As we’ve detailed, progressives won a long list of important victories at the federal, state, and local levels in last week’s elections. And most impressively, these victories came in the face of a number of a number of significant hurdles, including the GOP’s largely successful cynical strategy of holding the economy down in order to improve their electoral fortunes, hundreds of millions of dollars or more of spending by shadowy conservative SuperPACs, a concerted voter suppression effort by conservatives groups and elected officials in key states such as Ohio and Florida, and the fact that Democrats had 21 Senate seats to defend compared to only 9 for the GOP.
There are many reasons that we were successful last week despite these hurdles. President Obama and the Democrats managed to raise a lot of money of their own (though less than the GOP and their conservative SuperPACs). Mitt Romney was an unlikeable candidate and his campaign was poorly run. President Obama and Congressional Democrats had a good track record of accomplishments to run on and the economy was slowly trending upwards. And leading GOP candidates, such as Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, made truly offensive comments that helped illustrate just how out of touch today’s conservative movement is with mainstream America.
But perhaps the biggest key to victory, at least at the Presidential level, was the Obama campaign’s superior ground game. With a community organizer at the helm, it is perhaps not surprising that President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign had spent nearly four years putting together a top-notch voter contact and mobilization effort as the core part of their strategy. The campaign ended up making 125 million personalized voter contacts, which was twice as many as Romney’s campaign, and had two to three times as many local campaign offices as did the Romney campaign.
Winning Progressive had the opportunity to help run the Obama campaign’s ground game in a neighborhood in Philadelphia for the final four-day GOTV push. That GOTV push focused on three things – reminding people to vote, helping people get to their polling places, and making sure people were allowed to vote. WP’s involvement provided a useful reminder of just how a good ground game can benefit a campaign.
WP was assigned to a GOTV staging location in Haddington, a working class African American neighborhood on the west side of Philadelphia. From that office, we spent the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday before the election overseeing a phone bank and canvassing operation targeted at contacting infrequent Democratic voters (i.e., people who had voted in 2008 but not since then) to show up at the polls on Election Day (Pennsylvania does not have early voting). During the days we would get volunteers turf to walk with a script to talk with voters or door hangers for people who were not home. And at night, we would process the data from that day to whittle down our phone and canvassing lists, input new volunteers or people who said they would need a ride to the polls, and prepare our lists for the next day. Every targeted door in our area was contacted at least twice in those final three days. On Election Day, the canvassing and phone banking continued, and to it was added the tasks of helping people find out where their polling place was, assisting them in getting there, and responding to reports of poll workers who were failing to allow eligible voters vote.
The hours were long, but it was more than worth it. For one thing, helping people participate in our democratic system is truly inspiring. For example, WP will never forget the woman who was blind and in a wheelchair who came to the Obama campaign office with her caregiver, asked for a canvassing packet, and returned two hours later after the two of them had put up more than 100 door hangers. We were also amazed by the dozens of people from New York City and areas of New Jersey that had been devastated by Hurricane Sandy just the week before who still managed to make it to Philadelphia to help turn out the vote. And on Election Day, we were truly inspired by the 98-year-old African American woman who was walking very slowly hand-in-hand with her 95-year-old husband telling everyone she saw how determined and proud she was to be voting to re-elect President Obama. Given the decades of discrimination she had lived through, WP can only imagine how important that moment was for her.
The work was also more than worth it because it was clear that we were making an impact in getting Obama voters to the polls and their votes counted. Dozens of people came to our staging location on Election Day to find out where their polling place was. On the morning of Election Day, there were widespread reports that voters in Philadelphia had received a text message falsely telling them that voting a straight Democratic ticket would not count for President Obama unless they also voted for him separately. (In reality, doing so would have cancelled out the Obama vote). So we spent much of the morning telling people in line to vote that the text message was false. And there was significant confusion at the polls due to the fact that (1) not all of the election workers understood that the state’s voter ID law had been suspended, and (2) the county board of elections had not gotten the names of people who had registered to vote in the last few weeks before the deadline onto the voter roll at each polling location. When we received reports of voters being wrongly turned away by election workers due to these issues, we were able to quickly respond, inform the election workers of the rules, and insist that people at least be allowed to cast provisional ballots.
In the end, of course, our efforts were more than worthwhile because we won handily both nationwide and in Philadelphia. WP closed a polling location with three precincts at a school that Romney had visited on a campaign stop. The final vote tally in those three precincts was 1,320 votes for President Obama and 9 for Romney! And in 59 precincts in Philadelphia, Romney received zero votes.
Increased participation and grassroots organizing will be the keys to defeating the forces of big money that are trying to buy our government. The Obama campaign showed once again that organizing can work. We hope that our Election Day stories will inspire more folks to get involved as we gear up for the 2014 elections and beyond.