Forget The Rural/Urban Divide: This Election Was Decided In The Suburbs

It is very, very clear the rural/urban divide that is growing in America became a chasm last year.  Just read Politico’s enlightening piece here.  If you can get past the hidden references to “resentment” rural Americans have but that urban dwellers don’t harbor similar feelings it is a great read.

Despite the massive margins Trump racked up in rural areas the real battle was in the suburbs.  It is here where Trump won the election.  Unheralded by many analysts is Trump’s significant five percent margin in the rapidly diversifying and grow meccas of America.  This was a three point improvement on Romney’s two point victory and importantly was based in critical, non-coastal states.

The great demographic misnomer of America is that urban cores and cities are growing. But, census and voter data shows suburbs and exurbs are growing at a much more rapid rate.  Case in point, Trump states enjoyed a net-migration of 1.45 million compared to states Clinton win.  The common belief is that this migration automatically benefits Democrats but she barely improved on Obama’s performance in Georgia, barely nudged him in Arizona and lost Florida and North Carolina.  These states are states Democrats have been certain would flip with a weak Republican nominee at the top of the ticket.  Instead, they stayed Republican.

With rural/urban becoming increasingly polarized and fewer votes to be squeezed out of both locales, the parties will have to duke it out in the suburbs.  Not all suburbs are the same.  California and New York’s suburbs are a deep shade of blue while Wisconsin’s and increasingly Minnesota’s are a deep red.  Since Obama was first elected “suburbs” as they are defined by exit polls have become increasing right leaning.  Obama won them in 2008 only to fall to 48 percent in 2012 and Clinton scored a paltry 45 percent (even John Kerry did better in his losing bid).

Again, not all suburbs are the same.  Clinton squeezed an additional 50,000 votes out of Philly’s Collar Counties, did better in suburban Denver as well as central Florida’s heavily Dominican I-4 Corridor.  However, she unperformed in many, older Rust Belt suburbs such as Erie (NY), Lehigh (PA), Hamilton (OH) and Kenosha (WI).

A majority of suburbs supported Trump in the swing states.  Some suburbs such as Araphoe (Denver) and Loudoun (DC) that did not support Trump still swung for Congressional Republicans.

Among the suburbs that put Trump over the top was suburban Detroit.  These old, sprawling suburbs supported Obama four years earlier but this time only Wayne County (Detroit) and Oakland went to Trump.  The remaining four counties including historic Macomb County went heavily his way.

A similar state, Pennsylvania, followed the same pattern.  Clinton garnered an additional 13,000 votes from Philly and about 50,000 more votes from Philly’s Collar Counties but Trump improved in industrial, suburban areas such as Berks and Lancaster Counties in the Southeast and Butler and Westmoreland, anchored by urban Pittsburgh.  Trump even won historically blue Erie County anchored by suburban NYC by three points.  Obama carried it by 16 points in 2012.

Wisconsin, Iowa’s and Ohio’s suburban counties swung the strongest to Trump.  Trumbull and Lake in Ohio, Kenosha and Racine in Wisconsin and Dubuque in Iowa, all went for Trump by crushing margins.  Clinton had no chance winning even with massive margins in the cities.

This tells us that the political battleground of the future will be the suburbs.  The road to recovery for Democrats, thus, is to improve in the suburbs Trump did well in.  Democrats will have to expand their message beyond a social issues driven, post-national borders ideology and focus on economic issues impacting more down-scale and while locales.

This will be difficult with increased Democratic unity in urban areas.  Indeed, Clinton improved on Obama’s performance in many of the most populous counties in America.  But, racking up such huge margins in the cities is not a consistent, winning strategy and as a result a new course is needed.

By a quirk of geography and environment many urban areas have lost their abilities to swing the Electoral College.  With rural “resentment” growing due to liberal policies calling them everything from racist to fat the suburbs are the only place Democrats really have a chance to grow.  Yet, they have been losing ground there since 2008.

By contrast, the GOP coalition assembled by Donald Trump showed remarkable resiliency compared to urban, dense enclaves.  These places and their electoral power are not going away any time soon.  Consider that areas outside million plus metropolitan areas constituted 100 percent of the vote in Iowa, 61 percent in Michigan, 47 percent in Michigan and 44 percent in Ohio.  Minnesota would have probably flipped if not for 50 percent of its vote coming from the heavily Democratic Twin Cities.

The liberal talking point that Millennials and retirees will flock to urban areas is counteracted by the balance of the evidence.  Indeed, many suburbs have been growing largely at the expense of denser, more urban cores.  Between 2010-2015, suburban counties of major metropolitan areas added 825,000 net domestic migrants, while the urban core counties lost nearly 600,000.  The evidence is mixed on whether these migrants will return the suburbs to a centrist 50/50 state or make them more traditionally conservative.  Atlanta’s, Denver’s and Philly’s experience suggests the former while Ohio and Florida suggest the latter.

The defining split in suburbs may not be geography, but rather density.  Closer suburbs to urban cores are becoming extensions of their big brothers and sisters while further out exurbs are mimicking the voting patterns of their rural neighbors.  You can see this exhibited all across the political landscape where Trump lost dense, inner precincts but recovered by winning smaller but more numerous, exurban areas.

Fortunately for Republicans, exurban areas seem to be growing more than urban suburbs.  To lock in their power Republicans should finally try to appeal to diversifying segments of the suburban electorate via school choice and infrastructure spending.  Democrats need to craft a message that appeals beyond their urban core.  We will see if they will.

 

 

 

 

Why Betsy DeVos Excites Me

As somebody who is married to a teacher, has a registered disability and has a Master’s degree I should be vehemently opposed to a Betsy DeVos nomination. I’m not. Instead I’m excited.

Why? After all, detractors point to her lack of experience on crafting education policy or education in general. And, of course, Elizabeth Warren thinks she supports gay conversion therapy.

So, again, why? Because I move beyond that. Context is important here. She’s not applying to be a teacher, a principle or a superintendent. If that was the case I’d want her to have a background in education. But she’s not. She’s heading a byzantine bureaucracy not a school.  At some point it simply becomes impossible for somebody to relate their experience as a teacher into national policies that impact all schools.

Now, with that out of the way I am excited about DeVos for three reasons. First, she’ll bring an outsider perspective to education policy. Second, she has promised to obey legislative and executive edicts. Lastly, she is a rabid supporter of choice and charter schools.

When you operate so long in a certain setting you tend to mimic that setting. Likewise the policies and rules from that setting. For example, Arne Duncan, Obama’s Secretary of Education mimics the top down approaches of liberal policy experts. It’s about control.

Duncan hails from the Chicago School District where he was Superintendent.  In that district rules and policies are crafted based on standardization and simply getting students up to a minimal standard.  This one size fits all approach has been mimicked in federal education policy since Obama took office.

In contrast, DevVs, does not have this problem. She might be a novice on policy but that is what staff is for. And let’s be honest, lower-level staff at the Department of Education implement actual policy.

Secondly, she grasps her role in the system. Since 2009, Obama and Duncan have ignored congressional wishes in education. In particular, the ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act), passed in 2015 by bipartisan majorities.  The president has largely ignored the parts of the law he did not like as has Duncan. In her confirmation hearing, Devos said she would implement it as Congress intended. Finally, somebody who understands their role.

Finally, she is a real, honest to god supporter of choice. She doesn’t just talk about it but practices it. Her foundation has given millions to charters and private schools in Michigan and nationally.

We actually have an Education Secretary who understands and supports choice. This might actually mean national policy is crafted to allow states to spend more money on charter schools.

Charter schools and choice is a tricky issue. Many teachers, my wife included, see them as a threat. Others, including minority families trapped in failing schools see them as godsends (NYC and New Orleans).

Depending on the state many charter schools suffer in ways traditional public schools do not.  For example, charter schools in many states cannot collect property taxes or pass supplemental levies.  They are funded solely through private donations and state general funds.  This puts them, oftentimes, in troubling financial situations on a consistent basis.

Additionally, depending on how policy is crafted and what decisions are made down the chain you can have strong charter schools in poor districts and alternatively, charters doing little but catering to affluent white areas.

Fortunately, as a proponent of choice she seems to understand the concerns and alternatives. Still, even so, she iterated in her hearing that states and localities should decide where and how they spend money. Not the Department of Education.

I can hear the gasps now about my excitement. How can I overlook all her flaws?  Why, she can’t even decide whether she supports proficiency or improvement. Well, her strengths outweigh her weaknesses.

Obama promised to be a champion for the urban kid and yet appointed a life long union bureaucrat to implement change.  That bureaucrat wasted billions trying to force schools to change in exchange for some federal cash.

For all the talk of Trump being a racist he appointed somebody who wants all kids to succeed whether white, brown or black. That is exciting in itself.

Do Democrats Have a Redistricting Plan?

gettyimages-464686108-640x480At long last, Democrats have a national redistricting strategy.  Or so they claim.  On Friday, former Attorney General Eric Holder announced the formation of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC) which aims to combat GOP legislative majorities by waging court challenges and utilizing ballot initiatives to create nonpartisan commissions to draw legislative and Congressional lines. Democrats have long blamed gerrymandering for the GOP takeover of 2010 but are loathe to acknowledge the GOP won 66 seats in 2010 under old lines that FAVORED Democrats.

The NDRC is Democrats answer to the GOP’s Republican State Legislative Committee’s REDMAP (Redistricting Majority Project).  Launched in 2009, REDMAP was a well funded joint project between the party and third party groups that spent millions on data infrastructure and the 2010 election results.  Since that time, the GOP has locked in its majorities in many states (though some gerrymanders have been undone by the courts and citizen initiatives).

According to the NDRC’s website “Republican gerrymandered districts after the 2010 Census have put Democrats at a massive structural disadvantage. That’s why the most important turning point for the future of the Democratic Party will take place in 2021: when states redraw their Congressional and state legislative lines.”  Additionally, “The National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC) is an organization of Democratic leaders enacting a comprehensive, multi-cycle Democratic Party redistricting strategy over the next 5 years and beyond.”  Beyond ballot initiatives and court challenges the NDRC will also focus on winning legislative contests in the years ahead.

Missing from the NDRC is any answer for how they will confront the non-gerrymandering aspects of their coalition. Democrats are good at arguing at how Republicans disenfranchise urban and minority voters but they refuse to admit these voters tend to do it to themselves.  By this I mean the majority of the Democratic votes in many states is locked into urban and dense suburban areas and is hard to find anywhere else.  While this makes gerrymandering for the GOP easier it also makes gerrymandering harder for Democrats to accomplish even if they are in control.

Take for example the state of Minnesota. After the 2016 elections the GOP controlled both chambers of the state legislature under a court drawn map favorable to Democrats.  The GOP lost their initial majority in the state legislature in 2012, regained the house in 14 and retook the state senate last year.  The GOP did not really have to do anything to facilitate this advantage.  Democratic policies like MCare (the state exchange) and the party becoming more cosmopolitan has cost the party seats just about everywhere else. Currently, Democrats do not control a single state senate district Romney won while the GOP does not control a single, urban Minneapolis seat.  The GOP gets the better end of the deal.

The Democratic argument that gerrymandering and voting laws are the reasons why the GOP has such a strong advantage in the states is partly true.  But, it is only partly true.  The polarization, both racial and geographical, in our politics means that Democratic voters pack themselves into areas where millions of votes are wasted (see an example here).  This means for Democrats to have any hope of establishing a decade long majority in many states they will have to practice their own form of gerrymandering.  And it will likely be far worse than the GOP’s.

To see an example of this dynamic take a look at Illinois legislative districts. Until last year, Democrats had veto proof majorities in the legislature to stop Bruce Rauner.  Democrats built this advantage by creating incredbly ugly House and Senate districts that mixed rural, conservative areas with dense, urban and Democratic suburbs (ironically, no liberal complains about this).  The Congressional Democratic gerrymander has already started to fall apart because the party could not fit down-state, rural areas into urban districts.  Democrats aimed to create a 13-5 majority in the Congressional delegation.  It now stands at 11-7 with a Democratic district being carried by Trump by double-digits.

Of course Democrats are silent on their partisan gerrymanders.  Maybe it is because they fall apart as we have seen in Illinois and in Minnesota.  But, even in purple Colorado they have fallen apart as well.  The state has a split legislature (even with term limits).  The current map, drawn by a Democrat appointed district judge, did everything to give Democrats a majority in the state senate.  It created huge GOP vote sinks in rural areas and unified Democratic leaning suburbs.  Urban Denver was kept intact while trending GOP Douglas County districts were merged with liberal Araphoe county precincts.  Yet, despite this, the GOP holds a slim one seat majority in the state senate because of the Democratic insistence on appealing only to cosmopolitan voters.

To be sure, the NDRC is not a policy orientated organization.  It cannot dictate to the party what legislative policies the party should pursue.  But it should recommend to the party a change of course in rhetoric.  Democrats have a systematic weakness in the states because their party appeals only to urban interests and rural and suburban voters have noted.  This helps lock Democratic votes into districts that waste votes while GOP voters are better distributed in suburban/rural areas.  Democrats can draw districts, like in Illinois, that merge urban/rural but they are incredibly ugly, non-compact and not very full-proof.

Until Democrats come up with a way to solve these issues no amount of gerrymandering will be able to help a party beholden to interests out of touch to voters in many states. This partly helps explain why Republicans since 2012 have consistently had about a +4 percent edge in the number of seats they control in the House compared to their popular vote total.  Democrats, even if they got every map they wanted, could never accomplish the same.

Pennsylvania’s Changing Political Face

trump-erie-pennsylvania-91In 2008, Barack Obama won Pennsylvania by 10 percent and followed it up with a 5 percent win in 2012.  But, Donald Trump broke the Democratic streak of carrying the state since 1992, by a narrow 45,000 vote margin (less than one percent).  More importantly, how Trump did it represents how Pennsylvania is changing politically.

I have already written how Trump and Senator Pat Toomey won the state via different electoral groups.  Toomey’s win can be credited to his strength in the suburbs.  Trump outran his shoddy performance in the suburbs by running up massive, massive margins in rural Central and Western Pennsylvania.

Courtesy of the Daily Kos we now can see how Pennsylvania’s voted shifted from 12-16 by region and Congressional District.

Let’s start by region.  Regionally, Central Pennsylvania and Western Pennsylvania turned bright red.  For example, traditional Democratic counties like Erie in Northwestern Pennsylvania and Luzerne in North-Central Pennsylvania both voted for Trump.  The only bright spot for Democrats in either region was blue Pittsburgh (Allegeny County), Penn State (Centre County) and Harrisburg (Dauphin County).

In the suburbs, the former strength of the GOP in the state, Trump finished 50,000 votes behind Romney.  Combined with Philly Trump actually had to make up a gap of 67,000 additional votes compared to Romney  How Trump did this can be seen at the Congressional District level.

Four years ago, Romney won 12 of the state’s 18 districts while Trump won 11 districts.  He traded two Romney districts for one Obama district.  Trump won the 17th CD by 10 percent while Obama took the Scranton based district by 12 percent for a massive, 22 percent swing from 12-16.  If not for the fact the Democratic Congressman, Matt Cartwright, faced weak GOP competition in the 17th, he might have lost this ancestrally blue district.

To the South, due to Trump’s weakness in the suburbs, Clinton managed to win squeakers in the 6th and 7th districts by two percent each.  However, due to the fact Clinton only garnered 11, 000 votes from the districts while Trump won 31,000 additional votes from the 17th he got the better of the deal.

Combine this with Trump’s significantly bigger margins in GOP districts in the North and West and Trump’s path to victory, narrow as it was, gets clearer.  The only district beyond Philly that did not swing widely was the Pittsburgh based 14th, which went 67-31 for Clinton compared to 68-31 for Obama four years ago.

Case in point.  Erie County.  Obama won the county with 57 percent in 2012.  Trump took the county with 48 percent.  Unlike other counties that swung to the Donald, turnout actually increased by 6,000 votes in the county.  Further, while Obama lost every other western border county he garnered 40 percent or more in five of the six.  Clinton did not top 40 percent in a single one.  Combined with Erie she did not win a single western border county.

Whether Trump’s win is unique or not remains to be seen.  But, Toomey’s victory also proved the party has multiple and evolving paths to victory in this state.  Something nobody would have said until November of last year.

 

 

Looking Ahead to 2017: Virginia Governor

President Obama Attends Rally For Rep. Tom PerrielloWhile Democrats are currently down and out their comeback story could start to be written this year.  A series of off-year elections culminating with the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial contests may offer us our first cues about how the electorate is feeling heading into Trump’s first midterm.  Of the two contests New Jersey’s contest seems to be the more conventional.  Democrats are favored to take back Chris Christie’s current post while the Virginia contest seems wide open.  It is Virginia I want to focus on here today.

Virginia’s gubernatorial contests are always a little weird.  There is never an incumbent because Virginia is the only state in the nation that limits its Governors to a single, four year term.  Additionally, it is really the only purple state in an off-year election.  It being next to DC does not hurt either.  Due to Republicans being the out party it was expected they would have the contested primary and it continues to look that way.  The race appears to be boiling down to two contenders, Trump’s Virginia campaign chairman Corey Stuart and GOP strategist and 2014 Senate nominee Ed Gillespie.  A recent survey found Gillespie led Stuart 19 percent to 6 percent with many undecided.

It is not difficult to guess where both candidate’s support will primarily come from.  Gillespie has support in the state party apparatus and will probably run strongest in the affluent, GOP heavy precincts of suburban DC.  Stuart should find strong support among the more rural supporters of the party.

Until very recently Democrats were giddy about the divide within the GOP.  But now, they have their own primary to deal with.  It was always expected Lt. Governor Ralph Northam would run to replace Terry McAuliffe.  Northam and MCAuliffe agree on many issues and he has the support of the Governor.

But progressives who have chafed at the centrist nature of the state party, even as they have won every statewide contest since 2008 (except for the 2009 gubernatorial contest), have found their own candidate in former Congressman Tom Perriello.  A little background on Perriello is in order.  Elected in the Obama wave of 2008, the Congressman supported much of the President’s agenda even in a right leaning district.  After losing in 2010, the former Congressman found work as an executive for the Center for American Progress and has served in the Obama administration’s State Department.  Progressives feel like they have found their champion.

Democrats now face a dilemma.  Much as the GOP contest is a reflection of the “establishment” vs. the “outsider” Democrats face the same thing.  Perreillo was a vocal supporter of Bernie Sanders while Northam followed the safer path and backed Hillary Clinton.

Gauging which candidate comes out of the primary is tougher than the GOP contest.  The divide within the Democratic party is not so much geographic or racial as it is age based.  Perreillo can expect to do well in the younger DC suburbs but Northam can play well there among its many socially liberal, fiscally centrist Independents.

The GOP was saddled with a disastrous candidate in 2013 due to its use of a State Party Convention full of party ideologues to nominate its candidate.  This go-round the conventional wisdom of the party switching back to a statewide primary should benefit Gillespie.  Then again, maybe not.

If we use the 2016 GOP Presidential primary results as a proxy for primary voting this year than Gillespie should find great success in Loundon and Prince William Counties.  But Gardner could actually do better there than initially expected and actually win Virginia Beach (as Trump did).  As mentioned above it is more difficult to map the contours of the Democratic Primary.  One should expect Perriello to do well in the cities and inner suburbs while Northam will probably play better among more centrist black and Asian voters.

The real magic will be in the general election.  A lot will depend on the national political environment but generally Democrats have an advantage in the state if they can get their base out to vote.  But, even if they don’t past results bode well for the party.

In 2013, Democrats managed to win all four NoVA counties despite horrid turnout.  In 2014, the party even overcame losing Loudoun county by overperforming in downstate black precincts.

This puts the state GOP in a bind.  That said, Gillespie does have the ability to appeal to both downstate and NoVA voters.  He is moderate enough to appeal to the suburbs chock full of affluent Republicans but have enough of a history to play to socially conservative, more rural voters downstate.

Obviously, as the race gets closer well will know more and be able to provide a more thorough, in-depth analysis.  For now though, we certainly can look forward to the marquee contest of this year!

What the DNC Race Says About The State Of The Democratic Party

alg-keith-ellison-jpgDemocrats reeling from a disastrous 2016 should look at the upcoming DNC race to start fixing what ails their party.  While it is true that the biggest impact the DNC Chair will have on elections this year and beyond is in a managerial role it will also tell analysts, pundits and the nation what direction the party seems to be headed.

After Howard Dean bowed out of the contest last year the contest seems to be a two-person race between Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison and Obama Labor Secretary Thomas Perez.  Ellison has the backing of many progressive groups and Big Labor but Perez is backed by the outgoing White House and some elements of labor angered by the AFL-CIO’s early endorsement of Ellison.

Both come with baggage.  Ellison represents a 74 percent Clinton district and is most famously known for taking his initial Oath of Office on the Koran.  Religious diversity is fine in America but being an outspoken critic of Israel and praising Nation of Islam founder Louis Farrakan are definitely outside the mainstream.  Perez is no saint either.  Perez has supported many of the Obama administration’s controversial initiatives and a big no-no in progressive circles, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

There are a couple other spoilers in the contest.  New Hampshire State Party Chair Dean Buckley is running.  Buckley has the distinction of managing a state party that actually had some successes last November.  Additionally, Jaime Harrison, Chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party and my local hero Sally Boynton Brown from Idaho are running.  Each has locked up the support of their respective states but the real showdown seems to be between Perez and Ellison.

The message this sends to the nation is unequivocal.  Democrats are doubling down on their ideological identity and agenda.

In truth, the race between Ellison and Perez among progressives is only in a matter of degrees.  Neither has shown a willingness to consider why their party suffered such extensive losses in 2016 nor reach out to non-traditional Democratic voters.  Considering these voters formed the basis of the Trump Coalition any Democratic success needs these voters.

If you are a Democrat you might be able to comfort yourself with the thought that Obama is popular and both Ellison and Perez support his agenda.  Except that almost 20 percent of voters who approved of Obama backed Trump.  Further, many of these voters, despite approving of Obama also voted for Trump primarily on the criteria of “change.”

Considering this it appears that Democrats have learned little from their 2016 shellacking.  The party put out ideological stalwarts galore and they lost in race after race.  Clinton’s entire campaign was based on enticing voters to back her based on a shared cultural affinity.  To be fair, so did Trump.  But Clinton’s pitch fell flat because the Democratic Party’s leadership is so culturally out of step with much of America.

An Ellison-Perez match-up also threatens to further sow discord within the party.  To most people outside the Beltway, both are die-hard progressives.  But, Perez backed Clinton last year while Ellison was one of the few sitting members of Congress to endorse Sanders.  The Democratic primary significantly divided the party and you can bet it will play a substantial roll in the race.

To be fair, both Ellison and Perez have talked about the need for the party to retool.  They have been critical of the failures of the DNC and its favoring one candidate over the other.  They have also promised to make the roll full-time (an issue that troubled former Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz).

That said, neither of the front-runners really fits the mold of Middle America or understands what drives its inhabitants.  Perez is a Beltway insider while Ellison is, well, a Congressman from an uber-liberal district.

The party would be much better served in selecting either Buckley or Brown.  Brown comes from my home state of Idaho and actually can understand where middle of the road and conservative voters come from (even if she disagrees).  Buckley chairs the party in a 50/50 state that is a fairly decent approximation of America (minus race and religiosity levels).

Selecting either of these individuals would put the party in a better place come the next few years.  Not only would either slot into the managerial role of the position but they also might be a moderating force in a party taking a hard left turn.  Or, at worse, even as the party veers left they would not automatically write off winning over Trump or right leaning voters.

But, Democrats, or more specifically, the 400 and change voting members of the DNC, are unlikely to favor moderation or a change in tactics.  At this point, there just seems to be too much partisan and ideological momentum for a change of course (even after an electoral shellacking).  As a result, the message the rest of America is probably taking away from the DNC contest is one of an increasingly ideological party doubling down on failed ideas and policies.  And, in turn, losing Middle America yet again.

 

Where the Democratic Party Lost It’s Way

800px-howard_dean_dnc_2008
Former Chair of the DNC, Howard Dean, pioneered the party’s successful “50 State Strategy” in 2006 and 2008.

The year was 2004 and Democrats had just lost 4 seats in the Senate, held a mere 202 seats in the House and had lost the popular vote to a Texan who pronounces nuclear “nuculear” by 2.5 million votes.  Dark times!   The party was unsure where to go and had an internal debate about the direction it wanted to take.

Fortunately, events favored them.  Bush went on to push Social Security and Immigration Reform which was opposed by Democrats and some in his own party.  But, Democrats also made a conscious choice to expand their efforts beyond the Northeast and Coast in an effort to woo conservative suburban and rural voters.  The result was the “50 State Strategy” that gave them massive majorities at the start of 2009.

Democrats have since squandered their massive majorities.  They ignored the issues and concerns of many suburban and rural voters and paid the price.  By going largely with the concerns of their urban base they have cost themselves the support of these once swing voters.

But, Democrats have also squandered a campaign apparatus in the 90’s that was second to none.  Today, the party’s get out the vote efforts are a shadow of what they once were.  The transition to micro targeting and identity politicking pioneered by the Obama administration has had damaging consequences for the party.

The Price of Ideological Hubris

Today, the Democratic Party’s political apparatus is in shambles.  The Clinton campaign’s reliance on TV ads and only a late get out the vote push clearly shows this.  Worse, the DCCC (the party’s Congressional campaign arm) invested only in a handful of competitive races until near the end of the campaign.  Districts where they invested the most money (VA-10, CO-6) represent significant expenditures for no return.  Considering the polarized nature of the electorate and number of competitive districts (it’s small) Democrats will need to win more than just suburban and moderate swing districts in diverse locales.

In the 80’s the DCCC and DSCC (Senatorial campaign arm) were at the top of their game.  They were outworking their GOP counterparts in polling, oppo research and targeting.  Southern Democrats pushed these campaign arms to hit on issues with broad appeal.  This led to a generation of up and coming campaign strategists who found success in dozens of races over the years.

In years past Democrats competed in dozens of contests that fell outside the term “competitive.”  Nowhere was this more apparent than 2006 when Democrats competed in conservative territory against long-term incumbents.  When many races became competitive in September and October the party and its nominees were ready due to investments in infrastructure (introductions to donors, labor groups, volunteers, etc.) and messaging.

Along with supporting nominees the party also went out of its way to recruit the best and most competitive candidates.  This led to rural districts having a gun supporting, pro-life Democrat run against a similar Republican.  At best, Democrats were successful.  At worse, the party forced the GOP to spend in what should be a safe seats. In the cases of 2006 and 2008, the party was ready to take advantage of a wave or a favorable national political environment.

One of the most notable examples was in 2006, when then DCCC Chair Rahm Emanuel recruited former NFL QB Heath Schuler to run in a North Carolina district held by a Republican incumbent for over 15 years.  Emanuel hammered home why Schuler needed to run, explained to him how to do it, the support he would receive and in the end he got Schuler and the party held the seat until Schuler retired in 2012.

Where Democrats Went Wrong

Of course, 10 years is a long time in politics (and not so long at the same time).  By 2016, the DCCC and DNC had lost much of its edge.  It ceded much of its campaign planning and infrastructure to the massive Clinton campaign.  They’re get out the vote efforts were added into the Clinton campaign’s.  The DNC largely became a puppet of the Clinton team.

The result was less than stellar.  The Clinton campaign only invested late in down-ballot races, made tactical and monetary mistakes and insulated individual candidates from outside support.  The DCCC and DNC in particular refused to do anything beyond what Manhattan dictated and the result was many “reach” contests candidates never receiving support.  We all know the result.

What accounts for this failure beyond Manhattan?  Part of it is the ideological nature the party has become beholden to.  Winning over voters who do not agree with the party on hot-button issues has dropped significantly as a priority.  Instead, an emphasis on demographics and goosing urban liberal turnout has increased.

This is a narrow view.  Republicans might not have liked Trump but they embraced his candidacy and supporters when push came to shove.  They did not run around crowing about how these voters were racist and sexist.  The party did not believe it could not win over different voters.  Instead, the Republican coalition that elected Trump and their Congressional majorities was incredibly diverse (including many Clinton supporters).

For Democrats, they can no longer afford to be complacent.  Ideological surety is great until you lose election after election and find yourselves 60 seats in the minority.  You would have thought the Clinton campaign would have recognized this immediately because they won many McCain/Romney districts in their 2008 primary bid.  Not so much.

Worse, this ideological surety has infiltrated campaign arms.  The DCCC and DSCC threw their weight behind specific candidates and ignored many other (and perhaps better) prospects.  Candidates and volunteers could not reach high ranking staffers in the party.  Instead, Democratic staffers agreed with millions in spending on issues voters did not care about or character assassination ads.  There used to be a time when the party would hold focus groups on what people outside the Beltway care about.  Not anymore.

Part of this can be blamed on a lack of accountability.  To be fair, this extends beyond just the party’s campaign arms.  How else can one explain how Nancy Pelosi is still Speaker of the House?  Or how Ben Lujan is still head of the DCCC after a pathetic 2016 showing?  Staff have the loyalties of Democratic leadership which comes from predominately safe districts.  As a result, not only are staff and leadership ideologically out of step with the country but they have no idea what a competitive candidate needs to win in swing territory.

In the late 80’s and throughout the 90s the Democratic Party invested in training academies and policy think-thanks.  The Centrist Democratic Leadership Council trained hundreds of staffers.  Today, the DLC is defunct and much of the DCCC’s training efforts have been contracted out to organizations with strong ideological leanings (like Wellstone Action).

Ideological surety, lack of accountability and weak training have hurt the party.  But, so has near non-existent candidate recruitment.  In several competitive districts in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois the party did not field strong challengers before the filing deadline. In Texas, the party did not even field a candidate in a district Clinton won.

In many of the contests Democrats won they did it by recruiting either Legacy Candidates (Carol Shea Porter) or facing flawed incumbents (Scott Garrett, John Mica, Charlie Bass).  In many other cases, the party went with subpar candidates that passed the ideological test (but did not fit the district).

What Do You Have To Lose?

Today, Democrats are so far in the hole what do they have to lose?  They might as well try out new tactics and strategies.  It’s clear simply relying on their base won’t win them a majority or even a decent minority.  They should also go back to past strategies that worked out well.

Some of these include investing in key races early, focusing intensely on candidate recruitment, messaging tooling, introducing candidates to key local groups and more.  Races are not won in the final two months of a campaign.  A candidate has to have the ability to take advantage of changes in the race and they do this with the help of the national party investing in them, early and often.

Whether Democrats do this or not is an open question.  The party is currently embroiled in an ideological debate (as exemplified by the DNC Chair race) and is still struggling to understand its 2016 losses.

But, the answers are clear.  Recruit leaders who understand modern communications, campaigns and desire to see change within the party.  They need to reach outside the Beltway for messaging ideas and tips, listen to the concerns of average Americans and understand ideological surety does not guarantee success.

Most importantly, the party should invest in creating a new generation of strategists and campaign managers that span the ideological and cultural spectrum of America.  The party could rely on these strategists and managers now and in the future to build successful campaigns.  Much has been given to how Democrats need to build up a farm team of potential national candidates.  Well, they need the same thing for successful leadership.  For a party cannot be successful without them.