Sen. Bernie Sanders’ upset victory in Michigan yesterday unequivocally proved that a solid ground game is the key to winning elections. Not only has Sen. Sanders brought scores of new people into the political process, he was able, in Michigan at least, to get them to register to vote and to actually go to the polls in large numbers. How large? Let’s put it this way, if you’re using the 2008 election as your high water mark, you’re aiming too low. The highest turnout for a presidential primary in Michigan was actually in 1972 and turnout yesterday was higher than that:
With more than 2.4 million voters turning out for Michigan’s presidential primary on Tuesday, the record set in 1972, when 1.9 million people cast ballots, was shattered.
Turnout in areas of Michigan was so high Tuesday that some clerks were reporting that some precincts were running out of ballots.The high number was fueled by a huge increase in absentee voting this year over previous elections. […]
“We’re seeing high turnout in pockets around the state on both sides of the aisle,” said Christopher Thomas, head of elections for the Michigan SOS.
While Donald Trump’s cult of disgusting personality played a role, Sen. Sanders’ campaign shot the lights out, too.
And I could not possibly be more relieved.
My biggest fear with the Sanders campaign has been that they would not have the strategic “get out the vote” (GOTV) operation needed to overcome Trumpmania. Yesterday, Sanders showed he’s got the chops to organize his supporters to do more than put up #FeelTheBern Facebook posts, that he can motivate his supporters to knock doors, make calls, and do the hard work necessary to win elections.
Last fall I wrote a piece titled “In defense of those who #FeelTheBern” and had this to say:
This leads me to my final bit of unsolicited advice for Sanders supporters and that’s that we all need to stay engaged past the primary, whether our chosen candidate wins or not. While I personally never stopped working to elect Democrats after 2008 – I got involved in the local Democratic Party and am now its chair – that’s the exception. A large percentage of 2008 Obama supporters became disillusioned when he wasn’t able to instantly transform the country and dropped out of the movement. If you really want to promote all of what Bernie Sanders represents and espouses, understand that dramatic change like that happens over time and, in some cases, may not happen at all. Just as some fear Clinton is shifting to the left to gain voters and won’t stay there as president, Sanders is promising much that may never see the light of day considering the political makeup of Congress and the Senate. We all need to stay engaged and to elect Democrats up and down the ticket so that whoever ends up as president has the support he or she needs to do things we want them to do. And, don’t forget: many of our state legislatures are made up largely of off-the-rails tea partiers who need to be replaced. That has got to be an important element of all of our activism.
The ability to get Democrats elected up and down the ticket is the crucial responsibility of any Democrat at the top of the ticket. What makes that happen is getting people off their couches and to the polls on Election Day and that takes some serious organizing. We now know that, without a doubt, the Sanders campaign knows how to organize. They opened campaign offices in Flint. In Detroit. In Lansing. In Grand Rapids. They opened an office in Ann Arbor, an area filthy with Democrats, and worked their tails off to get people to the polls.
You know who DIDN’T open an office in Ann Arbor? The Clinton campaign. While Sec. Clinton has many supporters in the area, they were exclusively working out of people’s homes if they were working/GOTVing at all. Unlike the Sanders campaign, they didn’t have an central location for people to work together for their candidate.
Sen. Sanders still has a steep climb ahead of him. Democratic super delegates overwhelmingly support Sec. Clinton at the moment. But super delegates traditionally don’t buck the will of Democratic voters and if Sen. Sanders continues his momentum, many if not most of them will get on board.
So here’s to a robust campaign operation between now and November. That’s the only way to combat the virulent Trumpism that seems to have been awakened in our state and in our country. Every Democrat, no matter who they pulled the lever for, filled in the oval for, or punched the chad for yesterday, needs to be out in the streets, knocking doors, talking to voters, and making their case for the party and the candidates that represent the very American values of equality and an equal shot at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for everyone. Not just the wealthy. Not just for white people. Not just for straight people. Not just for men. For everyone.
To do that we need a well-organized GOTV operation and today, after seeing what the Sanders campaign was able to accomplish in Michigan, I’m breathing a little easier.