OPINION | 5 ways Democrats can win back power in the states
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This month, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced he was leaving the Democratic Party and becoming a Republican. This unexpected news was extremely discouraging for Democrats all over the country. Not only does the GOP have total control of Congress and the White House, they now have total control of 26 states where they have both houses of the legislature and the governorship. Democrats, on the other hand, have similar full control of only six states. In fact, this brings the number of Democratic governors in office to just 15, compared to 34 Republican governors.

If there is any good news for Democrats, it is that control of the legislatures in all 50 states and the governorships in 36 states is at stake in the 2018 election, which is only 15 months away. That silver lining should be tempered by the fact that our party obviously has not found a winning formula in recent years. What steps must we take to effectuate a reversal of fortune? I don’t pretend to have all of the answers, but I think there are five things we can do to bring about this change.

Recruit good candidates for governor and state elections

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One of the truest axioms in politics is that candidates matter. This is true across the board, but it is especially pertinent for executive leadership. The best example of this was Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinMcConnell to Dems: Don't hold government 'hostage' over DACA Lawmakers see shutdown’s odds rising Senate campaign fundraising reports roll in MORE getting elected governor of West Virginia at a time when the party was in disarray in that state. He prevailed based on his own personal history and because his leadership ability soon became evident to the voters.

 

When we recruit candidates, we should be mindful of getting a candidate whose characteristics will appeal to the electorate. An example of when we may have missed the mark was in the recent congressional special election in suburban Atlanta. Although Jon Ossoff was clearly well qualified to serve in Congress, his background, mannerisms and persona would seem to be better suited in New England or on the West Coast.

Ossoff lost by nearly 4 points in a district that President Trump carried by only 2 points. On the same night in a South Carolina special election, Archie Parnell lost by only 3 points in a district where Trump carried by 26 points. Parnell had the demeanor, background and persona of someone who fit in perfectly for that district.

Be the big tent party we as Democrats always say we are

We must get away from the idea that Democratic candidates everywhere in the country must fit a certain mold and must agree on all issues. That is a prescription for disaster. As much as I am an adamant proponent for sensible gun control, I realize that being for an assault weapons ban and a magazine capacity limit, positions that would resonate well in Massachusetts and Oregon, would make it difficult for a candidate to propose them and be successful in many red states.

I am an avid believer in a woman’s absolute right to choose, but we should by no means insist on the orthodoxy of that position. Our party has always found a place for pro-life Democrats, and we should continue to do so. In many states, it may not be impossible for a pro-choice candidate to win, but it is a sure lot easier for someone who happens to be pro-life.

In 2006, when I was governor of Pennsylvania, supporters of Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseySenate campaign fundraising reports roll in Senate Finance Dems want more transparency on trade from Trump Trump's 's---hole' remark sparks bipartisan backlash MORE told me he would be willing to challenge Rick Santorum for the U.S. Senate, but only if I could help clear the field for him the primary. I agreed he was our only chance to beat Santorum and persuaded two pro-choice Democrats to withdraw. When I did so, I got contacted by thousands of pro-choice Democrats from all over the country, ripping me for clearing the field of pro-choice candidates and leaving only Casey, who was pro-life.

I wrote them back and said, “Look, Bob Casey is a wonderful Democrat who believes in economic fairness and opportunity, which has long been the driving force behind our party, and most importantly, he and only he could beat Senator Santorum, which would enable him to cast the vitally important vote for Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDems search for winning playbook Dems face hard choice for State of the Union response The Memo: Immigration battle tests activists’ muscle MORE for Senate majority leader in 2007.” Let the record show that Casey has been a brilliant and productive U.S. senator who is one of the leading proponents of our core message.

Remember what Clinton said: “It’s the economy, stupid”

Speaking of our traditional core message, that’s the terrain on which we want to fight out every legislative and gubernatorial race in 2018. Interestingly, on every economic issue that is important to Trump Democrats and Trump Independents, we happen to be on the right side. Unlike the GOP, we want to ensure healthcare coverage for all Americans and restrict tax cuts to middle class working families, instead of proposing something that would give the majority of cuts to the wealthiest 2 percent of the nation.

Democrats want to invest federal funds in a robust infrastructure program that can help our economic competitiveness and create literally millions of well-paying, blue collar jobs. We want to raise the minimum wage, which would have a catalytic effect of giving wage increases to working people up and down the economic scale.

Take strong positions but explain how to get them into law

You only have to look at the Republican debacle in failing to get their ideas into law to realize that voters are up to their eyeballs in frustration over the fact that nothing seems to be getting done. Our candidates should always hold strong positions on what they believe, but they should get across to the voters that they understand that working across the aisle is likely to be necessary to get things and express a willingness to do just that. Don’t give the voters a pie in the sky. Give them ideas that have a realistic chance of becoming law.

Continue to push for changes in how redistricting is done

Finally, whether they be citizens commissions or other changes, the best way to prevent the unfair redistricting that has allowed Republicans to have death grips on legislatures is for us to win the 2018 elections at every level.

Edward G. Rendell served as the 45th governor of Pennsylvania. He is a former chairman of the National Governors Association and was general chairman of the Democratic National Committee during the 2000 presidential election.


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