Down-ballot campaigns are setting records. More candidates than ever are contesting midterm state-level races and many campaigns are seeing unprecedented spending. Now, this excitement has some consultants jockeying to take advantage of a newfound bull market.
From a $10 million state Senate GOP primary in Texas — one of the richest in the state’s history — to a record $5 million first quarter fundraising haul for the DLCC, money is pouring into down-ballot races. But even those races without blockbuster budgets are now generating consultant interest. Consider Judge Rebecca Dallet Wisconsin Supreme Court race that brought on California-based 50+1 Strategies with a $25,000 digital budget.
Some consultants are now eyeing business at budgets far below that. In fact, these practitioners are developing a scalable model that makes servicing down-ballot campaigns of all budget sizes economical. For instance, mail consultants in 2015 began introducing DIY mail for down-ballot campaigns.
This month a new digital shop is looking to offer personalized websites for $500 to state-level campaigns. DemCampaignSites.com, a partnership between Laura Packard’s PowerThru and Cornershop Creative, is looking to resell its services through consulting firms working on state-level races.
“What we’re offering is a basic website that integrates with Action Network or NGP Van or MailChimp, if you can afford that,” Packard said, noting that the service offers semi-customizations while providing things like email and social media signs ups and fundraising.
While there’s a school of thought among digital consultants that websites are now only good for redirecting to social media pages, Packard noted a weakness in a social-only approach. On Twitter, for instance, what do you pin to the top of the profile?, she asked, noting a fundraising request, candidate bio or press release could all take priority.
“State legislative markets are growing, and not every candidate has a website,” she said.
Danielle Winterhalter, a managing partner at SpeakEasy Political, which offers DIY mail services, also sees an increased level of attention being paid to state-level campaigns — including from donors, and groups like Run for Something and the National Democratic Training Committee.
“We're seeing more states interested in developing programs to support Tier 2 and Tier 3 candidates, because in this wave year, some races on the margins are destined to flip,” she said. “There's a lot in play here, and we're not going to let the opportunity go.”
Adriel Hampton, a consultant who worked works with progressive challengers, said the attention doesn’t always translate into bigger budgets for down-ballot races.
“I’m seeing down ballot races struggle,” he said. “Particularly in California where the top-two primaries have led to more hotly contested congressional districts and statewide races, it's more difficult for Assembly candidates to find air – and cash.”
Moreover, it’s not just rival campaigns that consultants need to worry about eating into their budgets. With so much attention being paid to down-ballot races, outside groups, many of which offer free services, are gaining an edge. Before the Virginia elections in November, for example, volunteers from the group Tech for Campaigns helped build candidate websites.
There’s also competition from established firms like NationBuilder, which includes website building in its offerings. Still, Packard said there’s an opportunity to pick up down-ballot business that previously belonged to NationBuilder because the company has a tarnished reputation among Democrats because of its work for the Trump campaign in 2016.
As the competition for down-ballot dollars grows, Packard said she’ll take a longer view than just this cycle to see how the business develops.
“As long as Trump is president, Democrats are going to be very invested,” she said. “I think we’ll have just as many candidates running in 2020 as we do now.”