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The Sweep: How to Read the Fundraising Numbers
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The Sweep: How to Read the Fundraising Numbers

It’s not just about the money flowing in.

Campaign Quick Hits

When Mitch Speaks, You Best Listen: Love them or hate them, Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi are almost certainly going to be remembered as the two best political strategists of the last quarter-century. So when the Senate minority leader doles out nuggets of wisdom, they are worth digesting because he is telling us what the official GOP Senate playbook will be for 2022 (not that every candidate will learn the plays, of course). Here’s a few from his latest interview with CNN’s Manu Raju and Alex Rogers:

On the “Big Lie”: “It’s important for candidates to remember we need to respect the results of our democratic process unless the court system demonstrates that some significant fraud occurred that would change the outcome.”

On new voting restriction laws as a political liability: “I think I can pretty confidently say, we won’t lose any elections over that issue, anywhere in the country. People are concerned about a wholly different set of concerns. Inflation, an out-of-control border, Afghanistan withdrawal, the controversy over COVID. I mean, the thought that a single Senate race in America would be decided over that issue strikes me as being wildly out of touch with what the American people are interested in.”

On a potential Todd Akin-esque repeat in Missouri: “Missouri is potentially challenging depending on the outcome in the primary … All I’ll say about Missouri at this point is we’re keeping our eye on it.”

More nuggets in the write-up here.

One Less Republican to Kick Around: “He is lying. He did not win Wisconsin. And he has provided no proof otherwise,” Wisconsin state Sen. Kathy Benier told Vice’s Cam Joseph. She won’t say Trump won, and she even supports absentee-ballot drop boxes. And so despite more than a decade as one of the most reliable conservative voices in the state legislature, Benier is not only not running for another term, the lifelong Republican is even considering leaving the party after repeated attacks from fellow Republicans and the former president. “Conspiracy theorists have taken over the party,” she said.

Cliffs Are Bad in Politics: Both a Senate seat and a governorship are up for grabs in the Peach State, but this is not the headline Democrats wanted to see: “President Joe Biden’s approval rating has fallen off a cliff in Georgia,” wrote famous Georgia political reporter Greg Bluestein last week. In May, the president clocked in at 51 percent approval, but now he’s down to 33 percent. 

Looking at the cross tabs, the reason for the sudden drop is obvious and bad for the White House: In May, only 5 percent of Democrats and 8 percent of black voters had an unfavorable review of Biden’s performance; now 26 percent of Democrats and 36 percent of black voters disapprove of the job he’s done so far.  

Other topline numbers offered more dismal news: 7 in 10 registered Georgia voters “believe the nation is heading down the wrong track, including nearly all Republicans and about half of Democrats.” More than 40 percent say their financial situation is worse off than a year ago.

Dark Money Dems: The New York Times’ Kenneth Vogel and Shane Goldmacher spent two months investigating undisclosed donations to Republicans and Democrats in 2021, and concluded that left-leaning groups far outspent right-leaning groups. “The analysis shows that 15 of the most politically active nonprofit organizations that generally align with the Democratic Party spent more than $1.5 billion in 2020 — compared to roughly $900 million spent by a comparable sample of 15 of the most politically active groups aligned with the G.O.P.,” Vogel and Goldmacher write. The article should be taken with a grain of salt since the reporters’ methodology excluded spending from donor-advised funds, labor unions, and think tanks. But it still caused quite a bit of a stir over the weekend, with Democratic lawyer Marc Elias going so far as to argue that the Supreme Court should revisit New York Times v. Sullivan, the 1964 case that restricts public officials’ ability to sue the press for defamation. “If the media is not going to be pro-democracy, then it probably is time for the courts to revisit New York Times v Sullivan (as conservative lawyers suggest),” Elias wrote in a since-deleted tweet on Saturday. “The case was premised on a role in democracy that the main stream press seems increasingly disinterested in playing.” 

Fundraising Numbers Are Just the Beginning

Audrey has put together this incredible list of this year’s campaign fundraising numbers, which were due to the Federal Elections Commission Monday night.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • DCCC vs. NRCC: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) slightly outraised its Republican counterpart (NRCC) in both the fourth quarter of 2021 and 2021 as a whole, with the DCCC ending the year with $82.5 million cash on hand compared to the NRCC’s $78.2 million. Both parties’ 2021 totals represent record off-year hauls. 

  • DNC vs. RNC: The Republican National Committee raised $158.6 million in 2021, slightly more than the Democratic National Committee’s annual haul of $157 million. The DNC ended the year with $65 million in cash on hand compared to the RNC’s $56.3 million. (Side note: RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel will outline the GOP’s midterm strategy Friday at the party’s winter meeting in Salt Lake City.)

Some candidates raked in massive war chests in the fourth quarter of 2021:

  • First-term Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly, one of the Democratic Party’s most vulnerable incumbents, raised $9 million in the fourth quarter. He is up for reelection this fall and ended 2021 with $18.5 million on hand. 

  • Vulnerable GOP Rep. Liz Cheney raised $2.05 million last quarter, the Casper Star-Tribune’s Victoria Eavis reported Monday, ending the year with $4.72 million on hand. She outperformed her Trump-endorsed primary opponent Harriet Hageman, who raised $443,460 last quarter and ended the year with $381,163 on hand.

  • First-term Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, who is up for re-election, raised $9.8 million in the last three months of 2021, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last week. He ended the year with $23 million on hand.

Like issue polling, fundraising numbers can sometimes be deceiving because they tell you what you asked: how much money came in the door. But it takes money to raise money, which is why every operative will tell you that if you want to understand the health of a campaign you need to know both fundraising totals (how strong is the fundraising operation) and cash on hand (how much is the campaign spending to raise all that money). 

One without the other is useless. 

Any fundraising consultant worth her salt can get low dollar money in the door—but a charmless, unappealing candidate will need a lot more bites at the apple. That means buying more donor email addresses, hitting those emails more often so that they tap out, and paying more on social media to get in front of those donors. On the other hand, a candidate with a lot of visibility and a compelling message will bring in that same low dollar money every time they appear for free on Fox News. 

And not all dollars are created equal—dollars from a voter in-state are different from dollars from an out-of-state donor, a profligate campaign can spend all of its cash on name brand consultants and never touch a single donor. Campaigns are getting better at hiding their spending, too. A headline may read that some law firm was paid $1 million by Buddy for Congress last quarter, but what that generally means is that the law firm is paying for opposition research and laundering that money to more controversial consultants not reported to the FEC. And that’s perfectly legal. 

Then there’s the limits of money. In the simplest terms, we are now to the point where campaigns are raising so much money that the returns on every dollar after a certain point are negligible. For example, there is an amount of money necessary to compete in any district, but there is also an amount so high that going above it won’t bring any more votes. Operatives think of it as the dollar per voter: $10 per vote is required, but $1,000 per vote will get you the same as $60 per vote. The delta between $60 and $1000 was money a campaign raised because it could and therefore had to spend before Election Day.

Lastly, there’s outside money now. If you tell me that a candidate is getting massively outraised by his opponent, that is no longer the end of the inquiry because now I need to know what their “IE” raised too. IE means independent expenditure, and it refers to outside groups that can collect unlimited money to help the candidate as long as they don’t “coordinate” their activities with the candidate. The IE can run television ads, organize volunteers, run phone banks, do opposition research, get voters to the candidate’s rallies. The IE can do everything but move the candidate around—and even then there’s some wiggle room—as long as everything it knows about the campaign is in the public domain. 

If you’re rolling your eyes at this point, then you get it. 

Here’s Andrew with some thoughts on how abortion could actually change the map this year.

Abortion Distortion

Most of the time, state legislative elections fly under the radar for all but the most crazed junkies of national politics. Which side controls the nation’s statehouses matters in elections that precede redistricting cycles, of course, and some winners of state races turn up on the national stage a few years hence. For the most part, though, it’s safe to leave statehouse races to the people in those states.

This year, however, may be a notable exception. As the Supreme Court gears up to decide, in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, whether to overrule Roe v. Wade, there’s a strong possibility that the court may significantly widen the scope of restrictions on abortion that states are constitutionally permitted to enact. But by the time that decision comes—it’s expected in June—most states will already have wrapped their legislative sessions for the year. That means the shape of America’s new patchwork abortion regime, in a possible post-Roe world, will likely depend at least in part on who’s holding the statehouses when the midterm dust settles.

Were Roe to fall, of course, some laws would change without any lawmaker moving a finger” 12 states already have anti-abortion laws on the books designed to go into effect if and when SCOTUS overturns Roe. Others still have legal bans on abortion that predate Roe that have never been legislatively removed.

Still it’s natural to expect the end of Roe would bring a flurry of new state-level fights.

Making predictions 10 months before Election Day is always tricky business, for both procedural and political reasons: Some states don’t even have their district maps set yet, making it hard to gauge how much home field advantage one party or the other will have, and the mood of voters today—pretty sour on the Democrats, for the most part—won’t necessarily hold for the rest of the year. (In January 2020, the D.C. media was transfixed by Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial—how many people you know ended up deciding their 2020 ballot based on Trump’s pressuring Ukraine to announce an investigation into Joe Biden?)

But even early in the game, it’s helpful to know what the score is. Today, 23 states have what Ballotpedia calls a Republican “trifecta”—single-party control of both legislative houses and the governor’s mansion. Another 14 states are Democratic trifectas.

According to Chaz Nuttycombe, director of state legislative forecasting group CNalysis, Republicans have the best shot of flipping chambers in two states: the Alaska House and the Minnesota House. According to the latest CNalysis forecast—a conservative estimate that tracks only single-member districts—Republicans currently are likely to pick up about 140 state legislative seats across the country, as suburban voters who abandoned the GOP during the Trump years begin to inch right again and rural voters continue to slide away from the Democrats, washing out the last Blue Dog Democrats from state legislatures in the Rust Belt and Midwest.

“One of the things that was contributing to [Republicans’ gains in 2020] was the continued decline of that breed of state legislative Democrats,” Nuttycombe told The Dispatch. “And you’re seeing a good amount of those, actually, there’s been a recent flurry of retirements across the country from said breed of Democrats in places like Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Iowa especially.”

How state legislatures’ partisan makeup would affect a post-Roe America isn’t the only salient question here, of course. It’s also worth pondering how the demise of Roe would itself influence the outcome of those legislatures’ elections. Right now, Republicans are enjoying a climate in which Democrats have staked out unpopular positions on many voters’ front-of-mind issues, including COVID policy and education. (Perhaps the biggest Democratic albatross—ongoing virtual learning—exists at the nexus of the two.) 

Throw abortion policy into the mix, though, and Republicans might not clean up among independents quite as well. And in the meantime, all eyes are on the Supreme Court.

Of Mice and Issue Polling, Revisited

Matthew Yglesias at Grid shares my beef with issue polling:

Planned Parenthood routinely claims that “79% of Americans don’t want to see Roe v. Wade overturned.” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said that “paid leave is overwhelmingly popular — even with Republicans.” And Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said “the American people want action, not never-ending ‘negotiations’ and obstructionism.” This is naturally an enticing line of thought for progressives — all their ideas are popular, and they are held back in life only by the timidity of the Democratic Party’s elected leaders….

[But] as one Democratic pollster who’s frustrated with some of the demands his clients put on him told me, “the most underrated idea in American politics is that lots of people vote Republican because they agree with them on policy.” 

Yglesias had his own thoughts on how we should be thinking about issue polling, and I asked my intern, Will, to give us the topline. He writes: 

Simply put, the need for headlines has overtaken the need for actual polling. And so we are left with partisan-driven issue polls that may or may not have any basis in reality for predicting how people think and certainly not how they will vote.

Many Americans are often uninformed about many issues—with 61 percent not even being able to name all three branches of the government. Given these staggering statistics, many people do not have deeply held views on specific issues, but they do have feelings on our political parties and what they do—or do not do—best. 

Recent polling by Grid demonstrated how a new type of question can change how we view or interpret the results. Rather than just asking what percentage of Americans want an increase of taxes on higher-income households, this new poll also questioned participants on which party they trust more to handle taxes. The result? “If you look across the issue space in a rigorous way,” Yglesias wrote, “the closely divided nature of American voting patterns simply reflects public divisions about the issues.”

Even then, in many of their polling results, the “not much difference” category often polled higher than one or both parties. 

Sarah Isgur is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in northern Virginia. Prior to joining the company in 2019, she had worked in every branch of the federal government and on three presidential campaigns. When Sarah is not hosting podcasts or writing newsletters, she’s probably sending uplifting stories about spiders to Jonah, who only pretends to love all animals.

Audrey is a former reporter for The Dispatch.

Andrew Egger is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.