got a call from the Rendell campaign, which coordinated the GOTV for all or most of the state Dems, asking for my feedback on what was good and what was bad. So there is interest in how GOTV can improve.

I know when I went to the training class, the MontCo Dems told me they were looking for more canvassers. If there were more local people who wanted to be involved, it seems they and the local party did not link up, even though the MontCo Dem website had a big banner asking for volunteers.

I agree about not effectively addressing the robocalls. I specifically told my canvassers about them, but I think it went in one ear and out the other of the college kids I had.

by phillydem 2006-11-11 10:43PM | 0 recs
Re: What happened to Iraq

Have to agree that not talking more about Iraq hurt Lois, especially in Berks where it could have helped overcome the other failings there that cost her the race.

by Joe in Wynnewood PA 2006-11-11 01:32PM | 0 recs
Re: PA-06 Analysis - Top-down campaign is a loser

What is an effective/innovative response to the robo-calls?

by adamterando 2006-11-11 06:55AM | 0 recs
Re: PA-06 Analysis - Top-down campaign is a loser

One really simple response is to make sure that every phone and canvass volunteer knew about them and had a shtick to respond with whenever they caught a wiff of negativity.

I had a number of instances of sour looks or comments about all the calls and/or negative ads and able to say "yeah, I hate all the calls/that stuff too - you do know who's making them don't you?" and be able to tell them the truth which went a big way to chilling out people who were getting pissed off at us.

I'm not aware of any volunteer orientation on this.

by Joe in Wynnewood PA 2006-11-11 01:42PM | 0 recs
Re: PA-06 Analysis - Top-down campaign is a loser

You are so right. I commented before that the DC-led campaign was wrong for the 'red' parts of Chester County and Berks - these areas and voters are not the same as PA-07 and 08. They did not want any advice from local volunteers and that was a huge mistake. I am going to pretend that Joe Sestak is my congressperson.

by pablue 2006-11-11 06:58AM | 0 recs
Re: DC-led campaign was wrong for the 'red' parts

I hadn't thought about it quite that way - good additional insight, thanks!

They did not want any advice from local volunteers and that was a huge mistake.

I of course agree and what I was trying to point out is that campaigns of this type are structurally incapable of making effective use of local expertise. It isn't so much they didn't want it as there was nothing they could do with it.

Adhoc advice isn't part of the campaign plan and if you don't work the plan 110% you can't meet the goals set and if you don't meet all the goals then you lose - well that's the mind set. What is missing is the possibility that important parts of the plan are wrong. There is no mechanism for testing assumptions behind the plan and making adjustments, sometimes significant adjustments if the assumptions turn out to be incorrect.

I am going to pretend that Joe Sestak is my congressperson.

I almost wish I had spent my time working for Joe so I'd have a tangible connection. Well I know some people who know some people, maybe they'll be ok with me pretending too...

by Joe in Wynnewood PA 2006-11-11 02:01PM | 0 recs
don't work the plan 110% you can't meet the goals

Wow. We had the same experience with some of the campaign staff. It was all about meeting those goals. Their organizational skills were great much better than 2 yrs ago. But I think campaign strategies need to adapt to work with the 'local politics' and thats where we came up short this time. Your analysis is great and needed for '08.

by pablue 2006-11-11 04:35PM | 0 recs
stop that - I'm blushing!

I'm glad I wrote the diary and to have the opportunity of hashing things out. I hadn't quite worked out my thoughts, certainly hadn't clarified them as well prior to this thread.

Much appreciate the chance to do so and I hope we'll all be able to benefit from them.

What I don't yet know is how we can/should go about ensuring that these lessons are truly learned and taken into account for the next go round.

by Joe in Wynnewood PA 2006-11-11 06:06PM | 0 recs
Re: PA-06 Analysis - Top-down campaign is a loser

They did an even worse job in the Lehigh valley.

by orin76 2006-11-11 07:23AM | 0 recs
Re: PA-06 Analysis - Top-down campaign is a loser

The Murphy campaign manager, a field operative with Kerry Ohio 04 credentials, may have been more symptom than cause.  The experts out of Boston and Washington spec the key consultants, staffers and strategies. The DCCC often won't even give you money unless you cooperate on those decisions.   Sometimes that approach works.

The inside guys really think they're about grassroots.  However, they grew up in politics at time when community contact was in decline.  They learned to use outsource telemarketing and direct mail houses at a time when politics was mostly about TV.  Field became fake.

Rove recognized a potential for change and created a hybrid model - centralized management that drives volunteer-based (and data-based) activity locally to contact individuals.  Dean et al. are trying to create viral models that really go back to Alinsky community-based roots.  

There's a lot of data and experience in each category now.  While I have my own premises and suspicions in this area, what the Party needs to do is go into races like PA 06 as well as the Kansas 02 to try to find a common basis for analysis.   What works may vary by circumstances and districts.  

by StewD 2006-11-11 08:59AM | 0 recs
Re: PA-06 campaign staff credentials

I didn't know where she had cut her teeth, but after one conversation I knew we were dealing with someone with a traditional point of view, someone neither in love with Gov. Dean and the netroots nor even intrigued at the possibilities their successes posed.

I haven't decided if I want to bother/risk giving her a call to see if she still thinks the 50-state and netroots expand-the-field strategies were a bad idea...

by Joe in Wynnewood PA 2006-11-11 01:51PM | 0 recs
Top of the northeast target list for 08

PA-06, PA-15, and CT-04, the only blue districts remaining held by Republicans in the Northeast.  Also WA-08, the only blue district remaining held by a Republican in the Northwest.

by lorax 2006-11-11 12:59PM | 0 recs
Re: Top of the northeast target list for 08

Which is why I thought it important to write this diary - I sure as shit don't want to be crying in my milk yet again the day after E-Day in '08.

by Joe in Wynnewood PA 2006-11-11 01:45PM | 0 recs
Re: Top of the northeast target list for 08

Don't forget New Jersey! Plenty of blue districts still hels by the Republic Party there!  I'd say all of them but the 11th are ripe for takeover given the right candidate.

Same for Delaware's at-large district.  Castle may look like Representative-for-life there, but it's definitely a lean-Dem districtstate in general.

NY-25 has a +Dem partisan index.  

WV-2 doesn't, but West irginia is wall to wall Democrats.  Time for a full court press against the  ONLY major GOP officeholder in the state.

MD-1 and 6 are maybe the least competitive districts in the region, but Andrew Duck showed we can give them a fight there, too.  At the next redistricting, MD may tweak one or both of those two to give Democrats a better shot.

In short, there's no excuse not to campaign hard in every Northeastern district.  The Northern strategy is just getting started here.

by admiralnaismith 2006-11-11 07:23PM | 0 recs
Re: Top of the northeast target list for 08

A few thoughts on your targets:

Every district in New Jersey that was won by Kerry is held by a Democrat.  Some are closely divided, like NJ-02, but none are lean-Dem, like PA-06 or CT-04.

Delaware is definitely a lean-Dem state, but as long as Castle is in there, it's almost impossible to imagine unseating him unless.  When he retires, this seat is a sure pickup.

NY-25 we can win, I bet, with a better-funded challenger than Maffei.

WV-02 has "Democrats" but they don't vote like Democrats in national elections.  Maybe they would if Capito left the seat to run for Senate or something.  Bush won the seat with 57%.

MD-01 and MD-06 are not competitive.  How much did Andrew Duck end up losing by?  20 percent?  Maryland Dems bottled up as many Republicans as they could find in these districts in order to win 2 other seats.  Redistricting leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and it also leaves super-red districts like these that are lost causes.  I'd rather Maryland had lots of competitive districts than 6 safe Dem seats and 2 safe Rep ones, because then the Democrats could hold more seats but would be kept honest by the fact that they couldn't always take reelection for granted.  They would have to do a good job.

Anyway, of course we should campaign in every district, but blue districts that didn't get enough attention or money (PA-15 and NY-25) make a lot more sense for investment than super-red districts (MD-01 and MD-06) or hugely expensive seats in big media markets where the law of diminishing returns makes that extra $100,000 not go very far (PA-06 and CT-04).

by lorax 2006-11-12 11:07AM | 0 recs
Re: Top of the northeast target list for 08

Yes the very poor job they did in the Pa 15th i.e. the Lehigh valley is why Dent is still in office. THey completely underfunded the 15th district and only bothered to get the vote out for rendell and Casey

by orin76 2006-11-12 07:26AM | 0 recs
Re: PA-06 Analysis - Top-down campaign is a loser
Beyond this the party did a  very poor job (futher on pa 15 and other districts)
in Lehigh,(outside of Allentown) Northampton outside of (Bethlehem and maybe northampton) Almost all of Northern Nj. They blew once in a Generation oporturnities in the Pa 9 and 5th district. (central pa where both candidates got 40 or more %)
by orin76 2006-11-12 07:41AM | 0 recs
Re: PA-06 Analysis - Top-down campaign is a loser

An article in the Philly Inky indicates that the RNC ran what may have been a critical GOTV campaign to woo urban Latino voters (usually Catholic, so probably receptive to a pro-life message.) in the Reading PA (Berks County) area.

I detailed some of it, along with a map, in this diary: 20/723

by lutton 2006-11-13 04:03AM | 0 recs
Re: PA-06 Latno outreach

I don't know of any Latino-specific activities by the Murphy campaign - doesn't mean there weren't any of course.

I can't be sure if I did, but I thought I sent along contact info for the Latinos for America's Exec (who is also on the Grassroots for America board and a trainer extraordinaire who's done lots of LFA/DFA trainings) - assuming I did, it must have fell on deaf ears.

I'll have to be MUCH more persistent on this next go round.

by Joe in Wynnewood PA 2006-11-13 04:29PM | 0 recs


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