Sunday, August 22, 2010

Bipeds v. Bucks for MA Gov


Like an old lioness, sleepy but beginning to feel hunger and the drive to hunt, the Boston Globe is finally running real campaign stories a month before the primary. Last week, it acknowledged that three are in real competition for a key race, treasurer. Who knows, maybe after the primary, it will belatedly cover the two contenders for Secretary of the Commonwealth Bill Galvin's office.

Today's was a fair analysis of gubernatorial campaign expenditures and fund raising. Brian Mooney's piece turned the figures from the finance office this way and that. He didn't strain his brain toward any conclusions.

To me, he buried a nice lead about two-thirds in with a logorrheic single sentence paragraph:
Patrick’s reelection may hinge on his campaign’s ability to duplicate its sophisticated field operation of 2006, which combined innovative technology and old-fashioned shoe leather to turn out his voters on Election Day.
That's the game afoot. Republicans don't have the boots and brainpans. The Dems are only 30-plus percent of registered voters, but they have the humans to campaign and the field operations top down. Baker and his band of marauders are buying air time, image and PR agencies and such to compensate — moderately successfully so far.

For his part, Patrick has bought into a strategy that might work or not. At the least, it will illustrate the campaign's inventiveness, courage and faith in the voters.

What worked four years ago was a combined grassroots and netroots effort that involved voters of all ages, including the 18 through mid-20s ones who were supposed apathetic, disillusioned or both. I for one as a blogger sort swirled in the Charybdis of the campaign, as Patrick himself and his minions treated new media types as real press and showed their willingness to engage well beyond traditional methods.

Unfortunately for the past three years, Patrick lost touch and dropped pretense of grassroots and netroots activism. They surely wouldn't interpret it that way, but it was pretty plain. For example, after ignoring the folk who helped elect him in 2006, Patrick announced a year ago that he'd show up at a blogger BBQ. Some adviser seemed to think that would make bloggers and podcasters love him passionately again after being ignored for a few years.

However, they aren't unobservant. In July, they began hosting organizing meetings in various high-voting neighborhoods. I went to the one in JP, where Reuben Kantor and Rev. Manikka Bowman spoke. He of course is the well credentialed journeyman campaigner, having run field operations for Patrick and worked on campaigns for the likes of Mike Ross and Ayanna Pressley on Boston City Council. He also used to have the title of manager of grassroots operation for Patrick. Bowman is taking over his field operations for the Patrick campaign.

Kantor is always candid. He told the loyalists assembled that they had blown it in the special election to replace Ted Kennedy in the Senate. Specifically, they used the old auto-dialers in phonebanking. The volunteers had no idea whom they'd get, how they'd voted or even their party registration. It didn't pan out for the Dems.

It remains to be seen whether college-age and up young adults can get the YES WE CAN fire. Patrick can unroll a long scroll of accomplishments, much more than any recent governor could match. Yet, times are tough and re-election is a harder sell.

A central idea for the current campaign is a version of grassroots. Organizers don't get secret decoder rings, but they can take as many yellow pads as they want. The thing is to personalize the solicitations and not annoy voters with those cold calls. Each pad toter signs up voters who pledge to smear the ovals for Patrick and Tim Murray in November. The organizers then agree to email or call their voters...as needed and not repeatedly...instead. They are counting on engaged voters again, but with less whiz bang, new media.

That's not as inspirational as the last go-round. It may not have to be. Patrick isn't starting as an unknown without a political résumé.

Four-way debates coming up repeatedly, with the general finalists, including GOP Charles Baker, independent Tim Cahill, and Green-Rainbow Jill Stein, are probably not going to determine the outcome. Instead, organizations, retail politicking and advertising should.

The Globe quotes Baker's campaign manger, Tim O'Brien, as predicting his and Patrick's advertising will respond to each other. Even Cahill wheezes the standard that he'll have enough money to be competitive.

The grassroots/networks strategy was huge for Patrick four years ago. The yellow-card version seems a wise variation. Yellow we can?

Two other races: Truth be told, as the biggest paper in the region, the Globe could and should be driving debates for the down-ticket races. Treasurer and secretary each offer clear choices and potential big improvements. So far, we wonky types know and are excited. Meanwhile, a couple of the candidates tell me that no one seems in any hurry to catalyze or host debates.

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