This blog is mostly about research but I decided to interrupt the regularly scheduled program to weigh in on the DCCC “blacklist” of consultants who help candidates running in primaries against Democratic Caucus members.
First, let me say the rule is neither new nor surprising. The DCCC is funded by Members and by donors who support the current Caucus and so of course it serves to protect its own membership. Second, the DCCC has always had its favorites, often former staff who have become consultants, and who are self-evidently in a mutually supportive relationship with the status quo at the DCCC (which I am quite certain is also the case at the NRSC). The only difference is there is now a form, rather than the classic “hire your friends” habit that remains part of most political (and other) institutions.
I did immediately wonder, however, whether anyone really thinks depriving insurgent candidates of establishment consultants hampers their chances. While smart and with abundant technical skills, consultants are generally not well-prepared to assist insurgent revolts.
Still, my firm did help some insurgents historically (and in most cycles we were not a Committee favorite). So here, free of charge, are some questions insurgents should answer for themselves in assessing and planning strategy. These questions should serve as a guide as well for incumbents in assessing their vulnerabilities.
What has changed? The insurgent is working to unseat someone whom the district has chosen before. You need to identify what has changed to develop an insurgent strategy. The change can be among voters as the result of shifting demographics, or district lines, or levels of participation. Or the change can be in the incumbent, or his/her relationship to the district: like he/she doesn’t live there, doesn’t communicate, votes against voters’ interests, or has become self-important and/or distant in some way.
Where can you find the votes to win? Usually in a congressional district, fewer than 60,000 votes are cast in primaries, although in some districts the number may inflate this year if the primary is at the same time as the presidential primary. In many cases, the number is far lower: In NY 14, when AOC defeated Joe Crowley, fewer than 30,000 votes were cast. Come up with a reasonably high guesstimate and figure out where your 50 percent plus 1 can come from. If you are a different kind of candidate who can excite a different level of participation, support may be from people who have not previously voted in a primary. (Incumbents: do not limit communications to the core of party activists who have voted in the last four primaries.)
What do you have to say that is new and different and relates to the above? The insurgent is unlikely to win unless (a) something has changed and (b) the insurgent is representative of that change and/or the need for change. I have seen insurgents win because voters wanted economic change and the insurgent spoke to that; because the incumbent (state legislator) also held a second job and the insurgent knocked on every door and said he would work for voters full time; because the incumbent was invisible in key constituencies and the insurgent had the capacity to motivate those same voters; because the insurgent had experienced and survived discrimination by institutions the incumbent embraced. In each case, the key element was clarity in what needs to change and an insurgent who represented the change.
Are you willing to go door-to-door? Door-to-door canvassing remains the most effective form of communication and the incumbent, stuck in Washington (or your state Capitol if you are running for a legislative seat) won’t be able to do as much. If people have talked to you personally, and haven’t heard from the incumbent except through paid advertising, you are advantaged. Internet organizing (as opposed to using the internet like a TV channel) can also be very effective as people are hearing from those they know and trust.
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If, as an insurgent, you cannot answer these questions affirmatively, you probably will not win. And if incumbents are genuinely and broadly reaching out to their district’s constituencies – seeking advice and genuinely listening across divides of age, gender, race, ethnicity, and income – they are unlikely to lose.
Far less important in the calculus: Who has consultants approved by the DCCC.
Next Post: Back to the regularly scheduled program.