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Should Virginia House of Delegates Dems Come Up With (And Run On) a “Contract with America” for 2017?

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Promoted from the comments section of my analysis on Virginia Dems’ path to winning back the House of Delegates. Thanks to “bobgoldstein” for this insightful comment (bolding added by me for emphasis).

It would be very useful for every Dem candidate if DPVa could come up with a unifying platform and slogan for everyone to run on. As awful and as bogus as it was, the Republicans’ 1994 “Contract with America” was enormously helpful in nationalizing the mid-term Congressional election and enabling them to take back the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years.

It wasn’t so much that the list of simple-minded “reforms” in the Contract with America was so brilliant and persuasive (although it was purposely crafted to include only items that, in the way they were worded, garnered at least 60% approval in poll tests), it was simply the fact all of their candidates could point to SOMETHING that they were running on and that allegedly would solve all of America’s problems.

Our Virginia Democratic legislative candidates are left to fend for themselves in crafting a message that will be clear and compelling enough to get voters off their butts and out to the polls in November of an odd-numbered year. If every single Dem candidate had a single unified message that could be promoted statewide by the Party, it would make their individual voices within their own districts so much stronger and easier for the electorate to hear.

My view is that in 2017, the voters who turned out this past November to vote for Hillary and reject Trump will be aching to have the opportunity to send a message by voting Democratic. If the three statewide candidates and the DPVa could create and publicize a “Contract with Virginia” (or whatever the slogan would be), it would benefit candidates all the way down the ticket. Otherwise, voters might indeed turn out to vote for Ralph Northam, but not even bother to keep voting Democratic as far down as Lt. Gov. and Atty General, let alone for the Dem Delegate candidates.

So in addition to creating a stronger urgency for Democratic voters to turn out, a unified message is essential to not repeating the scenario we’ve seen in so many recent Gubernatorial cycles: the Democratic candidate is elected Governor, but we still get slaughtered in the House of Delegates races. As Lowell has pointed out, it’s not simply a matter of gerrymandering. If the Republicans’ 2011 gerrymander had indeed brilliantly packed a Republican voting majority into more than 50 House Districts, how could Hillary (and other Dem candidates in even-numbered years) win a majority of Delegate Districts? What kills us is the lack of Dem turnout in odd-numbered years PLUS the failure to vote Democratic all the way down the ballot. As Republicans have shown us, if we can attach ALL of our Democratic candidates to a well-publicized, unified platform, it could not only increase Dem turnout but also reverse the trend of drop-off of votes for Dem candidates below the top of the ticket.

My personal view is that in 2017 it would be easy to elevate Virginia’s election to a referendum on what is certain to be a catastrophic bloodbath in DC (at least from the perspective of anyone who voted for Hillary last month). I believe that a candidate for Delegate in any one of those 51 House Districts that Hillary carried ought to ALWAYS refer to their opponent as “Trump supporter Tag Greason” or “Trump supporter Rich Anderson” or “Trump supporter Jim LeMunyon” and then link that person to whatever the most recent atrocity is that has been committed by “Trump and the Washington Republicans”. Frankly, this might be successful even in Districts that Trump carried by less than ten points, particularly if this message were targeted at precincts that went for Hillary or were 50/50.

But regardless of whether candidates use that “tie them to Trump” strategy, it is crucial that they utilize a POSITIVE message as well. It seems to me that Virginia Democrats in legislative races don’t do enough to emphasize the positive changes to people’s lives that a Democratic majority in Richmond could achieve (or at least, that their message isn’t heard clearly and loudly enough by the voters). If the DPVA could put together a short, brief list of things that Democratic legislators could do, given the chance (i.e. the majority) to do them, that would bring real positive change to the lives of all Virginians, and then BRAND that platform with a simple slogan that could be promoted and utilized by all Dem candidates, it could be powerfully effective.

Now, I want to make it clear that by “platform”, I’m not referring to the kind of infinitely parsed and endlessly worded document that we see enacted by the national party Presidential Conventions. Those documents, while they give the various factions in each party the opportunity to scratch each other eyes out every four years over their policy differences, are completely meaningless because average voters never read them or care about them. I’m talking about something that is crafted for a purely POLITICAL purpose, which is to strengthen the DPVA’s message for ALL of its candidates in THIS particular election.

Democrats should not fight furiously over this document if it happens to leave out one or two issues that might be particularly dear to them. The omission of a particular issue should not be seen as an indication of the Party’s abandonment of its importance, and the inclusion of some other, perhaps less critical topic should not be seen as its elevation to one of greater relevance. The goal should be to find common agreement on a list of things that a large majority of Virginians would see as obviously positive achievements. As Democrats, we often see the great complexity of important issues and because of that we resist simple-minded slogans and “empty promises”. But as Donald Trump proved in 2016, it doesn’t hurt, politically speaking, to over-promise and simple-minded is actually much better, politically speaking, than too-complicated. The one essential thing is that WE SHOULD HAVE A PLATFORM, and we should BRAND THAT PLATFORM WITH A SLOGAN.

As horrible as November 8th was for America and our Party, the biggest gains in American politics are often made after a cataclysmic loss. The Republicans made huge gains nationwide in 1994, 2010 and 2014, right after major Democratic Presidential victories. But we need to elevate the importance of the 2017 election, and the way to do it is to have a STATEWIDE campaign platform for ALL Democratic candidates.