The significant election Tuesday wasn’t the Wisconsin primary, though it got interestingly close. Rather it was the election to fill a vacant Congressional seat in Kentucky — an election won by the Democrat Ben Chandler. It was the first time the Democrats have won a special election for the House since 1991.
Josh Marshall sums it up:
Oh, how sweet it is. We’ve been telling you for some time about the 6th congressional district special election in Kentucky, pitting former state Attorney GeneralBen Chandler against Alice Forgy Kerr.
This was the first federal election of the 2004 cycle. Kerr based her campaign almost exclusively on her strong support for the Bush agenda. And the AP is now reporting that Chandler has beaten Kerr decisively. That marks the first time since 1991 that a Democrat has won a Republican seat in a special election.
This is a big deal for a number of reasons.
The first is the shot in the arm it’ll give to Democrats around the country.
But another part of the story is Internet fundraising. As you’ll notice there on the left, the Chandler campaign has been advertising for about the last two weeks on this and a number of other blogs. The campaign budgeted about two grand for blog advertising. And my understanding is that by today they had raised close to $100,000 from contributors who linked through from those blogs on which the campaign was advertising.
In other words, they got roughly a 50-fold turnaround on their investment in the final two weeks of the campaign. And in case you’re wondering one hundred grand is a lot of money in a House race.
Now, obviously that’s exciting news for proprietors of blogs looking to open up revenue streams from advertisers. But the bigger story here is about the Democrats and the Internet, and the way this technology seems to click, shall we say, for the Democratic demographic.
Democrats have always lamented how Republicans just have far better direct-mail lists than they do, and how the Republicans are just plain better at it. And they do have better lists and they are better at it. But I’ve always thought that it wouldn’t really matter all that much if the Democrats had high quality lists too. The truth is that direct-mail, for whatever reason, just works with folks who are apt to give money to Republican campaigns. And it just doesn’t with Dems, or at least not nearly as well. It’s a different demographic. For whatever social or cultural reasons, the technology or mechanism — in this case fundraising by mail — is just particularly well suited to one demographic and not to the other.
But the Internet does seem to work for Democrats. That was clear in the spectacular early success of the Dean campaign and now you’re seeing it in smaller ways in individual House races. That doesn’t mean that it won’t work equally well for Republicans; we just don’t know yet. But for the first time in a long time Democrats have a technology, a mechanism that is allowing them to raise large sums of money, not from a few well-heeled givers but from large numbers of energized Democrats giving $10, $50 or $100 a shot. It’s already starting to make a difference.
And as long as we’re at it, there’s another special election coming up in which a Democrat has a good chance to pick up a seat currently held by a Republican. That’s the June 1st special election for South Dakota’s single House seat. The Democrat is Stephanie Herseth.