House Democrats, facing a potentially lengthy period in the political wilderness, are embarking on a long-term strategy to overhaul their data analysis with a dual goal of winning some seats in the short-term while also asserting control of the next redistricting process.
After three straight elections left them in the House minority, Democrats are building a sweeping database to cull past and present polling, voter files, media advertising history and population trends for every competitive House district in the country. Democrats will then convert the data into one comprehensive archive housed in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s headquarters on Capitol Hill.
The ultimate goal is to capture as many House seats as possible and also to gain control of state legislatures to assure Democrats have a stronger hand in the decennial redistricting before the 2022 midterms.
“Between now and 2020, we also need to win as many Democratic seats in local state houses to put Democrats in the best possible place for redistricting,” Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (N.M.), chairman of the DCCC, said in an interview previewing the DCCC’s “Revere” database to The Washington Post.
The overall effort is dubbed “The Majority Project” and is a recognition that for too long House Democrats have relied on the top of their ticket in individual states to spark voter turnout.
The big data push comes as they’re working to set realistic expectations of whether it’s possible for Democrats to recapture the House majority as early as 2016. It’s an uphill battle because Democrats currently control 188 House seats and need a net gain of 30 to get to 218.
Democrats in recent elections have lost the most state legislative seats in almost 60 years. Without reversing that trend, any gains in the next few elections could be wiped out in 2022 after the districts are redrawn.
“Will we get the 30 seats that we need? You know, I’m not going to predict that at this point in time, but I do believe that is possible,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters in a political roundtable discussion Thursday.
Hoyer singled out Lujan’s effort at coordinating strategy with state and local Democratic committees because Republicans will control 32 governors’ mansions next year.
“Redistricting has made our hill a steeper climb, because Republicans took so many states,” Hoyer added.
Strategists increasingly recognize that their statewide counterparts have built razor-sharp operations to get out the most reliable voters in large urban centers such as Philadelphia, Cleveland, Denver and Las Vegas, which contain districts already represented overwhelmingly by Democrats. The result is that President Obama has won Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado and Nevada in 2008 and 2012, while Senate and gubernatorial candidates have held their own. Meanwhile, House Democrats have suffered steep losses in those states during the same years.
Colorado’s 6th Congressional District, currently held by Rep. Mike Coffman (R), is Lujan’s favorite example of this down-ballot miss. Situated east of Denver, it’s considered the most competitive of the state’s seven House districts. In 2012, Obama won Colorado by almost 5 points, as Coffman won reelection by almost 4 points.
In 2014, a less favorable year, Democrats got a split verdict in Colorado’s governor and Senate races, both very close, while Coffman won his race by more than 9 points.
“To win Colorado, the presidential campaigns are going to target Denver, they’re going to go after where the most populated, densely populated, easy-to-register folks are. Probably not going to go to Aurora,” Lujan said of the suburban town in Coffman’s district.
Now the DCCC is trying to develop more detailed data and voter-registration efforts specific in suburban and exurban areas.
They key to the turnout effort is the technology hub called “Revere,” after Paul Revere, the Revolutionary War hero who was, in his own way, a turnout expert by alerting his allies to the danger coming toward them.
The DCCC has long had voter files, polling and other information to draw from, but officials say they’ve never been able to combine the data to make decisions going forward.
Democrats now understand that over the last several elections in Arizona’s 2nd District, around Tucson, early polling tended to mask the actual Republican vote because thousands of retirees would not arrive until mid-October to spend winters in the warm region.
To compensate for such gaps, the DCCC has doubled the size of its analytics team in the last ten months, with an eye toward using “Revere” for contacting voters by phone or in person to rapidly reveal trends, for example, in certain neighborhoods. Additionally, the analysts are trying to study long-term migration of voters, particularly millennials, who tend to move quickly between jobs and regions and whose views on social issues tilts toward Democrats.
Lujan said that the DCCC must employ a long-term strategy to win in less urban areas. For an example of how they’re losing ground, Democrats point to Fairfax County, little more than 20 miles west of the Capitol, which morphed from a rock-rib Republican territory to solid blue now safely represented by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.).
Specifically, the DCCC is now doing deep-dive analyses into those state legislature districts to mount a coordinated effort next year. Democrats have identified more than 100 competitive state House and state Senate seats that fall within 12 of the most competitive House districts. Their gameplan is to share their “Revere” data with state strategists.
By 2020, the last races before redistricting begins, the DCCC hopes to have created such a detailed analysis of local elections that operatives will know which state races could tilt legislatures — so that popular, politically safe House Democrats can invest their energy and resources into winning those down-ballot races.
“We also have to have a long look so that when we pick up seats in 2016, it’s not two steps forward, one step back,” Lujan said.