Worley, Idaho, isn't in the middle of nowhere but it's close. To get there, drive north on I-95. Way north. If you get to Coeur d'Alene, you missed it (and there's a good chance you'll miss it, if you ignore a billboard promoting the Coeur d'Alene Casino and Resort Hotel). The Native American casino in Worley served as an unlikely setting for a meeting of Idaho Democrats last weekend.
But before they could find their way toward what was billed as a "campaign academy," they first had to navigate through a surreal maze: past the resort's front desk, hanging a right past the Wheel of Fortune slot machine (doing their best not to bump into the walkers or oxygen tanks being pushed or pulled by many of the gamblers), making a hard left at the blackjack tables and heading straight toward the $11.99 all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet. Hidden in a backroom behind the buffet were nearly 100 bleary-eyed Idaho Democrats.
Most attendees on the morning of April 15 made a beeline for coffee, but just in case that wasn't enough of a wake-up, Jay Henderson, Democracy for America national field organizer, quickly got their attention.
"Who here thinks that they're normal?" quizzed Hendrickson. Most of the hands in the room went up.
"I've got news for you," said Hendrickson. "You're not. You want to know why? Because you vote. Because you care who gets elected. You're the exception."
Hendrickson and DFA colleague Matt Blizek coached attendees to build new tactics in order to conquer an old problem: getting a Democrat elected in Idaho.
"First, you have to talk 'normal,'" said Blizek. "Drop the wonky talk. Stop the political speak. You're going to need to talk to a lot of folks who, believe it or not, can be persuaded to vote for your candidate. I don't care what state you're in or how red it is. I simply don't buy the idea that you aren't capable of winning any election. Now, let's get to work."
Time was a recurring theme.
"You can usually raise more money or recruit volunteers," said Hendrickson. "But you can't buy time. Time may not be as sexy as money or people, but ultimately, time is a lot more important."
For Idaho Democratic Party Chairman Larry Grant, time can't move fast enough--at least fast enough away from Nov. 2, 2010. Last year's general election resulted in Idaho Democrats losing every statewide office by wide margins as well as five House races, turning the Idaho Legislature much redder.
"Let's not dance around this. We got shellacked," Grant told BW. "People always ask me, 'How come your candidate lost?' It's because the other side got more votes. So, it's time to get back to basics."
Some of those basics might require Democratic officials to start carrying around calculators.
"I'll warn you right now, there's going to be quite a bit of math involved here today," Blizek told attendees of the weekend academy.
For the better part of two hours, Blizek and Hendrickson walked Idaho Democrats through a notebook full of spreadsheets, each containing a set of complex formulas.
"What's your win number?" asked Blizek. "That's the exact number it realistically takes to win. And I mean exact, not some rounded-up or rounded-down number. Quick. What's your number? Any field director worth his salt needs to spit that number out at the drop of a hat. It needs to be tattooed inside his brain."
Along with "win numbers," attendees were coached on effective analyses of voter turnout estimates and something called a Democratic performance index.
"Mark my words," said Blizek. "You'll be using the DPI to help target persuadable voters. This is a specific formula that should drive your messaging, your voter registrations and your get-out-the-vote tactics."
While Blizek and Hendrickson provided the charts and graphs for the event, Howard Dean provided the fire and brimstone.
"We can't go back to the '50s the way the Tea Partiers and radical right -wingers want us to do. And they want us to go back to the 1850s, not the 1950s," Dean said to an approving audience.
By the time the former presidential candidate, former chair of the Democratic National Committee and six-term governor of Vermont arrived at the Worley event, attendance had swelled to a few hundred.
"We're not tough enough," Dean chided the Dems. "We allow Republicans to say all kinds of things that aren't true, and then we think it's a good idea to have a debating society with these folks. We can't. The only thing to do when you're punched in the nose is get back up on your feet and punch 'em in the nose. Twice."
For the better part of an hour, Dean threw a lot of political red meat to the politically blue crowd. Dean touted his now-famous 50-state strategy, under which the DNC funded fully-staffed campaign offices across the United States.
"And yes, we included Idaho, and we have to continue supporting Idaho no matter what the results were of the last election," said Dean. "And I'm a lot less worried about the next election and a lot more interested in the next five or six elections. The longest journey begins with a single step."
Grant said when dealing with the GOP, it won't be any more mister nice guy.
"For the last several years, this party thought if we were nice to the Republicans in the Idaho Legislature, then they would throw us a few scraps. Well, that clearly hasn't worked," said Grant. "I think you're going to find that we're about to be a lot more vocal. We're going to spend this summer regrouping and reworking our message. Come 2012, we'll be ready to go."