It’s easy to argue that, strategically, the DCCC was probably right not play in either the Montana or Kansas special elections. While those races were closer than expected, no amount of input from the campaign organization would have changed the outcome. Still, they blew it.

The DCCC needs to better understand their job in this off-season. They need to re-build the credibility they’ve lost in recent election cycles. They also need to worry less about spending money unwisely and more about putting Republicans on notice that they’re competing everywhere. They need to redefine themselves as an organization that’s going to take the fight to the GOP and stand up for Democrats who are willing to get into the arena. There will come a time to pick and choose which races to support, but that’s in 2018, not when there’s nothing else happening.

Democrats across the country are alarmed and engaged. The challenge is to keep them engaged until the 2018 cycle is in full swing. These special elections give the Democrats an opportunity to rally the troops and fire shots at Republicans, even if the districts in which they’re running are relatively safe.

Conventional wisdom says save your money until you can fight on turf you can win. Given the deficit Democrats face in Congress, they should throw conventional wisdom out the window. They can certainly recoup the money they spend now, especially if they tap into a new source of low-dollar contributions from the fired-up base. They won’t get that money from silly email subject lines. They’ll get that money because people think the DCCC is fighting as hard everybody else.

Democrats are crying for leadership. The DCCC should give it to them. Activists, new and old, want outlets for their frustrations and special elections offer them. So far, Democrats have dramatically over-performed even when they’ve lost. The DCCC should be there taking credit for these accomplishments and thanking activists for their support—right before sending that email asking for their money.

Because of finance laws, the DCCC is the organization best positioned to offer direct support to campaigns. While races are few and far between, they should be engaged in all of them, testing their messages and new communications tools. They should be rallying the troops and defining themselves as the principle organization taking the fight to GOP. They missed opportunities in Kansas and Montana. After Georgia, they’ll have a few more opportunities in places like South Carolina. They should take them.

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