The Drive To 245: Deprive the GOP In 25
In 2014 and with 234 House seats, the NRCC launched the “Drive to 245” campaign for the 2014 midterms, which focused on securing 245 seats for the 114th Congress. At the close of the midterms, they ended up picking up 13 seats, putting their new majority to 247 seats, 2 seats above the goal.
In late November 2018, and with 235 House seats to start with, I began by compiling an initial list of 25 potential districts that could give us the necessary gains for us to make the necessary net gain of 10 seats to fulfill our “Drive to 245” campaign goal. I then outlined the state representatives and state senators that we have on our side that live within (or at least represent a good portion of) the identified districts in the second step, which was split into parts one and two. These local officials are often our first line of offense when it comes to selecting appropriate candidates to flip GOP congressional districts, as these people often start out with significant amounts of name recognition (at least compared to most political novices), developed campaign infrastructures, and established donor networks to draw on. In the third step, I explored four different ways that these state representatives and state senators can help promising candidates build a solid platform to flip these 25 districts, even if we are not able to recruit any of these seasoned individuals themselves. I then proceeded to identify every individual local county Democratic organization within in each of these 25 districts to determine how much of a viable network exists towards flipping any of these districts, and whether any of them appear to be fledgling and underfunded, which was split into parts one, two, and three. I then proceeded to draw up rough battle plans to recruit the best candidates that are suitable towards making the necessary gains for the proposed 245 House seats, which I covered in parts one, two, and three. Since then, I updated my list of 25 districts to better reflect the developments that have occurred since November 2018, as well as the candidates from our end that have filed in those districts. After that, I covered updated game plans for the updated 25 districts, which was again split into parts one, two, and three. Another comprehensive update to the list was conducted in early July to account for the GOP retirements, lack of Democratic candidate recruitment for several districts, and other remarkable events that have occurred, all of which have been documented in said update. From there, more detailed plans were made that illustrated the overall status of the Democratic campaigns for each of these districts, which can be found in parts one, two, three, and four. These plans also highlighted which candidates appeared to have the most organized campaigns for each district, and which ones out of these strongest candidates needed the most assistance in terms of fundraising. Donation plans were also made that could sufficiently help out these struggling candidates, if every active user of this subreddit took part. After that, I provided a detailed plan for defending our 5 most endangered Democratic incumbents for this cycle. I next discussed the different methods that volunteers can help out a campaign, and what good campaigns should provide in such activities to optimize their voter outreach effectiveness, both of which can be found in parts one and two. In October 2019, I then provided another comprehensive review of the 25 districts that are the most likely to flip blue and the ideal strategies to accomplish that goal, which can be found in parts one, two, three, and four. After that, I provided an update on the overall status of our top 5 most endangered incumbents, and posted a rescue plan to help out the least financially stable campaigns, both of which can be found in this post. My next step provided day-by-day calendars highlighting volunteer events within the targeted 25 districts that helped participants develop vital Democratic infrastructure in those areas. These calendars, which ran from October 31 to January 15, can be found in parts one, two, three, and four. In late January, I gave a third update on the top 5 incumbents to defend this cycle. At the start of February 2020, I gave a fresh analysis of the 25 districts with the best chances of going blue, which are provided in parts one, two, three, and four. I then jumped to a day-by-day calendar of volunteer events of congressional campaigns operating throughout the 25 districts, which was originally planned to be released in four parts. However, the quickly deteriorating COVID-19 situation has forced this series to be suspended halfway through this step. The two calendars provided in this step, which ran from February 7 to March 19, can be found here and here. In April 2020, I provided an updated study of the 25 districts with the highest chances of flipping as well as the optimal strategies for each of these districts, which was delivered in parts one, two, three, and four. Later in May 2020, I provided another update on the top 5 incumbents to defend this cycle and their performances. I subsequently proceeded in June 2020 to provide a list of the competitive state house and state senate districts that overlapped with at least one of the 30 congressional districts that this series targeted or defended, which was delivered in parts one, two, three, and four. Starting in late July 2020, I provided an updated perspective of the 25 districts with the highest chances of flipping as well as the optimal strategies for each of these districts, all of which were provided in parts one, two, three, and four. Shortly thereafter in August 2020, I provided a fresh update on the campaign status of the top 5 incumbents to defend this cycle. From there, I supplied a fresh view on the status of our campaigns in competitive state house and state senate districts that overlapped with at least one of the 30 congressional districts that was targeted or defended by this series, which was given in parts one, two, three, and four. Next, I provided a calendar highlighting the important dates for the congressional campaigns operating within the 30 districts targeted and defended by this series. In October 2020, I provided a final comprehensive review of the 25 districts with the highest chances of flipping as well as the optimal strategies to pursue for each of these districts, which was delivered in parts one, two, three, and four. Shortly thereafter, I provided a final update on the general standing of the top 5 incumbents to defend this cycle. I then concluded the series with a final perspective on the status of our campaigns in competitive state house and state senate districts that overlapped with at least one of the 30 congressional districts that was targeted and defended by this series, which was given in parts one, two, three, and four.
Getting to 245 House Seats in the November 2020 was very much possible for us to achieve if we were smart about it. Instead of making the double digit gains in the House required to reach this number, we instead botched our chance to do so in an epic fashion and LOST a double digit number of House seats. The main reasons for our colossal failure originate from the fact that many of our campaigns and affiliated organizations made a large number of mistakes that were never rectified and were instead reliant on national factors to achieve victory, which absolutely did not materialize in our favor. Some of these mistakes were very apparent without the benefit of hindsight, and yet many of us looked the other way and assumed that the GOP candidates’ disadvantages would make up for these errors. Warning signs of this down-ballot disaster as a result of these mistakes were apparent that most of us blatantly ignored.
In the 5 of the 6 special House elections that took place throughout this cycle which were contested in 2018, we underperformed our 2018 vote margins by at least 1.6 points and even ended up losing control of a district in May 2020. Given that we constantly fell short of expectations from the 2018 benchmarks, the possibility of losing House seats was very real. In fact, I pointed out many of these mistakes that several campaigns from our end have already made in this cycle in this post. Unfortunately, none of these campaigns sufficiently addressed these mistakes throughout the rest of the cycle, and these errors came back to damage them in the worst ways possible. Below are the blunders that I noticed in the local reports that I consulted for various competitive districts, the majority of which were covered by this series. Both red and blue competitive districts are referenced in the following sections. I urge everyone to fully read this post before responding, as there is plenty of constructive criticism and suggestions that we should apply for the 2022 midterms. 2022 will be host to hundreds of newly drawn districts to contest and defend, and we need to immediately start making preparations to register new voters, build necessary coalitions, and develop plans to address local issues brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Not nearly enough time and resources was spent defending our incumbents. House defense was left on the backburner in favor of attempting to flipping more GOP districts, and serious efforts to support incumbents were not provided until it was far too late to change the outcome. This was perhaps the main problem that the “Drive to 245” series had.
The scope that this series provided in House defense was limited and only focused on five districts at a time. It thus did not provide a full overview of our chances of holding the districts we flipped in 2018 and allowed vulnerabilities and other factors in the GOP’s favor to mostly escape our notice. As a result, it was not apparent that districts such as NM-02, IA-01, CA-21, and FL-26 were vulnerable to flipping back to Republican column until our candidates were already fighting an uphill battle. I understand that working to hold a blue district can feel less attractive or rewarding than flipping a red district, but in the end, every single House district equals one vote in the House of Representatives.
2. Plenty of attacks were made between Democratic candidates before the primaries. I am not talking about differences in policy, voter outreach, or messaging here. I am talking about the negative attack advertisements, the campaign finance violations, and intentional distortions on candidate backgrounds that took place within several districts. Resorting to such methods to get ahead in the primary is never a good tactic to undertake for candidates. Even if a candidate manages to win the primary by using these options, trying to unite every Democrat to win the district’s general election becomes much harder. When we do not fully come together and support their nominee to our fullest extent, we straight up lose. It is as simple as that.
In NE-02, Ann Ashford ran attack ads against Kara Eastman slamming her for her 2018 loss instead of improving her lackluster fundraising. In PA-10 and NJ-02, Tom Brier and Brigid Callahan Harrison charged Eugene DePasquale and Amy Kennedy with campaign finance violations. In all of these examples, the candidates behind the attacks lost the primary and weakened their targets’ appeal to the general election electorates of their districts. On the flip side, Candace Valenzuela in TX-24 ran attack ads targeting Kim Olson’s military retirement and her budget handling during her tenure as the Dallas Independent School District human resources director. After Candace Valenzuela became the nominee, reports say that many of Kim Olson’s supporters only gave nominal assistance to Candace Valenzuela’s campaign or outright refused to help in November. As a special note, Brad Ashford, Bob Krist, and the other Democrats who endorsed Don Bacon over Kara Eastman need to be censured by their state Democratic parties. The same goes for Harry Teague, who endorsed Yvette Herrell over Xochitl Torres Small in NM-02. There should absolutely be no tolerance for that type of backstabbing since neither Democrat had any disqualifying scandals.
3. Quite a few Democratic candidates and their staffers demonstrated a lack of discipline in carrying out various campaign operations. Any candidate who runs for Congress needs to understand the basics regulations for federal campaigns by heart. The national GOP and their associated groups WILL take note of any mistakes that our nominees commit, and use them to inflict maximum political damage to them at the worst possible times. Even our House incumbents were among the Democratic candidates who were guilty of these types of errors, which is particularly frustrating, because they absolutely should know better than to make these blunders and derail their re-election campaigns.
In NY-24, Dana Balter committed a campaign finance violation by taking a salary from campaign funds before the primary filing deadline. In FL-16, Margaret Good committed several federal election law violations by using state resources to support her congressional campaign and using a state political committee to pay for a tele-town hall. In CA-21, TJ Cox’s campaign manager utilized Photoshop to fabricate a David Valadao retweet of Trump. Finally, in FL-27, Donna Shalala failed to disclose stock sales twice, which violated federal disclosure laws. These offenses a sign of poor judgement and a lack of preparation on the part of the above referenced candidates, especially since every single one of them had prior experience running for office.
4. Several Democratic nominees demonstrated serious fundraising troubles throughout 2019 and the first half of 2020. These candidates fell behind their GOP opponents in fundraising and were consistently failing to reach standard benchmarks. Consequently, these nominees were unable to develop the necessary infrastructure and elevate voter outreach initiatives to sufficient levels. As a result, their corresponding GOP opponents overtook them in the airwaves and ground game, and secured rather decisive victories in the November elections. Falling behind in fundraising is one of the surest ways for a Democratic candidate to lose a campaign. This has been true for many years now, and even longtime incumbents are not exempt to this harsh truth.
In MN-07, Collin Peterson did not break the cumulative $1 million fundraising mark at the end of 2020’s first quarter. In comparison, every other single Democratic incumbent in a competitive race raised this amount by the end of 2019’s third quarter. After two well-funded Democratic candidates in PA-01 dropped out in the first two months in 2020, we were left with no candidate running in the district who had raised more than $100,000 in 2019. Christina Finello, the eventual Democratic nominee for PA-01 continued to post sluggish fundraising numbers for the first three months of 2020 due to a lack of proper consolidation of resources and volunteer personnel. In TX-31, Donna Imam exhibited serious troubles in fundraising and was only able to raise a cumulative total of $249,274 at the end of 2020’s second quarter. I believe that the correct move was to cut all of these above candidates loose at the middle of April and divert the money reserved for these three districts to the Democrats running in CA-25 and NY-22. This is because there were several clear signs that we could lose these two districts unless they received sufficient levels of funding at an early enough stage in this election cycle. It was also very apparent that the three candidates that I referenced waged sluggish campaigns and were ill-equipped to run a competent defense against the GOP attacks that were headed their way. By the time the first 2020 fundraising reports were released, it was already far too late for us to rescue any of them from electoral doom. Ultimately, we cannot help candidates who do not have the capability to help themselves. This is a fact we need to accept, no matter how unpleasant it is to many of us.
5. The ground game from Democratic campaigns and other allied groups, even before the pandemic, was weak in several areas. Throughout 2019 and the first three months of 2020, there were only a small amount of significant voter registration, canvassing, or other volunteer events in a few districts covered by this series. In contrast, many GOP organizations began developing highly detailed plans to win back many of the districts that they lost in the 2018 midterms in this cycles’ early months. Many races are determined on the quality of the candidates’ ground game operations. It takes at least one year of continued efforts for a campaign to have a fully developed ground game that can deliver victory in November. Waiting to develop the necessary field plans and get out the vote operations until several months before voting begins will not work. No district will flip this way. That is a fact that has been established cycle after cycle.
As an example on how underdeveloped the ground game was for Democrats, even before the pandemic, one needs to look no further than TX-23, a district that was host to a very winnable race this year. Out of the 29 counties that this district overlaps with, there were no local volunteer events located near in 28 of these counties from November 2019 to the start of the pandemic. As for the 29th county? The El Paso Democratic Party held a single event in that time period on January 9-10 that highlighted the importance of redistricting. This was after doing some exhaustive diving in MobilizeAmerica and searching for nearby events for each county within the 25 GOP-held districts that the series targeted. Gina Ortiz Jones’ campaign was also guilty of the lack of volunteer events at the early months of this cycle. The first event posted in her Facebook campaign website was on April 8, which was far too late in the cycle. In order for a district to have a good chance of flipping, volunteer events needed to be widely publicized by March 2020. Even then, most of the successful congressional campaigns on our end had started by November 2019. Just raising large sums of money and dominating the TV airwaves is not enough in today’s political climate. Another example of where this political malpractice was committed was in IN-05. In that district, there were absolutely no campaign events posted online by any of the candidates or the local Democratic county parties from November 2019 to May 2020. Christina Hale’s Facebook campaign website had a total of three events posted in her events page for the entire campaign cycle. Given that many potential volunteers view Facebook as one of their main methods for gaining up for events, this was a grave mistake. As a result, the voters in these two above districts fell prey to GOP attack strategies such as portraying our candidates as being against law and order. TX-23 and IN-05 were lost by less than 5 point margins, which suggests that had the Democratic nominees and allied organizations improved their ground game and bolstered their infrastructure in counties our presence was weak, both of these districts could have flipped. On the flip side, SC-01 was host to one of the most prominent examples of the GOP developing highly detailed plans to flipping a district back from blue to red. Back in December 2018, the South Carolina GOP announced its plans for a “1st District reclamation project.” From Nancy Mace’s recruitment, the jointly arranged efforts to nominate her without the need of a runoff, and organizing the necessary ground game to turn out their voters, the state party developed and executed every steps of their victory program without serious trouble. This is how well organized and funded the GOP is in South Carolina and how they cement their advantages cycle after cycle. Much of the efforts to flip MN-07 went the same way. Led by Tom Emmer, the NRCC made great efforts to recruit Michelle Fischbach and secure the necessary endorsements for her to win the primary. The NRCC and other allied organizations also made coordinated efforts to ensure that Michelle Fischbach continually outraised Collin Peterson since the 2019’s fourth quarter. Finally, these groups committed themselves to invest millions of dollars to run a much stronger ground game, TV presence, and social media outreach that successfully activated many conservative voters and convince them to break for Michelle Fischbach at the end, especially in counties that have sharply shifted towards voting for the GOP since 2016, such as Swift, Chippewa, and Lac Qui Parle Counties. In short, this was a race where the GOP did everything correctly by the book, and Collin Peterson’s sluggish campaign was ill-equipped to deal with the resulting onslaught. Once again, I emphasize that the most successful campaigns begin their planning in the first few months of the election cycle.
6. Many of our campaigns did not adjust to the vote by mail format that a number of states adopted in light of the pandemic. Having learned several organizing lessons from 2018, the GOP took advantages of tactics that we used in 2018, such as ballot harvesting, and used them to their own benefit this cycle. Yes, I know that our ground game was limited due to the need to follow social distancing measures while the pandemic raged on, but there were plenty of face-to-face voter interaction opportunities that we passed up that would have helped us turn out needed voters and been compliant with COVID-19 safety guidelines at the same time.
California, I am sorry to say, was one of the most prominent states where our campaigns did not probably adjust the timing of their campaign events to the pandemic. This holds a special type of disgrace, in my point of view, seeing that I was been proud of my state for providing so House gains in 2018 and being a leading state in the Resistance. The Republicans there utilized ballot harvesting to their greatest advantage and was able boost their vote totals in by deploying additional ballot boxes, particularly in areas covered CA-21, CA-25, and CA-48. All three of these districts went to the GOP in the end because we did not develop an effective method to counter this expansion. Attempts to get out the vote in districts that adhered to vote by mail formats were also mismanaged. There were reports that a number of volunteers who participated in the Los Angeles County Democratic Party’s “day of action” phone banking events were largely unsuccessful in getting their supporters in CA-25 and CA-39 to vote. According to these accounts, the only voters that said volunteers were able to contact were those who had already returned their ballots. This was because these volunteers had mistakenly targeted many of these voters multiple times and the efforts to update these call lists were botched to an insane level. Reports also say that the call center apparatus that the Los Angeles County Democratic Party was also incapable of efficiently processing the large glut of volunteers that showed up in the final days before the election, which slowed down GOTV operations in key Democratic leaning areas in Los Angeles. Failing to adjust voter turnout efforts to vote by mail formats is a sure way to lose key regions in the general elections.
7. The national GOP groups set the narratives against several of our candidates in a devastating way, and these candidates did not do a very clear job of refuting these attacks in their messaging. There were many, many, reports of voters complaining that the Democrats wanted to defund the police and kill jobs through the Green New Deal, and many of the TV ads that our nominees ran in response did not properly connect with these affected voters. Other Democratic candidates waited too long to set up their counterattack strategies, and failed to change the narrative against them by the time their messaging hit the airwaves since most voters within their districts had already made up their minds by then.
In IN-05, text-banking volunteers working for Christina Hale’s campaign reported that a lot of voters that they made contact with complained about the Medicare for All, Green New Deal, Defund the Police, and Abolish ICE Democratic slogans. Many of these complaints originated from the GOP attack ads directed from that district, and the counterattack ads against GOP nominee Victoria Spartz did not tie her to the more far-right GOP national figures. In NY-24, Dana Balter faced in early August a devastating attack ad from John Katko that featured Joe Biden calling Medicare for All preposterous while also highlighting Dana Balter’s support for the plan. Dana Balter did not develop a response to this attack until mid-September, where she featured an ad indicated that she would work with Biden to lower health care costs and that her plan would maintain private insurance. However, local reports there indicated that the damage was already done and that many voters, particularly those in Syracuse, decided to split their tickets between Joe Biden and John Katko. In OK-05 and NM-02, Kendra Horn and Xochitl Torres Small, the Democratic incumbents for these two districts respectively, had difficulties separating themselves from Joe Biden’s stances on transitioning away from the oil industry. Most of their responses against the resulting GOP stances were only confined to live tweets explicitly disagreeing with Joe Biden’s energy position. According to local reports, neither of these two incumbents produced very clear messaging about this issue or properly targeted enough of these voters in their outreach measures. This was particularly devastating because both NM-02 and OK-05 were hosts to significant oil and gas industries, and many voters ended up pulling the levers against the GOP nominees in November. A successful campaign needs to have consistent messaging that is easy to understand and is targeted to the correct demographics.
8. GOP trackers picked up damning footage from public events held by several Democratic candidates and utilized them to damaging effect. One of the cardinal rules that a candidate needs to follow is to assume that a GOP-affiliated tracker will be in attendance in any event said candidate hosts. The tracker’s primary goal is to make the candidate look bad or lose control. This practice is very much within the law, as no regulations are being violated by attending a public event and recording a candidate’s words. In fact, this is how the GOP gets choice content for their attack ads that they run cycle after cycle. All candidates who run for office need to constantly be aware of everything they do and say, as their actions and statements, no matter how small and trivial, can and will be portrayed in the worst possible light by the opposition when possible. Several of our Democratic candidates did not do this, including some of our House incumbents, which set the stage for them to lose in November.
In CA-50, Ammar Campa-Najjar ran into some serious trouble for the statements that he made in an interview with members of the Defend East County, which included a refusal to state who he would support in the presidential election. When his statements came to light in Defend East County’s posting of the interview, many local Democrats were justifiably furious with Ammar Campa-Najjar, which caused him to walk back his statements in subsequent interviews. In NY-01, GOP trackers picked up footage of Nancy Goroff supporting calls to defund the police and moving funding into the social safety net. They also picked up additional content from a police board association screening at the end of July, where Nancy Goroff denied the occurrence of riots against the Suffolk police department. In FL-27, Donna Shalala was caught describing herself that she was a “pragmatic socialist” in an NBC interview, which turned off quite a few Hispanic voters in her district due to their longstanding anti-Castro political views. It only takes a single gaffe for a candidate to be forced on the defensive and explain away the error to offended voters. When this happens, valuable time and resources are thrown away, and all of the momentum that the said Democrat painstakingly built up disappears.
So these are all of the shortcomings that I noticed in the various campaigns that I highly observed in the 2020 election cycle. I am sure that there are more important factors behind our House losses that were avoidable and more prominent than the ones that I have listed above. After all, I am only a lowly reddit user and political junkie who has a limited capability when it comes to analyzing the strength of our campaigns in competitive House districts. I am also certain that I have only scratched the surface on the mistakes that many of our nominees made this cycle. My hope is that the DCCC and other professional organizations can at least find a little value in the twenty-seven steps and the conclusion post that I have provided in this series, as I do see some value in letting the strategists guiding these groups what a good number of local spectators noticed about many competitive House races looked like as they unfolded.
It give me no pleasure to make this type of post, as I know many of us are very upset about our losses. However, we need to begin taking steps from preventing these mistakes from reoccurring as we head to the 2022 elections, as many Republican groups are already laying out their attack plans to seize control of the House by then. I firmly believe that we need to face and internalize the constructive criticism that I have laid out here if we are to have a fighting chance of holding the House in 2022.
Phew. So now this series is truly done, and I can finally turn my attention to the 2022 House races in earnest. However, I am not sure if I will have enough time to start and maintain another series to the degree that I gave for my “Drive to 245” series. If I do decide to start another series, it will probably be named “The Great Reset” to reflect the dynamics of the 2022 redistricting process. I am also open to any comments or suggestions to make such a successor series more user friendly or helpful to directing proper efforts to the places that need our support the most. Thank you for reading and following the twenty-seven steps of my series and this conclusion post, and may we look forward to 2021!