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How We Won: Dallas County Turns Blue

by: R. Kirk McPike

Wed Nov 15, 2006 at 18:09:38 PM CST

(Ed. note: The following is part of our ongoing series focusing on how Democrats won in Texas. It's an excellent diary everyone must read and pass around! - promoted by Phillip Martin)

The story of Dallas County has been playing out in papers across the state as stunned Republicans try to spin their humiliating losses and stunned Democrats (who clearly weren't paying attention) try to figure out what in the world went, well, right. In truth, the victories in Dallas County were no accident. For over a year, groundwork had been laid and work had been done to turn Dallas Blue. If anything was surprising on November 7, it was how well everything came together to turn what was expected to be a solid win into an outright sweep.
The move towards running a full-fledged coordinated campaign involving the entire Democratic ticket began with the election of Darlene Ewing as party chair in May 2005. After a period that could politely be described as a civil war, the party began a months-long process of regrouping and rebuilding after Darlene's election. Staff was hired for the party office (point of transparency: I was the first staff member hired by Darlene and I served as DCDP office manager from Summer 2005 until July 2006), the party's finances were improved, and general infrastructure tasks were undertaken including improvements to the party's office and the filling of precinct chair vacancies. Throughout this period, volunteers including Theresa Daniel, Jeff Templeton, the Stonewall Democrats and many others logged long hours. The volunteer base of the party did the heavy lifting required to put the entire operation into campaign mode by the start of 2006.

Meanwhile, candidate recruitment was taking place. SDEC member and former Dallas chair Ken Molberg and other party leaders helped persuade many excellent attorneys into joining a long roster of 2006 Democratic candidates. Several of these candidates had run in 2002 and narrowly been defeated. Many of these candidates hoped that the party in 2006 would do more than the party in 2002 had done to support their campaigns. Slowly but surely, a consensus emerged in support of Darlene's goal of running an aggressive, party-coordinated countywide campaign. The only question was how to fund it and how to structure it.

Under Texas law, judicial candidates cannot campaign for other candidates on the ballot nor financially support other campaigns. However, they are allowed to campaign for their party's ticket  ("vote Democratic") and donate funds to this end to the party itself. After outlining this to the candidates, Darlene Ewing and the DCDP Executive Director, Steve Tillery, worked with local Democratic leaders and campaign veterans, including Lisa Turner, Shannon Bailey and others,  to develop a general campaign plan that called for an aggressive get-out-the-vote effort amongst the Democratic base. The candidates themselves donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the party to fund the campaign's operations. Many of the candidates were able to afford these contributions thanks to a coordinated fundraising event featuring Senator John Edwards organized in conjunction with Baron & Budd, one of Dallas's major law firms.

With a basic plan in place and funding flowing in, Darlene and Steve hired the campaign staff. Jane Hamilton, a veteran of the 2004 Martin Frost campaign, was brought in to serve as the overall campaign director. I was moved out of the party office and into the campaign staff, and charged with running the field campaign in the North. To work with Jane in the South, Shay Cathey and Dorothy Dean were brought on board to coordinate volunteer and field operations. Former party chair Bill Howell was hired to organize our walk and call lists, and his knowledge of the County was instrumental in helping us target our efforts. Sarah Duncan was hired to both replace me as party office manager and to undertake the arduous task of herding our 47 countywide candidates. Sarah kept them informed of upcoming events and served as the party's communications hub. An outside consultant, Jeff Dalton, was hired to handle the campaign's marketing, for lack of a better term. Jeff designed our website, direct mail pieces (more on that later) and the famous "Had Enough?" signs that littered the city in the month of October. For a countywide campaign in Dallas, that's not a very large staff. However, though mostly young, we all had fairly extensive backgrounds in campaigning, and I think the results show that we held our own.

Two offices were set up to  execute two very different field programs. In Dallas Democratic politics, there's the 23rd Senatorial District (often inaccurately referred to as being "the South") and then there's everywhere else ("the North"). As the voters in the South routinely vote Democratic 75% of the time or more, and voters in the North tend to vote more Republican, different strategies were employed to mobilize and turn out the party's vote. As I ran the field program outside of the 23rd, I am more knowledgeable about that strategy, of course.

Our goal in the North was to hit known and suspected Democratic voters as hard as possible. With virtually no budget, my workforce was comprised of me and an ever-changing army of volunteers, many of whom were college students who required volunteer credits for their political science courses. Other volunteers included representatives of the county's three most active Democratic clubs, the Young Democrats, the Stonewall Democrats and the Lake Highlands White Rock Democrats, as well as candidates and their supporters. Many of our candidates deserve special recognition for putting themselves out there during this campaign. The core of my thrice-a-weekend walk program was comprised of dedicated candidates who let me send them out all over Dallas County from Oak Lawn to Rowlett, from Grand Prairie to Richardson, from the M Streets to Coppell, our candidates and volunteer walkers knocked on thousands of doors. All the while, they were also regularly walking in the South and making appearances at public events. Sarah did a great job keeping the candidates divided up and organized, so that we could make the most of the limited time we had between Labor Day and Election Night.

As an aside, I'd like to again reinforce how hard our candidates worked. These folks were dedicated to this campaign, and without them it wouldn't have come together. While the Republican judicial incumbents did little more than show up in parades and write a few checks for nasty attack mail, our folks walked weekly, helped in our phone banks and wore themselves out physically and fiscally in pursuit of victory. Don't let the Dallas Republican News or the right-wing rag the Observer put doubts in your mind about the quality of our incoming Democratic judges. This is a dedicated bunch. They'll be great judges. And it wasn't just our judicial candidates, either. Our county administrative candidates and DA candidate were out there walking blocks, too.

Apart from walking, the major focus of my North office was phone banking. Starting with lists of Democratic voters in 50 targeted precincts, we ended up pushing through almost 75 precincts in our first wave of calls. During the GOTV period, we hit our confirmed contacts again, as well as other combinations of voters, early voters who had not yet voted early, over 60 voters with a Democratic history, etc. This is where my college student and club volunteers really stepped up to the plate.  While I prepped universes and printed lists, I did very little of the calling myself. It was because so many other folks gave of their time and energy that we were able to reach out to as many voters as we did. Their efforts, combined with Jeff's mail and the candidate walks, visibly closed the Democratic performance gap in the North.

To the degree that all field programs are alike, the South's operations were similar to the North. Jane worked on the ground in the South alongside Ms. Dean and Shay. After the staff combined in the South office, Shay focused on turning out volunteers and working to gain exposure for our candidates in the South's African-American churches. The main operations in the South used paid canvassers and a phone bank to stir up interest in the heavily-Democratic SD 23. Candidates walked out of the South office, and on the Sundays leading up to the election Shay organized a series of extremely successful church visitations. I don't imagine that so many candidates have ever reached so many homes within these core Democratic precincts. Jane worked with Jeff to devise specific walk materials and push pieces for the Southern audience. While structurally different, both the South and the North worked on the same basic strategy that had informed the coordinated planning since January  finding every Democrat in Dallas and pushing them to go to the polls.

And while the field operations in North and South met voters at their doors or on the phone, several waves of direct mail began flowing into their mailboxes. Jeff Dalton produced several different mail pieces. They were all very good, and they were all very positive. Our campaign's mail touted our candidates' credentials, endorsements and personal histories. This was in stark contrast to the Republican mail, which was entirely negative, often brutally so. The Republicans tried to paint our candidates as unqualified and corrupt, while our mail highlighted our candidates' experience and trustworthiness. However, they appear to have sent their negative messages into their own base, so even in going negative, the Republican effort was clumsy -- it doesn't appear to have impacted swingable voters. In response to the negative Republican mail, Jeff worked with Darlene, Larry Duncan, Sunny Letot and others to organize a volley of in-kind response auto-dialed calls and targeted radio ads, while other media buys sought to encourage Democratic voting. Senator Royce West produced television ads, radio spots and auto-dialed get out the vote messages.

Going into the campaign, there were reasons for optimism. Dallas's demographics have been trending our way for some time. We had a broad slate of qualified candidates. We had an energized staff that was committed to winning. We had the support of Democratic organizations such as the Young Democrats and Stonewall, and the backing of organizations like TexVAC. We had a party leader who was committed to running a slate campaign. And we had some helpful wind at our backs (I consider George W. Bush to be my most productive campaign volunteer). But through our coordinated campaign, we took a good situation and made it extraordinary.

With 47 wins, there's a lot of credit to go around. It starts with the candidates themselves, who put their names on the ballot and their signatures on the checks that started the coordinated process. It falls heavily on Darlene Ewing and Steve Tillery, who didn't waiver in their intention to run a coordinated campaign in the base. And it goes to Jane Hamilton, the campaign director, Dorothy Dean and Shay Cathey, the South Dallas team, Jeff Dalton, the designer, Bill Howell, the list builder, Sarah Duncan, the wrangler, and, I suppose it's not too arrogant to say this, to me, the party's staff in the North. And  it goes to everyone else who got involved and got out our vote. When you win this big, you know it was a team effort, and I want to be sure to spread credit as far and as wide as possible.

There was no dispensable part of our 2006 coordinated campaign. We didn't win because of the North. Or the South. Or the mail. Or the calls. We won because of all of it. The coordinated campaign was the difference between a win and a sweep. Because we worked everywhere, mailed heavily and didn't stop until the last polling location had closed, Dallas County turned blue. If you remove any component of what was done, you would have, in my estimation, cost us races. For those of you keeping count of such things, the average Democratic countywide candidate in Dallas County took just shy of 52% of the vote this year. That's none too shabby.

Dallas didn't go blue by accident. It took the hard work of hundreds of people, dozens of candidates and many organizations to get the job done. The agenda set out by Darlene Ewing in May 2005 set the stage for the victory achieved in November 2006. Every step along the way was an essential one  hiring Steve Tillery, rebuilding the office, recruiting the candidates, getting them on board, working out a plan, hiring Jane Hamilton, filling out the campaign staff and pushing forward with a positive attitude even in the face of vicious Republican attacks. It's a model other counties can duplicate. It's a challenge for our state to emulate. Even when there were no Republicans in Texas, there were Republicans in Dallas. After last Tuesday, you don't see too many Republicans around here anymore.

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How We Won: Dallas County Turns Blue | 18 comments | Time to post comments expired.
Yea Dallas! (4.33 / 3)
Good job, everyone! Now, on to Harris & Bexar counties!

by: Matthew D. @ Wed Nov 15, 2006 at 18:40:22 PM CST
[ Reply ]
Dallas Observer- right wing? (1.00 / 4)
LOL....that's about as believable as an assertion that the Dallas County Sheriff, Mr./Ms. Lupe Valdez started dating guys...
by: sfagrad02 @ Wed Nov 15, 2006 at 18:56:13 PM CST
[ Reply ]
The Observer has gone elephant (4.33 / 3)
They continually print scathing, one-sided screeds against Democratic elected officials and candidates, and never report a peep about the excesses and abuses of Republican folks. Very biased. Their new troll, Matt Pulley, is the worst reporter in Dallas.

by: R. Kirk McPike @ Wed Nov 15, 2006 at 22:48:35 PM CST
[ Parent | Reply ]
What's happened with the "Observer" is shocking (4.00 / 2)
The Observer used to publish articles exposing Republicans like Vance Miller.  In some ways it was a successor to "The Iconoclast." 

Just recently some of its articles remind me of something from a Birch Society book store.

by: Tom Blackwell @ Thu Nov 16, 2006 at 03:47:10 AM CST
[ Parent | Reply ]
hindenburg article? (0.00 / 0)
I only recall an op ed piece about Judge Sally Montgomery, "Rosita" Renfroe, and Craig Watkins. With a picture of a burning Hindenburg airship. Is that what you are referring to?

I try to only read Jim Schutze, because he's the only writer they have worth a damn.

Endorsed by marshmallow peeps
The Texas Blue - Advancing Progressive Ideas

by: John McClelland @ Thu Nov 16, 2006 at 18:47:02 PM CST
[ Parent | Reply ]
Most Impressive and Just the Beginning (3.80 / 5)
Kudos to everyone in Big D!

Jobs well done and another testament to COORDINATION.  Travis, Hays, Galveston and Dallas counties have all not got the swing of everybody helps everybody and all boats rise! 

I worked for Dallas Sen. Oscar Mauzy at the time that almost every Dallas judge switched from Democrat to Republican so "keep their jobs".  Oscar is grinning from above right now as I anticipate every Republican sitting judge in the Courthouse about to start scheduling those "party switching" events to save their hides from the Dallas County Democratic Party's tidal wave in 2008.

Damn, it feels good to see this happen.

by: Glen Maxey @ Wed Nov 15, 2006 at 18:56:56 PM CST
[ Reply ]
4 down (3.00 / 1)
250 to go!

(And I think I fixed the problem that caused a bunch of random ? marks to show up)

I can help you ActBlue.

by: Karl-Thomas Musselman @ Wed Nov 15, 2006 at 19:35:10 PM CST
[ Parent | Reply ]
I'm curious to know (3.00 / 1)
how large a part do you feel that television ad's played in your campaign?
How did this compare to other forms of media, such as direct mail and radio?

Prisoner of hope.
by: comeon @ Wed Nov 15, 2006 at 19:43:59 PM CST
[ Reply ]
Great write up, R. Kirk McPike (3.00 / 3)
And great job winning of course.  Thank you for putting in the time to build the coordinated campaign and hit the ground with it.  I do hope that other counties can learn from you model.

by: sonia @ Wed Nov 15, 2006 at 22:47:05 PM CST
[ Reply ]
Awesome write-up, Kirk (4.00 / 2)
Great job on this post. I've been looking forward to it, and I know there's a lot of folks that have been real interested in what happened up there.

I've got a few supplemental stories to the Dallas win I may add, but by and large, I hope everyone that reads this passes it around. Great job, again, to everyone who did the work in the county. We're all proud of the work you've done.

Now, a very great man once said that some people rob you with a fountain pen.

by: Phillip Martin @ Wed Nov 15, 2006 at 23:01:33 PM CST
[ Reply ]
When our series is complete... (4.00 / 2)
I'm thinking of sending out a Bmail about it so those that missed them have a link back to them all as well as being able to pass that around. Sound like a good idea?

I can help you ActBlue.
by: Karl-Thomas Musselman @ Thu Nov 16, 2006 at 00:01:41 AM CST
[ Parent | Reply ]
Yeah (0.00 / 0)
Sounds great

Now, a very great man once said that some people rob you with a fountain pen.
by: Phillip Martin @ Thu Nov 16, 2006 at 08:37:28 AM CST
[ Parent | Reply ]
A job well done (3.75 / 4)
As Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of committed, thoughtful citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

This is precisely what happened in Dallas County.

by: CarlG @ Wed Nov 15, 2006 at 23:42:22 PM CST
[ Reply ]
An historic election in Dallas County (4.50 / 4)

At the risk of making Kirk's excellent article longer, I would also have to give credit to a committee of Precinct Chairs headed by Dr. Theresa Daniel (SDEC-16), that met to organize thoughts on the procedures and work that was ahead.

Kirk also mentioned the problems with a previous County Chair.  A key to this win was the switch from the wrong kind of County Chair who unnecessarily divided Democrats, to a beloved and talented County Chair who made everyone feel welcome at our office.  We were able to focus our efforts on the Republicans, and not on internal problems that otherwise may have consumed us.  The new County Chair made good decisions about the people who were hired to work for us.  The stage for the win was set by the new County Chair and her staff, and the work of Dr. Daniel's committee.

There was also considerable work into the research of issues, some of which impacted a disconnected Republican County Judge, and the 'real' Dallas County Judge, her husband. 

We also had excellent legal representation, to defend against frivolous lawsuits brought to try to frustrate our efforts.  These suits were not successful.  Our attorney Ken Molberg then filed a successful suit to stop Republicans from using fraudulent campaign material, that suggested that their new candidates already held the offices for which they were running.

We only wish in retrospect that we had had every possible local race covered.  A small number of Republicans at the County level, some Judges, went unopposed.  I trust that won't happen again.  But there are only so many hours in the day and some of our time at the beginning had to be spent on the internal issues, and the need to replace an incumbent County Chair who was not appropriate.  We trust that won't happen again.

I saw the win coming.  As the Republicans began to implode, there were locations in North Dallas where they usually had yard signs, where there were none.  The Republicans also posted signs around traditionally Democratic neighborhoods on the streets, but not in voters' yards.  They tried to work their own pockets of support with outrageous messages, such as those attacking Democratic attorneys for providing legal representation for defendants in Criminal Courts.  They ran one radio ad on KLIF-570 saying that "activist" Democratic Judges were going to "legislate from the bench" and this meant "gay marriage" would be established in Dallas County.  A second one asked us to "remember Judge Softy."  A third radio ad attacking Judge Sally Montgomery was in the form of a skit of a court proceeding calling her the "second worst Judge" - - but Judge Montgomery countered with another radio skit featuring an opposing attorney who says "I move we suppress the facts until after the election." 

Quick responses to the statements and actions of Republicans were frequently  required.  We met that challenge.  When a commentator on KLIF endorsed the Republican County Judge for re-election, I made a tape recording and gave this to the Democratic nominee for this office, Jim Foster.  With this he was even better prepared to participate.  For example it was necessary to counter the County Judge's own foreign policy, that existed in competition with the foreign policy of the US Secretary of State.  Then the Republican Governor came forward with his outrageous statements about people who were going to "Hell."  By that time we didn't even have to respond. 

When the League of Women Voters offered candidates opportunities to debate, we found Democratic candidates like the new District Attorney Craig Watkins, and new District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons very well prepared, talented and refreshing.  The Republicans were left surprised by the reaction of the public. 

All of this came together nicely in Dallas County.  I just wish we had had the same experience state wide - - particularly when we started to hear that George W. Bush was losing some of his support in West Texas.  Democrats there needed a better base from which to organize their efforts, but many counties there did not even hold county conventions this year.  We'll be giving that some thought and consideration as we proceed into 2008, where there will be a new opportunity to win the Electoral College.

There's much more I could say - - that would require a book, not just a response on an Internet blog.  I very much appreciate the comments of Kirk McPike and his good work in this election.

by: Tom Blackwell @ Thu Nov 16, 2006 at 05:07:02 AM CST
[ Parent | Reply ]
Reaction to: How We Won: Dallas County Turns Blue, Part 1 (0.00 / 0)
McPike, You did an excellant cya job and your kissing up was commendable. It amazes me that a 2,000+ word article about the recent election successes in Dallas County failed to mention Organized Labor one time. However,you may be saving part 2 to concentrate totally on Labor's contributions, but I doubt it.

I am speaking only for myself not the entire Labor community, but I will suggest to all my Brothers and Sisters that they read your well written article.

Charles L. Whitaker
CWA 6150

by: April Odessa @ Fri Nov 17, 2006 at 10:13:55 AM CST
[ Reply ]
Good job, Kirk... (0.00 / 0)
Kirk: It's not at all arrogant to say that you deserve credit, right along with all the other folks you've named. This is the most detailed description of the Coordinated Campaign that I've seen, and I thank you for posting it.

I have also finally done my own post-election blogging, and also written a "Why Democrats Won in Dallas County" essay. You can read it here:

Basically, I come to exactly the same conclusion as you: that the victory has multiple reasons, and that you must understand all of them in order to understand the win. I also go into some of the numbers...all of which confirms everything you say here and the strategy the Dems used.

This essays is part of a longer series of blogs about the election that can be found here:

Thanks again for all you did, Kirk. And thanks for writing all this down...

by: ericfolkerth @ Thu Nov 23, 2006 at 23:56:00 PM CST
[ Reply ]
This makes it all worthwhile... (0.00 / 0)
This article and the accompanying comments simply reinforce my decision not to change parties during the Reagan years.  I was elected as a Democrat in Dallas County in 1978 and re-elected as a Demcrat four times after that.  Twice I was the sole county-wide-elected Democrat in the County.  Thanks to everyone who had a part in this big win and thank you for being my friends.

by: justiceron @ Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 18:43:51 PM CST
[ Reply ]
About time (0.00 / 0)
It is about time the folks in Dallas finally realized that there were more Democratic votes to be gotten out of "North Dallas" than "South Dallas". I.e.---in total votes 40% of a 60% turnout in the North is more than 95% of a 20 percent turnout in the South.

  Neil Thompson, a long-time party activist out of Richardson, started running the numbers showing that way back in the late 70s...but the party leadership at that time didn't want to make the effort to do more than to try to turnout South Dallas.

It is nice to see what someone finally understood what Neil has been saying for nearly 30 years.... Too bad he isn't getting the credit he deserves.

by: WUSRPH @ Mon Nov 27, 2006 at 22:10:29 PM CST
[ Reply ]
How We Won: Dallas County Turns Blue | 18 comments | Time to post comments expired.

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