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Cecil Says Strong Candidates Helped DSCC Win

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Cecil, the executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said the group made gains by treating each race as a choice between two people, not a reflection of the national climate or the presidential contest.

The group of DSCC operatives included national field director John Hagner, who was on the ground in North Dakota for the last several weeks of the campaign, deputy political director Rory Steele, who sat in on each of the Heitkamp campaign’s weekly calls, and campaign services director Lauren Dikis, who helped lead the campaign’s fundraising operation.

The DSCC transferred money to the state parties, who then led the operations that resulted in 485,000 door-knocks in North Dakota and more than 2 million each in Montana and Missouri, where Sens. Jon Tester and Claire McCaskill were re-elected.

“Our money was helpful, we funded the ground, we did all that stuff, but they ran really sound, good technical campaigns,” Cecil said. “It’s nice to get a break, and it’s nice to have somebody say something stupid, but the best wins are when you just beat the opponent.”

Given the size of the map, Cecil said the DSCC started earlier, built a bigger staff, including an in-house research operation, and was more aggressive in helping campaigns raise money because candidates pay the lowest unit rate for TV ads.

In states Romney was expected to win by a big margin, the DSCC strategy was to ensure that its candidates could at least make it into October with a fighting chance. That led to spending earlier than normal in North Dakota, where the committee’s first independent expenditure ads went up in April, and Indiana, when its first coordinated ad began running in mid-June.

Beyond running ads and transferring money to the state parties, the DSCC had the added challenge of trying to help Indiana Rep. Joe Donnelly raise money when it wasn’t yet clear to donors, whose focus was turned to Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and Tim Kaine in Virginia, that he had a chance to win.

“The problem for a Joe Donnelly or a Mazie Hirono was there were so many races,” Cecil said. “It was just hard to get on the map to raise money when you had all of these other candidates running.”

This cycle was notable for how differently the two parties viewed the competitiveness of several states that turned out to be Senate battlegrounds. Nowhere was it more stark than Wisconsin, where Republicans went into Election Day believing former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson was in a strong position to win. Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin won by 8 points.

Thompson enjoyed a bump in the polls following his Aug. 14 primary victory. But the primary depleted his funds and GOP outside groups went dark over the next few weeks as Baldwin, the DSCC and Democratic outside groups were unchallenged in defining both candidates. DSCC tracking polls turned in Baldwin’s favor after a couple of weeks and she never trailed again.

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