Last week we discussed the failings of House Democrats in winning elections the past several cycles especially after the favorable 2012 redistricting under the “Fair Districts” map which put many House Republican incumbents suddenly into competitive districts.
Today let’s look at how we would propose to make campaigns for the House more efficient and ultimately we believe more successful.
1. Proper targeting early in an election cycle
What happened in 2012 and is happening again as we progress deeper into the 2014 cycle is that Democrats identify a hodgepodge of targets often times not based on logic or numbers. These targets often don’t remain consistent and sometimes are based on who is managing what campaign or who a Democratic candidate hires as consultant, pollster or mail vendor. As we’ve discussed previously in 2002 and 2004 Democrats were wiped out in the House by targeting almost exclusively based on top of the ticket numbers in House districts. Now, the party seems to be doing the opposite in many cases ignoring top of the ticket numbers (hence the flawed decision NOT to target several House districts Obama carried in 2012) and basing targeting on other criteria. A happy medium must be reached in this vein.
2. Benchmark polling in targeted districts
I’ve heard complaints from numerous candidates in the past two cycles that extensive polling wasn’t done in their district to help guide campaigns on hot-button issues or even to determine the viability of running in certain districts. This must be done 12 to 18 months out. Perhaps it is too late for 2014, but this needs to be in place for the 2016 cycle which is after all Presidential year when turnout should spike upwards.
3. Open Vendor Process
Like the Republicans it is wise to have a preferred vendor list for the state and give candidates the option of using their own vendors without repercussions from the state party or House leadership. Right now the Democrats with few exceptions force vendors on targeted campaigns. This is not only undemocratic but has arguably cost the party seats in the House.
4. Localized Campaign Consulting
As we know many of the best and brightest people from all walks of life gravitate to our state capital, but some of the best minds remain in the hinterland and off the radar of Tallahassee based operatives. Local campaigns in many cases demand local control and local operatives who understand their corner of the state best. Particularly in the Tampa Bay area and Broward County, I hear endless complaints about mistakes made by Tallahassee based consultants and party staffers on what are essentially local races.
While in many cases it might be wise for state legislative candidates to use Tallahassee based people who are well connected in the state capitol to manage campaigns in many other cases it is not wise. Local candidates should be given the option of who they want to run campaigns without fear of repercussions from the party.
5. Grassroots Emphasis/Voter Education
Slick media campaigns are all good and well, but turnout and voter education have cost the Democrats far more seats in the House in recent cycles than lack of funds to conduct a media campaign. Simple work on making sure those who vote “D” at the top of the ballot keep going until their state legislative races is important. This can only be done with the state party working closely with local DEC’s on voter turnout and education efforts.
As we said last week, the Republicans have proven to be the party of success at the legislative level while the Democrats are the party of excuses. Making some small, but meaningful changes as outlined above can help turn the trajectory of history and help the Democrats recapture the lost ground of the last two decades of almost constant electoral failure at the state level.