It happens. We feel we did all the right things, and they did all the wrong things, and they still win out.
Diane Navarrete did not only win out, she opened a can of whoop ass on Octavio Dominguez in the race to be Judge for Criminal District Court 1. But here’s the thing. Navarrete ran a terrible campaign, while Dominguez did a lot of the right things, including outraising and outspending her. And still, it wasn’t even close. Only Ivan Nino had a bigger loss in the county, and it doesn’t seem fair.
Before I started this blog, I knew I had to start with a disclosure. That’s why the first post I ever did was on The Importance of Name ID. Because I knew I would get folks pointing out to me candidates who hired professional help, did a lot of blockwalking and phone calls, sent mail, had a social media presence, etc and still lost big. A good example of doing a lot of the right things and still losing big because of a huge difference in Name ID is Dori Fenenbock challenging Veronica Escobar with a million dollar campaign. Look, if the voters don’t want you over your opponent, it isn’t going to happen, no matter what your campaign does.
And I am not suggesting that Octavio is less likable than Diane. I would say the opposite. But nobody knows who the hell he is. True, most voters couldn’t tell you who Navarrette is, but this was the 4th time Democratic voters were seeing her name on the ballot. It’s a big advantage to have heading into an election with an unknown opponent. Despite finishing in second place in the 2012 Primary, Navarrete won her seat by whooping Theresea Caballero in a runoff election that same year. That race was run by Forma, to whom she still owes $9k, according to her finance reports. And though unopposed in 2016 she still gets the benefit of having her name on the ballot. She probably was unopposed that year because everyone remembered how big she won in 2012. Octavio Dominguez on the other hand is a young and unknown first time candidate. Big check mark here for Diane heading in.
But challenging an incumbent wasn’t Dominguez’s biggest mistake. His biggest mistake was being a man and challenging a Latina in a 2020 Democratic Primary judicial race. Whatever the reason, El Paso Democratic voters, and Democratic voters across Texas, decided they were tired of male judges.
On top of bad table selection (poker reference), Dominguez had some bad luck that was out of his control. And no, I’m not talking about drawing the number 2 ball instead of the number 1 ball for ballot placement. More on that later.
The bad luck I am talking about is the McDonald’s Stabber. On top of all the crazy terrible things that have happened in 2020, you probably forgot about the “McDonald’s Stabber”. Remember that crazy asshole? Yeah, what a fucking year. Anyway. You may also now start to remember that Judge Francisco Dominguez had some very bad press for this:
So basically, right when Early Voting is about to get started, voters are seeing a news story about a Judge Dominguez who released the guy who stabbed the 5 year old with the mother saying, if it wasn’t for Judge Dominguez her daughter would not have been stabbed. Do you think voters took note that this Judge’s name in the news story was FRANCISCO and not Octavio? Hell no. They went to the polls with their subconscious whispering at them that Judge Dominguez was bad. And when those voters came to the part of the ballot where a male Dominguez was running against a Latina for Judge, they were sure to check Navarrette’s box.. There are a lot of variables that contributed to the loss, but the number one reason for the loss was his decision to challenge an incumbent Latina for a judicial seat. However that news story was the number one reason for having the large margin of defeat.
Okay let’s get to why you’re all here. You want to see the numbers. Here they are.
- Diane Navarrette 68%
- Octavio Dominguez 32%
Expenditures/Contributions (up to 8 day before report)
- Diane Navarrette $26,179/$10,071
- Octavio Dominguez $45,542/$36,669
Consulting and Management
- Diane Navarrette $0
- Octavio Dominguez $0
- Diane Navarrete $0
- Octavio Dominguez $0
- Diane Navarrete $8,768
- Octavio Dominguez $30,975
- Diane Navarrete $10,424
- Octavio Dominguez $2,031
- Diane Navarrete $0
- Octavio Dominguez $5,693
- Diane Navarrete $0
- Octavio Dominguez $866
- Diane Navarrete $0
- Octavio Dominguez $927
- Diane Navarrete $2,080
- Octavio Dominguez $370
- Diane Navarrete $1,043
- Octavio Dominguez $150
- Diane Navarrete $0
- Octavio Dominguez $1,277
Looking at these expenditures alone, the election results would be baffling. Navarrete ran exactly what I would describe as a terrible campaign. Her biggest expenditure was on signs. Signs. Alright, score one for the sign advocates. She also gave a bunch of money to El Paso Democratic Clubs. Surprise, surprise…she won all their endorsements, except for Northeast Democrats and Black Democrats. And she went to a lot of Senior Centers and brought them all goodies. As did Octavio. I really don’t like going to Senior Centers. Look, it’s not the worst use of a candidate’s time, but I am sure they are not as effective as many would think. A significant portion of the seniors there are not even registered to vote, or have empty voting histories.
It was just the stereotypical bad campaign. Bunch of signs, events, and a little mail. And that’s a lot of campaigns. And a lot of races are two bad campaigns running against each other. Some one has to win, and that’s where the belief is born that if you do those things you can win without knocking on doors or making calls.
Both candidates purchased VAN (a voter database) which is usually only purchased by campaigns that are going to be doing heavy voter outreach. If the only voter outreach you are doing is mail, it definitely isn’t worth it. There are a lot of ways to get a good mail list without spending the money on VAN. It is possible the Navarrette campaign hammered out a bunch of phone calls with volunteers, but they definitely didn’t do any blockwalking, as there were no expenditures for printed campaign material.
So what really makes the margin of defeat a surprise is that Dominguez did do blockwalking. I actually ran into a door hanger of his while I was out in the field, so it was definitely happening. You can see he spent over $1k on printed material which is good for about 10k door hangers, which is the number of doors Dominguez told me his campaign did. But did all 10K door hangers actually get up on the doors of voters? Maybe. But I am going to guess no. I’m sure Dominguez had some great volunteers, as he spent almost $1K in volunteer parties.
But this is what happens to a lot of candidates: They have friends and family that say they want to help. And I think most of them really mean it. And a lot of them will do some work, like maybe for a few hours, one or two times. But also sometimes, you give them their walk list and their door hangers, and tell them good luck. But you never really know if it was done. Or how it was done. Life happens. People put it off. They will do it next weekend. They leave the door hangers on doors but don’t knock on the doors. Conversations with voters are passive…etc.
This is why I insist on having in-person phone banks, and having pre/post blockwalk meetings, even if they are only volunteers. There will be a major difference on what the impact will be on doing 10k doors with paid canvassers under a paid experienced field director versus using only volunteers under an inexperienced and volunteer campaign manager.
The other major thing that doesn’t come out in finance reports is what the voter target was. Maybe 10k doors were done, but that’s worthless if it is 10k doors of non voting households. Octavio was kind enough to share his voter target with me. It wasn’t terrible, but I thought it was both too tight and too creative. Every campaign is going to hit some voters that don’t end up voting, but the difference in how many can be the difference in who wins an election. I think the Dominguez campaign both skipped over doors they shouldn’t have and knocked on the doors of voters who were not very likely to vote in a Democratic Party. Same thing with the mail.
But even if it was 10k Doors of well targeted voters with a professional blockwalking team it was probably still too little against an incumbent free of controversy (if it didn’t appear in the news then it doesn’t matter). And Octavio, with hindsight, accepts that he was in a tough race that he was likely going to lose no matter what, but still, he was baffled by the spread. Under leveling circumstances, his efforts would have likely kept him within10 points. But with a bad news story and no professional help, instead he lost by 36.
This race also is another example of the ineffectiveness of social media. I’m not saying don’t do social media. Absolutely you should do it. Every candidate should be accessible by social media, but it is not by any means a replacement for the effectiveness of phone calls and door knocks. Experts in social media that are novice to campaigns don’t understand why what they do in the private sector doesn’t translate to winning political campaigns. Especially on local down ballot races.
Dominguez had help from a professional social media company, who provided their services as an In-Kind Contribution. I’m sure these guys are very good at what they do, and have helped a lot of businesses be successful. But again, that doesn’t translate well to a political campaign. Dominguez told me post the “8 day before” report they ran an additional $2500 dollars in social media ads. That is a lot for a local down ballot race, and the budget was in professionals hands, who probably did nothing wrong in their targeting or content, but that speaks to the ineffectiveness of social media in political campaigns. I’m sure its effectiveness will grow in future years, but sorry kids, you still have to go blockwalk. I know, I know.
Oh and ballot placement. A lot of candidates spend a lot of energy and hope on being placed on top of their opponents on the ballot. But honestly, there is no advantage whatsoever. Candidates with the top placement only won in 12 out of the 27 contested races that were in this year’s El Paso Democratic Primary. And all 12 winners were either incumbents, and/or Latina’s against men in Judicial races, and/or heavily out campaigned their opponents.
Octavio is a super smart guy. He would have made a great judge, and he actually wouldn’t make a bad political consultant (which I can’t say for all lawyers that try to dabble in political campaigns). He did his research and knew what a good campaign should look like. He would have fared much better against a male in an open seat race, but still there were amatuer mistakes made. His story reminds us why a professional campaign team is so important, especially for a brand new candidate. Even if you’re an expert in campaigns, you still need time to be the candidate. And even if you make all the preparations, there are always surprises you could never anticipate. The negative news story on Judge Francisco Dominguez is an example of that. This is when it’s super helpful to have an experienced campaign team that not only has the time and resources to get in front of news media, but also has the experience of having put out several political fires.
Navarrete won this race in 2012, when she defeated TC by a large margin. She went unopposed in 2016 and didn’t have to do much to win big in 2020. She had the Name ID and her opponent was unknown. She also benefited by simply being a latina. She will probably go unopposed in 2024, unless she gets some very bad press.