Howard Dean Feels That Eric Cantor’s Loss Can Lead The Way To Big Democratic Gains


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.





View Comments

  • I think Dean is exactly right. I met a guy the other day at the Senior Center I go to and as we talked about different issues the topic of politics came up. He described himself as a "former republican". He said that he had voted republican all his life. But since the tea party crazies have taken over he and his wife decided they would vote democrat depending on the candidate, or not vote at all. I am wondering how many more in their party are dropping out or changing their affiliation?

    • I too used to be a republican. I switched to independent in 2000. There is no way I'd vote republican after watching what the party has done since Obama took office. It's despicable how obstructive and ugly they have been. The disrespect is off the charts.

      When they brought Palin on the ticket, they brought the crazy to their party.

    • I considered myself a "middle of the road" or "independent" for years. I always split my ballot and voted for many Republicans over the years. I can tell you that, after the 2000-2008 debacle, never, ever again will I vote for ANY Republican.. not even on a local ticket. I don't like every Dem, of course, because the Dems aren't perfect.. but they aren't Republican, and that is enough for me.

  • The opportunity for the Dems to gain is there, but it will not happen if people do not get out and vote. We must vote in 2014.

    • Totally agree, and if you have the time, you can help out at your local Democratic office by manning the phones (reminding people to vote) or knocking on doors. We have to help like our life depended on it, because it does!

  • The longer they are in DC the sooner they forget who sent them there when the money handlers are knocking on their doors everyday to sway them away from the duties to "We the People"! It's just like an auction....highest bidder wins! Can anyone say, election reform?

  • Anything can happen! Most of us don't mind paying taxes for good roads, disaster preparedness, Medicare, Social Security, other paid into benefits, public education, Health care, or even helping people in need have food and shelter. We even don't mind paying taxes to have the government protect us from contaminated food, air, water. What we don't like is when our elected officials lie to us and give away trillions of our tax dollars to corporations, who pocket the money or take it off shore so that it isn't taxed. This is wrong no matter what you say and this is what needs to stop. So stop the tax breaks and subsidies to Corporations that have deprived the 99% of us from a sustainable living.
    TAX BREAKS and SUBSIDIES do not create jobs, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has shown. Neither do specific tax incentive programs. (

    • This is quite true, but we will NEVER get the kinds of taxes we believe to be essential for the common good unless we elect a majority that sees things as we do.

      We cannot, now, hold purity tests for Dems (the exception being wingnuts registering as Dems but who are really GOP - fraud is fraud and to be tackled in primaries.) Even the worst Dem is essential to gaining the House, keeping the Senate. THEN we can hold their feet to the fire on issues. But we cannot lose any district where we have a prayer of winning simply because the Dem candidate isn't 'good enough'.

      Strategy. It's ALL strategy. And getting out the vote is imperative to regain control and make things work well for Americans again.

      • Strategy....yes; but, messaging---getting "our" language back is a major part of the necessary strategy! (Look how the Tundra Tart, et al, have been allowed, by the media, to misuse the words liberty and freedom, etc. and to never be questioned about what they mean. Also, call out the code words used for racist and sexist degradation of the "other." Until progressives reclaim the language of justice, equality, liberty, freedom, we will continue to stay in the quagmire of right wing lunacy.)

  • I think the Democrats made a big mistake kicking Dean to the curb as DNC chair. Only to compound it by giving it to Steve "dummycrat" Israel.

  • I agree with Howard Dean, and I would like to put stress on one of the points he made. It was the one about Democrats not picking and choosing which Democratic candidates to back. I think at the local and state levels we do a pretty good job of supporting our Democratic candidates.

    But nationally, that is not always the case. I understand that the DSCC and the DCCC do not have unlimited funds, but the day after Cantor's loss, the word was out that nationally, the Democrats figure Brat will win this fall, anyway, and so are not going to give Jack Trammel, the Democratic nominee, a boost in funding. He will have to basically rely on individual support from his state, and from others around the country who think that Trammel could actually beat Brat, given half the chance.

    Yes, supporting the party nationally is vital, but those of us who can only give small amounts find ourselves having to choose--or divide--those small amounts so we can support the Trammels in other states, too.

  • This election the Democrats have got to go positive. They don't need to trash the Republicans; nearly everyone is already aware of the problems. The Democrats have talk about how to we can fix the problems, what taxes/ subsidies we'll change to pay for the fixes. It really has to be a change in focus that is forward looking and positive. With the current "liberal" media, there has to be a huge focus on what Dean said, and social media.

  • If only this applied to longstanding members like Dana Rohrabacher. His base has some pretty wealthy Republicans in it. He's exposed himself as an idiot. They love him like that.

  • The republicans are running against The Affordable HealthCare Act.
    The democrats need to point out all their amendments to the original bill that weakened it.

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