September 14, 2005
Martin Frost says: Run Everywhere!

Please welcome to the Run Everywhere Club former Congressman Martin Frost. From an open letter he sent to Howard Dean, Chuck Schumer, and Rahm Emanuel:

It’s time to throw out the traditional playbook and be bold as you plan for the 2006 elections. There is a real possibility that next year’s contest will be a landslide for Democrats and you need to be prepared to win.

Specifically, Emanuel and Schumer should file candidates for every single Congressional seat and every single Senatorial seat in the country, even those that have traditionally been Republican. And the DNC should be encouraging state legislative leaders throughout the country to take similar action on the state house and senate levels.


Ever since losing the House and Senate in 1994, Democrats have narrowed rather than expanded the playing field. The theory was to concentrate resources in those races where we had the best chance to win. That strategy was successful for House Democrats in 1996 and 1998 when we picked up a total of 14 seats despite being badly outspent by Republicans. But it didn’t get us back into the majority and it led to a stalemate in the next three elections. Senate Democrats picked up a few seats last time around, but ultimately were dealt a significant loss in 2004.

It’s now time to shoot the moon. Recruit and file everywhere and then late in the cycle decide which races present the best opportunities. Be prepared to win some seats that you don’t deserve because the “force is with you.”

If necessary, the Party should pay the filing fees to encourage some candidates to enter the fray. Remember that the Republicans elected some “accidental Congressmen” in 1994 that only lasted one term — like those who defeated Dan Rostenkowski and Jack Brooks — but were there when they took control.

This represents quite a change from how Frost viewed the landscape last year:

We cannot afford to swing wildly at every pitch hoping for a homerun. We need to pick our pitches carefully, hit singles and doubles and run bases aggressively.

As it happens, Ruy Teixeira points to research which suggests that pouring the most money into a few key races is a suboptimal use of resources.

[I]t is hard to peg the exact point at which the returns from campaign spending become so negligible as to be worthless. Still, it is safe to say for the vast majority of candidates that the impact of expenditures beyond $1 million is heavily attenuated. What that means is simple: spending past $1 million gains far fewer votes (and maybe none at all) than does earlier spending.

Targeted races are inevitably among the most expensive in country with both sides going all out to help their candidate across the finish line. Diminishing marginal returns mean that the effect of their help is severely limited. Put another way, campaign spending is like moving a boulder up a hill. The higher the dollar altitude, the steeper the path becomes and the less the boulder moves with the same force. By concentrating on races where the paths are steepest, the parties (who are pushing against one another anyway) move very few voters....

Because of diminishing returns, we know that a large investment in an expensive race will bring few votes, while a small investment in a cheaper race may bring many. Parties shy away from the latter on the grounds that hopeless candidates are hopeless causes. But the math says different. Suppose that we could increase the odds of twenty candidates from 5 to 10 percent for the same cost of helping two candidates with 45 percent chances get to 50 percent. By helping the twenty hapless candidates, we would increase the expected number of victories from 20 x 0.05 = 1 to 20 x 0.10 = 2. By helping the well-heeled candidates, we would increase the expected number of victories from 2 x .45 = 0.90 to 2 x .50 = 1. The first investment portfolio has an expected return of 1 additional victory, while the second one is just one-tenth of an additional victory.

That is a fairly realistic scenario. Seventy challengers in 2004 spent between $100,000 to $500,000, and 19 of them won at least 40 percent of the vote. Boosting their spending by as little as $50,000 or $100,000 would have a discernable effect on their chances, while increasing expenditures by $500,000 in an expensive race would likely have little effect. Parties ignore long shots because viewed individually no single candidate has a particularly good chance of winning. But as a group, long shots are ripe with possibility because of their numbers and because their low spending gives parties a chance to influence their chances. Targeting overlooks many potential winners....

The bottom line is that targeting does not help parties win elections. Instead, it impels them into high-spending races where the value of their contributions is minimal. The narrow group of targeted contests excludes many other elections where they have a distinct, albeit distant, chance of winning. By focusing so sharply on top-tier races, the parties effectively narrow the playing field in congressional elections, limiting their potential gains. And, all of their actions are predicated on their ability to predict which races will be close well before the election, an inherently dubious endeavor.

Amen. The goal has to be to retake at least one legislative chamber in 2006. It's long past time for the Bush administration to have some actual checks and balances on it, and the best way to do that is to give it some Congressional oversight. Take advantage of those sub-40 popularity numbers and make this simple, straightforward case to the voters. If not now, then when?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 14, 2005 to Election 2006 | TrackBack

I saw Frost's letter yesterday and here's the problem, Kuff.

It's not the "run everywhere" strategy, "run everywhere" is something parties should be doing anyway.

The problem is, Frost is not talking about presenting any sort of viable or acceptable alternative to the GOP, he is just hoping that by running everywhere the dems will accidentally pick up a seat or two.

Like most dems he is not addressing the problem the dems have: the democratic party is no longer considered to be a party with a viable and constructive alternative to the GOP.

All he offers in his letter is the hope that dissatisfaction with the GOP will, for some reason, cause voters to vote for the dems.

But this is not going to happen. The Democratic numbers are even lower than the GOP numbers, and the voters don't look on the dems as an acceptable alternative.

Posted by: ttyler5 on September 14, 2005 6:57 PM

Definitely have to disagree on the numbers.

In the beginning of August the DNC pollster had #'s showing a very clear vulnerability on the part of the Republicans. What it boiled down to is that you can't wield that amount of power for that amount of time and have so little to show for it and expect the continued support of the electorate. It is true that Dems need to do better in making a compelling argument for ourselves but the Republican crappy poll #'s, being a referendum on their stay in power, are far more concrete than the crappy Dem poll #'s, which I would say will climb as we get closer to the midterms and begin to (hopefully) do a better job of making our case to the voters...

More important question, I think, is what the hell is Martin Frost really doing? Gov. Dean has been touring the country talking about a 50-state strategy for months, it's been all over the DNC website and I'm sure it hasn't escaped Frost's attention? Trying to get the D-trip to spread it's money all over the country wouldn't be all that smart if he was planning on trying to retake his old seat in the House (less for him)...seems unlikely that he'd be taking another shot at being the DNC chairman...think he's just making noise to keep his name out there? Maybe a run for some other office...?

Posted by: anthony gutierrez on September 15, 2005 10:21 AM