Today was election day in New Jersey, or as we call it here “every third Tuesday”. It seems we are always voting for something. This time it was State Assembly primaries as well as voting who you wanted from your party to take on leadership party positions in your ward. Two friends of mine, Pam Andes and Eric Fleming, won those two coveted spots in my Ward. In doing so they lessened the control of the behemoth-like Hudson County Democratic Organization on the party. Given the corruption that has swollen in the HCDO due to decades of nearly unchallenged power this is a very good thing that greatly increases the chances of our FINALLY electing a non-HCDO Democrat Mayor in 2013. This happened a few places city wide as the result of a concentrated effort by those supporting Steven Fulop for Mayor in 2013 to have party influence in the wards come election time. BTW – the one thing every one of the felons caught in the FBI sting last year had in common was they were members of the HCDO.
Why am I bringing this up? Last week the Democratic National Committee announced that it would eschew the “50 State Initiative” methodology used in the 2008 Presidential campaign in lieu of a more traditional campaign that will allow them to focus large amounts of money on “states in play”. Even in the days of Citizens United, this is a mistake – as you would have thought they learned just this last year.
For those who don’t know, the 50 State Initiative was the campaign spending strategy for the Presidency, Senate and House seats put in place in 2008 by Howard Dean, then DNC Chairman, in 2008 – over the loud objections of Chuck Schumer and Rahm Emmanuel (the chairs of the Democratic Senate and Congressional Campaign Committees respectively at the time). The idea was to disperse campaign funds and support everywhere, including traditionally Republican communities, rather than the traditional pouring of money only into areas where you were not a shoe-in but had a shot according to polls.
The 50 State strategy was essential to Obama’s victory, as was Obama’s own successful grass roots movement. There were places where Obama’s coattails brought other Democrats into the House and Senate, but there were also many places where Democrats have not traditionally been competitive that the 50 State initiative brought into the fold. In those states it was often the down-ticket candidates that gave Obama wings thanks to the renewed interest of the party. You also cannot underestimate how the 50 state initiative negatively impacted Republican spending. The Republicans used a traditional strategy. When Dean started spending DNC funds heavily in Michigan it caught the Republicans completely by surprise, without enough time to kill the Democratic momentum, and wound up giving up on a large state that they thought they had in the bag. Moves like that were devastating to the Republicans.
I believe that Obama has been an okay President under the circumstances, and has the potential to be a great president in a second term, but getting there is going to take a lot more than the Republicans having a lousy field. Without having carried so many independents in 08 Obama would have lost. Even more importantly, without the historically high turn out of the youth vote he would have lost handily. Ever since the voting age was lowered to 18 the 18-24 vote held steady at 6-7% of those eligible. In 2008, the work of Dean, Obama, Rock The Vote, Vote For Change, and many other organizations pushed that to to 20%. This was the only age demographic that was both predominantly white AND predominantly Obama. The math is simple. If you drop them back down to 6-7% eligible voting, then even at the same percentage of support Obama would have lost.
Why do I bring this up? Because the 18-24 vote dropped back to 6% of eligible in 2010. While it is true that once you become a voter you usually stay a voter, the new class will still be enough to make a difference. It is in the end all just math. In a country like ours that is still predominantly split down the middle with a growing independent streak, if you don’t win the independents and you don’t get the youth out to vote and you are Barack Obama – you lose. We can keep praying that the Republicans choose a wing nut because it helps the chances, but choosing a wing nut is not a guarantee of victory by any stretch of the imagination. As we have learned, there is a surprising number of wing nut voters out there. If they do NOT choose a wing nut and instead actually go with someone like Romney this could be VERY close.
You want to make sure progressives wins in 2012? Then you better be ready to work as hard, or harder, than you did in 2008.