House Democrats toss 2016 playbook

Washington's new lows
Washington's new lows


    Washington's new lows


Washington's new lows 01:20

Story highlights

  • House Democrats met for a retreat in Baltimore this week
  • They discussing new strategies to win at least 24 seats in the midterms

(CNN)House Democrats are scrapping their playbook -- with plans to fire pollsters, hire new staff and ditch the very tools they used to decide where they fight against Republicans -- as they search for a way to win back the House of Representatives in two years.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a New York Democrat who is leading an internal review of the Democrats' campaign strategy, and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, the chair of House Democrats' campaign arm, told Democrats they need to drop their old way of doing business.
"We should understand the reality of the new battlefield and we should talk about things that matter to ordinary Americans and if we do both, we will write a new chapter," Maloney told CNN Thursday.
    Part of that review means dropping some of their basic ideas of what wins them races and dropping some of the strategies that hurt them just a few months ago, when Donald Trump won an upset victory for the White House and Republicans maintained control of both chambers of Congress.
    "You're talking to a gay guy with an interracial family in a Trump district," Maloney said. "I live this tension every day."
    Lujan, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said he asked the pollsters who got so many assumptions wrong to do their own internal analysis, to figure out what they got wrong and report back to the Democrats.
    "Part of that analysis is going to result in us having a conversation where we want to make it loud and clear that unreliable pollsters will not be invited back to the DCCC," Lujan told reporters Thursday at the Democrats' retreat in Baltimore.
    Lujan then said the company that decides how the House Democrats spend their millions in advertising dollars could be out the door, too.
    "As you're all aware there is an entity, a group or a vendor that buys and places commercials across the country whether its cable or broadcast or on digital. It's my understanding that the vendor that we now have has been doing buys for the committee for as long as anyone can remember. It's important to me that we open that process up that people can compete," the New Mexico Democrat said.
    Despite the deep overhaul, Democrats actually won six additional seats in the House this past November. But it was far short of their expectations, which at some points flew as high as re-taking the entire House.
    Maloney is bullish on turning things around.
    "Of course we can win the House back," he said.
    Democrats say they will need to win at least 24 seats in November 2018 to retake the chamber, and Rep. Denny Heck, who is leading the effort to recruit candidates, said they have picked out 42 seats so far where they think they can oust Republicans.
    But before they settle on their picks, Democrats are ditching the very tool they used to pick their candidates -- and the districts they would fight in — known as the Democratic Performance Index, a metric party officials created to help analyze competitive districts that they say is now antiquated.
    "One of the lessons (Maloney) drew was we've got to get away from just looking at DPI. We got crushed in some districts where the DPI looked pretty good and we won in some districts where the DPI was awful," said Rep. Jim Himes, a moderate Democrat from Connecticut who's district borders Maloney's New York seat. "One of the things he has done is said let's look at dozens of variables so we can come up with something more sophisticated."
    Rep. Susan Delbene, a moderate Democrat from a swing district in Washington state, said they need to look ahead.
    "The DPI is kind of based on history as opposed to looking toward the future," she said.
    Maloney said he developed a new data model to replace the DPI, using 350 different data points. "Our tools and our campaign and our message need to catch up," he said.
    Maloney and his staff poured through 127 House races, and interviewed more than 100 House Democrats, 50 candidates and top political staff from the House and former nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign.
    Democrats already have a few chances to test their new theories -- with special elections coming for seats vacated by Republicans nominated to Trump's Cabinet. They're eying the suburban Atlanta seat vacated by former Rep. Tom Price for a possible special election pickup, and they're trying to glean some lessons from a pair of surprise victories in New Jersey and Florida last November.