The flood of emails started in early August, carrying dire messages from Democratic politicians. “Save the USPS from Trump,” pleaded Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA). “Help Bob defend the USPS,” an email from Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) nudged. “We can’t let Donald Trump steal this election,” blared the subject line of an email from Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA).
In the last month, Democrats have sought to counter a crisis at the U.S. Postal Service, a beloved but beleaguered institution struggling under the weight of oppressive operational “reforms” from a new Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, and renewed attacks from President Donald Trump. The president has long harbored animus for the agency and has recently connected increased funding for the mail to an electoral headwind for him in November.
In Congress, Democratic lawmakers have backed bills funding the USPS and grilled DeJoy at high-profile hearings. But out on the political battlefield, a throng of Democratic candidates and organizations have turned the USPS crisis around as a potent political tool to galvanize supporters—and raise money.
Since the beginning of August, when nationwide mail delays and operational “reforms” at USPS exploded into public view, at least 100 Democratic candidates for federal office have sent communications that led to some kind of mail-related fundraising ask, according to a review of campaign emails and social media advertisements. Dozens of Democratic Party-affiliated organizations, outside liberal groups, and state-level candidates have made similar pleas, too.
“It’s huge—every single client has been trying to capitalize on it,” said a Democratic strategist, who spoke anonymously with The Daily Beast, to discuss trends candidly. “It’s rare you get an issue where every candidate, whether they’re a Blue Dog or very liberal, is so aligned on this.”
“This is one of those unique moments where everybody is talking about it… Everyone is affected by the Postal Service,” said Michael Whitney, the former digital fundraising manager for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) presidential campaign. “In terms of how you know that you’re going to have something people are paying attention to, this is really a gimme in terms of knowing your audience is going to have heard about it, has an opinion about it, and is going to want to do something about it.”
The issues facing the USPS also tie neatly into other powerful issues: mail being delayed means seniors don’t get prescription drugs on time, for example; it also raises the threat that ballots and election mail could get held up in an election where more Americans than ever will vote by mail. And it serves as an evocative example of many of the broader frustrations that Americans feel with Trump’s presidency.
The Postal Service is the ultimate “umbrella issue,” said Renee Schaeffer, a fundraising specialist at the Democratic strategy firm Democracy Partners, that can serve as a stand-in for a candidate’s broader priorities. “It’s, this is who we are, this is who they are,” she said. “It’s represented in this one entity.”
The last time that Democratic fundraising appeals were so dominated by a single issue, ventured Schaeffer, was in 2009, when Congress was debating the Affordable Care Act—particularly an amendment that would have blocked coverage for abortion in any public option.
Democrats have long weaponized GOP designs on health-care programs, and reproductive rights, against them. But few expected that they’d be handed an opportunity as golden as Trump going after what might be the most popular institution in America, the USPS, at a time when it is more critical than ever.
“The Postal Service is always a really important issue,” said the Democratic strategist, “but it has become white hot for donors explicitly because it is tied to the election in 2020.”
“I’ve sat in dozens of focus groups of swing voters, and they care about core competency of government,” said Jared Leopold, a Democratic operative who’s worked on various races nationwide. “This is a great proof point of something that is apolitical that Trump has politicized and screwed up… It’s a reason why Democrats would go on offense about it.”
In public opinion surveys, the Postal Service routinely scores above 90 percent favorability ratings. Its services affect virtually everyone in the country—especially senior citizens, who tend to participate in the political processes of voting and donating more than younger people.
There has not been a wealth of public opinion polling focusing on Trump’s handling of the USPS in recent weeks. But Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm, did a slate of surveys for the liberal group MoveOn on the subject in three states central to the battle for the Senate majority: Maine, Iowa, and Georgia.
In all three states, opinion about Trump’s stewardship of the USPS was underwater: in Maine, for example, 31 percent of voters approved, while 56 percent disapproved. And in Iowa, 56 percent of voters said they supported action from Congress to provide more funds to the USPS, while 27 percent opposed it.
Many of the postal messages reviewed by The Daily Beast, via the publicly accessible Archive of Political Emails and the Facebook Ad Archive, were straightforward donation pitches asking the reader to support a politician’s work to defend the USPS or to oust an incumbent who’s insufficiently supportive of the agency.
“Donald Trump is moving to DEFUND the US Postal Service. We need leaders in Washington who are dedicated to protecting this critical institution,” began a Facebook Ad fundraising pitch from Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV), who is a GOP target. “Will you chip in $20 to Steven’s campaign so he can keep fighting for the USPS?”
“The U.S. Postal Service is being sabotaged!! Meanwhile [Sen.] Lindsey Graham is nowhere to be found,” read a typical fundraising message from Jaime Harrison, the Democrat challenging the longtime South Carolina Republican senator.
The bulk of emails, however, open with a different kind of ask: urging the reader to sign a petition demonstrating their support for the Postal Service or to “stand with” the lawmaker or candidate sending it. More often than not, someone who signs the petition is redirected to another page asking for money. Even if they don’t give, the fact that they clicked through a solicitation email is priceless information for operatives who build and maintain a campaign’s email list, perhaps the most valuable asset in modern fundraising.
A certain genre of fundraising email made popular in recent years—the hair-on-fire pleas with clickbait-style subject lines and quasi-threatening asks—have increasingly turned off political professionals in both parties. Many political fundraising firms have toned that language down somewhat. But to Democrats, the flood of Postal pitches might reflect a rare moment when the urgent tenor of fundraising emails matches the urgency that voters are feeling about the fate of the Postal Service.
The crop of candidates now putting the USPS front and center to their fundraising are building on the smaller, but persistent number of candidates who’d done so since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has threatened the agency’s long-term finances and fueled increased calls for a rescue package.
With the same handful of firms largely responsible for most of Democratic campaign fundraising, those early returns must have been good, explains Whitney—providing data that likely fueled August’s Postal Service boom.
“There’s been a low buzz around the Postal Service working in email for a while. Everyone’s relieved to have something to talk about that’s not COVID and is election-adjacent,” said Whitney, referencing how many of the fundraising pitches connect the USPS to Trump’s stated desire to fund it less so that a broad expansion of vote-by-mail is not possible.
“When you see this unanimity in content,” said Whitney, “it’s gotta be working.”