After a bunch of calls, no one will go on the record, and few people will talk…so given that, here’s what we think happened. 

A conscious, early decision was made at ODP to forgo a street money operation, because Obama didn’t do it in 2008, Ted didn’t do it in 2006, and ODP simply finds it too icky, even claims it’s illegal.  This was much to the consternation of many African American leaders on the ground in Ohio, for a variety of reasons, not just money.

We’ve written about the long simmering resentment against ODP and Ted Strickland among the elected officials, the activists, the ministers, and other leaders in the African American community, over perceived disrespect, past episodes like the chair election in 2005, minority hiring, even the Brunner-Fisher primary.  ODP expected this vote to turnout without street money, and that was a severely poor assumption.

As the governor’s race tightened, and it became clear that OFA coffee clatches in a Cleveland Hts. mansion weren’t going into Hough to get out votes, at the very last possible minute, ODP made a decision to ramp up a street money operation from scratch, using The Lancer Group.  We have conflicting info on who referred ODP to the Lancer Group.  We also have conflicting info on who the Lancer Group worked with on the ground in Ohio to raise a 2,200-person inner city canvass operation statewide in two weeks.

The Lancer Group’s record keeping, hiring practices, and software issues, resulted in a calamity.  For example, suddenly, it required a background check to get paid to canvass.  I cannot think of a single practice more certain to alienate you in the black community, where the vast majority of the people who need this type of work have criminal records.  Then, they paid in checks, which required a trip to a check cashing joint that charges insane fees.  Then, checks bounced, or weren’t produced at all. The entire process gives everyone involved plenty of reason to believe that ODP doesn’t know crap about these neighborhoods, let alone how to turn out black votes.

The fallout from this fiasco will greet the Obama campaign and the DNC, if it already hasn’t, on the first day they begin the re-elect campaign.  Yet more bad blood is in the water toward ODP in the African American community, as if there wasn’t enough already.  People are trying to stick other people with the blame.  And who knows if everyone’s even been paid yet.

So where does that leave us?

These 90% Democrat, 10% turnout precincts in Ohio are desperate, hopeless places.  Boarded up buildings everywhere, crime in broad daylight, drugs, police sirens all day and all night, you name it.  East Cleveland is the closest thing to Kosovo I’ve seen in the US.  Every two years, street money has been some of the only economic investment in these neighborhoods of any kind.  Take it away at the street level, and combine that with a perceived resentment at the leadership level, and those votes will simply not turnout. Try to reverse yourself, and leave people holding hot checks, and you’ve got a real problem long term.

Yet the electorate there can decide who will be the president, and probably decided, by staying home, that John Kasich is now governor-elect. It’s a sick irony that deciding not to vote consigns these neighborhoods to hell in perpetuity under Republican leadership that ignores them.  But if Democrats also ignore them, what’s the point? And can you blame them?

If the dual goal is to eliminate street money, AND turnout Democrats, there needs to be a permanent Democratic Party presence – NOT long term, there’s a difference – in these neighborhoods, focused on registering voters and convincing stubborn people who feel they have been used for years and yet still live in a hell hole, that they need to vote.

Some of it will be as simple as just showing up at a church on a regular basis, or community meetings.  Some of it requires delivery of jobs, real jobs.  Regularly.  Some of it will require county parties in urban areas to become active at a level they have never even imagined.  It’s not going to be easy.  It’s going to cost a lot of money, and take a lot of time.  But we have reached the point where old ways are no longer electing Democrats statewide, and ODP is learning that the hard way.

None of the solution, repeat, NONE of it is tactical.  Street money has always been a poor, last minute substitute for real engagement with these Democrats.  Street money now, in Ohio at least, is a no mans land of minefields.  ODP, yet again, relies on attempted mastery of a tactic to bootstrap a few votes out of nowhere.  This time, not only did ODP fail tactically, ODP has created a strategic problem among the most important block of Democratic votes needed to re-elect President Obama.

This will not just go away.  But if someone at the White House, or the DNC, is listening carefully, there’s an opportunity here to really change how these neighborhoods view voting, increase that precious turnout, and win the state in 2012.

Clock’s ticking, though.

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