The Little Problem with Tom Steyer’s Big Email List

In a move likely to please few people not on his payroll, wealthy Democratic activist Tom Steyer has joined the presidential campaign. Huzzah! And right after Eric Swallwell’s departure created a yawning gap in the Democratic lineup, with only two dozen candidates left standing.

Steyer’s planning to spend $100 million on the race, and he’s likely to need it. Other than Biden, Harris, Bernie and Warren, no candidates are currently polling above single digits, and few voters will have heard his name before at all. One potential strength noted in the coverage of Steyer’s announcement? An email list including some 8.3 million addresses accumulated by his “Need to Impeach” campaign. Eight million supporters is a lot, but let’s think about their real value to a presidential campaign. For example:

  • Some list-members will be Never-Trump Republicans or third-party/unattached folks not likely to vote in a Democratic presidential primary.
  • Depending on how Need to Impeach built the list (I ended up on it without my knowledge), it’s likely heavily concentrated in a handful of hardcore Democratic states like California. A true-blue bias may help Steyer in some primaries, but it does him no good in the vast sprawl of Republican states whose outnumbered Democrats will still help determine the eventual nominee.
  • Need to Impeach hasn’t raised money from its list aggressively, so its members likely weren’t recruited based on their potential as donors and they haven’t been primed to give since.

But the biggest problem with Need to Impeach? The people on its list didn’t sign up to support STEYER, they signed up to impeach Donald Trump. Why would they give a flip about the 25th-odd Democratic candidate just because someone’s been emailing them in his name? By that logic, they’re likely to vote for that Nigerian prince constantly whispering about pots of money in their inboxes.

I’m sure Need to Impeach has raised Steyer’s name recognition among liberal activists, and of course some of its supporters will jump on his new train, too. But most will already have a favorite or three in the race, and we have no evidence that Democratic primary voters are crying out for more wealthy, entitled white men to run for president. Steyer’s Need to Impeach list is just that: a list, and not necessarily much of a strategic asset.


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