More on CoDA’s blue machine: What 2010 showed

(’76 Editor) My column yesterday, two posts below this one, didn’t have room for several important quotes from sources I talked to. I will add them here. First, as a valuable reference, don’t miss Isaac Smith’s comprehensive bibliography of published material about the Colorado Democracy Alliance and related groups. It’s a sort of election transparency primer, which Smith has authorized Centennial Institute to release for the first time. Election Transparency – A Primer

Naturally I approached Adam Schrager and Rob Witwer, since they literally wrote the book on this whole thing. Schrager declined to comment for the record, other than referring me to a buzz in the left blogosphere last month about what is being called “the Western Firewall,” a Democrat–saving difference from the Rockies to the Pacific. But when I put this question to Witwer—“How did the 2010 election results verify or modify your analysis of new political realities as presented in The Blueprint”?—he replied as follows:

The 2010 elections show that all the advertising in the world doesn’t add up to much if the infrastructure isn’t there to support it. Campaign finance reform all but killed political parties, and the infrastructure they once provided is now being outsourced to nonprofit organizations. Colorado Democrats figured that out earlier, and have implemented it more effectively, than their GOP counterparts.

Here in Colorado, Democrats withstood the national tidal wave and saved the top two prizes: the U.S. Senate and Governor’s seats. They also held on to their majority in the state Senate. 2010 was never going to be a good year for Colorado Democrats, but with superior infrastructure and a relentless ground game, they minimized their losses—and pulled off an upset or two in the process.

To win in the twenty–first century, you need a thriving network of nonprofits to build the kind of infrastructure necessary to sustain a succesful political movement.

All the TV ads in the world won’t help if your side doesn’t have a political infrastructure in place. TV just isn’t enough anymore, and heavy spending on ads quickly reaches the point of diminishing returns. To win, you need a network of coordinated groups to provide a social media presence, thorough opposition research, a campaign of non–stop pressure on the mainstream media, databases full of detailed information on voters, and an army of door–to–door vote–getters.

On the CoDA side, mastermind Mike Huttner would not go on record either, asking me to work instead with Kjersten Forseth, who recently took over for him as interim executive director of ProgressNow Colorado, the granddaddy of all infrastructure groups. I’ll quote my exact query as put to her by phone and then by email, to show how specific I was inviting her to be—and then her admirably robotic, terse and utterly uninformative reply. These people are drilled!

Andrews: On page 208 of “The Blueprint” by Schrager and Witwer, they quote Mike Huttner as saying: ‘I believe Colorado’s progressive infrastructure will work as a buttress [against] the potential tidal wave against Democrats in November.’ So my question to you is, did that indeed occur to the benefit of Bennet, the state Senate, and the Perlmutter race? If so, what specifically provided the benefit? And what role did the progressive infrastructure play in bringing to light McInnis’s problems, thus throwing the GOP nomination to Maes?

Forseth: ProgressNow Colorado had a very successful year exposing candidates’ extreme positions and actions. ProgressNow cut though the political rhetoric and backpedaling so voters were able to make informed decisions about their candidates.

Mark Hillman, the former state senator and treasurer who is now Colorado’s Republican National Committeeman, had this to say:

The recent election verified that CODA is invested for the long–haul. Just as they seek to maximize Democrat gains in favorable years, their strategy is to minimize Democrat losses in unfavorable elections, like 2010. CODA had far more influence on the 2010 election than either the Democrat or Republican state parties. Wealthy Democrats, labor unions and trial lawyers are committed for the long–haul and It’s paying off. Republicans can’t be competitive year in and year out unless business leaders and wealthy donors are willing to make that same commitment.

Finally, an experienced GOP player and observer, speaking on background, reinforced much of what Hillman and Witwer had said, when he wrote to me as follows:

At the statewide level, we remain too dependent upon an impotent, irrelevant State Party for basic functions and messaging. The Dems abandoned their Party a decade ago and ran everything through the unions and interest groups. If you ask a high–level Dem when was the last time that the Democratic Party ran its own GOTV effort, he’ll say they never did. It was always the unions.

But It’s notable that our state legislative leadership made gains for the past two cycles (net +1 in 2008 and +7 in 2010). The House has done particularly well, gaining 8 seats since 2008. That kind of success for the Dems from 2000–2004 was national news, but our gains are practically unreported in comparison. The bottom line is that it took us 4 years to figure out how the Dems play in legislative races post–Amendment 27, and now our House leaders know what to do to be successful and have shown repeated success for the first time in over a decade. By comparison, it seems Senate leaders still have some learning to do. They aren’t raising as much money, they are in–fighting, and they spread their money too thinly over five districts. McNulty, enroute to becoming Speaker–elect, raised the money, and only invested in a race when he knew he had enough money to fully compete.

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