OK, What About the Next Few States?
by Peter from WI, Tue Feb 05, 2008 at 08:19:47 PM EST
Now that Super Duper Tuesday has come and gone, seems like time to turn our collective attention to the next few states scattered around the county. I have long maintained that Super Duper Tuesday would solve nothing and that the states that followed immediately after it would set the tone for the rest of the race and define the terms by which the candidates would fight for delegates. Since I'm Peter from WI, and since I'm pretty well-connected to statewide Democratic politics, I figured I'd try to blog for the next couple of weeks leading into our primary on February 19th. Read on for a grassroots and grasstops take on the primary here in Wisconsin...I'll start with this diary just being a bit of a primer.
First, a bit about me. Not for self-aggrandizement, but instead to give you a picture of where this all is coming from. My name is Peter Rickman and I'm the chairman of the Democratic Party of the 2nd Congressional District. The 2nd CD, represented by fabulously progressive Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, is right in the heart of south-central Wisconsin and includes Madison as well as booming metropoli like Mazomanie, Waunakee, Edgerton and Mount Horeb. It's the most Democratic district in the state, and in addition to being represented by a proud progressive like Tammy (and you can be sure that all progressives and Democrats in the 2nd CD call her by the first name), it is the home of Russ Feingold. The 2nd CD is also a pretty interesting district in that it includes not just the state capital of Madison, home of the fine institution of the University of Wisconsin, but also some of the most prime agricultural land in the world and some good old fashioned heartland America rural places.
Personally, I got involved in the Democratic Party after doing some non-partisan progressive issue organizing and having done a stint in Ohio in 2004. Like many folks that got involved in the party as part of a growing progressive movement, I have and continue to want to build a strong and progressive party. Sort of forcing my way in and sort of working my way in through activism, I ended up on the executive board of the Dane County Democratic Party. Last spring I was elected to be the vice-chair of the Democratic Party of the 2nd CD, and then subsequently took over as chair. Being a grassroots activist as well as running in some circles that include a lot of insider-types (I am also on the state party executive committee, which we call the Administrative Committee), I think that I have a unique perspective on this race.
In addition to my party activism, I have been heavily involved in the John Edwards for president campaign. I've blogged a bit about it here, but I spent most of my time organizing at the grassroots and grasstops. I am still 100% confident that had John Edwards stayed in the race we would have competed to win in Wisconsin. We built a tremendous grassroots campaign throughout the state and I'm proud to have been the state organizer of this grassroots effort. But now, I am totally agnostic about the candidates, and that's a good place to start...
Our primary is on February 19th, and both Obama and Clinton will be competing hard here. They have begun to staff up and will be bringing in more people after tonight's contests. In this contest for the nomination, moving forward from Super Duper Tuesday, I think that we'll see the candidates compete very hard in each state, as each subsequent primary will have a chance to sway the entire race - and the battles will be very even. Wisconsin will have a chance to determine the dynamic of the race because a) turnout will be very high and b) we are a pretty bellweather kind of state. In 2004, Kerry won Wisconsin by about an average of 1.33 votes per precinct around the state. We're fairly purple, even though our governor won big in 2006 and we flipped the state senate in our direction in that election as well. In 2006, the attorney general's race, where the Democratic incumbent was beaten in a primary, the Republican candidate won and a gay marriage amendment won pretty overwhelmingly.
Speaking of those races...our governor, moderate centrist Jim Doyle is backing Barack Obama. The lieutenant governor Barb Lawton is backing Clinton. Interestingly, Doyle, a long-time DLC member is backing the ostensibly progressive candidate, and Lawton, the insurgent progressive that forced her way onto the ticket with Doyle in 2002 when they both won initially, is backing the ostensibly centrist candidate. Our liberal county executive in Dane County (home of Madison, and my hometown of Fitchburg), Kathleen Falk, has been very active for Hillary Clinton. And Congresswoman Baldwin is also in the Clinton camp.
Doyle is the one of two electeds in the state with any kind of persistent organization with any strength. The other is Dave Obey, who has built in the northern Wisconsin 7th Congressional District a real Democratic organization that wins state legislative and local seats. Obey, the House Appropriations Chair, had backed John Edwards very strongly and I've had the chance to talk with him a few times about his support for Edwards. I can't imagine that he'd back another candidate before February 19th. That is significant because the organizations of electeds in Wisconsin can really drive their activists. With Doyle and Obey those of the biggest and most effective organizations, one of the major dynamics in Wisconsin will be how those supporters of theirs line up.
The most visible Doyle-related figure in the state, party chairman Joe Wineke, very publicly backed Edwards as well. On the other hand, Doyle nemesis and the former attorney general Peg Lautenschlager, who was beaten by Falk in the 2006 AG primary, is now looking like she backs Obama. Peg was fairly supportive of Edwards early on, even having been in attendance at some campaign events we put on and even inviting me to a barbecue at her home in Fond du Lac to distribute Edwards material back in the summer. And in the state legislature, almost all of the elected Democrats that backed a candidate came out for John Edwards, including the State Senate Majority leader Russ Decker and the Assembly Minority leader Jim Kreuser. The only state legislator that backed a candidate before this past week was Gordon Hintz, a freshman in the Assembly from Oshkosh. But this week, a few more have come out for Obama, joining Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett (Madison's mayor Dave Cieslewicz had been a long-time Edwards supporter) and Milwaukee Congresswoman Gwen Moore. And the only state party leaders that backed a candidate were with Edwards, including two CD party chairs, the state chair, and a host of county party chairs.
In summary, the grasstops has been split amongst the candidates. There is no discernible edge in organization by virtue of endorsements that will play out here. Grassroots organization will be a product of what happens from this past weekend, when most of the staff showed up, through the 19th. A short time to build a campaign from scratch.
At the risk of self-aggrandizing and fluffing the Edwards campaign a bit, I should mention a few things. The reason we built such a strong campaign here in Wisconsin was that we worked hard at it. We were the only candidate campaign to show up at the Congressional District Party conventions, hitting all but one and signing on supporters and developing local grassroots leaders. We organized hard for the state party convention last year, and we won the straw poll there by a 2-1 margin. We organized hard for Fighting Bob Fest, the largest political gathering in the state and a progressive mecca. We won the straw poll there by a 2-1 margin over Clinton and Obama (besting Kucinich by about 10%). Nobody else has organized, and the freshness of the grassroots to cultivate, with Edwards' departure is the major faultline in the state right now.
I am staying neutral and I have not tried to swing our organization to anyone else. That is the first frame of reference that I have. Since Edwards dropped out last week, I have gone through literally hundreds of emails from Edwards supporters. I would estimate that this group, a decidedly ideologically progressive group, is breaking about 60% for Obama. These are not just voters, they are activists, and they are plugging in right away. This is statewide too, from the Democratic strongholds of Madison and Milwaukee, which will account for the overwhelming majority of Democratic primary votes if past history is any indication, to the other places where Dem turnout will be high, like La Crosse, Eau Claire, the northwoods, the Fox Valley into Green Bay, and the lakeshore of Manitowoc and Sheboygan.
Having been in touch with the grassroots leaders of other campaigns, I have not seen the kind of high-level activity since Iowa/New Hampshire that leads me to believe that anyone will have a message-delivery and GOTV machine. It will be haphazard and somewhat chaotic, with campaign staff having the fun task of corralling a lot of voter enthusiasm into some kind of field program. To my knowledge, neither campaign will be buying into the access to our new Voter Activation Network. The VAN, a major project from Howard Dean's DNC, is literally brand-new to us, and is a significant step forward. Without the VAN, it will be hard to do serious voter contact over the next two weeks. But I could be proven wrong (and for the sake of party finances, I hope the candidates do indeed buy-in).
But I do know that the campaigns will be organizing. Having two full weeks to lead into our primary, they'll have the chance to throw together something resembling a primary organization. Tonight, I hit up two events for the candidates in Madison. At both, supporters gathered to watch Super Duper Tuesday results roll in. Both were decidedly low-energy affairs except when the surrogates were there. Admittedly, I had to cut out from the Obama event early to get over to the Clinton event. At the latter, the news media showed up to do bits on the three surrogates in attendance (Lawton, Falk, Baldwin). The word is that the governor was to show up at the Obama event just after I left.
These kinds of events are hallmarks of traditional-style campaigns. They are media-driven and not organizing vehicles. I read with great interest over the past few months the stories of how Obama was building a California organization, and we tried to build something similar for Edwards. The fact is that in a state like Wisconsin, well after the Feb 5 primary, organization could have really mattered. Doing events to not just push out message but instead to include components of volunteer recruitment and activation could have built a network. But because these are very much staff-driven campaigns, at least here in Wisconsin now, the lack of grassroots leadership has left both campaigns missing opportunities.
That said, Obama did an event in Madison this past fall that pulled in over 3,000. Clinton has yet to be here. Comparatively, on a rainy night in October, we had around 1,000 at an event with Edwards in Milwaukee. One of the significant parts to that was the presence and organizing of the United Steelworkers. They are strong in Wisconsin, with bases all over the state where Democrats turn out. Their neutrality in the race now (as far as what I've heard - although there are credible rumors that they'll back Obama if they do anything) is significant for organizing purposes. USW members are active and they turn out to vote, and they stick with the union by and large.
The best-organized union in the county as far as politics goes is AFSCME. And they were born in Wisconsin. As of this fall, one of the state's absolute best political organizers, former Progressive Majority Wisconsin ED Doug Burnett, took over their political operation. That's a major coup for them. Doug knows the state, and most of the figures in progressive and Democratic politics know and respect Doug. Combined with that, AFSCME has as robust a political operation of any union anywhere, and they are like a machine in Wisconsin. They'll keep their members voting Clinton and they will mobilize. They're also diffuse too, in all 72 counties. No other union will come close to matching that. The other two unions with political clout that have endorsed are the Wisconsin councils of the American Federation of Teachers and SEIU. The former went with Clinton, and speaking with their political organizer, I know that they plan to mobilize hard for Clinton. Interestingly, before he won the presidency, their current leader was a strong Edwards backer (former 5th CD candidate for the U.S. House Bryan Kennedy). The SEIU state council actually rented office space to Obama's crew a couple of weeks ago, and while I haven't heard much from them, I suspect that they'll organize hard, especially in their stronghold of Milwaukee.
If the Democratic establishment had been for Edwards and the situation now is split there, as well as with the unions (but with Clinton having the edge by virtue of AFSCME), this race is a toss-up. Whichever candidate shows up here the most will win. Grassroots organization, or lack thereof, means that a traditional-style campaign can win here. Sadly. But the campaign teams could surprise me.
The Clinton team has a veteran Wisconsin hand at the helm, Democratic operative Heather Colburn (fair disclosure, she's also the 2nd CD Party rep to the admin committee with me). In a conversation with the lead field person in Wisconsin from the Obama campaign, this past Sunday I learned that a veteran Dem operative from out of state will come in to lead their operation. Their respective grassroots leadership teams are just ramping up, though I would have to give an edge to the Obama folks right now. They have organized multiple events in the past couple of weeks and have more coming up this week. The student organizations have been chaotic at times, but are settling into their own, especially at UW-Madison. So much is in up in the air at present, I couldn't (and won't) make a prediction right now.
Hopefully this has given you all a primer on the race in Wisconsin. Over the next two weeks, I'll try to blog with more on what's happening and what I see on the ground, especially at the grassroots. Feel free to shoot away with questions and I'll try to address them. And no, I don't know what Russ Feingold will do - although that could turn the race, as he is genuinely beloved by Democrats, and especially activists, around Wisconsin.
Stay tuned though, this race will get hot real quick and will be a major decider, if my past predictions hold up.
If you enjoyed this or are looking forward to more updates from Wisconsin's primary, please feel free to make a contribution to the Democratic Party of the 2nd Congressional District, as we work to build a stronger and more progressive Democratic Party from the grassroots on up.