November 24th, 2014
Here is a good analysis of the carnage the DFL experienced in rural races for the Minnesota House of Representatives. The conclusion is correct: If the DFL (or some individual candidates such as myself) can't figure out how to get their voters to the polls in mid-term elections, they will be alternating power with House Republicans for years to come.
Believe me, the party did throw in the kitchen sink this year. I was one of only three DFL candidates in the state who was thought to have a chance to beat an incumbent Republican, so I was given extra help--and I still lost by a large margin. My race was targeted, that is the party spent a lot of money in addition to what I raised myself. Volunteers and paid staffers made thousands of phone calls and knocked on thousands of doors.
I just assumed that a multiplication of efforts from previous elections would bring at least a close result; in fact, the results were statistically worse than 2010 when there was very little money spent by either the candidates or the state party.
The DFL campaign strategies work well enough in the metro, but just aren't clicking in rural areas––at least in non-presidential elections. I questioned in my head throughout the campaign, but never came up with an alternative–so I went with a hybrid of what they told me to do from the state level (tactics which were very, very detailed, backed by mounds of data, computerized, analyzed and tested) and what the old hands up here suggested (which I preferred).
However, it is now obvious that nobody has any bright ideas how to solve the basic problem of Democratic voters sitting out mid-term elections by a ration of 7-1 over Republicans. What we tried this year (phone calls, door knocking, a large number of glossy post-card mailings, most of it focused on a scientifically-selected group of likely voters) flopped.
My gut feeling is that the kindly rationalists (I would like to include myself in this group) who tend towards DFL politics in our area need to get more visceral. Unfortunately, that means playing on emotions, exploiting fears and kindling rage.
I realize that those of you who have been following this blog for a while, even during the recent campaign slowdown in posting, are probably wondering what is up with Aunt Olla. When I last visited two days ago, she was somewhat haggard, but sitting up in her chair and dressed. She has been having pain in her hips and legs, so much so that that the doctor has her on some pretty heavy painkillers, and recently upped the dose. She was x-rayed last week, and nothing is broken, which actually makes it a little more frustrating. We don't know what is wrong.
Of course, Olla's attitude is still positive. Although she says it is time for her to die, she looks out the window and says, "but not in November!" The narcotic painkillers make her pretty loopy and she imagines things. Unfortunately, the hallucinations are unpleasant, filled with paranoia––as is typical of the mind's reaction to narcotics.
Welcome to our future. Advances in medical science, as wonderful as they are, have the unpleasant side effect of allowing some of us live to a Methusalan age. Not everybody wants to. Olive has made the best of it. But sometimes she waxes philosophical.
I told 103-year-old Aunt Olla about a much younger relative's health problems, which are significant but manageable. She absorbed the news, rocked in her chair looking off into space, and finally turned to me and said, "Isn't it awful how they let them linger?"
I didn't ask her what alternative she had in mind, but understood her point.
My heart goes out to Terina Parr, whom I do not know personally, who was accused of sexual misconduct with a 17-year-old she worked with as a paraprofessional at Fertile-Beltrami school. Her story is here. She has been through hell. In the story, she sounds so balanced and adjusted. Life is not fair.
I also read about the story of a man who was released from prison after 40 years when his accuser admitted to making up the story which led to his life sentence. Can you imagine moving on without hanging on to the injustice?
Cases like his are why I am against the death penalty, and why I believe we should make our prisons humane. Cases like Terina remind me that we should never try locals in the court of gossip, and should in fact make sure to defend fairness and not join the accusatory mob.
Early in the campaign, I said I supported the new Senate Office Building, which was an honest reflection of my feelings despite it being a major Republican talking point. But I knew from having worked at the Capitol that the building was badly needed. Later, my statement was used against me in the papers: "He even said on the radio he supported the project!"
This opinion article in the Strib today uses the same arguments I did. A pity they didn't speak the truth during the election season.
Oh, and after running on one main issue: funding for rural nursing homes, what is the main issue for the House Republicans? Funding for rural nursing homes! I couldn't be happier. I hope they come through. That was truly my aim and if it can happen without me being elected, that is just fine. (Not that one representative can have much say in anything––I just intended to work hard in that direction and push until the winds turned in a friendlier direction and we could get something through. It appears the winds have changed!) I never imagined it. The incoming Speaker has already named a separate committee to deal with eldercare. Just what was needed.
Meanwhile, a Republican on the national scene is sounding the alarm.
The most time-consuming task of running for an office such as the state house is doorknocking. Because it has always been regarded as the most important task of any local race, it is just assumed that you will try to knock on as many doors as possible. I figure I knocked on 5-6000 doors from late June through the end of October.
And that wasn't enough. Not to win, but it wouldn't be enough to satisfy most advocates of door knocking. There are more like 15,000 doors in the district.
However, I am not convinced of door knocking's efficacy. In the old days, people expected others to come by and knock on their door. They were always ready, at least if the knocker knocked at a reasonable hour.
Today, people are more private. There are those who have worked the night shift and are sleeping. There are those who are attached to oxygen machines. There are kids home alone. There are elderly who can barely get out of their chair. Answering the door is a chore. And then to have somebody there promoting themself for a political office. I understand those who were rude, even as I had a difficult time not taking their rudeness seriously.
But there were good moments, times I will never forget. Long conversations, maybe one per day, with people with good stories. Quiet neighborhoods which, in late June, seemed like paradise. I could forget any unpleasant reactions to my knocking if the sun was out and I was ambling down a tree lined 80-year-old neighborhood.
I learned neighborhoods in every town which I hadn't perviously known existed. Red Lake Falls, for one, has populated little nooks and crannies everywhere along the Red Lake River. Beautiful, especially on the cool, sunny mornings I knocked the doors.
Mornings. I preferred to knock from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. These are not ideal hours for working people to be home, but they are ideal hours to find senior citizens at home. Most politicians knock in the evenings in the summer. They get a higher rate of contacts. However, some of the old hands prefer to knock during the day and leave a pamphlet with a little note. The old-timers say that is as good as an actual visit. You were there, you took the time to stop by, but you didn't have to visit--an ideal situation for both sides of the transaction in reserved NW MN.
Dogs. So many dogs sit alone, or with one, two or three other mutts all day alone in the house. The bark up a storm and tear at the blinds when I approach. If nobody yelled at the dogs to shut up, I knew nobody was home and I left the pamphlet on door knob and got out of there. If somebody hollered at the dogs, I prepared my apology for stirring them up and got a pamphlet ready for a quick handoff, because the people with lots of dogs didn't want to talk–they were more interested in keeping their animals inside.
Now that I think back, I was asked inside many times for water or a cup of coffee. Those exchanges were always pleasant.
The slammed doors, the sneers, the angry people, were few, but they had their impact. I hated the idea of door-knocking more and more as the campaign progressed. I was disturbing people. Any wonder they might seem disturbed?
I learned a lot of horticulture. I saw thousands of front yard plantings up close during the height of the growing season. I have made my suggestions to Dad and Joe: No more dwarf spireas, almost none of them look good, and no more green ash. Just don't sell them. Some people showed me their plants in their back yard. Those were fun exchanges.
So many people buy plants and never get them out of their containers into the ground. There the plants sat, wilting in the hot sun on the porch.
Never assume that an awful-looking house contains an awful person. I recall a 10 minute conversation with a man who lived in a squalorous shack, a Vietnam vet who had much to say about the political situation and had many experiences under his belt. I just about didn't knock because his house didn't look like it was still livable. He struggles with rampant psoriasis from neck to toe. Awful. I was glad I knocked. I almost felt like he gets treated like a leper, and I was happy to take the chance the shake his hand firmly and look him in the eye as we parted, for I know psoriasis isn't communicable.
There were days when I struggled to knock on the next door just out of fear, and out of lack of conviction that I was doing any good. Three times I called it quits early when I met up with a grump and couldn't get over it. But over all, the days I knocked doors were followed by a solid and satisfied sleep.
Plus, I lost 25 lbs. in the process.
It has been two weeks since the election, and I have had plenty of time to think about the whole six month campaign which ended in an unexpected and decisive defeat not just for me, but for all rural Democrats engaged in what were supposed to be close races. The Republicans gained 11 seats and lost none. I was one of three Democrats out of 50 some challengers considered by the press to have a shot. I lost by 1,500 votes.
Looking back, we shouldn't have been surprised. Turnout in mid-term elections is always down, and that always benefits the Republicans. In fact, in many districts, Democrats stay away from mid-term elections at a 7-1 rate over Republicans. When I joined the race, I shrugged that off, thinking I could encourage enough people to turn out to win. I did not. Neither did the substantial efforts of the party on my behalf, which included knocking on thousands of doors and making thousands upon thousands of phone calls. Despite extra help from the state, turnout in the district was 10% below the last mid-term election, 2010.
"It all comes down to turnout." I heard the phrase repeated by the old hands ad nauseum during the campaign. In the end, it was nauseatingly true.
So, the obvious question in the minds of people who helped is, "will you run in two years?"
It is too early to even think about that. If I did, I would be a better candidate from the experience gained during this campaign. I would have a better chance to win simply because it will be a presidential year. But I have to fully absorb the lessons of this campaign–not just political lessons, but life lessons–before discussing a possible run in 2016.