Democrats Have Successfully Implemented a 50-State Strategy

Following the debacle in Iowa and the refusal of Senate Republicans to hold Trump accountable, the “Democrats in disarray” crowd is having a field day. As someone who tends to chafe at conventional wisdom, I thought I’d go against the grain and bring you some good news about Democrats. Almost no one is noticing that the party has successfully implemented a 50-state strategy when it comes to fundraising.

Howard Dean is the one who popularized the idea of a 50-state strategy back in 2005. What most people don’t know is that in promoting that idea, he was posing a direct challenge to the Democratic “establishment” of his day. Prior to his chairmanship of the DNC, the party was the focal point for fundraising and its leadership doled money out to candidates in a top-down strategy based on who they thought would be viable. Very little of that money was spent to support state parties or candidates in red states or districts that were deemed to be unviable.

Dean’s 50-state strategy would remove that power from DNC leadership, sending it back to state parties and candidates. That is precisely why his candidacy for chair of the party was so hotly contested.

I am reminded of all of that when I read headlines like this one from Axios: “Republicans Vastly Outraise Dems Ahead of 2020.”

The RNC goes into the presidential election year with more than seven times as much cash on hand as the DNC—$63 million vs. $8.3 million, according to the parties’ FEC filings.

Even Dave Weigel, who tends to support the anti-establishment approach of Bernie Sanders, echoed those sentiments when he tweeted that “The DNC’s been clobbered by the RNC in fundraising since Trump won.”

Those statements ignore the fact that the money is going directly to Democratic candidates, who are “clobbering” their Republican opponents in fundraising. One person who noticed what’s happening is Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

House Republican leaders privately conceded in a closed meeting Tuesday morning that they are in the midst of a full-blown fundraising crisis, which would imperil any chance they have at regaining their majority in 2020.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) put it bluntly: “They are kicking our ass,” he said, in a meeting at the Capitol Hill Club, the private GOP haunt around the corner from the Capitol, referring to Democrats.

Here’s what has McCarthy worried.

The Democrats who flipped GOP-held House seats in 2018 are continuing to raise money at a pace that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, while Democratic challengers are also hauling in massive amounts. Collectively, Democratic House candidates raised $105 million during the quarter, compared to $82 million for GOP contenders.

To a lesser extent, the same thing is happening in Senate races, where Democratic candidates outraised Republicans $55 million to $49 million last quarter. One thing to keep in mind about those numbers is that Republicans will be defending 23 seats in 2020, while the Democrats will be defending 12.

Prior to the 2018 midterms, I wrote about the structural changes that led to all of this. My take was inspired by this tweet from Simon Rosenberg.

Here is how a DCCC spokesman described that game-changer.

“Our committee’s key, early investments have helped Democrats harness grassroots enthusiasm and capitalize on pivotal news cycles to raise the money necessary to be competitive across such a huge House battlefield,” said Digital Press Secretary Sebastian Silva.

The money sprouted after months of groundwork by campaigns and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The DCCC placed digital staffers in each of its regional political teams for the first time this election, according to a DCCC aide, helping campaigns grow online and be prepared to capitalize on viral moments and other opportunities.

Of course, those efforts were magnified by the emergence of ActBlue as the powerhouse of online grassroots fundraising.

What we have is a Republican Party that has become increasingly dependent on large donations from outside groups and a Democratic Party fueled by grassroots donations directly to candidates. That is how a 50-state strategy is attempting to level the playing field in the era of Citizens United.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.