Victory night at Thad HQ. Photo: (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
I don't think Sen. Thad Cochran's astounding demographic coalition in Mississippi will prove a once-in-a-red-moon phenomenon for Republicans. I also don't think it suddenly represents a turning point for the monochromatic elephants on a national scale. Instead, it's an election that follows an axiom: If you give people a real reason to vote for you, if the stars align, they might actually vote for you.
Thad Cochran's campaign knew, from polling and from, well, the air outside, that Chris McDaniel seemed like a good ol' boy. Kind of a reconstructed racist who is proud of himself for insisting he is not racist.
They also knew that black voters, being sensible to political realities, understand that the candidate who supported the policies they preferred, Democrat Travis Childers, is a long-shot to win.
So: what to do? How can black voters in Mississippi possibly exercise their power when Republicans are going to just win anyway?
Thad Cochran did not become a big-government loving Democrat. He just naturally extended his Big Government-loving-Republican-ness to the concerns of black voters. It wasn't that hard. Mississippi is a poor state, he argued. It needs help from the government. The poor need help. I won't back down from asking for, and fighting for, that help. Even to my Conference.
So the equation was this:
A Tea Partier who argues against government, whose most toxic comments were reserved for government programs that benefited blacks and the poor + a Democrat who had little chance of winning + African American voters who had a genuine chance to empower themselves this one time by voting for a Republican ...
That equals the five thousand or so extra votes that Thad Cochran needed.
Republicans are beginning to understand why Democrats became successful voter microtargeters before Republicans did, even though the same technology was available to both parties. Why? Because non-voters were willing to become voters in order to vote certain Democrats into office. Because Democrats figured out how to convince non-voters that voting for Democrats, and for specific candidates in particular, was worth their time. Because Democrats learned that the key to microtargeting wasn't technology at all: it was persuasion. And persuasion had to rest on a foundation of reality. That reality: there were more reasons for people who didn't vote to vote for Democrats than to vote for Republicans. Democrats fielded much more attractive candidates for non-voters.
Democrats understood that "expanding the electorate" was not a top-down process. Yes, the structures were created by the traditional Big Money elites. But the young voters, Latinos, and black voters who turned out for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 turned out for Barack Obama. Obama gave them a reason to exercise the option to choose between two alternatives.
There are three steps to this kind of process. One: find an attractive candidate. The second: give people who traditionally do not vote a reason to vote. And finally, harness technology to microtarget. This sounds simplistic, especially as I write it. But it turns out that it is extremely hard to get people who don't regularly vote for someone to vote for someone. It takes time, patience, and money — and a willingness to listen.
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