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The Democratic Bench

Former Governor TedStrickland at the Athletic Club of Columbus 136 E Broad St on August 6, 2013 speaking on Climate Change. (Columbus Dispatch photo by Tom Dodge)
Former Governor TedStrickland at the Athletic Club of Columbus 136 E Broad St on August 6, 2013 speaking on Climate Change. (Columbus Dispatch photo by Tom Dodge)

This piece is pretty pessimistic about downballot Democrats and its hard to disagree.

“The bench is not apparent right now,” said David Axelrod, the chief strategist for Mr. Obama’s presidential campaigns. “There are some impressive young leaders, but who among them is the next presidential nominee I can’t answer. A lot of them are not there yet.”

“Democrats have done a poor job, and I take my share of responsibility here, in not being as focused as Republicans have on building at the grass roots,” Mr. Axelrod said. “Look what the G.O.P. and their related agents have done with legislative and City Council and school board races. They are building capacity, and Democrats have paid the cost.”

Many promising young Democrats in the House have been frustrated by the reluctance of Representative Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader, and her aging deputies to step aside and let new members ascend to leadership — one of the few rewards for a minority party in the House. “I was on the recruitment committee, and a lot of candidates decided to take a pass,” said Representative Karen Bass, Democrat of California. She added, “There are people who are new to Congress and have a difficult situation because they are not going to be there for 20 years.”

Some simply leave. “I was one of the few Democrats not to support Nancy Pelosi for leader,” said Representative Gwen Graham, Democrat of Florida, who is retiring after one term and planning to run for governor. “We need new voices.” Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, once considered a potential House speaker, is running for the Senate.

Democratic ranks have also been decimated in state governments across the nation, where new leaders tend to plant roots for future higher office.

After the 2008 elections, Democrats controlled 62 of the 99 state legislatures; today, Republicans control 68 chambers, according to Governing magazine. Over the same time period, the number of Democrats in governor’s mansions fell from 28 to 18. In both cases, Republican control is now at or near historic highs.

There are a number of issues here. Frankly, Democrats should be crushing Republicans in Senate races this year and while it’s clear they will make gains, I think it’s fairly safe to say that as a whole, the party is underperforming given what is happening in the presidential race. Ted Strickland has been a disaster in Ohio. Katie McGinty is the definition of meh. Patrick Murphy is very shaky and Alan Grayson is a clown, leaving no good Florida options. Grassley could be vulnerable in the right environment, but Patty Judge hasn’t done anything and is not exactly the young, dynamic candidate who might push him out. If the Democrats do win the Senate, it’s quite likely because Evan Bayh decided to parachute into the race. I’m sure that will do nothing for his nonexistent ego.

But of course this extends beyond the Senate. The fundamental problem is still that Democrats didn’t show up in the 2010 elections, allowing Republicans to game the states through gerrymandering. There are fewer Democrats to build a strong reputation. And they exist now in the minority, meaning they don’t have many accomplishments to run on. Plus, Democrats simply don’t pay much attention to lower-level races. The emphasis on the presidency is a lot higher among Democrats than Republicans. Given Hillary is blowing out Trump, you’d think we’d see more of a shift to the states and while that may happen more after Labor Day, it sure hasn’t yet. Democrats seem to believe more in electing the national leader and thinking that person will solve problems, which they can’t without downballot races. This may be because Democrats are more grassroots and Republicans have the corporate support that know how to leverage power at the lower levels. And with the general abandonment of Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy, when you have an election like this, the Democrats are unable to run even halfway credible candidates against many House or state legislature members who might be vulnerable all of a sudden.

I did however wonder about this prognostication:

“Democrats are going to have their own Tea Party moment in 2018,” said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor and Senate analyst for The Cook Political Report. “I don’t think they are going to put up with the party dictating who their candidates are.”

I could see this going either way. Will the Sanders movement spawn a bunch of progressive candidates ready to take on established Democrats in primaries and launch grassroots efforts to knock them out? I don’t really know. I suppose it’s possible. It would also take a whole lot of organizing after the November election, which the base has not been good at doing in the last several years. I think also misinterprets the Democratic base, which is not so much loud college educated white liberals, but African-Americans and Latinos. So in some districts, yes, I think it’s quite likely you see some of this, but in the core of the Democratic districts, I am a lot more skeptical.

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