The New York Times
has a pretty decent article
on the uneasy alliance between progressive blogs and the Democratic establishment:
Like the music obsessives who plunked down $500 for first-generation iPods, Web-based activists served as the party’s early adopters in 2006, just as they provided much of the early money and vigor behind Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign. This year, they coalesced around dozens of House and Senate candidates in highly unfavorable states or Congressional districts, showering them with seed donations and praise while softening up G.O.P. incumbents with amateur opposition research, campaign stunts and homemade Web advertising.
However, it falls into one rather annoying lazy trap:
They were also sometimes poor judges of what will sell in the larger political marketplace; most of the 19 netroots-supported candidates listed on ActBlue, an online clearinghouse for donations to Democrats, lost on Tuesday.
The point of picking those 19 candidates wasn't to pick 19 winners. The point was to pick 19 candidates that represented progressive values who had a decent shot at winning but weren't getting enough support from other sources. If ActBlue just wanted to back winners, it would be a no-brainer to pick 19 safe Democrats and then brag about having a 100% average. Confessore, and anyone else writing about politics at the NYT
, should know that.
One of the main strategic shifts the netroots has been screaming for has been the spreading out of money across more candidates. Why spend $1,000,000 on giving one House member a 90% chance of winning when you could spend $200,000 on 5 House candidates and give each a 33% chance of winning? The first strategy yields .9 victories per million spent. The second strategy yields 1.65 victories per million spent. Now you can mock the second strategy for having a 67% failure rate vs. a 10% failure rate for the first strategy. But the second strategy gets you more victories per dollar, which is what it's all about. It also makes the Democratic party a presence in more areas. The ActBlue page was trying to implement the second strategy, so of cours
e the majority of the candidates won't win. If they did, that would mean ActBlue miscalculated and didn't put enough Democrats on the list.
Now in the real world, it's hard to judge some of these percentages and numbers. How much is required to give a longshot candidate a decent percentage chance of winning? Where would spending money be a waste? But some things are obvious. For example, according to this
, Hillary Clinton spent almost $36 million in this campaign cycle. Her opponent was not particularly strong, and she won 67%-31%
. Now I bet if she only spent, say $33 million, she still would have won. And if she had given that $3 million to several Democrats in narrow House races, she could have tipped the balance in a few. I think that would have been a better allocation of Democratic resources. Of course, she's saving it for a presidential run, but even so she could have built up a lot of Democratic goodwill for that bid if she had dropped some serious dollar on other Democrats.
I think the folks at the DCCC and the DSCC should read this article
about the manager of the Oakland A's from the New York Times Magazine
. I'm not into baseball, but it's a fascinating article about exploiting market inefficiencies. I think the baseball situation depicted here is very analogous to the situation faced by a Rahm Emanuel or a Chuck Schumer:
And there did, indeed, appear to be a secret. A leading independent authority on baseball finance, a Manhattan lawyer named Doug Pappas, pointed out a quantifiable distinction between Oakland and the rest of baseball. The least you could spend on a 25-man team, if everyone was paid the minimum salary, was $5 million, plus $2 million more for players on the disabled list and the remainder of the 40-man roster. The huge role of luck in any baseball game, and the relatively small difference in ability between most major leaguers and the rookies who might work for the minimum wage, meant that the fewest games a minimum-wage baseball team would win during a 162-game season was something like 49. The Pappas measure of financial efficiency was this: How many dollars over the minimum $7 million does each team pay for each win over its 49th? How many marginal dollars does a team spend for each marginal win? Over the past three years Oakland has paid about half a million dollars per win. The only other team in six figures has been the Minnesota Twins, at $675,000 per win. The most profligate rich franchises -- the Baltimore Orioles, for instance, or the Texas Rangers -- have paid nearly $3 million for each win, or more than six times what Oakland paid. Oakland seemed to be playing a different game from everyone else.
Someone needs to do a similar analysis with DCCC, DSCC, RCCC, and RSCC and make sure the Dems are winning the efficiency game.
UPDATE: Oops, Atrios already wrote this post, just more succinctly and less kindly