Sometimes, the same old strategies don’t make sense anymore. That appears to be a conclusion the Democratic National Committee and other party-related organizations have come to. While there’s much debate over who should take the party’s reins, one thing most officials seem to agree on is that state and local politics should come first.
With the 2016 election a setback for the Democratic Party, groups that represent the party at the state and national levels are looking for some new thinking from their next set of leaders.
The concern, essentially, is this: For years, party leaders have focused on national politics at the expense of the grassroots, which many in the party believe has put most state legislatures in Republican hands. During Barack Obama’s presidency, budgets for state-level candidate recruitment have shrunk or been doled out inconsistently, leading to a deficit of Democratic candidates at local levels.
“We can’t expect people in rural areas, in red areas, to vote for our presidential candidates or our gubernatorial or Senate candidates if they’ve never seen a Democrat running for school board or county office,” Marcel Groen, the chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, told the Associated Press.
Many party officials are seeking a shift in strategy. Last month, the chair and chair-elect of the Democratic Governors Association—Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, respectively—wrote an open letter calling for the national party to sharpen its local focus.
“The long-term success of the Democratic Party depends on diversifying beyond a Washington-centric view and focusing on rebuilding the party from the local level up, especially as we approach two cycles critical for the future of redistricting,” the letter stated [PDF].
The Democratic National Committee will elect a new chair in February. Each of the five candidates for the post, according to the AP, has pledged a renewed focus on state-level politics, something that the DNC hasn’t emphasized since former presidential candidate Howard Dean led the committee nearly a decade ago. (Dean briefly considered running for the post again after the recent election cycle but dropped out last month.)
“We need to commit ourselves, once a week, to go to a new neighborhood and talk to everybody,” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), a candidate for DNC chair, said last month, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Likewise, DNC spokesman Adam Hodge noted that the successes the party did see in November were driven by state-level elections.
“State parties are the lifeblood of the DNC, and we make investing in all of them a priority because they are an integral part of winning up and down the ballot,” Hodge told the AP. “State parties were critical to picking up Senate seats, House seats, legislative chambers, and governorships in 2016, and their importance will be a key focus for the party as we elect new officers in February.”