How to Squander the Grassroots

From the beginning, political insiders questioned the wisdom of supporting a Governor Newsom recall campaign. But when Orrin Heatlie was picking up the pieces after the first recall effort, he recognized something that eluded most experts: From scratch, with absolutely no professional or financial support, a volunteer army had formed and gathered 352,271 signed petitions. This accomplishment has no precedent.

What has happened since March of 2020 has made history. Heatlie went on to mobilize this volunteer army to try again to gather 1.5 million signed petitions. Taking into account the inevitable share of duplicates or invalid petitions, they ended up turning in more than 2.1 million signed petitions. Newsom is now fighting for his political life. He’s one super fire, major power brownout, or French Laundry imbroglio away from retirement.

How Heatlie’s recall campaign evolved is a textbook example of how grassroots movements and political professionals can work together. Anne Dunsmore, a fundraiser and campaign expert with decades of experience in California politics, began assisting the recall effort in the summer of 2020. Relying on direct mail to complement Heatlie’s volunteer signature gatherers, Dunsmore’s committee spent $3.6 million, while Heatlie’s committee raised not quite $1.0 million.

Everything about this was not supposed to happen. Heatlie was not supposed to be able to muster thousands of volunteers who manned booths in parking lots, knocked on doors, recruited business owners, and networked with everyone they knew to gather well over a million signatures. Dunsmore’s gamble that direct mail would be […] Read More