September 17, 2010
The difference between winning big on November 2 and winning really big could be decided by five Saturdays in October.
It is daily becoming more apparent that Republican candidates will unseat many Democrats. A lot of deadwood will get trimmed, and a lot of toothless "Blue Dogs" will get kicked off the front porch of the Capitol Building where they've been dozing for the last couple years.
Most pollsters seem comfortable predicting that the Republicans are within range of picking up the 39 seats necessary to regain control of the House of Representatives. A retaking of the Senate is no longer out of the question. If you are a Republican, this is a nice place to be in the middle of September.
But having a very good election year is not the same thing as having a great election year.
A great election victory will not be limited to a monotone of predicted easy wins in communities where voters have been "mad as hell" for months. It will include a lot of other victories that are won on the edges. There will be surprise pickups that weren't supposed to happen. There will be "squeakers" in districts or states that are currently "leaning Democrat" or too close to call. These tough wins are what will put the frosting on the cake. But it is going to take more than positive voter trends to win the marginal races.
Through a gift of happy Providence, the calendar this October includes five Saturdays. Those five Saturdays can be put to good use by dedicated activists.
In election politics, there is absolutely nothing that can match the effectiveness of personal one-on-one campaigning. It is the cornerstone of American politics. A volunteer who walks up the front steps and rings the bell of a perfect stranger, a fellow citizen, and in a few sentences explains his candidate's cause and -- this is important -- ends by respectfully "asking for the vote" is much more effective than another TV ad or four-color mailing. Direct personal appeal can win over a surprising number of marginal voters who otherwise may have gone either way.
This kind of campaigning is work. It requires a basic level of physical conditioning. It also requires commitment. But if you can march in a rally, you can go door to door. The candidate who can count on a corps of effective working volunteers has depth and a "ground game" added to his or her campaign.
You'll find there is no greater joy in campaigning than working for a cause you love and a candidate you believe in and helping him or her win. Yes, giving up a month of Saturdays is a tough decision to make, but look all of exercise and fresh air you'll get, and consider all the great new friends you'll be working with.
Here's another thing. In much of the nation, by mid- or late October, the weather has turned ugly. It can be rainy and cold. But with the right frame of mind, this can offer another fun aspect to campaigning. Under particularly bad conditions, for those with a certain impishness, there is great sport in going out while you know your opponents will be staying in. With your fingers numb and your feet damp, there is much enjoyment in letting the opposition discover that while they were cozy on the sofa, you were out in the weather, getting votes. The chill you feel outside is toasty-warm compared to the chill they feel on the inside while learning you are gaining ground on them. They may have millions in donations from some government employee's union, but you have the intensity and the will to win.
It is this intensity and will to win that turn marginal campaigns into winning campaigns. Informed, motivated people going door to door reaching persuadable voters one at a time make many tough races winnable.
This year, there are five Saturdays in October. They were put there for a reason. Make them count.
Jed Skillman photographed hundreds of political television commercials, first for one party and then for the other, over a twenty-year span. His essays are posted at plumwoodroad.blogspot.com.