The Political Round-Up
Mobile Democrats map 2020 plan
By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
With party primary elections just a year away, Mobile County Democratic Party leaders Saturday held a "Working on a Campaign" workshop aimed at candidate recruitment, voter registration and community outreach.
Among the key components of a successful campaign are volunteers, tenacity and resources (read money.)
A good campaign will have a strong candidate with a good work ethic, resources of his/her own, friends and supporters willing to pitch in and a fearless approach to fund-raising.
"What's the worst that could happen (when you ask for a campaign contribution)?" said Christian Smith, who ran unsuccessfully for Mobile County Treasurer in 2012. "You could be told 'no.'"
"You have to be willing to ask for money and smile when they say 'no,'" said Diane Jones, a party veteran who assisted Smith in leading the workshop.
"Fund-raising is the hardest party," said party chairman Ben Harris. "A candidate asking for money for yourself is hard. How do you get over that hump? You just have to."
"You just move on to the next person, " Jones added.
"There is no limit to the calls you can make," said Harris. "It's harder to make the call than it is to receive it."
Party leaders contend Democrats can attain parity with the GOP in Mobile County and perhaps even the upper hand in 2020. They point, in particular, to boosting turnout in Democratic precincts that have lagged well behind the county average in recent years.
Candidate qualifying opens in October, so there is little time to waste in recruiting viable candidates, said Harris.
Running parallel with those efforts are voter registration and canvassing of communities so that issues that are important to the residents there are identified and addressed in the various campaigns. What is important in one community may be less important in another so campaigns have to relate to win support. A candidate and his campaign may have thoughts on various issues to based a platform, but it would be well served to listen first and then construct a platform.
Too often in the past, campaign workers show up in a community around Labor Day and are met with questions about why they are seen only right before an election.
Organization must start sooner and be better versed in a community's needs or that campaign risks facing again the same "where have you been" cynicism.
The time is now to organize, get candidates and begin a targeted strategy for turning Mobile County blue in 2020, said Harris.
Volunteers, whether party regulars or a candidate's ally, are the "glue" that holds a good campaign together, said Jones.
There is a role in a political campaign for a variety of talents and personalities.
Smith and Jones, workshop coordinators, cited themselves as examples of campaign volunteers with differing strengths -- Jones in organizing events and Smith "in a corner with my computer" (crunching data.)
Even the hardest working candidate can't do everything, so volunteers and a paid staffer or two for those campaigns that can afford it are critical, especially in campaign finance where the rules and regulations over fund-raising and reporting can foul a campaign if they aren't carefully observed.
A campaign is limited only by its imagination in the ways that support can be generated. For Democrats, labor unions and certain Democratic leaning law firms are traditional standbys, both for money and for boots on the ground help.
A candidate needs a full calendar, Jones added, whether its campaign stated events or community gatherings that are open to the candidate. The campaign needs all manner of fund-raisers from the $1,000 a table dinner/reception to $10 meet and greet coffees, Jones said, pointing out that a U.S. Senate campaign and a local race, such as for sheriff, are different animals requiring different approaches.
Variety and "inventiveness" are important to campaigns and support comes from wallets thick and thin
"Not everyone can afford $50, so you have to have $10 events, $20, $25 ones," she said.
Specifically, the type of event that a candidate would use to his/her campaign's advantage would be one such as the local Democratic Party's May 3 Lifetime Achievement gala where Maj. Gen. Gary Cooper, state Sen. Vivian Davis Figures and labor leader Don Langham will be honored, Jones suggested. The keynote speaker will be announced at a later date, she said.
Candidates should know up-front that the party isn't going to run the campaign and it isn't going to fund it.
Once the primary election is over the nominee selected, the party can be more helpful, but the candidate who expects to do the heavy lifting is the wiser candidate.
Jones said campaigns generally aren't too complicated.
"A lot of it is you just show up for everything," said.
Harris said the Democratic Party needed to break through in Mobile County in 2020 and winning builds upon itself. If the perception is the Democrat doesn't really have a chance to get elected, the race is virtually over before the start. With wins, comes momentum.
U.S. Sen. Doug Jones' win over GOP nominee Roy Moore provided a glimpse of how momentum and psychology can shift.
The number of Jones' yard signs in Spring Hill and midtown was noteworthy because it signaled a willingness to publicly identify with the Democrat, even if Moore's candidacy was exceptionally flawed.
With victories in 2020, that "will change the public's mindset," Harris said.
Diane Jones recalled calling businesses and property owners about in-kind assistance to Democratic campaigns and "they'd laugh at me or hang up. But if we win, that'll change. We have to be more electable."
"We are very close," Harris said.
Harris directed that Diane Jones' and Smith's information be added to the party's website to help recruit and inform prospective candidates and their supporters.
The next meeting in the party's series of workshops is tentatively set for Saturday, April 13 at 10 a.m. at the Grind Small Business Development Center, 3223 Springhill Avenue, just east of I-65.