Wednesday, November 22, 2006



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:

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.

-Daniel Drasin

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At 8:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

They sure blew Michigan. Didn't pick up any of the three original targets and lost a chance with the 7th - where they knew the 'moderate' republican couldn't lose in his primary.

At 9:21 AM, Blogger cybermome said...


I am on AOL to get around our firewall at work (no blogs) I gave a quick read..I will go back at home in depth.

This is fascinating. On an intuitive level we knew this , but it's nice to have the facts.I just sent off the URL to our DFA group and I will make sure it finds it way to Jim Dean and eventually Howard.

I'm in Montgomery County. Our group is small. The candidates we worked for Patrick Murphy and Joe Sestak won. I know Rahm Emmanual had lots of contact with at least Patrick, Joe and and Lois Murphy. Lois never should have lost . My guess is she listened to much and you see what happened. FYI according to Patrick whom I spoke with at a fund raiser early on, Rahm E didn't want him to mention Iraq.

At 9:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was really bummed that Lois lost. The bit i saw of her (debate) really impressed me. Hopefully she'll be back...

In terms of the analysis, i think there's a lot more to squeeze out of the numbers - just need to ask the right questions. Let me know if you think of any ;-)

At 11:34 AM, Blogger benny06 said...

I cannot read the data either, but I wish you would post this at the Daily Kos.

My candidate, David Gill, IL-15, was passed over in spending nearly 2 million on Duckworth's campaign.

At 12:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anyone having trouble accessing the data, feel free to email me at i'd i'll figure out a way to get it to you...

At 12:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your analysis, Dan. I don't get your focus on the percentage of DCCC money spent on winning races as a measure of efficiency. It strikes me as analolgous to doctors only operating on patients that were very likely to make it, and ignoring closer calls. In fact, wouldn't we hope that the DCCC would ignore races that didn't need their help, and contribute more to the competitive races, and therefore to more losing races? I'm not arguing that Rahm did a good job, I'm just wondering how your metrics prove he did a poor one.

At 2:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan...I'm really looking forward to checking out your data...

A few questions -- did your analysis discriminate between "direct payments" to candidates from the DCCC, and payments by individuals made through the DCCC?

Also, have you done any analysis on "pre-primary" spending by various groups, including the DCCC? Most state primaries were held prior to Sept. 1; it would be interesting to see where the DCCC spent money in competitive primary races, and how those candidates did in the general election...

At 11:10 PM, Blogger Dan said...


Let me say at the outset, this is just data. One piece of data generally doesn't prove anything one way or another. But it seems to me that when you look at lots of different pieces together, they paint a picture...
The data on the overall number of races that the DCCC invested in was looked at in two different ways - 1. their overall investments and 2. their investements in "pickups or sqeakers." The first gives a sens for the "batting average" needed to take the house using their investment strategy. The latter gives a sense for how well well they did with respect to that target batting average.
By analogy, the name of the game is get a certain number of hits in any way possible. So if you're only going to get up to the plate a few times, you need to have a very high batting average. On the other hand, if you know that your batting average isn't so hot, you can still meet your overall goals by getting up to the plate more. My point was that the DCCC investment pattern (giving more than $5000 to only 20 pickup opportunities before september) required a very high success rate in order to take the house. And as the other part of that data shows, the success rate wasn't what it needed to be in those races.

In short, it's not about batting average, it's about the number of hits.

As to ur other point about "contributing to the competitive races" - that's really the crux of the problem with the "swing district" approach. I think it's very hard to determine which races meet that criteria and honest people will disagree. Because of that (IMO), the more successfull strategy this cycle (the "50-state strategy") was to spread the money around and so who rose to the top rather than pre-determining the winners and loosers.

At 11:28 PM, Blogger Dan said...


I'm not sure what you mean by "did your analysis discriminate between 'direct payments' to candidates from the DCCC, and payments by individuals made through the DCCC?" What i did was base the analysis off the FEC reporting by the candidates and PACs. To that extent, the DCCC reports any contibutions (money or otherwise) that they make in each district. You can see on the "Raw Data Key" sheet some of the different attributes that are assigned to each contribution (like "this was a independent expenditure against Candidate X," "the was a coordinated expenditure for Candidate Y," "this expenditure was part of the primary," etc.) So if an individual wanted to give money to a candidates through the DCCC, i'm not sure what that would look like from the FEC's point of view (or even under what circumstances it would be legal...) If you have some known examples, i may be able to mine the data and find the actual contribution and see what it looks like (and then be able to do some analysis about relative to that attribute.)

As to ur second point, that is definitely something i plan to look at more broadly. If you look at the NOTES at the bottom of the "DCCC Contributions in PICKUPS" tab, you'll see that i did take that into account in certain races where the DCCC supported a primary candidate, that candidate lost, and then the DCCC gave nothing to the winning Democrat. I didn't think it gave a correct picture to count those DCCC expenditures as supporting the winning candidate. But i only did that in a few races where the data showed an obvious drop-off in support of a district that needed to be explained. I definitely want to analyse the performance of DCCC backed candidates as part of the larger question about strategy effectiveness. However, i'm still trying to figure out how to do it (how to isolate the different impacts of DCCC involvement - money, publicity, messaging, etc. - and then how to get the data to slice and dice...) Any ideas, thoughts, suggestions are welcomed.

At 6:27 AM, Blogger WereBear said...

I think what it shows is that Rahm doesn't think 180 degree from Republican candidates can win. And he's wrong.

If a Democratic candidate is not sharply distinguishable from a Republican one, they tend to lose. The future of the Democratic party is one that is, and should be, very different from the Republican image. The more the R's drive down the narrow rutted road of bigotry, corruption, and imperialism, the more Democrats should turn away from it.

It seems the Beltway crowd has internalized the lie that "Republican Values" are what America wants. When even the most strident persuasion has shown that, at best, only 51% of Americans believe that.

The way to victory is to be different, not R-lite.

At 2:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan--Thanks for this careful analysis. I was a volunteer in Lois Murphy's campaign, and a precinct leader in Berks County, one of the 4 counties in the heavily gerrymandered PA6 district.

When you lose by a heartbreakingly small 3,000 vote margin, there are a lot of coulda, woulda, shouldas. (See John Morgan's analysis at

One thing I'm convinced of is that the Howard Dean, DNC 50-State-Strategy long-term party building activities can turn this district around, and if party building of the Dean variety had begun here years ago, Lois would be heading to Congress in January (where she would be a marvelous member).

Jim Gerlach ran the most vicious, relentless negative campaign I've ever witnessed, with hideous smear mail beginning early in the summer and continuing through November. The RNC also funded the now-notorious deceptive robo-calls that began "This is important information about Lois Murphy..." leading recipients who hung up right away to think that they were being harrassed (at all hours) by the Murphy camapign, whereas those who hung on for the end of the call would hear a negative message about Lois. All of us volunteers heard again and again from voters that they were "sick of the negative campaigning," and furious about calls which they--incorrectly--believed were coming from the Murphy campaign, but which were in fact coming from the RNC. (The Murphy campaign has filed complaints with the FCC.)

It's hard for mere money to combat this kind of deceptive, unethical, negative campaigning and voter suppression--voters start to hate all ads and calls, and turn off to all of them. Person-to-person, shoe-leather, careful precinct work and GOTV contact can help counteract negative campaigning, but we did not have the fully developed network of precinct leaders, volunteers, and party structure here that we needed. As the election approached it became clear that many key precincts in Reading and the Reading suburbs did not have active committee people, and would not have poll watchers or much of a Democratic presence on Election Day. Low turnout in some key precincts, where Democrats got a high percentage of the relatively few votes that were cast, was disastrous--the 3,000 votes Lois needed can certainly be found in those low-turnout precincts. The precinct returns can be found here:

The 50-State-Strategy is designed to build the party in rural and small town areas like ours, precinct-by-precinct. The DNC made a good start this year, and I have high hopes for its future. My precinct, for instance, has not had Democratic Commitee People for years. This year three of us (all 2003 Deaniacs, who heeded the Doctor's call to get involved locally) ran for the posts.

If you are looking for more numbers to crunch, I'd love to see a comparison of the costs of some of the DNC's grassroots organizing efforts vs. the costs of TV time in expensive markets like our Philadelphia metropolitan market, and the other things that the DCCC wanted Dean to spend money on. When people say that the state chairs like Dean's strategy because it's channeling money to state parties, that can sound like we're getting cushy perks, or fat fees, but I think the money has been spent in lean, strategic ways, getting a big, lasting bang for the buck.

Here are two ways in which I saw DNC 50-State-Strategy funds being spent (I'm sure they were spent in other ways too, that I wasn't aware of):

1) An excellent Pennsylvania-based DNC 50-State trainer came to our Berks County Democratic Committee meetings for several sessions starting in the summer, and she gave valuable, practical guidance on how to orgranize a precinct, recruit volunteers, and put them to work. She then organized all of our county precinct leaders by our State Legislative District, had us elect leaders for our districts, and gave us guidance on how to work together as a team. My group, in the PA 130th, gelled around strong leadership, and contributed to a Democratic victory in a State Assembly seat that has long been Republican (though most of the credit goes to the fine candidate, Dave Kessler, who personally knocked on 6,000 doors and ran a clean, positive campaign on a sterling record of local service).

Now the campaign staffs have decamped, but I'm looking to the 2007 & 2008 elections, and using strategies that I learned from our DNC trainer to develop my small local network (I also learned some helpful techniques from the Murphy campaign staff, which I liked and miss). Our 130th District group has stuck together & is continuing to meet regularly. We don't take any money from the DNC for anything--rather, we raise money for campaigns, and we cover our own supplies and costs, and we donate our time. All the DNC paid for was our trainer--but that investment went a long way in 2006, and is still paying off.

2) In late summer the DNC introduced its Party Builder software (check it out at This platform makes it easy for local activists to set up personal profiles, establish groups and organize events, and conduct outreach in their communities. I am finding it a great organizing tool as I try to build a network of interested Dems in my area, and try to convert them into activist Dems, or just occasional volunteers and regular voters. Here again, Dean and the DNC are investing in empowering the grassroots volunteers to be more effective throughout the year, and build for future campaigns, and I think that investment will pay off.


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