Get It Together, Democrats
The Democrats should consider holding a midterm convention in 2018.
By Peter Fenn | Opinion Contributor
April 13, 2017, at 4:45 p.m.
More than ever, political junkies of both parties are focused on the latest shiny object. We focus on tweets from President Donald Trump, the latest gossip on who is up and who is down in the White House wars, the real conflicts with Syria, North Korea, Russia – even special congressional elections have been catapulted to front page news.
Some of this will matter as we approach the 2018 and 2020 elections, but much of it won’t. The key is to sort it all out and focus.
The Democrats need to get their act together, take a longer view and prepare for the midterm elections. They need to pay particular attention to their messaging this time around, and also recruit candidates early who can take on Republican incumbents.
One idea the Democratic Party should consider, under Chairman Tom Perez and Deputy Chair Keith Ellison, is organizing a midterm convention in June of next year. Bring together candidates at all levels, feature the key races, lay out the message for the fall 2018 campaign, raise funds, show unity and pull together all segments of the party to focus on Trump, the Republicans and a real change in direction. In short, tell the Democrats’ story.
In the modern history of the Democratic Party, there have been three midterm conventions; admittedly, not all of them were successful examples of unity. But one I was involved in during my early days was in 1982.
We met in Philadelphia for several days and kicked off the campaign for the midterms. I was the executive director of Democrats for the 80s, the PAC created by Pamela Harriman and the leaders of the party, and we unveiled a comprehensive, several hundred page “Fact Book” that hit hard on the Republican record and proposed Democratic solutions to a whole host of issues and problems. It had the statistics, the arguments and suggestions for speech material. Leading Democratic experts authored chapters and the result was impressive.
For many candidates up and down the ballot this became their political bible for the next five months. In those days, we had to actually pay to publish a real book – 10,000 of them actually – whereas today you can just put it up on a website.
The 1982 mini-convention featured not only possible presidential candidates for 1984, but the impressive candidates that were recruited to run all across the country. The press was hungry for a Democratic response and we gave it to them. Democrats had been pummeled in the 1980 Reagan landslide, losing 12 Senate seats and 34 House seats, in what could only be characterized as a political tsunami. We were licking our wounds in 1981, much like today, but the midterm convention became a strong organizing tool to get back into the trenches.
The midterm elections in 1982 were fueled by a well-organized Democratic effort, and resulted in regaining 26 of those House seats we lost in 1980 and a strong showing across the country.
In order to pull off a major effort next summer, Democrats should begin planning now. Discussion with the myriad groups and organizations who would be involved should start now; efforts to raise the money and select a host city should begin now; pulling together the authors of the “Fact Book” should begin now. Assignment of responsibilities and working with state parties should be pulled together as soon as possible.
The midterm convention would be much less extravagant and much less costly than a regular convention, of course. It would not need the huge hall or the large number of delegates or last nearly as long. It could be done over a long weekend, in three or four days. Workshops could be held instead of long periods of speeches; experts could be asked to do training and fundraisers could be organized; social media would be a centerpiece of the activity. The party could feature the stars in the Democratic constellation and give them a forum and national attention.
But, most important, this would be the time to kick-off the fall campaign and have a coherent, cohesive, compelling message that Democrats across the nation could unite around from June to November. It could also be a way to ensure that all the groups and activists who are pounding the pavement and energized after last November are part of an organized effort to actually win elections. Not exactly a revolutionary thought for a political party!