Ed Gillespie (Ed Gillespie Facebook page)
By Matt Vespa | TownHall
The Democratic National Committee gathered here over the past week with one worry on every activist’s mind: We’d better not lose the Virginia governor’s race.
It’s a surprising case of the jitters over a place that hasn’t elected a Republican to statewide office in eight years — and that voted resoundingly against Donald Trump last year. But nationally, Democrats haven’t won a marquee race since losing the presidency. They lag Republicans in fundraising. A loss for Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam against Republican Ed Gillespie on Nov. 7 could stir doubts about message and strategy just as the party is gearing up nationally for next year’s all-important midterm elections.
“We’re Ground Zero,” Susan Swecker, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, said inside the Bally’s casino here, where party leaders and activists from all 57 states and territories gathered over the past few days. “All eyes are on us. I can understand that, because last year broke my heart.”
Less clear is whether the jitters will help — or whether a Northam victory gives Democrats any kind of road map for 2018.
Democrats believe Trump would have lost the White House last year had he not stolen the mantle of populism, a traditionally Democratic message. But there was not much soul-searching about messaging among those who convened in Las Vegas. There was no debate about the “identity politics” that the party’s critics accused them of embracing in 2016, and little discussion of how to communicate differently in the states that supported Trump last year.
Instead, party leaders focused heavily on organizing and engaging the base.
In interviews, state party leaders said they have spent the year rebuilding. Jane Kleeb, the chairwoman of Nebraska’s Democrats, assembled a list of the state’s Democratic officeholders because none existed. Stephen Webber, the chairman of Missouri’s Democrats, told a Midwestern caucus meeting that his party had developed a message for rural counties “where we used to win 60 percent of the vote and now barely win 15 percent” — a populist campaign against corporate farming conglomerates.
An additional challenge as 2018 approaches is keeping the battles inside the party at bay.
In Las Vegas, some Democrats remained committed to those battles. For the first two days of a four-day meeting, much of the news coverage focused on a conflict over the list of the party’s at-large membership, which included several lobbyists; at a Friday meeting, the resolutions committee put the party on record against any donations from people who represent corporate interests that the party opposes.
But for most Democrats, the best way to stave off another round of infighting is to win.
Another round of infighting—Democrats have yet to finish their first round, which began when Hillary Clinton lost the election; Bernie Sanders supporters feel if he had won the nomination, Trump would’ve lost. That’s not an insane assessment, but alas—that didn’t happen. The post-2016 unity tour that featured DNC chairman Tom Perez and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was fraught with heckling of Perez from progressives. Moreover, the fact that Sanders—who isn’t even a Democrat—was headlining the tour, and the progressive heartburn seen during it, was quite the window into the Democratic Party’s woes.