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October 21, 2006

Party-Building in Chelan County

Katy Warren, who identifies as a proud Democrat, wrote a piece for DailyKos today that she has kindly offered to cross-post here.   She talks about the revitalization of the Democrat Party in one of the reddest counties in Washington State and how critical Dean's 50-state strategy is.  Here's her post:

I live in Chelan County, which regularly elects 100% GOP office holders.  When I was growing up here, I remember knowing one normal Democrat (the mayor, whose position was non-partisan, so most voters weren't aware of his party affiliation) and being told about other strange, dangerous Democrats that we would never consider voting for because of their crazy unamerican political beliefs.  Needless to say, the local Democratic party kept a very low profile.  So low, in fact, that few knew it existed.

In other words, a county that has been effectively ignored by the Democratic party for decades.  And in some ways you can't blame them.  Even now we have no local Democratic candidates in this county, and our Democratic congressional candidate has not caught on with voters, donors, or national party organizations.

But things are changing here in Chelan County, for a couple of reasons.  George Bush can be thanked for alienating even historically committed Republicans, of course.  It's much easier these days to tell your friends that you are a Democrat, a move that would seriously have been unheard of five years ago.  In fact, one of the problems we have recruiting candidates for local races is a deep-seated unwillingness to "come out" as a Democrat, for fear that his or her business might be negatively impacted.  In the last year, since I've become a visible, active Democrat who can't stop talking about it, I've learned that several of my parents' lifelong friends are actually closet Democrats, only now willing to let other people know their deep dark secret.

Our County Chair's absolutely tireless work at building our local party has helped this process.  When people in town know there are other Democrats, they're more willing to let their Democratic flag fly freely.  I can't tell you how many times, while I was doorbelling for Kerry in 2004, I would come upon a house where the voter would tell me in a confidential tone that while they themselves would be voting Democrat, I had better be careful of the neighbors.  Everyone thought they were the only Democrat on their block.  It would be impossible to overstate the importance of dynamic local leadership in raising the profile of Democrats and making it OK to say you're a Democrat, even in the reddest of red counties.

Last but not least is the help we're getting from the Democratic Party.  In addition to the support and training that we've been getting, last month we got a real live staff member in our office, organizing our local Democrats for canvassing and making calls around the state to identify our voters and get them to the polls.

The result of all this activity is a revitalized Democratic Party with a legitimate chance of electing Democrats in the future, or at the very least providing less of a Democratic drain in statewide elections for Democratic candidates.  In the last two years we've tripled the size of our mailing list and have recruited and elected PCO's in twice as many precincts (more, in fact, than the Republican).  Democrats appear regularly on local call-in programs and get coverage in the local media.  In fact, at our Jefferson-Jackson Dinner last month (keynoted by Gov. Schweitzer!) we had an incredible 450 attendees and almost a full page of newspaper coverage for the event.  Two years ago, it was a struggle to get 150 people at such an event.

And more important than any of these things during this critical election season, we have volunteers.  I had a couple of hours free on Thursday afternoon so I headed down to the office (the very fact that we have an office is an amazing leap forward) and found seven people down there making calls, going through lists, and looking happily busy.  Seven might not seem so much to many of you, but this is a rural county with no viable Democratic candidates, yet all these people were working their asses off at 2pm on a Thursday afternoon.

Having paid Party staff, fabulous local leadership and a positive political climate have all led to the exponentially increased level of energy in our office, and although we won't necessarily be winning anything locally, we're helping other state candidates, getting the word out on our own Congressional candidate Richard Wright, and letting thousands of people in Central Washington that Democrats are  active and here to stay.  We're thinking long-term, laying the groundwork for a future Chelan County in which a healthy political debate is common and there are Democrats running, and winning, in every level of politics.

Gotta sign off, since I'm scheduled to pick up my canvassing list at 10 am - we're expecting lots of people this morning to volunteer.  Only three more weekends until the election!

Katy can be contacted via email or you can check out the website she's put up to share stories from travels she's taken.  Here post at DailyKos is here.

Posted by Lynn Allen on October 21, 2006 at 09:06 PM in Inside Baseball | Permalink

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