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Democratic Donors Are Getting Bamboozled

Democrats are on track to lose 2022 fair and square if they keep spending money on fantasy campaigns.
March 28, 2022
Democratic Donors Are Getting Bamboozled
Marcus Flowers, who is a running against U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), is seen outside of an America First Rally, also attended by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) on May 27, 2021 in Dalton, Georgia. ​(Photo by Megan Varner/Getty Images)

The redistricting frenzy is slowing down just as millions of political donors around the country are bracing for end-of-quarter fundraising appeals.

Unfortunately for Democrats, the surprisingly fair maps are not being met with anything resembling a rational investment in winnable races.

As the political market has exploded — more than doubling from $3.6 billion to $8.7 billion over the last four congressional cycles — the middle men have gotten fatter while the donors have gotten dumber.

There are a few tried and true ways for House candidates to raise money. You can have an ad go viral. Or run against a hated opponent with a large national profile.

One method that is not guaranteed to bring in the big bucks: Run in a race where the candidate has a chance to win in a narrow upset.

When Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert heckled President Biden during his State of the Union address earlier this month, MTG’s Democratic opponent, Marcus Flowers, went to Twitter to pledge that “on November 8th, I will unseat her.” The tweet, which was promptly followed by an ActBlue link soliciting donations for Flowers’ campaign, went viral across the leftwing Twitterverse. What the hordes of online donors either didn’t know or didn’t care about was the fantastical aspect of Flowers’ tweet: He will not unseat Greene this fall. Sorry.

Every Democrat fantasizes about seeing Marjorie Taylor Greene go down in flames. But the reality is that she won her district by a landslide in 2020 and is on track to do the same in 2022. Trump won in her newly-drawn district with 68.1 percent of the vote in 2020—a bigger vote share than he got in the very red states such as Idaho (63.9 percent), Mississippi (57.6 percent), or Nebraska (58.5 percent).

There is no Democratic pathway to victory in Greene’s district. Even for a high roller like Flowers. This fact has not stopped Democratic donors from giving Flowers more than $4.6 million in 2021 alone (87 percent via small-dollar donations of less than $200). That’s a haul exceeded by only a handful of other campaigns.

It was also an order of magnitude larger than Democratic challengers raised in seats that are winnable.

WelcomePAC has produced a quarterly analysis of viable Democratic challengers by looking at 2020 performance and FEC fundraising reports. These Conceding Democracy reports demonstrate that Democrats are giving Republican incumbents a free pass in winnable seats while sending buckets of cash into a void. And to add insult to injury, most of that money ends up in Mark Zuckerberg’s pocket, as Flowers’ more than $2 million in Facebook ad spending shows.

With redistricting now complete in all but a handful of states, WelcomePAC identified 21 newly-drawn districts where Trump won with 54 percent or less of the vote in 2020. These are seats that some Democrats, such as Rep. Jared Golden, have proven are winnable by appealing to center-right voters. In the majority of those districts—16 of 21—no Democratic challenger entered 2022 with more than $100,000 cash on hand. By contrast, Marcus Flowers kicked off the year with more than $1.5 million on hand.

This slate of 16 winnable-yet-neglected seats includes MTG’s co-heckler Lauren Boebert. Trump only won Boebert’s district with 52.9 percent of the vote in 2020—making it much more winnable than Greene’s—yet Boebert’s best-funded Democratic challenger started the year with $94,589 in cash on hand.

So while Democrats were exasperated with both Greene’s and Boebert’s behavior during the State of the Union, they’re only sending their money to the race where it won’t matter.

For the last year, Democrats worried that gerrymandering would cost them the House in 2022. But the redistricted maps turned out to give Republicans less of an advantage than they predicted.

And yet, Democratic donors are wasting this opportunity by pushing money at glamor races that will never be competitive.

It’s nice to dream about beating QAnon Space Laser Lady. It would be better to actually defeat Ken Calvert—a little-known Republican incumbent whose Southern California district Trump won with just 50 percent.

You save democracy with actual wins; not fantasies.

Lauren Harper

Lauren Harper is co-founder of WelcomePAC and The Welcome Party, which work to grow and sustain a big-tent Democratic party. She previously served as South Carolina state director for former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s presidential campaign and as policy and communications advisor for Columbia, S.C., Mayor Steve Benjamin.