Goals and Aims
Our primary aim as an organization is to grow and strengthen the presence of Democrats in rural counties in Texas. This work takes place not at a statewide or a regional level, but at the local level. To do that your first goal as a leader in your community must be to know who your voters are, where they are, and to grow participation in your local Democratic Primary. Primary growth is not easy work, and it is not work in which you should expect quick results. But it is essential work if Democrats hope to mount any realistic challenge to the rural Republican power structure in Texas.
Why Primary Participation is the Key.
In rural counties Democratic leaders probably have no idea who their voters are or how many there are largely because most of their people vote in the Republican Primary. In many communities, f you want to have a say in who your local elected officials are going to be you vote in the Republican Primary. Many rural counties have no candidates running as Democrats at the local level, and those that do have little chance of getting elected. So, you only have the hard core yellow dogs voting in the Democratic primary. There are more Democrats than that in your county, you just do not know who they are because they vote in the Republican primary or just do not vote in any primary. The idea is to change that dynamic by growing participation in your local Democratic Primary. The more we grow the total number of voters in our primary, the better idea we will begin to have of who our supporters are and where they are. It is also extremely difficult to recruit local candidates to run as a Democrat when no one votes in the Democratic Primary. This reinforces the widely held perception that there aren’t enough Democrats to give a candidate a fighting chance in the general election. We can start to change that dynamic if we focus on increasing primary participation.
Advantages of this Approach
The primary is the low-hanging fruit for rural Democrats. Our local parties are largely weak and ineffective. We have few candidates willing to run, no money and few volunteers. Many Democrats also face the fear of being ridiculed, having their businesses targeted and social ostracization if they are seen or known as a Democrat in their community. Focusing our efforts on party building and growth, rather than electoral victory makes sense in these places. What we are proposing is talking and connecting with fellow Democrats and independents who sympathize with us. It can be done relatively easily, with little expense and few volunteers. The work will primarily be taking place “below radar level” politically speaking.
How We Measure Success
We measure success by primary turnout. When more people vote in our primary than in our last primary (taking into account presidential and off-year primaries) that is success. If it declines, then we have more work to do. Then we do it again the next primary and the next. Over time, as your local primary grows, your local party will grow and there will come a point when you will feel sufficient strength that you will want to test the waters by running a candidate for office.
We offer this plan as a suggestion of how you might go about planning your own local campaign. These steps are based on historic tried and true methods that are as old as politics itself. They are built around connecting with people, building relationships and community. This plan may not exactly fit your county but the basic fundamentals of it can be used anywhere. It is not the definitive approach, but it is an approach to set you thinking about how you want to grow your primary.
Step 1 - Identify Your Target Voting Precincts
Do not make the mistake of trying a county-wide campaign, at least not your first election cycle. The first step is to identify the voting precincts that have the most people voting in the last two or three Democratic primary elections. You can obtain this information through your County Clerk, Elections Administrator, and you can also identify it through VAN if you have access to it. (Caveat: VAN is not updated as regularly for small rural counties as it is for larger more urban counties. We recommend going to your local elections office as well to make sure you have the most update information.)
Once you have this information, prioritize your precincts based on the number of Democrats voting in each precinct. The voting precinct with the highest voter turnout should be your first target and the remaining can be listed in order of historical turnout.
You then need to create a list for each of your targeted precincts with the name, address, phone number and any other information you have about each voter. These will be the basic information your volunteers and Captains will rely on in connecting to your voters.
Step 2 - Recruit Voting Precinct Captains
The core of the campaign is going to be your precinct captains. These are the people who are going to be the face of your party in a targeted voting precinct. This person can be a precinct chair, but it does not have to be. Preferably it will be someone who lives in the precinct over which they will be captain. The captain can recruit others to assist in the work in that precinct, or they can do the work themselves. As you will see, the amount of work required is not burdensome.
Step 3 - Training Your Precinct Captains
The role of the Precinct Captain is to get to know every Democratic voter in their precinct, to keep in contact with them on a regular basis, build relationships and encourage them to remember to go vote in the primary. (If done right, this system can also carry over to pushing turnout in the general election, although that is not our main goal right now). But your Captains must be trained. There is a specific way you want them to approach their voters, interact with them and follow up with them. These are not random contacts and you need to plan and lead your Captains in how they are to go about it to create a positive image for your local party. The 134 PAC will come and train your Captains in what to do and how to do it.
Step 4 - Contacting Voters
There are several phases to the contact work of your Captains. 1) Initial contact; 2) build and maintain; 3) pre-election contact; 4) post-election contact and follow up. Once initial contact has been made with a voter the cycle of build and maintain, election contacts and follow up will continue. This will be an ongoing mission, to maintain connections and keep them engaged as voters from primary to primary.
Step 5 - Election Turnout
This is where all the months of work for a Captain pays off. It is the Captain's responsibility to maintain contact with his or her voters as the election approaches. Inform them of early voting, voting locations and election day. Be available to answer questions. Be a resource your neighbors can call, and call them on election day. Having someone they know to remind them and encourage them will be much more effective than a text message or phone call from a party, a campaign or a stranger.
Step 6 - Evaluate and Adapt
Every voter contact and every election needs evaluation, not just at the county level, and more important, at the precinct level. People are all different. Some you will find friendly and receptive to your contact, some less so. You will have to evaluate what approaches are successful and what are not and adapt your plan accordingly.
Step 7 - Do Not Quit & Be Accountable
After the election is over give everyone a few months respite, and then start having your Captains reach out and contact their voters again. Hold Captains accountable. Follow up with them, have them report on contacts at party or club meetings. Recruit new Captains and Lieutenants for your precincts. This must be a year round effort to succeed and grow the party.