On winning elections

Michael Cousineau asks me why I wrote about Christine’s Q4 numbers. Mostly to provoke a discussion, which, thanks to Rich Miller and Michael picking up on my comments, it has. (For better or for worse.) It is certainly not out of animosity towards Christine (quite the contrary, I personally like her and did work on her 2004 and 2005 web sites), nor is it out of support for any other candidate. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve not had any interactions with Lindy Scott. I’ve spoken with Tammy Duckworth once, for about a half hour, by phone.

[Full post is here.

I take Michael’s comments to heart, particularly when, late in his post, he asks:

Are you really willing to believe fundraising is more important than having deep ties to the community and willing to sacrifice honest interaction with residents in order to buy more media? Are you cynical enough to put an attractive bio and electability ahead of deep ties to the district and first hand understanding of key issues?

Do you want to win this badly? As a leader in the local party who has worked very hard to advance the Democratic cause locally I can only hope what your answer is.

First off, yes, like it or not: fundraising is critical. Fundraising is to politics as running to first base is to baseball. On this front, Christine did a marvelous job in 2005. She raised nearly $250k, from thousands of contributors. That’s a remarkably broad donor base, using the same small-donor model that served Dean so well.

Like Dean, however, strong fundraising doesn’t guarantee electoral success. The money you raise needs to be spent wisely, and you need a war chest if you’re going to go to battle. Spending all but a few dollars with 60 days to go means that you won’t have access to cash when the inevitable gournd and air wars begin. As ArchPundit asked today, “my biggest concern is how do you afford the mail you need at the end of a campaign?”

I’m puzzled by the talk of “infrastructure” when Michael points to it as Christine’s competitive advantage. Is that where all the money’s been spent? If the numbers we were looking at were $235k raised and $50k spent, it’s an entirely different ballgame. But Christine has spent almost all of what she raised (her burn rate, as I mentioned, went from spending nearly 90% of what she raised in Q3 to spending over 110% of what she raised in Q4), leaving her precious few resources to compete in the home stretch. All the volunteer legwork in the world will not reach the casual voters who will likely make the difference. A motivated base is great, and I’d love nothing more than to see it in full force on primary day. But a motivated base alone will not win this election.

I remain of the opinion that traditional manifestations of successful campaigns — specifically, direct mail, broadcast advertising — are critical. And with the least amount of cash on hand of the three candidates (Lindy’s given himself $70k, Christine’s given herself $40k, which essentially makes up all of the available cash either candidate has to spend right now), she’s got a tough road ahead.

As for the closing comments in Michael’s post, which ask whether I’m quite so cynical, I’m not really sure how to answer that. I trust the process, and I trust the voters. The reason we have primaries is to decide who the right person to represent the district is. The recipe for how you go about convincing those voters is pretty straightforward — get out and meet voters, get your message in front of as many of them as possible, answer their questions. That middle piece — getting in front of them — necessarily includes broadcast advertising and direct mail. Those are expensive. Without it, you’re hamstringing your efforts, and even the strongest political machine will have a hard time overcoming the ubiquity of a candidate who can afford to reach out to the mass market.

This isn’t just about raising and spending money. Michael’s right to point to the numbers of people who are energized by Christine’s race, and for that I applaud them. As the chair of the local party here in Naperville, I want people who feel like they’re part of the process, like their efforts pay off. But as excited as I am by the enthusiasm for her campaign, I’m worried about the Christine-or-I’m-out attitude that I’m picking up in some blog posts, comments at local meetings, etc. My goal is to build a strong party. That doesn’t mean sacrificing my ideals, but it does mean focusing on the ultimate objective: winning elections. And all the excitement in the world is for naught if candidates don’t raise strong money and spend it in a way that is likely to get them elected.

When i see comments about Rahm Emmanuel being evil, I worry that the focus has shifted from winning elections to proving people in our party wrong. When I see comments about Tammy Duckworth being a pawn, I get concerned that for some, the race isn’t about getting a Democrat elected, it’s about demonstrating who has more clout in a certain area.

I want to win. I want to reestablish Democratic prominence in the House so that the destructive and corrupt policies of the past 6 years are corrected. I want to see a Democratic Party in DuPage County that recognizes the tremendous gifts the grassroots have to give, at the same time acknowledging that those who’ve a) raised considerable money, b) won elections and c) established credible organizations in their own right have a fair amount of assistance they can offer. Cynical? Hardly. If anything, it means I’m a bit idealistic.

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