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50-state strategy for Dems? How about 15 instead?

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When you lose, everything old is new again. And now it’s in vogue among Democrats to say we need to return to the “50-state strategy” made famous by Howard Dean. That was a big part of the pitch made by Secretary Tom Perez, for example, as part of his successful bid to become the new Democratic Party Chair.

For those of us still licking our wounds from 2016, the idea of taking the fight to Republicans everywhere certainly has appeal. But just because a strategy worked in the past doesn’t mean it’s the right one for today.

And when you think about how depleted we are as a party, and just how much is at stake over the next 2–4 years, there’s an argument to be made for distributing our resources a little more deliberately. To wit: rather than a 50-state strategy, let’s start with 15.

1. The go for the trifecta states. Right now, Democrats control the governor’s office, state assembly and state senate in only six states. Let’s double that number in 2018 by going for the trifecta in Colorado, Nevada, Illinois, New Mexico, New Jersey and Maine.

{mosads}Why is that important? Because that will give us twelve states (California, Oregon, Hawaii, Delaware, Connecticut, and Rhode Island are the others) worth a combined 139 electoral votes where Democrats will not only be able to put guardrails on the Trump agenda, but also offer a decisively different course from the one being offered by the White House. Resistance is important. But we need to be able to go on offense too, so the American people can see where we might lead them.


2. The hold our ground states. While Democrats can’t afford to lose ground anywhere, there are four states in particular where we have to hold the line: Virginia, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Delaware. It’s critical that we hold onto the governor’s chair in the first two states, and we can’t afford to lose our slim Democratic majorities in either the Connecticut or Delaware state senates. 

3. The Midwest rebuild states. Democrats can’t go into 2020 with a big hole in the center of the country. We have to figure out how to reach the exurban and rural voters in states like Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio that rejected us so thoroughly in 2016, while strengthening our efforts in places we didn’t do as well as we expected, like Milwaukee and Flint. Our legislative deficits in most of these states may be too steep to overcome in two years (though the Senate may be in reach in Minnesota), but Democrats have proven we can win statewide in each. So let’s aspire to hold all four governor’s offices after the polls close in 2018.

4. The worthy wildcard state. Florida. Why? Because this presidential battleground state has a term limited and not very popular Republican governor, offering an open seat that we’ve got to win.

Of course, you could quibble with some of the choices I’ve made. If we expect the energy we’re seeing from Democrats today to carry us through a wave election in 2018, then maybe you think we should put Maryland and Massachusetts on the list, states with a deep blue heritage, but popular Republican governors. Or maybe you think Ohio is out of reach, no matter how big the wave gets. You may be right. But the point is, there are choices to be made, and our strategy needs to reflect that.

Look, I think Secretary Perez is a terrific choice for DNC Chair. And if we’re engaged in a long-term restoration process, then a 50 state plan makes sense: Let’s rebuild from the bottom up, and build everywhere. That’s important, but I would suggest there is a more urgent matter on our plate: stopping a president intent on reshaping the very nature of American democracy.

That, my friends, is an emergency that requires our attention right now, and one that wasn’t present during Howard Dean’s tenure. Fixing it will take hard work, focus and a disciplined approach. One that starts with 15 states, not 50.

Anson Kaye was a senior member of Hillary for America’s paid media team, and is a partner at the Democratic advertising firm GMMB.

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

Tags 2016 presidential election Democratic Party Hillary Clinton Howard Dean Stronger Together Tom Perez United States Washington D.C.

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