Obama takes some fault for Democrats’ losses

Ne­glected party that put him in power

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVE BOYER

Look­ing back at a Demo­cratic Party that has been shat­tered na­tion­wide un­der his lead­er­ship, Pres­i­dent Obama is ac­cept­ing blame for build­ing an or­ga­ni­za­tion that ben­e­fited mainly him­self.

The pres­i­dent said Mon­day that he and his po­lit­i­cal team didn’t pay enough at­ten­tion to lo­cal Demo­cratic can­di­dates af­ter he came into of­fice in 2009 with a re­ces­sion and two wars to han­dle.

“We were just putting out fires,” Mr. Obama said in an exit in­ter­view with NPR. “We were in a huge cri­sis sit­u­a­tion. And so a lot of the or­ga­niz­ing work that we did dur­ing the cam­paign, we started to see right away didn’t im­me­di­ately trans­late to, wasn’t im­me­di­ately trans­fer­able to, con­gres­sional can­di­dates. And more work would have needed to

be done to just build up that struc­ture.”

When Mr. Obama was in­au­gu­rated in 2009, Democrats held 257 seats in the House. This year, they had 188, a loss of 69 seats — down more than one-fourth of their to­tal from eight years ago.

The Se­nate had 57 Democrats in 2009 plus two in­de­pen­dents who sided with them — nearly a fil­i­buster-proof ma­jor­ity. This year, there were 44 Democrats plus two in­de­pen­dents who cau­cus with them, a loss of 13 seats and the ma­jor­ity.

In 2009, there were 28 Demo­cratic gov­er­nors across the U.S. To­day, there are 18.

Across state leg­is­la­tures, Democrats have met with sim­i­lar calamity. Over the past eight years, Democrats have lost more than 900 seats na­tion­wide.

Next year, Repub­li­cans will con­trol all the levers of govern­ment in 25 states, and the GOP has leg­isla­tive ma­jori­ties large enough in two other states to over­ride a veto by a Demo­cratic gov­er­nor. Democrats will con­trol the leg­is­la­tures and gov­er­nor’s of­fices in only five states: Cal­i­for­nia, Delaware, Ore­gon, Hawaii and Rhode Is­land.

Repub­li­cans con­trol 68 of the na­tion’s 98 par­ti­san state leg­isla­tive cham­bers. Two-thirds of the na­tion’s gov­er­nors are Repub­li­cans; the party con­trols both houses of Congress and has won the pres­i­dency.

The pres­i­dent took the ag­gres­sive step of en­dors­ing 160 down-bal­lot can­di­dates in con­gres­sional and state races. Eighty-seven of his can­di­dates won, a rate of 54 per­cent. Most of the win­ners were in­cum­bents; only 45 per­cent of the chal­lengers en­dorsed by the pres­i­dent were vic­to­ri­ous.

Na­tional Democrats tar­geted 32 state leg­isla­tive seats held by Repub­li­cans in the key bat­tle­ground states of Florida, Michi­gan, North Carolina, Ohio, Penn­syl­va­nia and Wis­con­sin. They won only eight of those seats.

In the af­ter­math of Hil­lary Clin­ton’s loss to Don­ald Trump for the pres­i­dency, stunned Democrats have been grop­ing for ex­pla­na­tions. They have blamed Mrs. Clin­ton as a weak can­di­date. She has blamed FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey and Rus­sian hack­ers. Mr. Obama has blamed the me­dia for fo­cus­ing too much on the stolen emails of Mrs. Clin­ton’s cam­paign chair­man, John Podesta.

Echo­ing com­ments by Vice Pres­i­dent Joseph R. Bi­den about Demo­cratic lead­ers grow­ing too elit­ist, Mr. Obama also cited in the NPR in­ter­view “fail­ures on our part to give peo­ple in ru­ral ar­eas or in ex­ur­ban ar­eas a sense day to day that we’re fight­ing for them or con­nected to them.”

He blamed his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s agenda in part for dis­tract­ing vot­ers, men­tion­ing his move to en­force trans­gen­der bath­room rules in lo­cal schools.

“They may know less about the work that my ad­min­is­tra­tion did on try­ing to pro­mote col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing or over­time rules,” he said. “But they know a lot about the con­tro­versy around trans­gen­der bath­rooms be­cause it’s more con­tro­ver­sial; it at­tracts more at­ten­tion.”

With the party still reel­ing and Mr. Obama leav­ing of­fice, of­fi­cials are fo­cused on the se­lec­tion of a new chair­man to run the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee. La­bor Sec­re­tary Thomas E. Perez is com­pet­ing against Rep. Keith El­li­son of Min­nesota, who has the back­ing of la­bor unions and lib­eral law­mak­ers on Capi­tol Hill — namely Sens. Elizabeth War­ren of Mas­sachusetts and Bernard San­ders of Ver­mont, who ar­gued that the “sta­tus quo is not work­ing” and that Mr. El­li­son would bring “real change” to the DNC.

Mr. Obama, who said he is stay­ing out of the race, nev­er­the­less lav­ished praise on Mr. Perez on Fri­day.

“He is tire­less. He is wicked smart,” the pres­i­dent said at a press con­fer­ence. “He has been able to work across the spec­trum of la­bor, busi­ness, ac­tivists. He’s pro­duced.”

The pres­i­dent has lamented that he wasn’t able to trans­fer the strat­egy for his vic­to­ries in 2008 and 2012 into a win­ning for­mula for other Democrats at all lev­els. A few months be­fore his re-elec­tion four years ago, Mr. Obama pre­dicted that his win, along with more Demo­cratic vic­to­ries, would help break the Repub­li­can “fever” that he blamed for much of the grid­lock in Washington.

“What I was able to do dur­ing my cam­paigns, I wasn’t able to do dur­ing midterms,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s not that we didn’t put in time and ef­fort into it. Some of that just has to do with the fact that when you’re in the party in power and peo­ple are go­ing through hard times like they were in 2010, they’re go­ing to pun­ish, to some de­gree, the pres­i­dent’s party re­gard­less of what or­ga­ni­za­tional work is done.”

He said the elec­torate tends to be older dur­ing midterm elec­tions, and his coali­tion rested on the sup­port of younger vot­ers.

“But we know those things are true, and I didn’t crack the code on that,” he said.

With only one month re­main­ing in of­fice, Mr. Obama said he has some ad­vice for his party on how to re­build.

“One of the big sug­ges­tions that I have for Democrats as I leave, and some­thing that, you know, I have some ideas about, is, how do we do more of that ground-up build­ing?” he told NPR. “What I am in­ter­ested in is just de­vel­op­ing a whole new gen­er­a­tion of tal­ent. For ex­am­ple, we know that the Repub­li­cans, funded through or­ga­ni­za­tions like the Koch broth­ers, have been very sys­tem­atic at … build­ing from the ground up and com­mu­ni­cat­ing to state leg­is­la­tors and fi­nanc­ing school board races and pub­lic util­ity com­mis­sion races. I am a proud Demo­crat, but I do think that we have a bias to­wards na­tional is­sues and in­ter­na­tional is­sues, and as a con­se­quence I think we’ve ceded too much ter­ri­tory. I take some re­spon­si­bil­ity for that.”


LOOK­ING BACK: Pres­i­dent Obama said his party needed or­ga­ni­za­tional work af­ter the 2008 elec­tion, but “we were in a huge cri­sis sit­u­a­tion.”

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