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Party People in the House … and the Senate, and the Governor’s Office

What does it mean to be a Rhode Island candidate for office with the support of your political party? It depends on whether you are running for executive office or legislative office. It depends on whether you are running for state or federal office. It depends on whether you are campaigning in a primary or a general election. It also means you will probably win your primary.

My experience is working with Democratic party candidates and elected officials. So, I am going to focus on that.

Party support in RI is rarely a game changer in general elections, but it can make a big difference in a primary. RI is an overwhelmingly blue state, which means that in most of the campaigns for state and federal elective office, the Democratic primary is the election. The only race in 2018 in which the support of the national party may be a defining factor in ensuring a Democratic win is the governor’s race because that is the one seat in RI government that can go either way. However, as we pass the 30-day-from-election mark, it appears that Raimondo, with a double-digit lead in the latest polls, may not need further assistance from the party to win.

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How Does Party Support Work?

The Democratic National Committee offers resources to Democratic candidates for elected office by way of specific committees. The Democratic Governors Association (DGA) coordinates with the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, lending support as needed. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC, often referred to as the “D triple C,” or “D trip C” if you are truly committed to sounding like a giant douche) works with the nominees for the US House of Representatives. Finally, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee assists (you guessed it) whomever the Democratic nominee for US Senate is during each candidate’s election cycle year. As Rhode Island’s General Assembly is by no stretch of the imagination in danger of flipping to majority GOP, the arm of the party known as the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) sees no reason to have a presence here.

The DNC also coordinates closely with the Rhode Island Democratic State Committee. It is important to note that the party, both local and national, is expected to back whomever the Democratic nominee is in a general election. It is only in a primary race that candidates vie for party support.

What Does the Party Do for its Endorsed Candidates?

Money is a big part of it. RI is, unfortunately, a small and saturated donor pool. To compete financially in a race with bigger ticket expenditures, access to a national network of contributors is a necessary evil. In a campaign for a state representative district, campaign expenditures are reasonable. However, in a statewide race with competing television ads, the cost can run hundreds of thousands — even millions — of dollars.

If a candidate is on the radar of the DNC, meaning an endorsed primary challenger or incumbent for US Senate, US House, down ballot executive office or governor, party-generated earned media can be very helpful. Recently, for example, an event featuring Joe Biden stumping for Democrats was held at the Rhode Island Convention Center. Governor Raimondo and the all-Democratic Rhode Island Congressional Delegation were featured speakers before Uncle Joe took the stage. The room was packed and Democratic enthusiasm was electric. Needless to say, camera crews and photographers from every local news outlet were present to report on the whole thing.

Arguably the most important element is access to voter data. Data is the cornerstone of any campaign’s ground game. State party endorsed candidates are granted access to the party’s data. This allows a candidate access to “the universe,” which includes voting history, contact information, party affiliation, donor history and other data points helpful to maximizing field organizing efficiency. It’s a major advantage when used wisely. Without access to this data (the Democratic party uses NGP-VAN, VoteBuilder) a candidate must purchase access to a database with a less targeted universe.

Are There Alternatives to Major Party Support?

Democrats running to the left of “traditional” or “establishment” Dems can ask for the endorsement of Justice Democrats, Our Revolution, Indivisible, Progressive Change Campaign Committee (or “P Trip C,” in party-douche speak) and the Working Families party, to name a few. These groups promote candidates running on more progressive platforms. It is important to recognize that these organizations are not separate political parties, but rather organizing groups focused on electing progressive candidates. Most often, those candidates are running as Democrats. In Democratic primary races, candidates might be endorsed by none or all of these groups, and still be endorsed by the state party or the DNC. Groups like these rate candidates on a variety of issues important to an overall progressive agenda.

With regard to US Senate, House of Representatives and gubernatorial candidates,  FiveThirtyEight.com, in collaboration with ABC News and Ballotpedia, determined that the organization with the best record of Democratic Primary endorsements is the Democratic party itself. When put to the test, open-ballot (no incumbent) Democratic primary candidates endorsed by the DNC, (DCCC, DSCC, or DGA), running against candidates with the endorsement of one or more of the aforementioned progressive groups, the Democratic party-endorsed candidate won 89% of the primary races.

In Rhode Island, our national party-endorsed candidates are incumbents, which is an advantage. On a state level, with the exception of Speaker Mattiello’s handful of shamefully and vindictively hand-selected conservative General Assembly candidates, almost all state party endorsed candidates in 2018 won their primaries, proving that party endorsement is a valuable asset.

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