Monday, December 04, 2006

Political Education

In Oregon there are some good Democratic candidates for office who find themselves running in predominately Red districts and a Party vote will result in a loss. In many such districts the Independents do not shade Blue as they do in the more urban districts, they are decidedly "pinkish." This means that the voters must be persuaded that the candidate is someone they ought to vote for outside their ordinary predilection. Assuming that the candidate's policy stands are actually good for the constituents of the district, something has to be done to show them that. This means reaching people who are not ordinarily in that candidate's circle.

Reaching these voters is problematic in rural districts, the distance between homes makes door knocking difficult and in some cases the size of the district entirely precludes such. Phone calling does little to break the separation between a voter's natural affiliation and the candidate's affiliation, you as a stranger have interrupted their day and they will have little patience for getting acquainted. The face to face contact is still required, so achieving it is the problem without getting into logistical impossibilities.

Then the answer would seem to be taking advantage of constituent gatherings, one of the normal activities of rural residents. There a multitude of opportunities in this regard, organizations meet and people gather for activities. Business organizations such as Cattleman's Association, Farm Bureau, etc. meet regularly and activity related groups such as FFA, PTO or PTA, school plays and concerts occur year around. Places where people gather are the places where a candidate can make themselves known.

The method of making himself known is critical, in a rural setting being taken as a neighbor is probably the most essential part of getting one's message out. This means that the aquaintanceship must occur previous to the messaging, simply being there and being interested and friendly is the first step. There is always time at activity gatherings to get acquainted in a social manner, where the only agenda is social. At business oriented meetings there is time to ask questions and to engage in the social networking, the important thing is being there and treating the people and their issues as important and worth understanding in depth. People like to talk about themselves and their interests and someone who engages them in that manner develops a regard. This is the act of making politics personal. Once a personal connection is forged the chances that the message will be listened to is vastly increased, the "D" becomes less of an obstacle, it is "John Doe" that's talking, not just some "D."

But here's the rub, it is not possible to make that connection between election filing date and the general election, the logistics are impossible and the connection will be entirely too thin and obviously election driven. What this means is that someone who wishes to run in such a district needs to start immediately following the previous election and it certainly helps if they ran in that election. That person has just dedicated themselves to an extended campaign regimen, their personal life is going to take a huge hit and there are probably economic consequences as well. This is playing outside the Party organization, there is little such an organization can do to help with such a methodology beyond having "friendly" stances on the candidate's constituency issues. What this type of candidate is trying to do is intervene in the education process propagated by the Republican Party over an extended period. The demonization of the Democratic Party is a huge hurdle to leap in rural districts, these folks have taken actual offense to Democrats and that offense is not going to be easily defused.

You will note that the expensive campaign related activities such as media buys and hall rentals are not even mentioned. These are the tools that come into play once the candidate has reached a position of being able to get the voters to actually listen to him. Even such "free" items as addressing the Cattleman's Association are down the road from the acquaintanceship dance. This scenario is "do-able" but it comes at the cost of a huge commitment by a candidate, so the question then becomes whether it is worth that cost. Is the opponent's position worth that level of opposition, is the advancement of a social movement worth it to the candidate? Both those questions are in the face of a possible loss, anyhow.


Cwech said...

Sal Peralta's near upset of Donna Nelson in Yamhill County is an interesting illustration of what you're talking about. Peralta worked hard this campaign and knocked on a lot of doors, talked to a lot of people. He was a compelling personality with an excellent message. But he couldnt quite pull it off. The News Register in McMinnville revealed recently that the votes broke down with a very clear line between voters within McMinnville going strongly for Peralta (a little over 55%) and voters outside of McMinnville going to Nelson at an almost identical rate. Peralta was able to have a huge impact within McMinnville but was unable to get his message out into the more rural parts of the county, and that's what cost him the election.

Chuck Butcher said...

It's a tough game out in the sticks. I believe there were several candidates who didn't make it, pretty much on the same basis. There's a world of difference between not getting the votes and being out of step with the constituents and it's a shame to lose just because of a tag.

Anonymous said...

At one point, way, way back in the wayback machine, I was concocting some thoughts on just the sort of plan you describe, Chuck. Not for me, mostly a theoretical type thing to flog to someone likely to finance such a notion in the name of developing a rural progressive movement.

But...sigh, real life, a need to eat, and a move to the big city intervened. But what you're saying on this front sure is the truth.

Chuck Butcher said...

There may be some who now wish they'd had those thoughts of your's. What I propose is darn difficult, though.