Just two months after the 2016 elections, a leading Democratic political group is already laying out ambitious plans for the 2018 midterms in an attempt to retake the Senate and win key gubernatorial and state legislative races.
American Bridge 21st Century, a Super PAC focused on opposition research, expects to be active in 16 to 20 Senate races next year, the group told its donors at a conference in Florida this weekend.
The Washington Free Beacon obtained a general outline of American Bridge's plans that was provided to current and prospective financial supporters at the conference organized by Democratic operative and American Bridge founder David Brock.
"American Bridge will make running as a Republican candidate in the next four years painful," the documents boast. "We will not only damage Trump, but also the candidates who enable and support him."
American Bridge's Super PAC arm expects to operate on a $6.9 million budget in 2017. That is a significant decline from its 2015 expenditures, which exceeded $10 million, but a slight increase above the $6.4 million it spent in 2013 leading up to that cycle's midterm elections.
The group's 501(c)(4) dark money arm, which will focus primarily on attacking President Donald Trump, hopes to bring in $7.8 million. Together, the sister organizations will have a staff of 146.
Democrats face a very difficult Senate election map in 2018. The party's incumbent senators face reelection fights in nine states that Trump carried last year.
American Bridge also anticipates a difficult reelection fight in Virginia, where Sen. Tim Kaine, the running mate of failed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, is vying for reelection.
The Senate is of immediate importance for Democrats, who hope to blunt the Trump administration's agenda. But Bridge is also turning its attention to the 2020 congressional redistricting process and allocating resources to state-level contests accordingly.
"Electing governors in 2018 is the first concrete step Democrats can take toward having a bigger say in the next redistricting process, and opportunities for pickups are widespread," the group's donor pitch claims.
It is also devoting more attention to state legislatures. "Progressives have long discussed the importance" of such races for the 2020 redistricting process, but "these discussions have led to little in the way of concrete plans or action," Bridge staff wrote.
Lack of attention to those races has contributed to Republican dominance at the state level: On net, Democrats lost 1,042 state legislative seats and 12 governorships in the Obama era. Bridge hopes to turn that tide before the 2020 census and subsequent redistricting while it works to retake the Senate.
Ten of the group's video trackers are already on the ground in states with competitive Senate races and at least one, New Jersey, that is expected to have a tight contest for governor, the documents reveal.
Its research operation has begun digging into incumbent Republican senators with potentially competitive reelection fights such as Nevada's Dean Heller and Arizona's Jeff Flake. It is also researching Ohio treasurer Josh Mandel, a rising Republican star who is challenging Sen. Sherrod Brown.
In New Jersey, Bridge is targeting Republican candidates for this year's gubernatorial contest, including state assembly minority leader Jon Bramnick, Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.
In Virginia, which will also have an open governor's race this year, Bridge is updating its opposition research book on Republican operative and declared candidate Ed Gillespie, who unsuccessfully ran for the Senate in 2014.
It is targeting other Republican candidates in that race such as state Sen. Frank Wagner and Price William County supervisor Corey Stewart.
The group also plans on getting involved in Florida, which is expected to see a competitive battle to replace term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Scott. It is "a critical state for Democrats in this cycle and future elections," Bridge told its donors.
Incumbent Republican governors are in the group's crosshairs as well. Among its targets are Wisconsin's Scott Walker, Illinois' Bruce Rauner, and Massachusetts' Charlie Baker, the nation's most popular governor.
Additional gubernatorial targets will depend on Bridge's Senate map. "Due to the overlay of targeted Senate and gubernatorial states, Bridge will track in many gubernatorial races even in those where we may not be as heavily invested in the race," the group wrote.
Its involvement in state legislative races will depend on state-specific circumstances. It will "create pilot programs in key states" to test strategies, and will opt for deeper involvement only in states where Democrats stand a chance of retaking legislative chambers, where congressional redistricting can alter the federal map, and where "our progressive partners are most engaged."