Each week on valleyadvocate.com, the Advocate staff chats about whatever has us really riled up at the moment. This week’s discussion was on the Democrats’ losing streak in special elections, and what it might mean for 2018. This is an excerpt; the full chat is online. Text below has been edited.
Editor-in-Chief Kristin Palpini: I’m pumped! Let’s talk Dems and Reps, donkeys and elephants, Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Jon Ossoff lost in Georgia after a promising campaign for Democrats in Georgia’s Sixth District. It made me depressed, but Dave, you saw some promise in that. Wanna talk about it?
Managing Editor Dave Eisenstadter: It was close — about 48 to 52 percent, but the Democrats lost. And if the Democrats want to take back the House or the Senate in 2018, it was the kind of seat that they should be able to win.
Kristin: Georgia is red, so it’s a good-ish sign, but come on! How bad does the GOP have to mess up to get the boot? Also how was that good?
Dave: The Democrats’ strategy seemed to be “Let’s ignore rural districts and spend a boatload in suburban districts like Georgia.” While they spent heavily in Georgia, they largely ignored special elections in Kansas and Montana that were decided by single-digit margins. In South Carolina, a special election the Dems ignored happened the same day as Georgia and the Democrat lost by only 3,000 votes!
Staff Writer Chris Goudreau: And that strategy worked wonders for the presidential election …
Dave: The positive thing for the Dems would be if they look at this loss and reassess their strategy going into the 2018 elections. Could more money and more support for those candidates in rural districts have made a difference?
Kristin: Democrats need to get back to the Obama grassroots campaign strategy, and they need a more exciting platform.
Dave: Establishment figures are hoping to water down the platform to appeal to “swing voters.” That strategy didn’t work in Georgia. But the Dems do have a bunch of winning issues if they would use them.
Kristin: Watering it down isn’t going to work; people want to get behind something.
Intern Christin Howard: I think that the watered-down strategy is really unappealing to the youth. I think a lot of people feel the left is too moderate, which in the end doesn’t get many swing voters and turns off the liberal youth.
Kristin: What goes in the new, exciting platform?
Dave: $15 minimum wage is popular.
Kristin: Gun control, that’s very popular.
Dave: Single-payer health care is popular. Free college tuition is popular. Think about how many people have student debt, but don’t vote because they don’t see candidates who have their interests in mind.
Kristin: I’d like to see them go fiercely pro-abortion — a recognition that women do matter.
Christin: Yeah, I agree with abortion.
Kristin: Up with abortion!
Dave: That’s one area where Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal disagrees with you. In my article about how he has been accused of ignoring his rural constituents [“Can Rankled Rural Voters Dethrone Congressman Neal?” June 22-28, 2017], he said that he would be in favor of more pro-life Democrat candidates.
Kristin: Neal said the Dems have to be more open to bringing in people not affiliated with the party — if they’re anti-abortion so what?
Dave: Establishment figures — like Neal, who has been representing the Springfield area in Congress for 29 years — want to see the party move to the center rather than having and pursuing a bold platform.
Kristin: That was some BS. He so flippantly threw women to the ground with that one. Abortion = women’s freedom.
Dave: Neal is taking a wait-and-see approach on a lot of the progressive issues in the Democratic platform. He’s not currently supporting bills backing a $15 minimum wage, or single-payer, or free college.
Kristin: Does that make him a DINO (Democrat In Name Only)?
Chris: Haha! That works on so many levels.
Christin: Yes! Youth are so tired of people like him controlling the platform. It’s tired and, compared to the zealousness of the GOP platform, it seems so lame.
Dave: The thing that the Georgia election seems to be saying is that, yes, Trump is unpopular, BUT, that isn’t translating into enough votes for Democrats to win by itself.
Christin: I think what we saw in the Bernie Sanders movement is that people want something they can really fully get behind. Because even if Trump is … well, Trump, he gets people riled up and the Dems have consistently failed to do that.
Kristin: I agree, Christin. He really showed the need for a third, fourth, fifth, just more parties.
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Dave: The difficulty with the Bernie movement is that it had no establishment support.
Kristin: Ya, the Dems tanked Bernie. I don’t want the Dems to pick up the GOP’s stank play book of divide and conquer — that’s no way to run a nation. A sports team, yes; a society, no.
Dave: I think the question is whether the establishment might get behind someone like him following all of these losses in special elections (and, you know, the presidency).
Kristin: Nope. There are too many people in line for the throne.
Chris: I agree, not a chance.
Kristin: They’re not going to let that go.
Dave: Maybe Kristin has a point that Bernie is popular enough that he could start a third party. Britain and France seem to have many parties and they make it work.
Kristin: I know right? Why can’t we do it? Perhaps they have different laws about political finance and I think they have limits on how long a person can campaign.
Dave: But if you had a “People’s Party” headed by Sanders, it would need to be around more than just a presidential candidate.
Kristin: True, you can’t just go for the prez. The party would have to be rooted.
Dave: One would think they would be running candidates against congressmen like Neal, who have Democratic establishment support, but have lost liberals and their rural constituents. If a third party could compete in rural communities, I think it might have a chance. But the time to test that is probably this coming election — 2018 — rather than waiting for the presidential election in 2020.
Kristin: Hmmm … that would cost a LOT of moola.
Chris: How about public sources for campaigning? That way you don’t have to be well connected or rich to run for major public office.
Dave: Yes, money in politics seems to be the root of a lot of evil! I wonder if there are other issues that grassroots folks on the left and right agree on but are separate from the establishment. Term limits is a pretty popular idea with voters on both sides, but an idea that the establishment of both parties hates.
Kristin: I wonder if it’s something that could be introduced by voters. I also like the idea of shortening the campaign cycle — it’s too long, too stupid, and costs too much money.
Dave: But isn’t it exciting!?
Kristin: It could be condensed to six months and still be exciting without the clown show in the beginning.
Dave: I think it heartened a lot of people to see Bernie get so many small donors online and to run his massive campaign without a super PAC. He really put his money where his mouth was and not many other candidates do that. The majority of Richard Neal’s money came through his PAC, but even Jim McGovern, the progressive rep that represents Northampton and Greenfield, has PAC support.
Christin: We saw a fair number of Bernie supporters voting for Trump when he lost, which is bizarre but makes sense.
Dave: Does anyone else think that the Georgia loss, along with other losses in Kansas, South Carolina, and especially Montana (where the Republican actually attacked a reporter on the eve of election night), will make Dems rethink their strategy?
Kristin: Sadly, no. Haven’t seen anything from the Dems since Trump won that suggests they are brainstorming or working on anything new.
Christin: One would hope, but based on how they treated Bernie when Clinton was so unpopular it kind of seems like they’re deaf to changing or rethinking anything.
Kristin: It’s disappointing that it seems they’re letting Trump do the campaigning for them in 2018. As in “vote for us, we’re not him.” It’s not good enough, Demos.
Christin: Yeah the “we’re not Trump, vote for us” strategy already failed miserably.
Dave: One other issue that we should include in the mix is that the Supreme Court is going to be looking at a gerrymandering case for the first time considering whether it is unconstitutional to draw districts based on partisan advantage. Most cases so far have looked at whether districts give people of certain races a disadvantage, but never political parties.
Kristin: GOPers are masters of gerrymandering — drawing up district maps to dilute one voting block over another — is that part of what’s keeping the Dems down?
Dave: Democrats use gerrymandering to their advantage (like here in Massachusetts), but it is used a lot more successfully by Republicans across the country, in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida, which are mostly purple states, but are very red in terms of their congressional representation.
Kristin: Yeah, it’s horrid. Gerrymandering going before the Supreme Court could be exciting or another Citizens United situation – a horribly bad decision that affects all elections moving forward.
Dave: OK, what is the most important issue for the Dems to tackle in the 2018 election?
Kristin: The Dems need a rallying cry and three focused talking points about what they plan to do to help working class people, to be honest.
Dave: Any ideas on what those talking points should be?
Kristin: Student loan forgiveness, livable minimum wage, paid leave for new parents — and I’ll add a fourth: dumping daylight savings.
Dave: Haha! that’s a great one (even though I don’t think I agree with you).
Christin: Environmental issues!! And student loan forgiveness I think is huge.
Kristin: The rallying cry: Get Your Laws Off My Lawn!
Dave: anything that touches on income inequality, money in politics, and the environment will be winning issues. All you have to do is look at how Gov. Charlie Baker (a Republican, in case you didn’t remember) is lining himself up on these topics (for instance, agreeing to hold Massachusetts to the standards of the Paris Climate Agreement).
Kristin: Also, Dems have to turn up the heat on all this voter intimidation and suppression.
Dave: Yes, Democrats have not largely supported ways to make it easier to vote on a federal level, like what Oregon did with automatic voter registration. We don’t have anything close to that in Massachusetts.
Kristin: The Dems are leaderless right now.
Dave: Maybe you should run. Kristin Palpini will eradicate daylight savings time wherever it persists!!
Kristin: That’s right, suckas! Coming for your daylight.