Thursday, June 28, 2007

Reflections on SD-3

I have read all the excellent posts put up around the state about the results of the SD-3 race. Ken's piece on What Went Wrong on the Florida Progressive Coalition raised many excellent questions and provides some insightful thoughts. Ray's Postmortem for SD-3 pointed out a lot of hard lessons learned. There are always lessons to be learned from any election. They are just easier to take if you win. OK, small correction already. I've been trying to read Why Calling Supervoters is Dumb on Grassroots Brevard but something over there keeps crashing my browser. And I have read Tally's piece More Thoughts on SD3, which is a good segue to where I am going.

The first three pieces, including what I could read of the Grassroots Brevard post before my browser crashed, are what I would call tactical reviews, for the most part. Tally's piece comes closer to what I would call a strategic reflection. And that is the direction that I am going to try to go.

If we are going to attempt to play the Florida version of the 50 state strategy, we are going to have to be strategic about it. There are three legs to the successful campaign stool. The legs are the Candidate, the Issues, and the Money. We all know what happens to a stool with less than three legs, don't we. So let's review the SD-3 race with a strategic eye towards these three legs.

I don't know Suzan Franks. Never have had the opportunity to meet her. I do know some folks who worked very hard for her. I plan on knocking back more than a few beers with one of them very soon. So what I am about to say is not about Suzan Franks. I am sure there are a number of Senate Districts in this state where Suzan would have been able to put up better results. But SD-3?. What I am really trying to say here is that we need to match the candidate to the district. This particular district might have looked attractive because the previous incumbent was known as a "moderate". But this is really, with the exception of Leon, a pretty conservative district, and we needed a conservative Democratic candidate here. The best example I can give you of this is the SD-10 race last year. Steve Gorham was a candidate hand made for this very conservative Senate seat. Steve is a great guy and made a terrific showing against an incumbent county commissioner, Rhonda Storms. I think we'll be hearing more from Steve in the future. Another example is Alan Boyd in FL-02. Only a Blue dog could win as a Dem in that district. The R's tried very hard to unseat Boyd in 2004 and lost. The result? Boyd was unopposed in 2006.

Another problem that Suzan Franks had in SD-3 was her relative newcomer status in that district. Running against Charlie Dean, formerly the long time sheriff in Citrus County, put Suzan at a huge disadvantage in the County with the most voters in SD-3. So what do these two things tell us strategically? They both point to the need for Dems to build our bench from the ground up. If we had been able to field a candidate who was a long time office holder and resident of SD-3, whose political philosophy was more suited to the district, I am sure we would have had a much better showing. I believe this is particularly true in a seat like SD-3, but it is also more or less true in any other senate seat.

Democrats win when we can clearly articulate that are values put us on the side of the voters on the issues. The top 3 issues to voters in Florida are property taxes, insurance and education. The property tax issue was the issue in play during this special election. Instead of leading with a statement on how her values led her to support equitable and just tax reform, Franks spends the first half of her issue page on property taxes on attacks on Charlie Dean. That violates what I call the General Grant Rule. Grant wanted to know what his commanders were going to do to Robert E. lee, and not hear about what Robert E. Lee had done and was going to do to them.

On property insurance reform, Franks totally missed the boat. Again she leads with an attack on Dean. Her only substantive proposal is to support a national catastrophe fund, something as a Florida state senator, she would have absolutely no control over. Franks missed a great opportunity here to lay out a values based plan for true property insurance reform that could be implemented by state action alone.

Education is clearly the issue closes to Suzan Franks heart. Her issue page on education is considerably longer than either of the other two issues. and here she says this:
I will continue to fight for the values embodied in a quality education
The problem is, she says this in the last sentence of her lengthy statement on education. If you lead voters with your values they will see that you are on their side on the issues. The quote above is a good one in closing. it would have been a great one as an opening.

So what does this tell us about issue strategically? Believe it or not, we actually won in 2006 by being closer to the voters on our values. Voters need to believe that you share their values. If you make voters believe that you will always be guided by your clearly expressed values, even if they disagree with you on an issue, they will know that you are making a principled stand and will respect you for it. The alpha and omega of positions on issues are your values, values, values.

The third leg of our stool is all about the money. In 2006, the R's outspent us by better than 3 to 1 in the governors race. The final numbers are not in on this race, but it looks like that ratio is going to be hugely larger. Money has been rightly called the mothers milk of politics. In state races money is needed for mailers. Mailings are both the most effective and most efficient mass media tool in state an local races. Winning any election requires you to get more of your voters to the polls than the other guy. This is especially true in special elections. In this race, we missed our opportunity to put on a statewide full court fund raising push the moment that a special election was going to be called.

In general we should be raising money the day after an election and keep on raising money right up until the fund raising blackout before an election. This money should go to the state party for use in absentee ballot and other ongoing strategic outreach efforts. It should also be available as seed money for general elections so that our nominee is ready to roll on the first day after the primary. In 2004, Senator Bill Nelson led an effort to do exactly that for our eventual US Senate nominee. While she ultimately lost that very close election, Betty Castor was in much better shape to campaign after the primary than was Jim Davis. Davis was off the air for an entire month after the primary. This gave Charlie Crist an advantage that could not be made up.

In Florida, there are 164 state races. Four of those are statewide, including the Governor. the other 160 are legislative districts. We must think strategically about building our bench and matching our candidates to the districts. We must make values our strategic weapon of choice. Most Americans actually share the progressive values espoused by most Democratic candidates. Once we get individual voters to recognize that fact, getting voters to agree with you on an issue, or agreeing to disagree with respect becomes infinitely easier. And we must do a better job raising money strategically.

Once we get those three legs on our strategic stool shored up, we will be much more likely to write about our electoral victories instead of lamenting on our electoral defeats. Winning is much more fun than losing. I am ready for some big time fun!


Jim said...

For what it's worth, this post could have been written by a Republican in the 1980s.

gatordem said...

Well, that's pretty much my point. This is a lot of what the Repbulicans did to gain control of the state government in Florida. Just like a successful football play, you keep calling them until the other team shows that they can stop it.

Eddie said...

Nicely done post on the strategic aspects of SD-3. I would agree full-heartedly with you that the previous reviews, including my own, were tactical in nature. Such analysis is much easier to do right after the election than strategic analysis, which you have obviously thought a lot about.

The biggest lesson that jumps at me from this race is the need for the party to get involved with special elections before the primary. The numbers from the race show that only about 4,000 more voters voted in the general election than in the primary (boosting turnout from 12% to 12.3%). Charlie Dean won with nearly the exact same margin that Republican primary voters outnumbered Democratic primary voters. Simply put, the primary voters voted in the special general election, and not many others did. This is not a surprise, considering both the primary and general election campaigns are each only three weeks long for special elections.

The only way we can hope to win these special elections is to attempt to get the number of Democratic primary voters near parity with the number of Republican primary voters.

Obviously, the party cannot back one Democratic candidate over another, but it can take steps to make Democratic voters aware of the race. Perhaps a pre-primary mailing campaign that simply aims to make Democratic voters aware of the race, with a little blurb about each Dem candidate and a tear-off to request an absentee ballot.

The great thing about getting more primary voters out there, is that those voters no longer need to be contacted to get them out to vote during the general. Who votes in the primary, but doesn't vote in the general? Resources can be diverted to contact other voters.

The long-term strategic value of these special elections is becoming more and more important now that voters can request vote-by-mail ballots through 2010 staring July 1st. We can now use special elections as an opportunity to build our absentee voter base for 2008, 2010, and beyond. The value of that is even far greater than the individual legislative elections themselves.