Letter from Jane Dittmar and an op-ed (analysis on 2016 campaign in the 5th district)

Dear Rappahannock County Democrats,

Happy New Year! I want to thank you once more for investing in my 2016 campaign. Despite the outcome, your contribution helped us inspire nearly 150,000 people to support our values and vote for representation that promised to be responsive and respectful of all people.

As we begin the New Year, I feel renewed and eager to continue our efforts to ensure a vibrant future for our children and our Commonwealth. 2017 is important for Virginia as we work to rebuild a Democratic majority in the state legislature and strive to elect another Democratic governor.

I strongly appeal to you to join me in supporting the efforts of David Toscano, the Democratic Leader in the House of Delegates with whom I will be working, as he seeks to elect a slate of qualified candidates to the General Assembly and efforts to elect a Democratic Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General.

On, on in 2017!

Jane Dittmar

P.S. Please find below an op-ed that offers an analysis of the 2016 campaign in the 5th District.

As a new Congress begins its work in Washington, recuperation and reflection have been priorities for our hard-working Democrats in Virginia’s 5th District.

Many have asked us to analyze why we lost the congressional race and the simple answer is…the other guy got more votes.

What follows is a more detailed analysis.

First, we all recognize that Virginia’s 5th Congressional District is badly gerrymandered in favor of Republican candidates. Because of that, we knew that in this political football game, our drive would require a ninety-nine yard sprint while the Republican would start his drive just ten yards from the goal line.

In 2011, the Republicans in the General Assembly went into overdrive to water down the impact of the Charlottesville and Albemarle area (and you can see why…in this election for instance, we carried Albemarle by 58 % and Charlottesville by a whopping 79%). They succeeded in doing this by removing the Democratic-leaning city of Martinsville and nullifying the Charlottesville region’s impact by adding strong Republican turnout counties of Madison, Rappahannock, and Fauquier.

Despite this major disadvantage, we believed this seat was still winnable if we attracted:

– A qualified candidate appealing to independents and even moderate Republicans,

– A talented campaign staff, and,

– Enough individuals to finance the campaign.

We succeeded in each category.

We also knew, because of our challenging district, we would need certain external circumstances to break in our favor.  At a minimum, we needed the 5th District to turn out for Clinton as it did for Obama, and we needed for Trump to do only as well as Romney did in 2012.  We also hoped that dark money from outside the district would stay out of our race.

So, what actually happened?

Democratic turnout … the Presidential Race

It is a political reality that “down ballot” candidates such as Congressional candidates are tethered to the anchor or rocket of the presidential candidate. At a minimum, we knew that to win the 5th District seat, Clinton had to do as well as Obama did in 2012 (47%) and preferably as well as he did in 2008 (49%). Unfortunately, Clinton only earned 42% of votes cast in the 5th district, underperforming Obama in 2012 and 2008.

Republican turnout … the Presidential Race

An additional drag on any democratic congressional candidate is how well the republican presidential candidate bolsters support for the republican congressional candidate and needless to say, everyone underestimated Trump. In the 5th District, Trump over-performed Romney’s 2012 results upping the republican share to 53%. In certain precincts, Trump’s coattails gave the republican congressional candidate an even bigger boost. This surge, combined with Republican fear mongering over a Democratic sweep, pushed even Republicans who refused to vote for Trump to turn out to at least support “down ticket” Republicans.

Since Citizen’s United Dark Money’s Influence

Through our own effort, we outraised our opponent more than 2 to 1. Our total fundraising efforts brought in approximately $1.4 million compared to our opponent who was only able to muster $590,000 through his own efforts. As significant, our contributions came primarily from individuals (88%) whereas the republican candidate raised little more than half from individuals. With less than a month to go, we had outraised him and the polls showed us closing in among 5th District registered voters.

In fact, our early October polling showed we were leading by 4 points with independents. That meant that if we had a healthy Democratic turnout, victory was in our grasp.  However, alarm bells went off in national Republican circles when their polling began to show similar numbers.

How do we know this?

In the final 10 days of the election, a conservative dark money super-sized political action committee (PAC) dropped upwards of $1.5 million into negative advertising in the 5th district in an attempt to salvage our opponent’s campaign. In what was normally considered a “safe” Republican district, this super PAC spent at least 15% of its entire 2016 congressional expenditures in the 5th district. Remember, this is not money our opponent raised by appealing to his own constituents.  This is “dark” money that comes with strings.

So, was it gerrymandering? Was it underperformance of the Democratic presidential ticket? Was it overperformance of the Republican presidential ticket or Republican fear of a Democratic sweep? Was it the $1.5 million poured into the district at the last minute by an outside super PAC for negative advertising?

In reality, it was the combination of all of these adverse circumstances that kept us from a win.

However, here are a few reasons Democrats in the 5th District should be proud despite the loss:

1. Democrats selected a great candidate for this race.  Jane had the right experience in the private and public sectors; she had the knowledge of the needs and desires of District residents; she had the energy; and she had the personality for a successful candidate and a successful Congressional Representative.

2. We ran a clean, honest, civil, and issues-oriented campaign. Instead of a campaign based on fear and lies, we focused on issues of concern to citizens of the 5th District­—better jobs, better internet service, better health care, and better constituent service.

3. Democrats throughout the District were engaged in our campaign, with over 800 volunteers from all 23 counties and cities in the District, and with the active support of all 23 local Democratic Committees. National Democrats recognized our efforts, and designated the campaign as having “red to blue” potential.

4. We ran a grass-roots campaign, with 88% of our financial support coming from individuals. We were not dependent on outside support, and if we had won we would have had a Congressional Representative unencumbered by debt to a super PAC.

5. We worked hard to make all District voters aware of the issues, with extensive travel and hundreds of meetings with voters throughout this enormous District, and exceptional efforts to reach voters through the media and with the candidate debates.

Now a new year provides new opportunities for Democratic victories! It is time to turn our attention to the upcoming races in 2017 and to work hard to elect a democratic governor, secure the other statewide offices, and increase our democratic seats in the General Assembly and in local government. On, on!

Lisa Hystad – 5th District Chair, Democratic Party
Tom Vandever – Campaign Manager, Jane Dittmar for Congress 2016

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