For whatever reason, there is some sort of conventional wisdom that, in 2006, Nancy Boyda “didn’t win, the district, Ryun lost the district.” That quote comes from Duke University’s David Rohde, and here is the Wichita Eagle’s comment on Boyda’s choice not to accept DCCC support:
This will make 2008 not only a retest of her grassroots campaign style and a referendum on her already controversial record, but also a test of the theory that she didn’t so much win in November as Jim Ryun lost — because his conservative base stayed home.
The idea that the conservative base just doesn’t seem to match reality. My opinion immediately after the election remains solid today. Turnout was quite high for a mid-term election, which means that, if conservatives did indeed stay home, Boyda’s underfunded campaign must have done a hell of a job at getting out voters. I don’t see how that works. What’s more likely is that, as people were suggesting at the watch parties on election eve, Republican GOTV was getting Boyda voters to the polls.
In The Path to Power by Robert A. Caro, Caro describes how Lyndon Johnson won his first seat in Congress. Because his district was so rural, “the only way to obtain the votes Lyndon Johnson needed was the hardest way: one by one.” In addition to the traditional speeches to typically sympathetic audiences, Johnson “kept going back to towns, too, visiting repeatedly not just the district’s six ‘big’ towns … but tiny villages which most of the other candidates never visited at all. … If Johnson was to win this election, however, it would not be in towns that he won it. The votes that he needed could not be harvested in groups even as large as nine or eight. … His real campaign was waged outside the towns: in the vast empty spaces of the hills and the plains.”
Johnson’s own later campaigns changed the face of politics in Texas, as mass media and more money changed politics everywhere. Grassroots campaigns like Johnson’s are unheard of any more, so political observers seem not to have recognized what Boyda managed to do.
If you had tried to track Boyda’s campaign just by watching TV and checking Google News, you might have been surprised to learn that she was even running. But in towns up and down the district, there she was, chatting at gas stations, knocking on doors and convincing voters, one by one.