Local Commentary

Our Man In Arlington

Last Sunday, many meetings were held throughout Virginia’s Eighth Congressional District to launch a new voter identification, get-out-the-vote campaign for the district’s Democrats.

This effort is part of a major new national campaign to build party strength nationwide, rather than concentrate primarily on Democratic strongholds.

This program is almost superfluous in Arlington, which probably has one of the best organized citizen-based local parties in the nation. But at the very least, Arlington can be a valuable role model in showing the country’s Democrats how it’s done.

The meeting for Oakland, Clarendon, and Park Lane Precincts was held in the hallowed halls of the Carpool Brew/Pub and Billiard Parlor at North Quincy Street and Fairfax Drive. About twenty came, most of them relatively new young voters and party activists, and a couple of hoary veterans. After some socializing, we were treated to a telephone conference call with Eighth District Congressman Jim Moran and Governor Tim Kaine who exhorted us to get out the vote to turn Virginia into a blue state, a real possibility this year. Moran came by in person a little bit later to gives us a pep talk as only Jim Moran can give it

Then we were treated to a video from the Democratic National Committee outlining their new Neighborhood Leader Program, melding modern computer technology and old-fashioned shoe leather.

In a nutshell, they are looking for volunteers who will agree to contact twenty five people living nearby. They will then send their contact’s party and voting preferences in to a national data base. The national party will then collate the data and create precinct lists complete with maps with walking routes for the workers to knock on doors to get out the vote on Election Day.

We veterans recognized immediately what we were seeing. It was simply an update of the paper-based system we were using in Arlington more than forty years ago!

Every precinct worker made it a point to contact most of the voters in their precinct two or three times a year. They would then enter the information gleaned from their neighborhood friends on an index card. This file was meticulously maintained on a year-to-year basis and used to get out the vote. On Election Day only the most positively ranked would be urged to vote!

This reflected the circular that Abraham Lincoln prepared for Illinois’s Whig Party in which he outlined a statewide organization reaching down to the neighborhood level in which data would be collected on each voter, and each precinct worker would endeavor to get the know as many people as possible, collecting and keeping data that would be used to get out the vote. His ideal organization went down to the point in rural areas, where each volunteer would know the political preferences of the six closest farmers.

In 1964, wife Jean was precinct captain in Abingdon Precinct, which included all of Fairlington north of Shirley Highway down to Shirley House. Her thirty-three precinct workers had mapped every cul-de-sac for the LBJ campaign. “I knew what most ate for breakfast and when their kids had measles,” Jean said. Later she loaned workers out to other precincts to do the same.

In the final analysis, the most successful campaigns are usually the result of hard work on the part of tens of thousand of volunteers and vast investment of shoe leather. Now, as Arlington goes, so goes the nation!