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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

GOP Donors Building Down-Ballot Dikes to Stem Blue Wave

Recent reports of scant contributions to the Trump campaign mask a serious problem for Democrats who hope for a landslide victory that will return balance to the U.S. Senate, House and state legislatures: Republican fat cats are shifting their political contributions to down-ballot candidates.
As a consequence, Democrats should prepare for record-level funding of Republican congressional and state legislative candidates. Ned Resnikoff reports at International Business Times:

Conservative billionaires may be withholding their support from Donald Trump, but don’t expect them to sit out the 2016 election entirely. Instead, some of the key donors on the right have signaled their intention to focus on down-ticket races. That means an unprecedented flood of outside money could be coming soon to a congressional district near you.
Leading the charge are Charles and David Koch, the libertarian philanthropists responsible for crafting the right wing’s most expansive donor network. While the Trump campaign has attempted to broker an alliance with the Koch Brothers, Charles Koch said on Thursday that he would be staying out of the presidential election. For most of the past year, the Kochs have been almost completely absent from the Republican nomination process, even as Koch-backed organizations have poured resources into a handful of congressional races.
Millions of dollars in outside spending already have flooded into this year’s Senate race in Ohio between incumbent Republican Rob Portman and former Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat. Americans for Prosperity, one of the Koch Brothers’ flagship organizations, has so far spent more than $1.7 million in support of Portman, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Another Koch-backed group, Freedom Partners Action Fund, has spent more than $3.7 million.
That sort of money can be a lot more effective in a down-ballot race than in a presidential election, Sunlight Foundation spokesperson Josh Stewart told International Business Times…”Fewer dollars can go a longer way,” Stewart said. “It takes relatively little investment to have a significant impact, especially in House races.”
…That might help explain why Freedom Partners and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce each has dedicated nearly $3 million to re-electing Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Penn. Both groups are also spending to help Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., fend off a challenge from former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold.

Trump has a major door commitment from Sheldon Adelson, who has pledged to spend about $100 million to help Trumps’s campaign. But other conservative mega-donors, in addition to Charles and David Koch, such as North Carolina’s GOP sugar-daddy Art Pope, have said they will not be investing in Trump and will be channeling their political contributions down-ballot.
Democratic strategists are aware of the problem. As Tai Kopan explains at CNN Politics in her post, “GOP donors look past Donald Trump and down ticket“:

Democrats are aware of the potential influx of cash into states and prepping for it…”We totally recognize and take seriously that the dumpster fire that’s shaping up at the top of the ballot could definitely direct some more resources toward these Senate races with an eye toward keeping the majority, and I think our recognition of that has actually been borne to bear with how well have done on fundraising,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee press secretary Lauren Passalacqua in an interview.

The DSCC has also reserved $50 million for the “Party of Trump” campaign linking the GOP nominee to senate candidates who are supporting him.
The other factor that ought to worry Democrats is that the shortfall in funding for Trump may not present as much of a problem for him as expected, since he is extremely effective in securing free media coverage, even though most of it is bad. If his new management team cleans up his act, he may be able to leverage his media skills in a new, more productive way.
It is sometimes persuasively argued that money isn’t always a pivotal force in politics, and indeed there are plenty of examples of candidates who were grossly out-spent who won their elections. But the converse is also true.
The possible down-ballot shortfall in funding for Democratic candidates presents a unique and historic opportunity for Sen. Bernie Sanders, as he searches for a meaningful role for the coalition that empowered his candidacy. As Brent Budowsky, a former aide to Democratic Senator and Vice Presidential nominee Lloyd Bentsen has suggested,

Sanders should…reconstitute his campaign as a people’s PAC to raise substantial money from small donors that would be used to support liberal candidates running for the House and Senate against Republicans…With this people’s PAC project…Sanders would keep a political staff to run the program outside his Senate office, raise somewhere between $100 million and $300 million from his small donors, travel across the country to rallies in support of liberal candidates, and do national talk shows on a regular basis to support the cause.

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of the difference between a Democratic presidency that has a working congressional majority and one that does not. It is really the difference between a hopeful progressive future and one of continued legislative obstruction and social and economic sagnation. If Democrats fail to win back working congressional majorities in this year of nearly unprecedented Democratic opportunity, it will be a tragic waste of political power.
Sen. Sanders has the chance to play a pivotal role in making sure the next president will have a congress that is ready to invest in infrastructure and secure a range of Democratic reforms. If he rises to this challenge, he just might do more to create a truly progressive future for America than any of the other presidential candidates of 2016.

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