Sunday, November 13, 2005

So What is it: Fundraising or Message?

So this week we heard how the DCCC is recruiting another candidate for IL-06 because they are dissatisfied with current Democratic front runner Christine Cegelis. The key complaint being leveled against Cegelis is that she's not raising enough money. For example, from Archpundit:
Saying it will be a grass roots campaign is fine, but an under funded campaign without media isn't going to win in a race where it's a slightly Republican leaning district and Republicans will be throwing money at it right and left.

At the current rate, she'd be buried by Roskam. The campaign won't have money for serious mail, it won't have the ability to combat Roskam's ability to set the agenda, no number of Trib editorials will be enough, and there will be little money to fund last minute GOTV.

Roskam is raising so much more money, the conventional wisdom goes, that Cegelis won't have the funds available to buy traditional media to be competitive, and thus is a poor candidate who should be replaced.

But today on Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, Blitzer used this exact same convential wisdom to highling the inequity of DNC fundraising totals in comparison with RNC totals. In his interview with DLC favorite and potential presidential candidate Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, lower fundraising totals weren't an issue:
BLITZER: As you know, Governor Vilsack, money talks in politics and lots of cash can certainly help candidates.

Look at these numbers, and I'll put them up on the screen. The Republicans doing so much better in raising funds than the Democrats. So far, they've got more than $81 million compared to the DNC with about half, $42 million. In terms of cash on hand, the RNC has $34 million as opposed to only $6.8 million for the Democrats. Looks like they have a huge cash advantage, Governor Vilsack.

VILSACK: Well, I'll tell you, Wolf, I think that Democrats are investing their resources in rebuilding the party infrastructures across this country. And I think that's going to be very, very important investment.

It really isn't about dollars in the bank. It's really about the solutions that you have for ordinary folks' problems.

Take Tim Kaine's victory, for example. He talked about transportation. Why? Because people are tired of spending so much time in their cars getting to and from work. That's a kitchen-table issue. That's the reason why I think people are interested in the Democratic message because we're getting back to the basics, making sure that we can solve people's problems.

That's what it's all about and frankly, if we continue to do that, there will be more than enough money to support our candidates next year.

Wait a minute. Governor, you lost me here. The RNC has an almost 5 to 1 advantage in cash on hand and that's not an issue? Won't the DNC get buried when the RNC outspends Democrats hand over fist just like Cegelis will get buried by Roskam? Instead it's all about the message and infrastructure now?

Let me see if I got this straight. In support of her over-arching kitchen table message of "Reclaiming the American Dream" and focus on what is important to district voters, Cegelis has spent her campaign funds on name recognition, grassroots support, and a strong volunteer network in IL-06. Rather than just fixating on her anti-war position, Cegelis' over-arching message has consistently promoted core Democratic values such as supporting Veterans who fought in Iraq. From the Cegelis blog:
I was recently honored to receive the endorsement of local veteran Dale Peters. Dale and I spent some time talking about my support for our troops and veterans’ issues. We also talked about the New GI Bill of Rights for the 21st Century, proposed by congressional Democrats, but held from discussion on the House floor by Illinois’ own Dennis Hastert. This new GI Bill would ensure that health care is accessible and affordable for all veterans. This measure is opposed by Republicans, including my opponent, Peter Roskam. Passing this legislation should be a national priority.

You want to know Cegelis' priorities, there they are right in her core message: work hard and play by the rules and the Federal government will keep its promises. That sounds like a good match up to a guy like Roskam who has ties to Tom DeLay and his corrupt ways, and is far to the Right of the district in general.

But this doesn't matter, since Cegelis is focusing on message and building a robust campaign infrastructure, much like the DNC, all that is noted about her campaign is her lack of cash on hand and burn rate - both of which seem similar the DNC's. Due to this, in the minds of those from the Beltway, it would be better to recruit a "war hero" candidate, who may not even live in the district, but could generate more fundraising dollars.

This thinking is Madison Ave. politics at it's worst. In the DCCC's mind, a disabled Iraq War veteran is a package they can sell to the public. The approach is all media driven and sales oriented. It's not about message. It's about sensationalism that will raise money to spend on media ads that, as Matt Stoller points out, are increasing irrelevant:
Well, because other tools are cruder, and will lose influence as their ability to reach people declines.  Take TV.  This is a crude medium - most of the ad dollars going to NJ were wasted, since Jon Corzine had to advertise in the New York and Philly media markets (1st and 4th most expensive), which meant a lot of non-Jersey eyeballs were seeing Corzine stuff.  TIVO's going to make it more difficult to buy viewer attention, since viewers will simply be able to choose to not watch ads.  This is also happening to radio, since everyone will soon be listening to podcasts after all those are superhip! (more likely is satellite radio I suspect but the effect is somewhat similar).
Add to this the very real possibility that, due to the association of Emanuel with the DLC, any Iraq veteran he recruits is going to be at the least a hawk, and at the worst pro-war. With support for the war rapidly decreasing, and DuPage having a very active and organized anti-war presence, such a candidate would not energize the independents and Democratic base needed to overcome Roskam. Although such a candidate might allow great fundraising interest, especially with Beltway backing, I wonder if such a candidate would have the message needed to win the district.

If support for local races like House seats is going to be decided by such bottom line thinking, than ordinary people are going to be excluded from the process. Only those with connections to big money or who represent the top 1% of Americans in income are going to be supported in their efforts to represent the people. Since this segment of the population represents such a small portion of America, is that really representative of the Democratic process? Does having a small number of political insiders decide who should and shouldn't run really Democratic?

Either message matters or it doesn't. In local races like IL-06 the pool of available fundraising dollars is limited, making grassroots candidates dependent on national party support in a way national candidates are not. If all the DCCC can read is a bottom line, then they believe they can package any candidate for sale to the electorate, regardless of message, if they throw enough money into slick media marketing.

Perhaps this is why Democrats are in the minority.