After the November elections, there was a lot of blame going around among Democrats throughout the state. Many of the criticism landed at the Florida Democratic Party and while many of the criticisms are valid, there are other elements that need to be discussed before 2016. Many of the problems exist in the field. If the party is going to get their act together before the next election, things have to change from the bottom up.
The structure of the county Democratic Executive Committees needs to be addressed. Democratic candidates start their campaigns with a disadvantage on the ground. Because local organizations are so disorganized, campaigns have to spend more money building an effective organization and have to invest heavily in field operations. Coordination is abysmal, volunteer training is non-existent, and support from the party varies from race to race and area to area. All of these can handicap a campaign. There are better ways to built a permanent field presence from the bottom up than what is currently taking place that would give candidates an advantage rather than hinder them.
The progressive side of politics is mostly dominated by issue-based activists. While most groups support Democratic candidates, these groups do not always play politics effectively during election season. There are actually few activists who solely work on getting Democrats elected. This means less volunteers, less resources, and less organized central organizations all around. Local parties are dominated by the old faithful with one or two paid staff if they are incredibly lucky and a handful of resources that are spread too thin.
Republicans operate more like a sports team. They want to win and they have less ideas to pick apart – they have a set of volunteers who are willing to come out and work to elect their slate of candidates whenever called. Beyond the greater campaign contributions and corporate ties, there is simply a core Republican county party system that works better than the Democrats. They are more unified, more effective, and more engaged year-round. These are advantages that the Democrats can attack much more feasibly than the money game.
There has to be more organization on the county level for Democrats. Here are a few suggestions:
1) Volunteer Training
Experienced canvassers are easily worth 10 inexperienced canvassers, especially when volunteers are able to walk in their own neighborhoods. When local campaigns need manpower, having a few experienced volunteers on board can make a huge difference, especially on races that may not even have a paid campaign manager. Phone bankers, fundraisers, field work can all be taught beforehand. This should be one of the top priorities.
2) VAN Training
Related to #1 but with a specific emphasis. It is vital that Democrats built local talent to run races and in-house VAN training is one of the best ways to do this. My local DEC (Alachua county) holds trainings around election time and those volunteers that go through the trainings are like gold. Like having experienced canvassers, having a few volunteers on a campaign team who know how to cut tuft is priceless. Having a small army to evaluate and update data in VAN is also beneficial for candidates down the road.
3) Improve Communications and Social Media
While some DECs have excellent and accessible websites, there are dozens who do not. On many county sites, it is hard to even tell who they are supporting. Candidate information needs to be on the County DEC. A donation option needs to be there as well, as well as a contact button, and instructions on how to get involved. Contact information for candidate volunteer coordinators of local campaigns would be helpful as well. There are many ways this could be improved to help bring in more warm bodies to help out.
4) Build Community Coalition Relations before election season
Mixers, speaking events – build the progressive community beyond just the party. In so many instances, the party works off in a corner and does not engage and work toward other goals of the progressive community. Coalition relationships depend on working on various issues and this is complicated, politically; however, it must be done. Work to bring the issue advocated into the party and create a sense of teamwork.
5) Increase pressure on opposition elected officials
This is a major point that has to be addressed. Local parties need to step on pressure, especially on the legislature. Trackers and volunteers with cell phones can easily become headline news and there is no shortage of dumb nonsense that comes out of politicians mouths. In order to capitalize on this, an organized effort should be make.
6) Build a strong fund-raising base within the county beyond the election cycle
This involves cultivating relationships within the community over a long time, but establishing this is one of the most important things that the local party can do. Increase the flow of money into the local hands is also a great way to build an effective coalition.
7) Precinct-by-Precinct Organizing
This is the ultimate local organization – where each precinct has a captain that knows the layout and knows how to turn out the votes, piece-by-piece.
8) Candidate Trainings/Campaign Trainings
Running a campaign is not necessarily intuitive. Most candidates do not understand how to run an effective campaign and lack the knowledge to put together an effective team. Unless they can afford a consultant, little help is usually offered from the party. Ongoing trainings on the nuts and bolts of running a race would encourage people to run and take some of the fear and anxiety out of the decision. Lack of knowledge about the requirements of a campaign keep many good candidates from running and this is an easy effort.
Why do all these things matter? Because they save money, time, and resources. Ideally, local parties need to be a place where coordinated campaigns can happen on multiple state and local levels during election season. Long term planning needs to occur and there needs to be targeted areas where voter registration and outreach take place. This is a lot to do, especially on a volunteer basis, yet this
Democrats are never going to win the money game, especially in light of the Citizens United decision, so therefore the only way to play the game is to organize better. Republican campaigns are not run completely differently than Democratic campaigns not just because they have bigger budgets, but because they can pay to . We have to form a progressive coalition that can win campaigns if there is going to be real change in the legislature and that starts at the grassroots level.