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Democrats Clinton And Sanders Use Postcards To Organize Support In Iowa


We are nearing the moment when we find out which presidential candidates have the organization to win. Up to now, debates have made the campaign a TV show.


But when the voting starts, the key is mobilizing individual supporters. NPR's Tamara Keith reports on Democrats in Iowa.

JULIE STAUCH: We've got cornbread there. Hello, you made it.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: It's a Wednesday night in West Des Moines, Iowa. And Julie Stauch and 15 other Hillary Clinton supporters have gathered in her living room for a mock caucus to game out caucus-night scenarios.

STAUCH: The most important thing we're going to come out of here tonight is this is all about relationships. People need to know us, and we need to know them.

KEITH: This is, in a nutshell, the idea behind the Clinton campaign's plan to win by out-organizing the competition, especially in early states. A key part of the campaign's effort to build relationships is the commit card.

KEITH: Clinton volunteers like Farrah Farley go door to door looking for supporters.

FARRAH FARLEY: Have you actually signed one of these - whoops - commit-to-vote postcards?

KEITH: Once the supporter has signed the card, Farley tears off a blue tab. It says, I'm voting for Hillary, with the date of the primary in big print.

FARLEY: It's a great souvenir to show that - your support, that you're planning to vote for Hillary in the upcoming primary, the first in the nation.

KEITH: Close to Election Day, the campaign will mail the commit cards back to the supporters so they can see their pledge in writing along with their signature. In Iowa, the Bernie Sanders for president campaign has a similar postcard. Kiyana Asemanfar is an organizer for the Sanders campaign.

KIYANA ASEMANFAR: And then we have some boxes where you can check if they would like to volunteer with the campaign, if they're planning on caucusing for Bernie on February 1, if they're going to recruit five of their friends to come with him on February 1 to the caucus.

KEITH: Every day, Asemanfar and the other people on her team enter information from these cards into a database. And like the Clinton cards, as Election Day draws near, the Sanders pledge cards will be mailed back to supporters. I asked my colleague Shankar Vedantam of Hidden Brain fame about this. And he says there's solid social science behind getting people to make commitments by signing postcards.

SHANKAR VEDANTAM, BYLINE: If they can make that commitment in some kind of a public fashion and they've made that commitment to someone else, there's now psychological pressure on them to act in such a way that they keep that commitment.

KEITH: He says it's a mild version of what's known as a Ulysses contract. Just like Ulysses bound himself to the mast of his ship when sailing near the Sirens in the "Odyssey," supporters are binding their future selves to vote and caucus for their candidates.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) I went up to the mountain...

KEITH: No, that isn't in the song of the Sirens. But it is a farmers market in Northern Virginia.

MICHAEL KRAMER: Help get Bernie Sanders' same on the ballot, please.

KEITH: Where Michael Kramer is volunteering for Bernie Sanders, gathering ballot access signatures.

KRAMER: I'm semi-retired. So I'm putting in about six hours a day myself on this. But, you know, talking to people on social media is one thing - pitching the Bern.

KEITH: For all the high-tech tools that are out there, this is the way campaigns are run, door-to-door, person-to-person, converting supporters into voters. And it's impossible to tell how well it's worked until Election Day. Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.