Art offers his perspective as a movement progressive activist.
The loss of Ilya Sheyman, a 25 year old charismatic progressive community organizer in Illinois’ 10th congressional district primary to Brad Schneider, the establishment favorite backed by Rep. Hoyer, has heads shaking. Schneider raised the ire of progressives due to his “centrist” stands, his support for some Republicans including Republican Mark Kirk (now a senator), and his business ties.
Sheyman had outraised Schneider, had a volunteer army of 600, and seemed poised to win as PPP had him up by 9 points just days before the primary. Instead he lost by a large margin, leaving progressives wondering what do now.
In the end it was turnout. Sheyman’s camp thought 60,000 would turnout in this district, instead only 32,000 did. The young college age progressives he courted stayed home. This despite a massive mailing, phone and internet outreach campaign.
So what are the lessons here? What went wrong that progressive groups can try to prevent in the future? Some notions have appeared.
One correction that must be made that appears clearest to many is that grassroots ground operations must be in place much earlier, not just a few weeks prior to the election. From Talking Points Memo:
National progressive groups are really good at raising money online and creating national buzz. In the wake of IL-10 — where turnout was very low, suggesting voters were either turned off by the negative primary and/or the progressive base was not sufficiently roused with a get-out-the-vote program — some national progressives are calling for a greater focus on the mechanics of winning elections on the ground.
“When there’s long-term infrastructure and there are people on the ground a lot longer than two weeks or three weeks that we see great change and organizers can get the job done,” DFA spokesperson Linsey Pecikonis told TPM. “That’s not to say that wasn’t going on in Ilya’s race … but in terms of what we’ve learned, I would say the progressive moment has to rally around its candidates a little earlier and start building that infrastructure.”
As noted in the Washington Post, this is yet another major outing by progressive organizations only to fail at the election. In 2010 it was Arkansas Lt. Governor Bill Halter who narrowly lost to incumbent Sen. Lincoln.
Another lesson is not believing in your own hype created by polls and blogs and instead focus solely on the ground and vote turnout.
PCCC’s Adam Green, which was deeply involved in the race for Sheyman, said…
that “[i]t was predicted that as many as 60,000 people would vote.” He referred questions on turnout to the campaign. A person involved with the IE, in defending the high estimate, pointed to 2010 turnout figures for a district that was similar to the 10th before it was redrawn.
But in 2010, heated Senate and gubernatorial campaigns drew more voters to the polls. With no significant statewide race on the 2012 ballot, it would make sense to expect — as the Schneider campaign says it did — that turnout would be lower.
Then you have the issue of negative advertising that to voters can feel as over the top type stuff. Sheyman sent mailers with quotes from Howard Dean. There was a big fallout with several respected local dems endorsing Schneider:
One attack that reflected particularly poorly on Sheyman was an attempt to paint Schneider as a conservative Blue Dog Democrat. Howard Dean said Schneider was “basically a Blue Dog, a Republican.” Schneider’s campaign hit back that he didn’t identify with the Blue Dogs and was never endorsed by them.
“Ilya’s negative advertising is full of overt distortions,” state Rep. Karen May (D-Highland Park) told Deerfield Patch just a week before the election. “I’ve decided to vote for Brad Schneider. What Ilya’s doing is not good for us (Democrats). I’m not alone. I’m hearing this from my friends.”
Some IL-10 progressives did not back either candidate, claiming Sheyman sold out progressives in the healthcare fight. Sheyman was Moveon’s big activist mobilizer. He has said he backs single payer, but some progressives laughed at the notion of Sheyman fighting for their interests against the establishment.
Ellen Gill has a blog in IL-10 and wrote this:
…Ilya, the “great progressive” did something very similar when he was at Moveon. While many good people worked for real health care reform, Medicare for All, as Medicare was always intended to be, not only did Moveon join with OFA and HCAN to drop the public option, the organization actively worked against single payer and repeatedly attacked its advocates.
… I blame him for his role in it. He’s taking credit for all of Moveon’s actions on health care reform. He’s said that he personally organized 5 million people. He never says that he questioned his Moveon bosses or ever took a stand against the group’s position. It seems to me that if he can take the credit for Moveon’s entire health care reform effort, he has to take credit for all of it, the good, the bad and the ugly.
Ellen Gill’s relative David Gill, an anti-corporate progressive, beat the establishment choice by 153 votes in the 13th congressional district and Gill had only PDA behind him. How did he pull this off and not Sheyman? Howie klein wieghs in here.
This whole episode is worrisome for the races ahead: PCCC and others are working to help State Sen. Griego in New Mexico win the Dem primary against a Blue Dog; in California, Norman Solomon is running to take Lynn Woolsey’s seat; and in Washington, Darcey Burner, in a competitive field to win the Dem primary and finally make it into Congress. And let’s not forget Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, and in near term, the Wisconsin recalls in June.
Voters in IL-10 had the chance to send a young, attention grabbing, progressive fighter to Congress, but stayed home instead.