Wednesday, June 21, 2017

WHITHER (WITHER?) THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY?

The defeat of Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff in the most expensive House of Reps election in history is a big downer for Democrats across the country. Ossoff ran as a moderate, tried not to offend Republican voters by demonizing Trump, and spent truckloads of cash. He lost anyway.

I have a few thoughts about this election result. First, it seems that political party might be more important than any individual politician, from candidates to president. No matter what Donald Trump does, Republican voters still seem to vote Republican. Perhaps party loyalty is stronger than any other factor in elections.

Second, I think the specifics of a candidate are more important than the party. This seems to contradict my first point, but let me play this out a bit. The strategy used by Ossoff was to run as a moderate in order to attract independent and less conservative Republican voters. This strategy didn't work. Perhaps the biggest problem for Ossoff was that he simply was not a good candidate for this kind of election. He is young, inexperienced in politics, and doesn't even live in the Congressional District he hoped to represent.

I want to use my state, Oregon, as an example. We have one Republican Member of the House, Greg Walden, who represents the more rural parts of the state. Walden is conservative, and was instrumental in passing the Repeal/Replace Obamacare legislation in the House. Unseating Walden will be a very difficult task for Democrats, perhaps an impossible task. Walden's district is majority Republican, made up of ranchers, farmers, loggers and other rural demographics. If a Democrat has a chance, a slim chance of unseating Walden, that person would need to be a well-established local who is part of the majority demographic in rural Oregon, a moderate, and someone with a political or government history.

To date, two Democratic candidates have anounced their intentions to run against Walden; both are from more liberal towns in Walden's district. One candidate, a Bernie Sanders supporter, ran against Walden in the last election and was soundly defeated by a huge margin. The other candidate is a political newbie, a woman dog-sled racer. Both candidates, in my humble opinion, are snowballs in hell regarding their chances to beat the Republican incumbent.

So, what is my conclusion? Well, I think loyalty to political party is probably the most important factor in elections, and any chance of upsetting a Republican, especially an incumbent, has to be based on understanding not only voter loyalty, but what factors make a candidate appealing to independent voters and voters in the other party who might be having serious qualms about their party candidate.

We Democrats need to understand that in this time of history, nominating very left candidates in traditionally conservative districts is not a good strategy. Both houses of Congress are controlled by one party, and that party gets to do whatever it wants, with limited options available to the minority party to stop them. So the most important thing Democrats can do for the forseeable future is put forward candidates who are Democrats who can win, whether or not they have each of our specific set of political "leftness." Our choice going forward is very simple: 1) keep putting forward candidates who have the best "left" credentials but can't win because they have no credibility with the majority of voters in their district, or 2) put forward candidates who have the best possibility of winning as Democrats, no matter how centrist they are. If we use strategy 2, we might have a chance to gain the majority in Congress.

My conclusion actually bothers me, because as a self-described "progressive realist" and long time some-kind-of-socialist I would prefer a more left-leaning majority party. The realist part of me, however, understands the present political realities of the United States, and the important context of the rest of the world, and so I am reluctantly comfortable with my aforementioned conclusion.

Any thoughts?
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