My thoughts on the 175th primary

Since this is my first post here, let me introduce myself. My name is Ben, and I'm a UPenn grad student living here in Philadelphia. I worked as a DNC fundraiser (along with Anne Dicker, who I'm writing about) and as a MoveOn organizer (with Ray Murphy who seems to post regularly on this site) back in 2004. Since then, I've taken something of a political hiatus before volunteering for Anne's campaign this past week. I have a LiveJournal, but it's read mostly by Minnesotan friends of mine, so I'm posting this here.

I haven't worked or volunteered on a winning campaign in almost ten years, so I hardly remember the winning feeling, but I think I left our "victory party" Tuesday night feeling it. I was excited and enthusiastic and ready to go lit-drop a neighborhood then and there. By beating one machine candidate and coming a few hundred votes away from another, we showed that hard-working, committed, progressive volunteers could be a force to be reckoned with in this city. When Mike goes to Harrisburg, he'll have to know that we can beat him in a two-way race, and I hope that'll make him receptive to progressive lobbying. Vince Fumo has gone from a kingmaker to a last-place-finish-maker. Progressives who voted for Terry because she "had a better chance of beating Mike" should be feeling fairly foolish right now, and hopefully they won't vote strategically in a close three-way race again.

More below...

I'd say the biggest part of the campaign's success was Anne herself. She's a great canvasser and a great leader. Some liberal candidates like to call themselves the next Paul Wellstone. Well, I knew Paul Wellstone. I saw him take half an hour to walk a block through the State Fair because he cared so much about listening to each person he met; I remember him inspiring volunteers to wave banners over the freeways at daybreak and do all-night lit-drops; I remember him earning the respect of all kinds of voters by always letting them know where he stood, even when it wasn't the popular thing to do. Most self-styled next-Paul-Wellstones are pale imitations, but I do see a lot of Paul in Anne, and that's the highest compliment I can give.

Anyhow, I spent e-day at a division in Fishtown where Anne had personally door-knocked, and where we had ID'd 30-some Anne voters. The division seemed split maybe 2-1 or 3-1 between old Irish folks who had lived there forever (or their middle-aged children) and young recent arrivals. The vast majority of the older folks were O'Brien voters. The committeeman, a big gregarious fellow who was nice enough to offer me water through the day, knew a great many of them personally, and so we didn't have much of a chance with them. For better or worse, it was clear that many are happy to vote for whoever the committeeman told them to vote for. It also didn't help us that the incumbent rep and her brother-in-law, a corrupt but locally popular former congressman, lived in the division. (Side question: Congressman Ray Lederer is a felon, having been convicted of bribery in the Abscam scandal, but he voted Tuesday. Can felons now vote in Pennsylvania?) Most of the young newcomers, though, were Dicker voters. Graboyes had hardly campaigned in the area, and I get the feeling that most of her (few) voters were essentially anti-O'Brien.

The O'Brien campaign had a great many people at the polling place. There was the husband-and-wife committeeperson team, one old local fellow who probably spent even more of the day standing up than I did, and a slew of guys who I guess were probably from Local 98. The Local 98 were utterly ineffectual at the polling place. I know how to street canvass, and I nearly always got to voters well before they did. Also, it never occurred to any of them to hold open the polling place door for the elderly voters. The committeeman seemed effective (again, he was a friendly guy and knew most of the neighborhood), but he was in a tough re-election fight of his own, and focused on hawking his campaign instead of O'Brien's for much of the day. (His opponent for committeeman was a Graboyes supporter, but wisely did not actively campaign for her. In the end, the incumbent committeepeople won.) Mike himself stopped by early in the day and complained about "systemic voter fraud" in the 31st ward.

The Graboyes campaign had a handful of paid people wearing her shirts. Most were Republicans. One sat on a lawn chair with the local Republican committeewomen and chatted all day. One was a Republican from West Virginia who spent awhile hitting on the Republican women in a most embarrassing way. Two guys just stood around for awhile near the end of the day. And one guy was a Howard Dean fan who nevertheless performed his job competently even after he found out that Anne had founded Philly for Dean. So, Terry spent $250 in my division on election day to get one effective worker and 20-some votes.

I know most of Anne's people favored Terry over Mike, but I think I favor him. What sort of progressive gives thousands of dollars to Perzel? Has to hire Republican campaign workers? And what sort of delusional third-place finisher complains that the second-place finisher stole her votes? At least Mike made no bones about who his supporters were (Local 98 and the party apparatus) and why he should be elected (experience in Harrisburg).

Overall, Anne's campaign was excellent. It attracted better media attention than any campaign I've seen in Philadelphia, its GOTV was top-notch, and it did it all with no institutional support, no paid staffers, little time, and practically no fundraising base.

I've suspected before that 70,000 or 80,000 was the largest urban district where one could run an effective campaign based on door-to-door, and now I'm more convinced of that. I hope we see more campaigns like Anne's in the future for state house and city council.

I also hope someone in Philly does a serious study of everything that happened in this campaign. How much time did Anne spend door-knocking in each division? In which areas was the approach most effective? How could the campaign have raised more money in the limited time? Now that we have some committeepeople around the city, how can they best help in the future?

One more thing. I actually hate a lot of electoral reforms that progressives espouse (most especially proportional representation and popular presidential election), but I've always been a big fan of instant-runoff voting. (See here if you don't know what instant-runoff voting is: In this election, Anne probably would have won with instant-runoff voting, assuming that the bulk of Terry's supporters preferred Anne to Mike. I'd argue that that would have been a just result, since the majority of voters preferred Anne to Mike.

Local 98 members were "ineffe

Local 98 members were "ineffectual???" You obviously are misinformed. First, there were close to 1,800 98 members working the polls. Mike O'Brien, 98's candidate - and the Democrats' endorsed candidate, I might add - won by a 7 point margin, despite the despicable, turn-coat support of Graboyes by Fumo, Perzel, Kenney and DiCicco. I heard that Kenney and DiCicco's top legislative people were assigned to Graboyes' campaign for the entire two weeks leading up to the election. How is that allowed? And, contrary to the stereotype, Local 98 members were extremely respectful to those civic-minded folks who made the effort to vote. Not only did Johnny Doc and his 98 army get Mike O'Brien to the winner's circle, they were also a perfect 70 for 70 on the "new blood" committeepeople they encouraged to run and supported. That fact no doubt gave Bob Brady a bad case of agita. So before spouting off that 98 was ineffectual, check the facts and the scoreboard: Johnny Doc 71 - Fumo/Brady/Perzel 0!

I do hope you read what I act

I do hope you read what I actually wrote. In discussing the dramatis personae of my polling place, I said that the 98'ers *in my division* were ineffectual *while at the polling place*. I saw it with my own eyes, I believe O'Brien underperformed (under 60%) in my division (18-2), and I stand by what I actually wrote.

It is completely conceivable to me that the 98 members in my division were effective in performing other gotv activities, or that 98 members elsewhere were effective. After all, they have a reputation for being a serious campaign force, they won the 175th race (although I doubt they could have won a two-way race), and I certainly believe you that they won the committeeships they were after.

Did Perzel actively support Graboyes? It doesn't surprise me too much. The more I hear about Graboyes, the more she strikes me as an opportunist. I don't know what the rules are about councilmembers' staffers working campaigns. I would've thought that the home rule charter forbids it, no?

I agree with you that the 98 guys were perfectly respectful of voters. In fact, I don't have a bad word to say personally about any of the campaigners I saw or met on Tuesday.

another anectodal bit

There were union guys working in the Headhouse Square area over the weekend, and it seemed that their level of enthusiasm stopped at sitting in a chair with a box of O'Brien flyers. Not reaching out, not winning people over, just giving a brochure to anybody who asked. Nobody working through organizational affiliation is going to have the same level of devotion as somebody working for a candidate they really feel strongly about, so you have to hope you have an advantage through sheer numbers...


"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
— Margaret Mead

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