HOW RAHM FAILED: JUST THE FACTS-- AN ANALYSIS OF DCCC SPENDING PATTERNS IN THE HOUSE 2006 ELECTION CYCLE VIS-A-VIS EFFICIENCY AND EFFECTIVENSS
Dan Drasin is a DWT reader who has worked as computer technologist for the past 10 years in a variety of fields including banking and health care. He was born in Indiana and currently lives with his wife and 2 kids in Baltimore, Maryland. Dan's the vice president of software development for a health care supplier. He loves watching politics and I asked him to help us make sense of the raw numbers-- which are still coming in-- that help explain about how congressional races are fought, won and lost. I didn't suggest the title; he came up with it himself-- although Adam's illustration can't be blamed on Dan. Dan's report:
Of course I was thrilled the night of November 7 as the returns slowly came in and it was clear that not only would the House go Democratic in a big way, but that the Senate was also a possibility. My good humor mostly drowned out the the little voice in my head that wondered why some of the key swing races (like CT4 and KY4) weren't falling. But I saw the Indiana races going well, and then New Hampshire surprised me with positive results and I was flying sky high. And even while watching Rahm Emanual being hailed as "the architect" and listening to Begala and Carville singing his praise for his centrist strategy, my mind only spent a few seconds remembering how frustrated I'd been in the run up to that night in hoping that Rahm would spend money in a more aggressive pattern.
So when all the hoopla started to die down (a week later), and there was all this back and forth about who played what part in the victory, I decided that some cold, dispationate analysis might be in order.
Now I know there are those out there who will say, "Hey, we all played a part; why do we need to fight about assigning credit?" And there's an element of truth to that. I'm really not interested in finding out WHO deserves the credit, but more WHAT (strategy) deserves the credit. Certainly this is important for the next election cycle, but also for how to govern for the next 2 years.
So here's what I did: I took all the data from the FEC on all contributions in the 2005/2006 cycle. Yup, that's right. Every contribution to all Federal candidates is not only reported to the FEC, but is also made available for download from the FEC website. How cool is that! And what a wonderful contribution to an open democracy. So then I loaded this information into a database (Oracle) and then sliced and diced it looking at the pattern of DCCC contributions. My goal was to assess how effective the DCCC "swing state" strategy that Emanuel was using for targetting and promoting winners.
(The database is now setup for lots more analysis-- if anyone has some queries they want me to run or wants the entire dataset, let me know...)
So I ran a bunch of queries, dumped the summary information in Excel and played with it for a while. The information in the spreadsheet was interesting, but not all of it had an obvious meaning. I divided the timeline of contributions into 3 periods: before September, September, and October/November. I created spreadsheet for each of the following:
- all of the DCCC contributions by district,
- DCCC contribution in races that were "pickups",
- all contributions by ALL committees and individuals in races that were "pickups"
- all contributions by all entities with statistical analysis (means, medians, etc.)
- translation of some of the raw data meanings
Summary: The DCCC strategy of race targetting did NOT spend dollars efficiently. If it had been the dominant investment pattern, the House may not have gone for the Dems. A big "thank you" is needed to Howard Dean's DNC and all the other groups that pushed for the 50 state strategy to expand the competive races and keep them alive for the duration. (BTW, Chuck Schumer has come out and publicly thanked Dean for his strategy, saying that he was right and it was a good thing that he perservered...)
- the phrase "winning district" refers to a district that was either "won" or in doubt as of Nov. 10.
- the margin needed for Dem control of the House is 16 in this analysis because GA-12 (Republican takeover target) was included
- The summary data that I compiled from the data can be found here:
Excel version: http://filexoom.com/files/2006/11/21/44982/fec2.xls
Browser based version:
Mac viewable document (download, extract and then open fec2.htm):
- up until 9/1/06, the DCCC spent a total of $2.1M on House races and $1.2 of it went to races that were eventually winning districts.
- up until 9/1/06, the DCCC spent less than $5,000 on only 15 districts that were eventual winners. (FL-16 can be forgiven as this was before the Mark Foley scandal...) C'mon, 5K is nothing...
- in 3 (maybe 4-- i'm not clear on CT2), the DCCC actively supported a different ("centrist," non-grassroots) candidate than the eventual winner and then refused to provide support to eventual winner. Note: these were all pickups.
- In September, the DCCC investment pattern was roughly the same: of $7.3M spent, $5.3 went to only 15 districts that were eventual winners.
- In September, the DCCC spent crazy money in some expensive markets that didn't fall (600K in KY4, 500K in OH15, 350K in PA6, 300K in VA2) and still NO money in a number of races that were eventual pickups or close recount situations (or had polls showing them as competitive-- CA-11, CT-02, IA-02, KS-02, KY-03, NC-08, NH-01, NH-02, NY-19, OH-02, PA-07, and WY-AL). They underspent in some additional races that were pickups (like PA-08) or very close (like WA-08) as well.
- At the same time, the races where the DCCC didn't spend, were kept alive by different groups (like MoveOn, The Netroots, Blue America, etc working through ActBlue) following different investment strategies (like the 50-state strategy.) The ALL Contributions in PICKUPS tab shows all investment (by all parties) in each of the districts by time-period. This gives an idea of the total amount of money effecting these races and hence the impact that DCCC participation (both in dollars and publicity) would have had.
- After October 1, the DCCC investment pattern improved as they finally jumped into some of the winning races that that they had previously ignored (like IN-02, MN-01, PA-04, PA-08) in a significant way. But even so, their record was only $8.2M out of $14.1M going to winning races and significant support in only 18 winning races.
- In October they spent large sums of money on some key "swing races" that didn't break ($2.5M in PA-06, $800K in KY-04, $500K in OH-01, $450K in OH-15, $300K in VA-02, $250K in CT-04, and $100K in CO-04.)
- If the DCCC "swing state" strategy had been the guiding strategy for all investment throughout the cycle, the Dems might not have retaken the House.
- The winning margin of races were kept alive all through the cycle into October by other (generally progressive) investors following the 50-state strategy (as well as local grassroots support of excellent candidates). In October, the DCCC finally began investing in some of the races and helped close them out in the Dem column-- but absent the previous investment, it is unlikely that these races would have been competive in October and so would not have been able to tip the balance in the House.
- The additional margin of victory (wave) came from districts that the DCCC never invested in at all (even with polling showing the races as competitive).
- The DCCC concentrated an enormous amount of money in some very expensive races that did NOT end up breaking for the Dems. This money, or at least some of it, could have been more efficiently spent on less expensive races that were also close.
- The DCCC bias toward swing-states and non-grassroots, so-called "centrist" or pro-Business candidates prevented it from investing in a number of key races (many of them winners).
To return to the summary-- Dems everywhere should thank those who pushed the 50-state strategy but more importantly, this strategy should be the guiding strategy moving forward (until something else is proven better). Also, the propensity by some with influence in the Inside the Beltway faction of the Democratic Party to look for and push non-grassroots, pro-Business, "centrist" candidates and shun progressives and outspoken anti-war candidates and candidates with indenpendent ways of approaching keys issues needs to be examined carefully going forward. This strategy doesn't seem to have any correlation with victory and so should be abandoned.
While this analysis answers some questions, it also raises new ones. Why did the swing-state strategy work so much worse than the DCCC expected? Why did the 50-state strategy perform so much better than the DCCC expected? Also, why did progressive candidates do so well in districts that the DCCC had given up on while at the same time so many of the DCCC-targetted swing states failed to fall. A lot of possible answers spring to mind, but some more analysis is needed (I'll go out on a limb eventually with my theories, but I'd like to have some more facts to back them up first..). In the future I plan to expand this analysis by factoring in margin-of-victory in more districts and throw in the Partisan Voter Index (PVI) to get an idea of the performance in a wider number of districts.