Suggestions for Successful Elections in 2020 at All Levels

Originally published on Medium, October 9, 2020

The following are Eleven Suggestions, with useful links, for getting out more progressive voters to the polls in the approaching elections at the local, state and national levels. For a variety of reasons and causes, tens of millions of eligible Americans do not vote. These ideas can spark interest and participation by these citizens, and regular voters, in shaping a more productive and fair democratic society. Spread the word.

The following items were assembled before Covid-19 which means that some of them need to be altered accordingly, while the majority are not significantly affected.

Corporatist right-wingers prefer to campaign on “values” and not on their voting records. They cannot answer the question — “Which side are you on?” — in ways that appeal to voting families. Right-wingers will describe deceptively a law they voted for, such as the tax cut for the rich and the corporations (2017), but for the most part, they block or oppose votes to provide necessities for the people. Right-wingers prefer campaigning about “values” and abstractions. Consequently, in 2014 when Senator Mitch McConnell was up for re-election, I drafted a list of Kentucky Values and compared them to the contrary positions and votes of McConnell. The latter were clearly contrary to broad Kentucky values. A member of Congress hand-delivered to McConnell’s opponent this list of values in the context of McConnell’s votes. McConnell’s opponent declined to use this approach in the campaign. The Louisville Courier-Journal — the state’s largest newspaper, thought enough of the message to print it as an op-ed by me.

Of course, every state — Texas, Georgia, Wisconsin, Minnesota, etc. can be seen as having similar broad and appealing values. Comparing an incumbent’s vague embrace of values to the incumbent’s specific votes and positions is powerful and can motivate voters to look beyond campaign slogans and platitudes. It makes the “values rhetoric” clash with the reality of the incumbents’ actions. No more using abstractions as camouflage for the misdeeds on the ground. It makes the politician’s record matter.

Getting out the vote by telephone banks, postcards or door knocking is important but has several limitations. It doesn’t work very well with non-voters or people who do not see that the election matters to them where they live, work, and raise their families. (The “pox on all your houses” people). This memo — pre-Covid-19 — emphasizes the importance of early person-to-person conversations and developing relationships in neighborhoods, organized, and staffed by full-time organizers and local “influencers.” The memo suggests transportation options and then post-election celebrations to solidify voter participation and future civic and electoral action. The price-tag is half of what Mr. Bloomberg spent to end up winning American Samoa in the Democratic presidential primary. Adjustment here needs to be made for much greater mail voting.

The theme of corruption must be prominent and continually restated. No matter the polls or the country, when people are asked what they dislike the most about government and politicians, corruption is almost always near or at the top of their concerns. The Trump administration is the most deeply, overt, covert, and varied corrupt regime in U.S. history — think of the daily impeachable offenses such as spending unauthorized money, also a federal crime under the Anti-Deficiency Act, and defying scores of Congressional subpoenas that reflect corrupt Trumpian practices. Corruption is a word that sticks in people’s minds. Use it, repeat it, exemplify it to strike home.

Make the voting record of the incumbent — and the positions taken — specific and personal to voters. Here is one approach (call it a “Voter Self-Help Guide — Where do you stand?) On one side, you ask the voters “yes or no” questions on several important issues. On the other side, you can then compare candidate answers with the positions of their opponents and yourself. Of course, there can be different designs, including ones suited to social media. But the goal should be — to show that the incumbent disagrees with the voter and the challenger agrees with the voter.

The many bad votes of the adversary need to be publicized for a deep imprint. It is remarkable how little attention is given to this strategy. The aggregate votes show that the “whole is larger than the sum of its parts.” On television or in social media, this aggregate list can be broken down into a serial rendition — showing a string of votes over days. This will be both dramatic and compelling and will have a deep imprint, unlike a conventional 30-second ad.

Millions of Americans who work the midnight shift, are keeping the country going while we are sleeping. These include healthcare workers, nursing-home staff, police, firefighters, convenience stores, fast-food restaurants, gas stations, and other all-night workers at retail stores (e.g. drugstores and grocery stores), all night factories, security guards, etc. The candidates can issue a one-page press release, describing the categories of workers and thanking them. These workers are not part of campaign events and they know they are marginalized by candidates. Candidates can show these workers how valued they truly are. Candidates that campaign XXX nights, starting at the midnight shift before the largest hospital in your district or state, will see the benefit of visiting workers from midnight until 3:00 am or so, especially with likely news coverage and social media outreach. Candidates as “midnight campaigners” will be much appreciated, and word-of-mouth will spread the news of the “midnight” candidate’s concern for the forgotten workers.

Winning elections without mandates will leave a cynical trail among voters. Empty ads violate the principle that POLICY precedes MESSAGE. Candidates need to persuade people that they want to win with mandates from the people, that they know where they came from and won’t forget the specifics on which the candidates campaigned. Campaigning on mandates will produce supportive feedback for campaigns from tens of thousands of active people. Mandates mean post-election accountability and pre-election contrast with one’s opponents.

Trump has shown the power of his nicknames. Why? Because, astonishingly, the mass media keeps repeating them over and over again (including during the 2016 campaign) without offering the target of his pejorative nicknames a chance to reply. Ordinarily, candidates do not use nicknames and principled candidates don’t want to descend to his level. But as a top Trump campaign official gleefully said on NPR — they work, why not use them? Nicknames in return blunt Trump’s nicknames from working. Giving a bully his own medicine, including circulating millions of buttons, signs, and posters will either help get equal time or stop the initiator from engaging in this branding tactic.

In Florida, ex-felons, owing a few hundred dollars in unpaid prison fees, court costs, etc. still may be obstructed from voting despite Florida overwhelmingly passing a constitutional amendment allowing them to vote. With the Governor opposed, the courts still in process, it is worth expanding on LeBron James $100,000 down payment to the Florida Rights Restoration Project to start paying off the debts, with more money to come from his new “More Than a Vote” organization. But will it not be enough? A Michael Bloomberg level contribution is needed for the hundreds of thousands of ex-felons who know the specific amount owed. Others await notice of the amounts due. It is a mess but very worth addressing, given how close and consequential Florida elections have turned out to be.

Candidates running for Congress or for the governorship of states need better coaching for candidate debates. There are times while watching these debates when it is difficult to distinguish between the positions of Democrats and Republicans. Too many Democrats have lost when they should have easily won given the voting record and/or public stands by the Republicans. The Democrats too often come across as tentative, cautious, defensive, and seemingly unwilling to let the audience really know the difference between them and their opponents (answering the perennial question “Whose Side Are You On?”). Why? Because they often don’t really know who they are — and because they are coached by dim or conflicted consultants, Democratic candidates also don’t seem to know how to reply and gain the momentum by ending a response and answer that opens new attack themes. The questions asked by debate moderators and reporters are part of the problem. More attention needs to be paid to training candidates to propose consequential questions during debates. There are reasons why the Democrats have lost four of the last five House elections to the worst, most vicious, anti-worker/consumer, corporate cronyism Party in GOP history.

Debate content, timing, and techniques need to be the subject of national training sessions. The ads that will follow can present powerful themes and be worth their price because they will be more memorable for word-of-mouth communications.

In 2018 the Democrats could have won four more Senate seats had Democratic candidates not tried to sound like Republicans−and talked about what families and young voters really need and want from the most powerful (under the Constitution) branch of government (e.g. — making livelihood protections that elaborate the disgraceful status quo).

Candidates need to develop powerful uniform themes, grouped as a highly visible “commitment to voters,” that attract more left/right support from people who have household and neighborhood conditions on their mind, writ small and writ large (living wage to healthcare costs and access to job-intensive infrastructure projects in their community — to cite three of many). Focus on what the perceived necessities and injustices are by families, regardless of the political labels they place on themselves. (See this excerpt from my book — UNSTOPPABLE: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State).

There are many issues bringing left/right voters together just waiting for elaboration and authentic candidate stands. Put simply, a left/right approach nationalizes the election and recognizes that conservatives, liberals, progressives all get ripped off by companies, all are exposed to toxic pollution, crumbling public services, the many controls of big companies, health and safety hazards and most have a surplus of anxiety, dread and fear about the future. The Democratic Party can take command of agendas and reforms that Republicans will not support and cannot be blurred, or credibly denied and are on most people’s minds.

One such long overdue non-blurrable issue is raising the federal minimum wage from its long-frozen level of $7.25 per hour to $15 an hour. The party needs to make its existing support more vocal, visible, and repeated in many human interest contexts. The party should accelerate its implementation and not wait for five years as did the House passed bill. Over 25 million workers will benefit in intangible ways. The message must be authentic, vivid, front and center and not just seen as the political rhetoric from past years.

An authentic and well-publicized contract with America needs to be drafted and widely disseminated by all Democratic candidates after Labor Day. Veteran politicians have told me — people do not know what the Democratic Party stands for — its agenda is too piecemeal. Look at their weak slogans. Even with the Republicans blocking the next massive relief bill, already passed by the Democrats last May, the contrasting message of what the Democrats stand for is not getting through to the majority of the voters. If the message, in its granularity, was getting through the polls would be plummeting for the GOP, not merely sliding.