With just 20 days until Election Day, both parties are having to make tough decisions about how best to spend limited resources. There are going to be plenty of contests that the parties want to win, and think they might be able to win, but which will be sacrificed in a biennial exercise in electoral triage – the parties will grudgingly give up on competitive races because they feel like they have slightly better odds elsewhere.
All of which sets the stage for a surprising decision yesterday in Kentucky. Benjy Sarlin reported:
In a sign national Democrats no longer believe Alison Lundergan Grimes can defeat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is going off the air.“The DSCC has now spent more than $2 million in Kentucky and continues to make targeted investments in the ground game while monitoring the race for future investments, but is currently not on the air in the state,” CQ Roll Call quoted a DSCC official as saying.
For the benefit of those who don’t follow campaign politics in granular detail, I should note, “continues to make targeted investments in the ground game while monitoring the race for future investments” is another way of saying, “No more campaign ads from us.”
Remember, bluffing isn’t really an option for the parties at this point. There’s no doubt that Democratic officials would love to defeat Mitch McConnell, and the polls suggest that the race remains close, but the DSCC can only invest in so many races – and recent developments in South Dakota, Georgia, and elsewhere have made the Democrats’ financial strategizing that much more difficult.
Sarlin talked to one Democratic strategist who was reportedly shocked by the DSCC’s decision, pointing to internal polling that suggests Grimes is well positioned to prevail. “There’s nothing on the ground that would validate this foolish decision,” the strategist said. The DSCC, obviously, reached the opposite conclusion.
Does yesterday’s news mean Grimes’ campaign is effectively finished? It’s a major setback, to be sure, but it’s not entirely over just yet.
Ashley Parker’s report added, “The move seems intended, at least in part, to signal to Democratic ‘super PACs’ that they need to get involved in the race to pick up any slack, as the campaign committee diverts its resources to more competitive races.”
It’s a relevant detail. The DSCC is the major player backing Democratic Senate candidates, but it’s not the only player. By announcing that it can’t make additional investments in support of Alison Lundergan Grimes, Dems are implicitly letting allies know, “But you can still make a difference.”
That said, McConnell has new reasons to be optimistic about his chances. There’s no getting around the simple fact that if Democrats liked their odds in Kentucky, the DSCC wouldn’t have pulled the plug on the air campaign. Super PACs may, in theory, come to the rescue, but as a rule, these outside allies tend to follow the parties’ lead, not make up the difference. (For a comparable example on the other side of the aisle, consider Republicans giving up on Terri Lynn Land in Michigan.)
As for how this affects Senate forecasts overall, McConnell has generally been considered the favorite to prevail in most election models, so the news does little to shake up the larger landscape.