So, what did the Farm Team do this election cycle, and what did we learn?
Early last summer, I didn't know what the Farm Team should do this year. The one serious under-30 candidate - who will claim my title as the youngest elected Democrat in North Carolina when she's sworn in - wasn't going to have any trouble winning her election. Candidates like Marcus Brandon won their race when they won their primary. I think young politicians knew this wasn't going to be a good year for Democrats. I planted $150 of seed money in a couple State House races (where the candidates had helped young Democrats), but without young candidates we really didn't have a fundraising angle.
So I decided that the best way for the Farm Team to make an impact this year was to help lift all boats, and I went head-on into the US Senate race, using our limited resources (but all of my volunteer time) to raise Elaine Marshall's profile online, to hold Richard Burr accountable, and to raise money for her campaign. With those goals, we did a great job given our resources, but a lukewarm job on the fundraising.
If I could go back and change what we did, I would have ridden the coattails of the first PPP poll after the runoff and started hitting hard for Elaine then. There is a time to strike when the iron is hot, and every Democrat should have stepped up for Elaine when the poll numbers showed victory was a possibility.
But I don't think it was a mistake to try and go big this year, because we learned a lot - and we're ready to look in to winning back the General Assembly.
Speaking of State Legislatures ...
Many of you already know about the massive amount of independent expenditure money dropped in North Carolina. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of that money came from the Republican State Leadership Committee. They've been planning to control the redistricting process for a long time, and they succeeded. They put Ed Gillespie, a respected Republican strategist, in charge of the committee. And they decimated our team:
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “Republicans gained at least 680 seats on Tuesday” outperforming the 628-seat Democratic gains in 1974, the 472-seat Republican gains of 1994 and more than double the 322-seat Democratic gains of 2006. In addition, the NCSL reports “Republicans now hold about 3,890, or 53 percent, of the total state legislative seats in America, the most seats in the GOP column since 1928.”
Money matters. Some of the RSLC's money went towards Real Jobs NC mailers - over $1 million. The spending doesn't stop in North Carolina, as the RSLC also:
1. Spent $1.4 million targeting four New York State Senate seats, winning two and potentially controlling the New York State Senate (GOP currently ahead in enough seats to gain control, but recounts are expected).
2. Spent nearly $1 million in Pennsylvania House races, targeting and winning three of the toughest races in the state (House Districts 39, 54, 130).
3. Spent nearly $1 million in Ohio House races, targeting six seats, five of which were won by Republicans. Additionally, five of these six legislative districts were carried by President Obama in 2008.
4. Spent $1 million in Michigan working with the Michigan House Republican Campaign Committee and Michigan Republican Party to pick up 20 seats in Michigan.
5. Spent $750,000 in Texas as part of an effort that resulted in 22 House pick-ups.
6. Spent $1.5 million in Wisconsin to take control of the Senate and Assembly, including spending $500,000 to target Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker. The RSLC was the only group to target Decker who was defeated soundly by Republican Pam Galloway.
7. Committed resources to Colorado (over $550,000), North Carolina (over $1.2 million), and Alabama ($1.5 million).
The RSLC also invested more than $3 million across a number of other states including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Tennessee, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, Washington, Nevada, New Jersey and Oregon. In total, the RSLC raised more than $30 million for the 2009-2010 cycle, spending $18 million after Labor Day alone.
To take back these legislatures, Democrats will need something more than the DLCC (Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee), which didn't even see the danger of losing both houses in NC this year. The DLCC is the Democratic equivalent of the RSLC, and they lost big this year. They didn't have the money, and they faced a terrible national mood. They were one group in a sea of conservative money.
We may have kept all but one Congressional seat, but otherwise NC Democrats lost in a rout. I've heard people point fingers at NCDP, the Marshall Campaign, YDNC, the DSCC, SEANC, the House and Senate caucuses, and at anything that breathes and bleeds blue. At the risk of oversimplifying, here are some observations and suggestions ...
I believe, in spite of our limited resources, that we made the right choice at GFT PAC to support the top of the ticket, because had that race been closer the legislative races would have been closer. If yellow-dog Democrats come out and vote straight ticket, no amount of Pope money can change that. The top of the ticket, OFA, and the NCDP failed to GOTV. Richard Burr had ads on almost every webpage in North Carolina showing people how and where to vote; the College Dems were one of the only organizations on our team that went above and beyond to GOTV. Unfortunately, like the Farm Team, CDNC doesn't have hundreds of thousands of dollars.
We need the national committees to know that when they concede a top of the ticket race, like the DSCC did with Marshall this year, they hurt our General Assembly campaign. Elaine Marshall is the first woman to lose a statewide, partisan general election in NC, and that didn't help the frankly more important task of keeping the General Assembly.
On the State & National level, we let the narrative get out of control. At the state level, we never really had control because Easley & Perdue's campaign finance troubles got more attention than Democratic accomplishments. Americans for Prosperity has a much easier job when they don't have a rational, factual narrative to compete with, and we didn't put one out at the National or State level. I would love for someone to disabuse me of the notion that 30-second spots featuring our President or even Speaker Pelosi listing our accomplishments would have helped immensely.
One complaint I got from every General Assembly campaign I talked to was that the VAN (aka VoteBuilder) was completely ineffective for GOTV this year. If you've worked on a campaign, you know that's a bad thing, and can't happen again. If the legislative races can't get out the vote, we can't win at the top of the ticket. Think of it this way - if we had a Democratic candidate in every legislative race, and over the course of a 6 month campaign they were able to get 10 more "straight-ticket" Democrats to vote each day they campaigned, Elaine Marshall would have won.
With this many defeats, cultivating young progressive leaders is even more important. We need our next generation to eschew corruption, lead on important issues, and change the narrative. Our goal at the Grassroots Farm Team over the next year is to find some of these people and position them so they can take back the General Assembly.
Thank you for supporting the Farm Team over the last two years. Let's work together over the next two years to do what we've worked to do all along: