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The New York Times

How Democrats who lost in deep red places could have helped Biden

Ebony Carter faced a surge when she voted last year to run for the Georgia State Senate. Her deeply Republican district south of Atlanta hadn’t voted a Democrat since 2001, and a Democrat hadn’t even bothered to campaign for the seat since 2014. State party officials told her that they no longer tried to fight for the seat because they believed a Democrat could not win it. That has been proven correct. Carter lost 40% of the vote, the most for a Liberal in years. But her run may have helped another candidate: Joe Biden. Sign up for The Morning Newsletter from the New York Times. The president, who won a victory in Georgia by 12,000 votes, received a small but potentially important boost from the conservative areas of the state if at least one local Democrat was in a vote, according to a new study by Run for Something, an organization that dedicated to recruiting and supporting liberal candidates. This finding extended to even the redest districts in the state. The phenomenon seemed to be national. Biden did 0.3% to 1.5% better in Conservative legislative districts where Democrats introduced challengers than in districts where Republicans ran unopposed last year. The analysis was conducted using available district-level data in eight states – Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Arizona, Georgia, Texas, Kansas, and New York – and taking into account factors such as education to compare controversial and uncontested districts . The study showed an opposite coattails effect: it was lower-level candidates running in near-hopeless situations – red districts that Democrats had traditionally viewed as a no-profit area with little to no investment – that topped the national or statewide numbers the ballot helped instead of voting candidates benefiting from a popular national candidate from the same party. “The whole theory behind this is that these candidates are high profile organizers,” said Ross Morales Rocketto, co-founder of Run for Something. “They are people in their community who have one-on-one interviews with voters in a way that national campaigns cannot.” The idea isn’t new, but it is the first time a comprehensive study has been conducted of the possibility of such a reverse coattails effect, and it will come when the Democratic Party reinforces its strategy for next year’s midterm elections. When Howard Dean became chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 2005, he tried to implement a “50-state strategy” to build party infrastructure and candidate recruitment at all levels and in every state – even in firmly republican districts. The hope was that having at least one Democrat running in each county would help the party build a larger base for future elections. Dean met with skepticism from national strategists who believed in a more conventional way of focusing limited campaign resources on swing districts. After his tenure, the strategy fell out of favor. What tends to fail such a strategy with 50 states and all districts is the limited resources that both parties have at each election and the realpolitical considerations that inevitably lead them to invest a disproportionate amount of money in certain races, the are viewed as particularly important and win-win. “If you have candidates devoted to the floor game this might help, but typically, campaigns on the lower end of the spectrum don’t have that much money and certainly not that much party-made anymore,” said Ed Goeas, a Republican pollster. He said that if campaigns at the top of the ticket have a different approach to issues than campaigns by local candidates, one reason could be that it is difficult to control messaging during voting. In the last few cycles, the Democrats have largely taken back the House, Senate, and Presidency. Now that the party is in control of all three, voting organizers want the party to shift some of its focus to state legislative races. Morales Rocketto expressed hope the study would start a conversation among Democrats about how they invest in state and local races. During the 2020 election cycle, Senate Democratic campaigns like Amy McGrath in Kentucky and Jaime Harrison in South Carolina raised huge sums of money, in some cases over $ 90 million for a single campaign. For comparison, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee said it raised $ 51 million for legislative races in 86 chambers in 44 states. “Now that we’ve got through the 2020 elections, we really need to make sure that we focus on that,” Morales told Rocketto. “We voted Joe Biden, but Trump and Trumpism and the things he said and stood for are not gone and we could lose it all again.” And what these losses look like is already known, argued Jessica Post, president of the Committee on Democratic Legislative Campaigns. “When Republicans took control of 21 state legislatures in 2010, we lost control for nearly a decade trying to win the United States Congress,” she said. “We now have a challenge in holding the United States Senate, and Republicans are undermining our voting rights in this state legislature.” Since the presidential election, Republican-led lawmakers across the country have been drafting bills to restrict access to voting, sparking Democratic calls for additional local party infrastructure. The way to get that investment and attention from the Democratic National Committee, according to Morales Rocketto, is to highlight how a bottom-up approach can help the party at the national level as well. Post repeated this feeling. “So many of the building blocks of American democracy are really built in the state,” she said. Republicans have tied the Democrats into their legislative infrastructure for years, said Jim Hobart, a Republican pollster. “Democrats are pretty open, legally, to catching up,” he said. “Whatever the reason, the Democrats have been more angry about federal races.” Hobart said both parties should have strong candidates running up and down for office because the parties never know which districts will become competitive. For 2020 Republicans, some of those surprise districts were on the southern Texas border, which had previously been a relatively blue region. “It came as a shock to everyone that the Republicans were as strong as they were in those counties,” Hobart said. “But if you have candidates for everything on the ballot, it means you’ll be ready to use that infrastructure in a good year.” The new study will only be a consideration as the DNC is reviewing its strategy for state legislative and other voting rounds in the medium term. The committee promises to increase investment in such races to win both traditional battlefield states and become more competitive in red-toned states that tend blue. DNC officials who refused to speak about the study pointed to Kansas, which has a Democratic governor but voted for former President Donald Trump by 15 percentage points, as an example of a state they want to put the results in of the study into action. Democrats in the state are preparing to re-elect Governor Laura Kelly, and Ben Meers, executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party, said he hopes to test the theory. He said that a Democratic campaign in deep red districts would require a different type of field organization. “There are some districts where we cannot have an organized county party if the state party can’t find a Democrat because the area is so red,” he said. “But if we can even lead the lonely Democrat, we can find out there and get a few of those votes – you know the analogy: a rising tide lifts all democratic ships.” Some Democratic strategists in Kansas found that telephone bank recruiters in the general election had more success with voters if they focused on Congressional and local candidates rather than routing their calls with Biden. They hope that building local connections in the state will help Kelly’s campaign. In Georgia, Run for Something believes Carter’s presence on the ballot greatly improved Biden’s performance in their state. While the group said that district-level data alone could be misleading and needed to be combined with other factors considered in their analysis, Biden averaged 47 in the three counties – Newton, Butts, and Henry – where Carter operated % of the vote district, the 110th, sits. That was 5 percentage points more than Hillary Clinton’s performance in 2016. Carter said she was trying to get the district going. “It was never an ambition for me to run for office,” she said. “It was more out of necessity where I live.” Carter’s borough has grown exponentially over the past decade, resulting in demographic change and diverse political approaches. She knew through previous political organization and her own campaigns that many people in her district, including friends and family, did not know when local elections were taking place, why they were important, or what liberal or conservative positions at the local level might look like. Carter said she spent a lot of time during her campaign educating people about the importance of voting, especially in local races, which are often more of an impact on daily life, like school and police funding. “I thought it was a lot of the work that people didn’t want to do or that wouldn’t benefit them,” she said. “We won’t win every race, but we could win if we just did the leg work.” This article originally appeared in the New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company

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