Weird Fundraising Appeals

A FiveThirtyEight-inspired message from the Democrats doesn't compute.

Using the subject line “FiveThirtyEight’s new Senate forecast,” something calling itself the “Official Democratic Record” (actually, ActBlue) used a slightly-outdated version of this graphic to urge me to send them some money:

They follow this up with the pitch:

The problem, of course, is that some of these races are not like the others. Some of the listed candidates, like Amy McGrath, have essentially zero chance of winning. Others, like Ben Ray Lujan, are practical shoo-ins.

Here’s the odds FiveThirtyEight puts on the most competitive races:

Looking at the pitched names in order:

  • Gross has a mere 24% chance of winning in Alaska.
  • McGrath has a mere 5% chance of upsetting Mitch McConnell in Kentucky.
  • Bollier has a mere 24% chance of winning in Kansas.
  • Lujan, conversely, has a 95% chance of winning in New Mexico.
  • Cunningham has a 62% chance of winning in North Carolina. This is among the most competitive races in the country and should get tons of money (not that it isn’t already).
  • Harrison has only a 23% chance of upsetting Lindsay Graham in South Carolina.
  • Bradshaw has an infinitescimile <1% chance in Tennessee.
  • Espy has a tiny 15% chance in Mississippi.
  • Heger has a tiny 14% chance of knocking off Jon Coryn in Texas.
  • Jordan has an infinitescimile <1% chance in Idaho.
  • Gideon has a 59% change of knocking off Susan Collins in Maine, likely keeping that seat in Democratic hands until the end of time. Again, an obvious place to drown in cash.
  • Greenfield has a 54% chance of knocking off Joni Ernst in Iowa, making it the second most competitive race in the country. Invest in this one!

So, the good news is that four—and ONLY four—of the listed candidates have a really good chance of winning the seat. Of those, one (Lujan) is a lock-solid lock. Another (Cunningham) is likely but could use shoring up. Two (Gideon and Greenfield) are poised to win but in hyper-competitive races.

The rest? What in the holy hell?

Meanwhile, they’re not asking for money for Georgia, which is THE most competitive race in the country.

If the pitch is aimed at the kind of person who reads FiveThirtyEight—and they got it right in my case—then why give the impression that you’re asking me to send money to morons who don’t know which races need targeting.

My initial thought was that they were just covering their bases in a mass mailout, figuring that people would be upset if their candidate wasn’t featured. But they know where I live, as the town is prominently blasted in the email, imploring me to join 14 others in my community in giving.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Congress, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jen says:

    This is easy. It’s a fundraising appeal, and they get the most out of it if they feature as many races as possible. It doesn’t matter if McGrath doesn’t have that much chance of winning, Democrats (and a fair number of independents) HATE McConnell and so she needs to be in any and all of these broad appeals for cash.

    The rest–it’s about removing any “well, why wasn’t [insert someone’s pet race] included?” objections.

    Yes, they are using a 538-esque style to raise money–but this is less about who specifically has a chance, rather than “WE” have a chance to flip the Senate.

    ETA: I didn’t realize they’d left Ossoff off. That is strange. I got this email too and didn’t notice that until now.


  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    I get dozens of emails and texts daily asking for money, including Sara Gideon who had to return $600 that was over the limit. Jaime Harrison is the extreme example. Sometimes it’s, ‘Oh, sweet Jesus we’re losing!’ and ten minutes later it’s, ‘We got this if you’ll just send another C-note!’ Ten minutes after that it’s, ‘Lindsay Graham terrified!’

    The programs run dire and optimistic scenarios to see which pays off.

    A lot of it is almost insulting. ‘New polls shows…’ No, there is no new poll, that poll is two months old. Or, ‘Chris Hayes just said…” No, that was a remark he made six weeks ago.

  3. Really, it sounds par for the course. They don’t think that hard about who they are sending the appeal to, but they maybe want you to think they did. This is classic direct-mail advertising as applied to politics. Mostly I ignore it.

    One note though. 25% chances to win are really pretty meaningful. Not to be dismissed as a 5% chance might be. Take it from someone who has rolled a lot of dice in his time.

  4. Michael Cain says:

    I’m up to four e-mails per day from the Hickenlooper campaign (at least I live in Colorado). If you didn’t look at anything else, you’d believe that he was down 8-9 percentage points, not up by that amount. That said, I have to admit that the Gardner campaign’s production values for TV commercials are quite a bit better than Hickenlooper’s.

  5. Andy says:

    @Michael Cain:

    I’m in Colorado too. Fortunately, my email still is not on partisan email lists (I’m registered independent) or else my spam filters are working perfectly.

    I haven’t seen many TV commercials simply because I never watch live commercial TV except sports occasionally.

    I was kind of surprised to see Hickenlooper missing from this list, but he probably doesn’t need any help.

  6. Jen says:

    Okay, this is strange.

    I was so surprised that I didn’t notice Ossoff was missing from the list that I went and pulled the email I received.

    My email, with the same graphics and headline includes the following candidates (listed by row as they appear in the email):

    Gross, McGrath, Bollier
    Lujan, Cunningham, Harrison
    Hickenlooper, Ossoff, Kelly
    Bradshaw, Espy, Hegar
    Jordan, Gideon, Greenfield

    Your email seems to be missing the middle row. I think this could be just a glitch in the email system? I knew I’d seen Hickenlooper on the list.

  7. EddieInCA says:

    I get between 20-60 texts and emails a day from political parties and candidates.
    Biden/Harris is about 30% of them.
    Cal Cunningham is about 20%
    Jamie Harrison is about 20%
    Mark Kelly is about 20%
    The last 10% is a mixture of Gideon, Ossoff, Espy, and Gideon.

    Harris/Biden is mostly emails, with at least a text a day asking me to phone bank, even though I’m already scheduled to do it all weekend.
    Cunningham and Harrison are also mostly emails, as well.

  8. BugManDan says:

    @Michael Reynolds: You think you see a lot of Harrison ads. Living in SC, I see his and Graham’s pictures more than I see my own kids. And that is just the real mail.

  9. James Joyner says:


    Your email seems to be missing the middle row. I think this could be just a glitch in the email system? I knew I’d seen Hickenlooper on the list.

    That makes more sense—they just literally listed every single Democrat running, regardless of how the race is going.

  10. Michael Reynolds says:

    I can imagine. Here in CA no one wastes money on ads for national elections. Instead we’re being bombarded by ads from Uber/Lyft/Doordash on a proposition to let those companies continue to treat drivers as independent contractors.

    If it’s not that it’s another prop involving dialysis clinics.

    Particularly irritating since I already voted.

  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    If Jaime Harrison doesn’t win he has a hell of a future in debt-collection. His team is relentless.

  12. CSK says:

    Yes; I too was wondering why Hickenlooper, Ossoff, and Kelly had vanished from the list.

  13. Richard DeMent says:

    I have always considered election finance reform the thing that needs to happen before any meaningful change can be possible. But now we have a court that will rule against any meaningful attempt to fix it. MONEY DOES NOT BUY SPEECH. It buys an audience … and now the ability to mess with that audience’s head. It’s not just the eye-watering sums, it’s the whole messing with the information infrastructure. Cut off the money and people have to win the old-fashioned way, by convincing people their ideas will deliver an equitable society.

  14. keef says:

    I live in SC. Harrison is just a bagman. Outside money has poured in, but I doubt he wins.

  15. Michael Reynolds says:

    Hey, late-blooming Q-bot, have an update on JFK Jr’s reappearance? Has he replaced Pence yet?

  16. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @keef: An SC resident ehh—quite familiar with the State. It explains alot about you. I like to think of SC as the Mississippi of the Mid-Atlantic–except that Mississippians are nicer

  17. Neil Hudelson says:


    Drew, you moved there this year.

    I really don’t think you’re qualified to speak on any matters of the state, or who is a “bagman.”

  18. de stijl says:

    A very odd thing in my state is that the sitting R Senator is running on health care. It’s Kafkaesque. You guys literally have no plan beyond rescinding the ACA.

    That, and the liberal mob. Scary pictures of riots with Pelosi’s face overlaid.

    The best thing about Election Day 2020 is bye-bye to Trump and the R majority Senate and a bigger House majority.

    Second best is no more effing campaign ads. For a year at least.


Speak Your Mind