Welcome back to the weekly Nuts & Bolts Guide to small campaigns. We are at the time of year when candidates start filing to run in districts all over the country. The same questions come from candidates immediately: Why aren’t national party bodies dumping tons of money into my race already? Where are the magic lists that raise tons of money quickly? (Psst… they don’t exist.)
This week in Nuts & Bolts, I want to talk about how the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) decide where money will be spent, and how they make the choices they do.
Candidates often feel as though DCCC or DSCC should come running in and offer them access to early resources, research, staff, and the best possible media campaign manageable. They want these things and, well, they don’t get them.
Before I even get started, I want to point out that DCCC and DSCC aren’t always right, and that they can come in too late to the race. Still, let’s talk about why they sit and wait, or make the choices they do before election day.
DSCC and DCCC are not bottomless pits, and are built by incumbents
One of the first things we need to establish is that DCCC and DSCC are organizations that have decent funds, but as organizations, one of their chief goals will be incumbent protection. The reason for this boils down to the fact that the people who raise money into DSCC and DCCC are, in fact, the current incumbents. As a result, when the time comes to divide resources, incumbents who are in tough races are going to get a push to help make sure we retain solid votes. If we lose incumbents that we know are in winnable districts when they have cash on hand, it becomes difficult to retain or grow the caucus. Failure to protect incumbents also means that incumbents have less interest in raising money into DSCC or DCCC, which hurts everyone. So, incumbent protection? That is where things start.
After you get past the period of incumbent protection, you turn to look at winnable districts. Using a set of turnout numbers combined with registered Democratic voters, past precedent from elections and new shaping under the new census, decisions are made as to which districts or states are the most likely to be potential flips and gains. From this list, you can determine where resources might go.
Wait, what does this “might” mean?
Just because a district has a chance to flip doesn’t mean the resources are assured. There will always be a test of viability attached on some level. If a campaign never gets off the ground, and the finances never come together on their own, then DCCC and DSCC have decisions to make about its viability. They aren’t going to come in and rescue a campaign that looks troubled. If your candidate is simply unlikable or if the campaign is an early divided primary, these organizations will absolutely stay out.
When you come to count on resources coming and you are disappointed that it isn’t happening, ask yourself if you have done enough to make sure you are seen as viable before you get going. The more viable your campaign appears to be, the more likely it is you continue to raise funds and the more interest you receive from donors as well as the national organizations.
What about even smaller races?
Does your state legislature have Senate and House caucuses? Those often have their own funds that work nearly identically to the national funding method. These bodies work by the exact same guidelines: Protect incumbents first, then invest in districts that they believe they can win.
At the state level, however, a House and Senate caucus will have fewer resources, and thanks to gerrymandered districts, the number of targets can really vary state by state.
Get yourself on the radar by making contacts, touches, raising funds, and staying in touch. It is the easiest way to get yourself in a position for support at the state level from your statehouse organizations.