DLCC Report: How we won in 2018
ICYMI, we flipped more than 400 state legislative seats from red to blue in 2017 and 2018. Four freaking hundred! This is how we got here, and where we’re going next.
1. A lot of money
Last cycle, the DLCC made a commitment to raise $30 million, more than in any previous cycle. We blew that number out of the water, ultimately raising more than $35 million from over 110,000 donors — more than doubling our number of individual donors and overall budget from the 2015–2016 electoral cycle.
More money meant we were able to invest in more races and at a higher level. Throughout the cycle, the DLCC invested in 45 state legislative chambers, through both special elections and the 2017 and 2018 general elections.
2. … and our best-equipped team ever
All the money in the world does no good without the staff to use it effectively. We saw that state caucuses and campaigns were in need of greater data, research, and grassroots fundraising expertise, so we expanded our core team to provide those services to state Democrats across the country.
Historically, state campaigns have been chronically understaffed, and the staff that are hired often face incredibly long to-do lists and impossibly short deadlines. That’s why this cycle, we made investments that allowed states to staff up earlier than ever before, and expanded our training programs to help campaigners run smart, scrappy programs.
Over the last two years, we held 75 in-person and online training sessions, teaching more than 500 staffers and candidates everything from fundraising to field programs to communications. Participants in our digital fundraising training saw on average a 40% increase in their grassroots donations (which is a BFD at any level of the ballot). We’re already working to expand this program and bring it to more states in 2019 and 2020.
3. … and a kickass data department
There were over 6,000 legislative races up in 2018 (!!!!!!). Our newly formed data department modeled head-to-head matchups for every single one, including difficult-to-predict multi-member districts in states like New Hampshire and Arizona. This had never been done before at the state level, and these support and turnout models ensured that Democrats’ resources were allocated where they would make the most impact.
This data also gave us a head start in states where we were only a few seats away from gaining a majority. For example, our early investment in Minnesota allowed the caucus to expand digital fundraising efforts early in the cycle, and ultimately led to Democrats retaking the state House.
4. … and more doors
The DLCC worked closely with staff and partners on the ground to determine goals and develop strong field programs — with huge results. Our field team shattered previous records by working with 27 caucuses to knock on over 17 million doors in 2018, all while flipping dozens of special election seats and holding the line in countless others. And that doesn’t count the millions more doors knocked during the 2017 races in Virginia and New Jersey.
In state legislative races, winners and losers can be decided by just a handful of ballots — and studies show that one-on-one conversations are the most effective way to influence voters. We pushed our candidates, staff, and volunteers alike to go the extra mile to get out the vote, and they came through.
5. … and a powerful IE
The DLCC’s Independent Expenditure program tracked and invested in thousands of races across the country at a record level, at 5x the 2016 cycle total. Over 600 individual races were targeted, with resources going into hundreds more to win elections for state Democrats. The IE program applied legislative-specific data and polling to launch over 1,200 digital ad flights in over 420 districts (more than 50% of the budget went to digital!) and send 89 flights of mail in over 260 races.
6. … and some new friends.
After years of what felt like screaming into the void that people should care about state legislative races, we were thrilled when new organizations sprung up to support and train candidates, help volunteers find opportunities, and more. The DLCC worked closely with many of these organizations, such as Run For Something and the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, to coordinate our efforts and ensure resources were being allocated in the most effective way. We also strengthened our partnerships with groups that have spent decades in the fight, including EMILY’s List, Planned Parenthood, organized labor, environmental organizations, and more.
We’ve all heard the story before: Today, they’re running for the state house. Tomorrow, the U.S. House. Maybe, a future president is out knocking on doors for their first election today. *inspirational stock music plays softly in the background*
Building the pipeline for national office is important. But at the DLCC, we don’t treat our candidates like little league players — because they’re not. We equip them with the modern campaign infrastructure and resources they need to win. We know that their victory at the ballot box not only has consequences on the day-to-day lives of their constituents, but it also comes at a crucial time for redistricting in 2021. In 70% of states, the state legislators we elect today will be the ones drawing the district maps tomorrow.
We’ve set the bar high for the next two years. We’ve already committed $1 million to win both the Virginia House of Delegates and state Senate in 2019. We want to raise over $50 million. We want to recruit a historic number of diverse Democrats to run for their statehouses and support them every step of the way. We want to expand Democrats’ target map beyond traditional swing states and make gains in every single state that will be drawing district maps in 2021. And we hope you’ll join us.