The following guest post was written by Jean B. Wyant, a DFV leader in Crozet, who will now be a regular author on Democracy for Virginia.
On Saturday, January 15, the Road Back PAC sponsored a free political candidacy training session in Charlottesville. The Road Back PAC is a VA Democratic support group in central VA, started by Del. Mitch van Yahres in 2003 -- just as Gov. Dean's presidential campaign was heading stratospheric.
To get people's attention, the event was headlined: So, you want to be in politics! About 120 activists, volunteers, potential candidates and future campaign managers, organizers, and consultants, said "Yes, indeed!" and showed up for a morning of hardnosed advice from veterans of VA politics, followed by a lunch address by Dean Dozen candidate Al Weed!
Many DFA regulars and volunteers, and Dean sympathizers from local committees, campaigns and organizations were there (more would have come, but a violent flu bug is making the rounds here). It was a nice chance to see folks from the Al Weed campaign and some of my canvassing buddies and volunteers and election day poll workers, and to actually meet some of the legendary local Dems whose names I've heard ever since I got involved way back in the summer of 03. Some from the old Democrats-DLC crowd were also on hand, as usual beside themselves with nay-saying Howard; for a while yet, I expect that will be the norm.
Continue reading about this great event below the jump...
To get things underway, Connie Jorgensen -- the principal Road Back PAC organizer -- pointed out a group of high school kids in the front row who have begun their own political action group: the Charlottesville Young Liberals, and the crowd gave them a resounding ovation. Yeeeaaaargh!
Then we got down to business. The first 2 speakers were interesting, funny and very practical about the business of politics.
Delegate Ken Plum (D-36), a former government teacher representing Reston, suggested a number of questions potential candidates should consider in "Making the Decision to Run" He also talked about how to put together a credible campaign, and not being discouraged by losing, since most candidates (including him) lose their first couple of races.
The second speaker was Lisa Turner, a political consultant in DC, former Political Director of the DLCC, and member of the Advisory Council of WIN.
Lisa gave a beautiful run-down of the "Elements of a Campaign" - the
nuts and bolts of planning and putting together a winning campaign. [I
was VERY relieved to learn that the DLCC is the Democratic LEGISLATIVE
CAMPAIGN Committee -- it has nothing to do with the dreaded DLC (lol).]
Then came a health care lobbyist (hereinafter "the guy") from Richmond -- a dead ringer for Al From minus 20 years. The guy had worked on an early Kerry campaign (in the 90s, I believe), as well as Gore's 2000 presidential campaign. He talked about the importance of a candidate being comfortable in her/his own skin, and pointed to Gore as problematic because he wasn't. (A few people noted that was because Gore's consultants kept trying to remake him.) The guy maintained that Gore lost West Virginia (thus the 2000 election) because he came out in favor of clean, renewable energies, and West Virginians are wedded to coal as a source of employment and way of life. This was his lead-in to suggesting that issues are a campaign killer, and advising Democrats to instead focus on a winning message -- something simple and catchy that resonates with voters.
[At the lunch break I suggested to him that perhaps the Gore
campaign should have focused on how the coal companies are in fact
taking jobs away from West Virginia miners, using mountaintop
decapitation equipment instead of employing people, and in the process
destroying the jobs and future of miners, their families, and
communities, as well as the beauty and ecology of the mountains and
streams they love. He said the campaign had done that; I don't recall
that it did.
For analysis of Gore's defeat in WVa due to his lack of a populist message is here. For a report that Gore ignored WVa until too late and allowed Bush to define him as anti-coal click here. Note that WVa has lost 4,000 mining jobs since 2001, and Kerry STILL lost there.]
The guy also maintained that Democrats should not bother running
candidates at all in races they think they can't win because it diverts
valuable resources from races that are winnable.
By this time a number of people were grumbling. Someone brought up a beautiful story told earlier by Democratic precinct volunteer Valerie LâHerrou: It was about growing up in poverty on a farm, where her family could only afford to buy the puniest livestock at auction -- the animals no one else wanted. They would take these undersized animals home and feed them and care for them and for
the longest time they wouldn't seem to be growing or putting on any weight at all. And then all of a sudden, they would go through this burst of growth, getting bigger and fatter and healthier, and in what seemed like no time at all, they'd suddeny become the largest, sleekest animals around.
Valerie said that political change seems to be like that. The important thing is not how strong you start out, but that you start with something that's worth caring for, and you have faith, and you keep feeding the calf -- and one day, voila, you have your winning heifer!
So the guy says, "Hey, it's a nice idea, be true to your issues, just don't expect to win. The way to win is to blur the lines on the issues; Democrats who win in VA, like Mark Warner, know the importance of not appearing to be Democrats."
At that, I couldn't contain myself. I mentioned the Washington Post article that very morning reporting that 78 million voters had not voted in the November election, a number that dwarfs the total for either Kerry or Bush. I said, "If that many people don't think it matters who is president, perhaps Democrats would do better by drawing sharp lines of distinction, so that more people feel they have a choice in the election, one that will make a real difference in their lives?"?
He replied, "The problem is, no one knows what these people want or
think; and if you can figure it out -- you're the next president of the
Even I had to laugh. (Although isn't it worth our while to find out what these people want or think? A worthy mission that only the grassroots can carry out!) The guy ended by saying that what motivates voters is anger and fear; if you can't find a way to appeal to those emotions, you might as well not bother running. Now, that's an attractive prospect!
I later approached the guy and suggested again that blurring the lines not only betrays our values and principles, and drives volunteers away, it also allows the entire debate to continually move rightward, thereby guaranteeing a continuing losing trend for Democrats. He actually sputtered, "But we've never really tried [blurring the issues]." "Never tried it?" I asked. That's what we've been doing for the last 15 years!" And to this he responded (I suppose having noticed my DFA pin): "You know, if Dean becomes DNC chair, Democrats will lose big in 06."
At that point, I decided to leave the guy alone. These people are absolutely convinced that what they've been doing to lose so spectacularly is, nonetheless, the road to certain victory. They simply will not come to terms with the fact that their idea of "electability" lost them the 2004 elections; and they can't fathom that it won't work in 2006, or 2008, or ever except in isolated instances, because it ignores voters' concerns. Indeed, it treats voters with utter contempt, and the voters can tell.
Some people there agreed with the guy; most seemed to disagree vehemently. As Toni Barskile -- who ran Al Weed's website -- and others observed, "It's still Dean-people versus the AnybodyButDean types!" Despite the guy's presentation, the group's consensus is that we must run good candidates and credible campaigns everywhere in the fall, to get the issues out there and set the stage for the future -- even if we're not sure we will win this time around. It will probably take a few more rounds for us to convince the guy and his cohort that the way to go and to win is by motivating volunteers, and donors, and voters, with strong, principled Democratic stands on the issues that matter.
Over lunch, Al Weed spoke about Lakoff's theory on framing issues and the new Virginia Public Policy Institute he's setting up. Finally, Doug Dodson (Democratic Caucus Director for the General Assembly, a non-elective position) spoke about the importance of new candidates networking with Democratic legislators in Richmond, and said that with strong top-of-the-ticket candidates and good turnout, Dems should be in a good position to make more gains in the General Assembly this year.
But the health care guy made me see just how far we have to bring many Virginia Democrats, to get them to stand for something, to embrace voters' concerns, and to pull in the volunteer-advocates that make the difference between winning and losing. Certainly there are Stepford volunteers out there who show up just because the party tells them to, but I've never met one yet who could match even the mildest Deaniac when it comes to bringing the voters home.
In memory of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., of blessed memory.