Why Nov. 3 is anything but the sure thing people think it to be

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Mail-in ballots are one 2020 election concern, highlighted by President Trump’s recent comments.

A bigger one that is under the radar: how do you organize in a pandemic?

I got hands-on training in political organizing when I was the chair of the Democratic committee in Waynesboro back in 2008, and spent the summer and fall working daily with the most organized presidential campaign in U.S. political history.

Barack Obama was the better candidate in 2008, but that’s not why he was elected that November. The Obama campaign left nothing to chance.

If you’ll consider a few things in terms of context: Waynesboro, in 2004, had gone to George W. Bush with just under 70 percent of the vote.

The John Kerry campaign had made headlines early in the ’04 cycle by assigning 10 paid staffers to Virginia, which hadn’t gone Democrat in a presidential election since FDR, but as summer turned to fall in that cycle, and the polls here didn’t move quickly enough, the Kerry campaign waved the white flag and moved those staffers to other states.

Four years later, the Obama campaign had two paid staffers assigned to the Waynesboro, Staunton, Augusta County region.

To reinforce: Kerry briefly had 10 for the entire Commonwealth; Obama had two in Waynesboro, Staunton, Augusta, all the way to the finish line.

Which was not going to give Obama a majority, and in fact, Waynesboro, for all of our hard work, would only end up giving Obama 44 percent.

But we worked. Knocking on doors across the city and the eastern half of the county beginning in July, ending the first wave in early September. Then repeating with a second wave that wrapped up in late October.

Ahead of a final four-day weekend blitz leading into Election Day.

We made contact, then re-established that contact, then made sure as Election Day approached that people were on their way to the polls.

We didn’t cede an inch.

I can’t imagine how tough it would be to replicate that given what we’re facing in 2020. You could say, well, you have the internet, but we had the internet back in 2008 – we had Facebook, we had email lists, text messaging – and there was still an emphasis on the face to face, and for good reason.

People delete emails, ignore Facebook messages, opt out of texts.

There’s something to the face to face that makes it more real.

I’d have trouble sleeping at night if I was on Team Biden right now, trying to figure out my get out the vote approach.

The polls look good, but not great – I’m seeing the national numbers as close as six points in favor of Biden, with the consensus being in the area of nine to eleven.

But it’s still way, way early for the polls to mean anything. Traditionally, we’ve looked at Labor Day as the sort of unofficial kickoff to the fall campaign, and even with that, so much happens between that particular Monday in September and the all-important Tuesday in November.

The race will tighten as voters begin to entrench.

Trump is behind, but he has the advantage of incumbency, and the power of celebrity on top of that, which he rode so expertly in 2016.

Republicans, of course, face the same challenges that Democrats do in terms of GOTV, but Trump was able to pull the massive upset in ’16 despite having almost nothing in terms of a GOTV foundation, using the unhealthy media focus on the celebrity of Trump as a surrogate.

Trump, the P.T. Barnum of our era, stands to benefit from the old circus master’s line about PR to the effect that, I don’t care what you write about me, as long as you spell my name right.

Joe Biden, even in a perfect world, can’t compete with the likes of Trump in terms of being able to draw attention, and he’s been largely invisible since wrapping up the Democratic nomination on the eve of COVID-19.

Biden needs strong GOTV more than any challenger in recent presidential election memory.

Assuming the public health situation doesn’t change dramatically between now and then, this is why Nov. 3 is anything but the sure thing people think it to be.

Story by Chris Graham

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