Vance: ‘So long as Republicans lose so badly in the small dollar fundraising game, Democrats will have a massive structural advantage’
by Megan Barth, The Nevada Globe, November 22, 2022
After the predicted red tsunami turned out to be more of a red trickle, there has been no shortage of opinions and blame. Many of these opinions conclude that conservatives can’t win in Nevada and moderate Republicans are the answer to a winning GOP ticket. Seemingly, every time a Republican candidate loses, the moderate wing of the GOP is the first to critique the message and the messenger while ignoring their own losses. Yet, many talking heads have failed to point out the obvious: it takes money to win campaigns and money is what was missing and what is needed in the Silver State for future GOP candidates to win elections.
Former Republican Assemblyman Pat Hickey in his latest “Memo from the Middle” opinion editorial, lays much of the blame on Adam Laxalt’s loss to his close affiliation to President Trump. In his piece, Hickey observes:
By most accounts, a close affiliation with former President Donald Trump was not a recipe for political resurrection. Nowhere was it more evident than with the U.S. Senate race of Adam Laxalt.
Not only did Laxalt lose moderate Republican voters to Cortez Masto — in part because of his blind loyalty to the man Trump and his refusal to accept his 2020 loss — Laxalt also lost an important chunk of Nevada’s growing nonpartisan and independent voters…
Republicans also can stop the practice of chasing out members of their own party under the guise of being a “RINO” (Republican in Name Only). Reagan was inclusive, not exclusive, saying, “Somebody who agrees with me 80 percent of the time is a friend and ally, not a 20 percent traitor.” Today’s elections are decided by swing voters who may see you as an ally even if they aren’t considered a partisan perfectionist. Fundamentalism has hurt religion. It’s also hurt political parties.
As a man with a “memo from the middle,” Hickey fails to acknowledge his vote in support of the largest tax increase in Nevada’s history which severely damaged the Republican party. As long as we are quoting Reagan, Reagan also said, “You can’t be for big government, big taxes, and big bureaucracy and still be for the little guy.” After his vote, Hickey claimed, “Starting with the governor, Republican legislators paid an awful lot of attention to the education issue this session and an overwhelming majority of us came to the conclusion that we got to spend more money in trying to move the education needle in the right direction.”
From the time this historical tax increase was passed by moderate Republicans and signed into law by a moderate Republican governor, Nevada’s education needle has spiraled downward from 35th in the nation to an abysmal 49th. Since this tax increase, Republicans have remained in the minority, losing the majority of legislative seats to progressive, not moderate, Democrats.
A Senatorial trip down memory lane may also provide an indication that this massive tax increase, combined with Joe Heck withdrawing his support of Trump in 2016, may have awarded Catherine Cortez Masto the title of U.S. Senator. Over 42,000 voters in that race, mainly Republicans and Independents, chose “neither candidate.” Heck ended up losing to Cortez Masto by 26,915 votes
What is also missing from many of these moderate proclamations is what is needed in Nevada to move the needle in the “right” direction, and that is money.
In The American Conservative Review, JD Vance provides a keen analysis on how the GOP was out-raised, out-gunned, and out-spent:
We’re still ignorant about a lot. But any effort to blame Trump—or McConnell for that matter—ignores a major structural advantage for Democrats: money. Money is how candidates fund the all-important advertising that reaches swing voters, and it’s how candidates fund turnout operations. And in every marquee national race, Republicans got crushed financially.
The reason is ActBlue. ActBlue is the Democrats’ national fundraising platform, where 21 million individual donors shovel small donations into every marquee national race. ActBlue is why my opponent ran nonstop ads about how much he “agreed with Trump” during the summer. It is why John Fetterman was able to raise $75 million for his election.
Republican small dollar fundraising efforts are paltry by comparison, and Republican fundraising efforts suffer from high consultant and “list building” fees—where Republicans pay a lot to acquire small-dollar donors.
So long as Republicans lose so badly in the small dollar fundraising game, Democrats will have a massive structural advantage.
In her reelection race for the U.S. Senate, Sen. Cortez Masto had a massive structural advantage: the power of incumbency; the power of ballot-harvesting unions; and, the power of money. A winning trifecta in politics.
In terms of money, FEC reports indicate a massive and approximate $40 million haul for Sen. Cortez Masto in Act Blue donations. These donations require no fundraising events, phone calls, or ground game. While ActBlue raised nearly two billion dollars and largely funded individual Democratic campaigns, WinRed raised just over one billion dollars and expenditures indicate that a majority of money raised went to Republican PAC’s rather than individual Republican campaigns. While PAC’s poured millions into supporting Laxalt, they were paying premiums to amplify his message.
Yet, direct campaign contributions from individual donors go a lot further when it comes to ad buys. As reported in The New York Times:
Football fans in Las Vegas tuning into the Raiders game on Oct. 2 had to sit through multiple political ads, including one from Nevada’s endangered Democratic senator and another from a Republican super PAC trying to defeat her.
The ads were each 30 seconds — but the costs were wildly different.
The Democratic senator, Catherine Cortez Masto, paid $21,000. The Republican super PAC paid $150,000.
That $129,000 disparity for a single ad — an extra $4,300 per second — is one sizable example of how Republican super PACs are paying a steep premium to compete on the airwaves with Democratic candidates, a trend that is playing out nationwide with cascading financial consequences for the House and Senate battlefield. Hour after hour in state after state, Republicans are paying double, triple, quadruple and sometimes even 10 times more than Democrats for ads on the exact same programs.
Sen. Cortez Masto dominated the midterm airwaves with false attack ads, earning numerous Pinocchios from the Washington Post. The Masto campaign had aired 27 commercials prior to the Laxalt campaign launching their first ad. In total, the Masto campaign had 40 commercials to Adam Laxalt’s total of eight commercials. As Vance notes, “Money is how candidates fund the all-important advertising that reaches swing voters, and it’s how candidates fund turnout operations.” In a swing state like Nevada, money plays on television and funds ground operations to reach independent voters. As independent voters make up a third of Nevada’s electorate, eight commercials to influence these voters simply isn’t going to move the needle.
Victor Davis Hansen astutely points out that Democrats are, indeed, the party of the one percent:
Finally, Democrats are now the party of the very rich. The neo-socialist Democratic Party has more billionaire capitalists than do the free-market Republicans.
In almost every important Senate or gubernatorial race, the Democratic candidate was the far better funded of the two. In some races, such as the New Hampshire U.S. Senate election, the Democrat outspent the Republican counterpart by a staggering 17-1.
Has the Republican Party of capitalism forgotten the power and role of money in politics? Why is it once again so easily outfunded, outspent and outsmarted?
Although the first Latina Senator spent an approximate $120 million on her race and her campaign raised $48 million, she won by only 7,928 votes, 48.8% to 48%. In comparison, Laxalt’s campaign raised $16 million. If a campaign does not have the donations to amplify their candidate’s messaging, then their positions and solutions are lost in the noise of misleading attack ads. In the age of unlimited ballot harvesting, a robust and tactical ground game decides close races, and the game, once again, requires money. According to numerous sources, the GOP’s ground game was no match to the ballot-harvesting unions who targeted universities and apartment buildings in the final days of the midterm election.
As Nevada Democrats rely on unions for unlimited ballot harvesting, the GOP naively relies on speculative, election day turn out. As Democrats rely on ActBlue to effectively and efficiently fund their personal campaigns through individual and small dollar donations, the GOP is seemingly and solely relying on Political Action Committees. As long as this financial and offensive ground-game gap exists, the GOP will struggle to rebuild a big tent. Nevada’s history shows, the big tent isn’t built by moderates who raise taxes and betray the base, the big tent is built by an effective and efficient use of money, messaging and outreach to reignite the base and win elections.
Editors Note: After many questions related to advertising costs, although linked, further clarification is needed: federal law protects campaigns’ ability to talk to voters by guaranteeing them the “lowest unit rate” on TV ads near election time. But federal law contains no such protections for super PACs, which are subject to market rates that increase during election season.