19 campaigns. 26 emails. I’m noticing a definite trend toward end-of-week messages. As the primary is becoming serious with the debates in just under 3 weeks, everyone is starting to ramp up their mailing list game. Everyone except the usual suspects… and one surprise.
7 of the most at-risk campaigns (and Joe Biden) sent multiple emails today, but they limited themselves to just 2. Most campaigns sent me 1, except the campaigns who have never reached out to me… and Julian Castro. I’ve given Castro a hard time on this blog for constantly spamming me and never having anything new to say, but now I’m wondering if he’s taken that to heart and is trying to rework his email strategy. Last I heard from him, he needed 700 donors a day to keep on track for qualifying for the 130,000 donors for the September debate.
Honestly, when Castro announced, I liked him. I wanted to see him go far. His emails were a huge turn-off, though. Just goes to show that all aspects of your campaign are important for success.
How much the candidates are asking for is sometimes more interesting and telling than what they are asking for. The above chart shows goals that the different campaigns are open about going after. Almost all of them are focused on getting the unique warm bodies behind their campaign for the debates instead of specific amounts of money: if the campaigns set a money goal, they would show up on that chart as yellow bars.
John Delaney and Amy Klobuchar have both qualified for the summer debates, so their eyes are on the fall debate numbers. They’re trying to get ahead of the pack by asking for donors now. Steve Bullock, Kirsten Gillibrand, Mike Gravel, and Tim Ryan are still short on their 65,000 donors needed for the summer debates. Now, the requirements are 65,000 donors or 1% in at least 3 qualifying polls, which both Gillibrand and Ryan have managed. However, only 20 candidates can qualify for the debates, and the stages are already full. It’s likely if more than 20 candidates qualify, the ones with more donors will be given spots.
Gravel has made it very clear that he is not running to win. He is running merely to be on the stage and pull the discussion further left. Like in 2016, when the presence of Sanders shifted the whole Democratic Party, Gravel is just trying to be a voice.
I’m running for President of the United States and that I have zero intention of winning. Instead, I’m going to make it to the Democratic debates and present a truly progressive vision of America that challenges the military-industrial complex and our growing plutocracy. I’ll put American imperialism on trial and force the establishment Democrats to go on record on issues like healthcare, illegal wars, and marijuana legalization. Then, I’ll drop out.Mike Gravel
Steve Bullock is running to win, but he’s lately hit a major setback. Bullock qualified for the debates based on polls a while ago, but recently, the DNC decided one of his qualifying polls doesn’t count due to having open-ended questioning. Bullock has been railing against the unfairness of this in his recent emails as he scrambles to make up the necessary donors before the deadline in just a few more days. At the same time, he is referencing others who are calling out the DNC for a “pretty crappy” move (from Nate Silver’s twitter) and making excuses for why he started so late. Apparently, the Montana legislature (he is the governor of Montana, for those of you who’ve never heard of him) meets for only 90 days once every two years, and that correlated with the start of most primary campaigns this year. Instead of campaigning, Bullock argues, he was doing his job.
Governor Bullock spent January through May expanding Medicaid, freezing college tuition, banning foreign money from state elections, and protecting a woman’s right to make her own healthcare decisions.
At every opportunity, Governor Bullock will choose to improve the lives of everyday people over appeasing a handful of Washington insiders.
Aside from wondering what is going on with Montana’s government, I have to point out that some candidates started campaigning much earlier. Andrew Yang recently sent out an email celebrating his first year on the trail. The only candidate I’m willing to accept an excuse from is Michael Bennet, who was undergoing cancer treatment at the start of 2019, which is not something easily planned around. (He assures us he’s cancer-free now: congratulations, Bennet!)
You may have noticed Cory Booker was after just 19 donors, while everyone else is after thousands. The truth is, Booker is actually aiming for the 130,000 September debate requirement himself, but because he didn’t include that number in this email, it wasn’t included in the chart. The 19 comes from 19 donors “in your ZIP code.” Kirsten Gillibrand is also doing the same thing, asking for 16 donors from my ZIP code, though she has personalized the email to include my actual ZIP code.
I cannot honestly believe that these campaigns have planned down to the number of donors needed from each ZIP code. For starters, there are over 43,000 ZIP codes in the U.S.A. Just 2 donors from each ZIP code would be more than enough for the summer debates, and 4 from each ZIP code would crush the fall debates easily. From an outsider, 16 and 19 are completely arbitrary values.
But does this form of ask work? My answer is a completely unsurprising shrug. Maybe. It might work.
Campaigns are encouraged to set goals so they have something to work toward. Goals allow performance to be measured and quantified. They can be encouraging when they are surpassed and discouraging when they aren’t met. X donors from my state could be an entirely reasonable goal for a campaign to set, especially when the debates are requiring a set number of unique donors from a set number of states. But many states are very big and disparate. “We need X donors from Texas!” becomes meaningless to a Texan. There are so many Texans that surely the one reading the email isn’t the only Texan getting the request, and therefore the urgency to respond isn’t as strong. A ZIP code is a much smaller area. Someone from 75132, the ZIP code for Fate, Texas, might think they are a lone Democrat in the area. If Booker or Gillibrand reaches out to them saying “We need 16 more donors from 75132!” the onus is much higher on them to actually respond. Suddenly, it matters that they give a donation.
Suddenly it matters that they forward the email to their local friends and ask them to also donate.
Asking for just one or two donations from a ZIP code won’t net a huge response. Asking for too many might look greedy or desperate. Asking for a reasonable amount, a dozen or so, indicates that the success or failure doesn’t fall solely on you, but it also encourages you to share the message to drum up some more support. After all, you know more people in your ZIP code than the candidate likely does.
But does it work?
I can’t actually answer that, as I don’t have access to any back-end data. Part of me scoffs at the thought of it being successful. How stupid do we look? Of course this is a bald-faced ploy for money. But on the other hand, it is an ask conferring urgency, giving a deadline, and naming a specific, reasonable goal. Perhaps it does work, at least a little. At least enough to make people open up their wallets.
Regardless of whether it works or not, one thing is abundantly clear: the Democrats are ramping up their money asks again.
According to the above chart, 18 of the 26 emails asked for donations. This isn’t entirely true. 19 asked for donations.
1 asked for the donation to be made outside the campaign.
Both Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden made reference to the National Gun Violence Awareness day in their emails, explaining that they were wearing orange in remembrance of the countless lives that have been cut short by senseless acts of gun violence. Biden railed against the NRA holding up sensible gun control laws in Congress and offered a petition to join his voice in calling for change. (Full disclosure: John Delaney spoke on the NRA funding Congress and his policies around gun control laws, but did not mention National Gun Violence Awareness day).
Buttigieg took things a step further. He started his email with something I had never seen in a political message before: a trigger warning.
Please note: this email contains language that may trigger feelings of trauma related to gun violence.Pete Buttigieg
Trigger warnings are frequently mocked as a sign that “special snowflakes” need “safe spaces,” but the truth is that PTSD and other forms of trauma are rampant in our population. From the survivor of the Parkland shootings to the person screaming inside at another mention of “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” people can feel stress and anxiety about all manner of things. Some triggers are more obvious than others, such as discussing the unnecessary death of a child from gun violence. Providing a trigger warning allows people with trauma to be aware and opt-in to exposing themselves to potentially uncomfortable content. It gives those hurting a small modicum of control over their lives, and frequently, that small amount of power is enough to keep a victim from feeling helpless all over again.
Buttigieg’s email goes on to describe what happened to Hadiya Pendleton, who had performed at President Obama’s second inaugural parade in D.C., and how that began the movement of wearing orange in remembrance.
One hundred Americans die from gun violence every day. We treat it as if it’s normal, but it’s not. It can’t be. We owe it to our fellow citizens and our loved ones to keep them safe.Pete Buttigieg
He speaks about gun reform as something that is owed to the American people, not just something he will do as President. He finishes with a plea for a donation to an action fund.
Most Americans support common sense gun reform, yet Washington has not been able to deliver. Today, I’m wearing orange and asking you to support Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, an organization working to make our communities safer.
Finally, and most subtly, he removed his own donation button from his standard signature. Like Beto O’Rourke did in his plea for help for the victims of severe flooding in Oklahoma, Buttigieg made sure that his ask for help of someone else was not cheapened by an ask for money for himself.
Asking for money must be a soul-crushing grind. Earlier this week, Andrew Yang said as much and actually has a policy to remove that from campaign life moving forward. But a political mailing list doesn’t have to be all about the dollar signs. Some candidates are definitely approaching their followers in a different way.