Iowa Independent’s Jason Hancock recently interviewed Jackie Norris, who ran Barack Obama’s Iowa campaign during the general election. (She conducted the interview before Norris accepted her new job as First Lady Michelle Obama’s chief of staff.)
I found this exchange particularly interesting:
II: What effect do you think the Obama campaign will have on future campaigns, especially here in Iowa?
JN: I think Iowa is disappointed that more legislative candidates and candidates like Becky Greenwald didn’t win, that we didn’t see more of a coattail effect for down ballot candidates. The lesson learned is that in the counties where the Democrats weren’t organized before they realized that when they pool their efforts and work together they could actually get something done. I think what we’ve done is come in and be the catalyst for local political organizations. My hope is that once we leave they will still be energized and motivated for the next thing, whether that is a school board, a county auditor or a statehouse candidate.
II: But why weren’t the Obama coattails longer in Iowa?
JN: Iowans are notoriously independent. I also think that a lot of the people who voted were new voters and while we educated them enough to get them out to support the president they need to now be educated about the down ballot races. Not to say we didn’t do that, because I think we did see gains. But I think no one should assume voters would vote straight-ticket Democrat just because they turned out for a Democratic presidential candidate. The state and local parties need to continue to reach out to those voters in the future.
Before the election I often urged volunteers to remind voters to fill out the whole ballot and not just the oval next to Obama’s name. Every once in a while someone would ask why I was so worried about the potential “drop-off” (that is, the people who vote Democrat for president but don’t cast a vote in the down-ticket races).
Jackie Norris’s comments to Iowa Independent suggest that she thinks drop-off was the biggest problem for our statehouse candidates. That is consistent with what I’ve been hearing from staff and volunteers around the state. It is also possible, though, that the Republican scare-mongering about one-party socialist rule drove some Obama supporters away from down-ticket Democrats.
I still want to see more thorough analysis of the close statehouse races in Iowa, both the ones we lost and the ones we won.
Did the races we lost have a larger proportion of “drop-off” ballots? Or was the problem more likely to be related to ticket-splitting?
Several of our incumbents appeared to lose on election night but won once the early votes were counted. In the districts where we fell short, was the proportion of early votes lower than in the districts we held?
If you are willing to volunteer to look closely at the precinct-level results in one or more Iowa House or Senate districts, please post a comment or send me an e-mail (desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com).
Although further analysis needs to be done, the disappointing down-ticket results suggest to me that Iowa Democrats need more of a coordinated GOTV campaign in 2010 and 2012 than we had this year.