Legislative Democrats launch new field program

February 25

Volunteers for the Obama 2012 campaign Terri Berger and Renee Walker canvass for votes in South Tampa, Fla. in July 2012. (Angel E. Valentin for The Washington Post)

Even the most sophisticated voter identification program can’t work without good old fashioned boots on the ground — and Democrats hope a new and expanded field program can translate into wins at the hyper-local level.

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee will begin rolling out the Grassroots Victory Program, a new recruitment portal that will help state legislative campaigns find and train volunteers in dozens of key races across the country.

The group is hosting organizers to begin showing off the portal at a May 27 meeting, they said Tuesday. In the 2012 campaign cycle, the DLCC funded 70 on-the-ground organizers spread among 10 states; this year, they hope to train 150 staffers to be spread among 25 states.

“The DLCC identified a need to provide battleground states with the field resources and infrastructure to win close campaigns on the margins, and the GVP was the centerpiece of our plan to fulfill that need,” Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D), who chairs the DLCC, said in a statement.

Big data that identifies potential or persuadable voters is all the rage in presidential politics these days. President Obama’s campaign used consumer data and predictive analysis both to make inroads among small pockets of Democratic voters who might otherwise have gone overlooked, and to turn out likely Democratic voters who might have stayed home instead of casting a ballot. But Obama’s technology wouldn’t have worked without a legion of volunteers to use the data to make voter contacts.

Now, those techniques are trickling down the ballot. In 2013, Virginia Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s campaign used many of the same voter identification tools in his ultimately successful run for governor; this year, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is investing millions in their own turnout operations in targeted states.

The DLCC hopes they can swing low-turnout legislative elections using the same combination of technology and shoe leather.

“That’s the core of this program, to have this boot camp, identify talent and send them across the country,” said DLCC Executive Director Michael Sargeant.

Sargeant said the DLCC is consciously sending staff into the field early, mirroring another Obama campaign tactic of long-term organizing.

“There are going to be organizers on the ground late spring, early summer, and we’re going to be doing real community organizing,” Sargeant said. “This leaves some sort of an infrastructure moving forward. Not only is it a winning campaign, but you have people in these districts who are used to being a part of the process.”

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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