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Analysis: Air War Vs. Boots On the Ground

Alexander Russo | February 27, 2013

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Anyone (like me) who thought that American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten was going to follow up on her recent trip to LA with a big, fat Lotto-sized check for District 4 candidate Steve Zimmer and UTLA-PACE is going to be sorely disappointed.

Word is out that the AFT has sent a $75,000 check to UTLA-PACE — a pittance compared to the big checks written by Eli Broad and Mike Bloomberg, among others. On Twitter, Weingarten explained that teachers unions “can’t compete with the billionaires, but do what we can to talk to the community about the stakes.”

Via UTLA Tumblr

Indeed, the Coalition for School Reform isn’t just leveling the campaign money playing field any more — it’s tilting it in its favor.

But there’s more than one way to win a campaign, and, assuming things don’t change very much in the last few days, the current situation is set up to be a classic “boots on the ground” vs. air [cable TV] war.

At least some UTLA members are rallying around the theme of getting rid of LAUSD Superintendent Deasy. “This is our one and only chance to change things and get rid of Deasy!” says one recent email from a UTLA supporter.  “Our enemies have all the money, but we have people.”

In 2011, the teachers union comfortably outspent the other two leading interest groups, the SEIU Local 99 and the Coalition for School Reform. This year, it’s the Coalition that is outspending the two unions by a comfortable margin.

One one hand, the ongoing money advantage seems like very good news for Coalition-supported candidates Monica Garcia, Kate Anderson, and Antonio Sanchez.

“I don’t think any help is coming,” said one pro-reform insider who didn’t want to be named.  “The fact they [the unions] did not ride to the rescue now really indicates to me that they don’t have the money to do so…. The Coalition has the chance to win all three races outright in the primaries.”

On the other hand, the money advantage isn’t massive or uniform. As we reported yesterday, in District 4 UTLA PACE and others have spent $784,000 so far, while the Coalition has spent $830,000. And well-funded candidates lose all the time.

And, the union’s ground game — at least some of which is not considered or reported as campaign spending — may prevail as it did in 2011.

“Perhaps more important [than money] the union has numbers,” notes last week’s UCLA IDEA newsletter.  “It exerts the greatest strength when its members are knocking on doors.”

For a look at Zimmer’s field operation, check out our story about that here.

For a glimpse of the phone-banking and other things that UTLA is doing in support of its candidates, check out their Tumblr (here).  The union is phone banking every night except Wednesday, when the House of Directors meets.  So are some of the candidates, including District 4’s Steve Zimmer (see here).

“UTLA is getting outspent considerably,” said the insider.  “If Kate doesn’t win and Monica and Antonio get into runoffs, I will be awed by the undisclosed ground game.”

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