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 k / o
                                       politics + culture

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

know your strengths and weaknesses: the 'perfect storm' and CA-11

I've been thinking about Iowa 2003 as it relates to the challenge of defeating Richard Pombo in CA-11.

One of the lessons of the Dean moment is to "know your strengths."

* reforming the Democratic party with people power
* pledging to respond forthrightly to GOP attacks
* raising money online
* making a hard critique of Bush's foreign and domestic policy early and often

Dean was so right on these core things, and convicitions about these core things drove his candidacy. They defined the "Dean moment" in Iowa in 2003.

What did NOT work:

* Howard Dean's candidacy itself
* the "Stormers" in Iowa: organizationally and on the "local/outsider" level
* Dean's ads
* Dean's message as it appealled past his netroots base

My point: there's going to be a great number of races in this country where we can apply some of the lessons we learned in 2003 and 2004. At the heart of all these lessons is a failure to understand the voters in Iowa and how politics works on a nuts and bolts level. Philosophically, it comes down to the fundamental fallacy of mistaking "what drives me" with "what drives the voters whose votes I need." I think Democratic activists need to understand....deep in our bones...what about our message has broad appeal...and what is more "what drives us personally." I think about that vis a vis the race in CA-11.

CA-11 is a real test for the lessons of the "Perfect Storm."

Richard Pombo is wrong for California. He's wrong for CA-11. He's wrong because he's corrupt. He's wrong for families. He's wrong for making a healthy environment for our kids to grow up in. The people of CA-11 deserve better than Richard Pombo.

My challenge to the netroots is: how do we deeply understand and convey that from the point of view of the voters in CA-11? (We can start by listening to them and addressing their issues.) How can we apply the "lessons of the Perfect Storm" here in California? How do we get beyond why "Richard Pombo is wrong for me" and get to why "Richard Pombo is wrong for the people of CA-11?"

In a nutshell, why should the people of CA-11 kick Richard Pombo out of office and who should they replace him with. Who is right for the district? Who is right to be their representative?

Now, there are powerful tools, ideas, activism and financial resources that activists from outside CA-11 can bring to the race to defeat Pombo. How do we maximize that? And, as we do that, how do we understand, with a laser focus, that the reason that Richard Pombo is wrong for CA-11 starts with the citizens of CA-11 themselves?

{As a side note: I'm all for direct interactions. That's what democracy is about. I'm also for raising money to have savvy polling and research firms do polls and focus groups targeted to a district. That counts as listening, too, in a way, and, if you ask me, is something that voters from outside a district can really help with: raising money so our challengers can effectively learn what messages resonate to voters in a district. Truth is, savvy polling helped us defeat Arnold's initiatives last fall.}


  • great post KO. I have been thinking a lot about how to get rid of Pombo as well, since he seems like such a good target for us East Bay dems.

    I wonder what local papers say abot Pombo, and say in general about local issues? That is the first place I would look.

    By Anonymous Kathleen, at 4:32 PM  

  • To respond to Kathleen's point, I think it's important to realize that the papers often (and not necessarily consciously) frame the stories in a pro-Pombo light. Part of why blogging is so important for a race like CA-11 is that Pombo has essentially been placed in a powerful position to fundamentally mislead his constituents and that an absence of strong Democratic challengers has allowed his typical explanations to solidify into conventional wisdom that is reported with less credulity than might be appropriate. So looking at the papers is not always a great way of identifying what the voters think, although it's a start.

    For example, it's often said that people in CA-11 support Pombo's position on the Endangered Species Act. Well it's true that there are farmers in Lodi who support Pombo's position. But the DCCC did a poll and found that the majority of voters in CA-11 support the ESA. It might be unpopular in the San Joaquin Valley, but a) it is not necessarily disliked by a majority of the population there, and b) almost half of the district lives in the Bay Area. And in the Bay Area, the ESA (and environmental protection in general) enjoys a much broader appeal, including cross-over appeal from Republicans who consider themselves environmentalists.

    K/O's point that we need to listen to the voters is well-taken. And certainly, we cannot approach San Joaquin County with a list of priorities drawn up in Berkeley. As with all politics, you need to approach people where they are, not where you wish they would be.

    But I think some of the internet observers have been assuming an exoticism/foreignness with respect to CA-11 that just does not exist. I know a ton of people who have friends and family in San Joaquin County. In fact, I had a lot of friends in college from Stockton. And in San Joaquin County there are tons of people who either moved from or commute to the Bay Area. Something like half of the new town of Mountain House commutes to the Bay Area for work. So even though San Joaquin County is conservative, it is not isolated from the liberal Bay Area like some place in rural Iowa would be.

    I heard someone who went to Iowa for Dean bemoaning a fellow canvasser who had tattoos and a lip ring. It completely alienated the voters they were talking to. But in Tracy, the kid with tattoos and a lip ring might as easily be from Tracy as from Berkeley. And in fact I read in the Tracy Press today or yesterday one city official talking about how she drives to Berkeley to see plays and the like. So not only will Bay Area folks be less obviously Other, they will in fact be less different than people in the district.

    I don't think that should be lost when we think about this election and the potential for East Bay activists to play an important role.

    By Blogger Matt, at 6:57 PM  

  • one area that any dem challenger should be prepared to answer questions on is water and levee issues. the eleventh has a lot of ag and delta land, and the levee system is failing for lack of maintainance and funding. if you look at pombo's webpage (and i assume his campaign flyers will flog it) he mentions quite prominantly the amount of pork he has brought into the district in the form of levee funding.

    even though any dem run will be drawing their base of support from the bay area commuter cities, getting caught tongue tied when the stockton media asks you about your opinions on levee maintainance, or developmet abutting levees, or water being sent to los angeles, or whether a member of the minority party can bring the same kind of resources to the district, will make you look pretty bad to the voters in the eastern half of the district.

    for either mcnerney or filson, chatting with some of the geologists or hydrologists over at UC davis (or even some of the recently fired members of the water reclamation board) wouldn't be a bad idea, if only to develop some credible positions on water, levees, sprawl in floodplains, and related issues, so that you can rattle off an answer when it comes up.

    again, this is not as much offense as defense, but sounding like you know what youre talking about might blunt the regional advantage pombo will have in the valley.

    By Anonymous wu ming, at 10:56 PM  

  • CA-11 isn't going to be an easy win, but it is a possible win, with, as you noted, the proper attention to the area that makes up the 11th District.

    First and foremost Pombo has a huge warchest to use, which will require the ultimate Democratic candidate to raise money, and big amounts.

    Being on the ground is going to win this election, contacting family members who live within the district (about one quarter of my SF bayarea raised cousins live there, but I am almost certain most are Gopers), and making sure that not only local issues are raised, but also what it will mean to our nation if we can have one branch of government that is a "check" of which we no longer have.

    The budget that Bush is pushing should be an issue in this race, especially given the cuts to education, medicare and more, all of these things can be and should be noted to those who are now represented to Pombo who is supporting the Bush agenda on these matters.

    By Blogger SanJoseLady, at 11:09 AM  

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