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How yard signs helped beat Roy Moore, and could elect Democrats in red states

Alex Roarty, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Before Doug Jones shocked the world, before the stunning allegations against Roy Moore, even before the pundits thought a special Senate election in Alabama could be competitive, Wade Perry decided to run a different kind of campaign.

So he turned to yard signs.

No, really.

The 42-year-old manager of Jones' long-shot Democratic Senate campaign sat in the candidate's Birmingham headquarters in the early summer -- before Jones even won his own primary -- and hatched a plan with campaign chairman Giles Perkins. Their realization: the campaign needed to show Republican voters -- some of whom hadn't voted for a Democrat in decades -- that it would be OK to support one this time around.

And what better way, they thought, than letting the average Alabamian see rows of Jones signs in their neighbors' yards?

"I remember sitting with Giles and talking about neighbor-to-neighbor legitimization," Perry told McClatchy. "And how this race was different in that signs were going to matter."

 

Perry knows men and women in his line of work will roll their eyes at the mere mention of yard signs. The two-by-four hunks of cardboard excite over-eager volunteers, the thinking goes, and never influence actual voters. They're considered especially dated in a time of sophisticated voter outreach, a data-driven mindset prevalent in the party since Barack Obama's first presidential campaign.

Perry himself can scarcely believe he's talking about them seriously. ("I can't believe I just spent 30 minutes on the phone with you talking about yard signs," he said.)

But the man who managed the most stunning upset in recent Democratic political history has a larger -- and much more important -- point he wants to make; his party must be willing to try something different with their politics and campaigns, especially as it prepares to compete this November in a litany of Republican-rich areas. If not, it risks committing the same mistakes that led to Republican control of the White House, Congress, and dozens of states across the country.

"There has to be a willingness," he said. "There has to be. Innovation and efficiencies and new ideas are good things.

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