For or against a 21 County Strategy…

promoted by Rosi

For those of you who don’t know who I am, I fought the good fight and stood up to Goliath and ran for Sussex County Freeholder as a Democrat.  Running my own political race in the most beautiful part of New Jersey has been the greatest experience of my life.  I have no regrets and I would change absolutely nothing about the way I conducted my campaign over the last seven plus months.  Heck, I even received the endorsement from Sussex County’s daily, The New Jersey Herald, who doesn’t usually speak highly of Democrats up here.

The thing that I love most about Blue Jersey is that many of you feel my pain; you live in a blue state but reside within deep red.  And it’s not just people like me living in a deep red county.  While places like Bergen and Passaic produced great victories last week, there are readers of this very site who live in towns there that are as red as my beloved home county of Sussex.

There has been a continuous/ever evolving debate on Blue Jersey about a 21 County Strategy similar to the vision former Vermont Governor Howard Dean (just for the record, a political hero of mine) had and executed when he was DNC Chair.

Just to give you the background of my race:  I moved to Sussex County’s largest municipality (Vernon Township) when I was ten and graduated high school there in 1999.  I went to our county’s community college as well.  I made a lot of friends and personal contacts over this time.  I bring this up because Sussex County, while vast in geographical size, is really a small town.  Newark and Jersey City trump it in population while Paterson and Elizabeth give it a strong run for it’s money.

Since March, my life has consisted of two things: working to put a roof over my head and gas in my car, and shaking as many hands and knocking on as many doors as humanly possible.  Knowing that I couldn’t raise the kind of money that my fellow candidates could (I did raise a bit over 3k, which I am very proud of), I decided early on that I would need to out hustle them, which I did.  And the final tally was this:  best out hustle-er, Jim Tighe; last in votes, Jim Tighe.

Now I know the institutional disadvantages that I was up against (D v R party registration, their party machine v ours, money, electoral history, etc).  But my long winded monologue brings me to this point: how do we counter this?  I have had a week to mull on the words that I am about to say so I choose them carefully but they could have put “Ham Sandwich” and “Turkey Club” on the ballot and I still would have lost (again, just for the record, I tip my hat to my Republican opponents who ran a professional, issue oriented race.  In fact, I was told on Election Night, that one of them praised and thanked me and my fellow Democrat).                  

So, Blue Jersey, how do we turn red counties and red towns in our great state blue?  My take?  We build from the bottom.  Recruit county committee members, run them for things like council, board of ed, or even try to get them appointed to something like a land use board.  Dean’s 50 State Strategy didn’t have anything to do with winning Utah and Alaska nationally, but more to do with winning races there for council and dog catcher.  Have at it.        

Comments (6)

  1. Jim Tighe (Post author)

    I’m trying to make a few points here: one, is that Dean’s 50 State Strategy (of which Karl Rove seems to be embracing) seems to have paid off in the end.

    But I understand the flip side of the argument both nationally and here in New Jersey.  The President even confined his finite resources to just a handful of states and rightfully so.  

    If the State Committee here in New Jersey (again, who has finite resources as well) gave me a chunk of cash, I do not see how the results of my race would have changed.    

  2. Jeff Gardner

    Thanks Jim for running, and sharing. Running in all 21 counties has at least 2 benefits – one is keeping Republicans busy locally, so they can’t spend time or money helping elsewhere. The other is building up places that aren’t considered competitive but could be, like Virginia and North Carolina as Bertin mentions (and in 2008, Indiana; and in 2016, Georgia; and in 2020, Texas; and in NJ someday, Sussex County).

    Glad you’re out there fighting the good fight. 🙂

  3. Stephen Yellin

    I truly believe that the vast majority of towns in Republican areas will vote for local Democrats if they believe they’re the right people for the job.

    A great example is my running-mate for Council in 2010, who has shown her commitment to Berkeley Heights by leading our Relay for Life effort for the past 2 years. I have no doubt that many Republicans (and those used to voting Republican locally) would vote for her if she ran for office again – and she’d win!

    There are plenty of good, solid Democrats who have won repeated elections in deep-red areas by being active and visible in the community prior to running. Gina Genovese in Long Hill is another person who comes to mind, as is former Chatham Township Committeewoman Abigail Fair.

    Fair, in fact, won 5 consecutive times in a row in a staunchly Republican town because many residents crossed over to vote for her. Her environmental activism and helpful presence in the community made her worth voting for, even for the most dyed-in-the-wool Republicans.  

  4. tabbycat31

    Who has worked on four campaigns, only one in New Jersey.  

    I spent the last five months working in rural Southwest Virginia, the 9th congressional district, which is larger than New Jersey.  This particular district includes 19 counties and 7 independent cities (who confuse even native Virginians).  As we were building our infrastructure, I sent my field organizers (or myself, the field director) to the various committee meetings, and we also had a weekly chairs call.  

    There were some committees, one in particular, that we could outsource all our work (as a field director, work includes phone banks, canvasses, and putting up yard signs at polling places for Election Day) in that county too (and I will do a diary about one of them at a later date after I talk to a few people there for permission) but most of them we were on our own.  And a few counties had no Democratic apparatus in place at all.  

    As we all know, Virginia was considered a ‘swing’ state, but even in the swing states, the national campaigns will ignore red portions and hope that turning out the urban areas in large numbers is enough to make up for it.  OFA’s strategy was to stop the bleeding.  Unlike the larger campaigns, I did not write any county off, and even had my field organizers who were from the district do special calls into their hometowns.  

    If each county had an active Democratic committee, and a chair who cared enough to join the conference call every Thursday, then the district would be a much better place.   If Virginia is to go blue next year (Virginia is on the exact same cycle as New Jersey with the governor’s race next year) then the campaigns need to look at the 9th too.  


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