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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

2006 Montana Senate Primary Result Analysis

"And, sometimes, larger forces are afoot that wind up thwarting even the best-laid plans. Clearly, by any measure, that's what happened here."
-John Morrison Campaign Manger Tylynn Gordon

"...Tester didn't just win, he beat Morrison like a drum..."
-Great Falls Tribune

One week ago, Montana voters went to the polls and made a bold statement that the old political math is no longer relevant. State Auditor John Morrison is a big money, big connections, DLC candidate -- the template of the DC Establishment manufactured candidate that has been so trendy on the DC cocktail circuit over the last few losing election seasons. State Senate President Jon Tester is a bold leader who ran a grasssroots campaign, he ran on the issues without worrying about the polls or offending anyone.

John Morrison had been elected twice statewide, had higher name recognition, twice the money, and lead in the polls. Jon Tester had been elected to a legislative district so rural that he actually represents a greater land mass than 18 members of the U.S. Senate.

Jon Tester won in a 26 point LANDSLIDE, winning many counties by a 2:1 margin and some by more:

So what happened and why? Here are what some people are saying about he results...

Money Doesn't Equal Votes

George Ochenski
When Tester first announced his intention to enter the primary race the reaction was sadly predictable. The political pundits tossed Morrison's piles of money -- as well as his political connections and ability to raise even more money -- on the scales, weighed them against what Tester had, and pronounced their verdict: Morrison would win hands down.

As it turned out, the pundits weren't wrong about Morrison's money -- he raised and spent about twice as much as Tester. What they were way wrong about, however, was thinking that money calls all the shots in Montana politics. As Tester proved, it doesn't.
Missoulian Editorial
Conventional wisdom says money dominates elections. Campaigns run on money. The more money, the larger and more sophisticated the campaign. The U.S. Supreme Court considers campaign contributions to be a form of free speech, one in which citizens let their money do their talking. Candidates routinely tout the money raised by their campaigns as an indicator of public support. Indeed, more often than not, the candidate who spends the most wins the election.

But not always.

Tuesday's primary elections in Montana for a seat in the U.S. Senate ran contrary to conventional wisdom.

Jon Tester, the state Senate president from Big Sandy, shellacked state Auditor John Morrison in the Democratic primary, despite the fact that Morrison spent nearly twice as much money in the campaign.
Bottom Up Beats Top Down

The sweep of support started with those who have met the man, and believed that he was the one who would best take our concerns to congress. It spread from us to most others who voted in the primary. I told 10 people, and they told 5 people and they told at least 1 person. And that's how a 2 to 5 point victory became a groundswell of 25% slamage.

Well, duh. I just described the whole concept of grassroots campaign, now didn't I? What has kind of shocked me, since last Tuesday, are the number of people who get the concept, but don't understand what it is they have bought into. In the DKos post about Tester's victory, dozens of commentors dove into the deep end, describing exactly how Tester should proceed to win the general. I laugh, loudly! What Tester should do is be Jon Tester. He is worth our votes and all he need do is meet those who will advocate for that very thing. That would be us progressives. Being a progressive doesn't mean dictating a different way of winning elections; it means voting for candidates who understand where we are, and want to represent that in the Congress of the US. To me, that's the most humorous part of this whole primary campaign: the most progressive thing is to get back to our roots, meeting and voting for the guy who is willing to support what we, the People, desire. That's kind of a regression, but a fricken' worthy one.

Jon Tester is going to win the Senate seat in Montana. He's going to do it by letting Montanans know who he is. We will spread the word, in the media, on the WEB, by word of mouth. Money may make a difference, but people want touch. They want to know that the guy who speaks for them will shake their hand with respect and honesty. More than anything, folks want to be included in the movement of their state, their government. That's the strategy, and others would be well advised to emulate it.
Billings Gazette
Person-to-person communications. In primary elections in a state like Montana, people have a chance to meet the statewide candidates, hear them and pass along their assessments to other folks, said Jerry Calvert, a political science professor at Montana State University.

"Tester's support was literally word-of-mouth," Calvert said. "In the late month, his signs in this town were springing up like mushrooms after a spring rain."

After news coverage of Morrison's affair and the Tacke investigation, "it was out there, not in the press, but in a sub-current of people talking to people," Calvert said.
George Ochenski
Perhaps because politics has gotten so stale, so boring and so sleazy, the pundits figured whoever bought the most ads on the boob tube would influence the small percentage of primary voters and that would be that. What they didn't count on was the ability of Montanans to rally in a thousand small ways to a candidate who inspired and excited them. In the old days -- the days before the latest batch of political strategists boiled everything down to money -- such a groundswell of support from the populace at large was called a grassroots movement. And boy, does Tester have a grassroots movement going.

It's been years since we've seen this kind of motivation in Montana's political arena, but few would deny we're seeing it now. As the tally from the election shows, Tester didn't just take a key city here or there or appeal to just urban or rural voters -- he scored big all across Montana. Those kinds of results simply do not come from some gimmick devised in campaign headquarters or from a numbing flood of cutsie television ads, but from neighbor talking to neighbor, people getting out the word, putting up signs, calling relatives and, most importantly, getting to the polls to cast their votes.

To its regret, the Morrison campaign seriously underestimated the breadth and depth of Tester’s grassroots support and got their butts whipped because of it.
Billings Gazette
Jon Tester's victory in the Democratic U.S. Senate primary Tuesday night was like a prairie fire sweeping across Montana. [...]

"I think in a nutshell it was grass roots," Tester said Wednesday. "We hit the issues that Montanans are connected up with: energy, health care, jobs, public land issues, ethics, fiscal responsibility."

Tester said he will stay with that grass-roots model as he runs against Conrad Burns, the three-term Republican incumbent, in the general election.
Bold Action on the Issues
Although Morrison took safer, more moderate positions on some of these issues, Tester spoke his mind on what Duffy called the "red-meat issues that Democratic primary voters care about."

For example, Tester called for Burns' resignation and bringing home the U.S. troops in Iraq.
David Sirota
That Establishment has either refused to take basic, concrete positions on the key issues of the day like Iraq, or worse, has high-profile factions publicly insulting middle-class voters, such as when former Clintonites on Wall Street insulted those Democrats who are trying to reform America's sellout trade policy.

But as I have written before, Tester -- and other successful Democrats running this year -- are doing exactly the opposite. Back in November, I noted how Tester rejected Washington's advice, and took a strong position on the Iraq War. A few weeks back, I also noted how on critical economic issues like trade. My colleage at the Progressive States Network, Matt Singer, also noted that Tester also took a bold position on health care, saying our system needs fundamental reform.

These are positions that put him squarely at odds with Morrison (who Singer noted spewed Tom Friedman-esque World-Is-Flat corporate PR), and more importantly, at odds with the national Democratic Party and the Big Money interests that control Washington. But his positions put him in sync with voters in Montana and throughout the heartland. Put another way, he made the fight against Big Money's hostile takeover of our government a central theme in his legislative career and in his primary campaign -- and he was, to the great shock of Washington insiders, handsomely rewarded by voters.
There are a lot of lessons to learn from this primary. First and foremost, when Democrats take strong positions and courageously stand up to the powers that be, they are rewarded. In the era of money-drenched, consultant-dominated politics, voters are desperate for authenticity - and the best way to show you are authentic is to reject the prepackaged talking points from corporate-funded Washington front-groups like the Democratic Leadership Council and actually stand with ordinary people out here in the heartland.
The DLC is a Liability in Primaries

Democrats had a real choice between a DLC-backed milquetoast Democrat and a true progressive in two races -- the California governor's race and the Senate Democratic primary in Montana. In both cases, voters chose the real Democrat, giving their party the ability to offer a clear distinction to the incumbent Republican in November.

A year ago, Phil Angelides demanded his name be taken off the DLC's "member directory" when told he was on the list. His opponent, DLC fanboy Steve Westly, spent $35 million of his money on his dishonest, losing campaign. That race was so dirty that not only has it seriously wounded Phil Angelides in the general, but it depressed Democratic turnout to the point that it might have cost us the CA-50 race. But ultimately, the right candidate emerged from the muck.

In Montana, the rebirth of the state Democratic Party took another step forward when Jon Tester, who raised $700K, handily crushed DLC rising star John Morrison, who spent $1.5 million in the race. There had been a great deal of pressure on Tester to bow out to Morrison early in the race. Morrison's own internals had him up 45-25. The money race wasn't even close. And the establishment rallied around the well-known son of a local political family. But none of that mattered.

People matter. I know I'm repeating myself from earlier polls, but people really do matter.

That's why the DLC is an irrelevant, dying organization. Because it has no people behind it. It has no natural constituency. No ability to mobilize anything more than corporate lobbyists for any cause. And in today's people-powered environment, it is an anachronism of a different era, built for a different political world, unable or unwilling to change or adopt. Its candidates are dropping like flies, unable to win contested primaries. More and more DLC-aligned incumbents are facing tough primaries. Its patron saint -- Joe Lieberman -- may not even be a Democrat for long. You know Tester's dramatic victory has to weigh on Joementum.
Authenticity is the Real Deal

It isn't that Jon Tester is an heroic advocate of the working man in some '30's Hollywood extravaganza; it's that Jon Tester really is one of us, struggling with the same crap we struggle with every damned day. He is the People, with more balls than most of us, because he wants our voice heard in the Senate, and is willing to speak for us.
See, Tester is one of us... You know, a working stiff. He hops on a tractor and plows his field. He sends his kids (and grandkids) to school like the rest of us. He doesn't "talk pretty" like the DC politicians, he talks Montana.

It is a sad fact that 95% of the money in the US is controlled by 4% of the population. Unfortunately, most of the politicians in Washington belong to that 4% (or will shortly after reaching DC). The other 96% of the US population has to sit back and hope that those politicians remember a day when they weren't part of the 4% that owns everything. We have to hope that they remember trying to make it to payday. We have to hope that they remember trying to decide between food and getting your kids to the doctor. What we have today shows that our hopes were wrong and most of DC doesn't remember us.

Our national politicians are primarily lawyers that have never had to struggle for a living. They have no idea what challenges we (the other 96%) have to face every day. They are incapable of even comprehending what it means to do an honest days work. They spend millions of dollars to get elected and as soon as they get to Washington, they forget the people that actually filled in the dot to get them there. For years, we have accepted that idea and lamented that it can't be changed.

Then someone like Tester comes along. Realistically, he probably has a net worth that approaches that 4%. He owns land and that land has a lot of value. In reality, though, he has to work for a living like the rest of us. Money tied up in land won't buy food for the table or pay the doctor bills. That is the distinction that make the difference.

In Tester, we see a chance to send someone to DC that really does know what the majority of us needs and want. Tester is still connected with the working man and woman of Montana. He doesn't "talk pretty", he talks like someone that lives next door and knows what is really going on. He discusses the things that Montana needs discussing. In short, Tester is a man that is in the right place, at the right time. Montana wants and needs someone that truly understands how the working man lives. Montana needs a farmer to go to Washington and tell Washington what it is like to be a farmer. They have forgotten. Montana needs a teacher to go to Washington and tell them what it is like to be teacher.
Contrast is the new Electability

Geogre Ochenski
When the stories of Morrison's extramarital affair and its possible effect on an investigation by his office hit print, his campaign believed they were being pushed by the Tester campaign -- which they were not. Nor were the letters to the editor, the call-in questions or the heated exchanges in the blogosphere. Far from being a campaign tactic, all those reactions were simply the tip of the iceberg as voters took in the information and sought out answers to lingering questions -- questions that hounded Morrison until, near the end of the campaign, he began canceling public appearances and relied on soundbites and ads to portray his character.
Billings Gazette
Jennifer Duffy, managing editor of the Cook Political Report in Washington, D.C., said the news of the Morrison affair and his handling of the Tacke case was the turning point in the campaign.

"Morrison had this scandal he couldn't seem to get out from under," Duffy said, adding: "I think it died as a Beltway story, but I read the clips, and it was in every one of them."

She said voters are savvy about things like electability and they came to regard Tester "as a more electable candidate against Burns because he wasn't carrying any baggage."

Craig Wilson, professor of political science at Montana State University-Billings, said Morrison started out with an advantage because he was better known, well-spoken and a proven fundraiser.

Wilson said the single most important issue in the campaign became the ethics issue, "not just marital infidelity, but the fact that it had an influence on your job."
Connecting with Inspiration

The first time I met Jon Tester, he shook my hand. Energetically, enthusiastically, whole-heartedly. He didn't touch me like another mindless vote, or a patron to whom he must pander for support. He shook my hand like an equal, a Montanan among Montanans. A degree of trust was established at that very moment. I was willing to listen to what he had to share with me, and share he did. Every time I've met Jon since then, we've just been a couple of guys talkin', nothing more or less. But it always begins with a handshake ... it always begins with respect. The man is genuine, and he let's you know it right up front.

I know, I know. Jon Tester certainly didn't meet every person who voted for him, to wow them with his "integrity voodoo". Nope, no he didn't. We did.
Geogre Ochenski
Montanans, however, prefer their politicians in the flesh -- where they can shake hands, look 'em in the eye, ask questions point blank and determine whether they've gotten a straight answer or a wandering prevarication in response. While Morrison bunkered up, Tester went directly to the people, who liked what they saw and heard and voted accordingly. [...]

While Burns tries to motivate an old and tired constituency with his worn-out phrases and indecipherable logic, Tester finds himself riding a wave of fired-up Montanans who are ready for new ideas and new leadership from an articulate, reasonable and fiscally responsible candidate. Instead of kow-towing to the rich and powerful, Tester has inspired a huge following of young people who realize their future may well rest on the outcome of the next election.
Great Falls Tribune
Closer to home, Matt Singer, who writes the Left In The West blog that also supported Tester, said Wednesday in an e-mail that he expects the race will be characterized as a victory for online activists.

"To some extent, it is. The online world delivered money and a lot of in-state volunteers to Jon Tester. But what really happened here is that online activists picked the right horse this time -- a man who connects with real Montanans," Singer wrote.
DC is the Problem, Not the Solution

Matt Singer
Well, some Montana operative who couldn't keep his mouth shut apparently told Roll Call on background that, "National party leaders know that they must send in the cavalry to get Tester up to speed."


Anyone remember the last time D.C. sent the cavalry out here?

The fact is that Jon's already got a cavalry and it beat the D.C. insiders by 25% in the primary. I know that's rough to take.

Despite the fact that Tester ran the exact opposite of Chuck Schumer's DSCC thinks should be done, there are some idiots who think that Tester should now take advice from the same people who badmouthed his campaign, said he would lose, and wanted him to pull out. If Morrison had beaten Tester by 26 points would people be expecting Morrison to change strategies and start campaigning like Tester in the general election?

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