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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.

  • I agree and disagree both.

    I think it’s clear we need a concise and unifying message, based on economic grounds, that we can use as part-of a full court press. It only makes sense. But our hundred delegate districts are so different, there’s no “cookie cutter” that’ll work for each of ’em.

    The district I live in goes from the Shenandoah Valley and Shenandoah National Park, to the suburbs of Charlottesville, all the way to the James River valley. Issues that are pertinent to the folks here might not fly in the Tidewater or in Fauquier.

    As an example of this, the “primary care” drought that exists outside the city of Charlottesville. Primary-care physicians are a dying breed; when the crop of outstanding doctors we have in our area retire, there’ll likely be nobody to replace them. And, yet, the state has done everything it can to cripple the ability for Nurse Practitioners and Physicians Assistants to practice independently. The legislature also kneecapped an offer by every major hospital in the state to pay for the state’s share of Medicaid expansion, so they could get the 90% of the other money offered there and better serve their patients, and in particular, the most vulnerable amongst them. Those are bigger issues for our district than they might be for others.

    But to not coordinate is suicide. Bobgoldstein is definitely onto something. I might quibble partially with the Trump thing; we can’t run ON Trump alone. But one of the reasons I left the Republican Party was because all the values we supposedly held as inviolate were thrown away in favor of Trump Uber Alles. There’s not even a pretense on most of their parts to be critical; the stuff that they, rightly in some cases IMO, were upset at Secretary Clinton about were obviously just bald hypocrisy as they shrug about the same or even worse stuff with Mr. Trump. And to let that sort-of thing go ignored is also suicide.

    • “I might quibble partially with the Trump thing; we can’t run ON Trump alone. ”

      He specifically said we need a positive message as well, in addition to the “tie Republican candidate x to Trump.”

      • Yes, but I think he wants to tie it in a bit more than I think is wise. The only way we could be more aggressive in re Trump is if his administration is a spectacular trainwreck over the next year; and, really, Lowell, what’re the odds of that?

  • old_redneck

    Excellent idea – excellent.

    One problem: A unified Democratic message requires an active, involved DPVA leadership that is not dominated by white-wine sipping Volvo liberals from Charlottesville and Fairfax. We need leadership and cadre in the mold of old-line ward bosses who are in touch with real people.

    • I agree 100%. That was my premise with calling for a new Blue Dog coalition here in Virginia. Like I said in that piece, I found that you’d be more likely to see those Fairfax and Cvillian Dems asking for help of the folks in the sticks, rather than giving it. It all needs to be a two-way street, and we need input from everyone. Don’t matter if you’re from Fairfax, Fauquier, or Farmville.

      • JoeDaBeast

        If you find Blue Dogs in Virginia, PLEASE let me know. The PWC GOP tried to recruit me under the premise that Blue Dogs don’t exist in Virginia anymore, because they have all become moderate Republicans. As far as I know, that is not necessarily false, but I’d prefer using my “out of the box” thinking to advance Democrats.

        • We’re here. And we’re going to take back the Commonwealth from both the Republicans and the folks who led us to where we are now. Hit me up; squire4assembly. That’s at Gmail.

      • spawndoodling

        Unfortunately, it does matter. Folks out in Farmville are dealing with an entirely different economy than those in Fairfax. Issues are completely different, as well. People in Fairfax care about protections and incentives for federal workers, public transit, and alleviating tough commutes. Farmville is completely different (absent, maybe, the few federal employees at an immigration detention facility in Farmville).

        I think this “we’re all in this together” mentality leads the DPVA to spend money where it is not really effective. DPVA would benefit from coalescing a strong and unbeatable supermajority in Northern Virginia, one that cannot be overcome by a stronger Republican coalition in the Shenandoah Valley and Southside. As I said above, that starts with more direct engagement with transient minority voters in the state – who vote in presidential elections but are less connected to the state as a whole and thus do not pay attention to local politics.

        This is not to say that our Democratic legislators should forget about our friends in Farmville. Job creation and affordable, higher education help to connect different parts of our state and make us collectively stronger.

        It’s just to say that from a political perspective, with the intention of winning elections, the DPVA needs to get real.

        • I agree that folks in Farmville are dealing with different issues, which is why we need Blue Dogs who can address those issues, champion them, and Fairfaxians who can champion THOSE issues.

          You said- “Job creation and affordable, higher education help to connect different parts of our state and make us collectively stronger.” Yes, and we need Blue Dogs pushing that message in the gerrymandered districts the Republicans have created. To do otherwise is suicide. We can’t run this as NOVA versus everyone, it’ll never, ever, ever work. Nor should it.

  • Kenny Allen Boddye

    One of the plethora of issues we had during the 2016 election season was that too much of our message relied upon “we’re not Trump.” While it’s certainly important to highlight the truth of what the other side stands for (and how they will legislate), it is even more important to give people on our side something to believe IN.

    Our values as Democrats transcend one election cycle and outshine a single Republican opponent. We need to start messaging like it, and be very clear about our vision: next year, dawn breaks in Virginia.

  • Philip Whitman

    Sounds good to me. I do agree that it would be important not to treat this as a platform; nothing is more frustrating than when we get too far into weeds and attack each other over minutiae. It’s all moot if we cannot start winning seats.

  • lol, lowell, buddy, adjust your sarcasm meter. 😉 Merry Christmas, dude, and to all of you Blue Virginians.

  • Paul Jameson

    I’ve seen a number of calls for a Democratic slogan, without an indication of what that slogan should be. I’ve proposed the short, bumper sticker slogan of “YOU need a raise!” Blue Virginia cross-posted my blog posting on this in December 2014, which I just found on this site by doing a search on the slogan. It’s a slogan that most people can agree with, and it’s something that really needs to be done.

    When you ask people who vote Republican to characterize Democrats, the most common thing they will say is that Democrats are the ones who want to give away free stuff. And they hate that. As nice as free stuff is, Democratic politicians should make a point of saying, “I’m not interested in giving stuff away, I’m interested in helping you get paid better for the hard work you do.”

    With the Republican control of the federal government, we’re not going to see an increase in the minimum wage, and we are going to see further curtailment of organized labor. Many states, even red states, have enacted minimum wage increases above the federal level (for example in November, Arizona voted for Trump and voted to increase the minimum wage). It’s going to be hard to do that in Virginia, but Democrats should clearly and forcefully state that we are in favor of doing everything we can to see to it that YOU get a raise, while Republicans are in favor of making sure your wages stay low. It should be what the Democratic brand is about.

    • Great points. I might steal some.

  • ameri…canwork

    You want to refer to the opposition As Trump supporter so and so and Trump supporter so and so, how about a different way of thinking (leadership)how about getting the working class Trump supporter to vote for you.
    I’m probably one of Trump’s biggest supporters and yet the biggest supporter of Terry McAuliffe. I am going to support Ralph Northam for Governor (because of EO24) I think you guys are out of touch with the working class.
    It goes you can’t please all the people all of the time but you can please some of the people some of the time .You guys need the I-81 Democrats to come back to you and the only way to do that is to speak of jobs jobs jobs then on illegal immigration that’s a federal issue , the state has illegal employment issue . Governor McAuliffe is making strides in this; EO24 non-discriminatory employee misclassification task force, it don’t matter if you’re black ,white or green payoll fraud and unlicensed contracting are illegal does not attack a race but yet it is exploiting a race at the expense of Virginia’s General fund , law-abiding employers and citizens jobs.
    Attack how people are illegally employed you will have lots of ground to gain in Appalachian Virginia. Show Virginia that SB483 (which blocks interdepartmental communication and prosecution )nothing more than the illegal employment protection act.
    If you’re just looking for a minimal percentage to have gains then stay the course because minimal is what you will get.
    MAKE EO24 notifications law! Great job!!!!!! Governor Terry McAuliffe ( a little Lincolnsequence )

  • Jason Rylander

    The state resolutions and the Democratic Platform do contain the seeds of such a message. If we paid more attention to them and didn’t throw them out the minute they are complete we might have something to rally around.

  • spawndoodling

    While the argument for a digestible slogan is well-intentioned, I think that Democrats have largely avoided slogans because they don’t need them. Republicans rely on slogans and broad-sweeping mottos like “Contract for America” and “Make America Great again” to coalesce voters who would otherwise vote against the GOP if they paid attention to their policies and their track record.

    Democrats don’t need slogans because they win on policies and track records every time.

    The only surefire way for Dems to win in 2017 and recapture seats in the HoD and maybe even a Senate majority is a simple, yet daunting task: turn out minority voters in Northern Virginia.

    If the DPVA can get themselves together and turn out minority voters – the same voters who, by the way, helped Hillary win the Commonwealth by over 180K votes – then they will win. That takes organizing, messaging, and candidates who care about issues relevant to minority voters in Northern Virginia: protections for federal workers; transportation; fighting Trump’s racist and misogynist and Islamophobic demagoguery; and maintaining a robust economy in the region.

    The question then becomes: what drives minority turnout in transient Northern Virginia? A reason to vote, a meaningful and targeted grassroots campaign, and clarity about Virginia’s confusing voter ID law and address changes to register to vote. It’s going to take a lot of money and organizers, but it can be done.

    Slogans be damned then! We can win on our substantive policies and goals so long as we organize, organize, organize.

    • Agree strongly on organizing and working to drive up our base voter turnout. Disagree that “Democrats…win on policies and track records every time.” That’s not an argument for or against slogans, just that I see no evidence (e.g, check out the superb book, “Democracy for Realists”) that people vote consistently and rationally based on policies/track records. Also, if Dems won on policies and track records “every time,” then how on earth do Republicans – with their horrible policies and track records on pretty pretty much everything – control Congress and most state legislatures/governor’s mansions? Again, I strongly recommend “Democracy for Realists,” which basically answers this question.

  • wwfleming

    If it were a contract with anybody, it should be a Contract with Virginia or Contract with Our Commonwealth, although most people don’t seem to know what commonwealth means. The idea of tar and feathering the Republican opponents with Trump tar makes sense, but could also embolden the right wing Trump supporters unless Trump and his minions really screw things up quickly.

    Renewed efforts at voter registration are needed.

    • Right, that was my point – a “Contract with America” for Virginia, ergo a “Contract with the Commonwealth” or whatever. Thanks for clarifying.