“Kiss any hope goodbye.
“We’re done. Go home. Give up.”
The lyrics to a moody ballad? A depressing Facebook page? No, these are subject lines from a series of frantic e-mail messages sent to Democratic donors in recent days.
To be blunt about it — as some of these fundraising pitches might say — the number of e-mails sent in recent days is SCARY.
Ahead of a quarterly fundraising deadline Tuesday night, Democratic campaign committees and House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates flooded donors’ inboxes with last-minute appeals for campaign cash. The deluge has inspired a tribute site, a parody song and fake fundraising pitches circulating on Twitter.
“We’re on the verge of the Dem-pocalypse,” read one message sent Monday night by the Democratic Governors Association.
“I’ve already e-mailed you twice this month,” said a note from Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.) on behalf of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “I wouldn’t e-mail a third time if it weren’t absolutely necessary.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) tried shaming supporters in a recent pitch: “Hillary Clinton asked for your help this week. President Obama asked for your help this week. So far, more than 80,000 of our best supporters have responded to their calls-to-action. But sadly, it doesn’t look like you’re on that list.”
Even Rep. John Lewis (Ga.), the revered civil rights figure, joined the fray. In an e-mail for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, he warned of Republican attempts to roll back voting rights. He mentioned his participation in the 1963 March on Washington and how he “gave a little blood” during the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” march in Selma, Ala.
The DCCC hoped to raise $75,000 from Lewis’s pitch. As of Tuesday night , donors had forked over more than $80,000.
Republicans also have been sending fundraising appeals from bold-faced names, including Mitt Romney and Karl Rove. The Republican National Committee offered bright socks, like the ones worn by former president George H.W. Bush, in a bid to raise money. But most GOP fundraising e-mails take a more measured tone.
“Please help our campaign by making a $5 donation before midnight. Also, please ask your friends and family to make a donation as well,” said an e-mail sent Monday by Rep. Bill Cassidy (La.), who is hoping to unseat Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu.
With Democrats expected to lose seats in the House and slipping behind Republican opponents in key Senate races, a sense of frustration and near-panic would be understandable. But party strategists insist the tone has nothing to do with the polls.
“The level of outrage that our list feels about the Republican Congress is very real,” said Kelly Ward, the DCCC’s executive director. “They continue to take action and continue to set priorities that are out of step with the country, and our lists reflect that and they respond with contributions. They are very energized.”
Democrats also say they aren’t worried about the risk of backlash — because the messages appear to be working. The DCCC has outraised the National Republican Congressional Committee by about $33 million this cycle, thanks in part to $50 million in small-dollar donations from the party faithful — most of them collected online. On average, the DCCC’s online donors give $18 in response to an e-mail, Ward said, and they usually give more than once.
Robert Epstein, former editor in chief of Psychology Today and senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, said research shows that “people are far more likely to take action to avoid negative events than to produce positive ones.”
“Loss is simply more impactful than gain,” he said. “People know this intuitively, and so do the campaign managers and others whose job it is to manipulate the masses.”
Appeals bearing President Obama’s name draw the most money per e-mail. Pelosi’s messages have brought in the most collectively.
The tone this year seems notably sharper than in 2012, when Obama’s reelection campaign relied heavily on e-mails written in a casual, intimate style. Many featured the president or first lady Michelle Obama making a direct appeal. Some brought in more than $1 million each, according to Democratic strategists.
Amelia Showalter, the former director of digital analytics for Obama’s reelection campaign, who now advises liberal groups, said success depends on the size and scope of individual fundraising campaigns.
“We weren’t very good at predicting — we used all sorts of subject lines and bodies of the e-mails,” she said of the Obama campaign. “We would make predictions about which ones might win, but we weren’t actually very good at figuring out what flavor would work.”
At the DCCC, e-mails are composed by the digital director, Brandon English, and his 12-member team. Most are conceptualized, written, edited and sent within an hour, usually in response to news reports, new polling or statements by top GOP leaders. In late July, a series of e-mails tied to speculation that House Republicans could pursue impeaching Obama helped raise $2.1 million — a record haul.
How does the DCCC know which messages might work?
“Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of testing,” English said.
With millions of e-mail subscribers — English wouldn’t reveal an exact figure — “we can track how the donations are coming in over time, how they compare to other campaigns we’ve done.”
In a change from previous cycles, most e-mails and donor pages are formatted for mobile devices, making it easier for donors to give from an iPhone or tablet. Messages from the DCCC, the DSCC and countless Democratic candidates also include links suggesting that donors “chip in $5 immediately” or “chip in $250 immediately.”
The links go to a Web site owned and operated by ActBlue, a PayPal-like site for liberal donors. ActBlue says more than 1.1 million people have established “express” accounts that store credit card and contact information, allowing a donor to allocate money to a campaign committee or candidate with one or two clicks.
John Foust, a Democrat hoping to succeed retiring Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), uses ActBlue and has e-mailed supporters in recent days with messages that include the “Sent from my iPhone” signature — a subtle attempt to personalize the appeal.
“Apologies for e-mailing so early (and so much), but I need your urgent support,” he wrote in one message.
A few hours later, he sent a follow-up appeal: “Ok, now it’s 5:30 pm, so no more apologies!”
The relentless nature of the e-mails has inspired widespread parodies. In April, the news and opinion site Salon compiled the “most shameless fundraising e-mail subject lines.” “Doomed,” “Jaw Dropping” and “HORRENDOUS” made the list.
A Tumblr site, “Emails from the DCCC,” started posting fictional e-mails in July. A message it wrote to appear as if it was from Vice President Biden started with the subject line, “There is Literally No Reason Left to Live.” Another read, “I’m on my knees begging you please.”
Then there’s the song.
An Ohio-based band, Daddy’s Gonna Kill Ralphie, strung together actual subject lines from DCCC e-mails and set them to music that might be strummed by a coffeehouse guitarist.
The song, called “Subject Line,” ends with these lyrics: “Bad news today. This can’t wait. Add your name. Boehner didn’t bargain for this. Crushing blow. Unprecedented blow. Final notice. Final notice. Final notice. Final notice for Joseph. We keep e-mailing. Sorry, this has gone too far. We’re in real danger. All hope is lost. This literally just happened. Add your name. Throw in the towel.”
Colby Itkowitz contributed to this report.