Skip to comments.Primary School - Field organization (Albert Gore's team sabotaged 2000 New Hampshire primary)
Posted on 02/06/2003 11:38:01 PM PST by weegee
Vice-President Al Gore may have won the 2000 New Hampshire primary and subsequent primaries, which fed on the New Hampshiregenerated momentum thanks to a traffic jam. At least thats what many Democratic operatives with experience in New Hampshire seem to think. Today, when people look back at the 2000 Democratic-primary season, the prevailing memory is of Gore trouncing former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley. But he beat Bradley in New Hampshire by just four points, a relatively narrow margin of 6395 votes. The bulk of these votes more than 3000 came from Hillsborough County, home to Nashua and Manchester, as well as abutting suburbs like Bedford, Goffstown, and Merrimack. This is a small, relatively compact area where political foot soldiers can provide the margin of victory. And, many believe, during the last New Hampshire primary, they did.
As late as 3 p.m. that day, Gore operatives had access to exit polls showing the vice-president being defeated by Bradley. They also learned that while Democratic voters were voting in large numbers for Gore, independents, many of them upscale suburban voters, were voting for Bradleys sophisticated brand of liberalism. Knowing that Bradleys strength came from tony tech havens such as Bedford, the Gore team organized a caravan to clog highway I-93 with traffic so as to discourage potential Bradley voters from getting to the polls. (Michael Whouley, a chief Gore strategist, recounted the Gore teams Election Day field efforts at a Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics symposium, and his comments are included in a book compiled by the Institute titled Campaign for President: The Managers Look at 2000. He knocked down the rumor that they considered overturning an 18-wheeler to clog up traffic.) The caravan spoken of with awe by operatives who worked on the campaign had the desired effect. It was harder for Bradley voters to get the polls.
Even as the traffic-jam caravan was making its way north, key Gore operatives, such as New Hampshire state representative Ray Buckley, were organizing efforts to get out the vote in Manchester and Nashua. "Field organization is identifying voters and getting them out to vote. Phone calls. Door knocking," says Buckley, who chairs the Manchester City Democratic Committee and knows much about the body-by-body battles on which elections can hinge. (Buckleys Manchester office is adorned with scores of photographs depicting both long-deceased Democratic icons, such as John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, and current Democratic leaders, such as former president Bill Clinton, in attendance at Buckleys birthday party.)
Aware of early polls showing just how close the race was, Buckley showed up at Gores election-night party and found some 100 would-be partygoers dressed up and eager to get into the festivities early. Buckley jumped on top of a table and roused the group out of its partying mood. He told them the election was too close for such a premature celebration and essentially ordered them out of the hall to go find a campaign sign to hold in front of the polls.
Throughout the campaign, however, the Gore team directed its efforts at working-class voters, who, polling data showed, were selecting either McCain or Gore. Gore campaigners focused their get-out-the-vote efforts on blue-collar urban enclaves like Manchester and Nashua, as well as on the Granite States trailer parks.
As Whouley recounted at the Kennedy School symposium, the Gore campaign hired paid phone banks so volunteers could leave the phones and hit the streets to do the nitty-gritty field work that New Hampshire voters famously expect: door knocking, holding signs, and helping voters get to the polls. With this tactic, the campaign actually "doubled the capacity" of the banks, Whouley said. In the process, the campaign learned "where our votes were: our votes were with registered Democrats."
The tactics worked, and Gore was on his way to a general-election match-up versus Bush. Hoping to benefit from the sort of help given to Gore by local New Hampshire politicos like Buckley, current candidates are working hard to court the support of the Granite States political activists. The Web site PoliticsNH.com has a tote board listing the allegiances of some 105 Democratic activists activists who can form the backbone of a field organization. Of the last six contested New Hampshire Democratic primaries, four have been won by the candidate with the strongest field organization.
A caveat: as good as it is to have a strong field organization, it is not the be-all and end-all of a successful campaign. Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska forged an outstanding team for the 1992 presidential primary. He had inherited the cream of Gary Harts 1988 team. Tad Devine, later a top aide to Gore, served as Kerreys campaign manager; Manchester realtor Will Kanteres and Democratic operative Ken Robinson, who will head up John Kerrys New Hampshire effort in 2004, also worked on Kerreys campaign. But however much Kerreys foot soldiers pounded the pavement, their candidate failed to take hold.
Early edge: John Kerry. The Massachusetts senator has been sending his staffers up to New Hampshire since last summer. He has sown up the support of Bill Shaheen, the husband of former governor Jeanne Shaheen, who, while not formally committed, knows more about New Hampshire field organizing than almost anyone. Whouley, who is based at Bostons Dewey Square Group, is also backing Kerry, and Whouley was raised on the importance of getting out the vote. Still, Buckley and much of the Manchester machine remain uncommitted.
(Excerpt) Read more at bostonphoenix.com ...