This is part 5 of our look back on our fundraising and GOTV efforts in 2022. Up today?
The Color Purple: A Look Back at Winnable House Races in Purple Districts
Purple districts in (mostly) Purple States!
While most of our fundraising focused on organizations supporting voter protection and turnout, we also raised money for select candidates. Sticking with our commitment to strategic fundraising, we targeted winnable Congressional races in purple districts in 2022. We started with just 4 candidates, and with nominations from the comments, and followup research to confirm that more money and a boost from us could make a difference, that expanded to 19!
A bit of background
You will recall that after the 2020 fundraising cycle, we made the decision to become more strategic with our fundraising, with much more focus on boots on the ground, particularly in under-served communities. We also selectively targeted underfunded and overlooked races where: 1) polling was close, and 2) where our money could make a difference, and 3) where the difference would have nationwide consequences.
We resisted the urge to support Beto and Stacey and any other races where our funds would be like salt in the ocean.
Who did we support?
We will share a bit about each of our 19 candidates in the comments below, in descending order of funds raised. So that the post itself isn’t too long, each of our “purple” candidates will get their own comment.
What do we have to show for our “Purple House” fundraising?
In total we raised $73,931 for 19 candidates. Our win/loss record include 12 wins, 6 losses (and one additional loss we expected). We helped flip three Republican seats, and put a Democrat in an open seat in Colorado. Pretty good results, yes? If we had won them all, I would question our choices. Too many losses would have meant that our analytics were off.
We also helped the careers of promising younger candidates – an investment in the future.
What do we want to do in 2024, with regard to House candidates in purple districts?
Let’s have a conversation.
What are your thoughts about re-running the purple Congressional district concept in 2024?
Did we do it just right? Should we support more Congressional candidates? Concentrate on a smaller number of races?
Should we concentrate on candidates in swing states, and let the Blue States take care of their own? Or should we stay flexible?
And finally, putting on our 20/20 hindsight glasses, were there any candidates that it was a mistake to support? Who did we overlook?
As always, great job everyone!
Elaine Luria (Virginia) – Although this race was not necessarily underfunded, Elaine Luria was a crowd favorite for her participation on the January 6 committee. We raised $6,179 for her campaign. She lost, after her District was redrawn to include more conservative communities in the Hampton Roads area.
Sharice Davids (Kansas) – Another crowd favorite, and the first openly LGBTQ and Native American woman elected to Congress. Redistricting removed most of Democratic Kansas City, KS from her district, and replaced it with more conservative ex-urban area. After some early polling scares, she won comfortably. We raised $6,159 to help hold this seat.
Marcy Kaptur (Ohio) – She is notable as the longest-serving woman in Congressional history. Yet, in late September, she was in trouble, thanks to – spot the pattern here – Republican redistricting. We raised $5,409 before her opponent’s campaign imploded over resume lies – again, spot the pattern here. She won comfortably.
Emilia Sykes (Ohio) – Emilia Sykes is a young, African-American freshman, elected to hold Tim Ryan’s overwhelming white District. This is an R+2 district. We raised $5,305 to keep Akron blue, and to invest in a candidate with great potential. After an early scare, she won by 5 percentage points.
Gabe Vasquez (New Mexico) – This is a pick-up!! Vasquez squeaked by the Republican incumbent by a margin of 1,300 votes. With a result that close, the $5,032 we raised had to be impactful!
Eric Sorenson (Illinois) – We raised exactly $5,011 for this midwestern candidate. Sorenson won, retaining an open Democratic seat and becoming Illinois’ first gay Congressman.
Tony Vargas (Nebraska) – We raised exactly $5,011 for our other midwestern candidate. Tony Vargas took on the vulnerable Don Bacon in an evenly-divided district in the Omaha area. He lost, but gave Bacon a run for his money.
Marie Gluesenkamp-Perez (Washington) – Marie Gluesenkamp-Perez is the daughter of a Mexican immigrant and the owner of an automobile repair shop. She won by less than 1% in a “leans Republican” District. Her campaign cultivated her down-to-earth persona in a series of effective ads that drew national attention. We raised $4,896 to help Gluesenkamp-Perez win and flip this seat.
Susan Wild (Pennsylvania) – Incumbent Susan Wild ran a rematch of the 2020 election against Republican Lisa Scheller, but in a seat that went from D+1 to R+2 after redistricting, She won by less than 5,000 votes – a much narrower margin than in 2020. We raised $4,891 to help her retain her seat.
Josh Riley (New York) – Josh Riley faced an uphill battle in another district turned more competitive in a newly-redrawn map. We raised $4,275 in this potentially winnable race that seemed to be under-supported by the fucked up New York Democratic party. He lost.
Susie Lee (Nevada) – We talked about Susie Lee in an earlier post on Nevada fundraising. We raised $4,223 for incumbent Susie Lee. She won!
Mercedes Krause (Nevada) – We talked about Mercedes Krause in the earlier post on Nevada fundraising. We raised $4,034 for challenger Mercedes Krause, not expecting her to win, but – as a Native American – Four Directions let us know that she was expected to have a big role in helping to drive turnout. Plus, we were investing in a deeper bench. She lost.
Yadira Caraveo (Colorado) – We helped elect Colorado’s first Latina Congressperson, in a new seat created after the 2020 census. It was a squeaker – she won by 1,600 votes. We raised $3,981. With margins that small, it had to be impactful.
Jevin Hodge (Arizona) – We discussed Devin Hodge, a young African-American first time candidate, who gave a Republican incumbent a run for his money. We raised $3,842 for this appealing candidate. He lost, but in what turned out to be the closest house race in the state.
Brad Pfaff (Wisconsin) – Brad Pfaff ran in an open Democratic seat. Thanks to the notorious gerrymandering of the Wisconsin Republicans (stay tuned for more info about the WI Supreme Court race in a future post), this went from evenly divided in 2020 to R+4 in 2022. He slightly beat that margin, but ultimately lost. We raised $2,435.
Greg Landsman (Ohio) – This was a pick-up! Greg Landsman beat the incumbent in his slightly democratic leaning Cincinnati district by 5 points! We raised $1,404.
Jamie McLeod-Skinner (Oregon) – This was an interesting race. McLeod-Skinner defeated squishy Democratic Congressman Kurt Schrader in the primary by running to his left. She lost – a disappointing result in a D+2 district. We raised $1,364, but the seat was flipped to Republican anyway.
Finally, a super late push raised $236 for Mary Peltolta (Alaska) who retained her seat. The low total is because she was added to the list very late in the game, too late to make much difference. And she won without our help!
The other super late push raised $244 for Andrea Salinas (Oregon), who won an open seat. Again, the low total is because she was added to the list very late in the game, too late to make much difference. Like Mary Peltola, she won without our help!
@WaterGirl: Thanks for the breakdown. I was about to give super mad props to everyone for making such a difference with what looks like not a lot of money, but then thought that the total raised for the candidates was from BJ and not the total overall. Or have I got that wrong (it’s likely I got it wrong)? Also, offering mad props to the supporters nonetheless.
@Ramalama: We raised ~ $150,000 for candidates, which includes purple house races, our election protection thermometers, the down-ballot races, and our 3 flash fundraising efforts for candidates who were in trouble toward the end.
The total amount raised for everything was ~ $950,000.
So basically 15% for candidates and 85% raised for boots on the ground organizations.
I’m not exactly sure i understand your question, but does that help?
@WaterGirl: Yes, sorry. I’m taking a break from coding and clearly am unable to type a coherent sentence. Yes yes! Whewweee.
I definitely liked that we focused on the purple states – or on purple districts in mostly red states like Ohio that still have competitive districts.
Los Angeles and Orange Counties (combined Population ~13,100,000) have only three Republican Congresspersons, all of whom were narrowly reelected.
But asking someone from Tennessee or Missouri to chip in and support the challenger from a local Democratic voter pool this large makes no sense. There’s plenty of money here.
In the Congressional races this cycle, I spent more money in Ohio than I did in California. And I’m glad I did.
ETA: I consider New York sort of a red state with a bright blue appendix, so no regrets about Riley.
Stay flexible. We’ve seen first-hand that polling is a game of darts played blindfolded. We’ve also seen the wonderful angels in our midst that appear with matches. We are about to see the QOP set itself and the US House ablaze with simpering idiocy, where the ads may just write themselves. I lack the organizing fu that many here seem to possess, and speaking solely for myself, seek to drop some EMILY funding (Early Money Is Like Yeast), and then follow that up with more targeted donations. BJ fund-raising made it extremely simple to pick targets for my limited funds and take advantage of the wonderful angel matches. Personally, I’m tending towards boots-on-the-ground efforts like Four Winds now that I know more about them and the the tactics used to drive turnout (again, thanks to BJ).
Come what may, my favored candidate is Senator Sherrod Brown, he gets first dibs. Everything else is going through the BJ thermometers and looking for yes I’ll say it again THE WONDERFUL ANGEL MATCHES.
@BruceFromOhio: I think the BJ angel matches are what allowed the whole effort to really take off.
External matches through the organizations, also. It’s wonderful for some crazy-rich person to pony up $25k to match us or two crazy-rich people to pony up $25k each for a double match.
To me, it’s even more impressive when a Balloon Juice angel offers a match of $250, $500, $1k, $2k, $5k, or even $10k.
*We had one $10k BJ angel offer to match Ukraine donations in December, and I had to say a very sad “no” because Cole had said no more fundraising for awhile.
Thanks for all the roundups you have done, WG. Your organizational skills are exemplary, just like everything else.
As to future priorities, I do think focusing on the boots on the ground is important while, at the same time looking at specific races, specially those that may be overlooked by the national party machine.
For 2024, I think it is important to focus on all the House seats that got flipped by Republicans and those that were already Republican but where the GQPer won by under 5 points.
Those should almost all be winnable.
Wisdom. I just unsubscribed to almost a dozen offices (3 from Gallego alone!) that were HAMMERING my inbox, sometimes multiple times a day, with fundraisers. Plus, I’m just flat-out tapped. A breather is most welcome.
That seems like a really good idea!
I think preferring targets in states where we can try to do “Up-ballot” benefits are great. (eg, I’ve said this before, but I think our money to Brad Pfaff – while he didn’t win – may have helped Tony Evers and a few other statewide candidates win, by supporting GOTV in that part of the state) I’d love to look at the 2024 Senate map and see if there are some worthy House seats to support to try to boost Democratic turnout (eg Wisconsin, Ohio, Arizona, Montana… Off the top of my head).
And I’m on board with picking other races that are close without meeting that criteria, too! I do think we should be careful not to Rage Donate and spend money trying to unseat MTG (for example)…
And I like the EMILY acronym too, which someone else mentioned. Whether that’s supporting state parties or outreach orgs like Voces or 4 Directions (or maybe even incumbent Senators who are running for reelection, like Brown in OH).
I look forward to your list once you have looked at the maps. :-)
BlueGuitarist did all the work putting together all the information our proof-of-concept down-ballot races thermometer for this year.
Thanks, WG! This is very impressive. I particularly like that we didn’t get tempted to support media darlings (no derision implied) like Beto or Stacey, both of whom were already very well known and well funded.
Hard to argue with this success, so I’d be inclined to follow a similar path for 2024. I think the organizations you found, and we supported, like Four Directions were extremely impactful. Only thing I’m on the fence about is whether we should continue to stay away from blue states. Full disclosure, our few House losses here in Southern California still sting, so maybe I’m operating from that
ETA just re-reading japa21’s comment and thinking that for 2024, we WON’T be dealing with the results of redistricting (often with a heavy GOP hand on the scale), and that may affect our thinking somewhat.
@WaterGirl: Thanks so much for these follow-up posts! It is really helpful to see how the money raised helped the GOTV efforts and candidates (even if it was just recognition for the ones who lost but still helped turnout).
Agree with others that staying flexible is needed as far as candidate support but supporting GOTV efforts will always be very important.
@WaterGirl: Haha, I can look at the Senate map on my phone, but that might be a bigger project to look at House seats/margins.
@FelonyGovt: I think some states (Ohio, and 🤞🤞🤞maybe Wisconsin) still have some redistricting lawsuits outstanding. But it won’t be nationwide.
WaterGirl: THANK YOU for all your work and these analyses. This is really great stuff.
Analyzing things in terms of reasonable expectations us great. This stuck with me: if you won em all, that’s actually not necessarily a win, for your analysis of which bets to place. If you lose em all, that’s also not an analytical win.
@FelonyGovt: We will definitely be dealing with the results of redistricting because of the House races, but maybe you mean the newness of the results, so we didn’t know how things might play out?
@WaterGirl: Sure. You’re right, the new districts will remain the same way, and we’re stuck with them for years, but for 2022, there was a lot of uncertainty about how the changes would play out.
Watergirl and Angels and Balloon-Juicers,
I like what you and thus we did last time around. I believe that the small amounts I can contribute through BJ actually go toward making change. I read a lot and think, but I’m not so strong with the organized thought and management. This is not false modesty.What I can do I do well, but this is not what I can do.
I recognize talent and ability, and I think that allowing people who know what they’re doing to do it with my support is my best option.
I appreciate Watergirl immensely. Thank you for all this effort and for your great explanations of what it’s for.
@Jesse: Back when I was in retail managemnt somebody asked me how I can tell if a buyer for the store was a good buyer or not. My response was simple: If everything that was purchased by the buyer sold out, he/she probably wasn’t a very good buyer and only went with sure things. By doing so, he/she undoubtedly missed out on things. I usually looked for something like a 5-10% failure rate as indicative of a good buyer. Same thing applies here. If every candidate we supported won, that would mean we probably missed out on some that might have won if we had supported them.
I don’t think we supported Boebert’s opponent. A few thousand may have made a difference. But then, no matter how you do it, hindsight will always be 20/20.
@japa21: This is a great point! I’d love to take that previously Democratic Oregon seat back. I just hope they don’t run Jamie McLeod-Skinner again. She’s lost twice.
I was curious, so here are the total amounts each of ‘our’ candidates raised, according to https://www.opensecrets.org/:
Elaine Luria (Virginia) – $10,695,235
Sharice Davids (Kansas) – $7,746,318
Marcy Kaptur (Ohio) – $3,385,057
Emilia Sykes (Ohio) – $2,502,097
Gabe Vasquez (New Mexico) – $3,634,994
Eric Sorenson (Illinois) – $3,064,007
Tony Vargas (Nebraska) – $3,400,066
Marie Gluesenkamp-Perez (Washington) – $3,839,471
Susan Wild (Pennsylvania) – $6,898,708
Josh Riley (New York) – $4,167,938
Susie Lee (Nevada) – $6,253,861
Mercedes Krause (Nevada) – $51,183
Yadira Caraveo (Colorado) – $3,512,264
Jevin Hodge (Arizona) – $2,532,427
Brad Pfaff (Wisconsin) – $1,883,342
Greg Landsman (Ohio) – $2,731,279
Jamie McLeod-Skinner (Oregon) – $3,611,348
@Almost Retired: Or Christie Smith in CA-27. Grrrr
ETA did you feel the earthquake last night? Woke me up.
These numbers make me think two things:
@FelonyGovt: Ugh, I hope we don’t run Smith again in that Santa Clarita/Antelope Valley District. It can be flipped. With someone else.
I slept through the earthquake. It takes about a 4.5 or so to wake me up :)
@Dagaetch: That disparity in Nevada was startling. I know it was a bright red don’t-tread-on-me guns and cattle District. But you would think the party would recognize that supporting a Native American candidate would drive turnout in Nevada for other races, even if the District can’t be flipped. But the Dem party in Nevada was a hot mess this cycle, with a major pre-election schism between the establishment and the progressives.
@Almost Retired: It’s actually surprising that we did so well nationally, with hot mess Democratic parties in Nevada, New York and Florida, just to name the ones I know about.
There’s a good chance that Jim Walsh, a sweaty buffoon (and somehow a state representative) from Aberdeen via Florida, will be angling to run against her. There isn’t a word in English that encapsulates how dumb and dishonest this guy is.
@Dagaetch: Not sure whether you’re suggesting that it was a mistake to fund Mercedes Krause? She helped greatly with the Native vote, so there is / was more to that calculation than just being able to win.
We knew she wouldn’t win, but we did win Nevada, and the native vote played a big role in that.
@Urban Suburbanite: I’ll be Marie G. constituent services will be out of this world, so I’m not so worried about that.
@WaterGirl: oh no, complete opposite actually! Seeing that folks like Luria and Davids raised so much (and blew out their opponents in $), I was saying that maybe we could narrow our focus further, to people who are really limited otherwise, like Krause. But I recognize that it’s hard/impossible to know which those will be far in advance.
@Dagaetch: We didn’t commit to any House races early on. When we did this thermometer, it was in the final few months, and we were able to look at how close the races looked and at cash on hand.
So this money almost certainly didn’t go to the TV ads we all hate, but it surely went to GOTV and to electronic ads on youtube and such.
Many of the House races we supported – regardless of whether the DEM candidate ultimately won or lost – were too close to call and results weren’t available for days in some cases.
To me, that’s much more important feedback than looking at the total amounts raised by the candidates over a period of a year or two.
The thing about that is that we use our early money to support the organizations, which allows them to raise more money because they can say, see, we have already raised xx.
We saved our candidate donations until the end when we could kind of have an idea of where our help was most needed.
@WaterGirl: Josh Riley wasn’t the only NY Democrat who could have won, and in normal circumstances, would have won. Sean Casten comes to mind, not to mention Robert Zimmerman, who lost to Santos. The problem was Kathy Hochul, who ran for governor. She massively underperformed in a state Biden won by 30, only beating Lee Zeldin by 5. As Dave Wasserman observed, noting polling numbers that abysmal, that put a number of usually safe Democratic seats at risk. And it came to pass. Hochul dragged down the ticket.
And we also need to remember that as Hochul was polling horribly in a super blue state, the GOP was flooding the zone with awful polls, suggesting Patty Murray was in a dogfight in Washington. It really did appear that a massive red wave was building.
In a world where partisanship is increasing and ticket-splitting disappearing, performance by the top of the ticket determines the fate of those lower down.
@WaterGirl: You make an important point. The money we raised, for the most part, funded GOTV workers, not political consultants running TV ads. I think that’s a much more effective use of organization and dollars, particularly because I’m beginning to doubt the efficacy of some of the Dem political consultants.
@WaterGirl: yep, completely fair.
@RevRick: New York is on my shit list.
I would add that as a rotating tag, if I weren’t trying to protect all those laptops where someone might spit out their cereal if they read that understatement over breakfast.
What’s incredible is that Davids won by MORE in a more republican 2022 district than she won by in 2020. And she blew past Nate Cohn (NYT)’s poll giving it to her by 5% — a result he mused might be an “outlier.” Anyway. don’t think there was any way we could have predicted that outcome so I think it was still a good call to fund her. It seems we funded way more people who needed the money than ended up being able to do without it, so I think your calls were good.
BCHS Class of 1980
I look forward to the PhD dissertation about what has happened to Dems in FL. I suspect it will take that depth to fully explore the phenomenon. NY and CA I think both suffered from blue-state “won’t happen here” Dobbs complacency. In CA that was aggravated by the lack of a statewide race and in NY by the lack of a real statewide candidate. Hochul is really setting herself up for a primary challenge by acting like Cuomo without either his power or his political perception.
Cheryl from Maryland
Thank you for that exciting summary, Water Girl. I hope this community will focus on the 2023 elections.
The 100 members (that’s every single one) of the VA House of Delegates are up for re-election in November. The D’s held a trifecta for VA government in 2019, but the R’s took the House and the Executives in 2021.
Now after only one full year for Youngkin, the state has buyer’s remorse – both because of the policies (turned down an electric car battery plant owned by Ford and a Chinese firm; anti-climate in general, using COVID funds to spur on a tax cut) and because Youngkin thinks he can win the R nom for President as a kindlier, gentler “anti-woke” candidate, so he’s neglecting VA (he campaigned for Carie Lake. Fool). At the moment, the VA Senate is holding on by a thread with a 2 seat majority — all of the Senate seats are up for election as well. The VA Senate has already turned back multiple anti-abortion votes in this session.
The Rs won in 2021 due to low turnout — I’d love to see us support some boots on the ground for Virginia to keep the Senate and win back the House. I volunteer to do research for such groups. I was born and raised in VA, so I have a deep fondness for the state. It deserves better than Youngkin et. al.
@Dagaetch: “Badly funded but worthwhile” is a good idea for my money. My feckless 2022 candidate in NY-17, Sean Patrick Maloney, raised a whopping $5 million and still lost a safe seat that he held for 10 years by 3K votes. Can’t see how he spent the money–he was invisible here and lost to nonstop all-crime-all-the-time propaganda–in one of the safest counties in the country– on the R side. But a good candidate in a winnable seat in a Biden or purple-trending-blue district, who needs some bucks to do worthwhile things like boots on the ground–I am definitely here for it.
@RevRick: Can we organize a hostile takeover of the New York State Democratic Party? Since the midterm, where she barely won, Governor Hochul has gone all in with the Regular-Cuomo-Wall Street wing of the party and at war with not only the progressives but with the Unions, while seeking alliances with Republicans.
@Cheryl from Maryland:
Send it my way once you have something put together and we’ll see what makes sense for Balloon Juice.
So sad to see Virginia move backwards. sigh.
Thank you for the detailed paragraphs on each of the 19 candidates that Balloon Juice supported. (And for the work that went into the fundraising, as well as the data collection and writing-up.)
I’ll cast my vote for continuing to prioritize most of our fundraising for GOTV outreach to under-served, under-represented communities – with some targeted fundraising for specific candidates along the lines of what we did in 2022.
I’m amazed and very happy about what we collectively accomplished!
@Princess: Sharice Davids hasn’t built a very high profile in national news, but I can see from local and state media sites that Davids is a constant presence in her district. I think she has built a lot of loyalty and respect among Kansas 3rd CD residents.
Davids was a White House Fellow during the Obama administration. So wasTexas Congressman Colin Allred, another memberof the talented House Classof 2018.
@WaterGirl: Walsh is known for two things: his love of paranoid and racist Facebook groups and a moronic stunt where he compared the imaginary oppression of vaccine mandates to the Holocaust and segregation (including wearing a Star of David). I doubt an idiot with a physical resemblance to an anti-Semitic pressed ham is going to pose much of a threat to the incumbent.
@Cheryl from Maryland: It’s a shame Virginia doesn’t have an initiative process for the purpose of changing the state elections to even-numbered years (although initiatives can be a problem, for sure).
These off-season (so to speak) elections surely favor the Republicans? Can the Legislature change this with a majority vote? It looks like it’s a state constitutional issue, so it may be hard to change.
Los Angeles mayoral races used to be held on odd-numbered years, and like 5 people showed up. We changed that. Turnout improved, and we avoided a retread of Richard Riordan in the form of failed billionaire Rick Caruso – and elected the marvelous Karen Bass. Not sure we would have gotten the same result with a low turnout odd-numbered year.
@Dagaetch: OMG I’m such a dum-dum. I thought WaterGirl’s figures included…never mind.
That’s a shite tonnage of cabbage.
I guess I’ve been under the spell of Canadian elections costing a whisper of the total sum as compared to the US. A fraction of a cloud puff of the total sum.
Sometimes Canada copies stuff that the US does. Hopefully not for elections.
In other news: Canadian news is covering arguments for and against allowing some privatization of medical. The CBC interviewed a former PM from Ontario who made all the correct arguments: private companies need to make a profit…where do they propose to do that, yada yada. But now I’m nervous.
@Sherparick: I wish I had the answers for that. I don’t know what to make of Hochul, who broke through politically by winning as a Representative in a district that hadn’t voted for a Democrat in like forever. There certainly are some screwy dynamics going on in NY. With the Presidential race in 2024, NY, and to a lesser degree CA, will likely right themselves, though the latter case depends somewhat on Feinstein having the grace to not run. 2024 looks awful on the Senate side. Manchin, Brown in Ohio, and Tester in Montana will be trying to hang on in seats trending redder. The results in NC and WI this year in the Senate races certainly put us behind the eight ball.
@RevRick: Diane Feinstein is not going to run again, she just hasn’t made the announcement. It’s expected she will by March 1.
@Almost Retired: My understanding is that Jamie McLeod Skinner is not interested in running again. I’m not sure who is interested in going up against the R incumbent; I’d love to find someone like Gluesencamp Chavez.
Mai Naem mobile
@RevRick: maybe Hochul doesn’t realize she needs to do the unusual Kirsten Gillibrand move of going from moderate for your district job to liberal for your statewide job. You have to admit its usually the other way around.
@Mai Naem mobile: good point.