Several months after the Democratic National Committee installed its new leadership, the internal overhaul within the party was a main topic of conversation at the DNC’s executive committee meeting at the Renaissance Center in Detroit on Saturday. Central to discussion during the meeting, though, was the party’s strategy to begin recovering from its nationwide losses in Congress and state governments.
Since former President Obama’s election in 2008, Democrats have lost major ground in virtually every sector of government. As DNC CEO Jess O’Connell pointed out during the meeting, there are only six states under complete Democratic control (with both Democratic governor and legislature), while there are 24 states under complete Republican control. The number of total seats lost by Democrats under Obama — including Congress, governorships and state legislatures — exceeded 1,000.
Part of the issue, according to DNC Chair Tom Perez, had simply been the party’s goals.
“It seems to me that the de facto mission statement of the DNC had been that we are here to help elect the President of the United States, the Democrat, every fourth year,” he said. “And it’s borne out in our structure. So we have absolutely changed our mission statement. Our mission statement is to elect Democrats up and down the ticket, from the school board to the senate.”
Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D–Mich.), who represents the 14th District of Michigan containing Detroit, was invited to be a guest speaker at the meeting. She said Democrats needed to pivot their messaging to issues that resonated better with voters.
“Health care, ladies and gentlemen, is being debated and worked on and being designed right now while we’re talking about this Russia investigation, we’re talking about the (Alexandria) shooting, we’re talking about all these things, and this majority Republican party is getting ready to attack the American public with this health care plan,” she said. “But with every confusion and every deflection, our voices should not get smaller. We should get louder.”
Rep. Keith Ellison (D–Minn.), who is also the Deputy Chair of the DNC, agreed, pointing out the Republicans were trying to keep news of their health care plan as quiet as possible.
“It is true that the Republican senate is wheeling out a nasty, ugly bill to try to strip healthcare away from as many as 23 million Americans,” he said. “Mitch McConnell believes silence is golden. He’s not gonna make the mistake that Paul Ryan made, which is talking about it. And when it comes, it’s gonna come fast, so please, keep your eye on this health care stuff. It is critical.”
In response to the actions of the Trump administration in its first several months, Ellison is also heading up Resistance Summer, an organizing effort by the party to capitalize on anti-Trump sentiment and grow its grassroots engagement with voters.
“Resistance Summer is a 90-day intensive engagement where the DNC is giving additional funds to state parties so they can afford more canvassing, more knocks, more of the core engagement all over the country,” he said. “Resistance Summer is not a one and done. It’s just the first one. We’re going to recreate an environment where the Democratic party is engaged at the grassroots all the time.”
Besides voter engagement, though, Perez pointed out there were other obstacles to winning elections.
“We know that voter suppression is a staple in the Republican playbook, and we know that because it’s worked, unfortunately,” he said.
While acknowledging the challenges of voter suppression laws and gerrymandering, Ellison said he thought driving high turnouts could overcome both of those.
Perez also said Democrats needed to be more aggressive in terms of seats they targeted, even if they had a long history of going to Republicans.
“We know that Arizona can be in play in 2018. Let’s not wait until next August of 2018 to start doing that,” he said. “I think we can do well in Mississippi, folks. Hillary Clinton got 40 percent of the vote in Mississippi, and she didn’t do a damn thing. They had no organizing presence there, so we know what our baseline is. If we invest now in our base communities, we can win that.”
In some areas, Democrats are already doing just that. In Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, where a special election is being held June 20 to determine who will fill the old seat of Tom Price, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Democrat Jon Ossoff holds a slight edge over Republican Karen Handel.
DuBose Porter, Chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, said he was encouraged by the early voting results.
“Y’all, we’re gonna win this damn thing,” he said. “In the April 18 contest, 56,000 people voted early, and that was considered more than a typical turnout. Y’all, as of yesterday, 138,000 people have voted early in the special election. We think the turnout Tuesday will be at a record level as well.”