On a simple trip to the dentist the other day, I was intercepted by a pair of earnest young men with clipboards, who asked me if I wanted to help the Democrats take back Congress this fall. This was in Montclair, a neighborhood of Oakland, California; since I never go to Montclair except to see the dentist or shop, I don't really know whether this was fertile ground for them or not: it's in Barbara Lee's Congressional district, but it's rich enough to lean rightward if it chooses, and it may; I saw several people brush them off. I fended them off in the interests of being on time for my appointment, but chose to stop and chat with them on the way back.
I was impressed. (Mildly.) The Democrats have grassroots organizers on the street. I haven't seen that in years. They had energy and enthusiasm, they had the Democrats' platform (the Democrats have a platform??) and could explain it, and I actually allowed them to persuade me out of a contribution. (I already get regular mailings from the DNC so it shouldn't add too much junk to the mail.) I normally ignore fundraising requests from the Dems, on the grounds that they are such hopeless nebbishes that there's no point in funding them. But somewhere - can we credit Howard Dean with this? - someone has remembered the tactics that ran Tammany Hall for 150 years, and ran Chicago for a generation. Two generations. Whatever you may think of the morals of machine politics, it's really efficient. Ask the Republicans.
Of course, they're still bucking the most impressive fundraising machine known to man, a grassroots organizing structure fueled by evangelical zeal, and a control of the media which the Republicans have been carefully building for thirty years (after all, with Fox, the Repubs have their own news network); but at least the Dems are trying, and they're using stuff that works for the other side. Precinct captains. Street organizers. People who go and give people rides to the polls. If they put their backs into it, this could work.
Now if the people at the top of the party can just maintain the focus...