TO: Interested Parties
FROM: Drew Godinich, DCCC Regional Press Secretary
RE: How the West Was Won: Historic Gains in California, After Unprecedented DCCC Investment
TOP POINT: The DCCC recognized early that California offered historic opportunity in our campaign to take back the House in 2018. The DCCC made unprecedentedly large and early investments, recruited aggressively, and managed complex primaries as part of a California-based winning strategy. As a result, the DCCC is on track to achieve historic wins in the Golden State – flipping every seat in Orange County and the most in California since 1962 – that outsiders did not see coming. The below memo details those efforts.
In April 2017, when the DCCC announced plans to open its first ever fully-staffed West Coast headquarters in Orange County, skeptics said that we were embarking on a fool’s errand to take down the vaunted “Orange Curtain”. But we knew we needed our team to be closest to the voters and the campaigns. In the two years since we opened our doors in Irvine, the DCCC invested millions in flipping vulnerable GOP seats in the West, directing our efforts to change California, from California.
As we await final election results, it is clear that the DCCC has exceeded outside expectations in Orange County and across California. For the twelfth election in a row, no California Democratic incumbent lost their race. And in the offensive column, with several victories already assured, and several more still too close to call, Democrats have a chance to pick up as many as seven seats in California, the most since 1962, including every seat in Orange County. We have also already secured the largest California Democratic Caucus in history, which will be critical for achieving policy wins for many years to come.
Our success in California was no accident. Instead of heeding our detractors and skeptics, the DCCC stuck to our game plan in California: recruiting a historic class of strong, diverse candidates in every district in our battlefield; investing early in field organizing and voter registration; ensuring candidates built a robust fundraising infrastructure – online and offline; and defining the Republican agenda early. At key moments – in particular, the June primary – the DCCC adopted a bold, kinetic, and in some cases completely unprecedented approach that avoided shutouts in all targeted districts.
Republicans abandoned CA-49, a marquee contest of the 2016 cycle, after the DCCC’s multi-pronged intervention in the primary secured the nomination of an unsalvageable Republican candidate in Diane Harkey. In CA-48, in a move that was considered controversial at the time, we joined with Indivisible OC 48 and backed the strongest candidate in a crowded primary field, who on November 6 scored a historic, comprehensive victory in the most Republican district in Orange County.
This is how we won the battle for California in 2018.
In 2016, Secretary Hillary Clinton, carried all four Republican-held congressional seats in Orange County – while low-profile Democratic candidates in three of those seats were defeated by huge margins. In 2018, Democrats recruited a historic class of candidates in every competitive seat in California – and now have the opportunity to pick up all of these seats. Democrats in the general election were overwhelmingly first-time candidates who were independent, well-funded, and fit their districts.
Katie Hill, whose deep ties to the 25th district and an established record of service in her community, resonated deeply with voters and were able to withstand the millions of dollars in outside spending. Katie Porter, who brings an expertise in consumer protection that is unparalleled nationwide. Gil Cisneros, who is prepared to take his service to the country and great fortune and pass it on to children in Orange County. Harley Rouda, who is an independent candidate that understands Orange County in his bones. These are just a few examples of the independent candidates and strong profiles of candidates who Democrats nominated to run in these competitive districts.
REDEFINING THE GROUND GAME
Just two weeks after Donald Trump was inaugurated, the DCCC had boots on the ground in districts across California, investing in local organizers earlier in the cycle than ever before. With a new generation of grassroots groups emerging in the aftermath of the 2016 election, many led by first time activists, these organizers helped equip these groups with the tools and tactics to organize and register voters. Rather than instituting a top-down approach from Washington, the DCCC decided to “arm the rebels” on the ground and forged lasting partnerships with the growing constellation of progressive groups. This early decision would yield incredible results.
In California, congressional campaigns in targeted districts registered nearly 20,000 new voters and knocked and dialed voters nearly 6 million times. Early vote totals already show record Latino engagement for a midterm election this cycle. In California, Latino share of the vote in targeted congressional seats has closely mirrored their 2016 presidential vote share, a clear departure from prior midterm cycles. In targeted congressional districts, Latinos have participated at even higher rates than the statewide increase. This was not an accident – the DCCC spent $30 million to turn out our base in this election:
- In 2017, the DCCC launched an unprecedented, long-term $30 million investment to turn out diverse voters, women, and millennials.
- The DCCC has been on the ground organizing in competitive congressional districts, especially in districts with notable Hispanic and African American populations, for more than a year.
- The DCCC has built a pipeline of diverse, local field directors and organizers from the district that look like the district and understand their communities. In California, the DCCC has invested in 11 organizers dedicated to turning out Latino voters.
- The DCCC’s first ever Training Department held workshops in Anaheim, San Diego, and Los Angeles in addition to extensive online trainings.
- The DCCC has conducted extensive focus groups with voters of color and millennials in targeted districts across the country, since 2017.
- The DCCC has been on air with district-specific Spanish-language television ads across the county, and has invested in robust and highly personalized digital ads, mail, African American & Hispanic radio, African American newspapers, text message and traditional field programs.
- In week one, the DCCC launched its first ever Spanish-language GOTV television ad campaign to get out the Hispanic vote.
- Between the DCCC’s efforts on the ground and through paid media, these base voters heard from Democrats more than 100 times in the final 60 days.
A GREEN WAVE OF FUNDRAISING — ONLINE AND OFFLINE
Democrats this cycle have raised historic sums through a wave of grassroots donations. Nowhere is that more true than California, where congressional candidates repeatedly shattered fundraising records and outraised their rivals many times over. Once again, this was no accident. The DCCC’s candidate fundraising team began working with candidates at the beginning of the cycle to ensure that campaigns had the fundraising infrastructure in place to compete – and win – in the exorbitantly expensive California television markets.
For the first time, this cycle the DCCC hired digital fundraising experts for each region – the western digital director worked directly with campaigns to advise on their online fundraising programs, putting in place systems that would allow them to take advantage of the unprecedented grassroots giving enthusiasm we saw this cycle. As the Washington Post explained, “the green wave was less an act of nature than the result of careful planning on the part of Democrats.“
As we always expected to be outspent by the other side, it was crucial that our candidates had the resources to define themselves with voters before outside Republican groups could. With an incredible $41 million raised by California candidates in targeted races this cycle, our candidates were on the air early – giving them an edge that proved critical in these tight races and allowing them to withstand the tens of millions of dollars in negative advertising aired by Republican groups.
DEFINING REPUBLICAN HEALTHCARE REPEAL AND ANTI-CALIFORNIA TAX SCAM
Voters heard early and often from the DCCC, as we defined Republican incumbents for their votes to undermine Californians’ affordable healthcare and their plans to gut Social Security and Medicare. In May of 2017, the DCCC ran radio ads in Southern California hitting 5 Republican members for their votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act. All of these districts are now poised to flip Democrat. And in October of 2017, the DCCC aired the first television ads of the cycle in California – hitting Jeff Denham and David Valadao for their votes for the Republican healthcare plan.
Shortly after the passage of the GOP Tax Scam, Republicans crowed that this was silver bullet to hold the House. But Democrats turned Republicans’ corporate giveaway dream into their election nightmare, and featured it prominently in ads across the state. The RNC even credited the DCCC for winning the messaging war and turning the tax bill into an albatross for their candidates in a memo leaked earlier this year.
As Republicans admitted, our devastatingly effective and disciplined approach to defining the tax scam relied heavily on tying it to cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Given Californians’ heavy reliance on the State and Local Tax Deduction, the DCCC and Democratic candidates made sure voters knew that Republicans were actually going to raise their taxes and cost of living. In the cradle of the Reagan Tax Revolt, Democrats flipped the script on Republicans, and defined them for their votes to raise taxes through the tax bill.
To reach the voters we knew we needed to win these tight races, in the Central Valley, the DCCC aired ads in Spanish, supplementing the work by the campaigns to reach these crucial voters. And for the first time ever, the DCCC aired Spanish GOTV ads nationwide one week before Election Day, including on Spanish broadcast in Los Angeles and Sacramento.
- (CA-10): PROMESA
- (CA-10): EN JUEGO LA SALUD
- (CA-21): CADA PASO
- (CA-21): NOVENTA Y NUEVE
- (CA-25): FITS
- (CA-45): TIME
PITCHING A PERFECT GAME IN THE TOP-TWO PRIMARY
The California primary represented what was arguably the most complex challenge for California Democrats this cycle, as retirements in CA-39 and CA-49 and the eleventh hour entry of Scott Baugh into the CA-48 race made the possibility of lockout in these races a real threat. The DCCC’s first-class data and analytics team did a thorough analysis of the landscape to give us an early pathway to success requiring substantial investment.
The DCCC responded to this threat immediately in January 2018, conducting a thorough data analysis to determine the strongest and weakest candidates – both Democrats and Republicans – and working to consolidate the Democratic primary fields. At the instigation of the DCCC, strong primary challengers Jay Chen and Phil Janowicz left the race in CA-39, helping clear the way for a Democratic win on primary night: polling had shown that their combined vote share would’ve assured that Democrats would be locked out of the general election in that race.
In CA-39 and CA-48, the DCCC named Gil Cisneros and Harley Rouda to the Red to Blue list, identifying them as the strongest candidates in their races. Despite a round of breathless second-guessing on Twitter, the aggressive strategy was employed in coordination with key progressive and grassroots allies who agreed that intervention was necessary.
In CA-49, the DCCC shaped the Republican primary field by eliminating Rocky Chavez as the Republican frontrunner, leaving Republicans with Diane Harkey – a weak and unsalvageable candidate, effectively ensuring that Democrats picked up this top-tier seat five months before November. It was also a clever investment, as the DCCC did not need to spend millions in the general election to pick-up the seat.
The kinetic approach undertaken by the DCCC falls in sharp contrast to that taken by the NRCC and CLF, who failed to back up their rhetoric with action and shut-out Democrats in key races. In CA-48, Scott Baugh’s candidacy represented a mortal threat to Democrats’ hopes of taking the seat – but Republicans’ decision to remain on the sidelines allowed Democrats to shape the field unchallenged. This will forever be one of the most costly and inexplicable Republican political miscalculations of the entire midterm election.
HISTORY MADE IN THE GOLDEN STATE
When we first opened our office in Orange County two years ago, our unprecedented bet in the Golden State was met with skepticism by some pundits. Republican Orange County Chair Fred Whitaker boldly declared: “Let the Democrats spend tens of millions of dollars here. Let them die on the hill in Orange County.” Even some in our own party weren’t convinced – one prominent California operative opined:
“The political landscape of California is littered with bodies of operatives from other places who thought they could come in here and achieve amazing results and they never do because they don’t understand the place”.
But if there is anything littering Orange County’s beaches today, it is the failed promises and electoral strategies of the Republicans: whether the gas tax repeal and ‘silver bullet’ of the GOP tax bill? Out with the tide – along with the Republican majority in Congress and their grasp on historically conservative regions of California.
The DCCC understood the challenges posed by this critical midterm in California, and by rising to those challenges, made history.