Political Strategy: Examining Potential Outcomes genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation


The following posting is the fifth entry in a continuing Thought Theater dialogue on political strategy. The first posting, Political Strategy: The Opening Dialogue, can be found here, the second posting, Political Strategy: Beyond Extremist Labels can be found here, the third posting, Political Strategy: The Numbers Speak can be found here, the fourth posting, Political Strategy: Splitting The Baby can be found here. In addition, other related postings can be found here, here, and here.

Nothing better explains the current divide in the Democratic Party than looking at fundraising and spending strategies. Depending upon who one chooses to get ones information from may determine which strategy one believes is succeeding or failing. Whatever conclusion one makes, it points to a problem within the Party leadership between competing factions. Meanwhile, the strategies for the blame game are in full bloom as the November election approaches. Perhaps the best analysis I have seen on the subject is this article from Real Clear Politics.

Before getting into the details within the article, let me provide some data on the numbers. First, the following fundraising summary is as of June 30, 2006 and is from MyDD.com:

The House


June Receipts: $9,544,655
June Disbursements: $5,014,981
Cash on hand: $26,492,809


June Receipts: $9.8 million
June Disbursements: (Unknown as of this post)
Cash on hand: $32 million

The Senate


June Receipts: $4.8 million
June Disbursements: (Unknown as of this post)
Cash on hand: $19.9 million


June Receipts: $8.8 million
June Disbursements: $4.6 million
Cash on hand: $37.7 million

The Parties


June Receipts: $8,967,429
June Disbursements: $7,415,741
Cash on hand: $44,681,057


June Receipts: $5,883,982
June Disbursements: $5,375,270
Cash on hand: $10,849,337

The above date reflects the latest numbers for both parties through the end of June (with one noted exception) and has been compiled from multiple sources. While this data gives a current snapshot of where each Party stands, it doesn't tell the entire story. One must also look at the spending that has already occurred this election year to fully understand the situation. The following data can be found at Political Money Line.

DEM Receipts

REP Receipts

DEM Expenditures

REP Expenditures



Individuals TO DEMS

Individuals TO REPS

To summarize the full year, the numbers (rounded to nearest million) are as follows:

Total DEM receipts - 221 million

Total DEM expenditures - 160 million

Total REP receipts - 329 million

Total REP expenditures - 258 million (June NRSC figure not available)

As of June 30, 2006, the following is the cash on hand for each Party:

DEMS - 91 million

REPS - 81 million

With this data, one can begin to attempt an analysis. Clearly, the Democrats are in a far better position than they typically find themselves as this relates to cash on hand and they have raised more money than in similar previous election cycles. That is good news and while some have criticized Howard Dean, he has done a good job raising money for the DNC. The disagreement begins when one endeavors to decipher the spending strategy.

From Real Clear Politics:

One reason for this is that the DNC under Dean has been spending a large amount of cash on activities unrelated to the midterm. It has already spent about 90% of the funds it has raised in this election cycle. The rift that divides Dean and Emanuel reportedly has to do with the fact that Dean has apparently told him that the DNC is not going to support the Fall campaign to the DCCC's satisfaction.

Instead, Dean is pursuing what he calls the "50 State Strategy." According to the DNC, its purpose is: "to (win) elections at every level in every region of the country." Specifically, the plan calls for the following elements:

1. The Democratic Party is hiring organizers chosen by the state parties in every state - experienced local activists who know their communities.
2. We bring those organizers together for summits where they can learn from each other the best practices for getting organized to win elections.

3. Armed with the knowledge they've shared with each other, Democratic organizers return to the states and recruit and train leaders at the local level.

4. Those local leaders recruit more leaders and volunteers until every single precinct in their area has a trained, effective organization of Democrats dedicated to winning votes for Democrats.

At the same time, one must look at the year to date expenditures for both parties in order to attempt to conclude whether the Dean Fifty State Strategy is a risk worth taking during an election cycle…an election that has more potential for Democratic gains than any in recent history. If one assumes that the majority of spending by both parties to date has been focused on similar goals...building a national structure (50 states), the numbers seem to favor the Republicans. They have invested nearly 100 million more dollars than the Democrats in 2006. If one only looks at the spending of the RNC and the DNC the disparity is less but it remains significant - the RNC has still spent approximately 52 million more dollars.

More from Real Clear Politics:

[...] The GOP has for a long time been better at the business of politics than the Democrats. Their organization has been more coherent, with members being generally unified on party goals, and more efficient, with an apparatus quite capable of achieving party goals.

Will this matter on November 7? Absolutely it will. A more efficient, coherent GOP organization will be an organization that mobilizes its electorate better than the opposition. What this most likely means is that the GOP will be able to "beat the spread" in November. Their organizational excellence has enabled them to do this at least five times in the last twenty five years - 1982, 1986, 1994, 1996, and 2002. These are years when the party either gained more House seats or lost fewer House seats than expected. It was the GOP organization that also made the difference for Bush in 2000 and 2004.

So what can one infer from this information? First, there is no doubt that the Democratic Party needs a better nationwide structure and to that end Dean is correct. However, given the advantage that the Republican Party has held for a number of election cycles, as well as the fact that they have significantly outspent Dean in maintaining and expanding their structure, one might reasonably conclude that Dean's Fifty State Strategy may have minimal impact this November. Therein lay the core of the conflict between Dean and Rahm Emanuel...the most vocal critic of the Dean strategy.

More from Real Clear Politics:

In the long run, this is the kind of party building which the Democrats must affect if they wish to match the Republicans, who are today organizationally superior. So why has Dean's plan so incensed Emanuel?

The reason is that it will not have any net electoral benefit in 2006 - on any level. This year, the way to maximize the number of successful Democratic candidates is to fund the candidates. To the extent that Dean is not doing this, he is not helping the party's campaign efforts. Presumably, Emanuel is angry because this year is the Democrats' best chance to take the House since 1996; Dean, from this perspective, is passing on a historic opportunity.

Even in a year where the Democrats did not have such an opportunity, this strategy would probably still raise eyebrows. Party building is not usually emphasized in election years - for two reasons. First, it can just as easily be done in the off year; but elections cannot be won in the off year. Second, party building is necessarily a means to an end, which is winning elections. Thus, when faced with a choice of spending money directly on promising campaigns or building the party, we would expect a party leader to choose the campaign route. Dean's spending decisions seem like his principal goal is to build the party - with electoral success being a secondary goal. Dean is actually directing party resources in a way that runs contrary to the definition of a political party that political scientists accept: a team whose purpose is to win elections.

One must then attempt to understand what motivations are driving this riff. It would be easiest to conclude that it is merely a difference of opinion with regard to basic strategy. However, it appears to me to be about much more. During the 2004 presidential campaign, Dean was largely the Party outsider. His efforts focused on building a grassroots following and he quickly emerged as a candidate to be reckoned with. That happened primarily because he became the darling of the progressive blogosphere which provided him with a fundraising vehicle that had never before been so well exploited.

I've previously argued that despite his early successes, the advantage provided by the far reaching support from the blogosphere never translated into the numbers needed within the primaries...particularly in Iowa where many felt he was positioned to bring forth the grassroots followers in order to win the ground game...long believed to be the key to an Iowa victory. It simply didn't happen and his campaign never recovered.

It was clear that Dean felt shut out by the Democratic establishment. Nonetheless, after the election he quickly mobilized his activist supporters...a group one might better equate with middle management...a business model that I think more clearly defines and explains the Dean 2004 campaign. While many might contend it was a grassroots effort; that description only explains a point in an evolutionary process and that subtle but critical distinction is fundamental to understanding what happened then as well as what Dean is attempting to make happen today.

The business model also better defines the Dean following and helps explain his poor showing in Iowa. One might conclude that he had built a “structure" but simply didn't have the time to crank out the end product. In other words, his grassroots effort was never completed because it simply didn't have enough time to fully evolve. The mid-level people were in place to begin the final push but time eclipsed the process. Nonetheless, when it came time to elect the new Democratic Chairman, Dean did have the benefit of having that group, and hence the necessary votes, in place.

More from Real Clear Politics:

The key to the puzzle, then, lies in the composition of the DNC itself: its members voted for Dean knowing that he would pursue the 50 State Strategy with such gusto. Why would they do this? An examination of its membership rules helps to clarify matters. Like the RNC, the DNC allocates three membership spots to each state; unlike the RNC, it then also allocates additional members to each state based roughly upon population. It also has spots for "at large" members, for elected state officials and members of Congress, for college Democrats and for women.

So, there is a large bloc of members in the DNC who (a) do not matter much for national Democratic politics and (b) come from organizationally weak state parties. As a matter of fact, if - as a candidate for the DNC chairmanship - you won the support of all of the delegates from the states that Bush won by 5% or more in 2004 and states with historically weak party organizations, you would have the support of 95 members, almost half of what you would need to win.

In other words, the DNC's makeup could enable a candidate to run and win on a platform of promising aid to regions that sport organizationally and/or electorally weak Democratic organizations. This seems to be what Dean did. The first assertion he made when he announced his candidacy was: "The Democratic Party needs a vibrant, forward-thinking, long-term presence in every single state and we must be willing to contest every race at every level. We will only win when we show up and fight for the issues important to all of us." Which type of party leader would prefer such a strategy? Is it the leader from a state with a robust and successful Democratic organization, or the leader from a state with an anemic and unsuccessful organization? Assuredly, it is the latter. The former, on whose turf most of the big electoral fights occur, does not require the kind of party building the 50 State Strategy promises. Talk about beefing up party organizations to contest - as opposed to win - elections is talk designed for weak organizations in conservative states.

It therefore seems that Dean was elected by promising remedial assistance to lagging Democratic organizations. Today, he is doing what he promised, which is what his constituents - the state party leaders who elected him - prefer. So also is Emanuel. He was selected by his colleagues as DCCC chairman to bring about a Democratic majority in the House. All members of the Democratic caucus have two goals: first, secure their own reelections; second, build the caucus. Emanuel promised to work toward these goals.

So, Dean's constituents prefer one strategy; Emanuel's constituents prefer another. This answers our puzzle. The strategic problems that the Democrats have are actually due to the fact that its party insiders - the ones in charge of electing the leaders we see on TV - prefer different strategies. Accordingly, it is as inappropriate to blame Dean for the Democrats' dilemma as it is to blame Emanuel. The problem is, at its core, an organizational one. Dean and Emanuel are being responsible to their constituents. The real problem is that their constituents disagree.

That brings us to where we are today. I've previously commented on the significance of the Lieberman v. Lamont Connecticut Senate race and I see that race as a perfect model for what is actually happening within the Democratic Party. Going back to the business model, I would assert that we have a middle management uprising whereby they believe the existing senior management is out of touch with the voting public. What remains to be seen is whether those who quickly rose to middle management positions can actually deliver the work force (voters).

Those who can be identified as the progressive netroots...people that I would argue were a part of (or can be equated with) Dean's middle management structure see the Lieberman v. Lamont race as an opportunity to demonstrate that they can deliver the voters and in so doing unseat the senior management (beltway Democrats). In other words, they (the middle management), in conjunction with Howard Dean...although only on parallel paths, are simply seeking to bring to bear the maturation of what Dean initiated during the 2004 presidential campaign.

Strategically for the netroots, a Lamont win keeps the incubation moving forward although it may remain difficult to extrapolate the significance nationally. That may depend upon the Party's November national scorecard. If Lamont were to win and the Democrats were to take control of the House, the netroots and Dean may be able to lay claim to reconstituting the Party and it may well emerge with a clearer direction and more unified.

On the other hand, if the Democratic Party fails to do well nationally...and I might suggest that the bar is set such that failing to win control of at least the House will likely be seen as a failure...it may well undermine the Dean Fifty State Strategy. That may well hinder the netroots effort to assert more influence within the Party...especially if Dean is seen as the fall guy should the Democrats do poorly. What could ensue is the cessation of the parallel efforts of Dean and the progressive netroots…as Dean could be unseated and replaced by a beltway operative. A poor Democratic showing coupled with a Lamont loss could potentially spell the end of the entire effort to redefine the Party.

At the very least, I remain concerned that after the November election the Democratic Party may be as divided as it now appears. Worst case, the midterm election may only set the stage for an even bloodier battle for control of the Party in anticipation of the 2008 presidential election. I’m doubtful that the 2006 election will provide the clarity and consensus the Democrats so desperately need. That is unfortunate and may have ramifications for many years to come. The conclusion offered by Real Clear Politics is the best guess as to what will actually happen in November that I’ve seen to date.

Virtually nobody in the Washington press cabal cares a whit about party organization. They tend to focus exclusively on "sexy" political stories. Talk about party organizational coherence is not sexy, but on Election Day it matters a great deal. In what Michael Barone calls the "49-49 nation," the party that will get to half-plus-one is the party with the more coherent and efficient organization. Today, that party is the GOP.

Daniel DiRito | July 21, 2006 | 10:21 AM
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