Monday, September 22, 2008

"WA-08: A Day in the Life of the Darcy Burner Campaign" (with video)

mcjoan (front-paged on Kos), with video:
This sign is enough to strike a tremendous sense of urgency, if not actual fear, in the heart of any campaign worker or volunteer, much less a candidate. But with (now) 43 days to go, the Burner campaign is firing on all cylinders, running what is arguably the nation's highest profile and most ground-breaking House campaign.At the heart of it is the "intense, relentless, partisan geek" (as she's been characterized by one local wag), Darcy Burner. (She cops to being a geek--she wrote the algorithm that allows the campaign's various databases to talk to each other--and sees no problem in being either intense, relentless, or with the state of the nation today, partisan.)

In 2006, I kicked off a three week campaign reporting trip with a day with the Burner campaign. I'm going to be doing a reprise of that trip this fall, and what better way to start it than to go back to WA-08.

Six Saturdays until the election, and the campaign office is buzzing, but hasn't reached that caffeine and nicotine fueled level of vibration that permeates every campaign office come mid-October. The staff is focused, friendly, professional, and only slightly rumpled. The coordinated campaign for the district is run out of this office, so folks are stopping by for all manner of yard signs and to volunteer, the core of any campaign. There are some incredible volunteers--and many of them--on this campaign.

I was going to be one of them yesterday, planning on a few hours of door-knocking with Darcy's field director Matt (the "other" Mudcat) Arnold, a Mississippi temporary transplant with a knowledge of political trivia and history that just shouldn't exist in someone so young. He's also got a passion for organizing, which brings out a lot of people on a really crappy day. So many, in fact, that we didn't end up spending a couple of cold, damp hours tramping around Snoqualmie neighborhoods--more people than scheduled showed up to volunteer, so there wasn't a walking sheet and materials for us. Believe it or not, I was disappointed not to get out there and hear what people in the neighborhood wanted to talk about, but I got over it quickly. I like being dry.

That picture only gives a glimmer of an idea of how wet it really was out there yesterday, and thus how dedicated these volunteers are. Here's a snippet of Darcy warming them up for their day that might give you a better idea, if you can hear her through the raindrops.

Weather be damned, these intrepid folks headed out on their rounds while Matt and I talked about Darcy's field operation, which is as impressive as any I've seen. First, the volunteers. They've filled more than 1,000 volunteer shifts in the course of the campaign, doing the usual door-knocking, calling, data entry and office tasks volunteers do. But at an amazing rate. Matt told me they've got an unheard of 85% show rate with volunteers--meaning that when volunteers say they're going to come in, 85% of the time they do. That's a sign of a committed base, and a sign that this campaign is doing a very good job of volunteer relations.

It's a smart campaign, and an innovative one. They have what they're calling "sandwiched canvasses," using a robo-dialer to call into the households they're going to be canvassing next. This lets the voters know to expect the knock on the door in the middle of their Saturday, meaning that they're more likely to answer it, and to be prepared with questions. They're also likely to show up at the door with a copy of Darcy's magazine [pdf] in their hand. This was another innovative tactic the campaign took--for the price of mailing out two standard campaign postcards, they produced and mailed a 12-page magazine to about a third of the households in the district. The format is a content-rich way to introduce Darcy to the district, outlining her positions on key issues in a much more effective way than can be done on a postcard. Based on some internal polling, the campaign was impressed enough with the results from that initial mailing to send it out to the rest of the district in the next few weeks.

That's not something that a House candidate normally does. Darcy is willing to take quite a few risks in this campaign, but they're strategic ones. As a "geek" and a former product manager, Darcy has a systems-based approach to the problem of taking on a popular incumbent. It's led to much more unconventional campaign than the one she ran in 2006, partly because she has a higher degree of independence this time around. That's largely because of the financial support she gets from the netroots. She doesn't have to go to the telco lobby, or the pharmaceutical lobby, or the insurance lobby--she doesn't have to necessarily dance to the DCCC's tune this time around. All of which makes this probably the most closely watched race inside the Beltway. And one of the most targeted.

The NRCC has reserved $1.1 million of air time to use against her between now and November 4, more than in any other race in the nation. Taking Darcy down, in their minds, means taking us down, neutering us. Obviously, they don't have a particularly good grasp of this movement if they think one loss will destroy us, or to think that Darcy would leave this progressive movement building effort she's been such a part of just because she lost this race.

Nonetheless, what this all means is that along with all of the innovative techonology and strategies employed by the campaign, it still takes money. The rest of Darcy's day yesterday was spent going to house parties, speaking with donors and potential donors. What they got was Darcy's usual warm and intelligent presentation, but they also got a lot of substance. Here are a few video snippets (and I'm not a videographer, so forgive the wobbliness) of what she talked about yesterday.

She hadn't yet had a chance to read the Bush proposal for the bailout bill, such as it is, but here's her initial reaction to the $700 billion plan.

She followed up with a discussion of her own economic plan [pdf]:

While economic news dominated what people wanted to talk about yesterday, the issue of the Bush administration's lawlessness came up. Darcy's response should remind you of why she was one of the first of our 2006 Blue Majority candidates to be reupped on Orange to Blue list.

While that sign up top says there are over 40 days to go until the election, in this race that isn't entirely the case. About 75% of the district votes by mail, and those ballots start hitting on October 17. Between now and election day, Darcy needs to raise about $1 million to counteract the NRCC. Most of that will have to be raised in the next three weeks. She's convinced she can do it, and sees a clear path to winning on November 4.

That means more call time, more house parties, and recruiting and sending out more volunteers. She's got the system in place to do all of that, but can use all the help she can get.



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