The Dems’ dilemma: blue col­lar or mil­len­nial

Party faces in­ter­nal bat­tle over re­build­ing its base or go­ing af­ter younger vot­ers.

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST - By Brian Ea­son

From the in­dus­trial Mid­west to Colorado’s Pue­blo County, the mes­sage this year from blue-col­lar vot­ers could not have been clearer: Don­ald Trump gets it, Democrats don’t.

But at the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee’s ex­ec­u­tive meet­ing in Den­ver on Satur­day, a poll­ster of­fered an al­ter­nate ex­pla­na­tion for what hap­pened Nov. 8: Blue-col­lar work­ers didn’t cost Hil­lary Clin­ton the elec­tion — mil­len­ni­als did.

“She won the Obama coali­tion, but she won by smaller mar­gins, due in no small part to young vot­ers cast­ing protest votes,” said Cor­nell Belcher, pres­i­dent of Bril­liant Cor­ners Re­search and Strate­gies.

“I would not have thought that we’d have young vot­ers stand­ing in line to cast protest votes. I was wrong.”

In­side the Demo­cratic Party, a bat­tle is roil­ing for the fu­ture of the party: Dou­ble­down on the party’s roots and try to re­build its blue-col­lar base? Or em­brace a dif­fer­ent de­mo­graphic en­tirely: col­lege-ed­u­cated mil­len­ni­als.

This week­end’s sum­mit in Den­ver comes as party lead­ers are jock­ey­ing for po­si­tion in the race to be­come the next DNC chair. And on Satur­day, in­terim chair­woman Donna Brazile said she was ready to step down when the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee chooses a new leader in Fe­bru­ary.

“This bat­tle is yours. And for those of you who are go­ing to step up, you’d bet­ter step the hell up,” said Brazile, who took over this past sum­mer af­ter U.S. Rep. Deb­bie Wasser­man Shultz re­signed. “This ain’t no part­time gig. This is a bat­tle you have to put your heart and soul into if you care about your coun­try and your party.”

Other speak­ers in­cluded U.S. Sen.-elect Cather­ine Cortez Masto, of Ne­vada, and in­com­ing Colorado House Speaker Crisanta Duran. Both will make his­tory in Jan­uary, be­com­ing the first Latina U.S. se­na­tor, and the first Latina speaker of the Colorado House, re­spec­tively.

Duran said her fo­cus in her new role will be “mak­ing sure that we don’t take any Coloradans for granted and we don’t leave any Coloradans be­hind.”

Touch­ing on sim­i­lar themes, Cortez Masto said the suc­cess she found in Ne­vada of­fered a po­ten­tial road map for Democrats mov­ing for­ward. And she sug­gested the

party fo­cus on eco­nomic mes­sag­ing with broader ap­peal — good wages, paid leave and pro­tect­ing So­cial Se­cu­rity and Medi­care.

“In Ne­vada, you can’t af­ford to slice and dice the elec­torate,” she said.

As a na­tional strat­egy, Belcher didn’t dis­miss eco­nomic mes­sag­ing, but he did sug­gest that dou­bling down on blue-col­lar vot­ers in places such as the Mid­west may be a fool’s er­rand.

That’s be­cause the coun­try is in­creas­ingly po­lar­ized along racial lines.

“There are two elec­torates in this coun­try … and they’re do­ing bat­tle for con­trol of the coun­try,” Belcher said.

“In 2008, that younger, more di­verse elec­torate said we want Barack Obama. In 2010, that older, less di­verse elec­torate said no, no, no.”

To the ex­tent that the party can win back white vot­ers, he said the op­por­tu­nity may lie in young ed­u­cated whites, not the blue-col­lar ones that helped com­prise the Bill Clin­ton coali­tion dur­ing the 1990s.

“It’s hard to look at this data and say we should spend even more money chas­ing blue-col­lar white vot­ers,” Belcher said. “Some of the con­ver­sa­tions that you all are go­ing to have is, ‘Are states like Ge­or­gia and Ari­zona look­ing more like the fu­ture than Iowa and Ohio?’ ”

If the an­swer is yes, the next ques­tion Democrats face is: How soon will that fu­ture ar­rive? In 2016, Hil­lary Clin­ton’s ef­forts to make in­roads in Ge­or­gia and Ari­zona may have back­fired.

She out­per­formed Barack Obama in both states, help­ing her to build a 2.3 mil­lion ad­van­tage over Trump in the pop­u­lar vote. But she lost the race that mat­tered: the Elec­toral Col­lege, which was largely de­cided by the Mid­west.

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