2018 was a great year for Connecticut Democrats. And the Connecticut Democratic party has a golden window of time – and every advantage – to help channel that energy into rebuilding and growing the state party. Here are eight steps that party leaders could take to grow and expand the party.
- Take the time to understand the complicated legal situation caused by the 2016 settlement agreement.The Democratic party is a mix of accounts funded with different donor restrictions. The 2016 settlement (caused by state party and Malloy’s 2014 campaign staff staffing breaking campaign finance laws in 2014) adds another layer of complexity, placing significant restrictions on how the state party can operate its coordinated campaign efforts. Party staff glossed over these implications in the 2016 and 2018 cycle, leaving confusion and frustration when it came to building a field program. Coordinated campaigns may need to change significantly and party leaders have time now to assess how different committees can effectively work together to be successful in the 2020 elections.
- Develop a proactive message. Democrats had great success in 2018 – and many candidates ran with strong, effective, authentic messages that drew a contrast with the Republican (Trump) brand. But to hold seats and keep majorities, Democrats need a proactive message for 2019 and beyond. As a party, Democrats need to do more than “Fight Back” – the party needs an effective way to communicate about its record of serving Connecticut.
- Invest in building a low dollar fundraising base. Over 92,000 Connecticut donors contributed last cycle to federal campaigns. But only 5,345 gave to the state party. Low dollar contributions help build ongoing and consistent support, and are an important funnel for new volunteers and supporters. Small dollar contributions require a structure, message, and energy that the party has yet to develop. New activists in Connecticut have volunteered, attended rallies, and participated in events in their town, but haven’t given to the state party. The support and energy are there, and an effective structure can motivate them to participate financially.
- Use this window of time to make real progress on diversity and inclusion. State democrats have great conversations in 2018 about diversity and inclusion. And now they have a window of time to act, and make a real impact before the 2019 and 2020 elections. Off years (without a statewide election) are the best time to invest in diversity and inclusion, and helping diverse candidates run and win local offices is the most effective way to build the bench. Party leaders and staff missed out in past off-years, failing to take any action on diversity and inclusion or produce any results. But the new party leadership has the opportunity to do something real. These programs don’t need costly offices and expensive budgets – even small investments in time and money could bring improvement. The best practices – investing in part-time staff, developing a better pipeline to recruit staff, and begin recruiting diverse candidates to run for office in 2019.
- More isn’t always better Large field staffs make for good press release content. But programs that duplicate or layer what local parties are already doing aren’t efficient tools for making a long lasting impact. The important question isn’t how many organizers you have, but what are they doing, The party should start by identifying its goals and targets, and then deciding on the program and staffing that they need – not the other way around.
- Design a real training program. Training is a core component of an effective state party and one where most state parties fall short. There’s a need – and a desire – for accessible, focused, technical campaign trainings that prepare party activists for campaigns. It’s not a question of training another 50 leaders – it’s a question of building scalable trainings that can reach 5,000 activists. To do that, the party needs to start by listening to volunteers and operatives and build trainings that are accessible and effective.
- Invest in local parties. Democrats need to build a 169 town strategy that invests in and grows its local parties. A quick assessment would find local parties that are well developed, and need a different kind of support than a local parties that are struggling. What do these parties need from the state party? The first step is to ask them. You’ll likely hear parties ask for help with data, training, infrastructure, technical assistance, and support with content (design and writing).
- Help local parties catch up to demographic shifts in Fairfield County. There’s a significant Democratic shift in Fairfield County. Educated voters, often disconnected from state races, realized they need to engage and play a role in local politics. That same energy is taking hold in Fairfield county but local parties aren’t equipped to handle and manage this energy. The state party must invest and support local parties and help them engage this wave of Democratic energy.
Summing things up:
There’s an important window of time for the state party to assess and rebuild That process could start with assessing needs of operatives, party leaders, and volunteers. And it likely continues with a renewed focused on investing in local parties, developing a smart training program, and taking real action on diversity and inclusion. The party should feel less pressure to build large staffs without a focus or direction, and shift its focus to providing added value to core part functions – training, data, outreach, and building a volunteer structure. Taking just some of those steps would create an energy and momentum within a Democratic party that’s chock full of energy, Connecticut has no shortage of Democratic donors – and bringing new life into the party could give reason for these donors to support the party, provided they’re asked.
Connecticut Democrats have every advantage – incredible energy, an energized base, and political support to make change. Party leaders should seize these opportunities and this important window of time to help reboot, plan, and rebuild the state party.