Monday, August 4, 2008

50 State strategy and Optimal Resource Use

Howard Dean has a "50 state strategy" to put resources even into states that have weak or non-existent Democrat parties. On NextRight, one article pondered whether the 50-state strategy will help win a Senate seat for Democrats in the wake of an indictment of Senator Ted Stevens.

I am in agreement with this view:

There is nothing in Dean's 50-state strategy that has been the driver for the Democrats success - especially in Alaska.

Simply because the GOP is having trouble doesn't mean anything good or bad about the DNC strategy. Whether it is a good use of resources for the DNC to add staffers there is the question.

I saw a quote last week from Mike Bacelice in Texas in a story about Obama sending 15 staffers here to Texas. He scoffed at it and said he was far more worried that majority of Texas GOP voters say things are 'off-track'; that's the real problem! The bigger picture is that these investments (of a few staffers) dont matter much except in the margin. The margin wont be close in Texas, so I am thrilled that Obama is dividing and wasting his resources in Texas, as it indicates a hubris about his election that will make him more beatable. He's getting the same problem Dean had in the runup to Iowa, a very expensive top-heavy campaign.

But that doesnt mean they are being total dummies. They are coming to Texas to look for state Rep races they can influence, and even though they will lose Texas for sure, they could flip a state house race or two on the backs of Obama coattails. We ignore this activity at our risk! The Democrats are looking at the political battlefield more holistically and if we dont match them, we will get picked apart!

Here is how we should consider the question: You have an incremental amount of money that comes in - where should you spend it? You should spend it where 'it does the most good". Is that in your strongest states? Probably not. Weakest states? Probably not. The conventional wisdom is that you go to where the action is, and swing races and swing areas is where you make the most difference. So we should be focussing most of our energy on swing House races, and swing state districts in states where the statehouse majority is in question.

The key observation is that there are swing districts in every single state. Just because Texas is a Red state and New York is a blue state doesnt mean both parties cant gain a lot in the margins there. In 2004, we swung +4 in GOP House seats in Texas, on the backs of a redistricting that was enabled when the Republicans took the state House in 2002. In New York, close races may swing up to 7 House seats to the Democrats.

The other key observation is that you need to be everywhere to take advantage of situations. That is what is going on in Alaska. The Democrat is a credible opponent, not an unemployed truck driver on disability. We need to to the same in racs across the country:So even if you have a strong incumbent and even if its a low-funded candidate, with the internet and a good communications platform and state party, you can do a creditable job on the cheap.

That is the real essense of a 50-state strategy. It is about having enough of an operation in every single state, getting every single state party viable and active enough so that every single Congressional race and as many down-ballot races as possible are contested. McCain cannot win in New York, but some staffers and some amount of money could save a few of those endangered House seats, and possibly save the statehouse Senate, with a boost from McCain. I wouldnt suggest that it's McCain's 'job' but more of a party thing.

Beyond Congress, we have state House and state Senate races that will be key this year and in 2010 as a runup to redistricting. Find the top 20 races in every state - contest them hard. Make sure we secure and lock down as many statehouse majorities as we can.

We should acknowledge one thing that we know worked: The DNCC / House Dems in 2005 worked on recruiting even in tough districts, good candidates that fit the district. So do that at the state house level. Recruit all you can and make every single house district a contested race.

I have heard the opposite (and IMHO stupid) argument, to not contest certain 'unwinnable' races so as to reduce the other sides turnout in certain local areas. That stupidity then leads to whole swaths of voters who never even get the chance to vote for a Republican and consequently have no exposure to them. Low-funded media-savvy campaigns can do a lot with a little to get a Republican message out.

We need a model for good use of resources. I have inklings that such a model would find a vast difference between how money is used today and what would be ideal (far too much for incumbents, not enough on viable challengers and too little on open seats). Some considerations:

1. We certainly need to fix state parties but it is not a matter of money, but a matter of principles, vision, organization and leadership.

2. Throwing a few staffers somewhere likely wont do much one way or the other.

3. The key areas for a successful "go everywhere" strategy are grassroots building and recruitment. Good recruitment means finding candidates that fit the district. For Republicans, a go everywhere strategy means an opportunity and challenge to get more urban candidates (read: minority, northern, urban, and in liberal areas).That means more reachout.

4. In any state from super-GOP Utah to super-Dem Rhode Island, there are opptys for both parties.

5. We need to look at the battlefield of the 10,000 races at Federal, state and local level holistically. That means candidates, campaigns and parties doing their best to help move all resources to the races and candidates where it will do the most good, all while fighting for each race as best as possible.

6. We can and we should get incumbents that are strong to help fund swing/contested races in their state and focus their reelection efforts and GOTV in contested areas - in Texas that would be Harris in particular, as the Dems try to turn that urban county blue; it would be a list of 20 or so statehouse races. See:

Cornyn and Williams should be doing their events and GOTV in these areas and boosting the local state Reps along the way. They should also be in TX-22 etc.

1 comment:

Mark Adams said...

Just came over from NextRight and wanted to let you know this is an excellent post.