Memo: A Historic 2019 for the DGA
Below you will find a memo on how the DGA helped elect Democratic governors in Kentucky and Louisiana – where Donald Trump won by 30 and 20, respectively. For the tl;dr crowd, the toplines are:
- The DGA has now won nine states that Donald Trump won in 2016 – an unparalleled record in the Democratic party – and have not lost an incumbent for the last 5 election cycles.
- Our investment in Louisiana, more than $9 million, was our largest engagement in a state in the history of the committee.
- Despite being outspent overall in Kentucky, we outspent Bevin and the RGA during the final five weeks of the campaign.
- Candidates must meet voters where they are. Our candidates focused on funding education, protecting and expanding access to health care, and creating good-paying jobs.
- Defining opponents on our terms is critical – we made “Phony” Eddie Rispone and Matt Bevin damaged goods, forcing their hands to nationalize the race and rely on Donald Trump to win.
- Our strategy in 2019 has laid down a roadmap to victory in 2020, and beyond. With good candidates that focus on kitchen table issues and smart strategic spending we know we can win anywhere, even in the face of Donald Trump.
- This week, we’re investing $1 million into North Carolina to fund early efforts to build the critical infrastructure Governor Cooper and Democrats up and down the ticket will need to win in November.
Read the whole memo below for more insights into how we won this year.
Memo: A Historic 2019 for the DGA
To: Interested Parties
From: Marshall Cohen, DGA Political Director
Re: A Historic 2019 for the DGA
After a huge victory in Kentucky supporting Governor-Elect Beshear, re-electing Governor Edwards in Louisiana capped off a historic 2019 for the Democratic Governors Association (DGA). The DGA has now won nine states that Donald Trump won in 2016 – an unparalleled record in the Democratic party. We have not lost an incumbent for the last 5 election cycles. More impressively, this is the first time since 1999 two Democratic nominees won in the “odd year” elections, and the first time in 44 years a Democratic governor had been re-elected in Louisiana.
The DGA has proven we can win in the reddest of states. We’re excited to bring the lessons we’ve learned to bear in 2020 and continue building on the momentum we have created in 2019.
Smart Spending in 2019
The DGA made a historic investment in all three states this year – the most we have ever spent in the odd year collectively and the most we have ever spent in each state respectively. Our investment in Louisiana, more than $9 million, was our largest engagement in a state in the history of the committee.
When it mattered most, we did not let any of our Democratic nominees get outspent and out-communicated by our Republican opponents. Our work on modeling “Late-Deciders” reinforced our opinion that spending late was the most important and in all three races we never ceded ground to the Republicans.
In Kentucky, despite being outspent overall, we outspent Bevin and the RGA during the final five weeks of the campaign – something rarely seen at the state-level in a deep red state. And in Louisiana, we held our ground and kept the runoff spending at parity, even with the RGA and Trump dumping money in at big levels after their embarrassing defeat in Kentucky.
Meeting Voters Where They Are – Focus on Kitchen Table Issues
If there is one takeaway from this year, it is that candidates must meet voters where they are. In all three races, our candidates focused on funding education, protecting and expanding access to health care, and creating good-paying jobs.
Some of this may sound familiar, and that’s because it is. We championed this strategy in 2018 to flip 7 governorships from red to blue and we’ve used it in all 9 Trump states we’ve won since 2016.
In Louisiana, we never swayed from our core message that outlined Governor Edwards’ bipartisan successes in his first term, highlighting victories on education, healthcare, and the economy. That message resonated with voters across the state – white, black, rural, urban, north and south.
This is how Democrats win in places where Trump won by double-digit margins, and the 2020 presidential candidates would be wise to follow the blueprint our Democratic governors have created.
Full Engagement With Our Incumbents
The DGA has focused on greater integration with our Governors and their political operations from the start. Early engagement is one of the reasons we have not lost an incumbent in the last 5 election cycles. From the day he was elected, we and Gov. Edwards knew his re-election would be a dogfight, and made off-year fundraising a priority to ward off potential challengers.
His early policy successes, like turning the $2 billion deficit into a surplus and expanding Medicaid, were important points to communicate to voters. And his huge victory in the 2019 legislative session to give teachers their first pay raise in a decade gave him a boost heading into the summer campaign season. Without these clear wins, and our ability to sell them, the absurd attacks painting the Governor as “radical” could have worked. Instead, Gov. Edwards was able to go into election day with a 57% approval rating – stratospheric in a red state – and that proved to be a difference-maker on Election Day.
Defining the Republicans Early
One key component of our strategy in difficult electorates is to define the Republican early. In Louisiana, Gumbo PAC quickly painted “Phony” Eddie Rispone as an out-of-touch and greedy businessman, who would bring back the failed policies of the Bobby Jindal era and was not on their side. This complemented the positive messaging from the Edwards campaign, which had the proof points and vision to articulate how Gov. Edwards has helped, and would continue to help, Louisiana.
In Kentucky, Matt Bevin was a historically disliked incumbent, but one who could gain lots of ground just by consolidating Republicans. The challenge there was to ensure his denigration of teachers, as well as his shady use of government resources, were top of mind when voters went to the polls.
With their own record and image tarnished, the Republicans were forced to rely on their association with Donald Trump to hopefully carry them over the finish line.
Regional Trends Hold True
In urban communities, we saw record-high turnout resulting in huge margins for Democrats. In Orleans Parish, the home of New Orleans, Governor Edwards saw his support level go higher than what President Obama received in 2008 and netted more than 100,000 votes.
In the suburbs, we saw massive gains for Democrats. In the New Orleans suburbs in Jefferson Parish, we saw the Governor get 57% support. In the eastern part of the parish, the Governor won in the same place that Obama got just 26% of the vote in 2008.
And in rural communities, we held our own and didn’t get crushed. And we did it with two very different candidates. While Beshear and Edwards had different biographies and messaging, they both spoke to rural voters about what they cared about and showed up to win over their votes.
The Limits of Donald Trump
While many Democrats have struggled to win in “Trump country,” the DGA has had unprecedented success. We’ve now won 9 states President Trump carried since 2016. And in 2019, we proved that Trump was no silver bullet for Republicans running, even in the reddest of states. We went toe-to-toe with Trump, his rallies, and his political operation and won – twice.
Left with few options after our effective negative framing of the Republican candidates, in Louisiana and Kentucky our opponents and the President himself tried making it a referendum on national politics. What they ignored, and we focused on, was that a gubernatorial race is local and not national.
We always say that Governors races are different. Voters care about their local schools, their healthcare, their roads, and their jobs. Voters want to know their Governor is on their side and focused on the issues that matter to them. From outperforming in Mississippi to winning in Kentucky and Louisiana, we have given national Democrats a blueprint for beating the Trump machine and winning back red-state voters.
What 2019 Means for 2020
Our strategy in 2019 has laid down a roadmap to victory in 2020, and beyond. With good candidates that focus on kitchen table issues and smart strategic spending we know we can win anywhere, even in the face of Donald Trump.
We will immediately start building on this success for next year. Our top priority will be protecting Governor Roy Cooper in North Carolina, so we can continue our streak of not losing an incumbent to 6 straight election cycles. Just like in Louisiana, we knew this race would be a marquee matchup years ago, so we’ve been working with Gov. Cooper and his political team to put him in a position to succeed. He comes into the election cycle with high favorability numbers and a big war chest. This week, we’re investing $1 million into North Carolina to fund early efforts to build the critical infrastructure Governor Cooper and Democrats up and down the ticket will need to win in November. This is our earliest big investment ever, to lay a marker down on Governor Cooper’s and Democrats’ success.
We also see opportunities to hold an open seat in Montana, where we’ve won four straight Governors races and term-limited Governor Bullock remains incredibly popular.
And we have great pickup opportunities, particularly in New Hampshire, Missouri, Vermont and West Virginia. From talented candidates like State Auditor Nicole Galloway, to vulnerable Republican Governors like Chris Sununu in New Hampshire and Phil Scott in Vermont, we have proven we can win anywhere with the right candidate, strategic spending, and early partnerships.
We know there is a lot more on the ballot in 2020, but we are hopeful that with our recent successes we can focus the party’s attention on the importance of gubernatorial races. Not only in preparation for the redistricting process to take place in 2021, but for a model of what Democrats can do to lead our country forward as chief executives.