Crowley: Democrats must focus on state-level races in near future

It is more obvious to think Republicans, having lost the presidential election, would now begin to reshape their party. But we sometimes forget that it is equally important for the election winners to enter a period of self-reflection, and to examine ways to improve moving into the future.

This is necessary because no two elections are the same. Each has a different set of issues and relevant constituencies. It’s critical that a national party does not take winning the next election for granted, and instead try to anticipate what will be required to win and adjust accordingly.

Democrats are now doing this, to an extent. Take, for instance, 270 Strategies, a spin-off group of President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign. Their goal is to help build up Democratic campaign infrastructure in states that are traditionally Republican. They even have an office in Texas – a state that, if it were turned consistently blue, would secure Democratic victories for a generation due to its high number of electoral votes.

Efforts like this are critical to the future of the party, but more can be done. Specifically, Democrats simply fail to compete in small-scale, local elections and they need to do better.

This causes problems for two reasons. First, many legislative districts are very small in scale, but collectively have huge policy implications. Representatives to the U.S. House of Representatives are elected locally, but we can see today that failing to effectively compete in many of these races has resulted in an intransigent Republican majority. Notably, the House Republicans are stopping much of the progress Democrats would like to make on the national level.

Further, nearly every swing state is controlled by a majority of Republicans in their state legislatures. This has not only allowed them to draw favorable congressional lines that could prevent Democrats from taking back the House for 10 years, but also allows them to push extreme right-wing policies at the state level. So far this year, Republicans have proposed severe anti-abortion measures in five states.

Second, local offices tend to serve as feeders for higher elected offices, in much the same way professional sports teams recruit from college teams. As Carmelo Anthony can attest, an all-star player can prove himself in a lower league just as an all-star candidate can prove himself in a smaller election.

This deficiency makes it more difficult to recruit for big-name elections. In New Jersey, both sides are gearing up for a gubernatorial election. The current Republican governor and likely 2016 presidential candidate, Chris Christie, is in a strong position to win a second term. This is largely due to Democrats having almost no serious candidates to oppose him.

Even if it were inevitable for Christie to win his second term as governor, a solid Democratic candidate could prevent the race from being as decisive. Such a close race would deprive the future presidential candidate of the fundraising and bragging rights that would come from a landslide.

Additionally, if Democrats do want to compete in traditionally conservative areas, we need to recruit heavily now to ensure we have the human capital to do so in the next 10 years.

These coming years should be the focus, even though it’s extremely difficult to justify spending time and money on recruiting candidates for state assembly races when a series of marquee senatorial and presidential elections come up every two years.

But the long-term vitality of the party demands we care about the little guy just as much. It’s time we started.

Colin Crowley is a senior political science and philosophy major. His column appears online weekly. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter at @colincrowley.


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