Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Election 2012: Democrats Return to Their Grassroots

By Catherine Kellogg and Chris Meehan

In January 2010, the Massachusetts Democratic Party was handed a crushing loss when Scott Brown defeated Martha Coakley in a special election to fill the Senate seat of the late Ted Kennedy. Coakley and her advisors made the crucial mistake of relying too heavily on her well-known record as attorney general and their party’s significant structural advantages, and took victory for granted.

This election cycle, Massachusetts Democrats ran a candidate, Elizabeth Warren, whose national reputation dwarfed even Coakley’s well-known career. This time, the party did not rely on its candidate’s name recognition or take her local appeal for granted. To win, Warren’s campaign and the state party built a “remarkable grassroots operation that took voter turnout to new levels,” according to state Democratic Chairman John Walsh. Thousands of hours were spent gathering voter information, canvassing across the state, calling supporters and undecideds, and developing targeted outreach strategies. The coordinated Democratic campaign registered thousands of new voters and targeted those who were registered but had not voted in many years. Volunteers visited an estimated 242,000 households throughout the campaign. On Election Night alone, about 20,000 volunteers, a number ten times the 2010 effort, continued turning out pre-identified supporters. Through these strategic grassroots efforts, the Warren campaign and the state Democratic Party were not only able to build Warren’s popularity and dilute Senator Brown’s support base, but generate record turnout in cities and towns across Massachusetts.

Too often, political candidates and private companies assume their good reputations and positive platform will translate into community support, and do not take the time to truly engage the community from which they seek approval. This is when the true value of grassroots campaign efforts can be seen. It’s our belief at SA that no one candidate or issue, no matter how popular or prominent, can win a campaign based on merit alone. Massachusetts Democrats learned this lesson the hard way in 2010, and made sure this election cycle would end differently for Elizabeth Warren. In the end, local engagement through grassroots network-building won out and Democrats found victory.

Chris Meehan, Deputy Director of Public Affairs

Catherine Kellogg, Account Coordinator, Public Affairs

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