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Democrats Can Win The Midterms-- But The DCCC Can't


It worked for her

Every time I've done anything Google related this week, I've gotten a Gavin Newsom ad. They're annoying and they're constant-- so constantly annoying. I imagine they will turn off voters-- like myself-- who haven't decided if it's necessary to hold their noses and vote for him to prevent a GOP takeover. Every time one of the ads invades my space, it makes it less likely that I will vote against the recall. My absentee ballot is sitting on my desk. I almost threw it away today when I was fed another stupid Newsom ad on YouTube.


Peter Fenn is a longtime political operative who made a very nice living by taking a cut of whatever Democratic candidates he was advising spent on ads, He admits he advise them to spend as much as 80% of their budgets on paid ads. And now he admits that it was mostly a big waste of money and effort. "[W]e," he wrote "are stuck in the practices of yesteryear-- and instead of using our funds to enhance political organization, personal door-to-door campaigning, sophisticated targeting and communication, we throw what we have against the wall and see what sticks. Democrats have tended more than Republicans to focus on the shiny objects of TV ads, instead of organizing and motivating our base to reach out and convince potential voters on the ground. To be blunt: Democrats are not putting nearly enough of the billions raised into early, hard-core organization and way too much into glitzy TV ads."


Adam Christensen ran for Congress in the Alachua area last cycle with no DCCC help. Soon we'll be telling you the next chapter in his plans for Florida. For now, he told me that "We already know that Democrats are spending almost 3 times the amount as Republicans for the same media distribution. Part of this has to do with what Dems are spending their money on (tv ads/mailers) as opposed to canvassers, persuasive advertising, voter registration/absentee. Yes, a lot of that comes down to the predatory way that consultants treat candidates (getting commission based on what candidates spend money on). But there are even bigger issues that consultants don’t want to admit. The data and information they use in order to send those mailers or target those ads is deadly flawed and light years behind Republicans. It all culminates in a tremendous waste of time, energy, and above all money. And it’s the reason Dems lose so goddamn-always in the state of Florida."


Several years ago, Blue America stopping wasting money on TV ads and started advising candidates that there are much better ways to spend their contributions, such as hiring staff, paying people to contact voters, identifying voters’ interests and learning about what interests them? Alan Grayson, running for the Senate in Florida, has always been a master at this and we learned a lot from him. Last night he told me that "Regarding the 2022 elections, we have to focus on getting the voters to see it as a choice between our policies and their policies and, in particular, between our pro-health policies and their anti-health policies. In one election after another after another, the other side has tried to distract the voters by some gross parody of the progressive platform-- not curbing police brutality, but 'defunding the police'; not a path to citizenship for people who have lived here for decades, but 'open borders,' and so on. It’s time for our own 'Contract with America'-- better-paying jobs, increasing Social Security and Medicare, healthcare for everyone, taxing people no more than corporations, free higher education, clean water/clean air/healthy food, etc. Let the fools on the other side rant about 'socialism'; they’re only embarrassing themselves."


One of the savviest new-age citizen-politicians I know is northwest Washington congressional candidate Jason Call. "As someone who was on the ground in Cleveland for Nina Turner, and took teams of canvassers to Delaware and West Virginia for 2020 progressive congressional races, my analysis and that of many others who were in the thick of it is that progressives absolutely have to bolster the ground game. Having personal conversations with voters that inspire and motivate them to exercise their voting power and also counter the inevitable smear messages that the establishment will pour millions into is essential. We have to hit the streets early and often. Establishment wisdom wants to throw a lot of money into mainstream media and traditional flyers.They did that in OH-11 to great effect. However, I had numerous conversations at doors with voters whose votes I was able to change, directly. But the truth is that the volume of volunteers needs to increase. Perhaps if campaigns were able to divert a large part of the resources spent on traditional media outreach to things like temporary housing for volunteers, we could actually move a large volunteer corps from place to place around the country and have that trained and experienced army on the ground when it’s needed. It’s a non-traditional approach, but traditional approaches shouldn’t be relied on if we’re looking at changing the face of politics in America. The establishment is good at their game (corporate money based character assassination). We need to be better at ours."


The newest Blue America-endorsee is Chris Preece, who is running for the Kentucky district Andy Barr has been holding. Most of the district is rural and yesterday Chris told me that "One reason I'm starting early is to gain the money and volunteers needed to reach out to unlikely voters. 42% of eligible Kentuckians didn't vote in 2020, and as their future representative it is my duty to meet them where they are and engage them."

Look what is happening to rural voters. Trump won rural voters with 59 percent of the vote in 2016; he won with 65 percent in 2020, despite losing the overall popular vote by over 7 million votes. Have you driven through rural America lately? Have you seen the signs and the barns painted “TRUMP,” the caravans during opening day of fishing season in Minnesota with flags flying and horns honking, even the t-shirts being worn at Target and Walmart?
Where are the Democrats? Where are the yard signs and supporters outside metro areas? Where are the local neighborhood headquarters in people’s living rooms? Have we given up on independent minded, less politicized citizens who may not always vote in every election? That is a big mistake.
An important recent Pew poll shows that of those who did not vote in the high-turnout election of 2020, Biden was favored over Trump by 15 points. Many of these were voters under 50 years of age and are not obviously committed voters by any means. These are critical voters for Democrats to target.
Many pundits and prognosticators have written the Democrats’ political obituary for the 2022 off-year elections. They are usually a disaster for the party in power, losing on average 26 House seats and 4 Senate seats. Their other reasons are many: the razor thin margin of less than a half dozen Democratic seats in the House and an even count of 50 in the Senate; redistricting that will cost Democrats seats, as Republicans game the system in southern and western states; a polarized nation where President Biden hovers around 50 per cent popularity.
Now, those are serious head winds. But one way to counter them is to increase our focus as Democrats on voter identification, turnout, and serious persuasion. We have the right messages for many of these voters-- child care and early childhood education, expanded community college, child tax credits for struggling families, direct care worker help for seniors, expanded Medicare coverage for dental care and prescription drugs. This is a “pro-work,” “pro-families” and “pro-community” agenda. And, by the way, solve COVID, pass the infrastructure and budget legislation before Congress that truly helps people-- and show ourselves to be the party “that gets the job done.”
If we organize around these messages and go after voters with sophisticated targeting, starting early, and “go back to the future” with person-to-person and door-to-door engagement, we might find ourselves maintaining the majority. This means real political money for rural areas, tracking our base, keeping a focus on less-likely voters and convincing them of what is at stake in 2022 and, yes, not wasting so much on expensive and less impactful TV ads.

First and foremost, of course, Democrats have to deliver, not just promise. That's why it's so important for all Democrats to unite around Biden's "hard" and "soft" infrastructure bills that are so popular with the public. What the Democratic members of Congress do will impact all candidates, whether they are in office or challenging someone who is.


Morgan Harper is the progressive candidate running for the open Ohio Senate seat and she's pitted against a pack of status quo-worshipping conservatives. "Here in Ohio,"she told me last night, "the old political playbook isn't working. The new path forward is rooted in a strong progressive agenda that will deliver real change for our communities and a mobilization effort to turn out the key constituencies we need to win--working class, black voters, women, and young people. That has to be a door-by-door, block-by-block effort, and it's one we will be building to flip this Senate seat in Ohio and protect the Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate."