Paul Adair is a 21-year Germantown resident, retired scientist, writer, and lecturer.
The next big election year is 2014, when Democrats will attempt to replace Scott Walker and to regain both houses of the state legislature. Neither will be easy tasks, considering the huge out-of-state funding of Walker and the unconscionable partisan gerrymandering of state legislative districts.
In 2005, National Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean implemented his “Fifty State Strategy”. This approach involved recruiting viable candidates and building party infrastructure in even the most Republican areas of the country. There was no region of the country ceded to the other party. While derided at first, Dean's approach paid-off in spades. Democrats regained a majority in the House of Representatives in 2006. Democrats came to power in metropolitan areas such as Dallas and Houston. The strategy even allowed Obama to win the traditionally red states of Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina, and Indiana in 2008.
Following Howard Dean's lead, the Wisconsin Democratic Party last week announced a new 72 county strategy for 2014. Party infrastructure, good candidates, and a strong GOTV effort will be put into place across the state.
The big question is - what took so long? Certainly, 2010 was a disaster for the party. Barrett ran a campaign that was largely invisible to voters outside of Madison and Milwaukee. In a recent interview, State Party Chairman Mike Tate said, “The 2010 election was not lost because we didn’t turn out votes in Milwaukee and Madison. What we need to do is make sure that we can compete outside of those population centers.”
While Dane and Milwaukee Counties are important sources of Democratic votes, a Madison/Milwaukee only strategy is not a prudent one. The two counties together account for only 25.4% of state population and 26.0% of statewide 2012 Presidential votes. However, fully 36% of Barrett's 2010 votes came from these two counties.
In 2012, President Obama and Tammy Baldwin showed the way to win a statewide race. They competed with a competent ground game all over Wisconsin. Obama was slightly less dependent on Milwaukee and Dane Counties than Barrett, getting 33.8% of his votes from the two regions. This is the example that state Democrats will attempt to emulate for 2014. During high visibility races, Democrats can get out the vote and win our state. Similar GOTV efforts must be conducted for off-year elections.
Regional Directors and their teams will soon be put in place in strategic areas, starting with Eau Claire, LaCrosse, and Green Bay/Fox Valley. The counties in which these cities are located are fairly purple. In 2012, Obama carried the 5-counties (Brown, Outagamie, Winnebago, La Crosse, Eau Claire) by only 52%. Together, the 5 counties constitute 14.2% of state population, yet only yielded 13.8% of state votes. Clearly, these are cities in which there is room for improvement in both Democratic margins and voter turn-out.
In last week's strategy roll-out, the state Party announced other specific actions which should help improve their 2014 performance:
Candidates- There will be a major effort to draft strong candidates in all corners of the state. Critical to Democrats' 2014 overall success is getting a great candidate for Governor that can generate statewide support. Respected politicians like Ron Kind, Peter Barca, or Kathleen Vinehout come to mind. According to Chairman Mike Tate, we may have a good idea of who that candidate is by the end of 2013.
Voter engagement- In many precincts, ward captains will be assigned to help help coordinate GOTV efforts. There will be neighborhood canvassing on important issues such as the 2013 State Budget. In addition to continuing involvement with students at 4-year colleges, there will be efforts at voter recruitment at 2-year colleges.
If the Democratic Party is truly serious about a 72 county strategy, there should be increased effort in the “Ring of Fire” heavily Republican suburban areas of Ozaukee, Washington, and Waukesha Counties. These three counties account for 10.7% of statewide population, and fully 12.3% of the statewide Presidential vote. Even now, the “Ring of Fire” is important for Democrats. It accounted for 7.5% of the statewide vote for President Obama. Only Milwaukee and Dane Counties gave our President more votes than did Waukesha County. Clearly, a strong and concerted effort can yield even more Democratic votes in these heavily populated areas.
Democrats need to reach out to the entire state with their ideals and beliefs. It is not just in Madison that people believe that big government needs to stay out of their private lives. It is not just in Milwaukee that retired people think that Social Security and Medicare should be preserved rather than voucherized or privatized. It is not just in the Democratic bastions that Wisconsin citizens want drinkable water and clean air. Even in “Ring of Fire” Republican suburbs, most people want to maintain a good public school system. Even in rural areas, many people believe that access to quality healthcare is a basic human right, not a privilege.
Winning statewide races requires a statewide effort. The Democrats' new 72 county strategy makes good sense and is an excellent start at retaking our state government.