No on 8: “political malpractice”?

by on December 3, 2008  •  In Elections

There is no shortage of blame, to put it mildly, circulating around the failure to stop Prop 8. Many voices have described the failure to connect adequately with communities of color. LA Weekly reports demands for a generational shift in power, away from those who led No on 8 and to younger activists.  It's easy to understand the raw anger and frustration, and it's a safe prediction that no future campaign will get community support unless it promises not to repeat the mistakes made in this one. I must also say that I know some CA folks who worked tirelessly in the No on 8 campaign, and whatever mistakes were made, they should be appreciated for that.

The article I'm excerpting here, from Rolling Stone, contains the best analysis of the No on 8 campaign that I've read so far. What's most interesting to me is the link between the Yes on 8 campaign director and his strategy, and the Bush 2004 ground campaign that blew out the Dems in Ohio:

From the start, the leaders of the No on Prop 8 campaign and their high-priced consultants failed to realize what they were up against. According to Geoff Kors, who headed the campaign's executive committee, the No side anticipated needing no more than $20 million to stop the gay-marriage ban. The Yes side, by contrast, set out to change how initiative politics are played, building a well-funded operation that rivaled a swing-state presidential campaign in its scope and complexity. It also built a powerful, faith-based coalition that included the Catholic Church, Protestant evangelicals and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "The direct involvement of the Mormon church — moving donors in a very short window to give early — was stunning," says Patrick Guerriero, who was called in to take over as campaign manager of No on Prop 8 in the final month. "It was unprecedented — and probably impossible to predict."

In fact, as documented in an internal LDS memo leaked during the campaign, proposals for such a coalition had been on the table for more than a decade. In the memo, a high-ranking Mormon leader discusses approaches for fighting gay marriage in California: "The Church should be in a coalition and not out front by itself," the memo advocates. "The public image of the Catholic Church is higher than our Church. . . . If we get into this, they are the ones with which to join."

… [O]nce the Mormons joined the effort, they quickly established themselves as "the foundation of the campaign," says Frank Schubert, the consultant who directed Yes on 8. "We could count on their money and their people being there early."

Schubert put Mormon volunteers to work in an expansive field campaign modeled on the effort his business partner, Jeff Flint, worked on in 2004 for George Bush in Ohio. "This is the first time in initiative history that it's ever been done" for a ballot measure, says Schubert. Throughout the summer, Yes on 8 deployed an army of more than 100,000 volunteers to knock on doors in every zip code in the state.

"We had an enormous grass-roots advantage," Schubert says. "Our core was people of faith, and we were able to organize through churches." In the end, he says, the campaign visited 70 percent of all California households in person, and contacted another 15 percent by phone.

The No on Prop 8 campaign, meanwhile, was oblivious to the formidable field operation that the other side was mounting. Worse, its executive committee refused to include leaders of top gay and lesbian grass-roots organizations, which deprived them of an army of willing foot soldiers. "We didn't have people going door to door," admits Yvette Martinez, the campaign's political director. The field operation consisted of volunteers phone-banking from 135 call centers across the state, an effort that didn't begin ramping up until mid-October.

"They had no ground game," says a leading Democratic consultant. "They thought they could win this thing by slapping some ads together. It was the height of naiveté."

The Yes on 8 campaign's get-out-the-vote effort was equally prodigious. The weekend before the vote, Schubert's religious volunteers once again went door to door, speaking to supporters and directing them to the right precinct locations. "On Election Day," he says, "we had 100,000 people — five per precinct — checking voter rolls and contacting supporters who hadn't showed up to vote."

By contrast, the No on Prop 8 campaign mobilized just 11,000 volunteers on Election Day, which they deployed to polling locations to hold "Vote No on 8" signs. The campaign even turned away volunteers who were unable to attend a sign-holding training seminar. Terry Leftgoff, a veteran campaign consultant who was once the highest-ranking gay officer in the California Democratic Party, was one of those who was informed that his services weren't needed. "I was told I could come by on November 5th and help clean up a campaign office," Leftgoff says.

As terrible as the no on prop 8 campaign did on the ground, it did even worse on the air….

[Continue reading at the link]


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