Part of Beltway conventional wisdom is that you start running for reelection somewhere around noon of the day after you get elected. But this president, already different from those who came before him in so many ways, will follow his own path here as well. Obama intends to serve his first term as president focused not just on the next election, but on doing the smart and hard things to strengthen us in the generations to come. He approaches every day with a long-term view of what he intends to accomplish at the close of four, or eight, years. It sounds simple, but trust me, it is about the hardest thing to do in Washington, D.C., where every tiny deed is scrutinized for its political content and impact.
And it gets even harder in a season like this, when news outlets and pundits can’t seem to stop talking about how tough these elections will be for Democrats. But when it comes to campaigning, we have quite a few things going for us, and if the Democratic Party can show progress and leadership that is attractive to Independents and the middle of the electorate, then I believe we are positioned to have significant electoral victories, and legislative ones too.
To start, there is the demographic trend toward younger and more diverse political activism. Look at the growth areas of the electorate: Latino voters make up a larger and larger share of the electorate and are of special importance in key battle ground states in the West like Nevada, New Mexico, and Arizona, which will be a new key battleground in 2012.
Still, Democrats will not win elections on demographics and tactics alone, nor should we. To put it simply, we have to lead. I think the recent passage of health care reform is a strong argument Democrats can make for reelection, but we can’t stop there. We have to continue to lead in key areas to improve the lives of every citizen, just as we did with health care.
We also have to run good campaigns as Democrats. Good campaigns focus on how to get 50 percent of the vote, and how to make sure they have enough resources—financial, technical, and human—to see them through to Election Day.
Technology in the digital space is playing a bigger part in our businesses and in people’s live, and that means it’ll play a bigger part in our politics. Campaigns need to link up with how people are living their lives, that way people who want to help out can volunteer and get information in stride, just as they do in all the other parts of their life.
It is also critical that our campaigns believe in the grass roots. We need to make sure people feel empowered and that they’re armed with the right information so they can become a message army for us. This is not a luxury, this is an essential ingredient, and it has to be at the core of every successful campaign: a sense of urgency and weight of every single vote.
And one big thing that Democrats need to do heading in the fall election is show the real face of today’s Republican Party. The number of eligible voters who identify themselves as Republicans is as low as it was during Watergate; in some polls it’s as low as 25 percent. Their party is down to an irreducible core of very conservative Republicans, whose actual leaders are not elected officials, not members of Congress, not governors. The real energy in the party is coming from Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and other rock stars of the hard-right punditocracy. It is very important that our party and our candidates make sure voters understand that this is the Republican Party that’s on the ballot. A party with leaders of supreme intolerance. A party that believes that the Bush economic policies that brought on the Great Recession and resulted 10 million people losing their jobs were the right way to go. A party that took a huge surplus and turned it into staggering record deficits, driven by unpaid wars and huge tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. A party led by people who foment anger and controversy to make a name for themselves, and to make a buck. They have no answers and take no responsibility; they just complain. The only thing they have to sell is fear, blame, and hate, and they’ve priced it to move.
Yet we need to do more than deflect their arrows—we need to launch a few of our own. We have to lay out the picture for people in very concrete terms what the 2010 election is about. We need to make sure that this is not just a referendum on the Democrats but that it’s a choice.
A lot of Democrats are crouching in fear of 2010. We can’t crouch. We need to stand up and pugnaciously make our case. If we fight, if we lead, and if we understand the world we’re living in, and run campaigns that honor that and are consistent with that, then we can have a better election outcome than many prognosticators believe.
If we seize this moment, if we have the ability to tell the American people in the years to come, the decades to come, that we laid a strong foundation that led to growth, that has led to more equity in terms of financial progress, that has made the world safer and made America stronger, then both Democrats and our nation will dominate the next decades. And we will deserve to do so.
Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from "The Audacity to Win: How Obama Won and How We Can Beat the Party of Limbaugh, Beck, and Palin" by David Plouffe. Copyright © 2011 by David Plouffe.