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To win 2018, Dems can look to Howard Dean’s 2006 playbook

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After taking a beating in the 2016 elections, Democrats have to regroup and prepare for the 2018 elections. While Donald Trump will certainly provide attack lines and fodder for cable news, Democrats have to have a strategy for winning more seats in Congress. Democrats have to inspire the base and expand the electorate, a task that sounds daunting, but entirely possible. Democrats can do that by running candidates that fit the district, avoiding purity tests, and personalizing the consequences of Republicans leadership.

When Howard Dean ran a 50-state strategy in 2006, he was successful because he ran candidates that fit the demographic of the district. Democrats have to run candidates who fit the district they’re running in. The idea that Democrats would run a coastal-style liberal in a conservative state like Montana isn’t just dumb, it’s asinine. John Tester wouldn’t win a Senate seat in New York, but he’s a perfect fit for Montana.

{mosads}The purity tests that many Democrats endorse would eliminate qualified and well-intentioned individuals like Tester from the Democratic Party, merely because their views don’t line up 100 percent with the liberal wing of the party. If Democrats want to destroy any chances of winning national office, establishing purity tests is the quickest way to do it.


Democrats face a choice, they can push moderate and conservative Democrats out of the party and into the arms of Republicans or they can accept the fact that different sections of the country have different viewpoints based on their daily reality. Democrats in West Virginia are just as valuable to the party and have just as much place in the party as Democrats in Vermont.

I have watched Democrats succumb to the same type of purity test nonsense that has plagued the Republicans and led to common sense Republicans being silenced. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are the two most successful Democrats in modern history. Neither would have been elected if Democrats had instituted a purity test. Both Clinton and Obama were moderates that were conservative on some issues and liberal on others. That’s how big-tent parties succeed.

Democrats can’t afford to be a party that can only win office on the east and west coast, there is too much at stake. We’re not a regional party. There is an entire section of the country that Trump bamboozled with his phony populist message. The president’s message was successful because Democrats failed to make their case to union workers and Rockefeller-style Republicans as to how their lives would be better off under a Democratic administration. Democrats have to make their case to voters personal because the consequences are personal.

We have to be honest with Americans about our path forward. Most of the manufacturing jobs that have gone overseas due to outsourcing are not coming back, but there’s no reason that we can’t retrain our workers to meet the demand of a 21st century economy. No one wants to learn a new trade later in life, but if we’re honest about the options, we can equip Americans with the information to make the best possible decision.

Given the incompetent leadership at the top of the Republican Party, making the argument for Democratic leadership shouldn’t be a hard argument to make. The argument, however, can’t be made solely made on MSNBC or college campuses, Democrats have to go where Republicans are. Democrats have to appear regularly at Veterans of Foreign Wars halls, not just when it’s time to ask for their vote.

Democrats have to appear regularly on conservative networks like Fox News and Newsmax. It won’t be the easiest interview, but having our arguments challenged and making our case in a hostile environment shows chutzpah. Democrats should never run away from the chance to show that we have the better argument because we do. Democrats have to talk over and over and over again about the consequences if Americans vote for Republicans in 2018.

It’s not just about wins and losses, it’s about the consequences of Republican leadership. When Republicans make cuts to programs like Medicaid and social security there are fewer resources for the people who need it most. Medicaid isn’t some big scary government entitlement like Republicans would have many Americans believe. It’s a program that gives one in five Americans healthcare. Those are our brothers and our sisters. Medicaid helps people like our grandmothers and grandfathers.

We have to talk about things like healthcare in personal terms because it affects each and every one of us personally. We all know someone on Medicaid, we just may not know that we do. If Republicans win more seats, it is all but guaranteed that they will cut Medicaid. Whether directly or indirectly, people will lose their lives because of a lack of Medicaid funding, that’s just common sense.

The same is true for Social Security, which isn’t just some esoteric government policy, floating up in the clouds. It’s what helps put food in the stomach of 56 million Americans. It’s what keeps the lights on for 56 million Americans. It’s a lifeline for so many Americans, not just something we cut so that a bunch of rich people can get tax cuts.

We cannot allow the decisions that are made in Washington to be sanitized. Those decisions affect real people in real places. Allowing Republicans to talk about social programs in broad strokes crouched in misleading statistics is political malpractice. We have to put a face and a name on the victims of Republican policies. We can’t just redirect voters to websites to read a 10-point plan.

More Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump. Most Americans understand what a disaster the latter has been. If we’re honest and genuine with voters they will reward us. They may not agree with everything we say (nor should they, as disagreement is good for the party), but they’ll trust that what we’re saying we believe. They’ll trust that when we say we’re going to do something, we’ll actually get it done. They’ll trust that our party has the better path forward. That’s how Democrats can win seats in 2018.

Michael Starr Hopkins is an attorney and former member of the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He regularly appears on Fox News and CNN to talk about national politics. You can follow him on Twitter @TheOnlyHonest.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags 2022 midterm elections Barack Obama Barack Obama Bill Clinton Bill Clinton campaign Democrats Donald Trump Election Hillary Clinton Howard Dean states
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