Democrats planning multi-year strategy to recapture seats

AP News
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Posted: Nov 17, 2015 11:50 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats need to map out a multi-year election strategy to maintain the White House, recapture seats in Congress and in state legislatures and rebuild their bench of candidates, according to a task force formed after the party's dismal 2014 election.

Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz released a 19-page report on Tuesday that describes the party's work to rebuild after massive losses in the midterm elections during Barack Obama's presidency.

The report says the party needs to develop and deploy a "clear, values-based message," strengthen state parties, protect the right to vote, prepare for redistricting after the 2020 elections and recruit a new generation of leaders.

"We needed to do a deep dive about what structural changes we could make at the national party to address a broad range of things," said Wasserman Schultz, a Florida congresswoman, in an interview.

Called the Democratic Victory Task Force, the working group released interim findings last February and the DNC has begun implementing several steps to improve. Some of the changes include renegotiating contracts to help state parties, spending more money on the party's data infrastructure and bolstering its training programs.

But implementing these recommendations can be difficult. The Republican National Committee produced an autopsy in the aftermath of the losses in the 2012 elections, largely an effort to diversify their support to keep pace with the country's changing demographics. The crowded field of GOP presidential candidates has undermined many of those policy recommendations with conservative positions on issues like immigration and gay marriage meant to woo the Republican base.

The DNC report, led by outgoing Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, shows the extent to which Democrats have stumbled during Obama's presidency. Since 2008, the party has lost 69 House seats, 13 Senate seats, more than 900 state legislative seats, 30 state legislative chambers and 12 governorships.

Across the nation, Democrats hold 3,172 of the 7,383 seats in state legislatures, or 43 percent. Of the 99 legislative chambers, Democrats only have a majority in 30.

"We have to continue to be successful in winning presidential races but we have not concentrated enough at the same time at state and local races," said Beshear, who will be replaced by a Republican next month. "We have to gear into that."

Some Democrats blame the losses on the White House, arguing that President Barack Obama's political operation failed to sufficiently bolster state parties — a charge Wasserman Schultz dismissed.

"The president and his team throughout my tenure at the DNC and during his two election campaigns has been remarkably committed to making sure the Democratic party as an institution is successful," she said.

Unlike the GOP, the Democratic report largely focuses on improving the party's ability to communicate its message, rather than changing direction on policy issues.

"We believe that we don't need to change anything from a policy standpoint to win as Democrats," said Maria Cardona, a Democratic strategist who worked on the report. "What we need to fix is infrastructure."

Republicans disputed that claim, blaming the losses on Obama's agenda.

"The direction President Obama has set the Democrat Party on has led to historic defeats across the country," said Republican National Committee chairman Reince Preibus, in a statement. "Once Hillary Clinton's coronation is complete, she will inherit an insolvent party that has been completely hollowed out and lacks a credible path back from the wilderness."

The report delves into the next round of redistricting after the 2020 elections, a major concern for Democrats given GOP clout in state legislatures. In most states, the new boundaries for congressional districts are redrawn following the next census.

The report recommends the DNC work with state parties and organizations like the Democratic Governors Association, which has a new website and fund led by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe aimed at winning targeted governors races that will influence redistricting.

The report said the "2020 Redistricting Fund" will work in at least 18 states where governors can play an active role in the redistricting process. It said the DGA estimates the changes could give Democrats the opportunity to net 44 extra U.S. House seats.

The national party increased funding to its state organizations by fifty percent, according to the DNC's CEO Amy Dacey, sending tactical teams to help the local groups effectively use the new funds to expand their infrastructure.

The findings were based on feedback from more than 100,000 people, dozens of listening sessions and more than 200 individual interviews, the DNC said.

"This sounds like Politics 101 and it is Politics 101, but we need a refresher course," said Beshear.

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Thomas reported from Dallas.

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