See below for some fascinating insights on the 2021 Virginia elections, by Fredericksburg Democratic Committee Chair Caitlin Bennett.
My deep dive on what happened yesterday and where does the party go from here. This will be a long thread with several topics.
First externals. The McAuliffe messaging, as well decried on this app already, was largely focused on tying Youngkin with Trump while the Democratic voter base was tired of Trump’s existence in their lives.
Multiple voters complained over the months about the Trump messaging, it was tiring and seemed gimmicky. Many complained about “the sky is falling” fundraising emails from the McAuliffe campaign. Many complained about his ads.
They were uninspiring, focused on Trump, nothing positive or feel good to get voters excited. Increasingly as November became closer, more voters bitterly expressed their distain with McAuliffe but would show up anyway.
The campaign shockingly barely spoke about his time as Governor. Spoke nothing on the legislative successes made in the [General Assembly], and never championed a vision for the future of VA.
Meanwhile parents dealing with the anxieties faced with the consequences of COVID on their children’s education, were able to be manipulated by the anti-public education movement who has taken up the mantle of this faux anti-CRT movement.
Combined with the rise of legitimate anxiety over kids getting left behind academically and the rise of openly white centric and racist sentiments turned into powder keg moment only made worse by McAuliffe’s infamous debate statement.
Now internals. I’m going to argue that Democrats did not have to lose the House of Delegates yesterday- it could have been avoided even with a McAuliffe loss.
The coordinated campaign failed to materialize until sometime in September – exactly when as Chair of a local committee – I’m sorry to say I am not exactly sure exactly when it happened.
Typically a coordinated campaign is organized by late June/early July. We had one organizer for our region. I have no idea if anyone else came. My city was located in a must win delegate race (which we lost) and I don’t have much to say about the operation.
The biggest push came late in the game for GOTV in which we had a huge effort with lots of groups coming in to canvass – but it seemed a bit too late.
McAuliffe failed to campaign much in the state. He didn’t seem to want to campaign much before October. Events typically attended by top of the ticket candidates got ignored and Mark Herring and others had fill in the hole – statewide.
Signs – and before I get the sIgNs DoN’t VoTe crap, it’s not the point. McAuliffe’s team in their infinite wisdom first decided ‘they knew best how to distribute signs and they could get it to their voters’. Folks that requested signs never got them.
So then McAuliffe’s team decided give each locality barely enough signs to make distribution worthwhile forcing small and rural committees to fork up our own money to pay for signs – when many committees haven’t been able to fundraise well because of COVID.
Cue the doomsday posts and fretting from voters on Democratic Facebook groups. Every day was a new post about how McAuliffe would lose.
HoD candidates and staff were left out to dry with McAuliffe’s staff keeping their cards so close to their chest that the majority for the time even DPVA was kept in the dark about decisions being made. Team McAuliffe did not coordinate.
Now on to President Biden and Congress. Clearly this wave is also a reaction to this lackluster term and the inability for Democrats to pass any bills. Perhaps Democrats have forgotten how well this strategy has worked for the GOP in the past.
We are still facing a student loan crisis, and inflation crisis, an education crisis, a constitutional crisis, fair elections crisis, pending environmental crisis… these are real issues that Congress is not addressing.
Every minute that ticks by and no legislation gets passed, the likelihood of a bloodletting in 2022 becomes more likely.
Now, how did we get here? The seeds of this fiasco can be traced back to early 2018 – I was a brand new chair fresh off of the 2017 campaign attending my first DPVA Central Committee meeting.
I was shocked at the, please excuse the vulgarity, circle jerking going on. The 2017 wins were largely accomplished with little to no help from DPVA. The efforts were grassroots based from Indivisible groups and others.
I immediately knew this wasn’t a serious group – no introspection on lessons learned about being more engaged with ROVA.
In my time as chair I have repeatedly been told that the DPVA knows more than me. The VA Association of Democratic Chairs is joke and exists in name only. There is open distain for the work we do and little respect.
I am hearing that we need more rural voices, that we need more Black voices in leadership. I’ll say what these folks have in common: campaigns and the DPVA needs to appreciate, respect, and listen to local leaders and grassroots organizers.
We need to stop propping up mediocre, out of touch, white male candidates that have no vision for our party.
We need an overhaul of DPVA – with the focus on party building with a dedicated campaign organization on the ground year round.
We need to champion the voices of both rural and the urban communities we represent – often ignored at the expense of suburban interests.
We need better messaging. We need better outreach and support to communities of color, especially to Hispanic and Black communities. We need to lift up their voices and fill the ranks up and down the party chain with geographical, socioeconomic, and racially diversity.
Last night was a party failure years in the making. Since 2017, more success meant less control individual candidates had their own campaigns.
It’s time reverse the trend with a true coordinated campaign.
P.S. I’d also add that Democrats made a *huge* mistake in not aggressively responding, right at the outset, to demagogic, fear-mongering, dishonest right-wing messaging regarding Virginia’s schools (on a variety of fronts, from masks to vaccines to what kids are/aren’t taught to transgender kids to…). That allowed Republicans to get a huge head of steam on education, turned what should have been a huge strength into a *weakness* for Democrats (WTF???), left Republicans’ false narratives unchallenged, etc. Disastrous.
Adding to this problem were McAuliffe’s awkward, poorly phrased remarks during the second gubernatorial debate about parental involvement (or lack thereof) in deciding what their kids should learn in school (“I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach”). Whatever McAuliffe *meant* to say – and presumably it was about the ridiculous “Beloved” bill that he vetoed when he was governor – there was definitely a better way to express all this (e.g., “of COURSE parents should be heavily involved in their kids’ schooling, in a wide variety of positive/constructive ways, to help them learn and grow, working with PTAs, school boards, education professionals, etc…”). Yet as far as I’m aware, neither McAuliffe nor his campaign ever really “fixed” this problem, “walked it back” or whatever, the entire rest of the campaign. And the Youngkin folks pounced on that…with a ton of money in paid advertising, among other things. Not good.