Progressives and labor leaders who led the charge against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker took away a curious lesson from their crushing defeat earlier this month: Keep doing what you’re doing.
Leaders from organized labor and the progressive movement told TPM this week that in the wake of the failure of the organized left to recall Walker, they plan to double down on the tactics used in that race.
“If we had won by 51 percent, everyone would be asking us how we copy it,” said Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn. He said Wisconsin “reinforces” the idea that groups like his need to use grassroots resources like “people and technology” to “combat corporate money.”
There’s a noticeable split among Democrats and some of their allies over how to proceed post-Wisconsin. Party officials are increasingly calling on donors and allies to spend their resources on television ads, saying that air cover is the best way to combat the epic spending by Republican-leaning super PACs. Both sides seem to agree a mix of ground and air is important — but there’s a clear divide over which side matters most.
Two weeks after Wisconsin, having had time to mourn their loss in the fight they picked with Republicans, progressives are regrouping and refocusing their efforts on the ground game tactics they touted before losing to Walker and his allies by 7 points.
“Working families are making their voices heard through all the media available to us,” Gary Hudson, executive vice president at SEIU, told TPM on a conference call Tuesday. “However, our advantage and the place where we have seen historically and continue to see that we can have a real impact is on the ground.”
“What’s different this year?” Hudson said. “We’re going to talk to more voters this year than we ever have.”
SEIU is focusing its efforts on eight states. In one of the most important, Ohio, progressives agree that ground game trumps conservative TV ads in terms of impacting voters.
But that’s not to say progressives aren’t nervous about about the conservative money pouring into elections — to the contrary, they’re extremely worried about the margin the right was able to rack up during the Wisconsin recall.
“We expect that the candidates we support will be outspent, but if they’re outspent 7-to-1 across the board in November, then this is not the America of the last 200 years,” Mike Podhorzer, political director for the AFL-CIO, told reporters Wednesday.
But he said that Wisconsin served as a dry run for a new kind of advanced ground game the AFL-CIO plans to roll out in full force this fall. The new operation goes beyond the door-knocking and phone-banking of a classic field plan, Podhorzer said, and infuses it with operations aimed specifically at combating the messages of TV ads. He called it “adding quality to quantity” — leveraging social media and personal social networks to train friends to share progressive messaging with other friends. Early results of the testing shows people who have ads “explained” to them by their friends were markedly more skeptical of the spots, Podhorzer said. That gives progressives a change to diffuse some of the air attacks, though labor organizers still say a big money divide will make that mission harder.
Still, Podhorzer said, the testing in Wisconsin (and Ohio, where labor defeated the GOP in a 2011 referendum) only solidified that a sophisticated ground game represents the best use of time and resources.
“The results were uniformly reassuring and encouraging,” he said. “The challenge for us is to bring those programs to scale in November.”