Friday, January 8, 2010

Fundraising Starts to Pick Up for 2010 Elections

Summary: Tracking the money at an important fundraising stage.

With this year’s midterm elections 11 months away, campaigns and party organizations are focusing on one thing: money.

We start in Florida where 8th District Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson raised a whopping $850,000 in the fourth quarter last year, bringing his cash-on-hand to over $1 million already. This was largely due to his striking anti-GOP rhetoric which convinced liberals across the country to donate to his campaign - almost $700,000 last quarter came from liberal activists through ActBlue.

Meanwhile, his liberalism has also helped his opponents raise money, and more and more prominent Republicans have jumped into the race believing Grayson is vulnerable.

On the national party side, the Republican National Committee has been trying to reassure donors that they’re doing well financially, despite burning through most of their budget last year. With over $22 million in the bank at the start of last year, the RNC ended 2009 with just $8.7 million cash-on-hand. And that was for just a small handful of races. Nonetheless, the RNC did report raising over $81 million over the course of the year.

From our perspective, it’s still incredible that they managed to burn through over $95 million in a year with only three or four targeted races.

On the other side of the spectrum, CQ Politics reports that despite it being in his party’s interests (and no doubt his own), President Obama has still not been lined up for any fundraising activities for House or Senate Democrats. Campaigns are beginning a critical six-month period for fundraising efforts, so it seems strange the President is not on board. In fact, he hasn’t even traveled outside of Washington in the country (except for a vacation in Hawaii) since early November.

When that will change is still uncertain.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The 2010 Elections - in Britain!

Summary: Conservatives expect to take down Labour in this year's UK elections - but can American poltiical consultants change the dynamic?

You can rest assured that we’ll be following this year’s midterm elections in the U.S. with a close eye. But we’ll also be following a very pivotal General Election in the United Kingdom, which could shift the balance of power in our close ally’s realm.

Lately, I noticed a strange increase in hits for this blog coming from London. I didn’t think much of it at first, until we received an email in press release form from a fellow campaign person.

Subject: The Independent (London) / Tory leader embraces "progressive" brand

David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party, is now leading [Prime Minister] Gordon Brown's Labour Party by 9% in the polls - in a nation with 3 major parties and some minor ones as well -- the current situation portends a disastrous predicament for Labour.

Cameron is a very articulate politician - so articulate that he has seized the 'progressive' brand and promised reforms that will include "incentives" -- ie. tax cuts or 'socialism' for the wealthy and the richest corporations.

In his 'progressive' statement, Cameron announces a law and order crackdown on drugs, alcohol and debtors along with the privatization of welfare and a massive expansion of the prison system as 'progressive' policies. Quite.

This very brief statement is a masterpiece of political rhetoric and propaganda.

He then added in Cameron’s statement to The Independent, a London newspaper.

David Cameron: Progressive Conservatism will mean a fairer, greener society

We will use the state to help remake society by encouraging people to take responsibility for themselves and for one another

Monday, January 4, 2010

If we win this year's election Britain will be under new economic management. We will send out the loudest signal that this country is back open for business and ready for investment. Decline is not inevitable. Confidence can return. If we take action now – to get a grip on the public finances and unleash enterprise – Britain can have a bright economic future. A strong economy gives us the foundation for a better life. But the mission that drives this party is building a stronger society.

We are progressive Conservatives. Our goal is a fairer, safer, greener country where opportunity is more equal. It's because we are progressives that we will protect the [National Health Service]. We recognise its special place in our society so we will improve it for everyone.

It's because we are progressives that we will support aspiration so that people from every background, not just the rich, have the chance to get on in life. A pupil premium that gives the poorest children the chance to go to the best state schools. Welfare reform that helps those in long-term poverty move into long-term employment. Strengthening families with practical and financial help to give parents time with their children and keep couples together. We will fight back against the root causes of deprivation – drug addiction, alcoholism, indebtedness, failing prisons.

It's because we are progressives that we will support responsibility and strong families so we help mend our broken society and tackle the crime and misery it brings. A decade of big government and blunt, bureaucratic control has undermined responsibility and made our social problems worse, not better.

We are determined to forge a new direction. We will use the state to help remake society by encouraging people to take responsibility for themselves and for one another. We will provide new opportunities for community groups, neighbourhood organisations, charities, social enterprises to help rebuild our civil society. We will create incentives and use the best technology to encourage and enable people to come together, solve their problems together, make this society stronger together.

As we do this we will redistribute power from the political elite to the man and woman in the street.

First let me address the rhetoric. It’s of no surprise to me that Cameron presents the Tories as “Progressive Conservatives” - progressive conservatism has been a sweeping force across Europe for a decade now. Leaders like French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi all embody this sort of ideology.

And outside the individual countries, conservatives have been making electoral strides as well. The European Union Assembly is now dominated by a coalition of center-right parties. The UK’s Labour Party was especially upset following the EU election last June.

Conservatism itself doesn’t play well in Europe - few if any Europeans will tell you they respect the Republican Party of the U.S. But modern center-right parties like the Tories have done well to use the “progressive” brand. When I was in London a few years back, I remember non-affiliated young voters (the most progressive kind) telling me how David Cameron was a great man, and how he and his party were the best choice for Britain.

And the Conservative Party has gone beyond rhetoric and into image. British blogs frequently mention the way Cameron has tried to emulate President Obama (it’s somewhat easy, since they’re both young and articulate) and how the Tories’ website has been updated to look hip and optimistic, including the slogan “Year for Change”.

Of course, it’s all politics. Obama himself has reportedly called Cameron “a lightweight” and my guess is they’re not too interchangeable ideologically. But Obama has a strong resonance in Europe, and every politician wants to look like him.

And despite being a nearly all-white party, the Tories are doing it better than anyone.

Back to the London hits…

A quick query into why these Brits were reading our blog produced an interesting find: they were searching for American political consultants. We just happen to be American political consultants.

You see, the UK doesn’t have set elections. The government (i.e., the majority party) has to call for elections within 5 years of their last election. If they fail to do so, the Queen does it instead. The last election in the UK was in 2005, so everyone knows that there has to be one this year, although when it will be exactly no one's sure.

Keep in mind this is for all of Parliament (except for some of the Lords) - different from how Congress runs on just two-year cycles. Plus, local elections are often seen as meaningless and no one really works on them, except for some big Mayoral races. Almost all real policy work is done on the national level from Westminster.

From what I understand, because campaigning can only officially happen between the time the election is called and the date of the election they don't really have any professional campaigners - it's all organized by the parties.

Again, from what I’ve seen, party operatives place staffers from Parliament on the ground for those weeks to run campaigns. But because of the uncertainty in the system, there aren't many consultants because it's not as economically feasible to be one there.

As a result, American consultants are often brought in to work for the Tories, Labour, and other parties.

The reason 2010 will be a pivotal year for British politics is because few are actually expecting Labour to maintain control - most have resigned to accepting Cameron as the next Prime Minister. One only needs to see the downturn Labour has had on the electoral map to understand why.

Yet I believe a rush of American political consultants could help change the dynamic. Neither party in the UK has done an especially good job of expanding the electorate or appealing to new, young, and important untapped voters. Politics is rarely something to get excited about in Britain.

American politicos, however, have learned some important lessons on those fronts following the 2008 election of Barack Obama. The ongoing study of just how effectively that campaign built support, enthusiasm, and inevitably a movement demonstrates just how much campaigning matters.

And despite the glaring differences in electoral systems, British voters could be moved the same way Americans were with the proper input. We’re not saying Gordon Brown could easily present himself as the British Obama, but Labour will need to make a dramatic move towards an Obama-like campaign strategy if they really want to retain power.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

How the Recent Retirements Will Shake Things Up

Summary: As Dorgan, Dodd, and Ritter announce their plans to retire, the Democratic Party may stand to lose more races up and down the ticket

Last night it was reported that Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) will retire this year, leaving an open seat in the Roughrider State.

This was unquestionably bad news for Democrats. Dorgan was able to hold on to the seat solely based on the incumbency effect - the national Democratic Party is not very popular in North Dakota. At least it won’t be in 2010.

Two candidates have emerged to possibly run as Democrats for Dorgan’s seat: at-large Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) and MSNBC talk show host Ed Shultz. Shultz is way too liberal to be elected in North Dakota, and we’ve mentioned before how TV personalities would have a lot of difficulty running for office.

But for Democrats, the best case scenario would be a Shultz campaign and Pomeroy keeping his House seat, because that would likely turn red if he ran for Senate - and there’s no guarantee he’d win the higher office. Obviously, some Democrats disagree.

There was some light at the end of the tunnel for the Dems, though, when it was reported Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) will retire as well. Dodd was in really bad shape for a 2010 re-election and a GOP pick-up would not have been shocking. Now it will be.

Democrats have already lined-up their candidate for the Constitution State: the popular State Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal. And Blumenthal has already told the press he’s all-in, leaving little doubt that this was all planned out ahead of time.

Regardless, a Dodd loss was not inevitable, and now a Democratic loss in North Dakota may quite possibly be.

Also recently announced, Governor Bill Ritter (D-CO) may be stepping down after his term is complete. That leaves a big open-seat race in the Centennial State. However, Republicans have been campaigning in full swing already to take down the incumbent Democrat, and they have a long head start over any Democrats who would now have to step in to replace Ritter. While it could have easily been a GOP pick-up anyway, this retirement probably hurts Colorado Democrats a lot more than it helps.

Back in November, I took a look at Senate and Gubernatorial projections for this year and estimated net losses of less than 6 Senate races and less than 5 gubernatorial races for Democrats.

While these retirements don’t significantly change those figures, I think it makes the prospects for how many less a bit worse. It’s simply a bleaker picture than it was yesterday.

Nate Silver has a much more conservative estimate of Democratic losses. In a post today, he had this to say:

"If I aggregate my estimates from the individual races, I show Republicans picking up an average of 4.60 Democratic seats, but also, Democrats picking up an average of 2.65 Republican seats, for a net Republican gain of 1.95 seats…

… It also bears remembering that, although I remain quite pessimistic about what will happen to Democrats in the House, the Senate playing field is intrinsically more favorable to them. The Senators who are up for re-election this year are those who were elected in 2004 -- a good cycle for Republicans. And while Democrats were hurt by their retirements in North Dakota, Delaware, New York, Illinois and probably Colorado (they were helped by Chris Dodd's retirement in Connecticut), the Republicans have created opportunities for them with the retirements in Missouri, Ohio, New Hampshire and perhaps Florida (they were helped by Jim Bunning's retirement in Kentucky). If the 2006 senate class were up for re-election this year, Democrats would potentially face very substantial losses, but fortunately for Democrats they aren't."

Of course, 2010 is not only important because it is a likely backlash-year for the majority party, it’s also a critical election year at the state level. The State Legislatures will be redistricting their states after this year’s census, and Democrats were already at risk in those races.

With these retirements on the federal level, state Democrats may be feeling ambitious enough to run for higher office, leaving their seats open for competitive races (the Political Ripple Effect). Obviously, this isn’t a big deal per se in North Dakota (which isn’t big enough for 2 congressional districts) but it could be in Colorado and even possibly in Connecticut.

That could be very beneficial to the GOP for the new decade.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

How to Effectively Campaign Online with Web Ads

Summary: Some Do’s and Don’ts of online campaigning.

Our friends at Spot-On recently sent an email blast about effectively campaigning online. One important aspect was how to effectively use web ads.

In a post on their company blog, they point out the “Do’s and Don’ts” of using web ads:

DO start early.

Online advertising can be used for a variety of purposes - early fundraising, field organizing, and GOTV. Online readers are usually hungry for information, so the sooner you start even a small fundraising and name I.D. campaign online, the better. More importantly, this helps you with publishers as elections near and ad space runs short. Long term clients tend to get more attention than someone who's showing up for the first time 2 weeks before election day.

Also remember that unlike political TV ads or direct mail, where political advertisers are used to getting preferential treatment and prices at election time, Internet advertising pits you against everyone who wants to place an ad online. Consider also that back-to-school ads and early holiday shopping ads pop up around election time, and you can see why planning early and often makes the difference.

DON'T skimp on creative.

Successful on-line ads make people want to read and click on your ad to learn more about your campaign or cause. Many people make the mistake of treating online ads as "display" ads to be looked at, passively, not ads that engage voters. You want people to see the ad and feel compelled to click through to your campaign's online operations.

That's why your ads should borrow a trick from direct-mail marketers and use easily understood "calls to action" to get the reader to do something for your campaign. Fundraising, signing an online petition, an emotional issue-based appeal, and so on will do much better than a dull "Vote for Smith" banner that doesn't tell people much.

DO make sure your designers are using proper technical specifications.

There is nothing worse than being on a tight deadline, and having to have artwork re-sized to fit display standards. Spot-on complies with the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) standards. They are available at their site. Make sure all of your designers are familiar with the standards.

Likewise, avoid the urge to use excessive Flash or audio in your ads. Many sites will not accept any ads, even ones to spec, that use audio or video. Others require animation to stop once it has run through a cycle.

DON'T isolate online from the rest of your campaign.

Internet advertising and online advocacy are no longer "extras" bolted on after the rest of the campaign's plan is done. All aspects of a campaign's voter contact plan - television, direct mail, Facebook marketing and outreach, and online ads - should all maintain a unified look and feel. This reinforces the message and drives voters to your website, your Facebook presence and/or application, your campaign office to volunteer and so on.

DO consider a variety of options for your online ads.

Focusing your on-line dollars on traditional outlets that have dominated your city or town can be an exercise in futility. Many reach less than 20 percent of their markets online. With so many choices available to voters nowadays for information, advertising solely on online versions of print media may limit your reach more than you realize. Ethnic media, trade publications, and geo-targeted ads on national media (think targeting Chicago readers of the New York Times, for example). It's the kind of planning that sounds counter to common sense - and yet can often be the edge your campaign needs to win.

Spot-on's Pinpoint Persuasion service is designed to reach voters that meet your search criteria. Using a range of services designed to help us pinpoint the voters by interest, gender, income, affiliation or other demographics, as well as our own rich database of information, Spot-on will help you get your message to the right audience at the right time to create a winning campaign.

Most of these points seem obvious, but in retrospect, they’re only obvious after you’ve read them. We hope they help you as you work out your online strategy for 2010.

Monday, January 4, 2010

10 Things to Watch for in 2010

With 2009 over and a midterm election just 11 months away, pundits will be commenting on every imaginable issue over the year. Most of this you can probably ignore, but there are 10 things to keep your eye on in '10.

1) Jobs, Jobs, and Jobs. With only a few small dips here and there, unemployment steadily went up in 2009. The majority of Americans said at the beginning of Obama's term that they'd give him 18 months to revive the economy before blaming him for economic woes. As many predicted, that leash was a lot shorter. The stock market may be doing better, the GDP is up, and the recession is technically over - now jobs must be created. The success of the Democratic Party this year primarily hinges on this issue.

2) Who is "Nationalizing" the Midterms? Frankly, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans should want to nationalize these elections, as neither party is particularly popular at the federal level. And despite the fact that you can tweet a message across the world, all politics is still local. Republicans will want to take the route of Chris Christie and target state and local Democratic failures (particularly on state and local budget issues) rather than the President. This is not what they appear to be planning. His approval rating may be low, but many state and local Democrats are even less popular right now. Democrats should focus on themselves as individual candidates - and what they've personally done for the local community - rather than point to their larger party.

3) The Ire of the Bases. Everyone knows that the conservative base of the GOP is angry, as made evident by the outlandish Tea Party protests last year. But the liberal base of the Democratic Party is also uneasy. Just read Maureen Dowd's recent New York Times column. While nationalizing the election won't do any good reaching swing voters and changing voter preference, it could influence voter turnout. In 2010, the GOP's base is set to get active while the Democratic base might just stay home. Republicans would do themselves good to continue accelerating conservative angst with Obama and national Democrats, while Democrats would do themselves good to make a New Year's resolution to re-engage progressives against the national GOP.

4) The Incumbency Effect. It's usually beneficial to a politician to already hold the office he or she is running for. This might not be the case this year. Senators like Chris Dodd, Harry Reid, and Blanche Lincoln are at risk of losing their seats, along with a handful of House members. Pay close attention to elections this spring to see how local incumbents handle their races. Incumbents didn't do so well last year, but politics is by no means a consistent game.

5) Turning Activism into Campaigning. Ultimately, campaigns are the most important factors in elections. The way the base is engaged will not only affect turnout, but volunteering and contributing as well. Democrats need to inject (figurative) steroids into Organizing for America to bring back Obama volunteers for midterm races, and Republicans will want to come up with ways to redirect Tea Party activists towards assisting GOP candidates.

6) The Role of New Media. 2008 proved to be a great year for New Media operations, as the Obama campaign utilized them better than any campaign had before. Now with Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogging, and text-messaging becoming norms in political communication, 2010 will be a great test-year for how New Media can affect the outcomes of non-presidential races. The relative success of these operations this year will have a major impact on how campaigns use such services in the future.

7) How Long it Takes for a Healthcare Bill to be Signed. Passage of some sort of healthcare bill is becoming increasingly likely, but in order to appease enough members of both houses, it will take considerable time to sort out the details. Current goals are for a bill on President Obama's desk by mid-February, but it could take a lot longer than that. The sooner it is passed, the sooner Democrats can get past this contentious piece of legislation and focus on more appealing work that doesn't look so mucky to their constituents. Democrats will want the period between the signing and the election to be as long as possible - Republicans will want it to be as short as possible.

8) After Healthcare, What Next? Originally, it looked like President Obama would want to tackle climate change after a healthcare bill was complete. But with global warming denial as high as it is, an uncertain economic outlook, and local reservations about cap-and-trade, this might not be a good idea politically. Democrats would do themselves well to focus on improving education - Obama's other policy on the agenda - which is harder to lose votes over.

9) The War in Afghanistan. This will probably be one of those issues that sees a lot of ups and downs in public opinion. Many voters will not realize how long a surge will take, and that will produce misconceptions about the progress of the war. In the end, I don't think it will have a huge impact on the November elections, but if there does appear to be a general trend it could mean some subconscious attitudes will surface on Election Day. So pundits may want to track public opinion on the war now and again.

10) The Census. With 2010 Census forms due to hit homes around March, estimates regarding population shifts will come about periodically. That will be quite significant after this year is over. Where Congressional districts are lost and gained will have a huge impact on the make-up of Congress over the next decade, and could either confirm or disconfirm speculations of political realignment. Also be sure to watch the elections of State Legislatures, as they will be in charge of redistricting after this year.

Happy New Year!