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Newly Built Political Muscle?

Living in WV and knowing the state of our party ground game from 2004 (abysmal doesn’t begin to describe it…), a "building political muscle from scratch" concept is very appealing. Where the Democratic party muscle and infrastructure has atrophied, this is going to be necessary work well before November. It’s something that Howard Dean and other party stalwarts have been working on — to varying degrees of success — with the 50 State Strategy and beyond.

Energy from the electorate, it seems to me, starts with candidates who pay attention to the issues that matter to all of us. Don’t just give them lip service, but actually stand up, do the work and LEAD. They can start with the rule of law — and FISA. That would energize me, I can tell you that.

But beyond particular issues, the behind-the-scenes organization among the campaigns offers a peek at where each of them are finding their strengths — and weaknesses — with their ground games. From the WSJ:

In early voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, campaigns use rallies and personal appearances to get votes. Now, the nominating races have moved to bigger states, including much of the South. Candidates here rely on endorsements from powerful politicians and preachers. It is a tradition that has evolved since the 1960s to garner support among poor blacks who look to their preachers for both spiritual and political guidance. And it is the way Mrs. Clinton, like countless Democratic politicians before her, is running her campaign in South Carolina.

Mr. Obama, in contrast, is trying something many observers say has never been done here: He is circumventing entrenched local leadership and building a political machine from scratch. His staff consists largely of community organizers — many from out of state or with no political experience — who are assembling an army of volunteers. It is a strategy often used by labor organizations and in neighborhood and town politics….

Meanwhile, as Gene Robinson points out today, the Edwards campaign has beeing giving voice to those folks in America who are too often voiceless, without the ability to hire mouthpieces in the halls of power. This is important — for our country and the Democratic party — because these folks are the backbone this country and we owe them more respect than they have gotten during the Bush years.

Which will work? Guess we’ll see.

Obama’s campaign is energizing the youth vote and creating a new structural paradigm framework. But is this based solely on an Obama "cult of personality" — which will evaporate if he does not win the nomination? Or is this a more long-term base of support that can be built on a need for change from the current political failures of the Bush Administration and their various Republican surrogates? Is this a progressive tide, or merely an Obama one?

What about the Clinton energy for a lot of women around the country? Or not, frankly, because the numbers are divided on this. Or party stalwarts attracted to experience and a steady hand inside the tempest that is the Beltway? Does that accrue to all of us, including progressives, or is it Clinton-centric? The same for Edwards, whose populist message hits a lot of folks square in the heart and the gut — something that has been sorely missing from the Democratic party and it’s consultant-centric blandness the last few years. Can we all learn from his gifts of policy for everyone and storytelling on the stump?

How can we build on this to reach single moms? Single women, who are far too often ignored altogether? Women of all ages and interests — we make up half the electorate, and we deserve more than lip service every four years. How do we best do this?

What about a racial divide? Pam Spaulding has spoken at length about racial issues from her African-American perspective, and today the WaPo had some fantastic thoughts on Latino issues from Marcela Sanchez. Just two voices among the many in a chorus of Americans asking that we all do better, be better — and live up to our promise of a "more perfect union" for all Americans. Conversations well worth having at length, not based on how we can further divide, but on how we best move forward together. Would that more of that were occurring at the moment.

Could we have more of this type of clear, concise progressive response to wingnut framing? Good on John Edwards. (And shame on Hillary Clinton for using GOP "trial lawyer" framing.) And beyond that, more discussion on the very solid ground of liberal, inclusive values versus the divisive nastiness of Republican governance, wherein cronyism and disrespect for the rule of law have become commonplace. How do we move the nation forward together while mending so many deliberately plotted rifts?

Some combination of the old and new paradigms needs to be combined into a coherent whole by the general election. But will the old party lions pay attention to the younger set when it comes to more internet savvy organizing? Rapid response? Energizing and turning out voters in larger numbers?

For those of you who are working with your state party groups or with other organizations like DFA, what is being done now in your area to register voters? For the primary, if you haven’t had one yet? Have you started talking about organization, ground game questions and other infrastructure issues for November? Do tell…

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com