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What Do You Think-- Do The Dems' Midterm Problems Go Beyond Messaging?



This morning, Quadricicos Driskell penned a guest column for The Hill, Democrats can win in 2022-- here's how. He thinks the biggest problem is bad messaging, not just because Biden is a "pathetic messenger," but because the Democrats are generally bad at messaging in general. Having once run a p.r. firm and decades later having comms people working for me at Warner Bros and now dealing with congressional comms people all the time, I can tell you from experience that if entertainment industry p.r. people generally get an "A" for their work, political p.r. people generally almost never rank above a "C" and most just get an "F." Two exceptions that come right to mind are Lis Smith, who practically invented a persona for Mayo Pete and Connor Lounsbury, who figured out how to present Lucas Kunce's populist message in such a way as to take him from relative obscurity to front-runner status nearly overnight. (Lounsbury has a background in the entertainment business... and, of course, it does help to be working with as coherent and intellectually sharp a candidate is Kunce.)


Driskell asked his readers to "imagine if Democrats used the Child Tax Credit alone-- eligible families can receive up to $3,600 for each child under age six and up to $3,000 for each age 6 through 17 for 2021-- this puts money in parent’s pockets for their children and yet few Democrats communicate this feat. Likewise, messaging Biden’s Build Back Better package or the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which will provide much-needed improvement to marginalized communities such as reasonable broadband access to ensure that Americans receive reliable high-speed internet, are keys to a potential win in 2022. The Democrats’ Build Back Better plan would ensure paid sick leave, home healthcare, another year of monthly child tax credits that have lifted millions out of poverty, universal prekindergarten, two years of community college, a cap on families’ child-care expenses, healthcare subsidies, Medicare hearing benefits, climate change programs and, to offset the costs, tax increases on corporations and the wealthiest individuals, as well as authorization for Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices. All of these are popular with the American people and Republicans, who dismiss the entire plan simply as 'socialism' or 'wasteful spending' without being challenged to address its popular particulars."


Former 3-term Orlando congressman, Alan Grayson, currently the progressive challenger to Florida's right-wing Senator Marco Rubio, told me this morning that "Democrats have presented a somewhat coherent legislative program of expanding and subsidizing public services like health and education, making taxation more progressive, and restraining carbon pollution. All of these are popular policies, particularly among young people. The GOP simply isn’t on the same page, though-- it is going for 'cracking down' on 'critical race theory,' illegal immigrants, 'Antifa,' anti-Squad propaganda, where the transgendered can go to the bathroom, and other proxies for bigotry. The Democrats are assuming that voters are utilitarian, and that voters are resistant to appeals to hatred and fear. I’m not sure of that at all, based on recent election results. This is not just a 'messaging' issue; it’s a lot deeper than that."


Sergio Alcubilla, the progressive congressional candidate running for the Oahu congressional seat occupied by Blue Dog Ed Case, told me this morning that he's been thinking about this for a while. In his time running Legal Aid, everyone made a conscious effort to speak in plain language to people, to be able to explain legalese in a way that made sense to people. "Otherwise," he said "people were just throwing away our fancy brochures and not wanting to read any of that legal language. It wasn't to 'dumb it down'-- it was to help people people better understand how their rights were being affected, what they could do about it, and the impact in their lives. I believe this applies to politics too."


He continued that Democrats "need to do a better job of speaking with people rather than speaking at them. As the quote attributed to Teddy Roosevelt goes, 'Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.' The Democratic Party has been working hard on behalf of working families, seniors, and the environment. Yet, some of our successes have been overshadowed by those in the Republican Party who do a better job of connecting with people emotionally. It's time we speak plainly with people, speak both to the heart and the mind. By electing candidates who are actually from the people and have the lived experiences to back it up, the Democratic Party can win the messaging battle because the message is authentic. They're no longer simply talking points from rich, corporate backed politicians who only pretend to care come election time but continue to vote for corporate interests. People are tired of the bullshit. We need candidates who are real people who are willing to keep it real."


"Republicans," continued Driskell, "have a far-reaching conservative media apparatus, dominated by Fox News and extending to right-wing websites, white evangelical churches, sources and local talk-show hosts to amplify their message, which is often how and why they are great at winning. Republicans have also directed the national political discourse with critical race theory."


Glenn Youngkin's (R) Virginia gubernatorial victory over Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe, fueled by pandemic-era, schools-and education-related anguish that went well beyond the dog-whistle political buzzword of 'critical race theory,' constituted a parental revolt. With a winning mix of rural Trump enthusiasts coupled suburbanites who voted for Biden-- the 2021 Virginia gubernatorial election results forged unlikely alliances heading into next year’s midterms and even 2024 by spotlighting a potentially new COVID-created key constituency-- piqued moms and dads. Republicans see the Virginia campaign as a playbook in the big U.S. Senate races in 2022.
Traditionally, voters have trusted Democrats more on education, but Virginia undermined that. It’s now a blueprint for Republicans. Outside of critical race theory, I believe Democrats underestimated how many voters and Democrats were mad at the school closures, especially metro-suburban white mothers. And Republicans have tapped into that anger, concern, crisis mode and fear.
Democrats have talked about raising the opportunity for all children, and where Republicans are winning the messaging war presently is they are focused on raising opportunities for your child. Republicans are betting that parents’ angst about educational issues ranging from the quality of curricula to mask mandates and culture wars will help them retake suburban independents in upcoming elections.
Following a string of wins on local school boards and a strong performance in the suburbs in recent gubernatorial races, Republicans say their message is resonating among parents, whose frustrations have boiled up during the coronavirus pandemic, and now include the quality of classwork, mask mandates and transgender rights.

Driskell didn't mention that McAuliffe was a truly terrible candidate, standing for nothing much and unable to present a coherent message to a surly electorate. Democrats have won-- and in red states, which Virginia is not-- when Republicans nominate undeniably horrible candidates. In recent statewide races, Kentucky (R+16) Democrat Andy Beshear, Louisiana (R+12) Democrat John Bel Edwards, Missouri (R+11) Democrat Claire McCaskill and Alabama (R+15) Democrat Doug Jones won when Republicans have nominated implausible candidates, respectively, failed right-wing extremist Matt Bevin, scandal-plagued sex freak David Vitter, outspoken misogynist Todd Akin and unrepentant child molester Roy Moore. Trump may be forcing the GOP to do the same thing again-- pusshing implausible candidates that will force Republicans to forfeit otherwise winnable-- even safe-- races. Fingers crossed. But... that can't be counted on... and in any case, what almost can always be counted on is the DSCC and DCCC recruiting and supporting absolute garbage candidates, setting up, as always, lesser of two evils craps shoots that millions of people don't want to participate in.


Driskell tells Democratic candidates to "start messaging to voters directly. Every Democratic operative or strategist can stay on message and discuss how Build Back Better will invest over $3.385 billion in capital access investments for small employers and entrepreneurs with nearly $2 billion in a Small Business Association direct lending program for the smallest businesses and government contractors or $60 million to diversify and create equity within the Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) program."


Democrats could win by going on offense, running the record of successes, not playing defense responding to GOP attacks. The simple lesson-- lean into the Democratic success and communicate these wins, mainly how the triumphs aid American families and children, engage African Americans and Asian-Americans including Korean Americans and Chinese Americans-- communicate the talking points and how they improve these communities and others.
Democrats should also capitalize on another critical issue in the midterm elections-- the battle between traditional establishment Republicans versus Trump Republicans. Will the establishment fringe wing of the GOP gain control power from the Trump wing? As the GOP-civil war rages on, this allows Democrats further opportunity, in addition to touting the House’s successful passage of their social spending and tax passage as they try to ease voters’ concerns about inflation and shortages of goods.

The progressive in the Wisconsin Senate race, Tom Nelson, who's had years of experience in the state legislature and as Outagamie County Executive, put it like this: "Why do Democrats have a hard time messaging? Because it's hard. Consider the difference between Democrats and Republicans. Republicans need to say just four words: 'less government, lower taxes. Grunt, grunt.' If they can show that the government can't work and then they cut your taxes-- they win. Democrats believe that the government can do some good things. Not only must we articulate a constructive solution to a complicated problem-- and with a compelling narrative-- we need to make it work. And with one-half of the political establishment (give or take) against you, it makes it awfully tough. And so here we are, staring down another tough mid-term."


Morgan Harper is the progressive candidate running for the open Senate seat in Ohio. She was very clear and concise: "In 2022," she said this afternoon, "we must have Democratic nominees who can energize as many people as possible and especially key constituencies we need to turn out-- women, Black voters, and young people. That is why I'm running. We don't just face a messaging challenge; we also face a messenger challenge. The same old playbook will not work." Exactly-- and neither will the same old DSCC/DCCC inauthentic, performative candidates


Iowa progressive Glenn Hurst asked the same question: "How can progressives win?" And here's how he answered:


First, we must have the power to choose our own candidates. When Washington DC Democratic organizations and power brokers anoint 'moderate' candidates before the state voters have even heard their stump speech, democracy loses. When Democratic primaries are unbalanced by self-funding billionaires buying their win, democracy loses. So too does that candidate lose in the general election. When these lackluster conservative candidates are at the top of the ticket, we also lose down the ballot as they cannot produce the turnout needed to carry those competitive down-ballot races.
Too many people believe that we are losing because we are not appealing to the middle. However, we put forward candidates that often look more like Republicans rather than moderate Democrats and still lose. We are not losing because our candidates do not appeal to the middle, we are losing because they do not appeal to our base. This has been demonstrated in Iowa where, we have seen moderate candidates at the top of the ticket who then go on to lose in Iowa in the general election, Biden, Greenfield, Hubble, Clinton. When you compare who performed well in the 2022 caucuses, Bernie Sanders, with those past top-of-the-ticket candidates, it tells you that they did not represent the values of Iowa Democrats. In Iowa, this has driven progressive Democrats to abandon the party altogether.
So how do we win? We must raise the money to keep our progressive voices from being drowned out. Those voices need to be clear and unafraid to speak boldly about our social values but to be sure to tie the implementation of policy with the economy and the climate. We must meet our constituents where they are, in person and digitally. i.e. Facebook, Twitter, tik tok, etc. We must remain true to our grassroots origins and engage with local progressive leaders to reach the people they influence. We must engage with local media which has longevity over national media in tight-knit communities.


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