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Election 2006
People Powered Politics

What 3.2 Million Determined MoveOn Members Can Do

Changing the national political landscape is a tall order. But if we build on the enormous grassroots energy we saw over the past six months, we know it’s possible. For us, for our families, for our children, for our country, the stakes could hardly be higher.

-Adam and Justin Ruben, January 18, 2005, in an email proposing a Take Back the House campaign to MoveOn members


  • Volunteers made 7 million phone calls, organized 7,500 house parties, and launched 6,000 in-district events. More people volunteered in 2006 than in 2004.
  • We raised and spent $27 million in this two-year election cycle. We spent $25 million on taking back the House. Over 250,000 members contributed $3.6 million to individual 250,000 members contributed $3.6 million to individual 250,000 members contributed $3.6 million to individual House candidates and over $2.8 million to fund MoveOn TV ads in targeted districts.
  • Our “Caught Red-Handed” TV ads demonstrated early that Democrats could win a majority in Congress by taking on Republicans others thought couldn’t be defeated. Of the nine long-shot races we targeted with these ads, Democrats won at least five.
  • On-the-ground action by members helped ensure that Republicans who supported the Bush fiasco in Iraq would pay the price at the polls.
  • We funded strong progressive candidates like Jerry McNerney (OH) and Bruce Braley (IA) in their campaigns to win House seats, and Sherrod Brown (OH) and John Tester (MT) in their tough Senate battles.
  • Our membership grew by 450,000.

“I used to think my one signature or call didn’t matter. But then I got an email from MoveOn and I learned I can make a difference. MoveOn makes democracy work.”

-Helen S., Phoenix, Arizona, MoveOn member

Photo: MoveOn members in action

The Victory In Numbers:
What our Members Accomplished

Chart: MoveOn members activities in key districts

Chart: MoveOn members calls exceeded the margin of victory in key Congressional districts including CA-11, kY-03, NY-09 and PA-04

Our Only Hope

In the dark days after the 2004 election, taking back the House in 2006 seemed like a stretch. President Bush was treating his slim majority as a broad mandate for conservative policy. With Democrats in disarray, it seemed that the president would be able to use his “War on Terror” rhetoric to build public support for the endless occupation of Iraq, and to win key domestic battles like privatizing Social Security.

For MoveOn’s members—many of whom were new to political action in 2004—taking back the House seemed like the only hope. There was no way that this Congress and this president were going to pass the broad reforms required to put our nation back on its path. We needed new leadership. And so, trusting in the wisdom of crowds, we set our sight on the House for 2006.

We’ve always believed that the issues that concern and animate our members are the issues that move America. We let our members’ passion be our guide. That trust was borne out: Iraq became the issue that drove most Americans to the polls. Nearly as motivating was the big-business vote-buying that produced high drug prices, an unsustainable energy policy, and the Abramoff-DeLay corruption of Congress.


When Adam and Justin asked in January 2005 if we wanted to build “a national, volunteer-powered grassroots campaign to win back the House,” the answer was an emphatic “yes.” And so we began our two-year journey together. It’s worth recalling the promises we made then, because, as happens so rarely in life and politics, we actually accomplished them

With thousands of teams around the country, we’ll run a massive, grassroots, neighbor-to-neighbor drive to mobilize opposition to the Republican leadership’s conservative policies and promote progressive candidates. We’ll reach millions of people at their homes and many more through the media.

In key swing districts where conservative incumbents are vulnerable, we’ll publicly hold them accountable for each and every vote they cast against the public interest. … Instead of launching a field campaign three months before the election, we’ll start NOW to recruit leaders, persuade voters, and build a grassroots base for victory. Best of all, our efforts to mobilize voters will have an even larger impact in a lower-turnout congressional election than they did in the presidential election.

Here’s how our story unfolded.

MoveOn Members in Action


Defining the House Republicans:
Wrong on the Issues

Photo: MoveOn Members in ActionSOCIAL SECURITY

I see Bush’s proposal as the “Stock Brokers Full Employment Act” of 2005. It is an attempt both to start in motion the dismantling of the small security some already have, and to loot public assets for the use of the wealthiest and strongest amongst us.

-Robert C., Cincinnati, Ohio, MoveOn member

I’m a 67 year old retired life-long Republican and I’m embarrassed and angered by the Bush administra-tion’s approach to Social Security …

-Seabury L., Bethel, Maryland, MoveOn member

In February 2005, Republicans went home to host hundreds of town hall meetings to sell Social Security privatization. They were met by resistant constituents with what Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-OH) described as, “everything but eggs to throw at us.” In a rapid mobilization, hundreds of MoveOn members signed up to ask tough questions at these meetings.

By the time they returned to Washington, the Republicans were on the defensive, and distancing themselves from the president on Social Security. USA Today reported with a headline, “GOP boards up the ‘town hall.”

Our members were just getting started.

The Social Security battle embodied our strategy for 2005: block the Republicans’ right-wing agenda through real, local, in-district action. We called the program Operation Democracy.


Operation Democracy got me started in the political process. I don’t think I’d have gotten involved in this election or the political process if a MoveOn organizer hadn’t asked me. I’d still be sitting at home waiting on the election to happen. With Operation Democracy, I’ve delivered petitions and held house parties to engage people in my community and change the direction of this country.

-Marlynn N., Lakewood, Colorado, MoveOn member

We expected 2005 to be a tough year. The Republicans claimed a broad mandate and pressed forward with their radical agenda. It was a “man the barricades” moment.

Chart: Iraq debate enhances support for Democractic candidate

The success of our work on Social Security proved that we had the grassroots strength to fight back effectively.

Through Operation Democracy, we aimed to bring together the best of online organizing with an on-the-ground network of active members. The vision: folks working together in communities around the country to confront Republican congressmen bent on privatizing Social Security or white washing Tom DeLay’s corruption or continuing the military occupation of Iraq.

Grassroots Pressure

We also realized we couldn’t just start organizing six weeks before the next big election—we needed to be working together locally, on an ongoing basis, to lay the groundwork for change. So, MoveOn members formed thousands of neighborhood teams and city-wide Coordinating Councils in 200 cities and nearly 100 congressional districts. To make it happen, we worked with our close partner, Grassroots Campaigns, to hire regional organizers who trained and developed our volunteer leaders. We focused in places where we thought Republican incumbents were vulnerable to grassroots pressure on the issues in 2005—and to an electoral challenge the following year.

MoveOn members held 5,700 actions in these districts over the next 18 months.

Together, working with allies, we helped stop Social Security privatization cold. We pressed Congress to censure Tom DeLay for his money-laundering in Texas, and helped create an atmosphere in which he was forced to resign. And we blocked some of the worst cuts in George Bush’s 2005 budget.

Photo: MoveOn members in action at a vigilIRAQ

On September 11, 2001, I called my commanding officer and said, ‘Wherever this came from, send me.’ But that’s not where they sent me. They sent me to Iraq. If they get away with it this time, they’ll do it again. But if it costs them their power, we send a message.

-Ginmar, Private, United States Army, MoveOn member

We also played a special role, over the two-year period, in the opposition to the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

In 2005, when Democrats were divided over how to deal with the issue of Iraq, our members’ views were clear. They wanted Democratic candidates to criticize the Republicans in Congress for their blind support of the admin-istration’s failed Iraq policy. And they hoped that Democrats would demand a timetable for a responsible exit. By the end of the year, we were able to rally around John Murtha’s courageous stand.

We commissioned a poll of 60 potential swing House districts to give Democratic challengers confidence that if they offered forthright criticism of the war and occupation, and even called for a timetable to withdraw troops, it would help them with voters.


Our pollster, Stan Greenberg, observed that whenever Democrats raised the issue of Iraq, they gained support. Candidates would only strengthen their position with voters if they were clear about their opposition to the continuing occupation.

Our pollster, Stan Greenberg, observed that whenever Democrats raised the issue of Iraq, they gained support. Candidates would only strengthen their position with voters if they were clear about their opposition to the continuing occupation.

  • Members hosted more than 3,000 solemn vigils attended by hundreds of thousands of people to honor U.S. soldiers killed and wounded in Iraq and to demand an end to the military occupation.
  • In November, 2005, we ran TV ads in 8 districts defending Rep. John Murtha against Republican attacks on his call for a responsible end to the U.S. occupation.
  • In December, members held 283 press conferences, often led
    by veterans, to keep up the pressure to set a timetable for
    ending the occupation.
  • By August 2006, our TV ad holding the Republican Congress
    accountable for failing to exercise its oversight role on the
    president’s disastrous Iraq policies became the main
    Democratic message.
  • In October, we hosted 1,343 house parties to watch the
    movie Iraq for Sale and make get-out-the-vote phone calls
    to voters.
  • In late August, members held press conferences in 25 places
    releasing the local cost of the Iraq War. These events insured
    that Iraq was in the news heading into the last 8 weeks
    before the election.

“MoveOn kept pushing on Iraq when our leaders weren’t”

-Thomas L., Miami, Florida, MoveOn member

Expanding the Battlefield:
The "Caught Red-Handed Campaign

Right wing electoral successes … have led to predictable hubris and overreach. With the unraveling of American policy in Iraq, weak economic results, ethics scandals and frightening forays into theocracy (Terry Schiavo), the Right is setting itself up for a historic change election. Our strategy in the past nine months has been to fight key fights—like Social Security—to rebuild progressive confidence. We believe there is now an opportunity for Democrats and progressives to pivot to an offensive posture and that Political Action can play an important catalytic role.

-Eli Pariser, September 22, 2005, in an email proposing that we expand the electoral battlefield in the 2006 congressional elections

Positive Agenda

By the summer of ’06, scandals and plummeting public support had transformed the Republican machine from a party of bad ideas to a party of no ideas.

MoveOn members were more than happy to fill the void. Nearly 10,000 members gathered in over 500 living rooms nationwide to discuss the big positive changes they’d most like to make to improve America. Then we asked our entire membership to vote on the three top priorities for our official Positive Agenda. They picked: 1) Health care for all; 2) Energy independence from clean renewable sources; and 3) Democracy restored.

In September we organized the Progressive Vision speech series to emphasize that a change of leadership in Washington was necessary to achieve our goals. Ohio Representative and Senate candidate Sherrod Brown, Senator Barack Obama and Senator Russ Feingold headlined, drawing large in-person and online crowds.


By early 2006, we sensed that change was in the air. Most Americans had become fed up with the Bush administration’s disastrous Iraq policy and with the Republican Congress’ tilt toward their pharmaceutical and oil industry patrons. To make this a “change” election and win back a majority in the House, Democrats would have to expand the electoral battlefield. They would have to compete in at least 40 districts to pick up the 15 seats they needed.

We searched for a way to make our case and decided that the most persuasive thing to do would be to identify some seats that were thought to be securely in the hands of Republican incumbents but that we thought could be made competitive.

We wanted to show that “second-tier” races could be turned into “first-tier” contests because mainstream America had had enough.


With $1.5 million from thousands of us we launched a hardhitting TV ad campaign in four congressional districts (Chris Chocola, IN-2, Thelma Drake, VA-2, Nancy Johnson, CT-5, and Deborah Pryce, OH-15) where voters seemed open to change. We developed the “red-handed” image and message and tested our ads for effectiveness before putting them on the air.

The ads worked not only because the red-handed metaphor was translated into a vivid and memorable TV image, but also because the ads expressed what so many voters were angry about:

  • Republicans in Congress took money from the pharmaceutical industry and then kept drug prices high for senior citizens.
  • Republicans in Congress took money from the major oil companies and then failed to lead toward clean, cheap energy sources.
  • Republicans in Congress took money from defense contractors in Iraq like Halliburton then voted to protect them from punishment for defrauding the government while our soldiers lacked adequate body armor.

Second Tier to First Tier

Polling showed that our ads drove up the negative ratings for each incumbent by 5 to 10 percentage points. In similar Congressional districts where we polled at the same time but ran no ads, there was no change in support for the Republican incumbent. By mid-September, all four of our Republican targets were listed as toss-ups for re-election.

Chart: Polls before and after Caught Red-Handed ads

The Wall Street Journal reported that Rep. Nancy Johnson spent more than $100,000 rebutting our commercials, “and analysts on both sides agree that the online group’s ads have made her re-election uncertain. Three other House Republicans targeted by MoveOn—one each in Virginia, Ohio and Colorado—are also struggling.”

Republican House Majority Leader John Boehner admitted ruefully that the ads “certainly have had some impact. Rep. Rahm Emmanuel, head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, was understandably more enthusiastic:

“MoveOn ads targeting the members of Congress, Pryce, Chocola, Drake and Nancy Johnson have effectively made the case that there is a close relationship between the contributions they collect and the votes they take in Congress. These ads have clearly made second-tier races into first-tier contests.”

New York Times

The New York Times later listed our “Red-Handed” ad against Rep. Thelma Drake as one of the seven most effective ads this election cycle.

When we launched our campaign to take back the house in January of 2005, the Cook Report listed two Republican held seats as likely toss-ups for the 2006 election. By October of 2006, that number had jumped to 31. And all four of our targets were on the “toss-up” list.


OPERATION DEMOCRACY BIRD-DOGS MEMBERS OF CONGRESS volunteers Don Briggs, of LaPorte, and Peter Smith and Reynaldo Hernandez, of South Bend, wave foam hands reading "caught red-handed" Wednesday in downtown South Bend. They were among the people who announced the political group's estimate of the Iraq war's cost to congressional District 2.
The demonstration was the first of four planned in the next two weeks with a "caught red-hand-ed" theme to draw attention to Northup's voting record and campaign fund sources, said Mike Bailey, a computer technician and volunteer coordinator for in Kentucky.
Laurel Ames of South Lake Tahoe holds up a red foam hand that reads "Caught red-handed" during Rep. John Doolittle's speech at the 2006 Lake Tahoe Forum at Sand Harbor Thursday.

“MoveOn gave me and other concerned residents in Virginia’s second district the tools to inform others about Drake’s poor voting record. The friendships and alliances that MoveOn’s “Caught Red-Handed” campaign enabled us to forge will continue to impact politics in Virginia—long after the last vote is counted on November 7th.”

-Kay G., Virginia Beach, Virginia, MoveOn member

While the ads were running in June and July, Operation Democracy organized delegations in over forty congressional districts to confront our representatives when they came home during the congressional recess. Armed with giant red hands and signs, MoveOn members followed their representatives to town hall meetings, appearances and fundraisers to let fellow voters know how their congressmen’s allegiance to special interests hurts all of us. The teams also connected with voters through letters to the editor, local radio talk shows, and asking tough questions at town hall meetings.

  • In Indiana, the team released the “Cost of War” report highlighting how much Rep. Chocola’s unflagging support for the war cost South Bend residents in real dollars. Members released similar reports in 25 Congressional districts.
  • In Louisville, KY, 15 folks rallied at a gas station to tell voters about Rep. Northup’s ties to Big Oil. A week later, the group held a press conference on Rep. Northup’s cutting veterans' benefits while sending our troops to war.
  • In Virginia Beach, our members attended every “Coffee with Thelma” event that Rep. Drake held. They asked her tough questions about her allegiance to special interests.
  • Armed with flyers on war profiteering and their foam red hands, MoveOn members in Fayetteville, North Carolina attended a defense contractor tradeshow that Rep. Robin Hayes sponsored.

Local media wrote over 2,000 stories about our actions. All of the congressional districts that turned out to be competitive in 2006 were ones in which Operation Democracy organizers were on the job helping us mobilize.

Photo: MoveOn members in action

Small Donors Making a Big Difference:
$27 Million Raised

“It is amazing to think that my $15 can make such a difference.”

-Robert H., Cincinnati, Ohio, MoveOn member

Our members have always believed that the only way to separate politicians from big-money entanglements is to provide a base of small-donor support. This cycle we had a chance to show just how effective small donors can be in winning highly competitive elections.

Throughout the election year members responded to our repeated appeals to help finance the campaigns of candidates we supported and the work that MoveOn has done.

$27,392,712 : total raised
608,727 : number of individual contributions
$45.00 : amount of average contribution
$6,040,420 : amount bundled for 35 House and Senate candidates

Federal Election Commission data show that Political Action was one of the leading sources of financial support for Democratic candidates outside of the Democratic Party’s committees. And we did it all with small contributions from tens of thousands of members, proving once again the efficacy of the small donor approach, which offers candidates a way to win without becoming dependent on money from special interests.

Photo: MoveOn members in Action

Labor Day was Monday, and that means campaign season has officially begun. Getting ahead early in these races is key to victory. That's why next weekend—September 16th and 17th—we're launching with a big, nation-wide action to take back Congress. Control of the House is in reach, but making it happen is going to take a big push. They've got millions of dollars in corporate money. What we have is people power. So it's going to take every last one of us—working together—to win.

-Adam Ruben, September 5, 2006, in an email launching a nation-wide action to take back Congress.

Tipping the Balance:
Call for Change Gets Out the Vote

Photo: MoveOn members in actionPEOPLE-POWERED POLITICS

As the fall homestretch approached it became clear that most Americans wanted a change of direction in Iraq and that the Republicans in Congress were being dragged down by their support for the president’s insistence on staying the course. Each day, the news from Baghdad made Iraq the over-arching issue driving voters to the Democrats.

We realized two important things about this election from the outset.

  • First, we were facing a “turnout” rather than a “persuasion” election—our primary responsibility was helping to get voters who wanted change to actually show up at the polls.
  • Second, we were facing a potential “change election” where a voter revolt could shake up the playing field and dramatically alter the political landscape in the final months.

Our early TV and grassroots mobilizations were designed to start that wave; our fall get-out-the-vote campaign had to be ready to put it over the top.

We also realized that MoveOn’s most powerful asset—our members—are scattered all over the country, and most of our densest concentrations were not in contested districts. We needed a plan to involve everyone, no matter where in the country they lived.

“Liquid” Phone Bank

I signed up to make calls because as a patriotic American I know that millions of tiny voices can drum the big money Republicans right out of Congress if we all pull together as a team.

-William K., Old Fort, North Carolina, MoveOn member

Call for Change was the answer. The core idea is fairly simple—a web-based “liquid phone bank” allowing MoveOn members to pour calls from wherever they live into wherever they are needed. We could then turn to any district in the country that needed extra attention, and keep the calls flowing until we reached all of our target voters.

We tested our program in April in a California House special election and it worked. A Yale University study showed that our phone bank was the most effective volunteer calling program ever studied. With the theory confirmed, we turned our attention to the larger 2006 campaign.

Chart: Call for Change cumulative callsWe developed two ways for people to make calls. Individuals could call from home, using a cutting- edge online tool that walks the user through the script and records the results one call at a time. We also launched a weekly series of phone parties, where members gathered together to make calls on their cell phones.

To recruit the volunteer army needed to make it work, we worked with our close partner, Grassroots Campaigns, to set up campaign offices in 40 cities. Each night. MoveOn members called other members in their region, asking them to sign up with the campaign. By the end of the program, MoveOn members recruited over 17,000 other members to join the volunteer team.

Phone Parties

For phone parties, members opened their homes and invited other members in their area to bring their cell phones (and chargers) and make calls to end one-party Republican rule in Washington. These parties proved to be a huge success, draw ing in thousands of new volunteers and creating a real sense of local community around the program.

Because the program was based online, we were able to use “smart targeting” to direct members’ calls to where they would have the highest impact. So volunteers living in or near com petitive districts would automatically be directed to voters in their area. Volunteers in other parts of the country would be directed to whichever districts around the country needed the most urgent attention. The “liquid” internet technology we developed for the phone program made this possible.

We also wanted to make sure we were turning out the right voters. So we began an ambitious “micro-targeting” program, applying a grassroots twist to an approach Republicans have employed so successfully to get their supporters to the polls.

In late October, the number of competitive races increased by the day and Call for Change was exactly the tool the moment required. It enabled us to send hundreds of thousands of turnout calls into the races where they were needed most as conditions changed. On October 19th, for example we saw a poll showing Tim Walz, the Democratic challenger in Minnesota 1, closing the gap. Within a few days calls were pouring into the district—making it a toss-up.

When the dust settled, Call for Change involved more members in making more calls than even we had dared to dream. We exceeded all of our targets the night before Election Day.

Here are some of the final numbers:

Chart: final numbers

Building a More Progressive America

Two years ago the future looked bleak. President Bush won re-election and he had a Congress that would rubber-stamp his radical ideas.

Most MoveOn members are pretty new to politics. I worried people would get discouraged and quit—but folks didn’t. MoveOn members knew that the Republican grip on power was less firm than it appeared. So we rolled up our sleeves and kept fighting for the things in which we all believe.

All that hard work paid off. Here we are, with an important victory. It’s not the end of this story. It’s more of a beginning. But in 2005 and 2006, we laid the foundation on which we can finally begin to build a more progressive America.

Thanks for all you do,

Eli Pariser


Tsan Abramson
Jose Acevedo
Ben Africa
Cat Beastie Africa
Kathie Africa
Tami Africa
George Aldrich
John Amato
Tom Andrews
Ira Arlook
Anna Aurilio
Lisa Bastick
Mike Batchelder
Andy Bechhoefer
Brendan Bell
Glen Besa
Steve Billet
Micayla Birondo
Virginia Blades
Jeff Blum
Fred Blundell
Hui Blundell
Mary Blundell
Mei Blundell
Solon Blundell
Joshua Boettiger
Becky Bond
Heather Booth
Paul Booth
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David Boundy
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Larry Boyd
Jim Brayton
Donna Brazile
Bobbi Breitman
David Brock
Jean Brooks
Walter Brooks
Sen. Sherrod Brown
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Dan Carol
Cat Carter
Alan Charney
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Jeff Cohen
Stosh Colter
Greg Colvin
Michele Combs
Roberta Combs
Phoebe Connelly
Bob Creamer
John Cusack
Kelly Dafler
Sarah DiJulio
Jeff Dirkson
David Donnelly
Josh Downey
Clare Ducey
Carol Duffield
Emily Duffy
Matt Durning
Cathy Duvall
Ann Eastman
Jack Eastman
Japhet Els
John Estrella
Nava EtShalom
Zack Exley
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Michael Fien
Temo Figueroa
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Al Franken
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Robert Gibbs
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Heather Gonzales-
Keith Goodman
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America Votes
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and Otake LLP
Free Press Action Fund
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Conservation Voters
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Young Turks

and MoveOn's three
million members,
who make all of
this possible