When Winning Looks Like Losing

When Winning Looks Like Losing

How Democrats can win the long game in red areas.

As we gear up for the midterm election cycle, the topic regularly comes up whether Democrats in red areas should run as strong Democrats or light Republicans. The tendency for Democrats to cater to Republican ideology to appear less threatening to Republican voters is understandable but misguided.

Some candidates want to be a palatable alternative for Republican voters, too. Often, Democratic candidates have historically targeted Republican voters to no avail. Repeatedly, this approach fails to garner enough Republican votes and, even worse, dampens Democrats’ enthusiasm to head to the polls.

There are two indisputable truths. One, partisanship is palpable, and two, Democrats in red areas need to be excited to vote. Understanding these two truths and changing the numbers in a strategic method that includes deep canvassing and registering voters is how we will flip a red area.

The Partisan Environment is Palpable

            Many Democratic candidates believe they can flip Republicans. I fell into this category when I first ran for office. I am a lawyer who is trained in economics, a married homeowner, a business owner, and could be considered conservative in my personal choices.

            But I was wrong. There were Republicans who liked me personally but believed their Republican values trumped personal respect for an individual Democrat. I couldn’t make up my vote deficit with a handful of Republicans who would even consider supporting me. But in maintaining my strong Democratic values, I excited a trove of Democratic voters to the poll.

Strong Democratic Candidates Excite Our Base

            They say, “Republicans fall in line; while Democrats fall in love.”  Democratic candidates in red areas start off behind because they don’t have enough numbers of reliable voters to win. Many voters who would vote for Democrats stay home. They don’t see the point in voting when there are not many candidates who they believe will fight for their values.  Therefore, the first goal of a Democratic candidate is to excite the base of Democratic voters.

            I have run two campaigns in red areas, each time firmly standing strong by my Democratic positions. While those races did not result in wins, they did result in an unprecedented number of Democrats voting, and many for the first time. The Democratic base became excited when they saw a strong Democrat who was willing to fight. We know this because the numbers tell the story.

How did we do it? We targeted Democrats in our first campaign with strong Democratic messaging. As a result, we determined that in a historically non-voting area, 85% of Democrats voted. Our numbers in the race exceeded expectations, and our numbers showed that the Democrats we targeted with messaging came out and voted.

            In the second race, a non-partisan race for mayor, we approached similarly and targeted Democrats making it clear to them that I would be the voice of their values. The result is that we doubled the voter turnout in a municipal race, making it the largest municipal race in recent history.

Even though we lost, we won progress toward our long-term goal, winning. We uncovered new voters that future Democratic candidates from local races could target through the Presidential race. We built a foundation of voting that will help Democrats win these races in the long run. 

The Final Conclusion

These two truths, that partisanship is palpable, and Democrats need to be excited by strong candidates, lead to one conclusion.  To win in red areas, we need to increase Democratic participation.      

This means Democratic messaging needs to improve, and continuous voter registration needs to ensue. Voters need to understand how having Democratic representatives improve their daily lives. This does not mean you will be able to flip die-hard Republicans. It means exciting a large base of future Democratic voters who have not been voting. This is the model that Stacey Abrams and others have shepherded through Georgia in the last 11 years. And we must learn from their powerful model.    

Let’s update our thinking about running for office by providing a strong alternative to excite the base while registering and canvassing new voters. Let’s start the habit of winning, even if we need to lose in the beginning. 

Delia Parker-Mims is an attorney, writer, public speaker, and strong advocate of Democratic policies. She was the Democratic nominee for county office and ran as a progressive in the local municipal race. She’s working to Disrupt the Republican stronghold by helping to build the infrastructure necessary to turn out Democratic voters. She can be reached at delia@bettertogetherdc.com.

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