State Democratic Party Chair Mike Tate has come in for his share of criticism in the six years he's had the position. But not from me, and that won't change now that Tate has decided to step down when his current term expires in June.
A party chair essentially does two things. First, he helps run the political ground game of candidate recruitment, voter targeting, phone calling and literature distribution. And second, he speaks for the party and tries to frame the issues, usually playing a bulldog opposition role, especially when a party is in the minority as the Democrats are right now.
Tate did both those things well. The Democratic ground game has gotten better on his watch, and if it didn't look as dominating in this last election cycle it's because the Republicans have improved to match the Dems. And his comments in the press were always consistent and appropriately aggressive for the role he was playing -- not the way I would like to speak and frame issues, but I'm not a party leader.
The only thing I really took issue with Tate on was his discouragement of a gubernatorial primary going into 2014. I thought that a primary would have provided some excitement and sharpened the candidates, but I don't think it would have ended up making a difference in the outcome.
Last November was a national Democratic disaster of almost epic proportions, and there was nothing one state's party chair could do about it. Consider that Republicans now control:
- Over 4,100 of 7,383 seats in the 50 state legislatures. This is the most they've controlled since 1920.
- Sixty-eight of 98 partisan state legislatures. The most in the history of the party.
- Thirty-one governor's offices, the highest number they've controlled since 1998
You can't blame Mike Tate for what was a national problem. As I've pointed out, the problem isn't that Democrats have the wrong positions on the issues, and money and redistricting only played a partial role. The real problem is that Democrats have so completely lost their base among middle-class white voters. Despite having an agenda (affordable health care, raising the minimum wage, etc.) that they should embrace, these voters went heavily for the other guys. Consider these Wisconsin numbers from exit polls during the November 2014 election:
- White men represented 44% of the electorate, and they voted for Gov. Scott Walker 62% to 37%. And challenger Mary Burke didn't do correspondingly better with white women, who she won by only nine points, compared to Walker's 25-point advantage with white men.
- Whites who didn't graduate from college were 51% of the electorate and they went 58% to 40% for Walker.
- Voters from families earning between $50,000 and $100,000 supported Walker 57% to 42%. Even families earning $30,000 to $50,000 split evenly between Walker and Burke. Together families earning between $30,000 and $100,000 made up 60% of voters.
My point is that the Democrats can't expect success at the polls if they continue to get annihilated among these middle-class voters. Given their advantages with other groups, the Democrats don't necessarily have to win over the white middle class or even pull even, but they need to do a whole lot better than they are doing now.
As long as Democrats blame money or redistricting or the local party chair, they'll miss the point and not address the real problem, which is that they are not connecting with large groups of voters who should be buying their policies and voting for their candidates.