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National Dem strategy memo quick to brag about ‘how they did it’

In the flush of victory, officials of the Democratic National Committee sent out this memo today, outlining how they did it.A little self-congratulatory, maybe, but political junkies might like it:To:     Interested PartiesFrom:   DNC Communications

In the flush of victory, officials of the Democratic National Committee sent out this memo today, outlining how they did it.

A little self-congratulatory, maybe, but political junkies might like it:

To:     Interested Parties
From:   DNC Communications
Date:    11/5/08
RE:       A 50 State Strategy: Rebuild, Show Up, and Ask for People’s Votes.

When Governor Dean became Chairman in February 2005, our Party had come through a dismal election cycle.  We had just lost a national election to an incumbent president whose approval rating hovered at or below 50 percent. Republicans had gained 3 seats in the House and 4 in the Senate, leading to speculation about the possibility of a “permanent Republican majority.”

Governor Dean’s first step was to assess our Party’s strengths and weaknesses and put in place a strategy to address those issues.  Dean developed a business plan to rebuild the Democratic Party, modernize our operations and expand the electoral map.  The emphasis was on lessons learned and best practices, and it included the following key components:

    * Rebuild the Infrastructure of the Party – After assessing the needs on the ground, we hired full-time permanent staff in all 50 states, trained staff and activists, introduced new measures of accountability, and developed a unified technology platform. Over the past four years we’ve held 140 trainings for candidates, campaign staff, organizers, Party leaders and activists in all 50 states.
    * Upgrade and Improve the Party’s Technology/Modernize the Way We Do Grassroots Organizing –  Over the past four years the DNC has made significant investments in technology, creating a truly national voter file, improved micro-targeting models and developed 21st century campaign tools that merged traditional organizing with new technology.
    * Diversify the Donor Base – Shifting the emphasis of Party fundraising to include both small donors and large donors, the DNC brought in more than 1.1 million new donors and raised more than $330 million from ’05 – ’08. The average contribution over the last three years was $63.88.
    * Amplify Democratic Message and Improved Outreach – Created a national communications infrastructure to amplify the Democratic message and reach out to groups we haven’t always talked to and expand the map to regions where Democrats have not traditionally been competitive – including the South and the West.
    * Professionalize Voter Protection Efforts – Created a year-round national, state and local effort to ensure that every eligible voter has the opportunity to vote.

When Obama Became the Nominee:

As a result of those efforts, when Barack Obama became our Party’s nominee, we had unprecedented resources in place, including:

    * Trained, Professional Staff on the Ground in All 50 States
    * A State of the Art Voter File and Micro-targeting Tools
    * The Neighbor-to-Neighbor Organizing Tool
    * Initial Polling on McCain
    * A political roadmap for 24 states


Staffing and Training:

Through the 50 State Strategy the DNC put paid staff on the ground (2-4 per state) in every state from Alaska to Mississippi, New Mexico to Indiana. When Obama became the nominee there were 183 people on the ground who have been there, been trained, and were working for the nominee.  Through the course of this campaign, those staff worked to organize at least 892 field events around McCain-Palin events.

Beginning in 2005, the DNC conducted 140 workshops in all 50 states to train our candidates, campaign staff, organizers, Party leaders and activists.  More than 15,000 people have participated in these trainings. All State Party Partnership staff:

    * Were trained and tested on VoteBuilder.
    * Learned how to track volunteers and voter contact.
    * Were evaluated continually.

Unlike in previous campaign cycles, where presidential state directors and field staff weren’t deployed to battleground states until late in the cycle, the DNC funded field, voter file and communications staff in all states year round. As a result each state had a full-time profession campaign in place before our Party even had a nominee.  

With those resources came strict accountability.  All staff were evaluated on a number of quantitative barometers, including VoteBuilder proficiency and staff who failed to measure up were either retrained or replaced.

VoteBuilder: the DNC Voter File:

Previously each state Democratic Party used different and often incompatible voter file systems and the quality of data varied widely (e.g. poor phone matches, etc.). The old systems were difficult to use, made it difficult to track metrics and compare voter contact performance, and not well-designed for campaign use.

The DNC created VoteBuilder, a unified voter database designed to meet the needs of modern political campaigns with improved data capacity and functionality. The DNC also brokered swap agreements with 49 states and the District of Columbia, creating a single national and standardized voter file that is available for use by any democrat running for office, from city council to president. The improved data quality made possible by VoteBuilder improved our micro-targeting efforts.

VoteBuilder is game changing.  It allows campaigns to:

1.      Know who voters are: collect history of data on voters – how they vote, how they volunteer, etc.

2.      Target voters: with new and better data, we can perform better micro-targeting.

3.      Coordinate efforts: the voter file can be quickly synched with other data sources and shared with multiple campaigns.

Creating A Political Plan for 2008:

In the past, plan-writing in the battleground states was often completed late in the cycle—a pattern that would have been disastrous given the extended Democratic primary.  The DNC worked to draft strategic roadmaps for 24 states.  Those roadmaps included targeting, programmatic, and strategic recommendations.  Additionally we used historical research to make sure we didn’t repeat past mistakes and to develop better plans with smarter ways to use resources.

The Goal for our 2008 political program was to build a political program that sustains personal contact, occurs at the neighborhood level and provides activists and volunteers with targeted lists and relevant content:

1.  Organize Everywhere

Build a structure to communicate with voters everywhere

2. Count Everything

All programs must be measurable, everyone must be accountable

3. Question Assumptions

Just because something has always been done one way doesn’t make it the right way.


The Neighbor-to-Neighbor Program

From the Voterfile we built a tool that is taking grassroots organizing to the next level – utilizing new technology with effective grassroots organizing.  The Neighbor-to- Neighbor tool (now being used by the campaign) gives grassroots activists online access to small sections of the voter file so they can talk to their neighbors in their own neighborhoods.

This new activist tool, piloted in the 2007 Virginia state Senate races and launched in Spring 2008, provides walk packets, scripts, and materials for the activist to print out from home (or in a campaign office should they choose). Volunteers are then able to return data from their conversations back into the systems, getting credit for their contact and providing critical enhancements to our voter file. It was tested successfully in 2007 Virginia State Senate races and also in the 2007 Ohio Congressional District 5 special election.

In the past, similar efforts of this size have failed due to a problem of scale. For example, in 2004, when nearly a million people signed up to volunteer online during the Democratic National Convention, the field operation was in no position to provide training, walk packets, and materials to the mass of volunteers.


Governor Dean also believed that the future of our party and the road to the White House runs through the West. That is part of why the DNC made the strategic decisions to add a pre-window nominating contest in the West – Nevada – which brought in tens of thousands of new voters into the Nevada where .  Additionally Dean made the strategic decision to hold the convention in Denverand the Convention team worked hard to make it a Western convention.


Despite not having a nominee in February, not being able to raise hard money and not accepting money from federal lobbyists or PACs after Barack Obama secured our Party’s nomination, the DNC raised $330 million between 2005 and Sept. 2008, (compared to $339 million during the same period last cycle).  If all money raised through DNC-OFA joint fundraising agreements is included, that total increases to $385.7 million.

Since 2005, the DNC also added 1,129,021 new donors. The average contribution to our Party was $63.33, showing the power of our grassroots fundraising efforts and the diversity of our donor base.


For more than a decade, Republicans have conducted aggressive voter suppression efforts in minority neighborhoods. In the aftermath of 2004 it became clear that the Democratic Party needed to make voter protection and education a full-time, year-round priority.

To that end the DNC established National Lawyers Councils in every state and strengthened the Voting Rights Institute.  In 2006, for the first time ever, the DNC implemented a 50-State election protection program that built voter protection teams in nearly all states.  The program included:

Paid and volunteer Voter Protection Coordinators recruited and trained by over 8,000 lawyers and law students nationwide.  Their goal: expose and shut down Republican voter suppression schemes, resolve Election Day problems as they occurred, and ensure that all the votes were counted accurately.

A new National Voter Protection Hotline, 1-888-DEM-VOTE, promoted through radio and newspaper ads.  The hotline handled over 30,000 calls, with 25,000 coming on Election Day itself.  Trained operators answered voters’ questions, identified irregularities, and mobilized Voter Protection teams to solve them.

We also distributed over 1.25 million voter education pieces, including 250,000 that were bi-lingual in English and Spanish, as part of our “Every Voter Counts” program.

In 2007, because we already had field staff on the ground in all 50 states, we launched an unprecedented, comprehensive survey of election administration practices in local jurisdictions across the country to ferret out and deal with voting rights and election administration problems long before Election Day. The survey included an 80-question, state-specific survey and the results were entered into an online database and compiled to identify potential problems.  For example, at least 261 jurisdictions had no written policy for purging voters; at least 194 had no policy for machine allocation; at least 120 had no policy for machine chain of custody; and at least 273 had no daily list of absentee ballot requests provided. The DNC’s National Lawyers Council identified those problems and coordinated with local staff and activist to implement national plan to address them prior to the election.

Karen Finney
Director of Communications