Nuts & Bolts—Inside a Democratic campaign: We lost 63 seats in 2010. Let’s not do that again

Nuts & Bolts—Inside a Democratic campaign: We lost 63 seats in 2010. Let’s not do that again

Welcome back to the weekly Nuts & Bolts Guide to small campaigns. Every week I try to tackle issues I’ve been asked about. With the help of other campaign workers and notes, we address how to improve and build better campaigns, or explain issues that impact our party.

It was 2010. America was coming out of the disastrous presidency of George W. Bush. The economy was in shambles. Democrats held majorities—and I don’t mean questionable majorities, I mean big majorities: 60 senators, for example. In November 2010, that all went away in the biggest party wipeout since Dwight Eisenhower took office. We lost state legislatures, having 27 before that election and 13 after. It was a complete bloodletting. With Donald J. Trump behind us, there are a lot of Democratic voters and campaign workers who want to believe that just can’t happen again. I want to make this really clear: It absolutely can happen. The lesson that was not learned in 2009 wasn’t to spend more time working with Republicans. It was that the Democratic elected officials needed to be bold. The public voted against the Democratic elected officials because they didn’t see anything happen. Republicans opposed anything happening, and so Democrats kept trying to work with them. As long as Republicans stalled, the public became more and more frustrated. The public will not care about the why or the how. The only thing the public will care about is the results—what was accomplished. Democrats in statehouses, federal office, and the presidency: It’s time to pay attention. Fortune favors the bold.

Voting rights issues matter. Ending gerrymanders matters. Now is the time to pressure Republicans

One of the benefits Republicans have had against a Democrat-run government is that we rarely play by the rules they play by when push comes to shove. As a result, federal elected Republicans have felt no need to try to do anything about making the law fairer when it comes to their elections. There are ways to change that.

Yow — @GovKathyHochul w/a Day 1 gift to redistricting Twitter: Q: Do you plan to use your influence to help Democrats expand the House majority through the redistricting process? A: Yes. I am also the leader of the NYS Democratic Party. I embrace that.https://t.co/ZpcwlgTsKB

— Alex Burns (@alexburnsNYT) August 25, 2021

Democrat governors and statehouses that say, “Fine, we can play by your rules” suddenly put pressure on Republican elected officials in their states to denounce gerrymanders. At that point, the question is, “If you oppose gerrymandering in your state, why do you support it elsewhere? And why do you oppose the inclusion in HR1?”

Stop being afraid

If you cannot get a perfect “bipartisan” solution, please, Democrats, remember, you were elected as a Democrat. You were not elected as some cross between Republican and Democrat. When voters who want to vote for Republicans have a Republican on the ballot, they will vote for them every time. If you want to keep your voters excited and turning up, you have to give them reasons to show up and feel like they need to put the effort into getting you reelected.

Political pundits often assert that having legislators and the presidency makes a party “overreach” and as a result, they get voted out. That has not really been what happened. Republicans worked hard in the ‘90s to gut laws—and were rewarded by staying, thanks to the way they shaped their southern electorate and narrative. Democrat presidents tried to woo them back by being bipartisan, and, well, it didn’t work. Bill Clinton’s tough-on-crime measures were not the moment that defined overreach by Democrats.

If you spend your entire political career being afraid, then the public has less reason to believe that you stand for much of anything—an especially important fact when the voters you need are often young or minority voters who have felt left out by the system.

When you make promises in an election, you do everything you can to fulfill them. You want to go back to your district talking about accomplishments, not about the other guy who stopped you.

Incumbent protection

Many Democrat members of the Senate and House will face tough reelections in 2022. Not only are we at a razor’s margin in holding the House, but the faster we can put support behind elected officials to have confidence in their election, the better off we are in helping to support opportunities to gain seats. I really want to win seats for the Senate in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Wisconsin. If we capture all of those and lose Senate races in Georgia, Arizona, Nevada, or New Hampshire then we are still just spinning our wheels. 

Protecting our at-risk senators and House members will be critical.

It is too easy for Democrats and independents to say, “Well, we have the White House, I have better things to do, I’m going to worry about other things in the off election.” Here is something we need to make clear for a long while: Every election is the most important election of your life until we are assured that certain protections, including safety of the environment, exist. Until then, every election allows more and more deniers and anti-science officials into office and breathes life into claims that put everything at stake. Don’t just hear or say: “This is the most important election,” then blow it off. Every election from now on will be, because each day of inaction on many issues brings us one day closer to outcomes we all desperately want to avoid. 

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