Republicans are still trash-talking Democrats over the results of that special election in Florida’s 13th congressional district—you know, the one in which Republicans held on to a seat they had won for the last gazillion years, in which they beat a Democrat who didn’t really live in the district, and in which they beat her by a measly two points. But in order to hold on to that seat Republicans had to resort to lying about Democrats cutting Medicare, which is an old scam that will still fool large numbers of geezers—nearly 25% of residents in that Florida district are 65 or older—who hate big government except when it comes to their Social Security checks and Medicare coverage.
In any case, as David Axelrod pointed out last night on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes, the key to this Republican victory, much bigger than the lies about Medicare cuts and ObamaCare, is that people inclined to vote for Democrats just don’t show up to vote in special elections or in off-year, non-presidential elections. In 2012, voter turnout in Florida’s 13th District was well over 70%. For this election it was an underwhelming 39.43%. And we know that people motivated by fear or hate, or a devilish combination of both, are much more energized to go to the trouble of voting in low-profile elections than folks who are trying to scratch out a living every day. Thus, Democratic candidates suffer.
If Democrats are going to hold their own in the midterm elections, Democrats have to figure out a way to get turnout up or you’re gonna see defeats all over the map.
When asked what Democrats could do to fix the turnout problem, particularly in this coming election, Axelrod, the great political strategist for two winning Obama campaigns, offered this:
…we have to apply some of the technology, and some of the approaches that we used to get up turnout in battleground states, and really use analytics and research to identify where our voters are, to communicate with those people who we think we have the best chance to motivate. That’s point number one.
Point number two: For all this talk about how the President is radioactive, in many of the states that are in contention, particularly in the Senate race and in the South, the ability to motivate minority voters, African-American voters, is going to be very, very important. And using the President, First Lady, and others, surgically, to increase that turnout is going to be very, very important.
And then finally I think we got to go at them. I don’t think we should be back on our hind legs on healthcare. I don’t think we should let them define that fight. I think we should go at them on the minimum wage and some of these economic issues that go right to the heart of people’s pocketbooks. I think we ought to talk directly to women, who are very receptive to the Democratic message.
So, there are a series of things we have to do, but this should be a warning sign that if we don’t change the nature of turnout in the fall, we’re gonna have a big problem.
Turnout, turnout, turnout. That has to be the focus or we lose. But leaving that aside for a moment, the message is important, too. And as an example of going at Republicans and not backing down, of not being on our hind legs on healthcare, I quickly offer what Missouri’s Attorney General, Chris Koster—who will likely be the Democratic candidate for governor in 2016—said recently:
The Affordable Care Act was a Republican idea, for goodness sakes. They’re just pissed that we stole it…We Democrats believe in a basic bargain: Our children should be educated, our sick should have medicine, and our seniors should never live in poverty.
Koster, a former Republican, also said:
There may be no issue with which I disagree more with my former party than the issue of public health. On issues of medical research, on access to contraception, on expansion of health care to low- and moderate-income citizens…I am still frustrated by my former party’s 1950s-style public-health policies.
Yes! That’s the way you fight back against the attacks on ObamaCare. Call the reactionaries what they are: people who want to turn back the clock and endanger the country by doing so. And as far as Medicaid expansion in Missouri, which will help some 300,000 folks and create some 24,000 new jobs in the state, Koster was equally aggressive:
Put aside the lives that this will save. Put aside the healthy outcomes that will result. Put aside the emergency room visits that never should occur. This expansion proposal is still the best darn economic development proposal that this state has seen in the last 25 years. And for no other reason than because Barack Obama passed it, this legislature is willing to deny the health and economic benefits of expansion simply to spite a president.
That is the way you fight in the short term. Go on the offensive. Don’t back down or apologize for doing what is right. Fight.
But even if we fight, even if we stay aggressive, the reality of low voter turnout still may doom us this year. And should that happen, I want to now offer up a little hope for the future, a cushion to break the fall this fall.
Amid all the strangeness that went on at last weekend’s CPAC circus, I saw a panel discussion involving conservative Republican pollster Whit Ayres, who is one of the top dogs among right-wing political consultants. He was trying to tell Republicans the truth about their electoral future, namely that if they don’t open their eyes to the changing demographics of America, they are doomed as a national party. To a mostly white audience of conservatives he said:
The percentage of the national electorate that is white is declining at an increasing rate.
Ayres pointed out to the gathered palefaced Palinistas that, yes, Republicans will have a very good year in 2014, mainly because “the white proportion of the electorate is about 5 percentage points higher in midterm elections.” (Whoopee! White = right!) But then he dropped the news that the 2014 midterm election “is only a temporary respite, because the ethnic makeup of younger Americans differs dramatically from older Americans.” (Uh-oh.) He presented a chart of the ethnicity of people alive today:
As you can see, and as Ayres told the faithful, white people under five years of age make up only 52% of the population. And the trend is down from there. He finished up with this graph of future reality:
That declining number of whites, as a percentage of our population, represents not only the reason why we see so much white fear and anxiety associated with Barack Obama, but it represents the declining fortunes of a reactionary, Tea Party-controlled GOP. The future of the Republican Party looks bleak, if things don’t change. The long-term prospects for Democrats, no matter what happens this year, look good.
But, as David Axelrod reminds us, if Democrats can’t figure out a way to get our folks out to vote in every election, every year, then the reactionaries will continue to muck up our politics and our country for many—too many—years to come.