Advice for Democrats on Winning the Midterm Elections

Bob Neuman







If you were a recent college grad or dropout with no job or underemployed or selling your mind and body as an unpaid intern, do you give a (bleep) about the Koch brothers?


If you had been terminated from your job and denied extended unemployment benefits, did the Koch brothers do it to you?


Your food stamps have been cut; your voting rights threatened; there is no path to citizenship for you and your friends and family and over a million have been deported over the past few years.


Did you know the Koch brothers did all that to you?


If you are a woman seeing a constant threat to healthcare decisions and a woman in the military facing an unfair justice system who would you blame, the Republicans or the Koch brothers?


The populations most vulnerable to those outrages are hardly aware of the Koch brothers.  They sound like a coughdrop maker.


I believe only a minuscule number of Democrats and Independents know of the very real threat to our country’s decency – and our base responsibility to those less advantaged – posed by Sheldon Adelson and Koch brother types out there wielding hundreds of millions of dollars in what I call “The Dark Campaign”.


So the intent of the Democratic campaign organizations to shine a light on those threats and that Dark Campaign is commendable, but I am not sure it will work effectively enough to turn the tide in close Senate races.


Seeking a message that will rally those who believe the Republican House majority and the Senate minority have stymied any White House and Democratic efforts to bring the objective of fairness back to our national policies.


Case in point, the Paul Ryan budget – which brazenly targets spending cuts that give the middle class and lower income Americans opportunity while cutting upper income taxes and still increasing spending on defense even the Pentagon doesn’t desire – ought to invite scorn and passion.


But it didn’t.  It should and I would hope the Democratic leadership seizes on the Ryan travesty and efficiently alerts the decent majority to vote down every Republican House Member and Senator who stands with the Ryan budget.


The Republicans are basing most of their attacks on the Affordable Care Act, and to some extent, even with the target for signups reached, a majority of Americans still unfavorably view Obamacare, though that number is falling, the issue will be a strong factor in close contests in key states like Arkansas, Montana, Colorado and New Hampshire.


The fact is that Obamacare isn’t the target.  The real target is Barack Obama.


And that is hard strategy to counter as long as he is vulnerable to external events, Ukraine and Syria, for example, where he does not have the diplomatic or military tools to control events like in the bad old days of Panama and Granada under President Reagan.  And where the President does not reap any enthusiasm for a rallying economy.



The President was badly hurt by the ACA rollout.  When you can still get laughs on the late-night television shows just by saying “Obamacare” you know you are in trouble.


In my humble view, the most effective strategy employed by the Dark Campaign will be to link vulnerable Democratic candidates to the White House over and over and over again.


Enter “fairness”.


Betraying my age, I recall meetings of the Democratic leadership in the dark months after the defeat of President Carter and the Democratic majority in the Senate in 1980. As a functionary of the Democratic National Committee at the time, I participated in those meetings.  We fumbled around trying to find a way to rally our troops for the upcoming 1982 mid term elections.


The DNC was broke and the House and Senate leaders (Tip O’Neill and Robert Byrd) were not exactly buddies.  Their contempt for the DNC was palpable.  The Speaker during those strategy sessions joined by DNC chair Chuck Mannatt would refer to him as “Charlie”.


Then the Republicans gave us a wonderful gift…two in fact.   One was a proposal to revamp Social Security the second was “trickle down economics,” a naked attempt to revise the tax code so that lower taxes on higher incomes would result in an economic stimulus that would eventually benefit lower income earners.


Despite some misgivings by the more noble of our colleagues, we set out a two-pronged attack, despite our woeful financial situation, and focused on those two issues under the mantel of fairness.  We held a “mini issues convention” in Philadelphia that emphasized fairness.


It worked.  We did very well in the midterm election.  Thanks to a weak economy and a spot-on message, the Democrats picked up 27 House seats, and one in the Senate.  By midterm standards, it was an impressive comeback.


Can today’s Democratic leadership energize those groups affected most by the McConnell/Boehner coalition that has bowed to the Tea Party and turned a campaign of “Hope” into “Nope’?


We have a “passion gap” among the Democrats.  And “passion” is what we need and “fairness” is the key.


Author Bio:

Bob Neuman served as a speechwriter and administrative assistant to Rep. Morris Udall. He is a former DNC communications director.

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