If the vice president takes the bait and jumps into the Democratic race for his boss's job, he’ll have a hell of a lot of work to do in a short amount of time.
Joe Biden would start with zero dollars in the bank, for one thing, versus a Clinton campaign that raised more than $45 million in the second quarter. In the race for superdelegate endorsements — yes, those are again a thing — he'll also be behind. Moreover, he'd have to build a grassroots field operation from scratch.
But Biden would also face a significant climb online. Clinton and Bernie Sanders already sport close to 1.3 million followers apiece on Facebook, and those numbers grow every day. Still, Biden’s real digital challenge would be building an email list. A social following can explode overnight — Sanders surged past Clinton online — but list-building takes time.
As we've seen again and again, email remains a candidate's most important online tool for fundraising and mobilization. Yes, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and the like steal the media spotlight, in part because reporters can actually see the messages going out.
By contrast, it's hard to report on a campaign's email-segmentation or niche-ad targeting. But while social media are certainly useful for message-distribution, long-term supporter engagement and recruiting, they don't hold a candle to the power of email to generate small-dollar donations in vast quantities or to turn people out to volunteer and vote.
That last aspect is key. In fact, a relatively small number of activists usually determine the results of primaries and caucuses, something that the Obama campaign realized early in the 2008 cycle. On the email front, Hillary Clinton has learned the lesson, too. Her 2008 list died a slow death after her loss seven years ago (only 100,000 out of an original 2.5 million addresses still work), but Ready for Hillary stepped into the gap. The "grassroots Super PAC" spent more than a year building up a base of some 4 million email addresses and accompanying information, and these now reside in the Clinton campaign database.
Add in the names Clinton's accumulated organically since launching in June, and you have a formidable pool of donors, primary voters and caucus-goers. Even if a Biden campaign caught fire — by no means a guaranteed proposition — he'd be hard-pressed to recruit more than a small fraction of her online support before Iowa and New Hampshire kick off the nomination cycle next February. That factor alone should give him pause.
The DNC Now Owns The Legendary Obama List
Speaking of email lists, the DNC now has the much-envied Obama campaign supporter database. The committee and other Democratic organizations have enjoyed occasional access to the campaign list before, but only with Organizing for America's approval. That situation was changed at the party's recent Summer Meeting; the DNC now owns a copy outright.
Not just names and email addresses, either, since the package includes transactional data such as which messages and appeals each member has responded to in the past. Assuming it also includes demographic information and consumer data appended to the list over time, this new acquisition is far more valuable than a simple spreadsheet. It’s off-limits to the competing presidential campaigns, but the list will surely be available to the eventual nominee.
Democrats Supercharge The Voter File
Also unveiled at the Democrats' Summer Meeting: Voter File 2.0. Assembled by data firm TargetSmart Communications working with commercial data vendor Experian, the new-and-improved master voter list is optimized for ad targeting, including online ads and those on addressable TV outlets such as the Dish/DirecTV combination we discussed last year.
This list-on-steroids combines traditional voter-file elements like names and addresses with consumer data such as email addresses and demographic information. The results will streamline the process of targeting voters with advertising down to the individual level – a powerful tool for persuasion and mobilization alike.
With the RNC and Koch-funded i360 working hard to expand their own data empires, Democrats hope that the expanded file will help them maintain a targeting edge in the cycle to come. Now, no advantage lasts for long, and we should watch for Republicans to try to match the Democrats' new capabilities. The data arms race continues.
Colin Delany is founder and editor of the award-winning Epolitics.com and a 15-year veteran of online politics. See something interesting? Send him a pitch at firstname.lastname@example.org