Death of retail politics

Here are some observations about the recent special election
for senator in
Massachusetts.

Dailykos.com
reports that people who normally were asked to stuff envelopes and
make phone calls in Boston were ignored in the recent senate
race.

Here’s a story from a Fall River Democratic activist about her
attempts to help Martha Coakley on the morning of the election:

Anyhow, Coakley headquarters was in the carpenter’s local office,
there was one carpenter’s official. one would-be local-boss and one
carpetbagger from the national democratic party. And they wanted me to
go out canvassing door-to-door. I told them I offered to do that last
week, they refused. They ignored that and made the set speech about
how the face-to-face contact will make all the difference. I told them
it might have last week, but after this last weekend they are all going
to slam the door in my face. I asked them whose idea all the attack
ads were, there were ISSUES they could have brought up. They said they
hadn’t watched them. There were Brown people standing on corners with
signs on my way down there, I offered to stand on a corner with a
sign. They said no, they said I had to go door to door. I said give me
something in my neighborhood, they said they would. They forgot
though, by the time they got the packet together they gave me
something in the other end of the city. It took them 40 minutes to get
the packet
together, it still didn’t have a clipboard or a pen. In that time 3
union people came in, from New Bedford, who
milled around a while and then were sent back to New Bedford, And two
long-time dem stalwarts, both of whom were as mad as I was, and who
both thought with me that standing on the corner with signs was the
closest thing to useful we could do. And were told absolutely
not. Signs don’t vote. Which is true.

One of them got a packet the same time I did, not in her neighborhood
but in a tough part of town she didn’t feel like going to. I went out
with her and grabbed a sign as I was going. We stood out front
discussing the situation for 5 minutes, 50 cars went by, ONE honked
encouragement to me standing with my Coakley sign. She and I both
decided we weren’t going to do the canvassing.

I will mention that for all the money they collected nationally for
this campaign, they didn’t even have a coffee pot in the office. Or
donuts, let alone something nutritious. They had a big bag of tootsie
rolls, and some little bags of pretzels. They blew all their money on
attack ads and robocalls.

They’re trying to launch canvassing today so they can claim they did
it when the machine hands out the next round of jobs. This campaign is
going down in flames.

I’ll stand out with my sign at a busy corner at lunchtime for an hour
or so. But that’s it. Hope you’re having fun.

The polling place I work at is in a large assisted living
facility. Any campaign that’s serious about doing retail
politics in Cambridge goes there and talks to the residents.
Since people have a lot to think about when they’re moving, they
often haven’t registered to vote at the assisted living place
and are still registered at their old address. A competent
campaign would have either gone there before December 30 with
some registration cards and helped people fill them out so that
they can vote in the comfort of the room next to the dining
room. A competent but dilatory campaign would have gone there
the week before and helped people get absentee ballots who
needed them. Neither of those things happened.

I saw nobody holding signs for either candidate on election
day.

Neither campaign office answered their phones when people
called for rides to the polls.

The Brown campaign did have observers at both my polling place
and the count. The ones at the polling place claimed to have made some effort
to get one of the voters who needed a ride a mile away, but
didn’t actually get him a ride. (He ended up taking a cab.)

Note that none of the places I’ve reported information from is
a place you would expect a Republican retail political
organization, so the Brown Campaign may well have had a very
good organization somewhere else. But if Martha Coakley didn’t
have one in Cambridge, Boston, or Fall River, she didn’t have
one. Those are places a Democrat running statewide has to win
big, because even a badly run Republican campaign gets votes in
a lot of the other places.

A lot of the voters expressed relief that they were no longer
going to be getting the robocalls and having to watch the TV
ads. So the wholesale politics is probably just annoying
people, and not really changing their minds.

Part of the global explanation for all of this is that the
retail politics in Boston and Fall River (not Cambridge) is
usually done by the party machines, which apparently sat on
their hands for this one. Part of the explanation for that may
be that the Catholic Church is part of what runs the machines,
and they aren’t enthusiastic about candidates as aggressively
pro-choice as Coakley. But people like Kennedy and Kerry and
Patrick do something to get around this, and Coakley didn’t do it.

One of the things I’ve always said about politics in
Massachusetts is that the Massachusetts Democratic party is nothing like as
healthy as the Massachusetts Republican party makes it look. I
hope we manage to find a senate candidate in the next 3 years
who understands this and knows what to do about it.

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