Reading about cutting edge political strategies, like the “Bannock Street project,” reminds me of frequent late discussions at the regular Wednesday night staff meetings of ACORN in Little Rock 40 years ago as we would debate whether to spend all of our efforts on voter registration to tip the political balance or put all of our marbles on getting our members and their neighbors to turnout to vote.
In the wake of civil rights victories in the 1960’s, of course voter registration was huge in the South as millions of disenfranchised African-Americans were enrolled in the wake of the movement and the Voting Rights Act. Statistically, newly registered voters are also always more apt to vote than voters who have been registered for years, so this all made sense. Political reputations were being made on the new outlines of the demographics whether the election of the first Republican governor, Winthrop Rockefeller, in Arkansas, or Moon Landrieu’s election as Mayor in New Orleans, by appealing to black voters where others had attacked them.
By 1970 the voter registration arena was filled and financed in places like Arkansas on the Republican side, but as we broke into electoral politics in 1972 in Little Rock’s school board races, we were looking at citywide elections always won in 5th ward in the western, hills of the city despite by then huge numbers of registered voters in the more low-and-moderate income precincts. Working on the doors every day, our strategy then and it continued throughout four decades was all about the ground game, going door-to-door to turn out our voters, and register any, if we could, that we found while we were there.
Democratic Party strategists using “big data” and armed with computers rather than our boxes and boxes of 3×5 cards, constantly hand sorted, seem on the verge of finally winning the argument that no matter how much the candidate likes seeing himself on television, it’s all about one-on-one contact on the doors, phones, and anywhere possible to identify the your voters and then wrap them in a carrying case all the way to the polls on election day. The Bannock Street project named after a similar effort in electing Senator Bennett in Colorado and of course the huge big data victory run by Jim Messina for Obama’s campaigns have been tilting more and more people and money to the ground game. Looking at the numbers where Democratic registration gives the party huge advantages yet Republicans continue to win races, it seems we may finally be thoroughly shifting the political battles from the Fox News yelling to the trenches where our people live and are waiting for us to get personal to how to get them real candidates, real issues, and real help to get to the polls.
This is a winning strategy!