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Monday, November 13, 2006

The Dent-Dertinger Campaign: A Major Opportunity Lost

In the Lehigh Valley race for U.S. Congress, Charlie Dent's margin of victory was 16,662 votes. What does this mean? Would more money have helped? Rendell and Casey had commanding margins in the Lehigh Valley, yet Dertinger fell short.

Charismatic Charlie Dent, despite his ties to Team Bush, managed to prevail in a battle that proved closer than many local pundits predicted. He told Channel 69 TV his reelection is proof of the adage that "all politics is local."

But deep pockets don't hurt.

The following is an analysis of the numbers and what they mean. Because this is intelligently written, you'll know it's not my work.

To put Charlie Dent's 16,662 vote margin of victory in perspective, look at the previous election. During a presidential year (when campaigns cost more and more votes are cast), Democrat Driscoll lost by 55,988 votes.

In the 2004 campaign, Driscoll paid $15.88 per vote ($1,820,280 spent divided by 114,646 votes). Dent spent $11.54 per vote ($1,958,631 spent divided by 170,630 votes). Dent got more bang for his buck, for sure, and Driscoll would have had to spend $889,089.44 more to just pull even based on these numbers (55,988 votes he was short times $15.88 per vote as calculated above).

Now look at Dent-Dertinger race. Although it is a non presidential year, what you are about to see will shock you.

Dent spent about $700,000 on his campaign, much less than last time. This is only $6.92 per vote. No one can know what Dent actually spent until December 7th or so, but this is a good conservative estimate.

Charles Dertinger only spent about $75,000 (and a lot of that was in-kind stuff). This translates to $0.89 per vote. Less than $1.00 per vote!

Considering that Dertinger lost by 16,662 votes, Dertinger could have drawn even with Dent with only $14,892.18 from the DCCC. If the DCCC kicked in $115,301.04, that would give Dertinger the same funding per vote as Dent.

So do you think the DCCC and the State Committee missed the boat on this race??? I think the answer is YES.

We all need to work (I know Rob [Hopkins] is going to be doing this) to make sure that the DCCC targets our race next time around so we make this district blue once again. In 2008 it will be 10 years since McHale was our congressman. Lets get this thing done.
I'm not convinced more money means more votes. The problem is a bit deeper. Smitheus at Daily Kos gives us his low down.

PA-15 (Allentown/Bethlehem) is an example of what might have been, a classic demonstration of the arterial schlerosis of the old Democratic Party and above all the need to fight hard in every single district. It has been a slight-majority Democratic district for years. Unions still mean something around here. The district has seen its fair share of bad economic times, and workers have paid a steep price for Republican policies.

Just ask the retirees from the now defunct Bethlehem Steel, whose pension plans were sold out a few years ago in the bankruptcy terms for that industrial giant. There exists a vast well of discontent with the way workers have been treated by corporations and by the federal government.

And our first-term Congressman, Charles Dent, is not wildly popular with working people. He styles himself as a social moderate, but he's a friend of business rather than labor. He's reasonably popular personally; he affects an easy-going air. But he's also slightly dim, and his Congressional office is unresponsive to constituents.

It ought to have been relatively simple to tag Dent with his first-term legislative record. As it became clearer that the Democrats had not found a credible challenger, Dent's voting record become more extremist. His was a classic go-along-to-get-along Republican record. He even travelled to Iraq in 2005 and declared himself satisfied that things were getting better. Dent was, in other words, the typical Republican rubber-stamp.

And yet the local Democrats never bothered to identify a candidate to run in the primary. At the last moment, the County chairman urged one of his acolytes, Charles Dertinger, to run as a write-in candidate in the primary, which he won.

From there, things fell apart in a predictable fashion. Dertinger, a county commissioner with almost no political experience, raised barely any money and could scarcely even get a campaign office open since he had almost no supporters. He received no help from the national Democrats. His campaign was virtually non-existent right up to the end. His positions remained vague. I never got the impression that he was particularly well-liked among Democrats, either.

And yet, very surprisingly, Dent managed to get less than 53% of the vote (a Green candidate garnered several percent). Dent's margin in 2004, against a self-financed candidate from Philadelphia, had been 19%.

It's clear that voters were fed up with Republicans and even with Dent personally. He was highly vulnerable for a range of reasons. In fact, sensing that, Dent had even waged a campaign to win the Democratic nomination as a write-in candidate, hoping to preclude Dertinger's challenge. Talk about tying a bulls-eye to oneself.

You would have thought that local, or state, or national Democrats could have found a way during the last year to nourish a credible, or at least a competent, candidate and have a real go at Dent. Instead, what we ended up with was a protest candidate--who came much closer to winning than I expected.

The Democrats in large areas of Pennsylvania are pretty disfunctional. My wife and I have tried repeatedly to get in touch with our County Democratic party leadership; it doesn't respond, and is in the hands of people who don't want 'help' from the grassroots. The state party has for many years been tied up in knots by the personal agendas of the Democratic leadership in Harrisburg. Gov. Rendell has ameliorated the situation only slightly because he's eager to get his own agenda passed.

So the state in many ways really needs help organizing from the national Democrats. Here in largely urban/suburban PA-15, just north of Philadelphia, in a majority Democratic district, the party machinery is virtually non-existent. A major opportunity was lost here this year.
More money? Better organization? They're both right. I have a suggestion myself, but I'll spare you my pearls of wisdom until Tuesday.
Another Country Heard From: John Morgan at Pa Progressive rates the Dertinger campaign as one of the three worst in 2006. Why?
Dertinger never raised the money necessary to run an effective campaign. Rob Hopkins did a wonderful job with the resources at his disposal but they were too few. There was no candidate until after the primary and that's too late in the cycle for serious fund raising and establishing name recognition. Why can't we run a competitive campaign in the Lehigh Valley?

13 comments:

Chris Casey said...

The problem is a two headed monster:
The big boys sucking up all the local contributions, leaving little to trickle down to the lower level candidates, and then sucking up the volunteer base, and their idea of coordinated campaigning is to raid the buffet and leave the locals the scraps to get by on.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Well Chris, as an unsuccessful candidate for state rep., you would know better than most.

PA progressive said...

Because the Democrats in the Lehigh Valley didn't step up and help. They also didn't contribute. The Lehigh Valley should be one of our strong regions and it isn't. From the comments left at my blog they didn't help down ticket either.
It's a damn shame because we should be winning in the Lehigh Valley.

Anonymous said...

Bernie,
While you are up there on your high-horse, let me ask you a few questions...
(1) Dertinger certainly lacked financial support, did you do anything to help this situation?
(2) Who did you endorse?
(3) Who did you vote for?
(4) Are you interested in being part of the problem or part of the solution?
(5) Are you going to run for Congress in 08?

Greendogdem said...

Well the solution obviously does not go thru the status quo, of another top down campaign, or looking to the Hdcc for anything.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 3:30, Actually, I was knocked off my high horse on Friday. I had a nasty spill with a concussion and about 8 stitches in my head. And today's post contains opinions from a Dem insider, Smitheus and PaProgressive. They are not my views, although I agree with both to some extent. Tomorrow I'm going to hop back on my high horse and will tell you what I think. Maybe the concussion will have knocked some sense into me.

But let me answer your questions:

"(1) Dertinger certainly lacked financial support, did you do anything to help this situation?"

Before I could do that, I had to make up my mind to vote for him, and that was something I just couldn't do. I tried very hard, but in the end could not do it.

"(2) Who did you endorse?
(3) Who did you vote for?"

Dertinger is a no name from New York who was just elected to county council on his third try. Within weeks after that, he was waging a write-in campaign for Congress, and that really bothered me. It bothered a lot of other Dems, too. It bothered the MC, who called Dertinger a "faithless politician." It bothered the ET as well, which actually rated Browne as a better candidate than Dertinger for those who oppose the war.

As time went on, I was impressed by many of the things Dertinger said. He is not the carpetbagger I once called him. He genuinely cares about his community. I heard him speak several times and was leaning towards him. I didn't like Dent's negative campaign.

The I saw the two of them together that night in Pen Argyl. Dertinger whined about being dragged into the contest and made a ridiculous accusation that Dent was reading from a script. The comparison between the two was like day and night. One was ready. The other was not.

I struggled the next few days and realized I was going to vote for Dent. I am by no means alone. Many Dems voted for the guy. Let's be honest.

I concluded in late Oct. that Dent was the best of the three candidates. He is like most Pennsylvanians, a little conservative fiscally and socially moderate. What impressed me most about the guy was something I discovered before making my final decision. I spoke to a major Dem in this area and learned that Dent often sought out his advice before deciding issues. He told me Dent is like that. He solicits opinions from all sides and listens. This is completely unlike most pols.

Had there been a better quality candidate running against Dent, I'd support that person. Callahan, Cunningham and Boscola are names that quickly come to mind. But they weren't in the race. Dertinger was the last minute write in, and I just couldn't vote for the guy.

I think your point is that, as a Democrat, I had an obligation to support whoever was thrown my way, even a last minute write-in. I'm just not built that way. I really tried hard to find reasons to vote for him. But in the end, Dent won my vote. And I don't think that's the end of the world. He's a decent man and a Lehigh Valley native. Unlike Smitheus, I didn't find him dim-witted at all. And if he is, then I'd hate to learn what Smitheus thinks about Dertinger. I frankly feel Dent is blazing a trail to the U.S. Senate.

"(4) Are you interested in being part of the problem or part of the solution?"

Excuse me? Are you suggesting that we are bound to support a candidate simply because he is a Democrat? I don't think so. If I felt that way I'd definitely be part of the problem. Dertinger impressed me, but not enough to get my vote. And it's my vote, not yours.Those days are over, bippy.

If you're suggesting that Dertinger's Iraq war stance was different from Dent, I don't really think so. The only difference between the two that I saw was that Dertinger called for Rumsfeld's immediate resignation. Other than that, his proposal for an exit strategy was not markedly different from Dent.

Are you suggesting that a post election analysis is inappropriate? I think that's part of the solution -- finding out what went wrong and why.

"(5) Are you going to run for Congress in 08?"

I understand the point you're trying to make here. It was better to have Dertinger run and offer some resistance than have no one at all. That's a point I did not get at first. I get it now. If an unknown with no money and very little support could do that well, then imagine how well a better known candidate could do. For that reason, you could regard the Dertinger campaign a success. I accept that. It might make some money available in the next race. But I still call it a major missed opportunity because a better known and more knowledgeable candidate would have defeated Dent.

There are high quality people who could have beaten Dent. That's reality. I think that a John Stoffa, for example, could have beaten Dent if he was not serving in the executive office. But he would not run for office after having just been elected. That's something Dertinger should have considered. It made him look like a career pol instead of a hard working union guy who put his name out when no one else was willing. Now he's stuck with that rap as well, and it's a shame for him.

Bernie O'Hare said...

PaProgressive, The 15th District could be won. But we need better quality people. Driscoll was not the answer. And notwithstanding the anger over Team Bush, Dertinger was not the answer either.

House of Crayons said...

Bravo Bernie,

"Thinking for self" is underrated. I still disagree with your thoughts on people better than Dent. For all the good that they may be, they ain't Charlie Dents.

I have my fears that his days as a regular local guy are numbered, but I also have hope that before that day comes he will surprise us all and come home to lead.

He won, and maybe he did it because he has a base that is very enfranchised. Yes partly due to his charisma, and partly due to his similarity to us-- he knows what we care about. Hell, the guy barely campaigned.

I've had the occassion to converse, man to man, with Charles (Dertinger) too. I did not come away feeling enthused. As a matter of fact, I took him to be a bit arrogant. His County Council performance does not warrant a national office. Any man submissive to the Angle-Act is not ready for real bullies with influence.

The man survived some of the most energized and angry voters in a very long time. Maybe he just didn't float like the other witches.

Sometimes it is what it is.

BTW my union the International Association of Fire Fighters supports Dent.

we also supported Kerry, Casey, and (yes)Swann. But guess what? I voted Dent, Casey, Kerry, & Rendell. I am a registered republican, but I am a Pennsylvanian first. My wife voted differently.

Individual thought is as necessary as free speach.

Your neighbor

SPIKE_ROGAN said...

HoC and I have sparred on Dent for months now.

Keep in mind I think he had beers once with dent. I guess charlie got the tab. LOL

All I want to know is WTF is the International HoC belongs to doing backing Lynn Swann? He has less of a clue than our local chairperson in easton on public saftey! HELL I think Swann couldn't spell the Capitol city!

I watched him on PCN many times, he kept telling people all over Pa the same line when they would tell him something about their community. "I didn't know that."

I suspect he would have said the same for Firefighters issues!

I thought Rendell was half way decent with Fire companies in Philly. But I guess he took the blame for what the Rizzo's (sr and Jr) have done to Philly.

Since unless Philly is diffrent than easton on this. City council votes on FD cuts NOT JUST the amyors king like rule.

Food for thought.

Bernie O'Hare said...

H/C & Spike, I've got to say I'm not seeing the Swann vote. There's no denying he's a nice guy, but he was propped up by party bosses who thought voters would vote for him just bc he is a Steeler. Instead of voting for a Steeler, I voted for a stealer. He's another nice guy.

Anonymous said...

Bernie:

1) This race proved that Dent is an empty suit who could lose to a good Dem with a name and a base;

2) You can't fault the DCCC because they concentrated their resources on those races that turned control of Congress over to the Dems;

3) Dent has led a charmed life and never ran against an opponent who punched him in the mouth, which is why a lighweight like Dertinger almost scored a TKO;

4) The ONLY problem with Dems in the Lehigh Valley is Joe Long -- as long as that idiot is the county chair, we will never be in a position to compete and win; and

5) '08 is a Presidential year and even more Dems will turn out, so Dent should enjoy his last term while he can!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 2:15, I like your style, my man. I always have.

House of Crayons said...

Always the party before the person.

Wake up guys. What about all of the other stuff I wrote.

Straight party people are BIGOTS; plain and simple.

And your votes are taken for granted.

Own it.