365 Days: From the Boiler Room to ‘Black Tie and Boots’

It’s been on most of our minds throughout the day, but I wasn’t expecting the type of reminder that I got on my way home tonight. A swarm of red cowboy hats and long fur coats enveloped me on my retreat home tonight as I exited the metro and walked through hundreds of inebriated Texan high-rollers overflowing from their inauguration party at the Wardman Park Hotel. Exactly one year ago today, we suffered a defeat that several hundred thousand of us are unlikely to forget for the rest of our lives. We gave everything we could to ensure that our guy would be sworn in tomorrow to lead the country, and many more outside the campaign thought that was going to be true. Instead, we lost. I was fortunate/unfortunate enough to experience the loss as it unfolded from our campaign’s own field operations center, or boiler room, where selected bellwether precincts called in to the Des Moines HQ after their caucus. I wrote my reactions down a year ago but never shared them anywhere, but now it seems appropriate:

I was waiting for my assigned cell phone to ring in the IA advance-room-turned-nerve-center last night, Jan 19th, when the first call came into Molly. we were waiting for delegate reports from 50 “bell-weather” precincts which were chosen to give us a picture of the 1963 precinct-level caucuses happening that night. “What do you mean Dean’s not viable?” she asked the volunteer on the phone in Council Bluffs. Council Bluffs was one of our strongest areas. “You need to go to uncommitted. Call me back when you have the final delegate counts.”We wrote it off, puzzled. The second call came into Christina Lien to my left. “Go ahead.” Christina says into the Nokia, her hand poised to write on the reporting grid. I watched as she wrote: Edwards – 4, Kerry – 6, Gephardt – 1, Dean – 2. Tim Dixon was watching the Iowa Dem Party website simultaneously as the precincts reported their data. I could see his screen from my seat: Kerry 38%, Edwards, 31%, Dean 18%, Gephardt 11%. I began to take calls from region 4, and the results there mirrored what was happening everywhere. Dean was winning more delegates than Gephardt, but not more than the new kids on the scene, kerry and edwards.My heart sunk into my stomach and started pouding faster as i started tapping my pen and noticed my leg shaking. I think everyone else was doing their equivalent — sort of fixated on nothing and everything at once. In a matter of seconds, you could feel the mood in the room change from gleeful anxiety—as people ate Thai out of styrofoam boxes and pounded sodas—to apprehension as our fate in Iowa becoming more clear. It didn’t help hearing Dean practically concede the election in a heartbeat to Kerry and Edwards on MSNBC and CNN before half the precincts were done reporting.Dean, unfortunately, added injury to insult at what would have been our victory party. In attempt to rally the troops and restore confidence and hope in our campaign, his emphatic yelling over the crowd came across as weird, frightening, and scary. That’s not my interpretation, but my interpretation doesn’t matter when every network news channel makes Dean out to look like a monster. For a man that’s had little to no sleep, it think he was great.

Then i went on here about what i thought was right and wrong with the campaign. There are some parts that i would have written differently, in retrospect, but my overall point about there being a distinctly different field campaign and an internet campaign remains true. The only caveat i would add now is that the field campaign was dependent on a successful internet campaign, even thought they rarely worked in concert (since it was the first time this problem existed):

Today I return to Burlington fairly deflated. The trouble, i think, is that we have half a million people who believe that this is their campaign (for good reason) and are going to blame us and themselves for lack of knowing what happened. maybe it doesn’t need to be explained away, but there’s a sense of powerlessness that’s comes after all that hard work that didn’t pay off. it was more than 100,000 handwritten letters to Iowa which didn’t do the trick. So can we still tell them that ‘you have the power’? We can, but we can’t promise that their power will produce results. I think we got a bit carried away with it all anyway and the press helped us perpetuate the illusion.Fortunately we’re a resilient bunch. I honestly think that this was a good experience for us. For the internet-startup campaign in Burlington, VT to learn that this campaign is ultimately going to be won by votes on the ground that we need to get — not by people visiting our blog to play the latest game. This campaign will be won if we can focus on turning each of the people who call us or go our site each day into leaders. Our campaign office should just be a catalyst providing people with the tools to organize and bring other voters in. The gap between our internet and field campaign is frighteningly large, and it needs to be closed quickly. We’re haphazardly finding supporters across the country, but we’re not targeting very well. We set aggregate goals for money and supporters, but i’m not sure we spend enough time focusing on where those are coming from geographically. it’s time for a change, and we’re short on time. NH is on Tuesday. we said we have to win in Iowa, but we did what we only dreamed of doing there a year ago. now it’s pretty much over if we can’t win in NH. I don’t think i’m being pessimistic. actually, i’m quite scared. and i’m scared that i’m having doubts about our candidate. and i’m scared that it’s mostly the media that’s making me feel this way. and i’m scared that they people we’re leading and empowering will be able to tell that this is how we feel. again – i think we need a pep talk from trippi or someone we respect. damn – i think i’m disillusioned.

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