On Monday I drove my furniture, bikes, and, most importantly, my dog from Missouri to New Hampshire. The drive, 26 hours straight, allowed for a great deal of time for reflection (compounded by the fact that there was neither a tape or cd player in the truck).
Driving through Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, I was reminded of a passage from the recent Doris Kearns Goodwin book, Team of Rivals, about how Lincoln organized for his elections. By citing it here I am not sure if I owe Doris some royalties, so if I do, she or one of her agents can track me down.
“Throughout his eight years in the state legislature, Lincoln proved an extraordinarily shrewd grassroots politician, working to enlist voter support in the precincts for his party’s candidate. His experience taught him what every party boss has understood through the ages: the practical machinery of the party organization-the distribution of ballots, the checklists, the rounding up of voters-was as crucial as the broad ideology laid out in the party platform. His 1840 campaign plan divided the party organization into three levels of command. The county captain was to ‘to procure from the poll-books a separate list for each Precinct’ of everyone who had previously voted for the Whig slate. [E]ach was responsible for making a “a perfect list” of all their voters, designating which names were likely from past behavior to vote with the Whigs an which were doubtful. The list would then be divided by every precinct captain “into Sections of ten who reside most convenient to each other.’ The captain of each section would then be responsible to ‘see each man of his section face to face, and procure his pledge…[to] vote as early on the day as possible.”
I was struck the first time I read this passage about how little my job and that of our county and town committees has changed since the days of Lincoln despite all our new technology from the internet to cell phones and Palm Pilots to satellite mapping. The keys to winning elections are compiling good lists so that our time is used efficiently on those who are likely to vote and then contacting them, ideally, face to face.
A great man, President, and campaigner there is a great deal still to learn and emulate from Lincoln, despite being a Republican.