Nuts & Bolts: Inside the Democratic Party: Don’t be chicken

Nuts & Bolts: Inside the Democratic Party: Don’t be chicken

It’s another Sunday, so for those who tune in, welcome to a diary discussing the Nuts & Bolts of a Democratic campaign. If you’ve missed out, you can catch up any time: Just visit our group or follow the Nuts & Bolts Guide. Every week I try to tackle issues I’ve been asked about. With the help of other campaign workers and notes, we address how to improve and build better campaigns, or explain issues that impact our party.

You’ve all seen them: mail pieces that ran against your local candidate, framing them as in league with AOC, Bernie Sanders, and “socialists.” Can you imagine a Democratic candidate running a piece of mail with a photo of the sedition on Jan. 6 with shadowed photos of Marjorie Taylor Greene and Josh Hawley in the background, and the statement: “Republican candidate X stood silent for an insurrection. He puts himself in line with QAnon supporters like Marjorie Taylor Green and Josh Hawley, who tried to overthrow the government”? Democratic candidates struggle to do this kind of campaigning. Maybe that shouldn’t be the case.

How do Republicans create this environment?

Democratic candidates will often say that they hate the mail run against them by conservative organizations. They’re referred to as gun-grabbing, God-hating, infanticide-supporting communists who are waiting to tax you into slavery. In every state,  you’ll find that conservative organizations like the NRA exist just to offer this kind of mail and media to candidates they support to turn out their own voter base and make those in the middle question their vote, considering whether the Democratic candidate is who they want to vote for in the election. When faced with a decision, however, a lot of Democratic candidates downballot struggle to offer negative mail. There’s one gigantic reason for it: Democratic candidates in many of these races do not have supporters who are running them, and if they want to send a piece of negative mail, they have to do it as the campaign itself, including the “Paid For By” message. Republicans benefit by not having a “Paid For By” line that lists the campaign, so they stay above the fray.

What can Democratic candidates do make a dent?

While campaign finance reform would be a huge step, it’s not going to take place immediately in many states. Without that, Democratic candidates really only have one option: build up allies who are willing to carry the argument for you. A stronger Moms Demand Action or Vote Vets gives candidates more direct support to counter Republican messaging. Local organizations around the country are popping up to do the same, with Indivisible and Move On chapters forming their own small state PACs that send their own mail-in support against a Republican candidate. Organizations like Daily Kos, as a good example, help amplify their message and cover candidates to give their voices a chance to be heard.

Winter 2022 is coming

The elections of 2020 are going to be long remembered as one of the worst for the Democratic party, and one that shaped future elections by providing us disastrous maps and fights in statehouses for a decade. It may seem like it is too early, but Republicans are already on that task.

Great to see @LeaderMcConnell. Thanks for making time to connect.

— Doug Ducey (@dougducey) January 21, 2021

There’s McConnell, who’s recruiting for a Senate race in Arizona 2022. Why? Because Republicans are planning ahead. They want to take back control of every office they can, to defeat Democratic candidates at every level, and they think they have the plan to leave Democratic voters who are fat and happy with a presidential win and catch them flat-footed.

Joe Biden certainly sees this, as Politico notes:

Democrats under Barack Obama and Joe Biden were so badly pummeled in their first midterm elections that Obama famously called it a “shellacking.”

Ten years later, now President-elect Biden is hellbent on avoiding a repeat.

One element was easy for the Republicans because the Democrats didn’t do it: Starting in 2008, they worked to define their potential opponents. The moment a potential opponent appeared, Republicans worked like they were in the middle of the campaign and made sure that the messaging was out, regarding a Democratic challenger as a “bad person” and a Democratic incumbent’s record as “proof they’re a bad person.” 

This is where Democratic organizations can’t become chickens. We have to talk up our incumbents and our potential challengers now. At the same time, we have to define our incumbent opponent in the broadest way possible now. We can’t wait until three months before Election Day to define an opponent. The public will assume if they’ve heard nothing bad about them for two or four years, then generally that person must be okay. 

Don’t be chicken. Start defining Republican incumbents now, at any and every level, with anyone you can reach inside your district. You can do so through your social media and town halls. Organizations can send mail or run ads—yes, run ads—cheaply right now, informing the public of terrible legislation to help further define a candidate.

Do it. The party definitely needs funds, but it also needs some political will power—the will power to start addressing matters locally from Day One.

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