Pro-Kerry Group May Have Hurt Kerry Backer

Posted September 20, 2004 at 6:41pm

The get-out-the-vote strategy of America Coming Together Wisconsin appears to have inadvertently hurt a former state chairman for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the Milwaukee-based 4th district primary last week.

Although ACT, whose goal is to elect Kerry, supported no particular candidate in the three-way Democratic House primary — by law it cannot as it is a 527 — it did a “dry run” of its GOTV operation in the city’s black community, that it hopes to build on for November.

That may have helped propel state Sen. Gwen Moore, the only black Democrat in the Congressional race, to her decisive win over attorney Matt Flynn and state Sen. Tim Carpenter.

Flynn was Kerry’s Wisconsin campaign chairman until he resigned to seek the seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Jerry Kleczka (D) in the overwhelmingly Democratic district.

ACT’s primary day activity should “not be perceived as a slight to anybody,” said Phillip Walzak, ACT Wisconsin’s spokesman. “The African-American community could be the deciding factor in November,” he said, explaining that the voter drive was just an effort to “galvanize and energize” Milwaukee’s 127,000 eligible black voters for Kerry.

Walzak said that ACT just got people to the polls and that it was up to the three Democratic candidates to get those voters to pull the lever for them.

Flynn could not be reached for comment.

Seth Boffeli, spokesman for the Wisconsin Democratic Party Coordinated Committee, said attributing Moore’s win to ACT’s efforts belittles Moore’s impressive victory — she won 65 percent of the vote.

“I don’t know that anything ACT did affected things one way or another,” Boffeli said. “She was competitive in every ward — I think it was more of a statement about how connected she was to the community. It’s a disservice to Gwen Moore to try and credit her win to anybody else.”

Moore’s campaign also minimized the impact that ACT or other national groups such as MoveOn.org or People for the American Way had on her victory. EMILY’s List, which backs female candidates who favor abortion rights, has made Moore’s election one of its top priorities this cycle.

“I really don’t know what others were doing,” Shelia Payton, Moore’s campaign spokeswoman said. “I know they were out there motivating people to vote; I really don’t have a comment on that because I don’t know what they were doing.”

Walzak said ACT’s overriding goal is to deliver Wisconsin — which then-Vice President Al Gore won by a mere 5,700 votes in 2000 — to Kerry.

“It was just a trial run, a good proving ground,” Walzak said of the group’s primary day operation.

He declined to say specifically how well it worked, other than to say, “We were very happy with the results.”

Democrats have zeroed in on the black community as the key to putting Wisconsin in the Kerry column.

To that end, they have not let up in their efforts to court black voters.

On Sunday, a rally dubbed “Our Vote, Our Future, Make it Count” that starred several members of the Congressional Black Caucus was held in a Milwaukee park to urge blacks to vote.

It was part of a tour of battleground states that included events in Philadelphia, Cleveland and Detroit over the weekend, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported.

Democrats have been concerned that Milwaukee’s divisive and racially tinged mayoral election last spring would discourage blacks from voting in November.

That was part of the reason for ACT’s participation in the primary, Walzak said.

“We knew there were some hard feelings,” he said.

Former Rep. Tom Barrett (D), who is white, defeated the city’s acting mayor Marvin Pratt, who is black, in a nonpartisan primary that engendered hard feelings in the black community.

Motivated by Moore’s victory, and the surprise defeat of up-and-comer Corey Hoze, who is also black, in the GOP primary last Tuesday, Democrats hope the district’s 33 percent black population will turn out in droves Nov. 2.

At Sunday’s rally, speakers said Moore could provide coattails for Kerry.

“Be the wind behind Gwen Moore’s back and if we do that, we’re going to help John Kerry,” the Journal-Sentinel quoted Barrett as saying.