In an election year, it’s better to have a bad week in June than in October. So the silver lining for Democrats is that there’s still plenty of time to heed a few lessons from last week.
First, we literally can’t afford to take anything for granted or to underestimate our opponents. The carnival that was the Republican presidential primary lulled too many Democrats into a false sense that it would be easy to beat whoever emerged as the nominee. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has made mistakes, but even among his rivals he has a reputation as a disciplined campaigner. Despite ideological fractures in the GOP base, historically the party unifies behind its nominee. Even after referring to Romney as a “non-Christian” and in a “cult” when introducing then-presidential hopeful Texas Gov. Rick Perry at the Values Voter Summit last fall, Rev. Robert Jeffress admitted to me in the green room at MSNBC that he’d ultimately support and work to elect Romney over President Obama. In addition to the billion-plus dollars of spending on attack ads we can see — and plenty of mischief we can’t — count on the GOP to implement a strong ground game, aided by voter suppression efforts that could disenfranchise at least 5 million voters by some accounts.
Second, it really is “all about the Benjamins” — and the recall vote in Wisconsin illustrated just what that money gap can buy. Already this election cycle, a $5 million check from a billionaire shouted down the voices of Republican voters who didn’t support Newt Gingrich for president. Republican super-PACs such as American Crossroads will outspend Obama and Democrats in key races; reportedly Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownWhen the Fed plays follow the leader, it steers us all toward inflation Which proposals will survive in the Democrats' spending plan? Senate Democrats call for diversity among new Federal Reserve Bank presidents MORE (D-Ohio) and former Virginia Gov. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineBiden injects new momentum into filibuster fight Democratic frustration with Sinema rises Harris stumps for McAuliffe in Virginia MORE are already facing a 3-to-1 spending gap in TV advertising. While Team Obama and the Democratic National Committee continue to have strong fundraising numbers, the “inside” money raised by campaigns and political committees has restrictions that the “outside” super-PAC money — which is easier to raise in big chunks, and much harder to account for — doesn’t. Combine that billion dollars in spending with a habit of not letting the facts get in the way of good spin, and it’s more than clear how important it is that Democratic donors who’ve yet to contribute start writing checks.
Third, we can’t give our opponents the bat they will use to hit us, or legitimize GOP spin. While Romney got a free pass on his inability to offer a consistent answer about multiple deferments for the Vietnam War, and House Republicans didn’t explain their preparations to again push our economy towards a cliff, Democrats fed GOP efforts to undermine former President Clinton, which does not help Obama’s reelection. Clinton is one of Democrats’ most effective surrogates, particularly among blue-collar workers and voters who well understand how the economy works and how it doesn’t. They know it isn’t working when a group of corporate raiders led by Romney aren’t exposed to the same risks as most venture capitalists in a free-market system. Nor is it working when those same investors walk away from a failed company with millions in their pockets while the workers lost their jobs and their pensions, left with nothing but taxpayer-funded unemployment.
Voters are still learning about Romney. So let them learn what happens when a guy with a sterling reputation among million-dollar investors becomes a state governor, decreases that state’s job-creation record and considers state self-deportation as a strategy to reduce unemployment.
Karen Finney is a political analyst for MSNBC and Democratic consultant, and co-host of POTUS/Sirius XM’s “The Flaks.”