Democrats be­gin strug­gling to find their new di­rec­tion

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Cath­leen Decker

WASH­ING­TON — As they strug­gled through the wreck­age of one of their worst election nights in mem­ory, Democrats faced a bru­tal reck­on­ing over how the party, soon to be out of power on both ends of Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue, can re­gain rel­e­vance.

Democrats went into Tues­day’s bal­lot­ing pre­sum­ing that they would win the pres­i­dency for a third time in a row, gain a ma­jor­ity in the U.S. Se­nate and, if ev­ery­thing went well, cut into the Repub­li­cans’ mar­gin in the House. Noth­ing went well. Not only did Hil­lary Clin­ton suf­fer de­feat at the hands of Don­ald Trump, who came be­fore sup­port­ers to de­clare vic­tory early Wed­nes­day morn­ing, but a tide of con­ser­va­tive vot­ers swamped Democrats at other lev­els, as well.

Given uni­fied Repub­li­can con­trol of Wash­ing­ton, the dam­age will in­clude Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s sig­na­ture achieve­ments, such as the health care plan Trump and con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans have vowed to re­peal.

“That’s got to be a huge wake-up call for the inside-the-Belt­way Demo­cratic Hil­lary Clin­ton gives her con­ces­sion speech, with Bill Clin­ton be­side her. She urged her fol­low­ers to of­fer Don­ald Trump “an open mind and a chance to lead.”

“I think you can … look at things like the New Deal, spe­cific pol­icy mea­sures that im­pact work­ers and their fam­i­lies. I think that con­nects peo­ple across the coun­try.”

the in­dus­trial Mid­west. “I think you can look at his­tory — look at things like the New Deal, spe­cific pol­icy mea­sures that im­pact work­ers and their fam­i­lies,” she said. “I think that con­nects peo­ple across the coun­try.”

A gen­er­a­tion ago, fac­ing a sim­i­lar im­passe af­ter los­ing five of six pres­i­den­tial con­tests, Democrats moved to the cen­ter. That ben­e­fited Bill Clin­ton, help­ing him win the pres­i­dency twice. That shift formed Hil­lary Clin­ton’s po­lit­i­cal DNA. But now there are fewer vot­ers in the mid­dle as Amer­i­cans have grav­i­tated to the poles.

That — and the strong pri­mary chal­lenge by San­ders — sug­gests that the party this time will have a strong im­pulse to hew to “We have some peo­ple up­set with the the left. cul­tural di­rec­tion of the coun­try,” Mell­man Tulchin ar­gued Tues­day that the Ver­said, “and to win Democrats have to find a mont se­na­tor’s tem­plate could be used by way to ad­vance prin­ci­ples and causes that the party now. San­ders’ cam­paign crit­i­cized we be­lieve in, while not an­ger­ing those Clin­ton’s al­liance with Wall Street and her peo­ple in quite the same way.” re­ceipt of hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars

Clin­ton avoided pick­ing sides in her in pay­ments for speeches to fi­nan­cial firms. con­ces­sion speech Wed­nes­day, talk­ing The se­na­tor made clear that he thought her about is­sues on which Democrats should pro­pos­als on the min­i­mum wage, col­lege take a stand. tu­ition and health care were too in

“Let’s do all we can to keep ad­vanc­ing the cre­men­tal. causes and val­ues we all hold dear; mak­ing “There’s a clear path for­ward for us — our econ­omy work for ev­ery­one, not just we’ve got to put an end to the cor­po­rate, those at the top, pro­tect­ing our coun­try and Wall Street end of the party,” Tulchin said. pro­tect­ing our planet and break­ing down all “We’ve got to put it in a trash can, and light a the bar­ri­ers that hold any Amer­i­can back fire, and burn it.” from achiev­ing their dreams,” she said. Tulchin said that he had not talked to

Some ar­gued that, as bad as things were, San­ders since the depth of Demo­cratic the long-term prospects for Democrats losses be­came ev­i­dent. But he ar­gued that as re­mained rosy. Clin­ton suf­fered from de­the sur­viv­ing tit­u­lar fig­ure, San­ders should, pressed Demo­cratic turnout in some ar­eas. if he chooses, be able to re-or­ga­nize the That proved fa­tal when paired with DNC. Trump-height­ened Repub­li­can turnout in That is a ten­der sub­ject for San­ders’ usu­ally Demo­cratic states like Michi­gan, par­ti­sans: In hacked emails, party of­fi­cials Wis­con­sin and Penn­syl­va­nia. were seen as help­ing Clin­ton de­feat San­ders.Even­with­whathap­penedTues­day,one ar­gu­ment went, Democrats re­main poised For that mat­ter, Tulchin left open the to ben­e­fit from the de­creas­ing strength of chance that San­ders might chal­lenge white vot­ers and the in­creas­ing num­bers of Trump from the Se­nate and po­ten­tially, non­whites, the young, and women. de­spite be­ing 75 al­ready, in a fu­ture

“The re­al­ity is the coun­try is chang­ing pres­i­den­tial bid. de­mo­graph­i­cally and those de­mo­graphic “Bernie’s eco­nomic mes­sage res­onated changes do work in our di­rec­tion,” Mell­man with any­one not in the top 1 per­cent,” said. Tulchin said, re­fer­ring to one of the

But if Tues­day of­fered any lessons, it was se­na­tor’s top tar­gets dur­ing his cam­paign. that, un­less deftly done, try­ing to ap­peal to “He does well with mid­dle-class vot­ers as those as­cen­dant vot­ers risks of­fend­ing the well as work­ing-class.” party’s thin­ning ranks of white vot­ers. Af­ter their sober­ing de­feat in 2012,

The up­side of the Demo­cratic eth­nic Repub­li­cans wrote a post-election re­port ap­peals was demon­strated in Ne­vada. de­tail­ing how to suc­ceed in 2016. Trump Driven by the po­lit­i­cal mus­cle of re­tir­ing ig­nored it, and won any­way. Now, it’s the Sen. Harry Reid and Culi­nary, a po­tent la­bor Democrats’ turn as they seek to fig­ure out union, Ne­vada Democrats won the state for what could have kept vot­ers who sided with Clin­ton, seized a U.S. Se­nate seat and two Obama in 2008 and 2012 from aban­don­ing House seats and flipped the Leg­is­la­ture. them this year.

Cancela said a Demo­cratic mes­sage “As a party we have a lot of lis­ten­ing to do could be crafted that would unite Latino and a lot of dis­cus­sions to have with vot­ers,” work­ers in Las Ve­gas and fac­tory work­ers in Cancela said. es­tab­lish­ment. They fun­da­men­tally failed,” said Demo­cratic poll­ster Ben Tulchin, who worked for Ver­mont Sen. Bernie San­ders’ pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

Democrats al­ready seemed to be split over how to re­group. Some ar­gued for a more ag­gres­sive ef­fort to move the party to the left, hop­ing to drive up turnout among younger and mi­nor­ity vot­ers. Others stressed a need to reach out to the dis­af­fected, white work­ing-class vot­ers who had so con­spic­u­ously de­serted the party this year.

The de­bate is made even more dif­fi­cult be­cause Tues­day’s de­feat was ag­o­niz­ingly close. Clin­ton won the pop­u­lar vote — the se­cond time in 16 years that the Demo­cratic can­di­date had got­ten more votes than the Repub­li­can but lost the Elec­toral Col­lege. A switch in three states of about 50,000 votes out of 120 mil­lion na­tion­wide would have been enough to give her the vic­tory.

The nar­row­ness of her de­feat made keep­ing to the same path and strik­ing out in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion ap­pear equally plau­si­ble.

In the mean­time, how­ever, Democrats were left search­ing for the ba­sics: a mes­sage, mes­sen­gers, and a struc­ture to de­fend their goals, since the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee was a hand­maiden to Clin­ton’s de­feat.

Es­sen­tial, all sides say, is a com­pelling jobs pitch.

“There’s no ques­tion that Democrats have to fig­ure out an eco­nomic mes­sage that res­onates with work­ing fam­i­lies who are still dev­as­tated by the Great Re­ces­sion,” said Yvanna Cancela, po­lit­i­cal di­rec­tor for Culi­nary Union Lo­cal 226, which rep­re­sents work­ers at Las Ve­gas casi­nos and ho­tels.

“And I think that mes­sage ex­tends be­yond the min­i­mum wage and goes deep into in­come in­equal­ity and af­ford­able health care. It has to be an eco­nomic mes­sage that re­ally helps peo­ple imag­ine a bet­ter life for them and their fam­i­lies.”

Vet­eran Demo­cratic strate­gist Mark Mell­man, who served as the poll­ster for John Kerry’s un­suc­cess­ful pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in 2004, said the party also needs to find a way to talk with white vot­ers.

MELINA MARA/WASH­ING­TON POST

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