Senate Democrats have quietly started implementing their plan to keep the majority by transferring funds to state parties with top races in 2014.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has begun making monthly transfers to these organizations to help construct first-rate, on-the-ground affiliates ahead of the midterms.
Democrats must defend a large number of seats — nine of the cycle’s 11 most competitive Senate races — to retain their majority. Democratic incumbents are running in five of these races, providing the party a prime opportunity to coordinate at the state level early in the cycle.
Battle-tested communications operatives have already been sent to state parties in Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina — homes of some of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats seeking re-election. Including those three states — but not counting the Massachusetts special election earlier this year — the DSCC has transferred a total of $84,000 to state parties as of Sept. 30, according to figures compiled by Political MoneyLine.
Committee funds were also sent to state parties in Alaska, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Montana and West Virginia. Funds often arrived in increments of $3,000 per month, although the DSCC would not confirm the exact purpose of these or any other transfers.
“We have a real advantage over Republicans in this area,” DSCC Deputy Executive Director Matt Canter said. “Because we’ve avoided primaries in competitive states and are unified behind our candidate, we’re now already building strong field and message operations for the general just as we’ve done in previous cycles.”
The three communications operatives sent to state Democratic parties so far this year include Patrick Burgwinkle in Arkansas, Andrew Zucker in Louisiana and Ben Ray in North Carolina.
Burgwinkle is a Democratic National Committee communications team alumnus. Zucker worked this year on Democratic Sen. Edward J. Markey’s special-election campaign in Massachusetts and ran communications in 2012 for the Ohio Democratic Party for a top-tier Senate race. Ray worked at the Indiana Democratic Party in the past cycle, which ended with an upset win by Sen. Joe Donnelly.
The DSCC has sent more than $9,000 to North Carolina in each of the past two months, more than it sent any other state.
State parties vary in quality among both parties, ranging from excellent to inept. National parties often intervene when there’s a competitive race in the state.
While the national party committees regularly duel on issues and races, Democratic parties in nearly every Senate battleground state for some time have been aggressively pushing narratives and attempting to define GOP candidates in hopes of gaining an edge for the general.
Democrats’ hopes of getting a jump on messaging were evident last week, when six Iowa Republican candidates vying for the open Senate seat debated at Drake University. The state Democratic Party dispatched six press releases to preview the event, fact-check the candidates and offer a blistering response from the chairman — a common election-year tactic in this case deployed more than 12 months from the general elections.
Brad Woodhouse, communications director at the DSCC during the 2004 cycle and until recently of the Democratic National Committee, said the state parties have in the past used the DSCC’s transfers for all facets of party committee work, including field and communications. Those payments can especially help with time management.
“I do remember a number of occasions where the DSCC would send a person to do communications at a state party — they may have had a communications director already, but we needed someone just to do work on a Senate race,” Woodhouse said.
In some states with both a top Senate and gubernatorial race, the Democratic Governors Association and the DSCC would pool their money to pay the salary of a communications operative that split his or her time between the two races, Woodhouse added.
The strategy, which insiders from both parties characterized as wise, allows Democrats to have messaging coming from the states — not the national party on Capitol Hill — and to have messengers devoting all or most of their time to an individual Senate race. The amount of the transfers in states with top races will undoubtedly increase as the election season nears to help fund more state party activities.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which is playing offense across most of the landscape and also must navigate competitive primaries, has not used the same strategy at this early point in part because it’s in a different starting position than the DSCC. Other than the Bay State special and a lone $7,500 transfer to Louisiana, the NRSC hasn’t transferred a dime to its state affiliates.
However, the NRSC is currently working to build up stronger party affiliates in concert with the Republican National Committee, which is currently in a better financial position than the Democratic National Committee.
The Republican National Committee announced on Monday a renewed effort to build up state-based ground efforts early. For its part, the Democratic National Committee regularly transfers funds to all 50 states.
“The RNC is in pretty good shape, and we’ve been working with them regularly to get field staff on the ground,” NRSC Communications Director Brad Dayspring said. “Really we are getting organized on the ground much earlier than we ever have as a party before.”
That includes deploying staff now in states with top gubernatorial, Senate and congressional races. Dayspring noted that they are setting up three field offices in Alaska, a top Senate pickup opportunity. State-based communications operatives are now being brought on as well, though none of the funding for that has come out of the NRSC’s coffers so far.
“We’re developing staff certainly in every battleground state, and the RNC really has done a fantastic job taking the lead on that,” Dayspring said.