Are Democrats Serious About Reviving the Fifty-State Strategy?

Fifty-state strategy

Over the past couple of weeks, the Democratic National Committee has sent out at least two emails raising money specifically to support a revived fifty-state strategy. According to the appeals, the party plans to play in every zip code in every state in America. They’re also investing in capacity-building for the long term:

From building up our data and tech infrastructure so that campaigns have the most up-to-date voter information to protecting voters’ rights through long-term, expensive litigation, the DNC is working to not only strengthen our party’s core programs, but expand their accessibility to candidates up and down the ballot.

The organizing-focused fundraising push comes as the party absorbs the skeleton of Joe Biden’s campaign apparatus, and as a story in Politico plays up the fact that former Biden campaign manager and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jen O’Malley Dillon chose the DNC’s new senior staff. Given O’Malley Dillon’s own political background as an organizer, her direct involvement suggests that this emphasis on long-term thinking is for real.

Just as Biden’s strategy for the pandemic relief bill embodies lessons from the Obama administration’s early mistakes, the DNC’s latest moves suggest that the party isn’t interested in repeating its down-ballot losses over the last decade. Howard Dean’s original idea for a fifty-state strategy evaporated under Obama, and Democrats lost control of hundreds of state legislative seats during his presidency. The party did too little to train candidates and provide them with playbooks, leaving down-ballot Dems too often to fend for themselves. Even today, many still have only the vaguest idea of the organizing, advertising and communications technologies available to any campaign willing to put them to use.

Inspired in part by the organizing focus of Obama’s two presidential campaigns, Democrats have learned how to get our voters to the polls. But to win outside of our strongholds, we need to reach beyond the choir to organize, mobilize and persuade people who haven’t given us a chance before — and we have to start long before Election Day. Democrats’ Georgia victories showed the obvious value of “deep organizing”, but many activist groups as well as state parties in places like Michigan embraced this approach years ago, too. If the DNC is serious about competing in every zip code, Democrats may be able both to bring new voters into the process and pick off wavering members of the Republicans’ coalition. If that happens, American politics might actually start to look more like America.


Written by
Colin Delany
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