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November 09, 2006

You Guys Rock, I'm A Better Strategist Than Rahm Emanuel, and Down With John Lapp!

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

On this happy day for so many of us, I'm sitting in the Victoria Wulsin campaign office in Cincinnati, where the question of whether to ask for a recount is being considered.  The votes currently in give Jean Schmidt a 2,856-vote lead and a 50.63% to 49.37% margin of victory.  We're trying to get a handle on how many thousand provisional ballots remain here in Ohio's most conservative district, many of them the products of last-ditch and last-minute voting restrictions thrown up by Republicans.  It was one heck of a campaign -- we surpassed Paul Hackett's 2005 numbers, and I'm kind of in awe of some of the things that our low-level field staffers and fundraising people pulled off.  Lisa Sherman, our Deputy Campaign Manager on loan to us from Susan Davis and Emily's List, is amazingly good, and you'll probably hear more insights of hers in this space over the next few months.  But barring something unexpected, it looks like we lost. 

Without further ado, I'd like to present you with the final results for the candidates funded by our readers in the 2006 elections.  It's one hell of a table to look at, and it awaits you below the fold. 

Democrat Opponent Victory?Office $ We Gave % Margin Vote Margin
Jim Webb George Allen Yes! Senate, VA $645 50-49 7,261
Victoria Wulsin Jean Schmidt unlikely House, OH-2 $1,865 51-49 2,856
Darcy Burner David Reichert unlikely House, WA-8 $1,320 51-49 2,736
Gary Trauner Barbara Cubin recount House, WY $835 48-48 970
Larry Grant Bill Sali No House, ID-1 $715 50-45 11,982
Larry Kissell Robin Hayes recount House, NC-8 $535 50-50 465
Jennifer Brunner Greg Hartmann Yes! OH SecState $155 55-41 ~500K
Ross Miller Danny Tarkanian Yes! NV SecState $130 49-41 ~47K
Mark Ritchie Mary Kiffmeyer Yes! MN SecState $130 49-45 ~100K

If you're a campaign contributor who's interested in getting Democrats into power, the outcome that should make you proudest is the one where the candidate you donated to wins by 50% plus one vote.  ("Happiest" and "proudest" are two different things.)  If they lose, or if they win by much more than that, your contribution didn't matter.  Donating to a candidate who wins big is a waste of money, just as donating to a big loser is. 

And that brings me to the House races that we donated to.  If today's numbers hold solid, we lost all five of them.  But they all were exactly the races where our money was most needed. While the Idaho race had a bigger margin than the rest, it was the right place to donate for a different reason.  We forced the NRCC to blow $500K to save their ridiculous candidate.  The other races were all much closer, with candidates mulling recounts, and in two of them, we're down by less than a thousand votes.  I'm feeling a really complicated combination of emotions -- a sort of grim pride at the fact that I picked exactly the races that needed the money combined with the dissatisfaction of seeing these wonderful candidates lose.  Then there's also the tremendous background happiness of our retaking the House, and the fact that Trauner and Kissell have a substantial chance of winning their recounts. 

There's no such complexity in the case of Jim Webb.  We helped the Democrats gain a wonderful new foreign policy voice and threw out one of the most loathsome human beings in the Senate.  And now we've made Harry Reid the majority leader.  I'm looking forward to seeing how our chessmaster plays when he's a pawn ahead with the position in his favor and not a rook down with the position against him. 

And then there's the good news from the Secretary of State races.  It was pretty hard to figure out how we were doing in these, because the polling data was sparse and downballot races are often affected by weird factors.  The victory of Jennifer Brunner in Ohio is especially sweet when you consider the fact that her corrupt predecessor, Ken Blackwell, went down in flames in the Governor's race.  In Ohio, Nevada, Minnesota, Nevada, and New Mexico, we've got assurances of fair and well-conducted voting for the 2008 presidential elections.  I don't feel especially smart about my picks here, but I'm really happy about how things turned out. 

But back to those House races.  Rahm Emanuel and his independent expenditures guy, John Lapp, didn't pick races nearly as intelligently as I did.  Sure, they had their smart plays in Kansas and Pennsylvania, where they sprinkled late money on Boyda and Altmire.  And Emanuel's recruitment of Heath Shuler was one of his big successes.  But if I were wielding the millions that they blew on Tammy Duckworth's race alone, we'd have three more Democrats in the House to celebrate today.  Emanuel is a great fundraiser and a solid recruiter, but he and Lapp are no race-picking geniuses.  We're down in 14 of the 23 races decided by 2% or less, and 13 of 19 races decided by 5000 votes or less.  A good race-picker wouldn't leave so many people stranded at third base.  Dedicated amateurs with the time to sift through polling data, news, and FEC filings for a few dozen races can, in today's world, outdo the professionals. 

I should also give voice to an idea that Wulsin Fundraising Manager Tony Vila (who often comments here as Tony V) brought up a couple days ago.  John Lapp's excuse for not donating to the campaigns in our area was that the Cincinnati media market was fragmented between several districts and it wasn't efficient to run independent expenditures for individual candidates here.  That's why DCCC communications didn't ride to Victoria Wulsin's defense.  Other parts of the DCCC were fairly receptive to helping out, but that Lapp was dead-set against it.  He's the kind of guy that the netroots have been right to bash from the beginning -- he thinks that you target some battleground districts early on, dump huge money on them, and set aside the others.  All the Cincy-area candidates -- Ken Lucas, John Cranley, and Wulsin -- were in fairly competitive races.  If DCCC communications had been creative, and if they'd seen the competitiveness of the Wulsin race as early as your friendly neighborhood werewolf did, they would've seen fit to spend money on some ads to help everybody at once.  Maybe find some beloved Democratic sports star from the Cincy area and have him bash the Republican Congress in general or make the case for the  Democratic Party.  That's exactly the sort of thing that the DCCC is well positioned to do, and they didn't. 

Thanks a lot to all you folks who trusted my recommendations strongly enough to donate through this page.  You've already got Jim Webb to be proud of, and if the recounts go a certain way, you may be able to look at Wulsin, Burner, Trauner, or Kissell and say that it was your individual contribution that put that candidate over the top.  Let's hope it turns out that way. 

November 9, 2006 | Permalink


Nicely done, Neil. Way to maximize expected value. I was noticing Tuesday night how tight your races were, and even wrote a post about one of 'em.

By the way, it looks like there isn't going to be a recount in Wyoming, unless Cubin's lead in the official numbers drops enough to trigger an automatic recount.

Posted by: Blar | Nov 9, 2006 9:08:15 PM

Are we sure Schmidt didn't cheat? As I recall there were some questions about that the last time.

Posted by: B | Nov 9, 2006 9:45:11 PM

Be careful, Neil. Criticizing Rahm Emmanuel is apparently the surest way to tick off our resident political sage, guru, zen master and know-it-all.

Remember, Rahm and his moderates won us the election despite all us wild-eyed liberals. Just keep telling yourself that.

Posted by: Stephen | Nov 9, 2006 10:43:37 PM

If you're a campaign contributor who's interested in getting Democrats into power, the outcome that should make you proudest is the one where the candidate you donated to wins by 50% plus one vote. ("Happiest" and "proudest" are two different things.) If they lose, or if they win by much more than that, your contribution didn't matter.

I feel like there's some sort of collective action fallacy here -- or that this argument would also be an argument against voting, since your vote almost never is decisive. If you consider yourself as part of a collective, then the collective's aggregate fundraising may have put the candidate over even if they do win by a large margin. If not, then your contribution (vote) doesn't matter anyway. I mean this strictly as a philosophical and not too well-formulated point.

Posted by: Matt Weiner | Nov 10, 2006 12:55:01 AM

I heard mean jean got into office through some shady dealing the last time. I'd be very careful this time.

Posted by: vwcat | Nov 10, 2006 1:18:50 AM

Matt, it's true that your contribution (or your vote) is almost never decisive. But in the incredibly rare event that it is, you generate a mindblowing amount of utility. It's kind of like a lottery. Lottery tickets do have value despite the extremely low probability of winning, because the consequences of winning are huge. I think Parfit has something on this in Reasons and Persons.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Nov 10, 2006 9:46:26 AM

A way of looking at this that I think some here might appreciate is optionality. The 50-state strategy is fundamentally about this: nobody is that good a race-picker early. Running pretty good candidates in lots of places and waiting for some to get hot (and then funding them) is a good strategy. Giving to barely-losers feels much worse than giving to barely-winners, but it means you're doing roughly as good a job as you could.

Another nice lens is poker. You always try to make *correct* decisions, and sometimes correct decisions lose. Evaluating the quality of your choices in this framework is maybe hard, but necessary.

To all these ends I say: great job Neil!

Posted by: Dennis | Nov 10, 2006 11:02:00 AM

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