Members of the Northern Virginia Democratic Business Council heard Mo Elleithee and Michael Gehrke give an analysis of the recent election at their monthly breakfast at the Fairview Marriott on Friday, 12 November. Mo, known to Virginia Democrats from the gubernatorial campaigns of Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, and now with Hilltop Public Solutions, described the voting on 2 November as a “change election.” The top issue, he said, was obviously the bad economy, for which voters blamed first Wall Street, second former President Bush, and only third Obama—- but they did blame Obama and the Democrats for not doing enough to fix it. Democrats failed to explain what they and Obama were trying to do. According to Mo, the anti-establishment, anti-Washington sentiment is real; Americans are deeply frustrated with their government, which explains the rise of the Tea Party.
“Going forward,” he said, the Democrats must focus on jobs and the middle, working classes. The party “lost its way,” especially in the suburbs and ex-urbs (which Obama had carried two years ago), and henceforth must “drown out the noise and concentrate on jobs and the economy.”
On the other side, Mo foresees some “bloody Republican primaries” where “a battle for the soul of the Republican party” will be fought between the Republican establishment and economic extremists like Palin and de Mint.
Another point is that “candidates still matter.” Senator Reid of Nevada, for example, won by running a “pitch perfect” campaign. That is important since we are a 50-50 nation, and most of the top races were won by only 2 or 3 points one way or the other, with the candidate and the candidate’s campaign usually making the difference. Mo’s final conclusion: All it takes for Democrats to win in 2012 is to “re-connect with the swing voters.”
Michael Gehrke, who did research from an office in the Clinton White House and is now with Benenson Strategy Group, said the Democrats are actually in good shape for 2012. Virginia flipped from 2008 to 2010, but this is not the first time voters have done this; the state follows national trends. Although independents slid from Democrats to Republicans in 2010, they really do not like Republicans either, and just voted Republican to get rid of Democrats. Turnout in Virginia was down, from 1.9 million for Obama in 2008 to 960,000 in 2010. Virginia Democrats this yeaar in general were down by seven points—- even Jim Moran fell that much. There were some exceptions, like Perriello.
In Mike’s opinion, people’s situations changed dramatically in the two years since Obama’s election, and Democrats must develop solutions for these times. Gerry Connolly, he said, delivered a good message that resonated in his District, by attacking his opponent, Fimian, as being “out of the mainstream.” Rick Boucher was defeated after serving 28 years in Congress by a man whose name, three weeks before the election, was unknown to seventy percent of the voters. Mike thinks Boucher may well come back in 2012 because it will probably be a “different landscape” then, and a different electorate may show up at the polls. Perriello, who ran a great campaign in a very Republican district, could even win next time if his baseline group goes up five to six points, as it was in 2008.
Hearing the take of experts was interesting, but I wonder just what exactly Mo and Mike had in mind when they talked about “re-connecting” with swing voters and/or the middle class, and just how they think Obama and the Democrats will do this re-connecting. I do agree that Democrats rather “lost their way,” but I do not think it was because of what they did, but that they did not do enough, or enough that was obviously effective which voters could see and understand. I also agree that Obama did not adequately explain what was going on, but my perception is that, even if the President had shown more political leadership from the beginning (especially with health care), the message would have been muddied and muted by all the concentrated malice of Congressional Republicans and their noise machine.
Looking back, it is clear to me that only an education and communication effort almost equivalent to that of the campaign itself would have been sufficient to offset the GOP’s deliberate obstructionism and propaganda after Obama’s inauguration. Thanks to Karl Rove’s political skills, and the boundless corporate money now available for promoting the agenda of Big Business, we live in a continuous campaign, one which leaves almost no time for governing after an election. Can elections, therefore, really decide anything, can they really be what Mo called a “change election,” when the campaign for the next election begins maybe five minutes after the polls close on this one?
That raises the question, just what specific policies or solutions to our serious problems can be crafted today that will “re-connect” with the (populist) roots of the Democratic Party? Mo listed certain “big issues,” like cutting Medicare, cap and trade, stimulus (too small?), cutting taxes, big debt, and so on. In my opinion, these are only issues because Republicans have designated them to be, and Big Business wants everything their way. Where are things like: serious regulation and restructuring of our out-of-control financial institutions? What about a real, in-the-trenches jobs program? Industrial policy? Energy policy (alternate/otherwise)? Unemployment compensation? Resolving the horrendous foreclosure problem and stabilizing the real estate market? Infrastructure for the 21st century? Education? Scientific research? Climate change? Foreign wars?
Somehow, even Democratic consultants like Mo Elleithee and Michael Gehrke have accepted the Republican framing of the issues, even when they gave a purely Democratic take on the election. They both made good points, and their comments were much appreciated. I know time limitations prevented anything more in depth, but, personally, I suppose I secretly wanted a little more out-of-the-box thinking.