Another gut-punch loss for Democrats, another soul-searching moment.
Really, Democrats are having the same internal arguments about why they lost Georgia’s special election on Tuesday as why they lost the presidency in November. For one side of that argument, The Fix spoke to Alejandro Chavez, Democracy for America’s campaign manager, who was on the ground in Georgia. Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
THE FIX: What’s your takeaway from why Democrats lost a special election you thought you could win?
We cannot continue with business as usual. We cannot continue the same vote-targeting models, we cannot continue the same stream of centralized candidates who don’t run on a populist message. We can’t continue down these ways that we’ve seen haven’t work for us. We need to change things. And a lot of that has to come from the party’s leadership specifically. Meaning spend less on ads and huge TV programs and more on field operations. And we gotta be strong on the message.
Let’s break that last part down. What do you mean, Democrats have to get stronger on message?
If you look at Rob Quist in Montana and James Thompson in Kansas, they ran on a very populist message in their races, like on single-payer health care. And they closed the gap on Trump in those races.
Then Look at Ossoff, who ran in the middle of that. Trump won by 1.5 points against Hillary Clinton, and then Ossoff lost by four.
Everyone else picked up 14, 15 points on a 20-point lead. And one of the biggest things was they ran on a populist message that was clear.
So you’re saying, let’s engage the party’s most liberal voters?
It’s not necessarily about just resonating with them. There are a lot of people who are not registered that, if they were, under these messages, they would be Democrats.
Here’s an example: More than 50 percent of millennial Latinos don’t believe their vote impacts their day-to-day life. We need to make an impact with them on the message of not just ‘Trump is bad.’ But the things that are most important: affordable education, a living wage, comprehensive immigration reform; some of that will get these people to start being active.
We’re just not getting that message out in every race.
I hear you say millennial and Latino voters — Democrats’ sleeping giants — are the key to victories that have eluded the party recently?
Yes. And it has to be a clear message. And it has to be in districts like this. It’s not enough to just get independents and Republican moderates. We have to get this other chunk that’s not participating active. But it also has to be a clear message. It can’t be: ‘Well, if Trump is bad, then X, Y Z.’ It has to be: ‘I stand for this.’ That’s what moves people.
So, basically, run mini versions of Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign?
I don’t think it’s just what Bernie Sanders says. It’s a question of strategy. No one likes somebody who moves back and forth with what consultants are telling you. Nobody like that. There’s something about sticking by your convictions and saying what you stand for and running on that that I do actually think move people.
Implicit in what you’re saying is that a Democratic candidate who moderates positions, like Ossoff, doesn’t have conviction?
Moderate Democrats would fire back that the way to win over the working class, white, rural Trump supporter isn’t by getting more liberal.
I think they also some of the people who are disenfranchised. When you go into these communities there are a lot of these values that are shared. Everybody wants to have access to education. Everybody wants a livable wage. Those are the things that go across country, across gender, across racial lines. These are important to everybody and if we’re running on those convictions and those values, we’re not alienating.
Do Democratic candidates need to get more in-your-face about Trump?
I don’t know if Trump is the conversation to be even having. While he may be toxic, solely that has not translated into victories for us.
Republicans think that tying Democrats to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is working for them.
Nancy Pelosi is not where we need to go. She’s failed leadership. While she might be doing some great things in her district, the truth is she’s the person who’s been leading this front that we’ve been running on for years, so she has to go as leadership.
What she’s doing isn’t working. She’s the leadership, it’s failed and, ultimately, it’s her responsibility.
Do you feel like Democrats are under pressure to solve this disputes or miss their chance to cut into Republicans’ House majority in 2018?
This conversation should have happened Jan. 1. Hell, this should have happened back in 2016. So, hopefully this was a wake up call that we need.