August 04, 2004
The great Congressional debate

There's been an interesting and I think fairly useful debate going on regarding how Congressional races can and should get funded, how candidates come to be supported by the netroots and party establishment (read: DCCC), and how the two philosophies differ. Kos started it, the DCCC's Executive Director Jim Bonham responded; Greg, Ezra, Kevin Thurman, and ArchPundit have also contributed. The Stakeholder has now put up a post which summarizes the complaint and promises a full accounting of how and why they do what they do. I'm very much looking forward to it, and I hope it helps answer some questions about how things work in the DCCC. I also hope it serves to remind people that the DCCC has been way out in front of other organizations in either party in terms of engaging with the online community.

I also hope the Stakeholder's effort helps to quell some of the fire that has been (in my opinion, unjustly) aimed at them lately. I don't know exactly why it is that some people have taken the view that the DCCC is an all-powerful and unyielding monolith. There's more to electing Congressional candidates than the DCCC. I'd like to clear up a few points.

1. Candidate recruitment is the primary responsibility of the local and state parties, not the DCCC.

We'd all like to see every race contested, even if we're honest enough to admit that some seats are not now and likely never will be competitive in any meaningful sense. Think CD07 (John Culberson) and CD18 (Sheila Jackson Lee) in Texas, for example. The DCCC is about funding people who run, not finding people to run. The state and county parties are closest to the ground and in the best position to know where to find candidates when they're slow to step up on their own. They're in the best position to know what issues really matter to the voters in those districts. I don't understand why you'd want a DC-based organization to have primary responsibility for finding a candidate to run in Victoria, Texas.

It's certainly true that DCCC money, or the promise of it, can help attract candidates. That money can only help so much if the candidate is weak to begin with. I believe the job of finding good candidates must belong to the people who can actually vote for them. We do want candidates who'll be responsive to their constituents, right?

2. If you want to retake Congress, start with your state legislature.

This is a two-part message. We already know how control of the state legislature can affect a state's Congressional delegation through its power of redistricting. Having good people in your State Lege also gives you a bench to draw from when it's time to find good candidates for Congressional seats. The GOP here essentially created a seat for State Rep. Kenny Marchant, and State Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth has had her eye on Congress since she first arrived in Austin. Among the many good reasons to support Mark Strama in his run against Rep. Jack Stick is that Strama will be an excellent Congressional candidate some day, hopefully in a position to challenge Lamar Smith or Mike McCaul. That day will come a lot sooner if his legislative career begins in 2005.

3. Don't forget the local parties.

Combining points #1 and #2, long term success is not going to come from DCCC cash, and it's not going to come from the netroots. It's going to come from all of those people who say they want to change things and make a difference putting some of their time, energy, and yes, money into their local and state parties. Whatever else you may say of your locals - and here in Houston, Texas, there's much to be said - these structures exist to provide logistical support, networking, and organizational memory. There are many ways, from volunteering to answer the phones to being a precinct chair to running for office your own damn self, to contribute to making your local parties stronger, and by doing so you'll be helping more Democrats get elected.

My point here is that by getting bogged down in an argument over the merits or faults of the DCCC and the netroots, we're losing a big part of the picture. There are a lot of parts that work together, or at least should work together, to elect candidates. It's okay to focus on one, but don't forget about the others.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 04, 2004 to Election 2004 | TrackBack