The 50-State Fallacy

This week, the Obama campaign announced that it would be placing paid staff in all 50 states over the next five months.  This is a huge symbolic and strategic move that deserves the support (and, frankly, the awe) of everyone in Democratic politics.

I've seen a couple prominent figures and diarists around the blogosphere suggesting that Obama's move is somehow a vindication of Howard Dean's 50-state strategy.  I respectfully disagree.  I never supported Dean's version of the 50-state strategy and, if anything, Obama's decision has proven to me why Dean's was flawed in the first place.

More on the other side...

When he announced the "50-state strategy" in 2005, Chairman Dean's essential argument was that he was going to use the funds raised by the DNC between presidential election cycles to build party infrastructure even in places where electoral victories at the time looked nearly impossible.  Put another way, Dean's implemented an investment strategy, focused on producing benefits that would likely not be realized within his tenure as Chairman.  

This kind of forward looking deserves to be commended - it frankly should be a model for our elected officials to follow - and I have absolutely no quibble with it...in theory.

My issue with the Dean "50-state strategy" was that, in practice, it ignored the problem of limited resources.  The DNC - at the time of the announcement of the strategy and indeed to this day - simply does not have the money both to invest in places where electoral victory is unlikely AND to spend the money necessary to win in the current electoral cycle.  There are probably a lot of you reading this post right now that would love to put more money into your IRA but simply can't (or better yet, shouldn't) because there are more pressing things to do with your money - like pay for your next visit to the pump or save up for those looming back -to-school expenses coming up in August.

Put another way, I think Chairman Dean's error was one of timing.  The DNC was ill-equipped to launch a 50-state strategy in 2005 because there was no cause that would rally the rank-and-file to contribute money in the amount necessary to satisfy immediate obligations and to prepare for future ones.  And in a battle between paying the bills and saving for retirement, I think paying the bills wins.  Put another way, what if Terry McAuliffe had decided to launch a 50-state strategy in 2001 rather than put pretty much all of the DNC's resources into electing Mark Warner Governor of Virginia?

Today, however, the timing is impeccable for the 50-state strategy to be put into full effect.  Because of Senator Obama's fundraising capacity, the Obama campaign - NOT THE DNC - is able to make plays for Alabama and Oklahoma without sacrificing in Ohio and Iowa.  Because of the passions and interest inspired by the primary campaign, there is a palpable excitement out there waiting to be unleashed - a potential energy ever ready to be converted into kinetic.  And  assuming that Senator Obama wins the presidency in November, the next DNC Chair has an obligation to use the infrastructure developed during this campaign to continue a robust 50-state strategy for as long as resources allow.

To those who argue that the 50-state strategy is responsible for our victories in 2006 and 2008: with due respect to you (and the Chairman), I think that the credit has as much to do with the strength of our candidates and public opinion shifting against the war as it does with the success of the 50-state strategy.  It is the combined efforts of Chairmen McAuliffe and Dean, Congressmen  Emanuel and Van Hollen, and Senators Schumer, Kerry, Edwards, Clinton, and Obama - and the continued disgrace that is President Bush - have brought us to this point.   Kudos to Senator Obama and Chairman Dean for taking full advantage of the opportunity that has now presented itself.

Tags: Barack Obama, DNC, Howard Dean (all tags)

Comments

30 Comments

Thank you

For such profound and well researched Concern.

You need like a trophy or something.

by CrushTheGOP2008 2008-06-11 02:00PM | 0 recs
Re: The 50-State Fallacy

If only we had some sort of 'special election' taking place in Republican districts so that we could see the efficacy of the 50-state strategy. Someone in red states like Louisiana or Mississippi, or maybe an open seat in a suburban and exurban area previously held by a well-known Republican...

by nathanp 2008-06-11 02:08PM | 0 recs
Re: Thank God for people

Same could have been said about Virginia 7 years ago, my friend.

by ASDem 2008-06-11 02:26PM | 0 recs
Re: The 50-State Fallacy

Yeah, three words derail any criticism of the 50 state strategy: Mississippi First District.

The point of the 50 state strategy isn't just to turn slightly red into slightly blue. It's to turn deep red into slightly red and force resources to be used up there.

Also, you end up with strong candidates when you let the candidates know beforehand that they won't be thrown to the wolves. Think about it: politicians are proud people. They wouldn't throw themselves into the mix if they thought they were going to be mercilessly crushed (unless they thought they could get some sort of moral victory, attention or future appointment out of it).

by TCQuad 2008-06-11 03:28PM | 0 recs
Carville Complained
about Dean sending a couple of staffers to pick their nose in Mississippi.
by parahammer 2008-06-11 03:53PM | 0 recs
Sorry It was Begala
But what he has spent it on, apparently, is just hiring a bunch of staff people to wander around Utah and Mississippi and pick their nose.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/zack-exley /shame-on-you-paul-begala_b_21116.html
by parahammer 2008-06-11 03:57PM | 0 recs
Re: The 50-State Fallacy

Don't know what State you are from...
But Dr. Dean/Obama 50 State will in Colorado deliver electoral votes to Obama and a Dem pick-up with Udall in the Senate....
jist sayin

tap yer toes..
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ju9yFA1S7 K8

by nogo postal 2008-06-11 02:10PM | 0 recs
Re: The 50-State Fallacy

This really boils down to a 'the chicken or the egg' argument.
I agree that the shift of opinion had a lot to do with our 2006 pickups. But WITHOUT the 50 state strategy, the dems would likely not have HAD those strong candidates to run in the first place.
And the 50 state strategy was CERTAINLY a factor in our recent pickups in Mississippi. Without a presence in that state, we wouldn't have been in a position to take advantage of that opportunity. The dems would have run weak candidates (basically, people who had nothing better to do) and we would have lost.
By the time an election year rolls around, you either have the on-the-ground resources or you don't. There isn't time to build one from scratch, find a strong candidate, vet them fully, target the weaknesses in Republican support, and then turn out the vote.
Dean's 50 state strategy was something that HAD to happen, and by getting SOME visibility in areas that have only heard one side of the story for decades, it laid the groundwork for what Obama is doing now, it allows dems to target areas of weak republican support and grow some support on the ground.
He couldn't wait until democratic coffers were overflowing to start this strategy, because part of the reason they couldn't raise any money is that they were only present in about 40% of the country. But, with a 50 state strategy, you open up more avenues for campaign contributions from areas never thought possible.

Personally, I think Dean started this strategy just in time. He laid out the road and all Obama had to do was grow and expand on the same principles of Dean's operation.

Would Obama have done the same thing without Dean's strategy? I believe so, but he would have had a LOT more work to do to get it off the ground.

by EvilAsh 2008-06-11 02:12PM | 0 recs
Re: The 50-State Fallacy

I agree with you that this is in many ways a chicken-egg problem and you put forth good arguments. But if there's one thing that Obama has proved, it's that it"s very possible to go for zero to fully staffed badass campaign in no time flat. (Not to say it's ideal, just possible.)

And on the candidate recruitment and vetting front, I give a lot more credit to Emanuel/Van Hollen/Schumer than to Dean - that's their whole job, basically. That said, without a belief that you can win (enhanced by the existence of a vibrant Democratic Party in your state) it's pretty tough to recruit.

Chicken-egg again, I suppose. And sadly impossible to solve. But the debate is fun.

by ASDem 2008-06-11 02:23PM | 0 recs
Obama did it differently, though

Obama's "fully staffed basass campaign" in the primaries was not a national strategy, it was a very well timed rolling regional strategy. He did not so much have a "badass" staff on the ground in every state, as he put together about 5-8 states' worth of badass staffers, and rolled them around the country just in time for each set of primaries--while also taking advantage of the local talent in each area to lay the groundwork. much of that "local talent" was helped by Dean's actions in 2004-2006.

by 2501 2008-06-11 02:29PM | 0 recs
Re: Obama did it differently, though

Good point. Although he did have a lot of staff in a lot of states - skeleton staff compared to Iowa, New Hampshire etc but staff nonetheless - in a lot of states even while the A-teams were in the critical ones.

I think it illustrates my point though - had he been forced to run a truly national campaign during the primary, he would have been forced to make tougher choices about resources allocation that he ultimately had to.

This is all to say that, in my opinion, when you have finite resources, you might have to sacrifice the long term in favor of the immediate.  I understand people disagree. The real point of the diary is to encourage people to recognize that we are in the midst of a real party building opportunity in addition to an electoral one.  I'm glad the Obama campaign has.  

by ASDem 2008-06-11 02:50PM | 0 recs
Re: Obama did it differently, though

True enough, but that's not exactly the argument between the 50 state strategy and what the dems USED to do. Because it wasn't about 'immediate' and 'long term' effects. It was between focused blasts of money for a few months or a steady trickle to a much larger area over years.
The previous strategy was to pick a few weak republican seats here and there, find a candidate, and then send ALL the DNC money they didn't need to hold existing seats there. There were tons of problems with this approach. One, if the candidate loses, then all that money is just flat wasted. Two, if there is an unexpected weakness (due to illness or scandal) it's next to impossible to reallocate those resources to take advantage of it. Three, the RNC knows exactly what seats we are targeting, so they ALSO flood the district with money and, since they had MORE money, they could also attack a bunch of dem seats as well.

Dean's strategy was to plant the seeds and create a permanent democratic presence in republican areas. By doing so, the democratic party can grow their own LOCAL democratic party from scratch, with local candidates for all levels of government from city councilman on up. It also gives the national party local operatives in the area who understand the people in that area, so they have somewhere to start if a crack opens up. Yes, it is designed to give dems significant gains over the long haul, but there is a short-term tradeoff as well. It trades large amounts of focused money for local information on the demographics and the FEEL of the area.
Overall, I've got to come down on the side of the 50 state strategy. Local pols can raise money on their own, and if they can't then they shouldn't be running. And the long term prospects for Democrats is MUCH better because of it.

by EvilAsh 2008-06-11 05:39PM | 0 recs
Downticket races are also extremely crucial

Aside from making big gains in Congress (especially the Senate), some of the people elected this fall to state legislatures will be able to vote on redistricting plans in 2012.

And there are important statewide downticket races in a whole bunch of non-"swing" states

Alaska (Senate, House statewide)
Idaho (maybe)
Indiana (Governor)
Kansas (Senate)
Kentucky (Senate)
Louisiana (Senate)
Maine (Senate)
Mississippi (Senate)
Nebraska (maybe)
New Jersey (Senate)
North Carolina (Senate)
Oklahoma (maybe Senate)
Tennessee (maybe Senate)
Texas (maybe Senate)
Virginia (Senate)

Obviously he's not going to spend equally (by population/area/whatever) in all 50 states.

by bobdoleisevil 2008-06-11 02:15PM | 0 recs
Re: The 50-State Fallacy

ASdem has been here for all of 7 days. I am very suspisious of anyone who just started posting here within the last 2 months. One has to ask themselves why they are only now coming here?

by venician 2008-06-11 02:36PM | 0 recs
Re: The 50-State Fallacy

Well, this doesn't really seem like any kind of troll diary, so who knows?  They must have joined a week prior to their first posting, so maybe they are from Kos and looking for more interesting debates with Hillary supporters?

by ProgressiveDL 2008-06-11 03:01PM | 0 recs
Re: The 50-State Fallacy

length of time is no real way to judge a person.

While you may disagree with the conclusion (as I do) the diariest has put together a reasonable debate and is doing so in a sane manner.

All good signs

by drache 2008-06-11 03:33PM | 0 recs
Re: The 50-State Fallacy

Well, I haven't been posting that long here, either. But I've been lurking for most of the past year.

Don't go after newcomers just for being new, and this doesn't look like an anti-anything diary (and he's been VERY reasonable in the comments). Of course, in the current environment newcomers will have to deal with a higher level of skepticism, but that comes with the territory.

by EvilAsh 2008-06-11 05:42PM | 0 recs
Re: The 50-State Fallacy

I couldn't disagree with you more, in large measure because recent history has shown that your finite resources assumption is simply incorrect.  Our presidential candidate will have ample funds for the GE and will in all liklihood outspend both McCain and the RNC on that contest.  Meanwhile, our congressoinal committees will be able to ourspend their GOP counterparts.  All of this despite the DNC "wasting" in your view, I assume, money on enacting the 50-state strategy.  

by HSTruman 2008-06-11 02:37PM | 0 recs
Re: The 50-State Fallacy

To defend the diarist, he was arguing more with the TIMING of the 50 state strategy than the EXISTENCE of it. He just doesn't believe dems had the money to enact it AT THAT TIME.

by EvilAsh 2008-06-11 05:45PM | 0 recs
Don't invest until you have the wealth to

The reason Obama (and HRC) and the Party has the fundraising power it now has there are competitive races all over the map with quality candidates and that the Democratic Party has had almost unprecedented success in every state and at every level since 2005 is because of the 50 state strategy.  Its an investment because it increases capability.

Dean will likely be kept on as DNC Chair by Obama despite not being an Obama loyalist exactly because of his success.  

by PantsB 2008-06-11 03:14PM | 0 recs
We just won three special elections in solid

republican districts, so it would seem that it got off the ground at the right time. It's working. We're going to expand our house majority by 15-20 seats in November, we're going to capture state majorities in currently red states. We can split hairs over timing and money, but...why?

by 79blondini 2008-06-11 03:17PM | 0 recs
Re: The 50-State Fallacy

You obviously missed the 2006 election and the Democratic Party historic victory.

It sure as hell wasn't because of the old 14 State (Lose 36) Strategy.

"I think that the credit has as much to do with the strength of our candidates"

It was DEAN who recruited a record number of candidates and put in place the infrastructure and funding to support them.

If it had been up to the Emanuels, Schumers, and Carvilles ( ie DLC), Democrats wouldn't have taken over the Senate and would have at best a bare majority in the House.

So the fallacy here is the failed logic of the defeatist past.

by Freespeechzone 2008-06-11 03:35PM | 0 recs
Spending too much money in other states.

There's a fallacy in this, too, in the implication that the Republicans will focus all their money on the swing states and swamp us that way.

But spending in non-swing states has a benefit to it in that it forces the Republicans to play at least a little defense on their home turf.  A MINIMAL investment in places that are traditionally red states can establish a small beachhead in enemy turf that they need to keep a watch on.  That costs THEM money.  For one thing, their more entrenched congressmen have to worry about their own warchest just in case a real challenge develops, and that drains resources from the usual fundraising sources that might go to their front-line congressmen or to challengers to our candidates.

Financial drain is suffered by both sides, although more on ours than theirs.  And the prospect exists that some crisis (uh, like $4 gas) might become a sudden wedge issue in one or more of these places.  

by Dumbo 2008-06-11 03:37PM | 0 recs
Hmmm...

Seems the 2006 elections wouldn't back up your notion that dean's 50 State Strategy is flawed.

Talk to some state committees and chairs and I think you'll come to appreciate what Dean has done this last few years.

Now, I do agree w/ you that because of Obama's fundraising prowess, we can really, really get this 50 State thing rolling...

by jaywillie 2008-06-11 03:38PM | 0 recs
you guys lay off asdem

he is a former clinton staffer who has been respectful since he decided to come out of the woodwork and post.  go read his diaries, especially the first one.

i digress.

asdem, i wonder if your perspective might be colored based on where you reside.  if i'm off base on this, well, read it anyway.

as someone who's lived in red states all her life, the 50 state strategy is a godsend.  for years i've voted in elections where dems couldn't even fill a ballot.  i've watched a state party absolutely atrophy from lack of support (rebuilding now LARGELY due to the 50SS). geez, let me just stop with the laundry list.  needless to say, it's been bad here.  but things have changed rapidly over the past 4 years.  we have resources, enthusiasm, and new donors.  we're getting there, and it is absolutely and directly because of the 50SS.  

i appreciate that you might just have a timing issue with all this, but trust me, it had to happen sooner rather than later.

by annatopia 2008-06-11 04:06PM | 0 recs
Re: you guys lay off asdem

I can't argue with any of that.

I will say that I think it's flat-out wrong to use 2006 as evidence that the 50 state strategy "worked".  The 50 state strategy isn't about winning the next election, but about building an apparatus/infrastructure that can sustain consistent victories (or at least, consistent competitiveness).

I don't exactly know how we'd definitively measure its efficacy, but info like this is much more persuasive to me.

by ASDem 2008-06-11 05:01PM | 0 recs
Re: The 50-State Fallacy
I don't know what the MyDD record is for most comments on a Diary with NO rec's is...
..but this one is doing fine...
by nogo postal 2008-06-11 04:56PM | 0 recs
Re: The 50-State Fallacy

All good and valid points, but I disagree.

Look at Tester and Schweitzer in MT. Who'd have thunk it?

Plus, the McAuliffe/Clinton strategy that was the predecessor of the 50 state strategy was an abject failure. Look at how many House and Senate seats Dems lost (and Govs).

Your whole premise is that the DNC poured a bunch of $$ into hopeless causes. The rule is first you put the $$ in, then the cause isn't hopeless.

Yes, the timing is better now, but it was in 2005 as well.

by Searching For Pericles 2008-06-11 05:00PM | 0 recs
Re: The 50-State Fallacy

the "McAuliffe/Clinton" strategy had little to do with not having a 50 state strategy. It had to do with 9/11 and the Iraq war. We lost 2004 because we had a poor candidate, not because of the Clintons. Same for 2002.

Also, if your gonna say "we lost Congress in 1994" I'll remind you of the congressional scandals in which Clinton had no part, along with the media.

by Lakrosse 2008-06-11 05:31PM | 0 recs
Re: The 50-State Fallacy

Had Kerry voted against the war he might be President right now.

by parahammer 2008-06-12 02:43AM | 0 recs

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