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Funding The Red District Campaign: Officeholders and PAC’s

by Stuart ONeill

What is most difficult part of organizing the viable Red District Campaign? It is creating seed money funding and the resultant hiring of professional staff. When running against well-funded professionals, the Democratic Candidate needs professionals in his campaign as well. So it boils down to early money. As Emily’s List has said for so long: Early Money Is Like Yeast.

In Red District elections routine measures of campaign viability, the ‘conventional wisdom’, do not apply. So what is the state of routine measurement in Washington, DC? Secondly, how can existing Officeholders and Political Action Committees of all types and for all causes help change the Red District campaign paradigm?

It is ritual in Washington, DC not to pay serious attention to any Congressional candidate, particularly Red Districts, until they hit $100,000 in funds raised. When that threshold has been met, the DCCC and other organizations begin paying attention. Doors begin to open. In Blue Districts, Open Seat Districts and closely contested races this may be a reasonable method of distinguishing between campaign organizations that are viable and those that are not.

Secondly, Washington and the PAC’s have an aversion to participating in a Democratic Primary Election. While understandable in contested Democratic Primaries, most Red District campaigns have only one Democratic Candidate. There is, realistically, no ‘stampede’ to compete in the most difficult of races against money and incumbency.

In the difficult Red District election money and avoidance of primary participation are not reasonable standards to use to judge whether or not to help the Campaign.

By definition, these campaigns are against Republican held seats. Routinely it is a Republican dominated district. District Democrats are usually not even aware that a viable campaign can be mounted in their district when the ‘conventional wisdom’ is that “Oh well, we’re stuck with the jerk again this election.

Many times even activist Democrats don’t take effective action and mount only a token campaign.

There are, however, districts that are difficult but viable in 2008.

*Look at Barry Welsh’s Indiana-06 finish in 2006 with only $50,000 in funds. Against Mike Pence, a right-wing Republican leader with a very large warchest, Welsh got 40% of the vote.
* Scott Kleeb in Nebraska-03 did very, very well with a larger bankroll but in a district without a history of Democratic competition.
*Eric Massa in New York-29 had a credible campaign with substantial national endorsements. Still fundraising was an issue I’m told.
*Steve Young in CA-48 faces a formidable candidate and continues an effective fight into 2008.

All were, and are, viable candidates. Each is the only candidate in a difficult Red District. All have experience. All are dynamic candidates in Red Districts. [Political Interviews will be seeking an interview with all these at it returns to action.]

The biggest drawback to any Red District organization is hiring solid, professional talent so they can raise the funds necessary to field a viable campaign. Seed Money in a Red District is very difficult to raise.

So how can Officeholders, state and federal, help seed fund these races and others?

With the reality of non-contested Primaries, Officeholders, using the smallest of contributions, can have an impact on a campaign far beyond the size of the contribution. For example: Assuming the federal officeholders in Indiana chose to support a few Red District campaigns with a simple contribution of $1000 the accumulation of those Democratic officeholders would allow the hiring of a qualified, experienced Finance Director and, perhaps, a Field Coordinator.

What would the logic of that small contribution?
A: A viable campaign presumes organizing the district for maximum effectiveness. Even if the 2008 campaign does not win, it has created a better structure for statewide and national campaigns. The organized District will turn out more votes for Democratic Candidates. Over a period of time, using the right tactics, a repeated effort to organize the district while contesting elections can even bring the District closer to parity.

B: Supporting a courageous, qualified candidate in an election cycle where Republicans are held in disrepute and the majority of their policies are polling in negative numbers simply makes good political sense. With professional help, good fundraising, innovative use of organization and media, these candidates have a real possibility of winning in 2008. The Key is the initial fundraising. Only then can the professional staff can be hired and activated.

So how can state and federal officeholders help?
1. By accepting the phone calls and visits of Red District candidates.
2. By taking these candidates seriously and giving them an audience.
3. After interviewing and examining the campaigns, choose several to support with more than just a contribution. How? Give an endorsement. Open their own fundraising operations to assist the smaller staffs of the Red District Candidates. Recruit other Officeholders, even outside the same state, to open their doors and give the Candidates an audience…and opportunity. Use the Officeholders influence with PAC’s to also give the Candidate the audience he/she might not otherwise get.

Have the PAC’s repeat the same steps and a Red District campaign, with a viable, qualified candidate, can create the foundation for a very professional competitive campaign.

Seem simple and obvious? The innovative change in political process usually does seem simple and obvious once articulated.

“Gee, that’s fairly straight forward. Why weren’t we doing this before? It won’t take much staff time, It won’t cost much from the campaign warchest. It will create, at minimum, more Democratic votes for our candidates. Hmmm, run this up the line and let’s get this put together.”

Let’s see what the response of Officeholders and PAC’s might be to the concept.

(Please forward this article to your state and federal incumbents as well as any PAC’s that you know. This could directly impact the 2008 cycle.)
(Disclosure: I was Communications Director for Steve Young in 2005. I have interviewed Scott Kleeb both before and after the 2006 election at Political Interviews. I am currently a member of the ‘kitchen cabinet’ for Barry Welsh. I pick these candidates to highlight in this article as I am most familiar with them. There are others, of course.)

One Response to “Funding The Red District Campaign: Officeholders and PAC’s”

  1. Here, here.
    One intractable problem that happens is if, there is indeed a contested Democratic primary in a rural district (a good thing, sort of), then there is a dilemma. While I’m against primary endorsements generally, if one candidate is getting momentum, it is best to endorse that candidate to attract the big money from the coasts.
    But the one thing I am focused on is training local people everywhere, in campaign management skills.