What Howard Schultz can learn from Washington Democrats

Tina Podlodowski chairs the Washington State Democratic Party.
Tina Podlodowski chairs the Washington State Democratic Party. Courtesy photo

When Howard Schultz floated the idea of running for president, I was one of the first to take him to task. By diverting resources and attention away from the 2020 Democratic nominee, a vanity run as an Independent is literally the least he could do.

A billionaire (or “person of means,” as he prefers) has many other ways to defeat Donald Trump and repair the damage done by Republicans, such as by investing in authentic person-to-person contact – what political campaigns call field organizing.

Calling it old fashioned, some have moved away from field organizing over the last few decades. It’s an investment in relationship building 365 days a year, not just in the weeks before an election.

It requires door knocking, phone banking, one-on-one texting, house parties and candidate town halls.

Deploying teams of motivated, well prepped volunteers ready to listen, not just recite campaign talking points, we take notes and relay back the worries and hopes of voters. This helps ground candidates and campaigns in reality.

In 2018, Washington Democrats knocked on more than a half million doors, sent more than 200,000 texts and made more than 1.3 million personal phone calls.

It’s not always fun to interrupt someone’s dinner, but new data analysis shows this kind of personal contact generates big successes. In the midterm elections, targeted voters contacted by our field teams voted at a rate of 72 percent, while just 61 percent of uncontacted targeted voters turned in their ballots.

In other words, personal contact increased a Democratic voters’ likelihood of voting by 11 percentage points.

If you still don’t think field organizing matters, ask a pair of new Washington state Democratic senators, Mona Das of Covington and Emily Randall of Port Orchard, who won by 981 votes and 102 votes, respectively.

Months of knocking on thousands of doors and talking to voters propelled them to dramatic wins.

It’s hard work that works. Together, the Democrats gained a seven-seat majority in the state Senate and a 16-seat majority in the state House. We also sent a Democrat from the 8th District, Dr. Kim Schrier, to Congress for the first time.

Even with these huge successes, I wake up at night wishing we’d had resources to put a full-time staff organizer in Whatcom County last year. We might have finally defeated Trump-ally Doug Ericksen, who held onto his state Senate seat by a mere 45-vote margin.

The memory of those 45 votes motivates me to keep calling out people like Schultz, who think defeating Trump is possible with a CNN town hall.

Real Democratic power comes from the old-fashioned hard work of personal contact with every Democratic voter we can find. We’re ready to do it this year, next year and beyond.

“People of means” who care about defeating Trump and the Republicans’ anti-woman, anti-environment, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ, anti-worker agenda should invest in the people who walk that talk every day.

Tina Podlodowski is chair of the Washington State Democratic Party and a former Seattle City Council member. She ran unsuccessfully for Washington secretary of state in 2016.