James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Saving Kerry's campaign -- maybe

There now seems to be reason to believe that John Kerry has a real chance to win the presidential popular vote – at least where the voting is conducted honestly. He might even overcome the expected frauds in Florida, Texas, Ohio and perhaps a few other places and gain the presidency.

If Kerry becomes president, it will be because of organizations such as MoveOn.org, ACT and other liberal groups outside the Democratic Party. If he loses, I, for one, will tolerate no whining from party regulars about votes lost to Ralph Nader or any other such excuses.

Left to its own devices, the Democratic Party would make Kerry look like a hippo in the Kentucky Derby.

The Democratic failureship and the dim bulbs who controlled the Kerry campaign until a couple of weeks ago would have gone on responding weakly to GOP attacks, keeping Kerry from hitting hard while continuing to kiss up to the very people who are hugely funding the Bush election effort. The 527s and their millions of members have forced, belatedly, a standup campaign and, in fact, have been far more effective than the party at fund raising and campaigning.

Let me offer one small and one large example of the Democrats’ prat-falling ineptitude and their utter inability to grasp the realities of electioneering out here in Notwashington.

The small one is the extreme shortage of lawn signs in our neck of the woods.

On second thought, it is not all that small an issue. In places, including the swing states of Wisconsin and Minnesota, where a few thousand or even a few hundred votes might make the difference, the lack of Kerry lawn signs could be enough to give a state to Bush.

About three weeks ago I went in search of lawn signs for a neighbor and myself. I was informed by Kerry headquarters in Minnesota that there were no signs to be had. I bought a couple of privately printed ones – printed on only one side, unfortunately. Those were stolen a couple of days after we installed them.

By then, the Kerry headquarters had some signs, so I drove over to St. Paul. They were still in very short supply and I was allowed to take two only because I told campaign workers the story of the theft.

My neighbor then talked to several more folks on our block who wanted signs but didn’t have the time to go get them. I volunteered, but was allowed only two more – and I had to argue for those. We were still several short – and are to this day. Our plan to line our block with Kerry/Edwards signs has been thwarted because the campaign has failed repeatedly to get enough of them printed to meet the demand.

About a week ago, the local daily reported on campaigning in the smaller towns and rural areas of Wisconsin. The story told of the frustration of active Democrats in and near a small town on the banks of the Mississippi River; they couldn’t get anywhere near the number of yard signs they needed from the Kerry campaign. It was an important and foolish error, one of the Wisconsin Democrats noted, because in the country, people pay attention to what their neighbors think; if Farmer A posts a big sign for Kerry, Farmer B and Farmer C will know that A has thought the matter through – and B and C may decide that if A can back the Democrat this time, they can, too.

And it isn’t all that different where I live, which is why my neighbor and I wanted to flood our part of town with Kerry/Edwards signs.

We live in an economically upper middle class neighborhood that is leaning more and more to upscale as home prices climb. (The Bush economy may haul it down again, but not yet for awhile.) Two major thoroughfares run through the neighborhood, one from north to south, one east to west. Both of those streets are traveled daily by folks from equal and much more expensive neighborhoods and from pricey suburbs.

Like the folks in rural Wisconsin, we thought the overwhelming support for Kerry in our neighborhood, made visible with yard signs, might give some of our peers and those who are wealthier psychological permission to join us in backing the Democratic candidates. Might help, but we may never know. The Kerry campaign is turning away sign seekers every day.

The other, probably bigger, failure of the Democratic Party is on voter registration. Fortunately, the 527s, community groups and organizations such as the NAACP are saving the party’s bacon and may just win the election for Kerry. Several reports in recent days show that new registrations are up more than in any previous election cycle. In fact, election officials in many states are working people almost around the clock, pulling in employees from other jobs and still falling behind in their attempts to record all of the new voters.

A high percentage of the new registrations are in urban areas, and especially those in swing states, which bodes well for the Democratic ticket.

The reports generally say that Democratic-leaning organizations are running the most successful registration campaigns, followed by the Republican Party. The Democratic Party is a distant third when it comes to signing up new voters, several reports have said. The party's efforts are weak and late getting started.

It’s too late to change the picture substantially this time around. But it is important to realize and think about the failures of the Democrats now, because whichever way next month’s election goes, very little will change on most of the problems confronting this country unless the leadership of the Democratic Party on state and national levels is swept out and replaced with intelligent, energetic liberals.

This week’s Time magazine carries a column suggesting that the Democrats would have done better after all in this year’s election if they had run Howard Dean rather than John Kerry. Too late for that, but the piece does demonstrate why some of us believe that a house cleaning is absolutely necessary.