Running away from the president is a recipe for Democratic failure

The biggest problem with the Democratic Party and its prospects in next year's midterms might not be the economy or jobs or health care after all. The problem might be rank stupidity.

A new poll from Research 2000 indicates that Democratic turnout on Election Day was low because, quite simply, Democrats didn't run as Obama Democrats. Creigh Deeds, for example, ran for governor and was completely destroyed on election day by Republican Bob McDonnell -- a disciple of evangelist and leg-press titan Pat Robertson. It's also worth noting that McDonnell once wrote that a woman's place is in the kitchen, and he opposes contraception. This guy beat the Democratic candidate in an increasingly progressive state that went for President Obama in 2008.

How did this happen? No, it wasn't the economy, as we previously thought.

Deeds, it turns out, ran against the Obama agenda -- probably, in part, because he misread the August town hall crowds. The other explanation is that Deeds was running a campaign based upon an old, outdated playbook, which is why he's been shoved out to sea aboard a political ice floe.

Research 2000 showed that 64% of Obama voters in 2008 didn't turn out on election day. The polling also showed that the candidates, especially Deeds, were "not progressive enough." I'm not exactly sure from where Deeds got his demographic and polling information, but clearly he didn't get the word. So consequently, he ran to the middle and against the Obama agenda, which is firmly planted on the center-left.

On health care reform, for example, Deeds opposed the president's plan for a public health insurance option. It turns out that, according to Research 2000, only 6% of voters in Virginia were attracted to Deeds because of his opposition to the public option, while 41% said they were "less excited" by this contrary position.

Of course instead of framing health care reform in a way that appeals to voters, he instead ran away from the issue altogether -- the stereotype of the cowardly Democrat. What he and other Democrats have yet to fully grasp is that reform is an easy sell. It's about the economy, it's about making life easier and it's about entrepreneurship.

Deeds and others haven't yet grappled onto these very basic selling points. Reform will reduce the deficit, according to the Congressional Budget Office, by up to $100 billion -- in part by controlling spending. Who's against that? Reform will allow Americans to save more of what they earn because they won't be spending as much on health care and premiums. Reform will mostly end health insurance-related bankruptcies and deaths, and so it'll reduce our collective worrying about whether we'll have adequate care and whether we can afford it. And, last but not least, it will generate a whole new wave of Americans starting up small businesses because, for the first time ever, we'll be able to either take our insurance with us, or we'll be able to buy into an affordable plan with subsidies.

By simply explaining health care like this, Deeds could've won support from both the middle and his left flank. Instead, he took the quick and cowardly approach.

A fellow blogger once told me a story about how she was talking with a high ranking staffer from the Joe Sestak campaign. In Pennsylvania, Sestak is running against Arlen Specter for the Democratic senatorial nomination next year, and has a long road to travel in terms of name recognition as opposed to his well-known opponent. And while Sestak is running as the progressive alternative to Specter, my blogger friend suggested to the staffer about framing the public option in terms of creating a new wave of small businesses. The staffer was briefly confused and then suddenly there was an ah-hah! moment. Neither the staffer nor Sestak thought to pitch the public option with the small business entrepreneurial frame.

This is indicative of a continued inability of the Democrats to embrace a new way of campaigning and defining the message.

Democrats haven't yet recognized that progressivism isn't something to apologize for or to run against. Despite polling that shows "liberalism" to be lagging behind "moderates" and "conservatism" in terms of broad stroke ideology, when asked about individual issues, Americans are absolutely center-left. We're mostly in favor of a woman's right to choose. We're mostly in favor of government involvement in health care and the public option. We're in favor of regulating how guns are sold. We're in favor of a separation of church and state. We're in favor of socialized programs like Medicare, Social Security, SCHIP and Medicaid. We're increasingly embracing same-sex marriage and LGBT equality. Democrats even have a record of fiscal responsibility that far exceeds that of Republicans (compare the Clinton surplus with the record Bush deficits). It's really just the word "liberal" that's been stigmatized over the years, not the positions themselves.

Democrats also haven't recognized how and why Howard Dean's 50 state strategy was successful in 2006 and 2008, or how Barack Obama defeated both the Clinton machine and a decorated war hero despite a foreign-sounding name and bi-racial background. For the longest time, Democratic politics was based upon merely reacting to Republican attacks by capitulating and moving to the middle in order to disarm those attacks.

Only when the Democrats seize the political initiative while also standing their ideological ground have they enjoyed victories like 2006 and 2008.

Creigh Deeds did neither of those things. He was a terrible candidate, ignoring every successful strategy of the last four years. And he ran away from things that Democratic voters believe in -- ideas that helped President Obama win in 2008.

Stupidity. Deeds lost because of stupidity. It's not like this information how to win is super secret. It's just ignored.

So as the 2010 midterms grow larger in the window, Democrats would do well to look forward and run as Obama Democrats rather than looking backwards by a decade to losing strategies involving weakness and moderation. And the Democratic leadership -- and especially the White House -- would do well to issue the following memo to all Democratic candidates:

To: Democratic Candidate X
From: Democratic Leadership
Subject: Winning in 2010

Remember Creigh Deeds.

If they ignore these lessons, 2010 will be an epic fail for the Democrats.

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