In an op-ed piece for Politico published Sunday, former Democratic Governor of Vermont Howard Dean stated that the recent primary loss by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) offers five lessons for Democrats in upcoming elections. The former head of the Democratic National Committee insisted in the piece that the Democrats’ grass-roots progressive base is larger than that of the Tea Party and that the progressive base’s push for policies that prove popular to the majority of Americans will eventually bear fruit in the 2014 and 2016 elections. He also pointed out that Cantor’s loss shows that anything can happen in a given election, as nobody predicted that Tea Party challenger David Brat would defeat Cantor.
Dean started off his piece by letting Democrats know that they need to take an all-encompassing approach to elections, running competitive campaigns in every district and state rather than picking and choosing the ones they feel they have competitive advantages in. He also pointed out that dissatisfaction with this current Congress means that voters are willing to take down well-known Republicans due to the obstruction they’ve shown these past four years. Dean then moved on to saying that passion, dedication and door-to-door campaigning will beat out big money any day of the week.
Third, organization and shoe leather can beat big money. Cantor spent more on steakhouse dinners with lobbyists than his far-right opponent spent on his entire campaign. In an upcoming election in which Republicans’ secret corporate money could dwarf Democrats’ progressive message on the airwaves, Cantor’s defeat should remind us that phone calls, door knocks and one-on-one conversations with neighbors can beat back a tidal wave of cash.
Dean also insisted that base support can win elections. However, that is only true if your base doesn’t offend the majority of people. This is where Dean feels that Democrats have a big advantage over Republicans pandering to the Tea Party.
Fourth, base support wins elections — unless it drives you outside the mainstream. Cantor’s loss has largely been attributed to his failure to retain the support of a GOP grass-roots base that opposes everything from gun-violence prevention to comprehensive immigration reform. That was bad news for Cantor, but it is even worse news for the GOP nationally. The Republican base is driving the party toward a political agenda that makes its candidates increasingly unelectable for national and statewide offices.
This dynamic stands in stark contrast to the one between Democrats and their progressive grass-roots base, which pushes the party to embrace policy ideas that enjoy broad popular support.
This can’t be reiterated enough. The fact is, the Tea Party has pushed the GOP so far to the right that, in the end, the party’s platform and positions will not be palatable to the average American voter. While they may continue to win some regional elections over the coming years with this strategy, they have all but ceded the White House for the foreseeable future. Also, while it is possible that they can grab the Senate majority this year, there is now way they can hold it for more than a short period, as voters in statewide elections (especially in Presidential election years) will boot out Republicans up for election
Dean’s biggest takeaway from Cantor’s loss is the fact that anything can happen. He says Democrats need to stick it out to the end in every election, as nobody gave Brat a chance last Tuesday, yet he defeated Cantor by a pretty wide margin.
Lastly, and perhaps most important, Democrats need to learn from Cantor’s loss that anything can happen in 2014. Even on the morning of the election, not a single major pundit or politician thought the majority leader would lose. Cantor was considered invincible, and Republicans were expected to win big in November. But voters have minds of their own and the tea party’s right-wing base helped it usher in a truly unexpected result.
The fact is, the Democratic base is much larger than the tea party, and polling shows that most Americans stand with us on issue after issue, from expanding Social Security to raising the minimum wage to getting big money out of politics. If Democrats mobilize our base, stand up for what’s right and force a fight on vote-inspiring issues connected to combating income inequality, we can rack up wins that will stun many in Washington’s pundit class — and elect Democratic majorities in the House and Senate in November.
Hopefully, Democratic leadership pays heed to Dean’s advice. If anyone knows anything about organizing grass-roots campaigns, it is Dean.
Justin Baragona is the Managing Editor at Politicus Sports as well as Senior Editor at PoliticusUSA. He was a political writer for 411Mania.com before joining PoliticusUSA. Politically, Justin considers himself a liberal but also a realist and pragmatist. Currently, Justin lives in St. Louis, MO and is married. Besides writing, he also runs his own business after spending a number of years in the corporate world. You can follow Justin on Twitter either with his personal handle (@justinbaragona) or the Sports site’s (@PoliticusSports).