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The Worst Investors
Following the money to its sad conclusion: Democratic donors have no clue what they’re doing.
If you could click a button and cause one MAGA maniac to lose re-election, who would that be?
The list has to include Marjorie Taylor Greene or Lauren Boebert — the GOP’s “best of the worst”.
Challengers to the Republican incumbents the left loves to hate are frequently flooded with cash. An analysis of end-of-year FEC filings makes it clear that Democratic donors continue pouring money into the wrong places — while completely ignoring districts where early investment could yield wins.
Challengers to Boebert and Greene are an ideal case study: Greene’s top opponent raised $4,660,148 in 2021 and ended the year with $1.5 million on hand. Meanwhile, none of Boebert’s challengers ended the year with $100,000 in the bank.
The problem? Boebert’s district is much, much, much more winnable for a Democrat than her crackpot counterpart in Georgia.
Boebert’s CO-03 voted for Trump at the same rate as Ohio (53%).
Greene’s GA-14 voted for Trump at a higher rate (68.1%) than all but two states.
We’ve written before about how the current political marketplace leads to a highly inefficient allocation of Democratic resources. Sometimes this is because the money is disorganized — as in the case of Boebert and Greene. Other times, however, it’s because the organized money on the far-left is directed toward counterproductive ends.
The latter was on full display in Texas’ 28th congressional district this past week, where Justice Democrats again made a play to take out conservative Democrat Henry Cuellar in the party primary. By falling just short of the 50% vote threshold required to avert a runoff, both challenger and incumbent will now go through another costly primary round with months more of fundraising asks and negative ads.
The problem? Redistricting made this a rare swing seat in Texas, with Biden receiving 52.8% of the 2020 vote share in the newly-drawn lines. That puts TX-28 in the same category as the Nebraska seat that a Justice Democrats-backed candidate lost handily in 2020 (for more details on that race, check out The Other Eastman Memo).
Democratic donors have invested millions in an unwinnable race in Georgia, ignored a real chance to go on offense against Boebert, and invested millions more in making a Texas seat vulnerable. More on all of this below, but first a few things our team was reading and talking about this week.
Sunday Reading in the Big Tent
1. Christopher Cadelago in POLITICO Magazine on the perils of being Democrat in rural America:
“In these towns and counties, there remain thousands of Democrats like Fitzpatrick who are faithful to their party—and feel that they are paying an increasingly steep price for that loyalty. Nearly 30,000 people in Clearfield County voted for Trump in 2020, roughly three-quarters of the ballots cast. But the other 25 percent who voted for Joe Biden—9,673 people—find themselves in an unusual position: They supported the ultimate winner and yet a relentless and toxic campaign to delegitimize his victory and overturn the election makes them feel somehow as if they’re under siege.”
2. Local news in Ohio on how Tim Ryan is working to differentiate himself from the Democratic Brand in the state’s Senate race (something we’ve highlighted as a promising path to victory in swing races):
“In events like this across Ohio, Ryan makes the same pitch that has helped him become the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in the state’s closely-watched Senate race.
“Talk to your friends. Say, like, ‘He’s not a normal Democrat. This guy’s talking about everything that you care about,’” Ryan said.
He focuses strictly on the economy — jobs, wages, rebuilding the middle class and beating China.”
3. More POLITICO with five takeaways from the Texas primaries, in which Third Way’s Matt Bennett cautions readers against buying into media narratives portraying the far-left as a dominant faction within the Democratic Party (the article somehow gives the last word to the far-left group Our Revolution, which has never won a swing seat):
“Matt Bennett of the center-left group Third Way, said, ‘The moderate New Democrat Coalition has 97 House members; the Squad has 6. If they continue to add 2-4 per cycle, the Squad might match the New Dems’ numbers in 45 years.’”
Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert took the opportunity to further distinguish themselves at last week’s State of the Union.
In the interest of exploring how to beat them in 2022 (where possible), let’s break down the their campaigns by Trump vote share in 2020 and current challenger cash on hand.
We’ll start with Trump vote share.
Greene’s district, the newly-drawn GA-14, voted 68.1% for Trump in 2020. And Boebert’s new CO-03 went 52.9% for Trump.
Boebert’s is one of only a handful of GOP-held districts where Trump won with less than 53% of the vote last cycle and Greene’s is… redder than the very red states of Idaho, Mississippi, and Nebraska.
It doesn’t take a math PhD to look at these numbers and understand that Democrats seeking to invest in unseating MAGA extremists would be far better served focusing their resources on Boebert (and many other beatable Republicans) than on Greene.
Unfortunately, end-of-year fundraising data illustrates the distance between this rational mindset and the Democratic donor base.
Greene’s leading challenger, Marcus Flowers, has run a glitzy digital campaign and has in turn been showered with millions in online donations and has more than $1.5 million on hand. With $4.6 million raised to date, Flowers was one of the highest congressional fundraisers nationwide last year. (Side note: Mark Zuckerberg has benefitted distinctly from Flowers’ online success: almost $2 million of the campaign’s expenditures have gone directly to Facebook for more fundraising advertisements.)
In an October 2021 report, Slate.com exposed this absurdity and was blunt about Flowers’ chances of beating Greene:
“Flowers’ 0.00 percent chance of winning his race isn’t mentioned on his pages for the well-known ActBlue or VoteVets donor platforms, nor is it mentioned in the online advertising that Democratic firms like Run the World Digital have been paid to do on his behalf.”
As for Boebert’s far more winnable district? None of the (large) Democratic field running in CO-03 ended last year with even $100,000 in cash on hand. Beyond that, the money that has been raised has not been allocated efficiently: a far-left candidate likely ill-suited to win this Republican-leaning district was the highest fundraiser of 2021 with a $535,120 haul. (Sandoval’s campaign has spent $77,376 on Facebook ads to date.)
Maybe Flowers could take his multimillion dollar stockpile to challenge Boebert - he could buy a place in Durango, CO (or maybe Wolf Creek if he’s looking for better skiing). Given how inefficient the Democratic funding marketplace is, that is more rational than much of what we have seen to date.
Is Jessica Cisneros headed for a Kara Eastman-style race in TX-28?
Apart from the State of the Union and Boebert-Greene antics, the other big political story of the week was about the Texas primaries — the first of the cycle.
In the much-discussed TX-28 race, Justice Democrats-backed candidate Jessica Cisneros is now headed to a runoff against establishment incumbent Henry Cuellar, who eked out a victory by a little over a point. Cisneros has already raised $1.5 million for her challenge against Cuellar, a conservative Democrat.
If far-left organizations investing heaps into a district a few standard deviations away from the political terrain where they’ve found success sounds eerily familiar, that’s because it is. As we wrote a few months ago, Kara Eastman’s doomed 2020 congressional run in NE-02 illustrates how the far-left underperforms in swing districts. Joe Biden won in Eastman’s district with 52.3% of the vote, on par with his performance in the newly-drawn TX-28 (52.8%).
Just how badly did things go for Eastman last cycle? This bad:
“Biden won the district by nearly seven points — a roughly 10-point swing from 2016 — while Eastman lost by about five points. This 12-point difference means 6% of voters cast split tickets for Biden and Bacon. GOP Rep. Bacon outperformed Trump by about 17,000 votes. Not only is Eastman the lone Justice Democrats-backed candidate to have run in a swing district, but, in losing a district that Joe Biden won handily, she was the Democratic Party’s most critical under-performer in the cycle.”
Is the far-left on track to repeat their NE-2 mistake in TX-28 this year? Let’s hope not.
The Problem with “Rage Donating”
The political scientist Eitan Hersh coined the term “rage donating” to describe the phenomenon by which hordes of online donors — many of whom gamble on politics like it’s a sport — shower gobs of money on long-shot candidates and campaigns. In his observation, the act of rage donating is far more expressive than it is impactful:
“Online giving, large and small, suffers from a problem of discipline. Rather than stopping and thinking and planning a strategy—which candidate or organization would make the best use of my money?—many online donors are just acting expressively. They see an inspiring video, and they click Donate. They see a good politician take down a bad politician in a debate or in a congressional hearing, and they click Donate. They mourn the loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and they click Donate. Sometimes this money goes to a great campaign or organization that will use it well. Other times, not so much.”
Rage donating has proven itself as a highly effective and reliable means of raising money in a media environment that rewards outrage and conflict. In this supercharged context, the act of donating in response can feel cathartic — a sense of instant gratification. Democrats donate to unwinnable campaigns against most-hated Republicans quite simply because it feels good.
Democratic donors have proven time and time again that they are not efficient allocators of precious resources. If we’re going to win in 2022 and defend our democracy as its darkest hour approaches, it’s time to invest diligently in the districts with the highest ROI — not just those that make us feel good.