Skip to comments.Knock and Drag: Ryan Lizza reveals how Dems got out the black vote [Hillary hypocrisy alert]
Posted on 12/20/2002 6:53:54 PM PST by Ragtime Cowgirl
"Democrats have a simple phrase that sums up their voter-turnout effort: "knock and drag." A crew of paid workers storms through predominantly black neighborhoods and coaxes, cajoles, or browbeats every registered voter to the polls. It's a form of political activity that was well-known in the big-city, white-ethnic machines of the past but has only recently emerged as a key to black turnout."
NEWARK DISPATCH Knock and Drag by Ryan Lizza
Regena Thomas is not a speechwriter or a campaign manager. She doesn't craft political ads or appear on the Sunday talk shows. Even among political junkies, she's virtually unknown. But she's one of the most important Democratic Party operatives in the country. In fact, Thomas - along with others like her - is a big reason the Democrats have now exceeded expectations in three consecutive national elections.
Thomas gets black voters to the polls. With her help and $65 million, Jon Corzine won a New Jersey Senate seat this week; Al Gore took the state's 15 electoral votes going away. And Thomas's turnout operation, developed in New Jersey, has been replicated to similar effect across the country. Programs in Philadelphia and Detroit helped Gore win crucial swing states Pennsylvania and Michigan. In New York, Hillary Clinton's turnout program helped her crush Rick Lazio by twelve points, with black turnout increasing 2 percent relative to the 1998 Senate race. In all-important Florida, black turnout jumped from 10 percent in 1996 to 16 percent this year, even though blacks make up just 13 percent of the voting-age population. In Missouri, another swing state, black turnout jumped seven points from 1996. "Black turnout was astronomical," says Thomas, who, in addition to New Jersey, worked on turnout programs in Missouri, Delaware, Michigan, Florida, and Virginia. "Our margins of victory were in urban areas."
Democrats have a simple phrase that sums up their voter-turnout effort: "knock and drag." A crew of paid workers storms through predominantly black neighborhoods and coaxes, cajoles, or browbeats every registered voter to the polls. It's a form of political activity that was well-known in the big-city, white-ethnic machines of the past but has only recently emerged as a key to black turnout. In 1989, the late Ron Brown, then the newly appointed chairman of the Democratic National Committee, introduced a revolutionary way to conduct Democratic campaigns, which he called the "coordinated campaign." It required all the candidates on the Democratic ticket in each state to pool a portion of their resources for a joint effort to turn out Democratic voters. In 1989 test races in New Jersey and Virginia, the plan was a startling success, and it became the model used to elect Bill Clinton and Al Gore in 1992. After the 1994 Republican landslide, when the Democratic base stayed home, the party refined the concept, dispatching a team of consultants to New Jersey to poll and conduct focus groups with black voters. "The reason that we came to New Jersey is that New Jersey's African American voters have a reputation for being historically one of the toughest African American electorates in the country," says Ron Lester, a black pollster and Corzine consultant. In 1996, Thomas put the model to work for Democratic Representative Robert Torricelli, who was locked in a dead-heat Senate race with Republican Richard Zimmer. But on Election Day Torricelli won by ten points. His margin came almost entirely from black voters. New Jersey Democrats had found the key to electoral victory.
The following year, applying the turnout techniques of the Torricelli campaign, Democrat Jim McGreevey came from nowhere to within 26,000 votes of unseating popular Governor Christie Todd Whitman, with Whitman's share of the black vote dropping eight points from her 1993 race. A study comparing the tight 1997 race to Whitman's 1993 victory over Democrat Jim Florio - who had no black turnout program - is treated like a state secret within the party. "It's remarkable," says Corzine campaign manager Stephan DeMicco, who declined to share a copy of the study with me. "It's got too much strategic power for us.... The study of '93 to '97 has resulted in whole new approaches to electoral targeting for us. The lessons that we learned from that study ... are being applied in many other states now."
"We actually call it ... the New Jersey Plan," says Thomas, who, like DeMicco, is a veteran of New Jersey campaigns going back to 1996. "When we go to Georgia, they will tell you, it's the New Jersey Plan." Thomas, along with three other prominent black Democratic women - Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile; Bill Clinton's political director, Minyon Moore; and Allison McLaurin of the Democratic Governor's Association - has taken the lead in promoting the turnout model within the party. The four call themselves "The Colored Girls Club."
wo nights before Election Day, I find Thomas in a tiny office in downtown Newark. Scattered about are signs reading AFRICAN-AMERICANS FOR GORE-LIEBERMAN and STAY OUT THE BUSHES. On the floor are two six-inch stacks of checks made out in the amounts of $50 and $75 - daily pay for part-time and full-time campaign workers, respectively. At her desk, Thomas is pouring over pages and pages of numbers on what are called "vote goal sheets." It looks for all the world like a thrown-together, backroom operation.
But, despite its crude, low-tech appearance, Thomas's procedure is very sophisticated. "We start with this," Thomas says, tossing me a thick report titled "Electoral Targeting With Vote Goals." It comes from a Washington-based organization called the National Committee for an Effective Congress (NCEC), a little-known, left-leaning operation that provides the Democratic Party and labor unions with electoral data. Ncec's state reports include vital information about the voting history and trends of every precinct. In addition, they provide Thomas with a special precinct-by-precinct report on African American and Latino voting patterns. Using the two reports, Thomas decides which precincts to apply the base turnout model to; then, she develops a vote goal for each of those precincts on Election Day. "This is their playbook, their bible," she says, showing me a list of targeted precincts. "All my municipal coordinators have this." The sheet shows each precinct's registered voters, turnout history, Democratic performance, and, most important, vote goal. Precincts where turnout is low but Democratic performance is high are marked in red, since they constitute prime knock-and-drag territory on Election Day. Thomas points out Atlantic City's Ward One, Precinct Two as an example: Historically, 82 percent of the precinct's vote is Democratic, but the turnout is a relatively low 40 percent. "I got to bring that [40 percent figure] up," she says.
Once targeted districts are identified, Thomas begins a pre-program consisting of direct mail, phone calls, and visits to voters' homes. In the precinct mentioned above, for example, the Democrats sent six mailings to the 799 households that ncec had identified there. Crafting the mailings constituted a challenge, because Gore generated only tepid support among African Americans and George W. Bush proved a difficult man to demonize. And so Democrats did what they so often do when it comes to the black vote: They called the Republicans racist. One flyer featured Bush against the backdrop of a Confederate flag. Mail on behalf of Corzine said his opponent, Bob Franks, "thinks it's OK to teach our kids in trailers" and "will be hazardous to your family's health." But the most effective piece of mail sent to black voters targeted a Republican who isn't even running this year: It showcased the infamous picture of a smiling Whitman frisking a black man with his arms spread against a wall. "Republicans Like Governor Whitman Think Racial Profiling Is a Joke," the caption read.
In addition to these mailings, Thomas hit black voters with live phone calls urging them to vote. On the Monday before the election, voters were given a reminder call; on Election Day itself, a massive phone bank operated from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. "Those phones are on a continual cycle," Thomas says. "The only way [a voter] comes out of the cycle is if [he] answers the phone." When a district is performing below Thomas's expectations, she can immediately retarget the phones, increasing calls to that area.
All this is supplemented by a radio and TV campaign that reaches saturation levels in the days leading up to the election. To listen to hip-hop and R&B stations the day before Election Day is to experience relentless political bombardment. "Republicans will roll back the progress Clinton has achieved," cautions one ad. In another, Jesse Jackson urges voters to take Tuesday off from work, warning, "All that Dr. King achieved can be overturned in one Supreme Court session." Minutes later Hillary Clinton is on the air talking about racial profiling and insisting, "If you stick with me, I'll stick with you." Next up is her husband, the president, with a paid ad making the case for Gore, Joe Lieberman, Corzine, and Hillary. Seconds later, Bill Clinton is back on the same station, this time for a live interview. "When they target the black community," says Thomas aide Rahman "Rock" Muhammad, "they target the black community."
he night before the election, I tag along on a bus trip to put up posters in Newark. The organization doing the postering is called the Labor Action Committee, a group of black turnout specialists that the Corzine campaign has hired to rack up huge margins in majority-black cities in Essex County, such as Newark and Orange. The Labor Action Committee is run by James Benjamin, a union man and veteran of New Jersey campaigns who decided to privatize his operation and cash in on the Corzine spending spree.
Volunteers seem a thing of the past, at least in the Corzine campaign, which essentially operated as a low-paying jobs program for thousands of people across New Jersey. Where exactly all these workers came from became a campaign issue in the final days of the race, when The New York Times discovered that many were being shipped in from homeless shelters and drug-rehab centers in Pennsylvania. Most of the men I spent time with had no discernible affinity for Gore, Corzine, or any other Democrat. Nor is there much in the way of on-the-job cheer: During the ride to Newark, the team leader, Bruce, scolds everyone because two staple guns went missing the night before. "No one is getting paid if one is missing tonight," he says. He warns the workers that they can be easily replaced because "there are plenty of folks who want to do what we do." When he asks if there are any questions, the only response is, "When do we get paid?" Later, an argument breaks out on the bus over who is assigned to what job. Apparently those who put up posters earn $5 more than those who distribute literature, and several men who want to do poster detail are told they can't. "You can't even buy a bag of weed with five dollars," a guy behind me laughs.
But, in the end, the blanket coverage - the mail, calls, ads, and posters - is still only a warm-up for the ground game that Thomas has planned for 559 African American precincts on Election Day. I spend November 7 with Benjamin's Labor Action Committee, which has 39 vehicles and hundreds of paid workers covering Essex County.
The operation works like this: Benjamin assigns a watcher to the polls in each targeted district; those poll watchers report vote counts back to headquarters every two hours. There, in the "count room," staffers monitor the returns and decide which precincts are meeting their goals and which aren't. When a precinct is underperforming, Benjamin can increase phone calls to people in that precinct or send in a team of "flushers" to knock-and-drag voters to the polls. Meanwhile, sound trucks roam the targeted precincts, playing music and urging people to go to the polls.
Things go smoothly throughout the morning and early afternoon, with most precincts meeting or exceeding expectations. But, at about 2:30 p.m., Benjamin gets a phone call that throws him into a panic. Rushing into the phone-bank room, he yells, "All calls into Newark! Turnout is not as high as it should be." Minutes later, he begins sending teams into Newark and nearby Irvington. "We're going to do a pullout," he announces. We jump into a minivan and race to a satellite office in Irvington, where we are met by dozens of Benjamin's workers. Benjamin shouts a request into his cell phone, and 50 students from Seton Hall University are on their way to reinforce his ranks. Benjamin collects everyone in a parking lot and dispatches them into the field in small teams. "Understand the mission," he instructs his flushers. "The mission is to get a registered voter out of their home and to the polls. Ladies and gentlemen, we are in very bad shape. I want you to load up on everything that moves." He then takes aside a sound-truck driver and traces a route for him to follow. Minutes later, the teams are blanketing the streets, knocking on doors and dragging out voters.
After Benjamin has dispersed his forces, he takes me with him for a quick check of the other field offices, including one responsible for turning out the vote in Newark's housing projects. (In one of these projects, Corzine's outreach effort consisted largely of having his photo taken with a popular resident nicknamed Big Mama. "It's simple: Take a picture of Jon and Big Mama," Thomas explained to the Newark Star-Ledger, "put it on a flier. Nothing fancy.")
I return to Thomas's headquarters around 6:00 p.m. to find her laughing and talking on the phone. Having left the Newark operation to Benjamin, she spent the day in the southern part of the state, strengthening the turnout effort in places like Trenton. "I just got back from South Jersey," she says into the receiver. "There's a precinct down there that never ever got over ninety-two [voters]. They were at one hundred two at one p.m." When I tell her about the trouble in Newark, she phones the Corzine war room and has the latest results sent over. They show that at 5:00 p.m. all her precincts were on target to meet or exceed their goals. She has just helped win New Jersey for Gore and elect Corzine to the U.S. Senate.
In fact, Thomas tells me, those were just her public vote goals. She actually has two sets of targets: the set she gave to her coordinators and a set with even higher vote goals that she kept to herself. Well, not completely to herself; she privately challenged Benjamin to meet the higher goals. "Me and Benjamin have a thousand-dollar bounty internally on this," she admits. When I ask if she owes Benjamin $1,000, she smiles and nods her head.
See also: How Leftists Play the Race Card Against Conservatives , election 2000 and the Democratic leaders (black and white) terrorizing the inner city children with threats of slavery if President Bush wins.
Which party depends on "racism" to win elections? Not the GOP.
Personally, I think they are big on "rise from the dead" election tactics as much as any other tactics. That and buying votes with my tax dollars.
Just after the Florida election drama drew to a close, an African-American staffer for one of the Republican House leaders was having a Christmas dinner with his family, when his twelve-year-old niece asked this question: "Now that Bush has been elected President, am I going to be treated as three-fifths of a human being?"
The same anecdote with slight variations has been reported from all ends of the country. A teacher at a rural black elementary school in South Carolina e-mailed me that her students were asking the same question as the staffer's niece, and also whether - since Bush was now President -- they would be made slaves again. In the April 30th issue of The Weekly Standard, Eric Cohen reports taking a group of black fourth and fifth graders from a Washington housing project to an outing in the nation's capital. The trip was taken just after the Inauguration. A few days earlier, a man had been arrested for firing shots at the White House. Cohen asked the children what they thought of their new President:
"When I heard about the shooting I was pretty happy," said one of the boys with a laugh. "I thought Bush might have got shot." Other comments were just as bitter,
"President Bush is going to put us all back in slavery."
"He's going to round up all the black people and kill them."
Where on earth could these black youngsters be getting ideas like that? The Democratic Party perhaps? The Democratic Party's presidential candidate? The leadership of the Civil Rights movement? The inescapable answer is: all three.
It was the Democratic Party and the NAACP ...
The dems cannot win with the truth so they do what they do best, divide and lie.
Incredible...and NOT A PEEP from the cowards in the major media , nor even from any high-profile GOP pol.
There is indeed a war being waged from within. Islam is but one enemy...
Nope, it's just driving middle-class (suburban) Democrats to the Republicans.
Valuable article, made more timely by the events of the past two weeks.
I think this is just a cover story on how good they are at getting out a 90% black vote. The real story is NO ONE gets out any kind of a 90% vote.
I regularly get polled by E-mail and the first thing they ask is did I vote, then who did I vote for. Then they get to their poll topic, once they have factored in my bias. I would like to see some kind of a poll where some of these 90% voters are polled these same questions and then check the voting records to see if those that didn't vote wind up as having voted.
He left out "bribes" and "threatens."
Thanks for the re-post and ping ! The 'RAT hypocrisy needs to be uncovered and spread far and wide ! They will continue to label Republicans as 'racists' and continue their 'Divide Amerika' tactics until they are exposed for what they are.
Please let me know if you want ON or OFF my General Interest ping list!. . .don't be shy.
And I'll BUMP this thread in the Morning!