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Thursday, August 04, 2005

DCCC: The Irrelevance of Rahm Emanuel

Posted by Bob Brigham

Since I've been getting some ink today, I thought I would expand upon the soundbites so people know where I'm coming from when I say that the DCCC is currently irrelevant.

In this morning's Washington Post, Dan Balz and Thomas B. Edsall quote me as saying:

[Hackett's] words against Bush and the war produced strong grass-roots support, and yesterday liberal bloggers said they helped raise $500,000 for Hackett, the bulk of his $750,000 campaign funds.

"We raised a ton of money for Hackett," said Bob Brigham of the Swing State Project site ( http://www.swingstateproject.com ), who served as "coordinator of the liberal blogosphere" for the Hackett campaign.

Brigham criticized the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) for not giving Hackett early financial support. "They came in late, and it makes them look irrelevant in everyone's eyes," he said.

DCCC Executive Director John Lapp issued a statement defending the committee. Saying the DCCC would like to fund every House race, he said: "Resources are not infinite. That is why MyDD, the Daily Kos, and the larger blogosphere are so important. You are critical in the effort to expand the playing field well above and beyond the 30 or 40 districts typically in play."

First of all, I was misquoted and I'd like a correction. What I actually said was, "we raised a fuckton of money for Hackett" -- and we did (I'll be checking to see if this is corrected). Second, Tim Tagaris was the first on the ground and did as much if not more than me. Third, MyDD and the Daily Kos and the larger blogosphere are so important because we get post-broadcast politics – which the DCCC certainly does not.

Next up, The New Republic where Michael Crowley says:

This sort of thing made Hackett a rock star in the world of liberal blogs--a figure who combined the defiant rhetoric of Howard Dean with the military credentials of Max Cleland. Schmidt's campaign sniffed at Hackett's Web following. ("The second congressional district doesn't fully involve themselves in the blogosphere," a spokeswoman told me at Schmidt headquarters, as Rush Limbaugh trashed Hackett on a radio playing in the background.) But one need only look at the astounding numbers. Whereas the dccc spent $200,000 on ads for Hackett, the campaign raised more than twice that much from online contributions. Most of that was thanks to the intense advocacy of a handful of liberal bloggers, several of whom traveled to southern Ohio from around the country and became a sort of informal arm of the campaign.

On Election Day, the bloggers' "war room" consisted of a dark corner of the Goldminers Inn, a dank dive bar in Batavia, Ohio, where four twentysomethings quaffed cans of Miller Lite and ruminated about their growing role in Democratic politics. The leader of the group was Bob Brigham, who blogs for a site called Swing State Project. After raising a six-figure sum for Hackett, Brigham had flown in from San Fancisco and "embedded" himself in the campaign, riding in Hackett's small convoy from event to event in baggy blue jeans and faded red canvas sneakers. "We're three times as relevant as the dccc. And you can quote that!" he told me between sips of beer. "It's a sea change in Democratic politics. I see Al From and I see a hearse. This is the future. We're way ahead of the curve." Brigham proceeded to tell a strange tale, wherein Donnie Fowler, a onetime candidate for chairman of the Democratic National Committee, allegedly threw a punch at him. Did it land? "Hell, no! I'm virtual!" The spirit of the Dean campaign was alive and well.

Again, Tim and I are a team. Crowley conludes:

At his after-party on Tuesday night, Hackett's supporters were already looking ahead to next year, when Schmidt's new seat will be up again, and chanting, "'06! '06!" Hackett sounded open to it. And, if he runs, he may prevail. But that doesn't mean the Democrats will.

Spot on. I never thought I'd say this, but I agree 100% with The New Republic on this one. Because the spirit of the Dean campaign is not alive and well in the DCCC. Last year the DCCC did the Ohio second congressional district their way, the Democratic nominee had $16,000 for the entire race, so the incumbent was able to spend all year traveling the country and raising money for embattled Republicans. This year, we did OH-02 the Howard Dean 50 State Strategy way of fighting in every precinct, in every district, in every state -- every single day. It forced a lot of Republican money from Washington to be wasted and we did 40 percentage points better.

Democrats need to stop judging success on Election Day. We need to start evaluating ourselves every day. Did we win today? Thats what needs to be asked in every race, every day. If we can make this simple mindset change, we'll win more races in the long run and stop compromising.

Yesterday, DCCC Chair Rahm Emanuel said:

Every Republican in Congress should consider himself put on notice."

That is total bullshit and the vast majority of Republicans in Congress know that the DCCC is going to give them the same treatment in 2006 that they gave OH-02 in 2004.

Why? Because the DCCC acts cowardly by targeting and it is clear they still don't get it. Look at the discussion on MyDD yesterday. DCCC Executive Director John Lapp uses the word "competitive" in reference to districts twice. If Emanuel were serious about gaining relevance, he'd dedicate a staffer to walking around the DCCC and slapping backside the head anyone who uses that term.

Right now, Emanuel is trying to use the same playbook, just do it better. Emanuel's DCCC is trying to be the fastest pony express rider, but the post-broadcast train is leaving the station and the DCCC will be left in the dust if Emanuel doesn't get on board.

It isn't tough, blogfather Jerome Armstrong lays out how to do it here and here. If Emanuel wants to be relevant, he can join the netroots in fighting everywhere, everyday. If not, who cares, we'll do it ourselves.

UPDATE: (Bob) Tom Edsall checked his notes and said I didn't use the word fuckton. He does this sort of thing all day everyday, so I'll trust his notes. But if I didn't use it, I should have.

Posted at 01:18 PM in 2006 Elections, 2006 Elections - House, Activism, Democrats, General, Netroots, Site News | Technorati


It's simple, really. What makes a district competitive is not the demographics, it's the candidate. When you have a strong, fighting candidate like Paul Hackett, you always have a chance, even in the most conservative district. Those are the candidates we need to prioritize in terms of funding, because win or lose, they put the best face on the Democratic Party. Candidates like Paul Hackett are the ones with the ability to swing voters into our column, not just this year but for future years as well.

All of us live in a world of limited time and resources. No one can afford to fund all 435 races to the extent they deserve. But when it comes to setting priorities, the key should be the strength of our own candidate, not a bunch of number-crunching to determine if the district is "competitive" or not.

Posted by: Steve M [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 4, 2005 02:55 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

And for the record, Paul Hackett was one hell of a great candidate.

Posted by: Bob Brigham [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 4, 2005 03:15 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

I really do Disagree with the above, Steve. Sure, we can't fund every race like we may want to, but we CAN find the candidates to fight in every district. Too often, the Democratic establishment spends time finding the candidate who will "appeal to both sides", who will draw moderates, and other nonsense. And we've gotten beaten into the earth the last couple elections because of it.

We can find strong candidates, if we stop being blinded by the idea that we need to hide our Democratic values. If we do that, money will come. Maybe not enough for every race - but we've seen how much small 10-15 dollar contributions matter.

I'd really rather work at setting our priorities at finding candidates like Paul Hackett who will fight, and can fight, as Democrats.

Posted by: Tfolsom [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 4, 2005 03:16 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

This is about working with the facts on the ground vs changing the facts on the ground. Getting out the base vs growing the base.

Traditional Democratic strategists will talk about analyzing precincts according to how many "base" there are, finding them and getting them to the polls. You add up your available resources and calculate how many calls and door-stops you can make with those resources (there are specific formulas for this) and plan your campaign around that. You ignore precincts that don't have a high enough base turnout, and ignore anyone not a regular base voter.

This old strategy is based on two presumptions. First, that there is a Democratic majority and you will win if you can just get enough of them to show up. That used to be true. It's not true anymore, but the traditionalists don't realize that - or don't know any other way to operate.

Second, that you have to accept the "facts on the ground" and work with them. Those facts include belief that "the public" has "moved to the right" and a bunch of stuff like that. It does NOT take into account HOW the public was moved. And it certainly does not address how to bring the public back.

Anyway I think I'll develop this and write a blog post...

PS It certainly is not about candidates. Jean Schmidt and George W. Bush good candidates? Better than Paul Hackett and Al Gore? Jeeze. It's pretty clearly about having an infrastructure in place that can spend the time and money and effort to lay down an environment (facts on the ground) that lets really, really bad candidates like those ride into office on talking points that this infrastructure has spent years getting the public ready to accept. This infrastructure provides EVERYTHING for their candidates in every race national to local. Training, materials, research, talking points, PR, an army of paid operatives, complete communicaton channels, and a long-term repetition of a strategic narrative...

PS 2 - this is similar to the AFL-CIO split, where the AFL-CIO wants to keep working to get a shrinking membership to the polls, and do lobbying, whileSEIU and others want to start growing the membership.

Posted by: Dave Johnson [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 4, 2005 07:54 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

One more thing...

I'm trying to say that looking at Ohio-2 a traditionalist says it just can't be won and there are limited resources available so don't put any resources there. (Facts on the ground.) But, of course, as a result of this approach the numbers for next election it will be even worse. That's what is happening nationally - trying to increase the turnout of a shrinking base. (Just like the AFL-CIO strategy.)

A 50/435 strategy is a longer-term strategy of working everywhere to educate and change people's minds. It might take more election cycles, but it is a strategy for growth. It understands and leverages the concept of an involved netroots.

Posted by: Dave Johnson [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 4, 2005 08:08 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

A couple of people of mentioned fighting and/or appealing candidates. While I agree that this is a must, I think that there is an additional piece to the puzzle: candidate development and recruitment. One of the things that Republicans have been great at is the development of a minor league system. The Democrats have failed miserably over the last couple of generations.

It's a lot easier to convince an electorate that they should throw out an incumbant if there is a candidate who actually has some political experience. Just a thought.

Posted by: arataxia [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 5, 2005 12:45 AM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

I'd agree with all of the above, while adding the caveat that candidates like Hackett are not that easy to find. And that many times, the candidates that would appeal to folks in the blogosphere wouldn't necessarily appeal to folks on the ground.

It helped that Hackett ran against Schmidt. But like Crowley, I wouldn't necessarily extrapolate that into a wider picture.

Posted by: Raf [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 5, 2005 01:20 AM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

I'm 100% in favor of contest every district. A mentor in CA taught me that in '94 against David Drier.
But I think it's important to note and not discount the 200,000 voters that stayed home Tuesday. Are they parked and waiting to move over to the Democrats? Is the GOP mortally depressed?

Below is a comparison of votes from Tuesday's special election
and votes from November's general election in 2004.

I divided Tuesday's vote totals with those from November and
called it voter retention%. What I saw was that Hackett got
anywhere from 47% to 74% of the vote that the Democratic
candidate got in November. While Schmidt only got 23 to 27%
of the votes Portman got in November.

Without doing a stellar exit poll or interviewing every
voter, it's impossible to know how many votes switched from
Portman to Hackett etc.

But this crude comparison does show how depressed the
Republican vote was on Tuesday OR how inflated the vote was
in November.

Very, very consistent from county to county.
Please kick for others to absorb.

Nov-2004 Aug-2005
County vote % vote retention% from 11/04
Adams Portman 8,310 72% Schmidt 1911 23.0%
Sanders 3,169 28% Hackett 2101 66.3%

Brown Portman 13,796 72% Schmidt 3100 22.5%
Sanders 5,293 28% Hackett 3950 74.6%

ClermontPortman 66,158 77% Schmidt 17320 26.2%
Sanders 20,210 23% Hackett 12439 61.5%

HamiltonPortman 89,743 70% Schmidt 25011 27.9%
Sanders 38,237 30% Hackett 23597 61.7%

Pike Portman 6,047 52% Schmidt 1559 25.8%
Sanders 5,578 48% Hackett 2659 47.7%

Scioto Portman 10,099 56% schmidt 2638 26.1%
Sanders 8,004 44% hackett 4925 61.5%

Warren Portman 32,949 78% schmidt 7556 22.9%
Sanders 9,107 22% hackett 5420 59.5%

Final Portman 227,102 Schmidt 59095 26.0%
Sanders 92,767 Hackett 55091 59.4%

Posted by: gasperc [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 5, 2005 12:10 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment