This is my last report before the midterm election on November 6th, 2018. Here's what you can do to help. Help us pay for postage. Volunteer for our last canvasses, including Last Weekend Nov 2-5. May sanity prevail, else we are lost.
“You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it" (Pirkei Avot 2:21)
The California Away Team has been canvassing in CA-07 (a narrowly held Democratic district that we're trying to hold) since April 2017. We have been canvassing in CA-04 since January 2018. CA-04 is a red-to-blue flip opportunity that nobody thought had a shot after 2016, but has been moving steadily more competitive as the cycle went on. Rep. Tom McClintock, who holds it, is such a brazen cartoon villain he doesn't live in his own district. He does his best to avoid town halls with constituents, and has a voting record that shows he only supports the very wealthy and corporate interests in his district. After a competitive Democratic primary, Jessica Morse emerged and started out-fundraising him, meeting with constituents in all parts of the geographically large district, and building a large grassroots army.
Along the way we teamed up with the Sacramento Labor Council and the superpac FlipThe14. They provided funding, support, and encouragment to help us succeed and we are grateful to them.
The manta of California Away Team volunteers is this: we can protest, we can complain, but all we really want to do is have Democrats win elections. So all we are focused on is winning the next election. In early 2017, that meant looking forward 22 months and getting to work immediately.
After some test canvassing techniques in early 2017, we settled on a strategy of targeting registered Democrats who skipped voting in 2014 but were registered and yet voted in 2016. Both districts had huge numbers of these (31,000 in CA-04 and over 15,000 in CA-07). We felt that our resources were limited enough that we had to have a very targeted strategy. Volunteer morale was also important: we had to constantly pay attention to whether or not the activities we conducted energized or dismayed our volunteers. We could not afford to burn volunteers out after just one canvass.
The strategy we settled on was a door knock pitch, Democrat to Democrat, to commit to vote in the 2018 midterms. We perfected a 30 second doorknock script that yielded great numbers and often had the voters we spoke to thanking the canvasser. The "ask" was to have the voter sign two commitment cards that we would mail back to them before the election. This would allow us to get three touches out of a single door knock: one door conversation, one piece of personalized voter signed mail before the primary, and a second piece of personalized voter signed mail before the general election. In canvassing mostly on weekends, we found that 1 in 2 door knocks produced the voter at the door, and 1 in 2 conversations produced a successful pair of signed postcards. We would learn after the June primary that in CA-04 1 in 2 mail pieces yielded a reactivated voter. (1 in 2.5 in CA-07)
The return card was not just a postcard. Volunteers painstakingly glued the postcard down to a larger direct mail piece and put it into a windowed envelope so the voter could see their own signature on the card. Here's an example I used in a recent fundraising pitch.
We sent these out before the June primary, and waited for proof of its effectiveness.
For the November election, we now had the luxury of filling the back of the mailing with issues contrasting the Democratic candidate versus the Republican, and we were viciously direct in the reason you need to vote this year. We don't pick favorites before the primary, but once the Democratic nominee is known, we were clear about showing issue after issue where the Republican is acting against the interests of the district. Here's an example from CA-04:
Our second strategy: hard hitting postcards to midterm skipping Democrats
At some point, our volunteers pleadings to run a postcard to voters project became deafening. We didn't want to draw volunteers from canvassing, but we needed to give people who weren't ready to canvass an activity, even though it's effectiveness was not well understood. Everyone is confident postcards to voters help, but nobody yet knows how much.
It had to be focused on midterm skipping Democrats though, which is our core focus. We know this audience.
Conscious of the concern that Democrats need to give voters a reason to vote instead of just "vote because you're unhappy", we designed a set of messages that contrasted the Republican and the Democratic candidate in each district and distributed voter lists to leaders around the country in blocks of 1,000 voters along with our special postcards that have a single blank side for writing long messages. We also gave them our messaging that specifically gives a voter a clear choice between the Republican and the Democrat. Here's an example of a card 13 year old volunteer Maria wrote for CA-07 about Dr. Ami Bera, the pro-choice Democrat we're helping keep in that seat:
And here's a more direct example of an issue contrast between Democrat Jessica Morse and cartoon villain Republican Tom McClintock written by 10 year old Arcadia:
Anyone who tells you both parties are the same is just not paying attention, and our goal was to be more effective than "Please vote!"
Once we began, take up of this program was stunning. We had volunteer groups from Austin TX, Boston MA, Washington DC, and all over California take batches of 1,000 voters. Our largest partner was the Commit to Flip Blue network in San Francisco, which took 20,000 voters for CA-04. At our final tally we had a postcard generated for every single midterm skipping Democrat in CA-04, all 31,000+ of them. When we got late requests we began handing the same turf out again to new volunteers. In a commercial context postcards have a conversion rate of <5%. Nobody knows how many postcards-to-voters touches it will take to make someone vote, so we're doing as much as possible. The final tally as I write this is that we generated 33,304 postcards to CA-04 Democratic midterm skippers and then looped back and got 1,100 more in a second pass before we had to shift everyone to canvassing.
In CA-07 we were helped by volunteers all over California. Coordinated by CA-07 leader Cheryl McKinney, we worked with volunteers to generate postcards to midterm skipping Democrats across the district. As of the postcard deadline our program had generated 11,652 postcards to Democratic midterm skippers in CA-07. It wasn't 100% coverage, but it's a huge push and a quality voter touch.
In CA-04, we established canvassing team leaders in Roseville (Susana Tupper and Ellen Debach-Riley), El Dorado Hills (Lorraine King and Zoe McNevin) Auburn (Roke Whitson and Pat Ferguson) and Hathaway Pines down in Calaveras County (Don Stump). Lorraine King did her best to keep numbers, though our ad hoc style of working thwarted her frequently, these are pretty accurate. We generated 10,766 door knocks as of today and obtained 2,801 voters' commitments. After measuring our results in the June primary where we sent back the first batch of cards, we looked at the voting records and found that 1 in 2 voter commitments resulted in a reactivated voter. Of this whole batch of midterm skipping Democratic voters who sat out 2014's midterms, 38.6% of them we didn't touch came back to vote in June. The ones we touched with a voter commitment card? They voted at a rate of 48.5%, a huge increase. Bottom line: for every 8 doors we knocked on, we reactivated a voter.
In CA-07 we were led by Cheryl McKinney and early on, Duncan Moyer Jr. who left the project a little later. We knocked on 5,415 doors, generated 939 commitments before the June primary and when we studied the results, 41.1% of our targets voted. The other midterm skippers we didn't touch voted at a rate of 36.6% a lift of 4.5%. Bottom line: for every 10 doors we knocked on, we reactivated a voter.
More on our results is available here in our press release.
Our technology stack is the Nationbuilder database (it rocks), voter data from L2 Political (Hi Matt!). L2 rocks! We had a dedicated squad of volunteers that cut turf for canvasses. We send canvassers out with...PAPER. Our printing companies that make everything are A. Maciel in San Francisco, CA and Firefighters Print and Design in Sacramento, CA. TCheryl McKinney, professional graphic designer, make and print all our materials. Our first "funny" commitment postcard was made by Tyler Cohen, a professional comic book activist.
Our final push - What you can do
Help us pay the final postage bill: donate here
We have a few more canvasses in CA-04 and then our teams are focused on getting the mailing out. We actually don't have enough money for postage and need about $3,618 more to cover it.
Help us hit the last houses that need to vote
We are running four Last Weekend canvasses in CA-04 and CA-07 from a staging area in Granite Bay, CA on Friday November 2nd, Saturday November 3rd, Sunday November 4th, and Monday November 5th. RSVP with one of the links off our homepage to get the address.