Faced with a packed audience consisting of interested students and regular members of the Yale College Democrats, Harold Ickes laughed, leaned forward and said, “Big turnout. Big year.”
As the president of the Media Fund and chief of staff for America Coming Together — two tax-exempt organizations which have been campaigning extensively against the election of President George W. Bush in swing states — Harold Ickes has spent a great deal of time, money and personal effort trying to accomplish just that: a big turnout for this big year.
Ickes has organized six presidential campaigns, advised Hillary Clinton on her recent senatorial race and served as deputy chief of staff under former President Bill Clinton. He said this year’s presidential election is the most contentious he has experienced in his 36 years in politics.
“There is activity across this country [on a scale] I have never seen in my life,” Ickes said.
Ickes is directly responsible for much of that activity. ACT currently has a staff of 2,500 active in swing states with plans to increase that number to 45,000 by the election.
“It is the largest on-the-ground voter registration apparatus I have ever seen,” he said.
Ickes said he feels that the efforts of ACT, among other grass-roots voter registration organizations, will be important to winning the election this year.
ACT has raised $110 million to sponsor its door-to-door campaign which involves identifying and personally contacting what Ickes called “persuadable voters” in swing states. The organization hopes to raise another $20 million over the next month. The group’s strategy is one of continued contact.
“Each persuadable swing will be contacted by ACT eight to 10 times, two to three times door-to-door,” Ickes said.
Although Ickes remains guarded about the outcome of the race, he said he was heartened by Sen. Kerry’s performance in the first presidential debate last Thursday.
“In my view [Kerry] was pitch perfect. You talk about shock and awe — I don’t think a man was more shocked and awed than George Bush,” Ickes said.
Nirupam Sinha, president of the Yale College Democrats, said that ACT, among other organizations, has been instrumental in organizing the presidential campaign.
“We have been working with a lot of non-profit groups,” Sinha said. “ACT has been very helpful, with organizing phone banks and trips to swing states.”
Alissa Stollwerk, who serves as secretary of the Yale College Democrats and worked with the Kerry Campaign this summer, said Ickes’ work was vital.
“With ACT, Harold Ickes is doing the work that is really important in swing states,” Stollwerk said. “They’re knocking on every door, they’re talking to every voter. And that’s why John Kerry is going to win on Nov. 2 — It was great to talk to someone like Ickes about how we’re going to win this campaign.”
In the end, Ickes said, there are two things for Democrats to keep in mind about the coming election.
“One, this can be done,” he said. “Two, this better be done.”