Where's the Democratic Campaign?

by: Dan Sullivan

Wed Jul 22, 2009 at 09:13:16 AM EDT

For not a few Virginians, relief from the high tempo Democratic primary campaign has been welcome. No ringing phones. No flyers cluttering the mailbox. No knocks on the door by canvassers. But for party activists, the welcome pause to recharge the batteries has drawn on too long. Problem? You betcha!

On the heels of the Obama victory last fall, Virginia activists turned immediately to the 2009 elections. What they found: Democrats relishing success after a hard fought battle, basking in the afterglow of victory; Republicans unsettled by a crushing rejection, fearful of the future, determined to work even harder. Early into the statewide Virginia Democratic primary campaigns, two things became apparent. First, at the national level, the Democratic Party wanted to exploit success and press the agenda for change; the foot was still heavy on the pedal with fund raising and organizing efforts continuing. Next, at the state level and below, many of the swarm of volunteers that Obama inspired were single effort voters, satisfied that their objective was achieved and unaware that, particularly in Virginia, the effort never gets a rest. They were joined by many of the regulars who, fatigued by the never-ending Virginia election cycle, were ready for a break and maybe even confident the inertia from the Obama victory was sufficient to propel continued progress. After all, we have the Presidency. Case closed...Not so fast.

"Deeds has yet to reach out to form grassroots groups, have an open house in the rumored Arlington HQ, or do anything to pull together a volunteer corps. Instead, what we have is a buttoned down, bureaucratized campaign along the lines of Warner's senate run. The trouble is, we are not running with a 20 point advantage this time: latest polls have us down a few points." - Democratic activist
At the national level, the Party leadership knows better. Once joined, they drove forward maintaining contact in the fight for the platform that got Obama elected. The perception at the national level remains that there are off-cycle elections which if won could demonstrate the continued popularity and relevance of the platform. The theme in the media is that the Virginia and New Jersey elections in will be a bell-weather endorsement of either change or disaffectedness. As we saw in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, Virginians see their elections as referendums on Virginia issues. Senator Deeds has made remarks that acknowledge that the national issues are not the specific concern of office seekers in Virginia; that he is running for Governor of Virginia. Bob McDonnell hasn't said as much, but he has shied away from bringing select national baggage into the contest; sorry Sarah.

In the Democratic Party, this focus has created a tension between the national Democrats and Virginia Democrats. The national party wants to join the Virginia fight and jump on that Obama referendum perception, shaping the statewide campaigns in the image of the national focus. Not a few Virginia Democrats, people who actually know something about Virginia, believe that Virginians are going to vote based upon Virginia idiosyncrasies. And no matter what happened last November in Virginia, insular interests will weigh most heavily with the Joe and Josephine six-packs among us (let me point out that a six-pack is not always beer). This is a problem for the statewide candidates, but ever the more so at the local level where district diversity is far from a representative homogeneity of the Obama tsunami. Those who know Virginia would rather win Virginia the old fashioned way and allow the national Party to afterwards declare the victory a referendum on Obama's popularity. Turning this into a referendum on national issues will be a loser at all levels. Virginians are focused on the close fight.

So the statewide effort has been stalled post primary by the convergence of fatigue and outside interference. And during that pause, the Republicans have been busy stealing the march and a few high profile donors who are Democrats. There is a growing unease at the local level that this inaction is sapping much of the already ebbing inertia. The only consistently visible activity is at the district level and below. Volunteer activity is tepid at best. And there is no leadership being demonstrated in the state party, so you can guess who is going to have their way. So, yes, Virginia, there is a problem. You betcha!

Cross posted at Blue Virginia

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