Webb Wrap: Grassroots effort still important in campaigns . . . Reader response . . . don’t burn bridges

Modern political campaigns are all about social media, TV advertising, and careful message targeting. Sometimes old-fashioned campaign activities like grassroots organizing, personal voter contact, and voter identification are overlooked.

Personally, I believe a strong ground game and in-person voter contact are still very important. And to be effective, a lot of committed volunteers are necessary.

I recently received an insightful message from an extraordinary campaign volunteer that reminded me of the importance of dedicated volunteers with no motivation other than getting good people elected.

The message was from Herb Cihak, who retired to Utah after an exemplary career as a professor of law and associate dean for Library and Information Services at the Pepperdine University School of Law.

Here’s what he wrote:

I write to comment on (your) column dealing with the Owens-McAdams race.

In 2012, while on the faculty at Pepperdine University School of Law, I contributed and encouraged another conservative faculty member to contribute to Mia Love’s campaign.  During most of my married life, my wife and I have participated in Republican party organizational work.  In 2016, however, we did not support Donald Trump.  In 2020, we were enthusiastic Trump supporters.

In July 2020, after reading the two books that Burgess Owens has written, and seeing Burgess Owens speak on Fox News, I contacted the Burgess4Utah campaign and asked how I could help.  I participated in on-line campaign phone bank training in early August.  From August 12 through October 30, 2020, I spent one hour each day making phone bank calls for the Burgess4Utah campaign and was credited with making over 37,000 of these calls.  Making campaign calls (and taking surveys) was not something I relished doing but I wanted to support an authentic conservative for Congress.

I have never met Burgess Owens or any member of his staff.  I have never received any Burgess4Utah memorabilia or even had a call from Mr. Owens, although my local Congressman Chris Stewart did give me a shout-out at a campaign rally in St. George for my phone bank work on behalf of the Burgess Owens campaign.  I send these comments to you because I want you to know that even though millions of dollars were spent on this congressional race, it still takes an energetic grassroots effort to pull out a victory in a swing district.  (I guess I want to reinforce this thought since I have a Masters in Political Science with an emphasis on the American political system.)

Thanks for your insights during this campaign season.  I look forward to other insightful articles.

Note that Mr. Cihak simply wanted to support a good candidate and he made 37,000 phone calls without ever even meeting the candidate. That’s a terrific volunteer. Candidates who can recruit and effectively use such volunteers will certainly have a better chance of winning, no matter how much money is spent on advertising.

Good Read. In politics, good time management is very important. Politicians are busy people with multiple priorities and tasks. It takes hard work and effective time management to get everything done and still have time for family and personal interests.

Tim Huffaker, a sales guru who runs The Business Performance Group, recently wrote an article for Utah Pulse outlining five steps to effective time management. I thought it was well done. Check it out HERE.

Reader Response. Dear Mr. Webb: I get the “Utah Policy” daily newsletter, and have found it very helpful since becoming a Utah resident a while ago.  I understand Utah politics much better now, so thank you for that.

I am struck by some recent pieces, however, and I wonder whether the country’s political position is a bit more fragile than you suggest.  Your recent piece cautioned Biden about the need to run the country as a centrist; you had a piece recently from a noted state Republican, Mike Winder, who argued that the country is a center-right country. Allow me to make a couple of points.

First, the Republican Presidential candidate has failed to win a majority of the popular vote in 7 of the last 8 elections.  Bush the younger won the popular vote in 2004, but that’s the last time.  In what sense is the country a center-right country when a clear and consistent majority of the country does not vote for the center-right candidate?  Of course, the country’s constitutional arrangements mean that the popular vote is not all that important for governing, and clearly that is very important, but it calls into question the claim made by Winder and his fellow Republicans about the mood of the country.  This is not an argument about the realities or the legitimacy of political power, but I confess I do find Mr Winder’s rhetoric irritating.

Secondly, I am sure you have seen the recent Brookings Institution study about the economic weight of the bases of the Republican and Democratic parties.  According to Brookings, the 477 counties in the country that Biden carried account for 70% of the nation’s GDP.  The 2,497 countries carried by Trump represent less than 30% of the economy.  (I am quoting Brookings here; when they published this, there were 110 counties whose results had not been finalized and they have promised to update their results.  These 110 counties won’t change the overall story, however.)

These trends are of course also reflected within Utah, where the state’s economic engine, greater Salt Lake, is significantly farther to left than the rest of the state.  It’s also true that popular discontent with the state legislature (well illustrated by the legislature’s willingness to override popular vote initiatives) reflects the fact the legislature is somewhat more right wing than the public as a whole.

The key point is that Republicans owe their political power at the national level to key features of our constitutional arrangements, not to the popularity of their ideas or to the economic success of their constituents.

Please note I am not complaining about this; we have our constitutional arrangements for reasons.  But these plain facts (that the political preferences of the country as a whole are being restrained by a small, and poor minority whose electoral power is great) are not consistent with any lasting political peace.  It doesn’t really matter whether Biden’s style of governing is centrist or not.  The growing gap between political and economic success, and between political power and the popular mood, will ensure rising tension over the longer term. Best wishes, Michael Atkin.

Parting shot. In politics, it never pays to burn bridges. Big victories and crushing defeats are inherent in politics. And along with the wins and losses come emotional ups and downs. So it’s easy to get mad, to hold grudges and to want to get even. Politics attracts big egos that are sensitive and easily bruised. Making enemies is part of the game for some politicians.

But the smartest and best politicians don’t burn bridges. Anyone who is in politics very long soon realizes that today’s enemy will probably be tomorrow’s ally. Issues come and go and coalitions form, disband and reform with different players. Anyone who makes real and permanent enemies hampers their chances at long-term success. It’s fine to fight hard and debate hard, but once the votes are counted, it’s silly and childish to hold grudges and stay angry. Sometimes you compete vigorously. Sometimes you cooperate fully.

This advice applies to reporters and the news media as well as political opponents. If you get angry and hang onto grudges against a reporter or a media outlet, you’ll eventually regret it.

Don’t take things personally. Stay calm. Get away for a while, and then make up with your opponents. Don’t burn bridges because it’s almost guaranteed you’ll need to work together with former opponents in the future.

If you have a comment, an item you think should be publicized, or just want to tell me I’m nuts, shoot me a message at [email protected].