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Stuart Rothenberg

In the matter of Stuart Rothenberg versus MyDD (see here, here, and here), I come down firmly on Jerome and Chris’ side. Greg went and saved me the time of writing most of what I think needed to be said about this. The strategy he discusses of recruiting Party Builder types to fill out the slates in low-return districts is one he and I have talked about at some lenghth, and it’s something I fully endorse.

There are a few things I’d like to add to this conversation. One has to do with something Jesse Lee says in response to Greg’s post:

Nobody at the DCCC is stopping [the Party Builders] from running. If there is such a person in every district, who is willing to do all that and much more (forget weekends, running for Congress is full time, so give up your income; having their name dragged through the mud, etc.), then please do come forth, as we would certainly prefer a candidate in every district as well. We don’t appoint candidates, we help recruit when we can, but we can not just “trot out 70 year old former State Supreme Court Justices” as Greg suggests for state races. We cannot “trot out” anybody in fact, as they need to consent to giving up their lives. We also do not maintain any monopoly on recruitment, encouraging candidates to run is open to all, from bloggers to state party chairs.

Jesse’s right – candidate recruitment is everyone’s responsibility. Frankly, this is an area where I’d like to see the DFA-type activist wing take more ownership. This is exactly the sort of cause that’s well-suited for rabble-rousing change-the-world idealists. You have the power, as someone once said.

There are a few things the DCCC could do to help grease the skids for this sort of thing. Both Chris and Jerome have suggested creating a pool of seed money to get these candidates started. Ten grand a pop to cover filing fees and startup costs for a hundred or so races (incumbents and those who can raise their own money don’t need this help) would probably be enough, and would I think give you a pretty decent return on the relatively small investment. Providing domain names and web hosting, plus some professional-looking templates for campaign sites that could be easily and quickly set up would be very helpful. If you really want to make a long-term investment, how about a national candidates’ school to train potential nominees in the basics of campaign reality? Such a thing may already exist, but how many people who aren’t already a candidate know about it and could get in on it if they thought they might want to give it a try? Some of these things could also be done at the state level, too.

An objection I’ve heard to this run-every-race idea is that by funding the Don and Donna Quixotes of the world, we’d be taking money away from the races we could win. I disagree with the premise that the amount of money available to a political party and its candidates is static and zero-sum. If we learned anything from the Year Of The Online Campaign, it’s that by reaching out to folks who haven’t been reached out to previously, we can grow the pie higher. Remember all those articles from 2003 which talked about President Bush’s insurmountable fundraising advantage? I’m not saying that there’s an unlimited amount of moolah out there waiting to be plucked, but I sure don’t believe we’ve reached the bottom of the well.

Rothenberg himself subscribes to that fixed-amount thesis when he writes:

Last cycle, Markos Moulitsas (whose Web bio does not mention any campaign experience) of Daily Kos promoted a number of Democratic House candidates, including Missouri’s Jim Newberry and Ohio’s Jeff Seeman and Ben Konop as good targets for fundraising assistance. Newberry drew 28 percent of the vote against Rep. Roy Blunt (R), while Seeman hauled in 33 percent against Rep. Ralph Regula (R). Konop topped the trio, taking 41 percent against Rep. Mike Oxley (R).

All three races were unwinnable from day one for the Democrats, so raising cash for those challengers was about as useful as flushing money down the toilet.

I won’t dispute the notion that it would have been foolish for the DCCC to divert money from more competitive races into these campaigns, but that isn’t what happened anyway and it isn’t what Kos was aiming to do with his adopted standard bearers. I daresay that the folks who raised a fair bit of the cash these candidates took in came from people who by and large would not have given that money to anyone else. I’m speculating here, but maybe some of those same first-time donors, having come to realize that even their little bit can help make a difference, also made donations to more “serious” candidates, and maybe some (most? all?) of them will now be receptive to giving again in 2006. If so, I call that an investment, not a waste.

(By the way, something Rothenberg doesn’t tell you: In 2002, Blunt’s opponent got 23 percent of the vote, while Regula’s got 31 percent and Oxley’s got 32. Sometimes it takes more than one cycle to beat an entrenched incumbent. Just ask Congresswoman Melissa Bean.)

The difference between a visionary and a crank isn’t always in the vision itself. Sometimes it’s in the execution of that vision. We may all be pie-in-the-sky idealists over here, but please wait until after the 2006 elections to see if we’re visionaries or cranks.

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2 Comments

  1. I think you’re right. Remember the old saying that “all politics is local”? It may not be true now that Internet fundraising is such a big deal, and may not have been entirely true since the early days of direct mail, but I’d say it’s at least partly true. I suspect that Lorenzo Sadun and some of the other Quixotes in this last post-redistricting race got a good bit of their money from people who wouldn’t have given to candidates outside their district.

    And money aside, a voter who sees the Dems giving up on their home town is a lot more likely to become apathetic about the top of the ticket, too. Running candidates everywhere should be a basic part of the get-out-the-vote strategy for statewide and national races. (Alas, the same principle works top down, too: how many Texas Democrats are sufficiently discouraged at being disenfranchised by the electoral college system that they don’t bother to vote for local ones, either?)

    On a different topic: I recently heard an interview with one of the Republican beneficiaries of the gerrymandering, I forget which one. He argued that Austin was better off having a piece of four districts than having a district of its own, and his reason was basically that we now have four votes for our share of the pork instead of just one. Pretty funny coming from a Republican, and pretty sad.

  2. Boadicea says:

    “I suspect that Lorenzo Sadun and some of the other Quixotes in this last post-redistricting race got a good bit of their money from people who wouldn’t have given to candidates outside their district.”

    I know he did, because I was one of them. I also sent money to races both in Texas and in other states that I learned of from the blogosphere.

    And, no, that money wouldn’t have gone to the DCCC. It would have stayed in my pocket.

    I’m still paying off the credit cards from that. And I do not consider a dime of that money wasted. I feel a bit more conflicted about the money I set to Kerry/Edwards GELAC and the DNC, but thems the breaks.

    And Mr. Rothenberg can kiss my rosy red ass.