The SMITH Diaries Project

The Biggest Surprise of the Night (Finalé)

Tuesday, November 14th, 2006

By Tate Hausman

You should have been there.

About 500 jubilant supporters crowded the room, cheering on my victorious candidate, John Hall, after we learned that he had won a seat in Congress by the thinnest of razor thin margins. (Watch the video highlights on the Times Herald Record video page.)

John Hall Victory Speech

The John Hall campaign was the race that shocked the nation. Nobody took it seriously. No one saw it coming. Until 10:30 pm on election day, we were still considered “leans Republican” by all the experts. The New York Times called our win “the biggest surprise of the night.” AP called it “stunning.” Our pollster, Mark Watts, who has worked on scores of tight elections, told me that “John Hall is the #1 upset in the country.”

How did we do it? With people power. With thousands of small donations. With thousands of volunteer hours. With a grassroots base that believed, that had faith, that knew this seat was worth fighting for, even when the DCCC and the money machine and no one else could see it. We did it with people. Patriots. Democrats, with a small d.

Could you ask for a better victory? Could you ask for a better confirmation that democracy actually works?

In the past week, my role shifted away from tech and into the fray of organizing. Instead of just being the Home Team captain, I stepped up to run the entire phone program. (If you believe the Kelly camp’s hilariously desperate attempt at a blog, the Hall Monitor, I was promoted to Get Out the Vote Director.) I know I’m biased, but in my opinion, it was phones that put us over the top. Commanding a grassroots army of about 450 volunteers, my program made 120,000 calls in four days. The scale was almost absurd. The results were obvious — high turnout in Dem districts, and high break of independents to Hall. The program worked.

Moving from Tech Director to “Field Organizer: Phones” was a perfect metaphor for my vision of Democracy 2.0. I made the jump from online to offline organizing. My “virtual” activists turned into real people, making real voter contacts that really won an election. Technology supported a vibrant, kick-ass field program.

Tremendous credit goes to all my 22 phone bank captains who worked so hard for me, mustering our army of over 450 phone bankers. Likewise the Home Teamers, the canvassers, the drivers, the logisticians, the sign distributor … the list of volunteers is too long to recount.

There’s a lot of praise to throw around in a victory like this [Ed note: apologies to the list of people I just cut, like Alex Zwerdling, Emily Arsenault and Daren Berringer], but the unsung hero of this campaign was our campaign director, Amy Little. She architected the grassroots wave that John rode to victory. Her strategic vision of a bottom-up, people-powered campaign bucked the conventional wisdom, and she got a lot of flack for it. But her strategy worked, and I don’t think any other strategy would have. It’s an honor to be on her team.

But the real question for a campaignster like me is, does the Internet deserve credit? The pundits are already saying a resounding YES. In an effort to wrap our story into a tight media packages, the New York Times ran a short piece that credited YouTube and Dem bloggers for undercutting Kelly. Others point to John’s high-profile Colbert Report interview, stressing that every incumbent who Colbert interviewed won re-election (Sue Kelly refused to appear, and when John appeared in her place and delivered a brilliant performance, the netroots went bananas.)

Even before Colbert and the “Run, Sue, Run” video we had a strong netroots base. Our local Take19 crew tirelessly pounded on Kelly. Howie Klein (Down With Tyranny) and John Amato (Crooks & Liars) were pushing money and supporters towards John since before I arrived on the campaign. Matt at MyDD paid us a good visit and bumped us. We got our share of Kos posts (129 “John Hall” tags as of right now, the same as Rahm Emanuel and Mike DeWine). Talking Points Memo blew up the NRCC robocall story on our behalf, and helped make their dirty trick into national news.

All this netroots support makes sense, because John was a natural netroots candidate — a straight shooter, very progressive, smart as a whip and not afraid to engage on the issues.

But in the end, it was down-home, strategic, grassroots field campaigning that put us over the top. The web helped us organize, helped us pull the operations together on a shoestring, and drew in hundreds of volunteers. But the technology supported the strategy, not vice versa. The web helped us make better, stronger, more real world connections with a larger group of people, who won this race with their passion and participation.

If that’s not Democracy 2.0, I don’t know what is.

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