WASHINGTON — Key players in the progressive universe have reached the conclusion that the 2012 elections can be won only with a gamble. Rather than match conservative groups dollar-for-dollar in television ad campaigns, they will invest their more limited resources in building up a grassroots infrastructure designed to get out the vote.
The latest commitment to the idea that Democrats must do more with less came Monday night, when one of the progressive community’s foremost donors made his first foray into the 2012 race.
Billionaire financier George Soros announced that he would be making two separate $1 million donations to outside government groups. While the sum hardly constitutes chump change, the underlying purpose of the giving was more newsworthy. After having sat patiently on the campaign sideline, Soros finally decided to invest. But not with the Obama campaign itself or the president’s allied super PAC. Rather, he gave to America Votes and American Bridge 21st Century, organizations that do on-the-ground coordination and opposition research respectively.
Explaining the donations, longtime Soros adviser Michael Vachon said they were driven by Soros’ belief that Democrats had two comparative advantages over the GOP: organizing acumen and long-term infrastructure.
“Culturally, the left doesn’t do Swift Boat,” Vachon said, in reference to the trickster, ultimately effective ad campaign run against Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the 2004 presidential campaign. “It’s not what we do well. If we did do it well, George W. Bush would not have been re-elected because he was a supremely swift-boat-able candidate. We don’t do it well. We do humor well.”
While it would be unwise to simply leave the president’s super PAC’s unfunded, Vachon added, there also needed to be a recognition that progressive money would be drowned out by conservative. Karl Rove’s American Crossroads is expected to spend $300 million alone. Mitt Romney’s allied super PAC, Restore Our Future, has spent $44 million already. Faced with those figures, Soros concluded a wiser investment strategy was needed.
“If you look at 2010 Senate races, in close races where progressive outside groups spent nothing, such as Pennsylvania and Illinois, we lost; where we spent but didn’t come close to matching, Colorado and Washington, we won,” Vachon said. “We don’t have to match dollar for dollar, but we do need to be competitive.”
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