Donald Trump says its not democracy, but that is essentially the story of the US election campaign. In the end, on-the-ground organisation beat the billion-dollar PACs. Wall-to-wall negative advertising turned the punters off, but people-to-people contact on both sides of the contest meant the turnout was high. A lot of attention has been paid to his use of technology, but fundamentally Obama had more offices and more people across the country for a much longer time then Romney.
That goes back to a crucial decision made by Howard Dean when he became Democratic President, after missing out to John Kerry as 2004 nominee.
Dean formed the organization Democracy for America and later was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee in February 2005. As chairman of the party, Dean created and employed the 50 State Strategy that attempted to make Democrats competitive in normally conservative states often dismissed in the past as “solid red”. The success of the strategy became apparent after the 2006 midterm elections, where Democrats took back the House and picked up seats in the Senate from normally Republican states such as Missouri and Montana. In the 2008 election, Barack Obama used the 50 state strategy as the backbone of his candidacy.
He had to fight Rahm Emanuel, who was leading the Democratic House campaign in 2006, and wanted resources spent on the winnable House seats, the old marginal seats approach. Dean was another far-sighted community organiser and fundraiser and won the fight.
Obama’s background as a community organiser meant he understood the importance of organisation on the ground, as many politicians do not. Organisation can beat money, as we showed here in 2005.
As for the money, a lot of Republican money came from special interests, and from the “old economy.” This article by Carl Pope of the Sierra Club is well worth a read for the parallels with New Zealand – we are certainly stuck in the old economy, and their interests dominate our politics too.
Much food for thought.