For me, one word describes the 2010 campaign: practice. The real battle for the heart and soul of our country began at 7:01 PM Tuesday when the voting ended for the midterms. 2010 was a live fire training exercise, leaving progressives battered but not broken. We can now set our sights on the Obama re-election campaign, the fight I found myself looking forward to during a long and often frustrating campaign season. While the election may have been a judgment on the Democratic Congress, I think it is also important to see it in context of the effect of Citizens United and the ability of huge expenditure conservative black ops, like Rove's Cross Roads groups and the US Chamber, to use negative advertising from secret sources to fan voters fears. These groups spent more in Colorado than any other state. But here they largely lost. We elected a new Democratic Governor, John Hickenlooper who didn't run one attack ad. The Colorado Senate remains in Democratic control and the Colorado House is still in dispute, depending on the outcome of one of two races going to recount.
Given the new realities of electoral politics, the Colorado US Senate race may point the way to wins here and elsewhere in 2012 for Democrats and the president. Michael Bennet's campaign kept the race close until election day. In most polls he was even with his opponent with registered voters but down a few points with likely voters, the enthusiasm gap. That's where the Democrat's field effort came in. In 2008 the Obama campaign made Colorado one of the top battlegrounds in the country, pouring hundreds of trained organizers into the state. Here in conservative El Paso County, "the Belly of the Beast", those organizers recruited 2400 volunteers. I was involved from the start but by election day 2008 I'd walk through rooms of volunteers and recognize nary a face. A continuing expansion of the volunteer army. It was great. In 2010 the Bennet campaign used a much smaller staff to tap into that volunteer base. Many of these volunteers had never made political phone calls or knocked on doors prior to 2008. In 2010 we did not have the numbers of volunteers we had in 2008 but the group we had was ready to go. Some had become involved in the local Democratic Party or local campaigns over the last two years. Some had not been involved at all but when called upon they came out, phoned and knocked doors in the end. According to the Denver Post direct voter contact made the difference in a Senate race where the margin was less than 1%. This is the legacy of Howard Dean's 50-state strategy and the amazing organizing efforts of the Obama campaign.
If the president's re-election campaign can tap into these volunteers using the same organizing efforts as in 2008 it may again be the difference. The good news is the volunteers will still be here in 2012 and even more experienced. Fired up by presidential leadership, or the crazy legislation put forward by the Republican Tea Party, they can be more ready to go than ever.