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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Khimm: Much Depends on Sanders Movement’s Reach Down Ballot

Suzy Khimm, a former senior editor of The New Republic, addresses a question of consequence at The New York Times Opinion Pages, “Can the Sanders Movement Go Local?” It’s an important issue, whether or not Sanders wins the Democratic nomination and the presidency, as Khimm explains:

…The test of the “political revolution” Mr. Sanders has started won’t just be the strength of his primary challenge, but also whether his movement can survive without him and help get other candidates elected…Despite a revival of movement activism, the left has struggled over the last eight years to achieve broad electoral success outside the White House. Many of the voters who propelled Barack Obama to victory twice didn’t show up for midterm elections, helping Republicans recapture both houses of Congress by 2014 and win control of 31 governorships and nearly 70 percent of state legislative chambers.

Khimm adds “During the heyday of Occupy, many activists rejected electoral politics, unlike their Tea Party counterparts, who leapt into races at every level of government, and scored huge victories for conservatives.” She quotes Democratic consultatn Joe Trippi, who explains, “We’ve been doing this backwards. The mistake is thinking that we get behind a progressive candidate for president, and that will solve all our problems.” Further, notes Khimm,

One of the biggest problems facing the left is structural. Whether by choice or circumstance, insurgent Democrats haven’t relied on the party establishment to build their support, so the party apparatus is ill equipped to capitalize on that momentum, which is particularly problematic in midterm elections and on the state and local levels.
Insurgent candidates can build up huge email lists and an army of eager volunteers, but if they’re operating independently from the party establishment there’s no obvious way for them to pass that knowledge on to the next breakout candidate. “There’s no progressive repository to keep the movement intact for the next progressive candidate — or the progressive candidate in California or Texas or wherever,” Mr. Trippi said.

Conservatives, fueled by GOP donors like the Koch brothers, have out-organized Democrats at the state and local levels, then gerrymandered districts to lock Democrats out with extraordinary effectiveness. But the good news, says, Khimm, is that Sanders supporters are now beginning to run down-ballot in increasing numbers.
There is a concern that a Clinton victory might slow the trend. But Sen. Sanders is himself every inch a long-haul social change advocate, and he well-understands that a permanent grass roots movement, based on his policies, is imperative for securing meaningful reforms. The challenge is crafting the structures that can instill his message in his young followers, who can carry his torch of hope into the future and win state and local elections with ever-increasing effectiveness — regardless of who is president.

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