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O'Connell: DNC Measures Success By Wins, Not Fundraising Totals


Democrats are eyeing 2018 with some growing hope. Their Senate candidate just won in a solidly red state, Alabama, after raising more than twice that of the Republican candidate, Roy Moore. Many hope this is a first sign of a Democratic wave that could - could - win the party control of both houses of Congress. But here's the reality check - the Democratic National Committee has come under steady criticism for institutional problems and accusations that it played favorites in the last presidential nominating contest. And it appears the DNC may be low on cash. Jess O'Connell is with us now. She is the CEO of the Democratic National Committee. She joins us. Good morning.

JESS O'CONNELL: Good morning.

GREENE: So looking at the numbers from the Federal Election Commission, the RNC has $40 million in the bank right now. The DNC has about $6 million. That is a huge gap it sounds like. How big a problem is this for you?

O'CONNELL: Well, it's certainly - it - I mean, look, it is a gap, but I think what is most important here is that we're not measuring success by fundraising. We're measuring success by whether or not we're electing Democrats. And we had a terrific 2017 where Democrats out there that were running at every level had the resources that they need to win, and that's for a couple of reasons. You know, the DNC is - first and foremost, we are outperforming our previous off cycles, which is something that is important. But we know we need to do better.

Collectively, I think if you look at the entire Democratic ecosphere and the progressives that are out there, we're doing pretty well. When you look at our sister organizations, the DSCC, the DCCC, the DLCC - all of which are committees that are helping the campaigns directly in addition to the DNC. And then you have all of these terrific new groups that have formed. This is different than the Republicans, right? They're pouring all of their money into the RNC. But Democrats, we've got a lot of groups that we can invest in, and all of those are seeing strength and surges.

GREENE: Well, let me just ask you, though, I mean, Terry McAuliffe, the governor of Virginia, former DNC chair, he told The Wall Street Journal he hosted a fundraiser just a couple weeks ago, and some donors were telling him that they need to take a break. Is this the moment for Democratic fundraisers to be taking a break?

O'CONNELL: No, it's not, and that's why we're working really hard to bring them home. I mean, it's no secret, and I'm proud of the fact, that the DNC has been fueled by the grassroots over this past year. That's because that energy and momentum that is out there, they are giving directly to candidates. They're giving to other groups, but they're also giving to the DNC. We've seen an uptick in grassroots fundraising - that's gifts under $200 amount - throughout the whole year. It's really what's sustained us. But look, when you lose an election in 2016 like we did and you lose all over the country over the previous years, there is some disappointment that's still out there. And some of our largest supporters - you know, we've got to rebuild trust, and that's the work that Chairman Perez, myself and others have been doing over this past year.

We promised those donors, look, this year, we're going to do four things. We're going to rebuild. We're going to organize everywhere and early. We're going to work on our - modernizing our data and technology. And we're going to win. We did all four of those things, and I think that's why you see a surge in the last few months of this year because we're doing exactly what we said we needed to do to win.

GREENE: I just want to play a little bit of tape if I can. Democrats, I mean, have long complained about the lack of efficiency at the DNC. And here's a clip from a Democrat who ought to know. It's Hillary Clinton. She was addressing a Silicon Valley conference last spring.


HILLARY CLINTON: I inherit nothing from the Democratic Party.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What do you mean nothing?

CLINTON: I mean it was bankrupt. It was on the verge of insolvency. Its data was mediocre to poor, nonexistent, wrong.

GREENE: If those criticisms are fair, what can you tell Democrats that you are doing right now to fix these problems in time for midterms that are about to get really cranking?

O'CONNELL: Yeah. There's two things that we're focused on that are really important. One is rebuilding on the organizing side. We are organizing early and often and everywhere through every zip code counts, which is basically through all 50 states, and investing in these state parties that can build campaigns. What Hillary Clinton had to do was have robust operations all over the country in campaign offices all over the country. That's something that the national party ought to be doing through our state parties right now in early - not just for 2018 but in preparation for 2020. The second thing that she's talking about is the data and technology. The RNC made a significant investment in 2013 after losing to Barack Obama twice. They made a hundred million dollar - over a hundred-million-dollar investment in data technology to make it better. We've got to do the same thing. And that's why we need donors and everyone to continue to support the DNC for the infrastructure that we'll need to win now and in the future.

GREENE: Jess O'Connell is the CEO of the Democratic National Committee. Thanks so much for joining us this morning.

O'CONNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.