YearlyKos and A Local Election Surprise

The election of Suja Lowenthal to the Second District City Council seat came as a shock to many of our political cognoscenti. While everyone had their favorite candidate (or three), Suja Lowenthal rarely came near the top of the list of the weird people who talk about this sort of thing with their friends. One insider conveyed a truly frightening angst when he demanded “how the HELL did Suja win?!?”

I found the answer walking the halls of the YearlyKos Convention in Las Vegas.

By most accounts, Suja Lowenthal ran a lackadaisical ground campaign that started in the last week of the campaign, while other candidates had been walking for weeks. She seemed to have tarnished her prospects by dropping out of the School Board race and many other candidates were reliable civic volunteers. Suja, it seemed, was a qualified, if unloved, candidate in a field of beloved neighbors.

In the days after the election the broken hearted were left with little choice but to fall back on the pessimistic standby excuses: an ignorant electorate, name recognition, lock-step union voters and traditional power brokering. I didn’t have an answer, but the stock excuse of a hopelessly bankrupt democracy didn’t sit well with me. Suja obviously did something right, and we just weren’t seeing it.

On election night I walked from party to party thanking friends who’d stood for the Council Seat. One thing I heard over and over again was that Suja’s campaign hadn’t been seen in the streets until UNITE HERE union canvassers had arrived within the last week. They were seen in almost every neighborhood – even ones obviously locked down for another candidate (a sign for Brian U. or Weeks in every yard). revealed that UNITE HERE had committed to spending almost $34,000 to support Suja’s election. This is more than just a union endorsement. Do visits from organized labor representatives really hold that much clout with the un-organized masses of Long Beach? Maybe:

UNITE HERE boasts a diverse membership, comprised largely of immigrants and including high percentages of African-American, Latino, and Asian-American workers. The majority of UNITE HERE members are women.

Here’s the part I learned in the halls of a casino in Las Vegas: UNITE HERE was probably adding to the labor movement’s database on American residents.Welcome to the 21st century, where everyone is putting you in their computer. The NSA is cataloguing millions of phone calls, the TSA is building profiles of every passenger and everyone has a credit score. Show me your Von’s Card, people. Of course labor unions are building profiles of the American population.

Union canvassers have survey cards bar coded for each address. At the end of the day, the completed surveys are machine read and manipulated in a database. The information is used to sort issue-specific campaign mail which will arrive immediately before the election. I admit that, in a race I know nothing about, a piece of campaign material that says just what I want to hear will decide my vote. Good enough, and it’s easier than research.

This, I believe, is why Suja Lowenthal won. It explains the many pieces of election material I received from her in the last few days of the campaign.

UNITE HERE’s money was well spent… but not just because Suja won. The political data will be valid for more than one election and, more importantly, the union has identified potential new members thru ought Long Beach.

Here’s another secret: Democrats don’t do this.

Republicans might, but they have a crazy Get Out The Vote (GOTV) campaign too: In rural New Mexico, GOP workers walk into a polling place and check off voters on PalmPilots. The Palms synchronize with headquarters, and the campaign knows who else they need to get to the polls.

Democrats don’t do this either.

In fact, most Democratic campaigns work the same as they did in 1996. You’ll hear more about this.

P.S. In case anyone’s wondering, the Lowenthal dynasty is politically progressive.