Home Virginia Politics Why Virginia Democrats Lost the State Senate

Why Virginia Democrats Lost the State Senate


(Given Tuesday’s debacle by Dick Saslaw and Company, I thought this piece by Peter Rousselot from 2011 was worth rerunning, as it’s still (sadly) applicable. Also see this March 2011 post by NLS, which correctly predicted: ” I don’t think Democrats can hold the Senate under these lines this November, and this alignment of precincts has absolutely zero chance of holding for the entire 10 year cycle (2011, 2015, 2019) it was drawn for.” – promoted by lowkell)

Six keys to a devastating defeat


On November 8, 2011, Virginia Democrats lost control of the Virginia State Senate. Their numbers will drop from 22 to 20 (out of 40), allowing Republican Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling to cast the deciding vote in the case of ties. Moreover, Virginia Democrats lost a lot more ground in the Virginia House of Delegates (HOD), where their numbers will drop from 39 to no more than 33, and perhaps to as few as 30 (out of 100). This means that HOD Republicans will have a majority of 2/3rds or more.

These losses cannot be explained away as the result of “unique local circumstances”, election cycles, the Tea Party, the “Republican money machine”, or President Obama’s current poll numbers. To the contrary, these losses were caused by a series of very avoidable strategic mistakes that certain Virginia Democratic leaders made.

One year ago, because of my concerns about the defeats Virginia Democrats suffered in 2010 and 2009, I ran for Chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA). I am not interested in running again for that job, but I am much more concerned about the state of the Democratic Party in Virginia today than I was one year ago. In order to help us get to where we need to be, I present this analysis of what has gone wrong and what should be done to fix it.

The biggest strategic mistakes Virginia Democratic leaders made in 2011 were their adoption of a flawed, hyper-partisan Senate redistricting plan combined with very poor candidate recruitment for both the Senate and HOD.

Virginia’s Senate Democratic leaders, including Dick Saslaw and Mary Margaret Whipple, stubbornly insisted that the only way to retain a Democratic majority in the State Senate was to adopt a hyper-partisan Senate redistricting plan. Their plan was badly designed, and was combined with very poor candidate recruitment. They only recruited 3 Democratic challengers to Republican incumbent Senators while the Senate Republican leaders recruited 16 Republican challengers to Democratic incumbent Senators. The combination of these two mistakes unrealistically required Democrats to “run the table” and win every close race. We couldn’t and we didn’t.

Moreover, as part of the price we paid for their flawed plan, Saslaw and Whipple agreed to give HOD Republicans free rein to draw the HOD district lines, virtually guaranteeing GOP HOD control for a decade. [Please read the much more detailed explanation of this point that appears below in item 5.]

As for the HOD, Brian Moran promised during his campaign for Chair of the DPVA that he would recruit Democratic candidates to contest every HOD race, making use of the contacts he made as HOD Democratic Caucus Chair and as a candidate for Governor.  In fact, Democratic candidates contested only 54 out of 100 HOD races while the Republicans contested 73. Because of Brian Moran’s stunning HOD candidate recruitment failure, 46 HOD Republican candidates (only 5 short of an outright majority) had no Democratic opponent, but only 27 HOD Democratic candidates had no Republican opponent. [Please read the much more detailed explanation of this point that appears below in item 6.]

But this year’s strategic mistakes were not the only ones. Virginia’s Democratic leaders further weakened this year’s Democratic performance by other strategic mistakes they made in 2010 and 2009, and those leaders did nothing this year to correct those earlier mistakes. Those earlier mistakes made it all the more unrealistic to have ever expected Saslaw and Whipple’s Senate campaign plan to succeed in 2011. [Please read the detailed discussion of those earlier strategic mistakes in items 1-4 below.]

I conclude this diary with a detailed explanation of the reasons why we need to take the following critical steps to launch a Virginia Democratic resurgence: Dick Saslaw should resign as leader of Virginia Senate Democrats; Brian Moran should resign as DPVA Chair, and all Virginia Democrats should collaborate to be sure we achieve major reform of the DPVA.


Six years ago, Virginia Democrats celebrated the election of Tim Kaine as Governor. Once elected, Kaine and his campaign team, particularly Larry Roberts, moved quickly to restructure the staff at DPVA. Their initially successful goal was to bring a much needed focus on grass roots organizing.

Meanwhile, at the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Chair Howard Dean was implementing the “50-state strategy” on which he had campaigned for DNC Chair. The DNC’s 50-state strategy eventually provided DPVA with funds that enabled DPVA to hire regional organizers who covered many parts of the Commonwealth.

Jim Webb’s 2006 candidacy for U.S. Senate outflanked the candidacy of Harris Miller. Miller was the overwhelming favorite among the political insiders who controlled DPVA. Webb’s candidacy attracted into the Virginia Democratic Party a “rag tag army” of new volunteers. Webb’s candidacy also stimulated the creative involvement of a talented generation of grassroots and netroots activists.

This much-needed infusion of new energy, new people, and more effective ways of organizing continued to benefit Virginia Democrats in 2007, as they took control of the State Senate and added several seats in the HOD-increasing the number of Democrats in the HOD to 44.

In 2008, building still further on this momentum, Mark Warner’s campaign for U.S. Senate and DPVA collaborated to organize a highly effective “Coordinated Campaign.” This helped to increase the number of Democrats in Virginia’s Congressional delegation from 3 to 6 (out of 11). Talented regional organizers like Susan Mariner, Joe Montano, and Isaac Sarver-recruited by DPVA and paid by DNC-made major contributions to these successes.

Shortly after the 2008 election, Tim Kaine famously declared that “old Virginny is dead.” (I still display a campaign button trumpeting this statement.) As he acknowledged in 2011, what Kaine meant was that Virginia no longer was a reliably red state, but instead was a purple state-capable of producing either statewide Democratic or Republican majorities.

But, in order to produce blue majorities in a purple state, all important parts of the Virginia Democratic Party must be highly motivated, engaged, and well-organized at the grassroots level. That has not been true since 2008. Instead, top Virginia Democratic leaders have made a series of strategic mistakes that substantially undercut the grassroots energy, enthusiasm and effectiveness of Virginia Democrats, and led directly to a series of stunning defeats in 2009, 2010, and 2011.

In order fully to understand why Virginia Democrats lost control of the State Senate in 2011, we need to understand some of the key mistakes that Virginia Democratic leaders made in each of the last three years.

Six Strategic Mistakes Undercut Our Grassroots Energy And Organizational Effectiveness


The six strategic mistakes that Virginia Democratic leaders made during the last three years are best summarized as follows:

1. DPVA failed to replace its regional organizers

2. DPVA recruited a poor Coordinated Campaign team for the 2009 gubernatorial election

3. DPVA undertook a flawed strategic planning process in 2010

4. The process to choose DPVA’s new chair in 2010 was seriously flawed

5. Flawed redistricting plan, poor candidate recruitment combine to lose Dem Senate majority in 2011

6. Brian Moran has failed as DPVA Chair

I discuss each of these strategic mistakes in detail below.

1. DPVA failed to replace its regional organizers

In 2009, the DNC made the decision no longer to fund regional organizers like those it had been funding in Virginia. It is beyond the scope of this diary to evaluate why the DNC made this decision or whether the decision was right from DNC’s perspective. Nevertheless, this decision presented DPVA with a choice: would it pay for its regional organizer program, or would it let the program lapse? DPVA let the program lapse. This was a big mistake.

These regional organizers had provided DPVA with a vital link between its central staff and the 134 local Democratic committees throughout the Commonwealth. These organizers were in a good position to advise DPVA about important local and regional developments that many local Democratic committees were not disclosing to DPVA. These organizers also were in the best position to advise DPVA regarding the most effective ways in which grassroots election campaigns should be organized in their regions. Why did DPVA make the mistake of dropping this program?

DPVA probably would argue that it didn’t have the money to pay for these organizers. Actually, DPVA simply didn’t understand the value these organizers provided, erroneously believed that other needs for its money were more important, or concluded that the regional organizer program wasn’t important enough to raise new money.

All these excuses add up to a strategic failure-a failure that has since been repeated (see item 3 below). As explained more fully in item 2 below, the absence of these organizers contributed significantly to a series of legislative defeats in 2009, and those defeats weakened Virginia Democrats for the next round of legislative elections this year.

2. DPVA recruited a poor Coordinated Campaign team for the 2009 gubernatorial election.

Even a great Coordinated Campaign team could not have elected Creigh Deeds Governor. But, what a 2008-caliber Coordinated Campaign team could have done in 2009 would have been to provide the grassroots organizational structure to elect several Democrats in critical HOD races.

For example, in HOD 21, Democrat Bobby Mathieson lost to Republican Ron Villanueva by a vote of 7,673 to 7,659. In HOD 23, Democrat Shannon Valentine lost to Republican Scott Garrett by a vote of 10,813 to 10,604. In HOD 34, Democrat Margi Vanderhye lost to Republican Barbara Comstock by a vote of 12,636 to 12,214. Virginia Democrats lost all these close HOD races in 2009-backsliding from the advances achieved in 2007, and significantly weakening Virginia Democrats for the 2011 legislative races. (The total number of Democrats in the HOD dropped from 44 to 39.)

The lack of the regional organizer program further exacerbated the weakness exhibited by the 2009 Coordinated Campaign team, and also led directly to these damaging, narrow losses. If the regional organizer program had been in place in 2009, these organizers would have sounded the alarm, and reported organizational gaps to DPVA. That would have given DPVA the chance to rectify this situation before it was too late.

3. DPVA undertook a flawed strategic planning process in 2010.

In the wake of the disastrous outcome of the 2009 general election, DPVA was pressed to do some badly-needed strategic planning. DPVA recruited some excellent members of a strategic planning committee, and this committee produced a lengthy draft report with many good recommendations.

(Disclosure: I was one of the forty or so members on this strategic planning committee.)

In the summer of 2010, as the strategic planning process approached the finish line, DPVA made a critical mistake: it never sent the full draft plan to the voting members of its own Central Committee for comment. So, DPVA never obtained the full informed consent to this plan even from those members. Moreover, DPVA never sought input of any kind about this plan from any other Virginia grassroots activists. These un-consulted DPVA Central Committee members, and other Virginia grassroots activists, would have provided valuable critiques and offered other new suggestions. Their voices were never heard.

Why would DPVA cast such a cloud over its own strategic plan? DPVA lacked the confidence to open the plan up for review, and preferred instead to rely on a tiny group of insiders to give the plan their ok. As discussed further in the Conclusion below, this illustrates a central weakness in DPVA’s leadership model: excessive insularity. DPVA’s failure to consult widely enough dissipated the value of many of its strategic plan’s good recommendations, further weakening our grassroots strength for 2011.

One of the unanimous recommendations in the plan was that DPVA should reinstate the regional organizer program that it mistakenly had allowed to lapse in 2009. Both the strategic planning committee, and DPVA itself, unanimously concluded that the absence of this program had significantly undercut grassroots organizing effectiveness. Yet, to this day, DPVA has never reinstated this critical program.  

While it is difficult to prove for certain that enhanced grassroots effectiveness flowing from the regional organizer program would have saved any of the 3 Congressional seats Democrats lost in 2010, one certainly can make the case that Tom Perriello’s race in the Fifth Congressional District could have benefitted, and that Gerry Connolly’s victory in the Eleventh Congressional District would have been less of a “nail biter”.

4. The process to choose DPVA’s new chair in 2010 was seriously flawed

(Disclosure: I ran for DPVA Chair against Brian Moran in November 2010.)

In light of the disastrous results of the 2009 general election, the best course would have been for then DPVA Chair Richard (“Dickie”) Cranwell to have resigned by the end of 2009.

To the contrary, Cranwell repeatedly stated publicly that he intended to serve out the balance of his term (which did not expire until May 2013): “I am not going anywhere”, “I have explained to my law partners that I am going to need to spend more time on my work for DPVA”, and other statements to the same effect. If Cranwell didn’t mean these statements, he shouldn’t have made them. And if he did mean these statements, but then changed his mind, there has been no public explanation why he changed it. Instead, sometime between January 2010 and October 2010, Cranwell decided he would be resigning way before his term was up.

Whenever Cranwell reached his decision to resign, that decision should have been made public quickly, and DPVA should have organized a public and transparent process, lasting several months, during which prospective candidates to succeed Cranwell could think about it, formally file, and debate other contenders at sites in various parts of the Commonwealth. Nothing of that sort occurred.

Many aspects of what did occur happened inside a “black box.” Piecing it together now from various sources: at some point between early Spring and October 2010, Cranwell apparently told Mark Warner and other top Virginia elected officials, but no one else, that he wanted to resign. Mark Warner, and some other top Virginia elected officials, then spent time in secret trying to recruit and agree upon one person to replace Cranwell. This group of elected officials eventually, in secret, chose Brian Moran.

In October, barely a month before important Congressional elections, Cranwell suddenly announced publicly that he would be resigning as Chair effective at the DPVA meeting in early December 2010. Shortly thereafter, Brian Moran announced that he was “interested” in succeeding Cranwell, and DPVA announced that the election to succeed Cranwell would be held at that same December meeting. Before anyone else realistically could even express interest in this surprise opening, Mark Warner, Dick Saslaw, Mary Margaret Whipple, and Ward Armstrong all announced that they were supporting Brian Moran for Chair. The word on the street was that Tim Kaine and Jim Webb “did not object” to this choice.

From the moment that the foregoing sequence of events became public, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude that Brian Moran would be elected the next DPVA Chair. Many potentially promising candidates either did not have enough time to decide whether they wanted to run, or decided that they would like to run, but found themselves in positions in which “crossing” this group of key Virginia Democratic leaders did not seem like a “good career move.” One of those who chose not to run lamented to me that he had decided not to run for DPVA Chair because he had lost “the Mark Warner primary” for that position.

Perhaps this DPVA Chair selection process was best summed up by a comment made by then DPVA Chair Cranwell to one of the minority of DPVA Central Committee members who backed my candidacy for DPVA Chair: “Doesn’t Peter Rousselot realize that the fix is in?”

There was no emergency that required this process. Many promising candidates for DPVA Chair were never given a fair chance to consider running. Whoever might have been elected DPVA Chair in a more open and transparent process would have benefitted from more legitimacy, and would have had more extensive support among Virginia Democrats, than Brian Moran does today. Updating what Dickie Cranwell said one year ago: “Why doesn’t DPVA recognize what a fix we’re in?”

5. Flawed redistricting plan, poor candidate recruitment combine to lose Dem Senate majority in 2011

In its 2008 party platform, DPVA wisely pledged that:

We support legislative redistricting that is fair to all citizens, that follows logical geographical and jurisdictional boundaries, and that strives to keep communities of interest intact. We support the creation of an independent, bipartisan commission for the redistricting of legislative boundaries.

In 2011, claiming that they had tried to honor DPVA’s party platform pledge, but had been thwarted by Governor McDonnell and the Republican HOD leadership, Senate Democrats, led by Dick Saslaw and Mary Margaret Whipple, abandoned DPVA’s party platform pledge entirely. Their decision was supported publicly by DPVA Chair Brian Moran.

Rather than sticking to their guns on non-partisan redistricting, the Senate Democratic leaders capitulated to Governor McDonnell, and unveiled a hyper-partisan Senate redistricting plan (hatched in secret by only a tiny handful of VA Democratic Senators). They then got that plan passed by the VA Senate on a strict party-line vote.

At the same time, Saslaw, and Whipple only recruited 3 Democratic challengers to Republican incumbent Senators while the Senate Republican leaders recruited 16 Republican challengers to Democratic incumbent Senators. See VPAP: (How can you expect to retain a majority with odds like these?)

Even worse, Saslaw, Whipple, and other Senate Democratic leaders threw the HOD Democrats-and us-under the bus by allowing Republican HOD leaders to draft partisan boundaries for the HOD, and agreeing to vote for that Republican plan in the Senate. This last, awful strategic mistake virtually guarantees a Republican majority in the HOD for the next 10 years.

Faced with total stonewalling by Governor McDonnell and the GOP HOD leaders, what should the Senate Democratic leaders and Brian Moran actually have done regarding legislative redistricting? What they should have done is exactly what they now seem on the verge of doing with regard to Congressional redistricting: let the courts decide it.

The policies underlying DPVA’s 2008 platform pledge remain just as valid today as when that platform was drafted.  By flip flopping, and supporting partisan legislative redistricting, these top Virginia Democratic leaders sent the following very unappealing message to all voters in the Commonwealth: “the most important thing to us is that we preserve in office the particular incumbent Senate Democrats who happen to hold these jobs in 2011. That overriding goal is much more important to us than the fate of any HOD Democrats, the Democratic Party as a whole, or the citizens of Virginia”.

The strategy that Saslaw, Whipple, Brian Moran and others foisted upon us was a defensive, “Maginot Line” type of strategy. This defensive strategy forced the adoption of such unfortunate slogans and campaigns as “Save our Senate” (with the prophetic acronym, “S.O.S.”). This naturally led Virginia’s voters to wonder why Virginia’s Democrats thought the Virginia Senate was “ours” rather than theirs.  

Instead of spending thousands of hours secretly studying computer printouts of past election results to produce a hyper-partisan redistricting plan, Virginia’s Democratic leaders should have spent that time developing and promoting a POSITIVE Democratic message for the future of the Commonwealth. While it was absolutely appropriate for our Democratic candidates to highlight the far-right-wing agenda of their Republican opponents, this messaging should have been subordinated to strong positive messages about why Virginia voters should elect Democrats.

No matter where the boundaries of their legislative districts are, voters should be inspired to choose our candidates. We cannot rely only on hard-core Democratic stalwarts to win in competitive districts. Democratic incumbency may be all that Saslaw, Whipple, and Brian Moran cared about, but that strategy now lies in ruins.  These Virginia Democratic leaders were too interested in incumbent self-preservation instead of Democratic Party conservation.

Finally, even if you think-as I do not-that the Senate Democrats hyper-partisan redistricting plan was a good idea, it was doomed to failure by the poor job of Democratic Senate candidate recruitment that Saslaw and Whipple did.

6. Brian Moran has failed as DPVA Chair

One year ago, during my campaign for DPVA Chair, I outlined major new initiatives that DPVA ought to implement. See here.  Although he had failed to make public any program of his own prior to the time I entered the race against him, Brian Moran did end up commenting on many of the issues I raised. To the best of my knowledge, he never disagreed publicly with any issue for which I advocated. When Brian did comment, he agreed that he too would do the same thing.

In light of the disastrous results achieved by Democrats in the 2011 legislative races, one of the issues on which Brian and I agreed one year ago now stands out. We both promised that, if elected DPVA Chair, we would recruit Democratic candidates to contest every House of Delegates race. So, what actually happened with Brian in charge of DPVA?

Only 9 HOD Republican incumbents (out of 52!) even were challenged by a Democratic opponent in the 2011 HOD elections. That represents a dismal challenge rate of only 17%. http://www.bluevirginia.us/sho…  (How many games have you won in which you have fielded 9 players and the other team has fielded 52?) Or, here’s another way to look at it: there were 100 total seats up for election this year in the HOD, but the Democrats only fielded candidates in 54 out of those 100 potential races while the Republicans fielded 73. http://www.vademocrats.org/201…  ;  http://www.rpv.org/Candidate_List   (In politics, just like in school, 54 out of 100 earns you a failing grade.) Even these numbers are worse than they appear because a significant majority of these 54 candidates were Democratic incumbents who didn’t have to be recruited at all.

Because of Brian Moran’s stunning HOD candidate recruitment failure, 46 HOD Republican candidates (only 5 short of an outright majority) had no Democratic opponent, but only 27 HOD Democratic candidates had no Republican opponent. http://www.washingtonpost.com/…   (How can you hope to win if you don’t even suit up?)

Moreover, Brian Moran failed to reinstate DPVA’s regional organizer program (see items 1 & 3 above). Assuming that DPVA’s excuse for not reinstating this program is that it lacked sufficient money to do so, then Brian Moran failed to raise sufficient funds to keep our Democratic grassroots infrastructure as strong as it needs to be in a purple state.

Finally, Brian Moran failed to stick with DPVA’s 2008 platform pledge supporting non-partisan redistricting, and instead publicly supported the terrible hyper-partisan redistricting plan hatched in secret by the Senate Democratic leadership.

Many Virginia Democratic activists, including me, have stated publicly that Brian Moran’s dual responsibilities as the full-time paid lobbyist + acting head of the for-profit college industry, and as the part-time unpaid Chair of the DPVA, present an inherent conflict of interest. I have called on Brian to resign from one job or the other. To date, he has shown no interest in doing so.

As the acting head of the for-profit college association, Brian must take and has taken positions that are diametrically opposed to the positions taken by President Obama and his Department of Education. Brian must and does actively work against President Obama’s education agenda at the same time that President Obama is running for re-election. The positions that Brian has taken in his day job harm many different demographic groups whom Democrats traditionally work to protect (e.g., veterans, minorities, and the poor). How can DPVA “have Barack Obama’s back” as he runs for President if DPVA’s own Chairman has a “day job” that requires him to sue Barack Obama’s Education Department?

“Jim Webb’s main concern is that the rip-off of veterans by some schools in their quest for maximum profit will endanger the educational benefits our volunteer armed forces have earned and deserve. He’s absolutely right.” http://www.bluevirginia.us/dia…  So, Virginia’s senior Democratic Senator is seeking to protect our veterans from the predatory lending practices of many for-profit colleges, while at the same time Virginia’s Democratic Party Chair leads the trade association of those colleges seeking to preserve many of those same predatory lending practices. What’s wrong with this picture?

The fact that some students might benefit some of the time by attending some for-profit colleges does not in any way change the conflict of interest presented by Brian’s dual jobs. During the past year, a couple of members of the DPVA Steering Committee have been quoted publicly as saying that they personally do not have a problem with Brian’s continuing to hold these two jobs simultaneously. While they are entitled to their personal opinions, they are not applying the right standard. They ought to be asking whether Brian’s continuing to occupy both of these jobs is in the best interests of DPVA? The answer is NO.

Brian Moran FAILED as an HOD candidate recruiter. Brian Moran FAILED to reinstate DPVA’s critical regional organizer program. Brian Moran FAILED to stand up for non-partisan redistricting, but went along with incumbent protection instead.  

As the 2012 Presidential campaign begins in earnest, are you going to stand with Barack Obama, or are you going to support Brian Moran’s continuing to remain as DPVA Chair while he simultaneously leads the attack on the policies of our Democratic President?


To recover from our third electoral disaster in a row, what steps should Virginia Democrats take as we move forward?

1. DPVA needs to be reformed substantially

There are many wonderful, devoted members of the DPVA Central Committee and on the DPVA paid staff. They work tirelessly throughout the year for the greater good of Virginia Democrats. Despite their best efforts, all of the strategic mistakes outlined above occurred anyway. Why?

(Disclosure: I am also a member of the DPVA Central Committee.)

DPVA has developed a leadership culture that harshly discourages input and ideas from Virginia Democrats who might disagree with the decisions of a small group of DPVA insiders. Some of these insiders have been members of DPVA’s Steering Committee (its governing body) for fifteen years or more. This small group of DPVA insiders approach issues with the attitude: “we know what we are doing, and you don’t.” If this culture had been producing a string of electoral successes, it would still be a culture in need of reform. But, since this culture has produced a string of electoral disasters, it is a culture that MUST be reformed.

DPVA’s leadership culture is very hierarchical and top down-placing DPVA in the bad position of trying to make the right decisions in a twenty-first century environment in which horizontal communication and collaboration are critical to success.

The problems stemming from DPVA’s own leadership culture are compounded by the fact that the small group of DPVA insiders often simply “take orders” from one, or only a tiny handful, of prominent Virginia Democratic elected officials who are equally wedded to their own top down leadership styles. Ironically, this puts DPVA’s “leaders” in the position of being lemmings instead.

The interaction of these two very small groups of people means that DPVA is too often unable to make decisions that are in the best interests of the Virginia Democratic Party or Virginia Democrats as a whole. But, the decisions DPVA reaches are always wholeheartedly supported by the small number of people who reach these decisions. These insiders proudly point for validation to the other insiders who agree with them. If DPVA were a sorority, or a fraternity, or a private club, this sort of group think might not matter much; but DPVA is not any of those things. These insiders think that consulting other insiders is the end of the road, but that road has turned out to be a dead end. How’s that “top downy” thing workin’ out for ya?  h/t  Sarah Palin.

Another hallmark of DPVA’s culture is that it pre-determines a mission for DPVA that is much too limited. This enables the tiny group of insiders who control DPVA to try to excuse repeated defeats by falling back on the theme: “we did ‘our part’, but someone else screwed up”. Or, as one Virginia Democratic activist accurately put it, “DPVA reminds me of a ‘C’ student … fighting to maintain that status.” http://www.bluevirginia.us/sho…

How, then, does one explain the major successes that were achieved by Virginia Democrats in 2006, 2007, and 2008? For the most part, those successes were achieved by others despite DPVA’s inherent leadership flaws (e.g., by the individual candidate campaigns of Webb, Warner, and Obama). The Webb, Warner and Obama individual candidate campaigns welcomed and encouraged new people and new ideas. As a result, each of these campaigns benefitted enormously from tremendous grassroots/netroots energy and enthusiasm. But, if you remove the positive effects of this kind of a welcoming attitude, then it is clear that DPVA, standing alone, has a fundamentally flawed leadership model.  

Major change and reform of the DPVA only will take place through a sustained combination of heavy pressure from large numbers of a new generation of Democratic elected officials, Democratic donors, and grassroots activists. The grassroots activists, acting alone, have been making excellent suggestions to DPVA for years, but DPVA has brushed off most of those suggestions. And, far too many of the older generation of Virginia’s Democratic elected officials either are content with the DPVA we have now, are unwilling to take the time to lobby for a much better DPVA, or don’t realize that we could have a much better DPVA.

If you are a Democratic elected official in the Virginia legislature, whether it’s in the HOD or the Senate, you should want to be part of a Democratic majority. But, if you ever want to be a part of a majority, you must join in a sustained effort to reform our state Democratic infrastructure. That means committing yourself for as long as it takes to achieve fundamental reform of DPVA, and the most important reform you need to insist upon is that DPVA be more open, transparent, and welcoming to new ideas and new people.  

If you are a local Democratic elected official or a volunteer for Democratic candidates or elected officials, you should insist that those candidates and elected officials keep you advised regarding what they are doing to implement fundamental reform of DPVA.

If you are a Democratic donor, you cannot be happy as you look out on Virginia’s Democratic landscape today. You need to recognize that in order to have any hope of implementing the policy goals you support you will need to make fundamental reform of DPVA an important criterion in your giving strategies.  As we move forward, you should have frank conversations with Democratic elected officials and candidates, and tell them that you are going to work with them to implement the fundamental reforms that DPVA needs. As a donor, you should insist that DPVA demonstrate to you that they are sharing proposed strategies with the widest possible group of Democratic activists throughout the state, and that they are welcoming and adopting new ideas from the outside.

2. VA Senate Democrats need a new leader

Dick Saslaw’s judgment and management style are responsible for many of the strategic mistakes noted above. The worst mistakes Saslaw made in 2011 were the hyper-partisan redistricting plan he fathered and his recruitment of only 3 Democratic challengers to Republican incumbent Senators while the Senate Republican leaders recruited 16 Republican challengers to Democratic incumbent Senators.

Moreover, during the 2011 legislative session, Saslaw and his Democratic leadership team committed a “major parliamentary bungle” that allowed the women’s health clinic regulation legislation to come to the Senate floor for the vote that led to its becoming law in Virginia. http://www.washingtonpost.com/…

Dick Saslaw’s major parliamentary bungle is directly responsible for placing at risk women’s health and a woman’s right to choose in Virginia. This bungle will force public interest groups to incur thousands of dollars of litigation costs to fight this awful legislation in the courts. This train wreck would not have occurred if Dick Saslaw hadn’t been asleep at the switch.

Saslaw and the DPVA share a fatal flaw: too much top down, too little bottom up. Therefore, Saslaw should resign, or VA Senate Democrats should vote to replace him as the leader of what is now, sadly, their minority caucus in the Virginia State Senate.

3. DPVA needs a new Chair

As noted above, during my campaign for DPVA Chair, I outlined major new initiatives that DPVA ought to implement. See http://www.peterforchair.com  If all those initiatives actually were implemented, that would produce a much better DPVA. However, unless and until DPVA’s culture is changed by the external forces advocated above, the fundamental reforms that DPVA needs appear unlikely.

Nevertheless, a new DPVA Chair would eliminate the cloud over DPVA that Brian Moran’s dual jobs have created, and would give DPVA a much needed fresh start after Brian’s failed year as Chair. Therefore, Brian Moran should resign or DPVA should vote to oust him.

If you agree with me that DPVA needs a new Chair, you should contact members of the DPVA Steering Committee to express your views. The current members of the DPVA Steering Committee are listed here: http://www.vademocrats.org/sta…


Virginia Democrats are at a crossroads: do we want to continue to live in the “Old Virginny”, or will we summon the will to make the fundamental changes needed to compete in the “New Virginny”? That choice is now up to us.

  • totallynext

    Time for DPVA to come into the 21st Century with its political strategy.   Get out of the entrenchment cycle and go on offense!

  • totallynext

    He moved the DNC from being about Democrats countrywide to being all about Obama.  While organize for America shows up now and again to “support” the state / local races, make no mistake their energy is 110% focused on one race – Obama’s.   That transition right there was the death of Democratic gains nationwide.

  • totallynext

    Central Committee!

  • Dear friend,

    As we await a final result in a Senate race that could determine whether the Virginia Senate remains in outright Democratic control or a balanced 20-20 tie, I wanted to take a moment and thank you for all of your extraordinary efforts on behalf of the Democratic Party and our wonderful candidates.

    Even as the Republicans and the media predicted a terrible night for Democrats in the Senate races and that we would lose as many as 7 or 8 seats, you helped us re-elect at least 20 of our 22 Democratic Senators, including major victories in Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads and Southwest Virginia.

    There is no question in my mind that the Get Out the Vote efforts over the last weeks ensured our victories. Your tireless efforts knocking doors, making calls and advocating for our candidates made the difference.

    In addition to that your efforts helped local candidates all across the Commonwealth win huge victories including Shannon Taylor’s upset win over an Eric Cantor-backed candidate to become the Commonwealth’s Attorney in Henrico County.

    There is no doubt that some of last night’s results were disappointing and that much work remains for our party to continue to stand up for balanced and effective government that invests in public education, transportation, job creation, and other institutions that create opportunity for middle class families. But on a night when nearly everyone said that many of our Senators were headed for historic defeats, you flipped the conventional wisdom on its head.

    With just 363 days to go until we re-elect President Barack Obama, send Tim Kaine to the U.S. Senate and pick up seats in the U.S. Congress, I want to thank you for everything you do for our party and congratulate you on the outstanding effort you made for our candidates this year.


    Brian J. Moran

  • Jim B

    The voters bear some responsibility. There are so many that vote republican no matter what. They don’t think that the crazy stuff their party will put forth will harm them or they they just don’t care what the damage will be. People with money will not be affected by all these restrictions on abortion. Never has and never will. Republicans with nothing like nothing better than dumping on their fellow poor.

    Of course there may not be enough democrats in Va. to make a difference and the only reason democrats win is because of independents and some moderate republicans.

    In my neighborhood of about 50 families there are only a half dozen democrats.

  • Think of this as the baseball equivalent of three straight 120-loss (out of 162) baseball seasons. In the aftermath of such a disaster, one would expect massive changes in the team’s management (e.g., fire the general manager, manager and coaches) and players (beef up scouting and the farm system, stop spending huge amounts of money on old, washed-up players, etc.).  Why should DPVA be any different than a baseball team? If anything, it’s FAR MORE important that DPVA get its act together than a mere sports team. Unless, of course, there is to be absolutely no consequence for failure/incompetence and no reward for merit/accomplishment at DPVA.  Hmmmm.

  • Paba

    It’s a damn shame that the grassroots energy was willingly killed off by people who should have had every reason to nurture the hell out of it.

    The question I’d like to propose is: how do we help try to rectify this on our own in the case that Moran sticks around?

  • MorrisMeyer

    I absolutely agree with Peter, Lowell and totallynext regarding pulling up the stakes on the 50-state strategy and the message that sends to the state committees to do the same.  

    A painful unforced error.

    OFA could be more organic in their organizing – but as it is now Obama for America the impetus is on the grassroots to advocate for enduring Democratic infrastructure – that operates continuously in all 50 states and here in VA in all 140 statehouse districts.

    Working with OFA inspired Mark Keam and Pat Hynes to get out there and run, and Run for America is definitely needed here in VA – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/

    Part of what the OFA 2008 campaign did very well was to change the map through voter registration, and that effort has certainly continued.

    Perhaps to expand on that and go on offense we should start training the Occupy folks to do voter registration.

  • Teddy Goodson

    Maginot Line mentality is exactly the description I applied, not merely to the S.O.S strategy, but all the way down the table of organization to the local level where the inner group hunkers down to defend its turf and power, and, they think cleverly, employs vicious Intra-Party Malice to hamstring and defeat any Democrat who may have displeased (or otherwise disagreed with) the inner group… I refer here to personal observation of a local government campaign in Fairfax County. The local inner group (Establishment, in other words) are willing, even eager, to see a good Democrat defeated if that Democrat has proved troublesome or threatened their control of “their” turf.

    This short-horizon view apparently ignores the long-term damage to the Democratic Party, because it facilitates the entrenchment of a Republican into a long-term incumbency, and actually shrinks the very turf the Establishmenbt thought it was protecting.    

    I find it ironic that the authoritarian Republican Party seems to have more open channels for grass-roots influence on its organizational leadership than the supposedly open, broad-based Democratic Party (where the joke is that leading Democrats is like herding cats). In other words, it’s the DPVA which is authoritarian, hide-bound and, ultimately, defeatist.

    The Maginot Line cost France a lot of money to build and maintain after World War I, yet it was totally useless as a defense against German tanks in World War II, because the Nazis simply made an end run around it and quickly crushed the French Army.

    I am increasingly thinking that the ignored, denigrated Democratic grassroots, which is far more progressive and dedicated to Democratic ideals than the Establishment, should make an end run around the Establishment’s Maginot Line and capture the Party for ourselves.

    Failing that, we should take the Establishment’s precious turf by simply walking away with it. There’s enormous popular dissatisfaction with these sad, old-fashioned political games, as well as enormous dissatisfaction with the baroque corruption of the current political-economic system in which we are living. It would be foolish and anti-American to let this dissatisfaction be co-opted by the corporatists of the Republican Party, as they did with the early Tea Party anger. The dissatisfaction is a natural constituency for the Democratic Party, and if the Establishment of the Democratic Party gets in the way, kick out the Establishment, or form our own Freedom Party.  

  • Elaine in Roanoke

    Peter raises some very important points in showing just how dysfunctional the DPVA has become (disclaimer: I’m a member of the Central Committee…for what it’s worth…in an organization where the “fix” is always in on really important decisions.)

    I have said over and over that the Democratic Party of Virginia must put forth a positive message of why citizens should vote for Democrats. Being against the excesses of the other side, while valid and important, is not a winning message by itself. We should have a consistent answer to the very valid question, “Why should I vote for the Democrat?”

    One of the most important jobs that regional staff, if we still had such, could do is to continually recruit potential candidates for local and state offices. After recruitment, potential candidates must be given assistance and training in how to run viable campaigns, raise money, use all forms of media to get a message out, how to form a message and make it “sound bite worthy,” etc.

    Also dead on is Peter’s statement, “Democratic leaders were too interested in incumbent self-preservation instead of Democratic Party conservation.” It’s past time for DPVA leaders and staff to fight for the preservation of the party as a viable entity that has a fighting chance to gain a majority. If the party is strong, incumbents won’t have to worry about reelection as long as they are doing a good job. (Term limits for Central Committee and Steering Committee members is a great idea, also.)

  • Clarity and much that I agree with — and, certainly, much that the DPVA and D Commonwealth politicans should consider / respond to rather than stick heads in the sand.

    A ‘we’re better the other guy’ (basically the Deeds 2009 and the D Senate candidate strategy) is a very weak thread to run on and is extremely hard to leverage for GOTV.

    Two (perhaps minor) gaps, perhaps not just in my opinion:  

    – What about failure to reward those (in grassroots) who stuck their necks out and gave so strongly of their time to get Ds elected?

    For example, how many of the Draft Webb team ended up with paid positions in the Webb office (whether in DC or in regional offices or in his ‘campaign’?).  Secretary of Navy, Marine Corps Officer, Candidate, and Senator Webb strongly state importance of loyalty yet, considering where the Draft Webb team did(n’t) end up, perhaps hard to see it from the outside.    That is one example …

    On the other hand, what about explaining ‘wins’?  A lot of money went into R machine campaigns in both partisan and non-partisan campaigns.  The Fairfax School Board, for example, was an extremely expensive and vitriolic campaign — yet the “D” candidates did very well.  Why?  We need to look at and learn from and reinforce positives in addition to challenging re negatives.

  • Jim W

    “Democrats for a long time just put all their marbles on a couple of states,” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in an LA Times interview. “And that was bad politics, it was bad for the party, and those are days we’re never going to go back to.”


    Except in Virginia

    Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple (D-Arlington), who serves as chairwoman of her caucus, said Democrats never seriously considered recruiting candidates for more than the 22 seats they already control and the pair of new Republican-leaning districts created in redistricting. “It would have been a waste of resources to recruit other candidates,” she said in a Washington Post interview..  


    We need to look at every election as a an opportunity to grow the Democratic Party.  It is not a waste of resources to require the to defend the seat during reelection.  Every election strategy is what builds an expanded party.    


    sucks. When I went through the results last night, I noticed many uncontested races. Rethugs running against no one. I lay the blame right at the feet of the DPVA. Now there will be two years of unprecedented hell for state workers, unions, the poor, the unemployed and the elderly.

    Sad day for Virginians for sure BUT as we all know, Virginians voted these clowns in so now they will have to live with the consequences of their vote.

    As my brother always says, we’ll just have to suck it up and do the best to make it through at least til the governor’s race next year (?).

  • I live in Northumberland County.  We have little clout in state politics but I’ve always believed you should never overlook the little places — because what works with them will work with the big places.

    Over the past three months, I have spoken to our local NAACP and union meetings, to a group of African-American ministers, and to small groups of Democrats and Independents.

    I talked to them about:

    1.  ALEC and the threat ALEC poses to our Republic.

    2.  Republican goals of destroying President Obama, limiting voting participation, overturning Rowe v. Wade, shoving the tax burden more and more on middle- and low-income families, and giving more and more breaks to the wealthy.

    3.  The perversion of Christianity by the right wing.

    I am not bashful when I speak — I open my remarks by stating that I am a life-long Democrat.  I then tell my audience I believe today’s Republican Party poses the greatest threat to this nation since the Civil War and if anyone is not comfortable with listening to a description of why this is true, leave now.  I then proceed to lay waste to the Republican Party, starting with Saint Ronnie — who made the first speech of his candidacy in Philadelphia, Mississippi — and then I really rip into them.

    The response is positive — we are recruiting a few more Democrats down here, converting some Independents.  We didn’t win anything yesterday but we Democrats must start somewhere.

    I’m not acquainted with the DPVA — all I know is I’ve never seen or heard a word of encouragement from them down here on the Northern Neck.  Still, it’s clear to me that the fish rots from the head and we need to clean out the whole lot of them, starting with Brian Moran.

    We must go on the attack — the Republicans provide us with a target-rich environment and we can no longer play patty-cake with these bastards.  

    Let’s elect a pack of snarling pit bulls to the DPVA leadership and elect them NOW.


  • kindler

    …and you wouldn’t get as valuable an analysis as Peter has given us here.

    The only part I disagreed with was when he said he wasn’t interested in running for DPVA Chair himself.  It’s time for leaders with vision and passion, who get it and really lead.  

  • totallynext
  • commentator1

    The reason the DPVA had so much success from 2005 through 2008 was that Howard Dean was the leader of the national party. He brought his organizing skills from DFA to the Democratic Party. His brother, Jim Dean took over DFA after Howard was elected the chair of the national party.

    This is why you had the 50-state strategy combined with the strong grassroots organizing of DFA running in parallel to the traditional structures. DFA never took orders from the old line party structure and Dean had the guts to reform from the top so you had the ideal situation of reform from the top and from the grassroots. But, let me be clear. These reforms were not initiated by the party regulars. They succeeded in spite of the party regulars. Unfortunately many of the traditional hierarchy never really realized or fully appreciated what was going on around them. I guess they just thought their old line tactics were finally, magically succeeding.

    Unfortunately, when Obama came in he brought certain operatives who had backgrounds with the DLC. These people hated Howard Dean and everything he stood for so at that point Dean was on his way out.

    They too never really understood that they rode to power on the wings of the Deans’ efforts. I fear that the return to the old ways of doing things may also have an effect of the next presidential election.

  • totallynext

    Can you feature this back up on the front page?  Just think this is to important to watch scroll out of sight!

    Also I might add. I know I welcome any and all new comers to the party,  if your frustrated get involved at the committee level. Change starts from within.

  • totallynext

    Meeting will be December 2


    DPVA Quarterly Meetings

    The December Quarterly Meetings of the Democratic Party of Virginia.

    Hotel Information:

    Crowne Plaza Hampton Marina

    Rooms are $79 for the night of December 2nd only

    Call 866-727-9990

    Ask for the Democratic Party of Virginia Room Block

    December 2nd

    Steering Committee 7:30 PM

    Peninsula JJ Dinner 9:00 PM (More Details to Come)

    December 3rd

    Central Committee Meeting 10:00 AM

    DPVA Holiday Luncehon 12PM (More Details to Come)

  • leedynamo

    Get the Jacobins, pitchforks & lanterns.  Enough!