Note: This is a group effort, so is being posted under the Blue Virginia screen name. Thanks to everyone who contributed.
UPDATE by Lowell: Note that since this diary was posted, there have been a number of significant updates, per a long conversation with DPVA Executive Director Dave Mills.
Some of you may remember, others heard about, a popular 1980s TV commercial for a cough syrup, featuring the memorable line, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” The line arose from the commercial’s solution to a problem challenging advertisers for a variety of products:
“[D]ress an actor up in a white lab coat, and give them a stethoscope. If possible put them in a set that looks like a waiting room, pharmacy, or hospital. As long as you don’t say they’re really a doctor you aren’t going to get in trouble.”
That commercial came to mind during the recently concluded JJ Dinner weekend in Richmond. In this case, the “doctor” turns out to be Brian Moran, and DPVA is in deep trouble because they seem to believe that Brian is really a Party Chair, not the ineffective, morally compromised, devoid-of-ideas figure that he is.
For those of us who attend JJ Dinners every year, this one offered a striking contrast to four years ago, near the height of the Democratic presidential primary contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, when well over 4,000 excited and energized Democrats gathered in Richmond for that year’s JJ. [UPDATE by Lowell: Actually, Dave Mills tells me that they had 6,000 Democrats at the 2008 JJ, as the Obama campaign packed the rafters with low-dollar folks, and the Clinton campaign packed the floor with high-dollar donors. Needless to say, Dave notes, that JJ Dinner’s “perfect storm” will probably never be repeated, and to compare 2008 to 2012 is absurd.]
Fast forward to this February: in what DPVA proudly advertised as a JJ dinner that was “sold out,” only 1,300 Democrats attended the dinner. This 2012 attendance thus represented a 70% decline compared to the last presidential campaign year in Virginia. Even conceding the unique competitive circumstances of 2008, a well-organized and promoted 2012 JJ Dinner in a presidential election year, when polls increasingly are showing Democratic enthusiasm and President Obama’s popularity rising, and when there’s a hotly-contested race for U.S. Senate between the highly popular Tim Kaine and the highly unpopular George Allen, should have generated at least 2,000 guests.
In fact, it was a minor miracle that the dinner had as many attendees as it did, and that it was organized as well as it was, because the DPVA staff has been decimated by departures since the disastrous results of the 2011 elections. Recently, three key staffers have left for the Obama and Kaine campaigns, and the Executive Director, Dave Mills, reportedly is on his way out the door. [UPDATE by Lowell: I just talked to Dave Mills, and he assures me that he’s NOT planning to leave, that he’s “110% committed” to staying on at DPVA through 2012.]
Does DPVA have any plans to turn this mess around? Not that we can determine. Over the course of the JJ Dinner weekend, DPVA’s actual – as opposed to advertised – plans for 2012 emerged, and are summarized briefly below.
First, in terms of money, DPVA’s annual gross revenues have dropped off to the point that DPVA cannot replace most of its departed staff without generating major new sources of cash. [UPDATE by Lowell: Dave Mills assures me that DPVA is perfectly well funded to hire for 2012, in fact is inteviewing right now for the political director position. In general, he says that this charge is a mischaracterization at best.] DPVA desperately needs many new large and small donors, but the only reference this weekend to how this problem would be solved was Brian Moran’s public promise that none other than Dick Saslaw would help out. This is by turns both laughable and frightening, as are Saslaw’s vows to turn Virginia around, after his key role in getting us into this mess in the first place. Also, given the fact that he’s the king of payday and car title lending (plus booze and dirty energy), one can only imagine what kinds of donors Dick Saslaw would be likely to tap into.
Meanwhile, rather than quickly replacing DPVA’s departed staff, and focusing on the key areas we’ve previously identified that desperately need sustained, long-term organizational attention, DPVA instead is planning to significantly increase its budget for the all-important “Travel by the Chairman,” as well as “Communications,” and will pour money into its state convention in NOVA in June. Priorities, priorities. [UPDATE by Lowell: Dave Mills says that the state convention is not optional, that the characterization of DPVA as deciding to suddenly pour money into it is not accurate.]
Fortunately, in the short run, DPVA’s continued downward spiral into utter irrelevance is not going to matter much, because the Obama and Kaine campaigns in Virginia are savvy, have lots of resources, and are smart enough to see through the DPVA façade. Those two campaigns will work over, under, around, and through DPVA. What’s nauseating, though, is that Brian Moran, DPVA, Dick Saslaw et al. are setting themselves up to bask in the reflected glory of the superior organizational resources that the Obama and Kaine campaigns are building in Virginia.
Wait for it: after Obama and Kaine win in November, watch Brian Moran and Dick Saslaw claim credit themselves for “turning Virginia around,” even after three straight disastrous election years for which they bear significant responsibility. Thus, Brian Moran’s plan to increase his own visibility around the state – that is, when he’s not busy ripping off poor kids, minorities, veterans, and others in his “day job” with the scam, for-profit “education” industry. And, of course, you’ll be happy to hear that DPVA will be more aggressively communicating what it is (not) doing, in the hope that many Democrats will be taken in and actually believe that everything is going great.
Reinforcing our analysis is a front page story in the 2/13/12 Washington Post Metro section about the contrasting roles of the Republican Party of Virginia and the Democratic Party of Virginia, as each relates to Loudoun County. This story confirms that the state Republican Party had a strategic plan to boost the fortunes of Republicans in Loudoun:
The winning campaigns were bolstered in part by an unusual infusion of financial support from the Republican Party of Virginia, which made Loudoun’s local races part of a statewide effort aimed at securing Republican victories in General Assembly races.
In stark contrast, the local Democratic Committee in Loudoun is not relying on any help from the DPVA (smart for them because DPVA has no resources to provide any such help), but is instead counting on the 2012 Obama Presidential campaign infrastructure to do the job [UPDATE by Lowell: Dave Mills points out that DPVA actually did work hard on local races, such as in Henrico and Fairfax counties.]:
Unlike the Republican Party of Virginia, the state Democratic Party made no investments in last year’s board races. But Macbeth [the Loudoun Dem Chair] said the party’s national campaign efforts are underway. Four chapters of Obama for America are actively working in Loudoun, and hundreds of volunteers are hosting weekly phone banks, knocking on doors and conducting an ‘aggressive voter registration campaign,” Macbeth said.
If, as we hope and expect, Barack Obama and Tim Kaine carry Virginia in November, then Brian Moran and DPVA will attempt to bask in their glory, and the general public may very well believe that “the ship has been righted.” Sadly, nothing will be further from the truth. In fact, after Kaine and Obama win this November, DPVA will be even weaker than it is now.
By the way, if you were following the Twitter feeds by leading DPVA JJ Dinner attendees Saturday night, what probably jumped out at you was the almost totally self-congratulatory, echo-chamber, oblivious, pat-ourselves-on-the-back nature of the commentary. Basically, it came down to “we rock, aren’t we great; go us!!!!” What we did not see, unfortunately, was any self awareness whatsoever, such as recognition that Virginia Democrats have just gotten utterly wiped out three elections in a row — 2009, 2010, 2011). Of course, as anyone who knows the slightest thing about human psychology understands, the first step in fixing a problem is admitting that you have one. If you can’t even do that, what hope do you have of turning it around? None.
Again, we wouldn’t mind the self congratulation and morale boosting rah-rah so much if there were evidence elsewhere that DPVA had recognized what went wrong and had a real plan to fix it. Unfortunately, DPVA clearly does not have a real plan to fix what’s gone wrong, let alone to tap into growing anger over Republican overreach, and to help build the Democratic Party in Virginia. If it does have such a plan, it certainly didn’t disclose it this past weekend, OR it only disclosed it to the same insiders who brought us to the sorry place we find ourselves now. Either way, it’s not acceptable, and should have every Virginia Democrat’s blood boiling at Brian Moran end Company.