Dems search for an­swers to stem GOP tide

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Still sift­ing through the wreck­age of the Nov 8 elec­tion, Demo­cratic lead­ers na­tion­wide are strug­gling to find a new mes­sage to claw back sup­port and avoid years in the po­lit­i­cal wilder­ness. Not only do Repub­li­cans con­trol the White House and both the US Se­nate and the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, they now hold 33 gover­nor’s of­fices. New Eng­land, long con­sid­ered re­li­ably Demo­cratic, is a prime ex­am­ple of the party’s demise. Repub­li­can Phil Scott won in Ver­mont over Demo­crat Sue Min­ter who was crit­i­cized, like pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton, for fail­ing to de­velop an eco­nomic mes­sage that res­onated with vot­ers wor­ried about good-pay­ing jobs.

Con­sid­ered a lib­eral bas­tion, Ver­mont has a tra­di­tion of some­times choos­ing a Repub­li­can gover­nor to keep one party from hav­ing too much con­trol. Else­where, Repub­li­can Chris Su­nunu will re­place a Demo­cratic gover­nor in New Hamp­shire while Maine and Mas­sachusetts al­ready have Repub­li­can gov­er­nors. “We lost the gov­er­nor­ship of freak­ing Ver­mont,” lamented Wash­ing­ton-based Demo­cratic strate­gist Chris Kofi­nis. “We didn’t just lose an elec­tion. This was a na­tional re­buke. This was bib­li­cal.”

Repub­li­cans also com­mand 32 state leg­is­la­tures and have full con­trol - mean­ing they hold the gover­nor’s of­fice and both leg­isla­tive cham­bers - in 24 states, in­clud­ing swing states such as Florida, Ohio, Michi­gan, and Wis­con­sin. When Pres­i­dent Barack Obama was elected in 2008, they con­trolled just nine. “There are more Repub­li­cans at the state leg­isla­tive level than there have ever been,” said Tim Storey, an an­a­lyst with the Na­tional Con­fer­ence of State Leg­is­la­tures.

Repub­li­cans scored a ma­jor coup when they seized the Se­nate in traditionally lib­eral Min­nesota, giv­ing it full con­trol of the leg­is­la­ture, and they gained full con­trol of nextdoor Iowa. “The party’s mes­sage, struc­ture and ap­pa­ra­tus are bro­ken,” said Kofi­nis, who was chief of staff to mod­er­ate Demo­cratic Se­na­tor Joe Manchin of West Vir­ginia. “We haven’t ac­knowl­edged it for years be­cause we had the White House.”

Obama’s two terms masked a crum­bling party in­fra­struc­ture. Dur­ing Obama’s ten­ure, Democrats lost over 800 state leg­isla­tive seats, at least 13 gov­er­nor­ships and both houses of Congress. Party in­sid­ers are re­luc­tant to blame the pop­u­lar Obama but cite plenty of rea­sons for the de­cline. These in­clude a mud­dled eco­nomic mes­sage; an overem­pha­sis on emerg­ing de­mo­graphic groups such as mi­nori­ties and mil­len­nial at the ex­pense of white vot­ers; a per­cep­tion the party is elit­ist and aligned with Wall Street; a re­luc­tance to em­brace the pro­gres­sive pop­ulism of Se­na­tor Bernie San­ders, the for­mer pres­i­den­tial hope­ful; and fail­ure to field strong can­di­dates in key states.

There is an emerg­ing con­sen­sus, they add, that the party has been too fo­cused on win­ning na­tional races and has not in­vested enough in lo­cal cam­paigns, along with a grudg­ing ad­mis­sion that Repub­li­cans have done a bet­ter job of com­pet­ing on the ground. As a re­sult, a poor per­for­mance by the Democrats in the 2010 midterm elec­tions gave Repub­li­cans con­trol of state­houses across the coun­try, al­low­ing them to re­draw leg­isla­tive maps to fash­ion dis­tricts that would help en­sure their long-term elec­toral suc­cess. “I think the foun­da­tion was built back in 2010,” Wis­con­sin Gover­nor Scott Walker told Reuters. “There was a big wave and then for many of us that were elected in ‘10, we got re­elected in ‘14 in battleground states - Wis­con­sin, Florida, Ohio, Michi­gan. You look at the states that were key to the pres­i­den­tial win, were states where Repub­li­cans did well in ‘10 and then sus­tained it.”

Democrats are work­ing to re­cover and look­ing ahead to gover­nor’s races in New Jer­sey and Vir­ginia next year to make up lost ground. Gover­nor’s of­fices have be­come cru­cial for an­other rea­son: Repub­li­can gov­er­nors signed voter sup­pres­sion mea­sures in states such as North Carolina that Democrats be­lieve dam­aged turnout. Su­nunu has said that as one of his first acts as gover­nor in New Hamp­shire, he would like to end the state’s prac­tice of al­low­ing same-day voter reg­is­tra­tion. As with re­dis­trict­ing, it is an­other lever of power that Repub­li­cans can wield to make sure they re­main in the ma­jor­ity for a long time.

Obama has said he will ac­tively sup­port a new party ini­tia­tive, the Na­tional Demo­cratic Re­dis­trict­ing Com­mit­tee, that seeks to re­store state-level Demo­cratic power. Mark Schauer, a for­mer Michi­gan con­gress­man who is a se­nior ad­viser to the ef­fort, said the goal is to have a cen­tral or­ga­ni­za­tion di­rect re­sources into crit­i­cal lo­cal races.

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