Two Views on the Failure of the Campaign to Defeat Prop 8 and Optimism for Building a Structure for Victory in 20104 min read


It’s getting to be that time, time for the wordy memoirs of failure for the No on 8 campaign. Today we get two different takes on the failures. First we get Karen Ocamb’s take, largely informed by interviews with key No on 8 consultants and staff including Steve Smith:

“You could see in the polling numbers people were starting to doubt the other side’s claim. And then the wedding on the steps happened. And it was like confirmation-it is true. … That, more than anything else, is why we lost women. Was everything perfect [with the campaign]? No. There were lots of little mistakes … But who defines the issues in these campaigns wins. We didn’t quite have enough resources to really define it, so when they hit us on kids … The debate stayed, ‘Was it about schools or not?’ And once the debate stayed there, we were cooked. You can’t win a marriage campaign debating kids in school because people will vote for their kids every time,” says Smith. “Without the wedding on the steps at City Hall, I think we would have won the campaign.”

“Smith promises an in-depth analysis of the $70 million initiative battle in 60 days, which will include looking at why there was no statewide field office in voter-rich L.A.”

In other words, Smith is saying that they never could have predicted that this was going to be about kids. Funny thing about that, back in May, I spoke to somebody within the campaign who said that they had terrible focus group numbers on anything related to kids. But instead of being proactive, the campaign just hoped that the Yes side wouldn’t bring it up.

That’s what was termed “political malpractice” in the Rolling Stone article:

“This was political malpractice,” says a Democratic consultant who operates at the highest level of California politics. “They fucked this up, and it was painful to watch. They shouldn’t be allowed to pawn this off on the Mormons or anyone else. They snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, and now hundreds of thousands of gay couples are going to pay the price.”

This version is filled with this stuff, much of which regular readers will recognize and understand. But, I thought this was of particular note:

“In one bizarre episode, an outside consultant was forced to “jackhammer” the campaign leadership simply to convince them to make use of a robo-call from Bill Clinton. The campaign also rejected a Spanish-language ad featuring Dolores Huerta, a heroine of the United Farm Workers union.”

Missed opportunities were the story of this campaign. Failed outreach in LA, to communities of color, and the complete lack of a union style field program. Want to see how a real program works, look back at the 2005 special election. The unions knew they were fighting for their political lives, but that never dawned on much of the LGBT community until it was too late. And by the time it came, there was no field program that would allow people to knock on doors and get people to the polls. You know, the things that win elections.

And one final note, this comment was posted by one “katek” on the Rolling Stone site:

“When Dickinson called to interview me about the No on Prop 8 campaign it became obvious he wasn’t interested in the facts about the campaign, he wanted only information that supported this hit piece. When he didn’t like my answers, he just asked more leading questions. We lost. Yes, as in any campaign, mistakes were made, but to quote from unnamed sources and anonymous gay leaders running for cover in the wake of this devastating loss while ignoring all facts that don’t support your assasination {sic} attempt against those who worked tirelessly for months is not jouralism {sic}, it’s just trash. Dickinson should ply his “blaming the victim” tactics with the National Enquirer.”

Working hard is certainly laudable, but one must note the vacations of campaign leaders with interest. You lost, get used to taking some blame. You just can’t walk away from that and expect to be smelling like roses.

While it is clear that many of the leaders of the traditional LGBT organizations have several strong skills, for example lobbying and legal work, it seems we have yet to really build a strong campaign arm. I’m optimistic that we can build a formidable structure for 2010.

Brian Leubitz publishes, the leading California progressive blog covering California politics and policy, and is a candidate for Vice-Chair of the California Democratic Party. He holds a law degree from the University of Texas and a Master of Public Policy (M.P.P) from the Goldman School at The University of California, Berkeley. After practicing law in San Francisco, Brian transitioned into politics and launched Calitics .com in 2005. He has worked on several campaigns in the state, including the Yes on 93 (term limits reform) and the No on 98/Yes on 99 (eminent domain and property rights) campaigns. He currently is a member of the Democratic State Central Committee, serves on the CDP’s resolutions committee, and is on the boards of the San Francisco Young Democrats and the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club.


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