Let's never have another 2004
December 6, 2007 9:22 AM   Subscribe

I feel the same frustration every presidential primary season. This time around, I'd like to do something about it.

So, I'm a concerned citizen from Washington State, where we're less than irrelevant when it comes to nominating presidential candidates. In 2004, I watched in horror as primary voters and the DNC nominated John Kerry over much more formidable, charismatic candidates. I don't want to have that same helpless feeling this time around -- this election's too important to spend much time on the sidelines.

So, here's my question. I haven't any spare income to make any campaign donations. And I'm only interested in moving in Iowa or New Hampshire once every four years. With these things in mind, how can the actions of a citizen in the Pacific Northwest have maximum impact on the outcomes of the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries, and thus the Democratic nomination?

I've withheld my candidate of choice in the hopes that this will help prevent a derail.

Thank you!
posted by EatTheWeek to Law & Government (36 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Move to Iowa of New Hampshire once every four years and volunteer for the local campaign.
posted by thirteenkiller at 9:30 AM on December 6, 2007

Volunteer to call voters.
posted by phrontist at 9:36 AM on December 6, 2007

(Oh, and donate piles of cash. Want to do something instead? Take up a second job.)
posted by phrontist at 9:36 AM on December 6, 2007

Totally depends on your personality. If you think you're a charismatic person gifted with the powers of persuasion, move to Iowa and try to persuade the Democrats at your caucus site to support your candidate. If you aren't so persuasive, move to New Hampshire and cast a vote.
posted by HotPatatta at 9:36 AM on December 6, 2007

I'm assuming that since your funds are limited for donations that trips (to Iowa and New Hampshire and other early primary states so that your candidate's campaign can leverage your particualar skills) are also out. That would be my first recommendation but must stress that such a commitment will only break your heart even more if voters in that state don't seem, from your perspective, to have much sense come caucus/primary day.

But you should be able to do that locally as well. I'm not as involved as I was last cycle (see aforementioned broken heart) but back then, all the major candidates had pretty well coordinated national volunteer networks that could put you to work trying to change the hearts and minds of those whose votes actually matter.

Also, fundraising.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:39 AM on December 6, 2007

Response by poster: I may have worded my question improperly. For this primary cycle, I'm not able to move to any primary states - I'm most interested in action I can take here in Washington.
posted by EatTheWeek at 9:40 AM on December 6, 2007

Volunteer your time to help fundraise, stuff envelopes, make phone calls (to Iowa/New Hampshire), etc. Contact the local campaign headquarter to ask what you can do. Let them know that while you don't have money, you have time.
posted by peachy at 9:48 AM on December 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Do you know people who live in Iowa or New Hampshire? Talk to them.

In general, no action you can take can have any meaningful effect on the Iowa caucus or New Hampshire primary, any more than you could have an effect on the current storms by going outside and huffing and puffing until you turned blue and passed out.

If you're primarily looking to feel less helpless, volunteer with the campaign of whoever you like. I guess that might have maximum impact, but the impact is still essentially zero. But it might help assuage your feelings.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:03 AM on December 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: lobby your congresspeople and senators to nix the electoral collage. It wouldn't fix the primary system, but it would make Washington a more important state than it already is.

Or, lobby members of your party to change the primary system. Form an committee to get a bunch of names together and slap it in the lap of Howard Dean or Mike Duncan.

Moving to Iowa would be dandy, but getting the politicians to move out of Iowa would be better.
posted by munchingzombie at 10:26 AM on December 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think with most campaigns there are ways you can contact voters in that particular state. Consider joining a Meetup group and finding ways to send mass letters or make phone calls to people in the state.

Don't be a jerk, just talk to people and let them know what's great about your candidate.
posted by jpcody at 10:32 AM on December 6, 2007

Not to be negative here, but in line with your username, how about you eat the weak?

Last time you watched what you felt was a weaker candidate got nominated. So identify those candidates you think are weak, and try to impact people who are considering them. If you can crush them in those people's minds, surely some of those people will transition to supporting your candidate of choice.
posted by cashman at 10:38 AM on December 6, 2007

Lots of meetup.com groups, they seem quite popular, at least with my candidate who is using the internet a lot, not sure about the others.
posted by evilelvis at 10:39 AM on December 6, 2007

Phone banking can be done from anywhere.

@cashman's point: I agree, but make sure you don't do what's my frustration every election cycle, which is for the Democrats to attack each other so much that whoever wins the nomination has been so battered in the media (by their own party) that the Republicans don't even have to run attack ads to win: we've done it for them!
posted by fogster at 10:42 AM on December 6, 2007

Best answer: We game wars, why not the presidency? Set something up. Put the results on the web for the rest of us. Start with a less popular candidate, preferably on both sides to make it worthwhile to everyone, and see where it goes.
posted by jwells at 10:44 AM on December 6, 2007

I work in New Hampshire. What you can do to influence the outcome is simple: donate to the campaign you support. They're concentrating there efforts here and in Iowa right now. The more money they have, they more they can do on the ground here. It's simple. More money pays more staffers, buys more storefront office space and more pizza for volunteers and more gas for canvassers and more rental fees for halls and more lawn posters and more handouts and buttons and flyers...and all of that makes a difference.

You could also volunteer your time, but the time of people on the ground here is probably a bit more valuable in this regard than the money it takes to support their work.
posted by Miko at 10:50 AM on December 6, 2007

Ugh, THEIR efforts. Concentrating THEIR efforts.

posted by Miko at 10:50 AM on December 6, 2007

I just noticed you don't think you can donate money, so donate time in your own area to support the candidate you want - get people where you live to donate to the candidate. It all gets channeled to where it needs to be.
posted by Miko at 10:52 AM on December 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

I agree, fogster. I wasn't trying to be overly negative - I guess I was just seduced by the username.
posted by cashman at 11:08 AM on December 6, 2007

isn't the fact that the least "formidable, charismatic" candidate is the one who actually won the presidency worth taking note of here? Ie, what you may consider important qualities for a democratic contender may not actually be the qualities that the voters overall are going to seek - the same folks who make the dumb decisions in the primary are the ones who make the dumb decisions in the general election (more or less).

Point is, what you want isn't what democracy is about. It's what everybody collectively wants, and maybe you just disagree with a lot of folks. Maybe you can bully them to agree with you through superficial campaign noise, and maybe the size of the mob that is doing the bullying (the amount of money raised) is an important representation of how much people care about an issue, but it's not like it's really creating dialogue. It's just various agendas getting pushed...

yes i'm old & cynical
posted by mdn at 11:27 AM on December 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Last election, major blogs were the fulcrum of some grass roots activities so you might do some digging to find state-specific blogs and try to help/affiliate. If you have any tech, research or writing skills, you could be very helpful.

If not a regional blog, maybe a blog for the candidate of your choice. Or start your own primary blog focusing on the early states. Start with "an open letter to the people of NH: why I am counting on you."

Or link up to the major political blogs of your particular flavor - ie Kos - and post diaries and get involved in grassroots activities they are conducting.

One thing I do that may be pissing in the wind (but it makes me feel less powerless) is to write to media to complain or correct when they misrepresent or are unfair to my candidate of choice or to chastise them for focusing on Edwards' hair or Hillary's dress. You could monitor NH and Iowa media reports and write letters and/or blog about whether they are fair/accurate to your candidate.
posted by madamjujujive at 12:42 PM on December 6, 2007

Oh, and good for you for wanting to do something!
posted by madamjujujive at 12:45 PM on December 6, 2007

Pick someone at random out of the phone book. Write them a letter, by hand. Repeat.
posted by niloticus at 12:45 PM on December 6, 2007

mdn, i think you're missing his/her point.

I live in a state other than NH or IA, and I have to say, when I see people around my decidedly red state campaign for dems in the primary season, I just don't get it. Because it's not about what everybody collectively wants, it's about what the citizens of NH and IA decide we want.

Maybe I'm wrong, but that's what it felt like four years ago, and I'm betting that's what happens here too. (It would be interesting to determine how many times the man who won in NH and IA didn't eventually get to run in the general election.)

My advice: there is no reason why some states should be that influential. Everybody should do the primaries on the same day.
posted by nushustu at 12:48 PM on December 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

of course, that wasn't really advice. I meant to say, "write your congressman, tel them to change the way primaries are done." Naive probably, but still...
posted by nushustu at 12:54 PM on December 6, 2007

I'd guess that the candidate you supports probably has people who are better than you at figuring out how to help them. Assuming that's true, your best bet would be to contact the campaign and ask how you could best help.
posted by callmejay at 1:04 PM on December 6, 2007

Best answer: For the record, I also used to think it was total bullshit that the NH primary was so powerful.

Since I've lived here and actually seen it at work, I've gotten a tiny bit more co-opted to the NH mindset. There are some things about the process that work quite well, and would definitely be diluted and rendered useless by simulataneous primaries in all states on the same day.

I've come to believe that that system would be fairer, but worse. It would necessarily give a result that is even more based on shallow, canned-speech, fly-in-appearance, and television-driven perceptions than on candidates being tested and tried in intimate environments by regular people who are part of a small enough population to process the information effectively amongst themselves.

I like the letter-writing suggestion, too. That kind of thing would get right through. On the other hand, one hundred letters would cost you $41 to send without counting the paper cost. I still say you'd do better to donate the $41 to your favorite candidate.
posted by Miko at 1:06 PM on December 6, 2007

It would be interesting to determine how many times the man who won in NH and IA didn't eventually get to run in the general election.

NH winners

The winner of the NH primary has gone on to run 9 out of 14 times for the Democrats, and 11 out of 14 times for the Republicans since 1952.

Most recently, Paul Tsongas beat Bill Clinton in 1992, and John McCain beat George Bush in 2000.
posted by designbot at 2:45 PM on December 6, 2007

Campaign to get rid of the whole ridiculous caucus situation that causes the Northwest and the South to be ignored.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 3:06 PM on December 6, 2007

My idea long ago was for a rotating slate of five states to have their primary/caucus on the same day -- sort of a Super Tuesday times ten. There would be an outlier group that would hold theirs across a five-week period in the beginning. That way every state would have a shot at being New Hampshire (at least once every 200 years ...) or at least being influentially early (once every forty years). It wouldn't be possible to duplicate the legendary-among-pundits-at-least "retail" politics of New Hampshire in, say, California, of course.

I think the current system where states have been trying to jump to the front is untenable and the intra-Dem delegate squabbles indicate the breaking point has been reached. Something new is likely to emerge by the 2012 cycle.

I have no confidence it will be as elegant as my idea.
posted by dhartung at 4:03 PM on December 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

I live in Iowa.

So far, no candidate has really captured my interest.

Feel free to MeFi mail me and give me a good reason to support your candidate in the primary.

I'm open to either Republicans or Democrats.
posted by jpdoane at 4:50 PM on December 6, 2007

I'm sort of surprised that people have suggested phone banking. I am less likely to vote for a candidate whose lackey calls me on the phone, and based on my own experiences phone banking, the majority of people who receive such calls feel the same. It's something to do to feel like you're at least trying to help, but I have come to the conclusion that it generally does more harm than good.

As one counterpoint, my sister came with me to phone bank once, when I was fifteen and she was twelve years old (I had told her that at food banking they would feel you bagels - this was true where I was volunteering, and she loved bagels). She was making calls like a trouper, mostly to people who told her to fuck off in various polite ways. She got one guy who got pretty combative and started asking for our candidate's views on a number of topics. I don't even remember which candidate it was - I did a lot of phone banking as a teen because I had a history teacher who offered extra credit for getting involved in the democratic process. Anyway, my poor sister tried gamely to answer his questions from a sheet of talking points and finally just gave up and said, "Look, man, I'm twelve. I don't know. I won't be able to vote for six years and I'm not really even sure what you're asking." He started laughing and said, "Well, I appreciate your honesty. You've got my vote."

This was about when I concluded that the American democratic process was - well, either irredeemably broken, or inexplicably brilliant.

No suggestions, but phone banking might make you feel worse. I know that based on my experiences doing it for course credit, I would never, ever phone bank for a candidate I loved.
posted by crinklebat at 7:21 PM on December 6, 2007

Best answer: Ooh, this is the kind of question I love. As a 7-year veteran of campaigns, and having worked two primary seasons in NH, here's my $.02:

- First, good for you for wanting to take action rather than just bitching.

- Whoever suggested calling the campaign has it right. What we think would be a good idea is really nothing compared to what a group of people who have dedicated a year to planning for January have decided they need.

- Please, please, please don't take the above advice of picking someone random to write to. That's what the Dean campaign did in Iowa in 2004 and Iowa caucus-goers did not appreciate it.

- Are you sure you can't go to Iowa? The caucus is January 3rd. What about over the New Year's weekend, which is the weekend before the primary? If you have New Year's Day off, which is a Monday, you could conceivably go for four days (Saturday-Tuesday) and only have to take one day off of work, if you work M-F. If you have a more unorthodox schedule, all the better - try to rearrange your schedule so you can take those days off.

As for travel expenses, well, I bet you could get a cheap flight, and the campaign can probably arrange housing with a local supporter. You could do a lot in those four days to help the campaign - knocking on doors, calling voters, and so on.

- Along those same lines, are you sure you can't donate anything? $25? $50? What if you had a holiday party next week and invited everyone you knew, and asked each of them to donate $20? You can give them the option to donate to a local charity if you don't feel comfortable forcing your friends to donate to a political campaign.
posted by lunasol at 7:26 PM on December 6, 2007

I'm sort of surprised that people have suggested phone banking. I am less likely to vote for a candidate whose lackey calls me on the phone, and based on my own experiences phone banking, the majority of people who receive such calls feel the same. It's something to do to feel like you're at least trying to help, but I have come to the conclusion that it generally does more harm than good.

This is what people always say in polls, etc. But it's not supported by the data. Door-to-door canvassing is the most effective way to get someone to the polls, but phone banking is pretty close. This is why all campaigns do it. This is borne out both the experience of long-shot candidates with strong volunteers operations that won against the odds as well as by academic studies. Phone banking may be annoying to voters, but it works and is an excellent way to help.
posted by lunasol at 7:33 PM on December 6, 2007

Arg, strong volunteer operation, not "strong volunteers operation."
posted by lunasol at 8:30 PM on December 6, 2007

I am less likely to vote for a candidate whose lackey calls me on the phone, and based on my own experiences phone banking, the majority of people who receive such calls feel the same.

Oddly, people in NH don't seem to feel this way. They look at their unusual role as something like a personal responsibility, and feel they need to at least make the effort to learn about all the candidates' platforms and give them all serious evaluation. Exhausting as the phone calls get, usually you'll listen and ask questions. NHites realize that their votes have some portent, and they don't tend to shoot from the hip. The decisions made are very deliberative, and people tend to look at campaign contact as something like jury duty: they may not be welcome exactly, but you don't run away from them. People in NH accept their role with a degree of philosophical tolerance, and they don't tend to make their decisions based on the fact that someone's campaign did or didn't call them and when. The personal contacts seem to be the very basis of an effective strategy in this state, where almost every individual has the opportunity to share physical space with a candidate and feels their vote needs to be courted to some degree.
posted by Miko at 9:01 PM on December 6, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone!
posted by EatTheWeek at 4:25 AM on December 7, 2007

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