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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Bryan Kennedy and Project 90: The 50-State Strategy in Action

by folkbum

So I had lunch today with about a dozen very nice and very influential people here in the greater Milwaukee area. Several of them are in the picture there on the right: In the background, you can see Bill Elliot, who is running for the open Wisconsin 23rd Assembly District. The woman up front is Bonnie Joseph, among the area's biggest Dem fundraisers. And the very happy guy in blue--of course!--is Bryan Kennedy. Not pictured is the reason we were all there at lunch, a guy named Walter Ludwig.

Ludwig, some of you may know, is a former member of Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign, as well as the head of a PAC known as Project 90. (He tells me their website should be back up by next week, but for now, there's no link.) What is Project 90, you might ask? Good question.

You may remember Woody Allen's quip that "90% of life is just showing up." Project 90 is a compliment to Dean and the DNC's 50-State Strategy: The idea is that unless Democrats challenge Republicans everywhere--in other words, show up--we will never build a base, never build a machine, and never get out of the doghouse. You know as well as I the very public (and occasionally venomous) dispute between Dean and the DCCC's Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel believes, as have DCCC chairs for decades now, that the best use of limited donor resources is to challenge the fewest number of the most winnable seats in order to take control of the House. There's also some defense to be played in some key Dem-held districts as well. Dean believes we should be playing offense, too, and wants to spread the resources beyond just 20 or 25 districts, and into all 435 of them.

This year, Democrats have taken Dean's message to heart, and we are, in fact, running challengers in 425 out of 435 districts. (One of the ten we're missing, I'm ashamed to say, is the WI-06, Tom Petri's district.) One of the 425 races is one that is near and dear to me--and should be to many of you--and that's the WI-05, the seat currently held by pompous fool F. Jim Sensenbrenner.

Bryan Kennedy is taking his second go at F. Jim, and this time--with national momentum going our way in the generic ballot--he's got a shot at taking down the incumbent. This is also a race that holds special appeal to Howard Dean himself. I left my notepad at the restaurant, so I'm kind of paraphrasing here, but Ludwig told us that Dean "hates Sensenbrenner with the fire of a thousand suns." In fact, Ludwig went on, he saw Dean at a fundraiser some time ago and, as Ludwig describes it, Dean broke away from the people he was talking to, bounded over to him, and demanded, "Have you got somebody running against Sensenbrenner? I hate him!"

And that's when Ludwig decided to check out Bryan Kennedy and get involved in the campaign. Ludwig is a guy who takes these things seriously: He sold his business to go work for Dean, and as he explained to me after the meeting, when Dean went out he looked for something else to do. He knew his work wasn't done, and figured out the best way he could to help, and started Project 90.

As has been widely reported, Project 90's research showed that in 2000, 2002, and 2004, Dems failed to seriously challenge fully 1/3 of all Republican seats, and that the Republicans in those districts were able to put about $63 million into the campaigns of their colleagues. In 2004 Ludiwg worked with just three campaigns, spending only $1.1 million. But he got the Republicans in those districts--two in Colorado and one in Oklahoma--to spend $7.3 million, money that would have gone to help embattled Republicans elsewhere.

The WI-05 is a perfect example of what Ludwig is talking about. Right now, F. Jim is sitting on a huge pile of money. In 2000, the last year I can find these data for, F. Jim sent $135,000 of his then-also huge pile of money to the RNC, to help elect other Republicans in that cycle. Every dollar we make F. Jim spend here in Wisconsin is a dollar that can't help in any of the other top races around the country, including the WI-08.

And Sensenbrenner is already showing signs of weakness, like he knows this year will be a tough one. Why else do you think he's been in the district every weekend lately? He never bothered with that kind of town-hall-and-rotary meeting schedule before. He may be an ass, but he's not stupid: He knows Kennedy has a number of additional advantages this year that he didn't have in 2004, and he's taking the threat seriously.

So should we!

This is where you come in: Project 90 is going to be helping out. Howard Dean, personally, wants F. Jim out of Congress. Democrats here in Wisconsin and in the district are jumping at the chance to see him really gone. Labor is solidly behind Kennedy, as are groups as diverse Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and LULAC. But in order to push this race to the top tier, to fully take advantage of the tidal wave that many pundits say we could expect this year, this race needs the national spotlight.

Here's the deal: Wisconsin's partisan primary is Tuesday, September 12. But there is a fundraising reporting deadline tomorrow. That's right--Kennedy has to report pre-primary his intake, outgo, and cash-on-hand totals through tomorrow. A big jump in fundraising today will help his visibility, speed up early advertising, and make some noise about this race for the national folks who might otherwise let this fly below their radar.

Here's my ActBlue page, with Kennedy sitting right at the top. (ActBlue's running a promotion--if I get at least six of you to give at least $600 total, I get a copy of Al Gore's book!) You can also give directly to Bryan through his own ActBlue page.

The other thing you can do is spread the word: If you know people in Wisconsin or if you just know other people who hate Sensenbrenner as much as Howard Dean does, get them to contribute or volunteer.

I won't lie and say this will be an easy race; in 2004, Bryan lost by almost 30 points. But a little bird told me some time ago--I don't even remember who it was now, honestly--that internal Wisconsin GOP polling showed growing levels of disatisfaction with F. Jim. The people in the district--even some ultra-right bloggers in the district--are turning against the war in Iraq and against Bush. F. Jim's certainly upset a number of people with his petulant behavior at his now-frequent town halls. (Bryan likes to say that the best thing that ever happened to his campaign was F. Jim's decision to see more of the voters.) That gap can continue to close only with the help of people here and the kind of national attention this race really deserves.

You can also chip in to help out Project 90; between now and when the website is back online, you'll need to email Walter Ludwig directly.

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