Mass. Democratic Party Chair: We're Ready For Next Race

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With President Obama rumored to be considering U.S. Sen. John Kerry for a position in his Cabinet, Massachusetts could have another Senate race in its near future.

The man who organized the state Democrats' successful effort to unseat Sen. Scott Brown, Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman John Walsh, says his party could do it again.

Person-To-Person Politics

Walsh, who was just re-elected as the Massachusetts Democratic Party chairman on Wednesday, might be the most successful state chairman either party has in the country. But he says it's all about the candidate and insists you can't persuade people to vote for or volunteer for someone they don't already like. So he gives most of the credit for the state party's recent victory to Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren.

Massachusetts Democractic Party Chairman John Walsh in his office at the state party headquarters on Summer Street in Boston. (Fred Thys/WBUR)
Massachusetts Democractic Party Chairman John Walsh in his office at the state party headquarters on Summer Street in Boston. (Fred Thys/WBUR)

"There's a really critical, secret formula. You start with the best candidate who stands up for what they believe in and talks about issues people care about here," Walsh said. "And then you go out and talk to people face to face. You knock on a million doors before Election Day, mostly unenrolled, potentially undecided voters. You figure out which ones are with you and which are undecided, and you don't let them forget to vote."

The most critical part to that formula, Walsh says, is knocking on doors.

"So what we're trying to do is to deliver politics the way people want it, which is personal, face to face, you know, neighbor to neighbor," Walsh said. "That kind of engagement, that kind of community conversation, is really what makes this work."

Not phone calls, says Walsh, who has been a grassroots guy since 1998. He says calls are good to gather information but don't persuade voters to show up for you candidate, and that voters often don't remember them. People like to meet campaign volunteers, he says, even if they don't like your candidate.

Key to the Democrats' victory in 2012, once they knew who their voters were, was the Election Day effort. And here in Massachusetts, the number of volunteers was massive. Nationwide, Mitt Romney had 34,000 volunteers working on Election Day. In Massachusetts alone, Democrats had 20,000 people out knocking on doors.

"In many places we were hanging 'vote today' door hangers at 5 o'clock in the morning," Walsh said. "In some of the suburban towns, like where I live, and maybe they jump on the train or on the highway, they would say, 'Oh, that's right!' and go vote before they did. By the time the polls opened at 7 o'clock on Election Day, it was a dead heat."

When people arrived at the polls, Democratic volunteers were there to record who had voted.

"Then, starting at 10 o'clock in the morning, huge numbers of volunteers were going out to the doors of people who hadn't voted in the first wave from 7 to 10, reminding them it was Election Day," Walsh explained. "If at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, you were one of the people we had identified as our supporter and you hadn't voted by 4, at 4 o'clock you got your third visit of the day."

Walsh says Democrats are ready to activate all this again in case of a special election.

"There is an energy and enthusiasm, and honestly, in a very practical way, a structure in place," Walsh said. "We're ready to start knocking doors next weekend."

And Walsh says he would welcome another race against Brown.

"Democrats are not shaking in our boots that Scott Brown is coming back," Walsh said. "He's a guy who really showed nothing on the ground for an organization."

And so, Walsh says, if the president brings Kerry to his Cabinet, Massachusetts Democrats are ready to deal with another race.

This program aired on November 16, 2012.

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Fred Thys Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.



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