Peter Rousselot: A National Democratic Strategy, 2010 - 2012

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The following is from former Arlington County Democratic Committee Chair Peter Rousselot.

I’ve been reflecting back on 2009 Democratic successes (e.g., winning 5 special elections for the U.S. House of Representatives) and failures (e.g., losing state-wide races for Governor in Virginia and New Jersey and a U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts). What are the key lessons learned from these races, and how should we apply these lessons moving forward?

The failures are more informative than the successes because the failures were all in state-wide races in states that Barack Obama carried in 2008. Let’s acknowledge and then put aside the “special circumstances” and weaknesses of the Democrats who lost these three 2009 races. None of them is running again in 2010.

Looking forward, we need to focus on the statewide Democratic base voters that powered Obama to victory in 2008, and build our future strategy around motivating and turning out enough of these 2008 Obama voters to win statewide races in 2010 and 2012. (How to implement this strategy in individual Congressional District races and other local races will vary, but if we don’t build a grassroots strategy to win statewide, we will cripple our chances to maximize our wins in these other Congressional District and local races.)

In 2009, the Obama political team was working through the transition from its 2008 Presidential campaign team to what eventually became Organizing for America (OFA). Unfortunately, there were “growing pains” accompanying this transition. One of the most serious of these organizational problems was the failure to think through carefully and consistently how much time OFA volunteers ought to spend promoting President Obama’s legislative agenda and how much time they ought to spend promoting his political agenda. That needs to change in 2010 and beyond.

OFA is a vital link to the Democratic base voters who elected Obama President—particularly to that portion of the Democratic base who were first-time voters in 2008. Therefore, OFA is in a unique position to energize these voters, and needs to spend a portion of its time playing that role.

What we need to do is the exact opposite of what the DNC apparently did in the case of a recent TV ad for Senator Ben Nelson (see here): we need to have carefully-defined, broad-based Democratic Party branding and messages that reinforce the main themes of the Obama Presidency, and we need to systematically and consistently spread that brand and those messages across the country to appeal to the base of Democratic voters who supported Obama in 2008.

OFA should take the lead in developing that branding and those messages. Then, state and local Democratic parties need to systematically and consistently spread that brand and those messages to appeal to the base of Democratic voters who supported Obama in 2008. Hopefully, the return of David Plouffe signals that the Obama political team will be more sensitive to and systematic about this in 2010 than it was in 2009.

Democrats in every state need to have a clear and public set of motivating principles for which they stand, and those principles must be framed in a way that appeals to the 2008 Obama base voters who are critical to winning.