Is Our Democrats Learning?

Very slowly, and at the state and local level, but, well, baby steps (boldface mine):

Lisa Turner isn’t convinced. “You gotta throw away the playbook,” says the former political director of the DLCC, who is now critical of the group and of the official Beltway approach to these races. Turner helped Kelly Fowler survive a fund-raising crisis and stay in the delegate race last August, and she has criticized Virginia party leaders for overinvesting in their incumbents and a relative handful of newcomers. She wants to see state parties and the DLCC put more people on the ground. “We also need to focus on the mentoring of new candidates. This is not a one-size-fits-all thing.”

Another major lesson from Virginia is that the tactics must evolve with the time. Many of the 2017 candidates say they were given an antiquated template by party leaders: Spend a certain number of hours per day calling donors; invest in polling; pay for mailers. Some were steered to the same vendors for polling, fund-raising, mail, and campaign management. The candidates who balked paid a price.

The state party was mad I wasn’t using the same vendors,” says Lee Carter. Jennifer Carroll Foy says that she got pushback regarding her decision to go door-to-door and talk issues with the voters directly: “We believed in having conversations at the front door, but the old mentality was about mailers and money.”

Bachman agrees that the focus on “mailers and money” is outdated and should be replaced with more emphasis on digital advertising and social media. “We don’t think [candidates] should have to do so much call time” for money, she says. “We want them out in the district.” Bachman is most excited about “the incredibly diverse creatives” who donated their time and talents to produce video for Virginia’s newcomer candidates—groups like the Arena and the People PAC and One Vote at a Time, all of which are ready to move on to where they’re needed in 2018.

We’ve discussed the scourge of Democratic consultants many times, who demand slavish devotion to their strategies and their bank accounts, especially at the local level, where they often aren’t needed. But the Iron Law of Institutions, unfortunately, is still too prevalent at the local level (and the national level):

But the Democratic Party’s recruitment and development mechanisms still have trouble recognizing and supporting this new cohort of politicians.

“State parties are very hierarchical—there’s a bias built in by men, for men,” says VoteRunLead’s Erin Vilardi. “Your rank comes with the time you’ve given to the party. And these women are not necessarily that into being Democrats, either. They’re pissed. They’ve been yelling. They’ve been involved in issues, but not necessarily in the party. So the party is not necessarily equipped to support the women who are running.”

“The formula has to change,” says Carroll Foy, who didn’t get the party’s backing in her primary but secured help after she won it. “We knew we weren’t the favorites of the establishment. But we showed that when minorities and women run, we win.”

Dean says the same is true of the new crop of millennial candidates. “These millennials aren’t necessarily Democrats,” he notes. “They’re anti-institution. And the state parties can be an incumbent-protection racket. They’re not bad people; they want to do the right thing. But they’re kind of a closed club.”

Forward Majority worries that state parties will overinvest in protecting candidates who survived the 2016 Trump wave. “If you held on in ‘16, you’re probably in good shape!” says Vicky Hausman.

A lot of deadwood has built up over the last couple of decades, and it’s going to take some time to clear it out. Still, baby steps…

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One Response to Is Our Democrats Learning?

  1. Michael Leon says:

    Right now in Wisconsin, the most important election is being held on April 3: Wisconsin Supreme Court.

    A loss for Judge Rebecca Dallet loss means Koch bros control of the Court for nine years. Yet, the Dallet campaign with all of the political dynamics behind this mediocre candidate is shooing away field work and supporters of her defeated Primary Election opponent, the progressive, Tim Burns. Madness.

    This April 3 race against a Scott Walker nut should not be close. It may be very close. And Scott Walker’s judge, (Michael Screnock), may actually win against Dallet!

    Point is yard signs, field work, coalitions, are apparently no longer objectives of the Wisconsin Democratic Party. Alabama and Pennsylvania have taught Wisconsin Democrats nothing, NOTHING.

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