Home 2017 Races Have Democrats Forgotten How to Win?

Have Democrats Forgotten How to Win?

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by Kellen Squire

Well. I can honestly say that when I launched my campaign for the House of Delegates here in Virginia, I never expected to have dang near two weeks of solid campaign time blown fighting real-life Nazis. Chalk that up to an “unknown unknown.”

As we’ve been trying to get our feet back under us– re-scheduling the giant canvass we’d had planned for last Saturday, helping our community heal from a terrorist attack, and dealing with the specter of these toxic folks in our community (the Nazis were trying to find the location of Heather Heyer’s funeral so they could crash it, for instance– I’ve been trying to catch up on what’s been going on in the Netroots, too, and was forwarded an actually pretty-well written article from HeartCooksBrain ranking the competitiveness of the Virginia House of Delegates seats up this fall.

Now, you might wonder why I say that, since in that analysis my own race in the 58th District of Central Virginia was written off as unwinnable; something I certainly disagree with vociferously. I say that because that analysis brings to heart two important issues to me, that I’ve screamed at every possible opportunity:

  • The Netroots have an enormous power to shape the future of the Democratic party, much more power than most people realize, and
  • I’m afraid the Democratic Party has forgotten how to win.

This is because winning isn’t just talent. If it was, we’d sweep the House this year in Virginia. The more I’ve gotten to know, become friends with, and cherish my fellow candidates across the Commonwealth, the more evident this has become. But winning is more than talent; winning is a mentality. It’s a way of life.

Anyone here who, like me, is a bleeding-orange University of Virginia football fan can relate to that. I’ve watched, time and again, our football team constantly snap defeat out of the jaws of victory. I’ve watched us almost prevail against teams we should’ve stood no chance against, only to be shot in the foot by our own screwups. The prime example of this was our opening game last year against the University of Richmond, a lower division, FCS Team. We had more talent, depth, and training than them at every single position on the field- and not by a little, by a lot! And yet… we lost. Embarrassingly.

That’s because our football team forgot how to win. The other team scored a touchdown off an interception? Instead of buckling down and trusting in each other, and digging in to fight harder, there was a vibe that you could even feel into the stands of “Sigh, here we go again.” As games would start to go sideways, you could watch as the team would eventually give up and phone it in. If victory seemed imminent, there was a pervasive feeling of “Okay, we’re definitely going to screw this up, but I wonder how we’re going to do it this time.” Which eventually became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I’m afraid that’s where we are right now. Looking at the shellacking the Democrats have taken since 2009, well… try and disagree with me.

So, then the question is- where do we start? And the answer is easy.

From the ground up. In districts like mine. On sites like this one.

I’ve definitely got a tough race- this was a 51% Cucinelli district in the last gubernatorial election, 54% for Donald Trump. My opponent is, indeed, sitting on a fat pile of cash since he decided not to run for State AG. This district has been unopposed since my opponent re-drew the lines for it himself, having worked hand-in-hand with Ed Gillespie on Operation Red Map. The Virginia GOP judged it so safe they named my opponent the chair of the entire Republican re-election effort in Virginia, figuring he’d have plenty of free time to do it.

But there’s a wealth of on the ground information you miss from an aerial view of our fight here in the 58th District.

I’m also running in the Trump Winery District, against a man who was the Trump Campaign’s first example of why “Trump Values were Virginia Values”. A man has championed everything from the Transvaginal ultrasound law to single-handedly pushing Virginia to have the lowest felony larceny rate in the entire country (an issue even Ken Cuccinelli, he of suing climate scientist Michael Mann fame, said needed to change and was devastating). Who was for an anti-gay marriage amendment to the Virginia Constitution. Who is so close to the Trumps personally that he was invited to spend election eve with Ivanka in Northern Virginia.

Since the Trump Winery is in my district, it’s easy to see why he went so hard for Trump early on. On top of that, I’ve had folks point out that, given my opponent dropped out of the race for State AG immediately following the election (even though he was the clear front-runner), he might’ve done that banking on the President to appoint him to the now open US Attorney spot in Charlottesville. After all, we can say a lot about the President’s hiring practices, but they don’t seem to be based on anything other than toadyism- and he seems intent to ignore the “blue slip” suggestions of Democratic senators.

The bottom line is simple, though: he can’t run away from Donald Trump. He’s stuck with that albatross around his neck, irrevocably, in a way no other candidate in the entire Commonwealth of Virginia is. And the thing about my district is that, if you look in the voter database, the number of Republicans and Democrats are almost at parity. In fact, looking in the voter database, there are almost 3,000 more strong Democrats in my district than strong Republicans. But even though our “lean” voters mostly reside in deep-blue Albemarle county, Republicans take the overall edge in “lean” voters- and their leaners show up in off year elections; ours don’t.

Usually. If there’s a year to flip it, though… it’s this one.

About three weeks ago, I got flooded one evening with notifications from supporters in our district that they’d been live polled. They’d been asked about their approval of Donald Trump, Governor McAuliffe, and then were asked if they intended to vote for Democrat Kellen Squire or Republican Rob Bell. I’ll admit, it’s kinda surreal to hear your name on the end of that. Anyway, I expected to hear a blurb from my opponent in a press release bragging about being up twenty points, which would show me that, much like Tom Perriello in 2008, we’ve got plenty of ground to make up.

Instead- nothing. Silence. I’m sure the events of Charlottesville might’ve affected that, which pushed it from my mind… until suddenly, two days ago, when my opponent was seized with a dire need to address the Rockingham County NAACP immediately. A group he’s gone out of his way to ignore since he personally gerrymandered Rockingham County into our district in 2010.

Now. Consider that, again, he’s been the driving force behind keeping Virginia’s felony larceny rate the lowest in the country, unapologetically so- something that disproportionately affects people of color and is a huge factor in feeding the school-to-prison pipeline in Virginia. That, because of his seniority and position on key Legislature committees, he helped kill that rate fixed almost single-handedly, even in the face of a wide, bipartisan attempt passed by the State Senate to do so. And yet, about the time he’d get poll results… he decides he needs to make inroads in the most conservative part of the 58th District.

Could he be playing 13th Dimensional chess, or whatever the folks on r/the_donald say? Absolutely. We can’t discount that possibility.

The alternative, however… is that he’s terrified of losing his job.

On top of this, I’ve had a lot of undue attention from the Republicans. The Chairman of the Virginia GOP went after me personally on Twitter. Tom Garrett, my Congressman, blocked me on Twitter after I took him down so hard it made the regional newspapers. Their trolls spend their time attacking people like Chris Hurst, Danica Roem, and me. I’ve had threatening phone calls, including one that mentioned my daughter (reading aloud her name, age, grade, and school) after I came out hard against the alt-right. So I certainly have their attention, and may indeed have their concern.

But what HeartCooksBrain said is right- I’m not going to get any support from the Democratic Party of Virginia; heck, this attention I’m getting from the Republicans is more by far than I’ve had from the DPVA, heh. But that’s not a personal thing by any means. There’s no cabal of party apparatchiks in Richmond steepling their fingers and cackling evilly. The fact of the matter is… it’s just math. There are 87 other candidates running for the House of Delegates alone in Virginia, and we don’t have our version of the Koch Brothers to come in to rescue us. They literally simply do not have the resources to support everyone, and continued support from their donors is incumbent on the DPVA not throwing as much money possible at every single race in the Commonwealth.

All the dynamic stuff I have going for me- the connections of my district and my opponent to Trump, the changing demographics that have poured thousands more voters into the very bluest parts of our district, the energy Democrats have (one of my precincts set a statewide record for turnout), how I can connect with folks, that I’m a first-time candidate (kinda) who has raised $40k to date from more than 1,000 donations with no experience, staff, or party help whatsoever, etc, etc- that’s all great. But if the DPVA or any of the statewide candidates do call me, it won’t be until after I win in November.

So I think I speak for a lot of folks on this website when I say that if we really want to build elections for the future, we have to challenge every seat. Every district. Fight unapologetically for progressive values. Show voters we’re ready to put THEM first- to put people before party.

And that’s why places like Blue Virginia are so important in building that “winning mentality”. This is not an exaggeration in the slightest- communities like this one will build, shape, and power progressive candidates to win. Not only that, but I’ll go farther and say that if the Netroots don’t step up… nobody else will. Party building is incumbent on us.

I am a perfect example of that, because literally would not be where I am today without the power of the Netroots. For grassroots funding- I’ve been able to skip out on all corporate, dark money, or lobbyist cash because of it. For messaging- heck, almost every single policy plank on my website, and dang near every essay I write here, has been proofread, had phrasing suggested by, or has been written side-by-side with me by Kossacks here. Everyone from first-time posters to site stalwarts who date back farther back then when I first wandered into this community has chipped in to help.

When I faltered, made mistakes, or simply didn’t know what to do? It was this community that helped lead me through it.

In the wake of last week’s attack in Charlottesville, it’s been the folks here that’ve reached out to ask me if my wife and I were doing okay. In particular, the concern that was expressed for my wife was so touching it brought tears to my eyes. It’s been the folks here that stepped up to help Charlottesville area first responders. That offered to help phonebank for us to make up for the campaign time we’ve had blown way by having to deal with this as a community; offered to sacrifice their time to knock on doors and write postcards. To help me keep the attention of the guy who’s supposed to be helping manage every single other Republican in Virginia win their races.

The Netroots is where the future is going to be built. If we’re going build that winning mentality, and start to win races the pundits declare impossible, we have to find, recruit, and help train candidates to do it right here. And not only that, if we want to build for 2018, we have to start with the state legislature. 90% of my district is a part of Virginia’s 5th Congressional District, home to Tom “Liberals are the root of all evil” Garrett. If we want to send him on his merry way, it means organizing the crap out of everything… and with the way my district is centered around Charlottesville, it’s the single-best part of the 5th District to organize for next year. Get it done now, and we can focus that much more effort in Halifax, Mecklenburg, and Danville next year.

All of the stuff I talk about here is what’s missing in HeartCooks’ diary; and the thing is, too, that there’s no such thing as a generic district. Everyone who’s running has all sorts of similar stories and background, from Angela Lynn’s incredible work on gerrymandering issues to Djuna Osbourne’s connection as a social worker to her community; the way Steve McBride’s opponent badmouthed Chris Hurst or how Joshua Cole’s role as a pastor in his community has gotten him in doors nobody else has.

And those are the folks we need- those who can engage in persuasion politics. Who are willing to fight for every voter, and speak to the real group we need to help us win back the country- the ones who supported the overwhelming favorite on the ballot last year… the disaffected voters who figured their voice didn’t matter, that nobody was fighting for them… so they didn’t vote.

It’s why I’m going to keep going and fighting, regardless the odds. For those disenfranchised permanently by Virginia’s BS felony system, and laws like the ones my opponent champions. For the working single mom who couldn’t afford insurance because my opponent did everything he could to fight against Medicaid expansion. For the folks here in Charlottesville who’ve been made a target by real-life Nazis. And, yeah, even for the Trump voter who demanded to know if I was “okay with what the Democrats were doing to Trump.” Even though it sounds like he and I are bound to disagree on most issues, I’m damn sure going to fight for him just the same.

Because that’s what we do. We’re Democrats. We fight for all Americans.

Kellen Squire is an emergency department nurse in Charlottesville, Virginia, running for the Virginia House of Delegates in the 58th District this fall. Volunteer, donate to, or get the word out about our people-powered campaign today.

  • Ellen Osborne

    I’m not sure all the old models for predicting outcomes are relevant anymore. If anecdotal data tells us anything, it shouts from the rooftop that the 58th is competitive this cycle. We all need to be throwing money at this particular campaign.