Democrats must reshape message following election losses

Eamon Queeney—North State Journal
Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama share a moment as they switch places during a campaign event at the Charlotte Convention Center in July. Clinton's loss in the election and Obama's inability to sell voters on policies like the Affordable Care Act have Democrats rethinking their campaign strategy.

RALEIGH — Traditional conservatives are doing some soul-searching about the direction of their party after Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential race, with establishment GOPers facing an upswing in Trump-supporting populists who have a different set of priorities from old school Republicans.Trump’s win, however, was an even more stunning turn of events for Democrats, who not only failed to hold on to the White House but were also denied in their attempt to tip Congress in their favor.In North Carolina, Republicans held on to its super-majority in the General Assembly and won most of the Council of State races, making Gov. Pat McCrory’s loss to Democratic challenger Attorney General Roy Cooper easier to swallow.”The Democrats put all their eggs in one basket with the governor’s race. They were successful in that,” said Brad Crone, president of Raleigh consulting firm Campaign Connections. “So what the Democrats have to do is look at building a strategy that’s going to make them competitive at the legislative level.”After a federal court ordered North Carolina to redraw its districts and hold general elections in 2017, Democrats in the state could have the opportunity to quickly revamp their message and take another run at the Republican-held General Assembly.”It all depends on the districts,” said Courtney Crowder, founder of Crowder Consulting. “There’s still a lot we don’t know about the terms of next fall’s election. Elections are always opportunities.”While both agree Democrats need to revisit their message and structure following last month’s results, Crone doesn’t know that a 2017 vote is best for a rebuilding party.”Be careful of what you wish for,” Crone said of a potential 2017 election. “Democrats, I don’t feel a 2017 election cycle will be very favorable to them.”Crone pointed to off-year election turnout being favorable to Republicans, and he also said Democratic donors might be burned out from supporting expensive races up and down the ticket.”You’ve got government fatigue from absolutely just wearing out every Democratic donor in the state for your presidential, gubernatorial and United States Senate races,” Crone said. “Now you’ve got to come back in starting in January asking for more money. How do you finance it?”On top of fundraising, Democrats need to find their voice after two-term President Barack Obama’s administration wasn’t able to sell economic recovery or the Affordable Care Act to enough unaffiliated or on-the-fence voters.”There has been a lot of carnage in the wake of Barack Obama for Democrats,” Crone said. “You’ve lost 14 senators, 65 House seats, I think 15 governors, more than 900 state legislative seats, and it’s lost double-digit numbers of state legislatures. … So from a political standpoint, the impact of Barack Obama has been decimating to the Democratic Party at the local level.”Despite Obama’s approval rating sitting at 55 percent in the month before November’s elections, Democrats were unable to capitalize.”There’s a lot of issue and message development that has got to take place to be able to connect with people,” Crowder said. “In a way, yeah, it is a surprise that there has not been more success with Democrats over the last eight years, but again, it’s just more work to do.”Crafting a message that resonates with the Democratic base nationwide and in North Carolina will be tricky since the national party has moved more left while an in-state candidate needs to “have a message that will resonate on Main Street vs. a Chapel Hill/Asheville message,” Crone said.On top of drawing in Democrats, Crone said the party needs to fight off the changing Republican Party.”I think you have a two-headed tiger in the Republican Party,” Crone said. “You have what I call your Chamber of Commerce wing and then your trailer park wing. You don’t which wing is going to show up at any given point and time.”Crowder said it’s more important for Democrats to focus inward.”That’s where Democrats need to worry about what they’re doing, not what anyone else is doing, right?” he said. “I think part of what has to happen is Democrats being clearer with voters about what it is they believe and what it is they’re offering and what it is they’re presenting for endorsement, not what anyone else is doing. … I just think it’s a matter of being able to articulate clearly our vision. And that’s really where the party is right now, in need of a renewed vision for how it’s entering the market.”With 2017 elections a possibility, N.C. Democrats need to quickly build a platform they can sell to voters.”There needs to be new blood at the national level and at the state level. … North Carolina, I think at the state level, needs someone young, energetic who can help rebuild the field organization so that it can compete,” Crone said.