Nina Turner has been criticized for a lot of things in the wake of her loss in the Cleveland, Ohio, special election last week. The conventional wisdom is that her politics were too leftist, and that she was too confrontational, to win in a time when Biden-like moderate politics are the order of the day. Those takes are nonsense; the race was eminently winnable. If there is a single critical mistake Turner made, it was placing her campaign in the hands of strategists who squandered her financial firepower on ineffective and ill-conceived expenditures.
Looking through Turner’s spending reports, it’s clear that the people who ran her campaign defaulted to the typical playbook of putting far more money into television and digital ads than into the nitty-gritty work of getting people to cast ballots.
This strategic blunder is especially egregious because the formula for winning special elections, which are typically low-turnout affairs, is to focus on that humble work. That’s how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez prevailed in her 2018 upset win. Her communications coordinator, Corbin Trent, explained that their campaign strategy identified a universe of 75,000 potential supporters, and “then we knocked on their doors, we sent them mail, we knocked on their doors again, we called them.”
That is the path to victory—knocking on doors, calling people, identifying supporters, and then getting those supporters to the polls. It is simple in concept, yet challenging in execution. And it is made more challenging to pull off in the realm of professional politics, because it is meticulous, nonglamorous, and not profitable for consultants.