2014 DNC Autopsy: Yeah, We Need To 'Reclaim' White Southern Voters

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Feb 23, 2015 4:10 PM
2014 DNC Autopsy: Yeah, We Need To 'Reclaim' White Southern Voters

The Democratic Party has been slowly bleeding at the state and local level. After their 2014 shellacking, they huddled together and released a preliminary autopsy that is a massive…nine-pages long where they show their lack of self-awareness regarding their campaign narratives. The first two pages are dedicated to patting themselves on the back for being Democrats–and how the “national Democratic Party must never allow itself to become a party of Beltway consultants who routinely recommend cookie-cutter campaigns that are detached from the concerns of the people we hope to represent, at the city, state, and federal level.” Uh, did they forget about the whole war on women narrative they conjured in 2012, which ended up cannibalizing some of their 2014 candidates? Yet, one area they might have trouble is with white, southern voters, because Democrats aren’t just struggling with them in the South–it’s everywhere.

Here’s the Democratic butcher’s bill since 2008 [emphasis mine]:

STRENGTHENING THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY

It is clear that Americans overwhelmingly support the people and issues that the Democratic Party ?ghts for every day [The losses below suggests otherwise]. Our work in support of equality in all areas – personal, wage, marriage, justice – was endorsed by Americans when they supported ballot measure after ballot measure that were focused on ensuring that this is a country for all.

We have su?ered devastating losses at all levels of government since 2008 including:

- 69 House Seats

- 13 Senate Seats

- 910 State Legislative Seats

- 30 State Legislative Chambers

- 11 Governorships

It also mentioned that members of the Task Force would meet routinely over the next three months to further analyze and address the issues they feel Democrats need to work on in future elections. DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Vice Chairwoman of the DNC Donna Brazile, Google Chair Eric Schmidt, and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear are some of the major Democratic figures on the team.

To curb the rising Republican tide, the team recommends that the Democratic Party get their act together on a “cohesive narrative,” strengthening relationships with the state parties, expanding voting rights, redistricting reform, and building a deeper Democratic bench.

That last one will be a huge obstacle given Republican dominance of governorships and state legislatures. In fact, this could be one of the biggest problems facing the party today, as the new talent usually rises up from the state and local level. There really is no new blood coming in to fill the ranks of the increasingly decrepit Democratic leadership.

Then, there’s white working class voters, a constituency that’s drifted to the Republicans, which Democrats acknowledge they need to win back. They’re mostly rural and feel the Democratic Party has abandoned them. Kevin Drum wrote in the left-leaning Mother Jones that Democrats' focus on the poor—specifically the “underserving poor­”– is what caused white working class voters to shove the donkey’s head into the guillotine and never look back:

Largely, the answer is the poor. In particular, the undeserving poor. Liberals may hate this distinction, but it doesn't matter if we hate it. Lots of ordinary people make this distinction as a matter of simple common sense, and the WWC makes it more than any. That's because they're closer to it. For them, the poor aren't merely a set of statistics or a cause to be championed. They're the folks next door who don't do a lick of work but somehow keep getting government checks paid for by their tax dollars. For a lot of members of the WWC, this is personal in a way it just isn't for the kind of people who read this blog.

And who is it that's responsible for this infuriating flow of government money to the shiftless? Democrats. We fight to save food stamps. We fight for WIC. We fight for Medicaid expansion. We fight for Obamacare. We fight to move poor families into nearby housing.

This is a big problem because these are all things that benefit the poor but barely touch the working class. Does it matter that the working class barely pays for most of these programs in the first place, since their federal income taxes tend to be pretty low? Nope. They're still paying taxes, and it seems like they never get anything for it. It's always someone else.

The fact that Democrats consider their white voter problem a southern problem shows they really don’t understand the this obstacle. Remember when they said that they don’t want to be beholden to cookie-cutter politics and strategies from DC-based elites and consultants? Well, saying that their white voter problem is just in the South confirms that lack of self-awareness. Democrats are bleeding white voters everywhere (via New Republic) [emphasis mine]:

The 2012 election showed that a populist appeal is necessary to draw white working class voters, but it's not sufficient to reach the majority who now live outside urban centers or the formerly industrial areas of the Rust Belt. In many Red States, Democrats' populist rhetoric simply doesn't penetrate the local political culture, which is dominated by Fox News and conservative radio. In these areas, Democrats have no alternative except to try to rebuild local political organizations and regain the support that has atrophied for several decades.

Many Democrats would prefer not to have to face this monumental organization challenge, hoping instead that the existing Obama coalition and demographic changes in America will prove sufficient to elect a president in 2016, hold the Senate, and weaken GOP control over the House of Representatives. But the harsh reality for Democrats is that they cannot achieve all three of these objectives without increasing their support among white working class Americans—and if Democrats keep telling themselves that "the problem is just the South," that support may decrease instead.

For now, it seems Democrats aren’t up to that “monumental challenge,” if their 2016 House strategy is any indication. Right now, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer think Democrats can ride the Hillary wave to victory. That's dubious. Additionally, with the resignation of Republican Congressman Michael Grimm over a multitude of criminal charges, including tax fraud, Democrats still have an uphill battle in that special election since their electoral chances have been hamstrung by Bill de Blasio’s unpopularity in Staten Island (via National Journal):

Democrats are publicly proclaiming that they can win back control of the House in 2016. Their own campaign plan suggests they're aiming far lower.

The party needs to pick up 30 seats in 2016 to wrest the majority from the Republicans. But just months into the cycle, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee appears to be writing off races that it would need to win to get there.

The DCCC this month put out a list of the top 16 Republican freshmen it plans to target in the next cycle, and it's not particularly ambitious. Of the districts the party is putting its focus, a dozen favored President Obama in 2012, and none of the 12 gave Obama less than 48 percent of the vote.

By focusing on the more-likely wins, Democrats are charting a safer passage toward making up some of the ground they lost in their 2014 midterm disaster. But that focus also moves resources away from the reach races the party needs to win in order to go nearly undefeated and win a majority.

One early barometer of Democrats' appetite for risky races is the May special election in Staten Island to replace Rep. Michael Grimm, who resigned under mass federal indictment. But despite Grimm's unflattering exit, Democrats appear to be largely punting on the race.

It's a difficult path. In January, a leaked poll commissioned by the DCCC showed state Assemblyman Michael Cusick, then considered the Democrats' best candidate, trailing presumptive Republican nominee Dan Donovan 48 percent to 28 percent. Cusick later decided not to enter the race.

The special election for Grimm's seat does put Democrats in a tough position: Turnout will likely be low, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's severe unpopularity in Staten Island—which was exacerbated by his tension with the city's police force—won't help Democrats.

“In order to win elections, the Democratic Party must reclaim voters that we’ve lost including white Southern voters, excite key constituencies such as African American women and Latinas, and mobilize the broadest coalition of voters possible to not only recapture state houses but also Congress,” reads their preliminary report. But, one demographic seems forever lost, while the other two demographics usually have low turnout rates in races that Democrats desperately need to improve their performance in: state and local elections.

For now, there seems to be a Republican lock on the House for the next generation, and they're prepping for a conservative policy onslaught in their respective states. Nevertheless, nothing is permanent in American elections. Moreover, there are many issues where Democrats can make inroads with working class America.

Democratic Victory Task Force Preliminary Findings by Zeke Miller