The Power of Showing Up

We’re getting kind of repetitive here. We said it after Virginia and we’ll say again this morning, after Alabama: The way for Democrats to reclaim power to to nominate candidates in tune with their districts, who run on issues of concern to their constituents.

It seems basic, but it’s something Democrats haven’t been doing. We hear it all the time from candidates we interview: for years Dems have nominated predictable, safe candidates who are nothing to be excited about and, in many case, not that different from the Republican candidates.

Howard Dean used to talk about representing “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party”. We don’t think anyone has said it better since. To energize voters, Democrats need to emphasize traditional Progressive issues that resonate: jobs, healthcare, dignity in the workplace.

The election of Doug Jones adds  another beat to our mantra: compete everywhere. The Senate seat Jones won last night was vacated by Jeff Sessions, who is now bollixing-up the Justice Department. It was the very definition of the out-of-reach seat, one not worth contesting. Sessions ran unopposed and won 97% of the vote. There was simply no way.

There are surely those who are going to say Jones’ victory is no big deal, having proved nothing but that Democrats can beat an accused child molester. That ignores the fact that Doug Jones signed-up to run long before Roy Moore was a realistic candidate. Jones committed to what national Democrats assumed was a suicide mission; the party gave him almost no support.

On the ground, a candidate who had no chance got support no one suspected. African American voters showed up in record numbers. Women, disgusted by Moore, turned out to vote Democratic for the first time. Precincts around college campuses swung 20% to Jones from their Trump support levels.

There are many reasons to conduct energetic, passionate campaigns even in seemingly doomed districts — only one of which is that the opposition might self-destruct. As much as politics is about winning, it is also about persuasion. Convincing people often takes more than one election cycle. The argument needs to be made on the ground by candidates well connected with their communities. Those candidates need to listen as well as they talk. And both the party apparatus and membership needs to take the long view.

Polling has shown for years that Democrats win on the issues. You can’t win if you don’t show up. Last night, in Alabama, Democrats showed up.

The People's House Project