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Wednesday, June 21, 2006 | It has been nearly two weeks since the run-off election to fill the congressional seat left vacant by the resignation and imprisonment of Randy “Duke” Cunningham, and as a very active member of our local Democratic Party I have heard every excuse imaginable for just why we came up a mere 5,000 votes short of electing a Democrat to represent the solidly Republican 50th Congressional District on June 6.

From blaming our candidate for lacking some magical quality that no one has been able to articulate beyond terms like “dynamic” and “JFK-like,” to accusing our national party of actually spending too much money in a district they have ignored (and rightfully so) until now because of our 14 percent registration disadvantage, to conspiracy theories that only perpetuate the myth that the GOP is an insurmountable machine which can’t be beat back fairly and squarely, the hand wringing and Monday morning quarterback analysis needs to get constructive and fast if we want to win elections in the future.

Look, I understand the disappointment we all feel and it’s perfectly natural. In fact, it would be expected after months of national focus and attention on our unusually high odds at winning in what has long been a “safe seat” for the GOP.

Combined with the pressure of this being the first congressional race in mid-term elections that are widely viewed to be the most competitive in more than a decade and which offer us our best chance at capturing a majority in the House of Representatives since 1994, we all placed exceedingly high expectations on the June 6 run-off.

Frustration and anger directed at our candidate or our party’s national leaders is both a waste of our time and effort, and misses the mark entirely. The fact is that we lost this race because of low turnout at the polls among registered Democrats. Period.

Some of you may not know that we have 104,000 registered Democrats in the 50th Congressional District and that our candidate received just 59,000 total votes on June 6. We know many independents and even a fair number of Republicans who were disenchanted by their party’s current leadership and their nominee voted for our candidate.

That said, as many as 45,000 registered Democrats didn’t bother to vote in the election that was clearly our best shot at putting one of our own in Congress in a district gerrymandered to ensure permanent GOP dominance in all but the most unique of circumstances. Well friends, we may have just blown our best shot, and now we’re back to fighting an entrenched incumbent with a huge voter registration advantage on his side.

I must tell you I was shocked when numerous individuals identifying themselves as registered Democrats contacted both our party’s and our candidate’s offices in the weeks leading up to the campaign threatening not to vote if the phone calls and leaflets urging them to go the polls didn’t stop.

Just 38 percent of all registered voters in our district turned out for the April 11 Special Election, and if that was the result in the most closely watched election in the country, then clearly we needed to pull out all the stops to get our friends, family, and neighbors to the polls on June 6. We need to recognize that a comprehensive “Get Out the Vote” effort that includes countless phone calls, mailers, leaflets, door-door canvassing, and “civic engagement” in churches, community groups, and business organizations is how Republicans win elections, and duplicate those efforts ourselves.

My hope is that the complaints about why we lost on June 6 will be quickly replaced with a willingness to take the necessary steps to build a stronger Democratic Party in North San Diego County for the important battles that lie ahead.

I firmly believe that will only happen if we are willing to look to ourselves for the answer to the question, “what could we have done to win,” rather than placing blame on our hard-working candidate or our party’s national leadership. After all, national leadership is only effective with a local membership willing and able to do whatever it takes to win elections.

Matt O’Connor is the vice-president of the North Central Democratic Club, and the chairman of the Communications Committee for the North County Unity Coalition, the regional political action arm for the Democratic Party. He is a returning student attending Palomar College, and works as the communications coordinator for a local labor union. Write a letter to the editor.

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