The Repo Man: Seeking Volunteers to Reclaim Congress

As New Yorkers' ire over the Bush agenda rises, the Working Families Party is upping the ante against the president's friends in Congress with a fresh game plan for the midterm elections.

This populist party has hired longtime political operative Peter Hatch as director of Repo Operations—that's right, he's the repo man. Hatch, a veteran of the failed Kerry campaign of 2004, will focus entirely on seats from New York and Connecticut. In New York, there are nine slots held by Republicans up for grabs, and they are concentrating on another one in Connecticut. True to the strategy that has made it such an effective third player, Working Families will zero in on only the two or three most winnable races—organizing bus trips for house-to-house canvassing in those districts.

The Voice caught up with Hatch, still moving into his office at the busy hub of the Working Families Party in downtown Brooklyn.

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What is the Working Families Party trying to get across to voters? Number one, our priority here is to take back Congress. I think that is the most important thing happening politically in 2006, both nationally and in New York. That needs to be the project. We think that the WFP has got a very simple but powerful thesis, which is: We can get lowercase "i" independent voters and certain targeted Republicans to vote for Democratic congressional candidates using the Working Families Party line, that third party line.

'Fusion' voting, the process of a third party cross-endorsing a candidate, will play a big role in the midterms. Why it so effective for you? I'll offer two historical examples. In the last two congressional takeaways in New York State, where Democrats took a seat back from Republicans, the margin of victory, in very tight races, came through votes on the Working Families Party line—Tim Bishop out in Suffolk in 2002, and Brian Higgins won up near Buffalo in 2004. Both received their margins on the WFP line. Our goal is to be helpful by trying to deliver another couple of points for each of these candidates, which would look to be decisive in what would look to be fairly close races in these swing districts.

If I were a Democratic candidate in a tight congressional race, why would I going to seek out the Working Families Party's endorsement over another third party's? Low-income voters, working families, middle-class voters all share a core set of values, and those, for example, could be an honest day's pay for an honest day's work. These values have just been trashed by this Republican Congress. Other parties have sometimes narrow agendas; other parties sometimes more broad agendas, which can include hot-button social issues, but this is what we focus on—these pocketbook issues that really, really matter to voters.

The plan is to take back nine Republican seats in Congress, which are scattered across the state. Logistically, how are you going to accomplish this goal from this Brooklyn office? Downstate, where we happened to be headquartered, we will mobilize young people, activists, groups to do work—phone banking, fundraising, other sorts of work. They may also do some bus trips to the districts. But one of the lessons of the last cycle is that volunteer activity that is indigenous to a particular community is more effective; when your neighbor is talking to you about an issue of concern that can be more powerful sometimes. We provide a means for anybody who wants to get involved to do important work, anybody who stays it's time to stop this radical agenda of Bush, of Cheney, of Rove, of DeLay.

In a Congressional election, how much do you run against the president? I think there needs to be both a negative and a positive message. We need to create a roadblock, if you will, for Bush's radical agenda, and that starts by taking back Congress. But additionally, because of some of the pocketbook issues, we are also offering an affirmative reason to vote, not just a negative message. The candidate in each of these districts shares this certain voter's core values around health care, around retirement security, around the minimum wage. It gives them a reason to go out and vote and not just protest by not voting.

In the presidential election New Yorkers took road trips to swing states, like Pennsylvania, to canvass for Kerry. What can you do to get people to care on the same level now? We're finding that New Yorkers understand how critical a juncture this election is. Everyone who was disappointed with the outcome in 2004, or folks who supported the president in 2004 but have seen what two more years have done and have some buyer's remorse, understand that this is a critical moment. Essentially, if we don't put up this roadblock now, we have two more years of our country heading in the wrong direction. New York is a key battleground state, maybe the key place to stop it.

Folks understand that and are inspired to do the work to take back Congress. We focus on giving them a means to do it, because we will have two, three, four competitive races in districts here in New York that are only one hour, two hours, three hours from New York City. New Yorkers who got on buses to go to other states in that election have an opportunity to work here in New York State with us.


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