Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Why Dismantling the Fifty State Program Was a Bad Idea

Howard Dean was excoriated by then DCCC Chair Rahm Emmanuel in 2006 over what he considered the wastefulness of the fifty state program, wherein the DNC paid state parties to maintain at least full time staff in every state. Rahm's objection was that it drew resources away from strategic districts to fund staff in areas that Democrats would never win.

In my opinion, over the course of 2006 and 2008, Dean was proved right.

Unexpected districts became viable Democratic targets, in part because infrastructure now existed in areas that had previously been ignored.

Tim Kaine, the current DNC Chair, did not completely roll back the fifty state program, incorporating some of its ideas into was is now known as Organizing for America or OFA. But he did pull back from the admittedly expensive proposition of funding full time staff across the country.

And it seems to be biting Democrats in the ass right now. We are seeing a reverse of the last two cycles, where incumbents Democrats who were never thought to be in danger are now facing their greatest challenges in years. Had the fifty state program still been in place, there would have been greater infrastructure in place to counteract this trend, as well a greater likelihood of detecting the danger early.

The national committees would not typically do much polling in these supposedly safe districts, but a qualified field staffer might get a sense from the ground that something is happening - because a good operative senses these things on a gut level as the small things (conversations, meetings, scanning local media) fall into place in the recesses of his or her mind and finally comes together in an educated "hunch" - and other qualified operatives will take those sort of hunches seriously (I spent years as a political researcher and when I went to my manager and said, "I can't tell you why, but I think 'X' is about to become an issue in this race," good manager listened and added a question on that issue on their next poll and readied a response).

In the absence of a fifty state program, too many incumbents were caught flat footed in October by the sudden realization that they could lose.

One also wonders whether a "67 county" program by the Florida Democratic Party to put full time, year round staff in every county could have averted some of the potential losses the party faces at the legislative level?


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