TDP's Will Hailer Talks List Building, Enthusiasm, and Wendy Davis

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TDP's Will Hailer (right) with Congressman Beto O'Rourke

Earlier this month we published a lengthy interview with Will Hailer, Executive Director of the Texas Democratic Party, which was conducted in May right after he started the job. You can read it here and here.

I sat down with Will last week to get caught up on the last few months, the excitement from the special sessions, and how the TDP is capturing this tremendous enthusiasm. Part I of that interview runs today.

Below the jump, read more about Will's travels across Texas and the response he's hearing from Democrats across the lone star state.Below is our (lightly edited) interview. All bolding, emphasis, etc. is mine.

Katherine: So when we last sat down, it was the second week in May, and the regular session was wrapping up. Then, of course, we wind up in a special session and everything goes kind of haywire from there. What was that experience like for you in your first two months on the job?

Will: You know, it was a lot of fun to come in and be thinking about what our organization looks like while also focusing on all of the other things happening around the state. It was a lot of fun.

Also, our team was basically all brand new at that point, and the special sessions battle-tested them really early on in a big way. I think that will help us prepare for 2014, and as we're developing new staff from all over the country and all over the state, we don't get many opportunities like that to really test how we come together as a team. So that was a great opportunity for us.

I also think it was pretty exciting for our team to come in and be a part of that history, and see all of the men and women at the capitol who are just sick of what Republicans are doing.

Katherine: When the State Senate had their first Health and Human Services meeting in the first special session, there were some folks in orange shirts and some ladies dressed up in old-timey costumes, definitely some vocal and visible opposition, but nothing huge. And then at the House State Affairs meeting, the scale of opposition to the bill started to really blow up.

At what point did you guys look at this and say, alright we really gotta go all in and get behind this and build this as big as possible?

Will: Pretty early on. You know, one thing that got really lost in the story is how how hard the Democratic House members worked in order to make their voices be heard in order to really extend the process long enough to where Senator Davis was able to do the filibuster.

We got called very early on by a couple of State House reps — the first one was Mary Gonzalez who said, 'hey, we'd love to have people come out to this hearing and have their voices be heard.' We never thought that there would be 700 people there, but as soon as that happened, our team here was like alright, we gotta go all in.

So our political shop was making phone calls, the online folks were doing all of the outreach that was possible, our comms team was working on press releases and even our finance team was making calls to get people to the Capitol, and, you know, everybody just came together.

After that hearing it didn't really stop. Over the weekend when there were rallies going on, our whole staff was clipboarding at the Capitol, we just stayed all in from there.  

Katherine: So, in terms of list-building and organizational capacity, how has this benefitted TDP?

Will: First of all, it made everybody really fired up. Our email list is performing in ways that it never has before and people are really energized. They're engaged with e-mail messaging and with Facebook and Twitter. We went from approximately 1 million impressions on Facebook and Twitter to about 9 million impressions. We've grown our e-mail list by about 15,000 new people, and it's been primarily organic growth.

One of the really exciting things we did was engage with the Democratic Governors' Association and about 8 US Senators to send out a petition to their folks asking them to thank Wendy. That way we were able to gather about 65,000 folks that wanted to thank Senator Davis for what she was doing. It was a great opportunity to message and grow the list and be able to thank her for her work. That type of outpouring I think was huge.

There was also a lot of stuff happening that the TDP didn't necessarily instigate, such as the President of the United States tweeting “something special is happening in Texas” — I mean, that doesn't happen every day. That helped amplify everything else we were doing.

It's true all across the state. I was in Tom Green County, in San Angelo, and they had close to 100 people there, who were incredibly fired up and just as engaged, just as concerned about what was going on in Austin as anyone else. To see that type of energy four hours west of Austin was outstanding. People are still fired up all over the state about what happened and they're just sick of Republicans telling them what to do.

Katherine: Recently, the TDP sent out an email encouraging Wendy Davis to run for governor. What was the response to that?

Will: I think we're at a point where people want to see us do everything possible to get Senator Davis to enter the race. From our standpoint and from the Chairman's standpoint, we want to make sure that if Senator Davis decides to do this, she knows she has our support and knows what folks are willing to do.

Everybody wants to see her run, but it's really important to make sure that people are ready to help and act, because it's going to require a massive amount of effort all across the state. It's going to take every Democrat, Independent, and Republican that's just tired of what's going on in Austin to help get her elected.

Katherine: You've been on the road a lot. What are some of the high points of your travel?

Will: San Angelo was one of my favorite places. You know, it's funny to go as a political staffer to speak to large groups of folks, because they kind of roll out the red carpet and get wine and cheese platters and everybody was really excited.

I was in El Paso about a week and a half ago — they just restarted their Young Democrats club and there were close to 100 people there, all of these electeds there, all of these young people, and they were just incredibly fired up. Victor Reyes, who's running that group, hasdone a fantastic job with his whole team. So that was really cool. El Paso is such a beautiful place.

Hailer with the El Paso Young Democrats

One of the most exciting places I've been to was Seguin. I was down there probably about a month and a half ago. It's a fairly red part of the state. When the county chair introduced me he said no one from the Texas Democratic Party had been there in 22 years. That story is a great example of what it is that we're building and how we're reaching out to folks. They had a good sized crew, something like 55 people came out that night.  

The energy has just been nonstop, and given that it's a year and a half from an election and summertime — these are numbers that I'd be expecting in the spring of an election year, not the summer before. Democrats are really excited.

We did a training in Beaumont and one night we went to this bar that was right on the bayou and alligators could swim right up to it. It was weird to be there with our staff Googling how fast an alligator could run, because that was knowledge we needed to know and not just knowledge we were interested in.

It's been an awesome experience. It's been a lot of fun.

Part II will run tomorrow.

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About Author

Katherine Haenschen

Katherine Haenschen is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas, where she studies political participation on digital media. She previously managed successful candidate, issue, voter registration, and GOTV campaigns in Central Texas. She is also a fan of UCONN women's basketball and breakfast tacos.

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