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It's The End Of The World As We Know It, So Give Us Money

Judging from email inboxes Monday night, the political apocalypse loomed.

Democrats were about to be overrun by GOP hordes. An army of liberal special interests and Hollywood cronies were on the verge of overtaking Republicans.

How to explain the dire, all-is-lost pronouncements? FEC deadline day.

Monday marked the end of the second quarter of the year, which meant federal candidates had to report to the Federal Election Commission all donations received in the period between April 1 and June 30. And those eager to raise funds before the cutoff did not let their potential donors forget it. A flood of missives streamed out across email lists, the supplicants leaving no stone unturned and no inbox unfilled.

For pure — and sustained — doomsday rhetoric, it was hard to beat the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

"All hope is lost," lamented the DCCC, the campaign arm of the House Democrats, on Monday.

"TRAGIC conclusion," another DCCC email later forecasted.

"DOOMED," they wailed.

The DCCC also made a series of personal overtures in the run-up to Monday's deadline, many ostensibly straight from the keyboards of party sweethearts ranging from Vice President Biden to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

"I hate to send you an email on a Saturday," the Democratic Party chairwoman apologized over the weekend.

Biden thanked, and then implored, voters on the committee's behalf. "When Barack and I were taking punches left and right, folks like you were there for us," he said.

Don't, he begged, land Democrats "up the creek without a paddle."

The DCCC also made voters aware of the seemingly powerful impact their donations would have. "Boehner = FUMING," the DCCC announced, tacking on an angry emoji to the subject line for good measure.

"They're doing it to plump up their numbers at the very last minute," explained Viveca Novak of the Center for Responsive Politics, referring to the need for campaigns to curate an image of robustness to attract future donations and supporters.

The other reason for the last-minute scramble for cash: Candidates want to avoid becoming targets of opportunity by virtue of being underfunded.

Small-dollar donors can prove vital to political campaigns. And so online fundraising, the fastest way to reach millions, has surged in recent years — in fact, in 2012 online donations made up one-third of the DCCC's revenue.

That explains why campaigns on both sides of the aisle build digital teams who work to devise the perfect email pitch.

Typically, the appeals come in familiar, friendly tones. A Monday email from a Republican political action committee headed by former United Nations ambassador John Bolton called the recipient "friend" — twice. Others fell flat when it came to email intimacy — like one from Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner whose solicitation was simply addressed to "First Name."

Some candidates play the comedian.

"Maybe if I voted naked ..." suggested Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida. His email included a screenshot of a That '70s Show character clad in nothing but a Nixon mask ("Not Me," the caption below the photo clarified).

In another Grayson email, the subject line got right to the point: "Is the Deadline Tonight at 11:59 or 12:00?"

But most campaigns, just like the DCCC, focused on the tried-and-true fundraising tactic: old-fashioned fear mongering.

"Infamous" opponents were set to "invade" with their "lies" and "lackeys" — all terms used in an email from a particularly insistent Democratic House hopeful, John Foust of Virginia.

Nefarious lobbying groups and Democratic Sen. Al Franken's "Hollywood friends" sought to "drown out the voices of every day" Americans — this from Republican Senate candidate Mike McFadden of Minnesota.

How to "ensure the American Dream is alive and well for generations to come?" Contribute to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Capital letters — signs of a truly terrible situation — abounded. "CRITICAL," boomed the Democratic Party of Wisconsin on Sunday. "CATASTROPHE," echoed Florida Rep. Lois Frankel, who is up for re-election in November.

"The sky-is-falling sort of strategy evidently must be effective — because they keep doing it," said Novak.

Even if campaigns aren't likely to quit the chase anytime soon, at least some own up to their actions.

A DCCC message from Pelosi ditched the drama for a plain statement of fact Monday afternoon: "We keep emailing." An earlier DCCC email said meekly, and all too appropriately, "(sorry!)"

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Molly Roberts
Up North Updates
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