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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Possibilities and Limits of the 50 State Strategy

The second part of Le Champignon’s Daily Kos post “Democrats wise up, return to 50 State Strategy” addresses the core concern of the title and opens with this observation:

The 50 State Strategy was never intended to install progressives in deep-red districts and states. This simply isn’t going to happen. There’s no reason for these states to vote for a local progressive if they won’t vote for a non-local progressive (i.e., our president). Sure, there are exceptions. I can see why West Virginians, dependent on the extraction industry as they are, would not vote for someone who was a staunch supporter of the EPA, but would vote for a local Democrat who was progressive to the core except on environmental issues.

I agree, but have to wonder if perhaps the term “50 State Strategy” is therefore a little misleading. No doubt there is progress Dems can make in all 50 states, but at a certain point we have to marshall and direct our resources to where they can be most effective.
Le Champ cites some of the exceptional Democratic senate candidates, like Jon Tester, Jim Webb and Ray Manchin, who won in red/purple states, and there are surely many more House candidates who could be named. We should always make allowances and provide resources for good candidates who pop up in unlikely places.
In formulating overall strategy however, Dems don’t have the resources to compete fully everywhere. Spreading our money and manpower too thin can deny victory to our candidates who have the best chances to win. There’s no avoiding these hard choices. Let’s build the Democratic parties of all 50 states, but let’s concentrate our resources where we have the best chances.
Some of our best state-wide candidates like Michelle Nunn in Georgia and Wendy Davis in Texas lost in 2014, providing hard lessons about Democratic limitations, especially in mid term elections. The surprisingly large margins of their respective defeats suggest Democratic resources would be more productively invested elsewhere, at least in the short term and in the next mid-term elections. Yet, the demographic dynamics in TX and GA offer some hope that the “tipping point” for defeating the GOP is coming before too long.
Le Champignon concludes with a note of realistic optimism:

The point I’m trying to make is this. The 50 State Strategy is good. It entails us competing in districts we probably shouldn’t be competing in. But these cries of apostasy have to stop, unless they’re truly deserved (McCaskill, Manchin.. I’m looking at you). We will not compete in every state and district with the hope of winning them, or with the hope of “party building” or what-have-you. We won’t be electing progressives to many of these positions.
But we’ll be electing Democrats. And that’s a good thing. Let’s pick our battles carefully. Let’s win the midterm of 2018, which is going to be the most important election we’ll ever see. Let’s win seats at the table for redistricting by electing governors, secretaries of state, legislators, and so forth. And then, when we have better maps in place, and when states like Arizona and Texas have moved further towards us, then let’s try to elect progressives.

So for now, let’s pick a half-dozen states where a significant infusion of resources in candidate training, campaigns and voter turnout can produce disproportionately beneficial results in a shorter time frame. Some obvious choices for the top tier include FL, NC, CO, WI, VA and MO, and good cases can be made for a few others. When these states are firmly on track, the case for a broader 50 state investment becomes more cost-effective. At the same time let’s keep eyeballs peeled for promising candidates in less likely places — and make sure they don’t lose for want of resources.

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