Democrats lost 2 of 5 special elections in the February special elections.  The lost seats weren’t likely to impact legislation but the losses are a reason for concern in the upcoming 2019 local elections. What can we learn? Here are some observations that your local campaign should consider.

  • In 2018, Democrats held seats in worse electoral environments. In 2011, Democrats won the New Britain seat by fighting hard, investing in turnout, and running a strong candidate.  In addition to strong programs by the campaign, the state party invested in a turnout operation that included paid canvasses, volunteer phonebanks, digital ads and more.
  • In 2011, Democrats won tough seats in a significatly worse environment. Tolling and taxes were front of mind in 2011, and And these elections took place at the bottom of President Obama’s approval rating.   The opposite was true for Democrats this year. Governor Lamont’s approval rating isunlikely to have dropped significantly and the President’s approval rating likely did trip.  Democrats in 2011 had to run in environment where Malloy’s approval rating dropped, and the President’s approval rating was 20 points less favorably.  We can special elections in the right environment.
  • In the special elections, Democrats didn’t focus on another “T. ”  Trump’s approval rating did. It’s no secret that Democrats in Conencticut and nationally tied Republicans to Trump, and had success.  I spoke with campaign workers that didn’t see Trump mentions in mail, scripts, or digital ads.   Democrats needed a well developed turnout operation to turned out voters 2018 and toppled Republican incumbents.  Ignoring that playbook three months after it helped produce record gains was a missed opportunity.
  • There’s another “T” that’s important. If we want to blame one “T” for these losses, the right “T” is turnout and specifically, building the kind of turnout operations that campaigns need in special elections.  Campaigns missed the boat on running the type of turnout operations that are needed in low turnout elections.  The state party ran no turnout operation. Despite there being significant Democratic energy and record breaking turnout in 2018, Democrats didn’t run the type of operation that we need to win in a February special election.
  • A part of turnout is recruiting the right candidates.  Campaigns missed a key ingredient to turnout – recruiting diverse candidates.  Democrats win tough seats in 2018 large part by running strong strong women candidates.   And once they were recruited, groups like Politica and activists supported candidates with volunteers and fundraising

Quick Summary:
Democrats came off of a historic 2018 election with record turnout and unprecedent Democratic energy.  Three months later, that energy didn’t translate to special election wins.  How did they not translate that to special elections win?  What can we learn from that for 2019?  Democrats shouldn’t think that one “T” (tolls) are the reason for the losses in special elections.  A lack of investments in another “T” (turnout) caused the slide.  

What should campaigns do?  Recruit diverse candidates, build real turnout operations, and don’t ignore that Republicans are still tied to diastrous and unpopular President. Your turnout operation should focus on the right targets and start early (before Labor Day).

Focus on the right “T” and you’ll succeed in your November elections.

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