Political groups look to lessons of 2008 for assistance in 2010

Though the winning and losing candidates were crowned over two weeks ago, groups that spent big on races are reviewing their own records, learning from their mistakes and building on their successes as they look ahead to 2010.

Outside groups spent millions of dollars on races across the country, with some groups encountering more success than others. Mirroring a cycle that saw a number of Republicans lose in the House and the Senate, conservative groups escaped with a mixed record of betting on candidates, while liberal groups managed more victories.

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“When you have an election like 2008, if you’re a group on the right you’re fighting against enormous political winds,” said Mark Peterson, a professor of political science and public policy at UCLA. “The additional value of a PAC [political action committee] dollar doesn’t really mean a whole lot in that context.”

To that end, groups that had success in 2008 are looking ahead to protecting their candidates in 2010 while recruiting new candidates to expand their agenda in the next cycle.

One of the biggest spenders this cycle, the National Association of Realtors PAC, credited its big spending — almost $6.7 million in independent expenditures alone for candidates in both parties — to the high-priority legislation directly affecting its industry it expects Congress to consider next year.

“We’re involved in every cycle,” said National Association of Realtors spokeswoman Mary Trupo. “However, there are so many legislative priorities that need to be addressed that this was an important election cycle.”

Peterson said that Republicans should expect to face additional erosion in their donation advantage among industry groups, as money begins to flow more toward the incumbent Democrats.

EMILY’s List, which successfully backed a number of female candidates in competitive races, is building off momentum created earlier this month to launch another aggressive effort in two years.

The abortion-rights organization has already started to reach out to new candidates and has begun working with newly elected freshman members of Congress to prepare for the 2010 election cycle, said Jonathan Parker, the group’s political director.

“We’re already feeling the excitement from our members, and we’re hoping to tap into that excitement going toward 2010,” Parker said. “A big piece of that is raising money early, and we’re all about early money.” (The EMILY in the group’s name is an acronym for Early Money Is Like Yeast.)

Major legislation on the automobile industry and financial and real estate markets facing Congress may also mean even more aggressive involvement by organized labor and business groups in 2010, with labor building off of a slew of key 2008 victories. Other legislation brought up by Congress in the next two years could also bring a number of other groups into the fray.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) said action on healthcare and the economy will largely determine the nature of its 2010 involvement.

{mospagebreak}“We’ll take a look at opportunities where we can find them,” said AFSCME political director Lawrence Scanlon. “But when you hold a sizable majority, you’ve obviously got to make sure your friends in office stay in office.”

“Our contributions to our PAC have not dropped off,” Trupo said. “Our members are always engaged but might be even more engaged. We would not expect 2010 to be much different.”

“We haven’t gone through an exact situation like this before,” said David Keating, the executive director of the free-market Club for Growth. “I’m sure the type of person who would be a Club for Growth member will not be happy with the legislation that is about to make its way through Congress.”

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Keating said he expected the Club’s membership and donor lists to grow in coming months despite a mixed record for candidates the group had backed in this year’s general election. Eight of the candidates the Club backed won, while nine lost. Nonetheless, Keating said the Club expects to be playing offense in 2010, with most of the easier pickup opportunities for Democrats having been achieved.

Groups will also be forced to stretch their resources beyond banner congressional races, with 36 gubernatorial races on the ballot, many of them competitive and in battleground states. Groups are especially concentrated on statehouses for 2010, emphasizing the importance of control as redistricting opportunities come after the 2010 census.

Still, many groups were generally satisfied with their 2008 strategies moving ahead to 2010.

“I think we’re still pretty much happy with the model of how we go about analyzing and making decisions,” said Keating, who added that the Club for Growth may boost funding for opposition research. He also said that the Club would not rule out backing fiscally conservative Democrats who face primary challenges from the left.

“We found there were some races where we could really be more effective with independent expenditures, and so we really ramped up our PAC side,” Scanlon said, adding that they expect to work to bolster donations to the AFSCME PAC for 2010.

EMILY’s List’s Parker said that while it is hard to say what losses might have meant for his organization, the point is moot. “Look, we won them,” he said. “We’ve had some good years and some bad years, but we continue to grow the number of women in Congress.”