11 February 2011

John Kerry: 'Early money wins elections'

The first post-shellacking begging letter from the Democratic party arrived in my mailbox this morning. It's signed by Senator Kerry of Massachusetts, one of the few Democrats willing to boast post-November. That's because he represents the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, to which he gives credit for his party retaining control of the U.S. Senate. "For the first time in eight decades," he notes, "the House switched party control without the Senate following suit -- and that's directly attributable to the DSCC and the early support it got from individuals like you."

One might argue that the Democrats' bare survival is an accident of timing, given the number of Democratic Senators up for re-election last year, while the races where Republican challengers lost may have been decided by dysfunctional or divisive GOP candidates. But it serves Kerry's purpose to credit the DSCC for going "toe-to-toe with the likes of Karl Rove," i.e. buying lots of ads in those competitive states. It serves his purpose more to emphasize "early" support.

Ask any political professional and they'll tell you: early money wins elections. If the DSCC can outraise the Republicans now, it helps us recruit strong Democratic challengers to take on vulnerable Republican incumbents. And it helps us defend our own incumbent senators and preserve our Senate majority.

Kerry has managed to make the Democratic party sound like the NBA. What did he just say? Money helps us recruit candidates. It makes one wonder whether incentives are built into the deal. Does the candidate get more if he wins by more than five percentage points? If he increases turnout? Obviously, Kerry doesn't mean that the DSCC will pay candidates to run, but he seems to have let slip an unhappy truth about political campaigns. Mere public spirit apparently isn't motive enough for professedly progressive politicians. Like LeBron James, our theoretical candidate wants to know what the team is going to do for him before he discusses what he can do for the team.

The Senator is untroubled by his admission. His letter makes it more clear than ever that voting is no longer enough for American citizens. While "Vote early and often" was once a satirical slogan for a cynical age, "Donate early and often" is a simple statement of necessity today. On your donation, not your vote, depends whether "Karl Rove and his billionaire friends" -- as opposed to John Kerry and his billionaire friends -- will "buy" the 2012 elections. Why Rove remains the fearsome face of Republicanism for Democratic marketers is a question for another time. For now, it's enough to understand, as far as Sen. Kerry is concerned, that the only alternative to Rove "buying" the elections -- the purchase consisting of purchasing ads -- is for Democrats to "buy" the election by the same means. Such intelligence surely warms the blood in every patriotic heart.

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