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Compete Everywhere



In the aftermath of the Kansas special election, there was a lot of the typical Democratic infighting, with the left angry that Democrats didn’t do more in a district that swung over 20 points from Trump since November. The question is, should the DCCC actually have done something. Would investing resources moved an already active and angry electorate in an very hostile district to Democrats to push our candidate over the top? There’s an argument that some made that in this district, active Democratic involvement would have reminded voters that they are Republicans and hurt the Democrat. Maybe. But I think Yglesias is right–the DCCC is very reliant on consultants who don’t really know what they are doing, and thus the targeting that they want to do, focusing only on certain races is a very bad idea, especially at a time like this when you have unprecedented Democratic mobilization. That doesn’t mean that the online left is right and that Kansas is ready to elect leftists. But it does mean that in a situation like you see today, the opportunities are actually pretty limitless to win some seemingly unwinnable campaigns, if you try.

The risks of a new approach are large. In particular, party leaders worry about burnout. They worry that the same grassroots who this morning are frustrated that the party didn’t invest in a 5-point loss in Kansas would be even more frustrated today if a massive effort had resulted in a 2-point loss. That asking the same grassroots brigade to trudge toward what’s still a long-shot race in Georgia would be counterproductive. Better, the thinking goes, to temper expectations, count overperforming in Kansas as a win, and look ahead to the relatively winnable race in Georgia.

Party people also worry, sensibly, that a strong message for national fundraising may not be a good fit for actual districts. The national outpouring of grassroots enthusiasm for Wendy Davis’s support of abortion rights is a cautionary tale here. There are some very real trends making Texas more Democratic, but nobody (including Davis’s campaign) really thought abortion was the best issue — as opposed to Medicaid expansion, say, or school funding — for Texas Democrats to highlight.

The specter of a bunch of amateur-hour pundits and online organizers ginning up enthusiasm for a handful of lovable long shots and firebrands with weak teams and poor district fit, only to walk away when the whole thing crashes and burns, makes party insiders nervous with good reason.

All that said, if your key asset is expertise at identifying winning candidates and helping them win elections, then a record of losing elections becomes a problem. Having lost power at all levels of politics, the strategic acumen of the Democratic Party’s leadership is bound to come into question.

Failure to identify a potential victory in Kansas is hardly the greatest sin in the world, but it reenforces the basic reality that targeting decisions are made by people who are more fallible than they would probably like to admit. Spreading resources thinly would, necessarily, entail a certain amount of waste. But it would also put less pressure on expert judgment to be infallible and give more due to the fickle nature of reality.

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