Thursday, April 1, 2010

The 2006 Dallas County Coordinated Campaign

In the November 2006 election, Dallas lawyer Fred Baron was instrumental in establishing the Dallas County Coordinated Campaign which helped Democrats sweep all of the Dallas County courthouse races as well as make remarkable gains in Texas House races.

The 2006 Dallas County Coordinated Campaign targeted a get-out-the-base operation driven by direct mail, automated and live phone calls, and neighborhood canvassing efforts. The strategy was to pool money and effort into one coordinated campaign that asked voters to vote Democratic rather than for any particular candidate. This was a classic "Identify and Get Out The Base" campaign strategy.

As part of the 2006 Coordinated Campaign effort the Texas Democratic Trust and House Democratic Campaign Committee polled key legislative districts to identify what issues would motivate voters to actually get out and vote for Democratic candidates.

Toward the 2006 coordinated get-out-the-vote effort the Dallas County Democratic Party created a coordinated campaign committee with the Texas Democratic Trust and Texas Values in Action Coalition, a progressive North Texas PAC, contributing money to the effort, and the TDP, with support from the House Democratic Campaign Committee, generating most of the direct mail pieces targeting voters likely to vote for the Democratic candidates. This coordinated "get-out-the-base" campaign strategy run by Democratic organizations left individual candidates free to focus on their own individual races and individually target segments of the electorate with their own GOTV strategies. Harris County very successfully executed basically the same program in 2008.

The following article, which tells the story of Fred Baron and the 2006 Dallas County Coordinated Campaign, appeared in the December 2006 issue of the Texas Lawyer magazine:

Impact Player of the Year: Fred Baron
By Mark Donald
Texas Lawyer
December 25, 2006
As casual in appearance as he is in manner, Fred Baron props his legs on the coffee table of his spacious corner office on the 16th floor of a North Dallas high rise. He may not be practicing asbestos litigation anymore, may not lay claim to the title, "King of Toxic Torts" and the infamy that goes with it, may not be running a stable of 480 employees as the founding partner of the highly successful Baron & Budd, but he clearly is in his element. Exuding his trademark optimism, he draws you into his confidence, telling you exactly what he wants you to know, while making you feel it's exactly what you want to hear.

He has just returned from a luncheon for Craig Watkins, the freshly elected Democrat who surprised many politicos and pundits on Nov. 7 by upsetting alleged Republican shoo-in Toby Shook in the race for Dallas County district attorney.

"I thought the luncheon was a very unifying event," says Baron during an interview on Nov. 29. "Craig gave a great speech. He got a standing ovation."

Baron is keenly aware that Watkins presents a unique opportunity for Democrats ¿ one that should be handled with care. If Watkins missteps while growing into the job, the Dallas County electorate might rethink its decision to vote Democratic.

"Craig, though extremely energetic, is tremendously underfunded and needs a lot of professional help quickly," Baron says. "So we [his PAC] have been helping him since the election. . . . He has a lot of people who are helping him now."

Watkins is only one of the latest Democratic beneficiaries of Baron's largesse. A prolific fundraiser, Baron has used his considerable contacts within the trial lawyer bar and political donor community to raise mega-bucks on behalf of Democratic candidates.

In the November election, Baron was instrumental in the Democratic sweep of all Dallas County courthouse races as well as in the remarkable gains the Democrats made in Texas House races. This surprising Democratic shift may mark the beginning of a sea change in Texas politics, one that halts the momentum of a tort reform movement that in recent years has dominated the Texas Legislature and influenced the philosophical leanings of judges throughout the state.

Perhaps that is why Baron is still a lightning rod who sparks the ire of so-called tort reformers and Wall Street Journal editorial writers.

After the 2004 election cycle, Baron altered his focus somewhat, turning his attention to rebuilding the Texas Democratic Party, which was flat broke after more than a dozen blistering years at the ballot box. With an able assist from a hired Democratic operative, he formed the Texas Democratic Trust, a state political action committee through which Baron would pump money to prime the party's political machinery.

Baron dedicated funds to initiate the kinds of infrastructure changes that could make the party more competitive, beefing up voter files and hiring new senior political staff. The trust breathed new life into the House Democratic Campaign Committee, contributing nearly $450,000 to the PAC, which in turn helped fund the campaigns of competitive state House races. HDCC funding and contributions from trial lawyer PACs helped Democrats successfully defend all their House incumbents and gain an additional six seats in the House, narrowing the Republican majority and possibly moderating its pro-tort reform influence.

The Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC claimed 96 wins and 15 losses statewide for the candidates it endorsed in the 2006 general election. But the tort reform group, which declines comment for this article, came up wanting in five of six key state House races, despite pouring money into GOP coffers and branding Democrats "pawns of trial lawyers," says Harvey Kronberg, editor of the The Quorum Report. "For the first time in a while, waving the bloody shirt of being a trial lawyer didn't work for Republicans," he says. In fact, two of the six new House Democrats are trial lawyers ¿ and one of them, Allen Vaught, is a former Baron & Budd associate.

The trust also lent its resources to the Dallas County Democratic Party and its 47 Democratic courthouse candidates. Together, they orchestrated a coordinated campaign that would help turn the tide of the 2006 election.

In their campaign ads, the incumbent Dallas County Republican judges adopted the rhetoric of tort reformers, claiming they did not legislate from the bench and stopped "frivolous lawsuits." The ads must not have worked. Before election night was over, every Republican incumbent ¿ judicial and otherwise ¿ who ran in this election cycle had been swept from office.

With most of the newly elected criminal court judges coming from the criminal-defense bar and several newly elected civil judges coming from plaintiffs firms, Baron may have helped the Dallas County judiciary shake loose of its conservative moorings. "At least five of the new civil judges are Dallas Trial Lawyers Association members," says Susan Hays, a Dallas solo and former Dallas County Democratic Party chairwoman. "Several more have done plaintiffs work and think philosophically like Fred Baron." Ken Tapscott, the newly elected judge of County Court-at-Law No. 4, is a senior associate with Baron & Budd, working in its asbestos litigation practice.

Republicans seemed to be caught off guard by the impact Baron had on the election. "Fred ran a bit of a stealth campaign, helping with the get-out-the-vote drive," says attorney Tom Pauken, former chairman of the Republican Party of Texas. "I don't think Republicans realized how much money he was putting into Dallas County."

Say what you will about Baron ¿ and his critics certainly have ¿ he has committed his resources and himself to this crusade. Though he still remains a player on the national stage, intending to help former Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards realize his presidential ambitions in 2008, his trust has spent more than $1.7 million in the 2006 election cycle alone. Ask tort reformers why he is doing this, and they might say he is acting out of the same self-interest that fed his asbestos litigation machine.

That argument seems less persuasive now that he has stopped trying suits, although Baron remains a Baron & Budd employee until December 2009, according to the terms of the personal services contract he signed upon selling his equity interest in the firm. The contract is at the center of a suit Baron and his wife Lisa Blue filed this year against Baron & Budd and others alleging they're owed money.

Baron says his motives are still the same as when he represented asbestos victims, only grander: To elect Democrats to help regulate corporate misconduct and to protect the civil justice system from being dismantled by conservative, pro-business Republicans.

Back in the Day

Baron possesses an odd mixture of take-no-prisoners bravado and aw-shucks humility that often comes out in the same thought. "I think I am the luckiest human being that ever walked on the face of the earth. I get to do exactly what I want to do," he says. "I really had a great law practice, but as a consequence ¿ and I don't exactly know how it happened ¿ I made a lot of money."

It might have happened because Baron is a relentless ¿ some would say ruthless ¿ mass tort visionary with the entrepreneurial instincts of a Rupert Murdoch, only for the left.

While a student at the University of Texas School of Law, Baron says he was "proselytized" by a speech given by Ralph Nader about using "the law as an instrument of social change to regulate corporate conduct," he says. "Afterward, Ralph invited a bunch of us on the law review to come to Washington for the summer. It turned into a project investigating the Atomic Energy Commission."

Nader continued to mentor Baron, even after Baron graduated from law school in 1971. "Fred was bent on becoming a tax lawyer," recalls Nader. "After he heard me speak, he decided to become a tort lawyer."

His first job was with a Dallas labor law firm, Mullinax, Wells, Mauzy & Collins, and he remembers the day when a partner asked him to look into the complaint of one of its clients, the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers Union, about conditions at the Pittsburgh Corning Plant near Tyler where workers were turning raw asbestos into fiber. No one in the firm wanted to handle the case, but Baron drove to the plant. "People were walking around with shovels of asbestos and putting it into bins. It was in the air, and no one was wearing a respirator." he says.

The rest is the stuff of legal legend: Tenacious baby lawyer sues Fortune 500 company for $100 million. Baron wasn't the first lawyer to file an asbestos case, but he was certainly there in the litigation's embryonic stages.

In 1975, Baron started his own firm, leaving the Tyler case behind, only to rejoin it again when one of his Nader contacts referred him another group of plaintiffs. With other pioneering trial lawyers, he says he dug up evidence that showed a history of corporate misconduct on the part of asbestos manufacturers, who knowingly exposed workers to asbestos while hiding its lethal danger from them. He says he saw his mission as going beyond seeking compensation for his client's injuries. "I really wanted to stop this kind of corporate misconduct, which could be done through high-profile lawsuits." The $20 million settlement he brokered for his clients in 1977 also might have served as a deterrent.

Baron took to the lecture circuit, convincing trial lawyers to file asbestos suits where appropriate or at least refer them to him for a healthy fee. In 1979, he gained further legal renown as the author of a textbook titled "Handling Occupational Diseases."

That same year, he hired one of his first associates, Russell Budd, a recent UT law graduate who would become his partner in 1986. Budd was a great counterpoint to Baron, says former Baron & Budd shareholder Lisa Kivett. "Fred is more outgoing, more risk-taking," says Kivett. "Russell is more introverted and contemplative ¿ a great negotiator. Together they were a good yin and yang."

These were the glory days of the plaintiffs bar, when trial lawyers were still perceived as good guy populists who reined in greedy corporate giants, because the government failed to do so. Hefty contingent fees weren't a sign of attorney avarice but a means of ensuring that wage earners had access to the courthouse. Texas became a more hospitable place for those seeking to prove personal injuries; the Legislature abolished contributory negligence, and even nonresident asbestos victims could find a convenient forum here as the state's asbestos caseload exploded.

Many of the lawyers joining Baron's growing firm became almost devotional in their praise for him. "One of the things that impressed me about Fred was his unflinching confidence in the correctness of what we were doing," Kivett says. "Fred made you feel like you were part of a larger mission. . . . People think it was about becoming rich, but he was doing what he loved, and the money just came."

Baron treated his firm as his family, says Kivett, a feeling that was only enhanced when his wife, Blue, joined Baron & Budd in 1985, becoming a top Baron & Budd asbestos trial lawyer.

As Baron made his millions, investing wisely, he became generous with those who were philosophically aligned with his mission. Most of these were Democrats.

Baron was an ardent fundraiser for Bill Clinton in his successful 1992 presidential run. Baron says Clinton offered him a seat on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Baron decided to turn the appointment down after speaking to friends, including Nader, who talked him out of it.

"Some people like being the great dissenter, but Fred would have become very frustrated in a large group of circuit judges," says Nader. "He wants to win. He also wants maximum elbow room, so he can use all the tools of persuasion toward his goal."

With the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, and its Contract With America seeking to make tort reform a front-burner issue, the good-guys persona of the trial lawyers began to fade. In the ensuing debate, some plaintiffs lawyers didn't help themselves, taking heat for flooding courthouses with hundreds of thousands of asbestos suits, using the same handful of doctors to diagnose a staggering number of questionable asbestos-related illnesses, and refusing to give priority to the claims of plaintiffs whose asbestos exposure had deadly health effects over the claims of plaintiffs who were as yet unimpaired from their exposure. And with many asbestos manufacturers seeking bankruptcy protection, there was a dwindling reservoir of resources to pay for plaintiffs claims.

Plaintiffs lawyers began to fractionalize over how to allocate these scarce resources, and some worried that if they didn't give priority to more serious cases, the courts, which were buckling under the weight of asbestos caseloads ¿ or Congress, which was making loud noises about creating a trust fund to bail out asbestos manufacturers ¿ would do it for them. Baron, with his fierce access-to-the-courthouse ethic, believed that impaired and unimpaired plaintiffs were entitled to their day in court. He also had a boatload of unimpaired clients.

Baron felt that it was wrong to lump asbestos cases together in global class actions, preferring to litigate each case one at a time. So wedded was Baron to his position, he was willing to go to war over it.

In 1992, he turned against some of the same pioneer asbestos litigators with whom he had once fought in the trenches. They had cobbled together a class action settlement of all federal asbestos cases, which would have created a fund to pay current and future asbestos claimants. But Baron filed an objection to this settlement and the class certification in Amchem Products v. Windsor and later objected to a similar class action in Ortiz v. Fibreboard Corp.

Baron argued that class actions were an inappropriate procedural vehicle for mass torts; the cases were so unique and diverse they ought to be handled individually. It took him seven years, $4.5 million and an able U.S. Supreme Court assist from Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe to prove his point.

"Fred could have made a lot of money if he would have signed onto the class instead of objecting to it," says Marc Stanley, a partner in Stanley Iola & Mandel and the president of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association. "But he saw something that he was convinced wasn't fair. It was probably one of his biggest accomplishments."

Although Baron says he has "never had a bad day practicing law," around the time of the Amchem decision, he needed a big win.

In 1997, he began fending off accusations that his firm was a litigation mill that manufactured testimony from plaintiffs who had been coached by Baron & Budd staffers on what to say and how to say it in depositions. The allegations stemmed from a 20-page internal document benignly titled "Preparing for Your Deposition," which had been inadvertently turned over to an asbestos defense attorney by a Baron & Budd associate.

Among its litany of instructions, the memo appeared to suggest many answers that clients should provide opposing counsel ¿ independent of the facts. "You will be asked if you ever saw any WARNING labels on containers of the asbestos products that said WARNING or DANGER," the memo said. "It is important to maintain that you NEVER saw any labels on asbestos products that said WARNING or DANGER."

Three asbestos defendants sought stays in suits brought by Baron & Budd clients, claiming the use of the memo perpetuated fraudulent claims by teaching plaintiffs to lie. A Dallas County district judge referred the issue to a State Bar of Texas grievance committee as well as to a Dallas County grand jury. The U.S. Attorney's Office also looked into the matter. A heated ethics debate ensued among members of the bar.

Baron, who wasn't even trying asbestos cases anymore, because he was focusing on pollution suits, managed the crisis. He contends that the memo was drafted by an unsupervised paralegal who had shown it to fewer than 20 people out of the 15,000 that his firm represented. "I think there were folks out there that believed that we must be doing something wrong to be that successful," he says. "But we were successful, because we did things the right way."

Rather than circle the wagons, Baron went on the offensive, countering with a scorched-earth attack directed at those who attacked him. In the media and in court, Baron maintained that the memo was work product and that attorney-client privilege prevented its use in evidence ¿ and even protected his clients from being questioned about it by opposing counsel. With Baron & Budd claiming privilege for its clients, it was difficult for defense attorneys to prove through a plaintiff that the firm had used the memo to perpetuate a fraud.

Baron & Budd threatened to sue those who attempted to use the memo in court or otherwise interfered with the firm's client relationships. At the time, Baron told Texas Lawyer that his firm intended to disqualify any defense attorney who tried to introduce the memo, because it was unethical to use the privileged documents of another party.

Baron says he hired four ethics experts who opined that the memo was ethical and confidential, and he convinced two Texas intermediate courts of appeals that the memo was shielded from disclosure. Neither the State Bar of Texas, the Dallas County grand jury nor the U.S. attorney took any action against him.

Baron felt vindicated, but to tort reformers who were gathering steam and political clout, he became the personification of the trial lawyer they loved to hate. "I was outspoken, and they needed a target," Baron says. "I became the poster boy of a trial lawyer" working for his own self-interest.

Tort reformers were making dramatic headway in changing the civil justice system on the state level with their well financed campaign that vilified "greedy" trial lawyers for their litigation tactics that drove up prices, premiums and unemployment.

And trial lawyers were slow to respond. "We didn't think it would have the impact that it did," Baron says. "But if the other guy is spending $100 million on press and lobbyists every year, they can sell soap that doesn't wash."

Budd recalls that Baron led the firm's efforts in the Texas Legislature during the early attempts to restrict nonresidents from filing asbestos suits in Texas courts. Baron says he focused on the national scene, involving himself in lawyer politics, partly to help slow the rising tide of tort reform.

Despite the PR nightmare the memo caused, Baron became president-elect of ATLA in 1999, moving to Washington the same year then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush began his presidential bid, running on a platform that included tort reform.

Baron did what he could to get then-Vice President Gore elected. Besides being part of Gore's national fundraising team, Baron sent e-mails to all ATLA members asking them not to support Nader, whose third-party candidacy, many believe, hurt Gore in Florida and resulted in Bush's election.

"Ralph went completely nuts when I did that," Baron says. "Our relationship deteriorated after that."

"It is one thing to go Democratic," says Nader. "But then he went rejectionist on me. He had lawyers calling lawyers telling them not to vote for me."

Baron became ATLA president the same year Bush became U.S. president. "The entire government was controlled by ardent individuals that wanted to put trial lawyers out of business," says Linda Lipsen, ATLA's vice president for public affairs. "People around here were really feeling defeated. But Fred's leadership style is so optimistic under pressure, he was just what we needed. He helped our organization regroup, raise money and fight the initiatives we needed to fight.

Baron says The Wall Street Journal accused him of taking ATLA's top job only to protect his asbestos business, but he says he played a much larger role. Congress was proposing legislation for national caps on punitive damages, tort immunity for gun manufacturers, federal caps on medical malpractice cases, and he worked on softening or killing each bill. "We held the line in the Senate," he says, helping block legislation that would have taken asbestos cases out of the judicial system and put them into a government-administered trust fund.

Tort reformers at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, accused trial lawyers of trying to buy Congress with fierce lobbying efforts and hefty political contributions. Few seemed as effective at raising those contributions as Baron.

"It's a lot easier to raise money when you write the same size check as the one you are asking for," says Democratic activist Hays.

By 2002, Baron returned to Dallas, turned 55 and decided to change his life. "I had the opportunity to become involved in the Edwards presidential campaign, but I knew I would have to give up my law practice," he says.

In December 2002, he did just that: Baron and Blue sold all their Baron & Budd stock to Budd, and, but for a few major cases they still agreed to handle, he quit the practice of law, he says. "I didn't want to be 75 years old and still trying cases."

It wasn't hard to rally the trial lawyer troops for Edwards, since Edwards was one of them.

Baron had met Edwards through bar work, he says, and contributed to Edwards' campaign in 1998 when he ran for the U.S. Senate from North Carolina. When Edwards announced his run for president in January 2003, Baron joined his staff. The conservative National Review referred to Baron as "John Edwards' Evil Twin," but that didn't concern Edwards.

"I know Fred Baron," Edwards says. "He is a good man, and he is honest. There will always be criticism coming from the media ¿ that is the way the world works."

As national finance director for the campaign, Baron was in charge of all financial issues. But with Edwards' popularity among trial lawyers, money wasn't a problem. "We raised more money in 90 days than any Democrat ever. We still hold the record at $7.4 million."

Edwards' populist message seemed to resonate with voters, but it wasn't enough for him to catch U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, who won the Democratic nomination.

But the campaign was far from over for Baron, who joined the senior staff of the Kerry campaign and lobbied for Kerry to choose Edwards as his running mate, which Kerry did. "Kerry made the decision for his own reasons," Baron says. "But I hope I had influence in the selection."

During the general election campaign, Baron served as chairman of the coordinated campaign between the Kerry-Edwards camp and the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The Kerry campaign sent him to Florida during the last 30 days to work on the Democratic get-out-the-vote drive.

When the Democrats lost, Baron grew angry. "There was no lack of money, but there was the lack of a party organization," he says. "When we left Florida this time, there was no infrastructure left, and we were back in the same boat."

In February 2005, Baron expressed those sentiments to former Vermont governor and 2004 presidential candidate Howard Dean, who had become DNC chairman. "Dean said that in over 40 states, the party was just a hollowed-out log, and what we needed to do was rebuild the state parties," Baron says.

Focus on Texas

Baron thought rebuilding the Texas Democratic Party would be "a great project" for him, since he was retired and the state party only had two or three full-time employees.

To examine its feasibility, Baron hired Matt Angle, who had served as chief of staff for former Democratic U.S. Rep. Martin Frost before Frost's defeat in 2004. In the late spring of 2005, Angle presented Baron with his findings, recommending, among other things, the hiring of new senior staff to run the state party machinery. "We didn't have a single staff person who had worked in a senior paid capacity in a competitive campaign," says Angle, who also suggested upgrading the party's antiquated voter file to enable the sophisticated targeting of Democratic voters; beefing up staff for an oppositional research group (the Texas Progress Council); and revitalizing the state House Democratic Campaign Committee, so it could help plan and manage campaign activities in targeted House races. "We knew Democrats could not yet be competitive for statewide office," Baron says. "But there might be some House seats we could pick up."

Baron decided to create a state PAC, the Texas Democratic Trust, which would be independent of the party but could give unlimited funds to it. Baron figured with an investment of around $100,000 to $150,000 a month "we could create this thing," and he began pitching the project to wealthy Democratic donors around the state. His only taker was Budd, who says he kicked in $100,000 early in the trust's formation. Later in the election cycle, Budd gave another $80,000, and Waco businessman Bernard Rapoport contributed $25,000. But Baron, experienced fundraiser that he was, found no other takers. So he decided to plant most of the seed money himself.

To gain the support of the state party, he met with members of its executive committee, some of whom were concerned that he wanted to take over the party, says Baron. To allay their fears, he said he would not take sides in party politics or primaries, and he would remove himself from the project as soon as it became self-sustaining. Until then, he wanted to hire roughly 15 staffers, and every 30 days the trust would write a check to the Texas Democratic Party to pay for them. "But there is one catch," he recalls telling them. "They are going to report to Matt Angle . . . and if I find out you are interfering with the work of these 15 people, that is the last check I will write."

The executive committee agreed, says Baron, and Angle got to work. With trust money, Angle was able to attract top talent ¿ new executive, political, finance and communications directors ¿ who, in turn, possessed the political acumen to raise funds for such things as a statewide mail ballot program that targeted seniors who were likely to vote Democratic. Two newly hired party staffers were charged with upgrading the voter files, with additional funds for the project provided by the trust, the state party and organized labor. "We put these files online so our county and legislative candidates would have access," Angle says.

To beef up the HDCC, the trust helped hire new staff and paid their salaries, says Baron. In previous election cycles the HDCC had been a small PAC for state House Democratic leaders to dole out campaign funds. In 2006, it provided funding and campaign planning for 17 House races that the Democrats felt were in play. HDCC was also funded by other political donors.

The trust and the HDCC polled 10 key legislative districts to determine which issues would motivate Democrats to actually vote. Certainly national issues such as the war in Iraq would drive voters to the polls, but their research revealed that issues with populist themes resonated strongly, says Angle. "People felt one-party control in Texas was failing them and we needed a change." The polling corroborated earlier research conducted by the Texas Values in Action Coalition, a progressive North Texas PAC that was working with the Dallas County Democratic Party. TEXVAC and the trust had sponsored focus groups of Democrats, Independents and Republicans, says Angle, who felt that Republicans in Austin were more interested in representing special interest groups than everyday people. The seeds of change ¿ particularly in Dallas County ¿ seemed evident.

Baron says the trust wanted to target one Texas county to see if it could "grow a real meat-and-potatoes coordinated campaign." He and Angle looked at Dallas and Harris counties but chose Dallas because it was further along organizationally and demographically. Although Republicans had dominated county courthouse races for decades, the county had been trending Democratic since 1998. Angle felt the tipping point had been reached in 2002, but with the Republicans' efficient get-out-the-vote machine, Democrats had won only a handful of county races. Even that modest success was enough to help incite a flood of Democratic judicial candidates ¿ 42 in all ¿ to run in the 2006 election.

For the past 10 years, "Democratic down-ballot office seekers ran their own campaigns," Baron says. "You might see a yard sign that would say, "Vote Joe Blow for Judge," but no one knows who the judges are, and the only way to win these races is through a coordinated campaign that gets more straight-party ticket voters on your side than theirs."

Also in the summer of 2005, Baron approached Dallas County Democratic Party Chairwoman Darlene Ewing about running all Dallas County Democratic candidates as a slate. Money, sweat and strategy would be pooled into one coordinated campaign that asked voters to vote Democratic rather than for any particular candidate.

Ewing says she needed no convincing. "There was already a synergy around the idea; everyone understood that is what we needed to do," says Ewing, a Dallas solo. "We just couldn't rely on the trend. We had to come up with a plan to take advantage of the trend."

Part of the plan included convincing Democratic candidates to part with their campaign funds and not go it alone. "I had only been party chair for a year and a half, and I was asking 47 county candidates to allow us to spend their money," Ewing says. "Fred and Russell gave us credibility; my candidates agreed to stick together and run a campaign of "Vote Democratic.'"

Toward this coordinated effort, the candidates would put up more than $200,000, the trust kicked in $100,000 and TEXVAC contributed $50,000, says Angle. The state party and the HDCC generated most of the direct mail pieces to target Democratic voters, which raised the price tag of the Dallas project another $150,000, he says.

To kick off the coordinated campaign, Baron & Budd provided $30,000 in seed money, says Budd, for a fundraising event in April 2006 that featured Edwards as its keynote speaker. "I hadn't been to an event where 800 Democrats showed up in 20 years," Ewing says. "It got everybody excited and made us feel we could pull this off. It also raised money, and that was good."

The coordinated campaign envisioned a targeted get-out-the-vote operation driven by direct mail, automated and live phone calls, and neighborhood canvassing efforts. Angle brought in Jane Hamilton, a seasoned political operative, to run the countywide ground campaign. Budd also had an active role as one of the primary coordinators, and his firm helped with fundraisers, giving office space for candidate meetings. State Sen. Royce West, a partner in Dallas' West & Gooden, came on board early, dedicating himself and members of his Senate staff to the coordinated effort. His radio spots, paid for by Budd, urged voters to get out and vote Democratic. His predominately minority 23rd senatorial district was considered pivotal to Democratic turnout. But the get-out-the-vote drive was by no means limited to the southern sector of Dallas County. Activists, with the help of the sophisticated voter file, sought out Democrats wherever they could find them.

"You want to target your time and energy and message to those folks who are going to vote your way," Baron says. "This was not a persuasion exercise for independent voters. It was an exercise in getting out the Democratic vote."

And it worked.

The Democrats swept every election in Dallas County, electing 42 district and county judges, a district attorney, a district and county clerk, a county treasurer and a county judge to preside over the commissioner's court. "The Democrats outvoted the Republicans in Dallas County by 16,000 straight-ticket pulls," Angle says. "Coming together the way we did gave us success beyond what we thought possible. The strategy to win some of the races was the strategy to win them all."

As expected, all the statewide races remained in the GOP column, but the Democrats picked up five new House seats to go along with one they had picked up in a special election. "We thought we might get two," says Baron. No Democratic incumbent lost his or her state legislative or congressional seat. And the Democratic delegation to the U.S. House increased by two.

"I think this election enhanced [Baron's] reputation as the political strategist and tactical leader of the Democratic establishment," says Bill Miller, an Austin lobbyist with strong ties to the Republican Party. "If I were a Democrat he would be one of the first people I would call ¿ even if he didn't give me any money."

Budd says that despite his firm's current litigation with Baron he has no qualms continuing his contributions to the trust. "This is more than just about us. This is about the goals of the Democratic Party. . . . This is a lot bigger than any bad blood we might have at the current time."

"In just over a year with a fairly nominal investment of less than a couple of million dollars, we have accomplished a lot," says Baron. "The real marker is 2010 when we redistrict again. In order to have a say in redistricting, we need to win the state House or the Senate or statewide office. And I think that is doable."

But isn't he leaving again? Hasn't he just bought a house in North Carolina to help Edwards make a run at the presidency?

"I am a bit nomadic," he says. "But I can write checks from anywhere."

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