Pulse: Chatter: Campaign Journal: Manpower vs. Machine

The Democrats’ two dominant teams finally meet head-to-head

On the first Sunday in November, Congressman Bob Brady showed up unannounced at a storefront office in Northern Liberties. He was there to talk about the Democratic Party’s Election Day push, and when told that the office’s occupant wasn’t in, he promised to wait as long as it took for him to return. Who could keep the powerful party boss idling 48 hours before voting began? Greg Naylor, a low-profile operative who has attained near-mythic status in Philadelphia politics.

Naylor and his Washington-based confrere Tom Lindenfeld are field specialists. Their job is voter turnout, and their skill is unsexy Election Day logistics: identifying voters and getting them to the polls. Since they started working together in 1999, the pair have been celebrated for squeezing more and more votes — for Gore, Kerry, Rendell and Street — out of a shrinking city, thanks in large part to massive voter registration drives in black neighborhoods. Indeed, Naylor and Lindenfeld have received more credit for turning Pennsylvania into a blue state than any duo except Bush-Cheney.

Chaka Fattah, however, is Naylor’s primary employer, and the Northern Liberties office is now headquarters for the congressman’s own mayoral bid. It’s from there that Fattah, and Naylor-Lindenfeld, will face their biggest challenge yet: a titanic battle against Brady’s Democratic machine.

Fattah moved up the ranks by challenging local party regulars — and along the way built a parallel structure that has transformed a generation of "campaign workers into political professionals," as Lindenfeld puts it. Yet since 1999, in general elections, Naylor-Lindenfeld have always worked in tandem with the permanent infrastructure of the Democratic city committee, whose endorsement Brady expects to receive, along with the individual support of as many as 60 (out of 69) ward leaders. "This will be the first time a private field operation is going up against a party organization," says Brady adviser Ken Smukler. At stake is not only an election, but the reputations of both sides. "This is the opportunity to test whether the ward leaders have really got it or not," says Lindenfeld. "They’re not oriented toward knocking on doors. They’re not interested in doing the kind of work we do."

That work comes down to organizing canvassers, who identify your voters so you can turn them to the polls. Over the past eight years, targeting Democratic voters in Philadelphia has been easy: Just about every voter is a Democrat. But in a fractured primary where blocks and even households will be split in their candidate preferences, that pre-election targeting will get a lot tougher. And the longer voters remain uncertain about their picks, the harder it gets. "Committeepeople have long-term relationships with people in the community that they can persuade," says Maurice Floyd, a Democratic consultant. But will that machine influence mean more than Fattah’s manpower? "The one thing committeepeople have down is peer-to-peer contact, which trumps all other types, including TV and radio," says Smukler. "But we’ve never been in a situation where the party structure was tested by an organization going the other way. We’re in uncharted territory."

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