the whitestick papers

looking at politics from a different perspective

Deeper thoughts on the election

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There’s been a bit of comment from the media and the like about how Chris Dudley didn’t do as well as expected in Washington County.  First, I disagree; it seems to me his real problem, like Kevin Mannix’s in 2002, were the 70,000 ballots held back in Multnomah County and which turned a close Election Night Republican victory into a close defeat.  But we’re never going to prove political malfeasance in the People’s Republic of Portland; as has been commented in the past, Republicans have to win by at least 3% in order to overcome the systemic fraud.

But, giving the “certified smart” crowd the credit due them, let’s look at the idea that Washington County was at the heart of Dudley’s defeat.  I can tell you, it wasn’t for lack of trying.  We had one and, eventually, two full-time offices in Washington County, pumping out voter ID and Get Out The Vote (GOTV) calls and door-to-door reminders by the thousands.  Chris Dudley and Rob Cornilles were our main men, and folks can tell you they received calls – sometimes three and four in a day – from those offices, encouraging them to get their ballot turned in.  Kevin Hoar, Andrew Ward, Polly Warren and a host of others, including this writer, spend endless hours making those things hum.  In terms of organization and effort, they cannot be faulted.  They were joined by others around the state but, when all the numbers are in, it was the two offices in Washington County that lead the pack in output.  That, clearly, wasn’t the problem.

So, if the effort isn’t the problem, what is?  I think there are three components; shifting demographics, unhelpful helpers and sunshine soldiers.  Let me explain.

Over the past couple of decades, the demographics of Washington County have changed.  Fleeing the taxes and government intrusion rampant in Multnomah County, a lot of folks filled up the urban growth boundary and the condos it caused.  Unfortunately, they brought their ideology with them, not realizing that was what caused the problems they were trying to escape.  As a result, a large chuck of the population, particularly in the denser areas as you get closer to Portland, tend to vote “No” on new taxes while electing people who propose them.  As evidence, track the voter registration shifts.

There’s nothing anyone can do about demographics; Earl Blumenauer and Greg Walden have seats virtually for life (although, to give her credit, Delia Lopez made an excellent showing in the Third District) and that’s largely due to the kind of folks voting for them.  What we can affect, however, is voter turnout – how many of our known voters get their ballot in versus how many of theirs do.  While we did a good job – Republican-registered voters turned out in significantly greater percentages than did Democrats – there were holes in the process.  To understand where the “unhelpful helpers” and “sunshine soldiers” come in and how they affected things, I have to explain what we were trying to do.

Get out the vote efforts typically account for a swing of 4-6% in the final election outcome.  In other words, if Candidate “Red” Runner would have gotten 48% (and lost) without a GOTV effort, it could bring him 52-54% (and a win) instead.  It is, quite frankly, one of the most powerful tools in any campaign’s arsenal; things like yard signs, palm cards, parade walks and town halls typically net less than 1% each and, while TV and radio commercials count for a lot, basically what you do with those is make sure people know the candidate’s name and what they’re running for.

You need to realize GOTV is actually a two-part process; first, you have to find the folks who are going to vote for your guy and then you have to get them to vote.  If they support you but forget to cast their ballot and, in Oregon, get it in on time, it’s useless.

As there usually are, there were a lot of people who wouldn’t get with the program.  What they did helped but, because it wasn’t part of the overall plan, it didn’t help as much.  I’m aware of a number of well-intentioned people who did what worked so well when they did it in “that mayor’s race” 15 years ago, hitting hundreds of houses in an evening with campaign literature for Chris Dudley and Rob Cornilles.  And the folks who’ve never been involved in a campaign before thinking in terms of quantity rather than quality and declining to fill out the survey’s that would have told us who those dozens of potential Huffman voters were so we could remind them to get their ballot in.  The help is appreciated, but it’s not as helpful as it could have been if they’d just filled out the surveys and let us know who was voting for our guys and gals.

Thomas Paine, in Common Sense, mentions “sunshine soldiers”, those who would fight for freedom as long as it wasn’t inconvenient.   We had a lot of people, paid and unpaid, involved in the final effort, but the real need for lots of people and lots of time is during the voter ID phase.  Think about it; that’s when we winnow out the bad phone numbers, people who are voting for the other folks and, some of the time, finding the gems – folks who were going to vote for our guys.  It’s long, boring and tedious work so, not too many people showed up.  They were there when the candidates visited, during the closing days, because there was excitement and recognition, and they did play an important part – I don’t want to diminish that.  But the real son or daughter of liberty is the one who was there when there was no glory.

Would you like proof?  How about the “three and four calls a day” mentioned earlier?  Sure, there would be some households with two or three voters in it, each programmed to receive a call, but getting several of them in a day means we had a small pool to work with – smaller than needed, anyway.   And that traces back to not enough fishermen during the summer months finding those voters supporting Dudley, Cornilles and other Republican candidates.

Want more proof?  Three candidates used the Hillsboro call center to full advantage.  They based their campaigns there, paid for voter ID callers and even ran a special night once a week to focus on their districts and their races.  As a result, Senator Starr beat back the strongest opposition of his political career – one which the opinion polls indicated he should have lost – and newcomers Shawn Lindsey and Katie Eyre-Brewer won over stout competition.  All exceeded projections by 3-5%, while most other state Representative and Senate candidates in the county – including those with (largely unused) offices in the building – lost by at least a few percent.

There’s even more evidence of the trend.  Andy Duyck, of the three Republican County Commission candidates during the Primary, used the phone bank system to identify supporters and get out the vote.  He won by more than 50% in May and, as a result, didn’t need a run-off.  The other two never did use the office to it’s full potential; both came in with less than 50% in the Primary and, while one won in the General, the other didn’t.

We can’t do much about the demographics, but we – you and I – sure can do something about doing the voter ID process well.   It makes a significant difference in the outcome and, the larger the race (in terms of raw number of voters) the greater the need.  In future elections, every TEA Party and Republican Patriot should plan now to not only spend some time as a volunteer, but also be willing to listen and work with the big picture plan.

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Written by Jeffrey S. Smith

6 November 2010 at 10:10 am

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