On Wednesday, most of the Arlington Democratic establishment gathered at Nam Viet restaurant in Clarendon for the party’s annual post-election lunch.
Democratic officials and operatives shared stories from the campaign trail, exchanged thank yous and congratulations, and started looking forward to the races upcoming in 2012. It was an upbeat affair, following yet another perfect showing for Democratic candidates in Arlington.
But behind the triumph was a new reality: the very real possibility that Virginia Democrats may have lost their fragile grip on the state Senate, thus empowering Republicans to pursue a conservative social agenda unencumbered by the need for Democratic cooperation.
In conversations at the lunch, Democratic officials blamed the party’s statewide losses on a number of factors. Some said the races lost hinged mainly on local issues, and cited voter turnout as an area that could be improved. Others said recruiting more quality candidates and running better field operations would have helped. Nobody we talked to seemed interested in assigning blame to any particular individuals.
But former Arlington County Democratic Committee Chair Peter Rousselot, who wasn’t at the lunch, is pointing the finger squarely at state Democratic leaders. In an analysis of the election he wrote for the local Democratic blog Blue Virginia, Rousselot concludes that two of the state’s top Democrats should resign.
Among the resignations he’s seeking: Democratic Party of Virginia Chairman Brian Moran, who beat out Rousselot for the top DPVA position late last year.
An executive summary of Rousselot’s lengthy essay is reproduced with permission, after the jump.
These losses cannot be explained away as the result of “unique local circumstances”, election cycles, the Tea Party, the “Republican money machine”, or President Obama’s current poll numbers. To the contrary, these losses were caused by a series of very avoidable strategic mistakes that certain Virginia Democratic leaders made.
One year ago, because of my concerns about the defeats Virginia Democrats suffered in 2010 and 2009, I ran for Chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA). I am not interested in running again for that job, but I am much more concerned about the state of the Democratic Party in Virginia today than I was one year ago. In order to help us get to where we need to be, I present this analysis of what has gone wrong and what should be done to fix it.
The biggest strategic mistakes Virginia Democratic leaders made in 2011 were their adoption of a flawed, hyper-partisan Senate redistricting plan combined with very poor candidate recruitment for both the Senate and HOD.
Virginia’s Senate Democratic leaders, including Dick Saslaw and Mary Margaret Whipple, stubbornly insisted that the only way to retain a Democratic majority in the State Senate was to adopt a hyper-partisan Senate redistricting plan. Their plan was badly designed, and was combined with very poor candidate recruitment. They only recruited 3 Democratic challengers to Republican incumbent Senators while the Senate Republican leaders recruited 16 Republican challengers to Democratic incumbent Senators. The combination of these two mistakes unrealistically required Democrats to “run the table” and win every close race. We couldn’t and we didn’t. Moreover, as part of the price we paid for their flawed plan, Saslaw and Whipple agreed to give HOD Republicans free rein to draw the HOD district lines, virtually guaranteeing GOP HOD control for a decade.
As for the HOD, Brian Moran promised during his campaign for Chair of the DPVA that he would recruit Democratic candidates to contest every HOD race, making use of the contacts he made as HOD Democratic Caucus Chair and as a candidate for Governor. In fact, Democratic candidates contested only 54 out of 100 HOD races while the Republicans contested 73. Because of Brian Moran’s stunning HOD candidate recruitment failure, 46 HOD Republican candidates (only 5 short of an outright majority) had no Democratic opponent, but only 27 HOD Democratic candidates had no Republican opponent.
I conclude this diary with a detailed explanation of the reasons why we need to take the following critical steps to launch a Virginia Democratic resurgence: Dick Saslaw should resign as leader of Virginia Senate Democrats; Brian Moran should resign as DPVA Chair, and all Virginia Democrats should collaborate to be sure we achieve major reform of the DPVA.
Update at 11:25 a.m. — Brian Moran just sent the following email message to Virginia Democrats.
As the dust settles from the 2011 campaigns I want to offer you my gratitude for your unwavering support of our Democratic candidates and the causes that bring us together as a party. Having driven about every inch of this Commonwealth over the last several weeks I had a chance to witness first hand just how hard you were working right up to when the polls closed on Tuesday.
As we speak, the fate of the Senate is still undecided. The race between a respected public servant Senator Edd Houck and his opponent Bryce Reeves remains too close to call as officials continue to work on a canvass of the vote.
While we wait for the final conclusion of that race there are many reasons for Democrats to be proud. Prior to Tuesday’s elections prominent Republicans were going on the record stating that Democrats would lose between 5 and 9 seats in the State Senate. Despite facing down millions of dollars at least 20 of our 22 Democratic Senators earned another term. That is a remarkable achievement considering the difficult environment of the past two years and the enormous effort the Republicans made to discredit and tear down effective Democratic leaders like Phil Puckett, Dave Marsden, George Barker, John Miller, Toddy Puller and others who stood tall and persevered.
In addition to our Senate victories, Democrats from around the Commonwealth won local offices that will empower them to make a real difference in the lives of the families in their communities. Each of our candidates for local office deserves our thanks and congratulations, but there is one I would like to mention. Shannon Taylor joined the race for Henrico Commonwealth’s Attorney very late and she was up against the full might of Eric Cantor’s political machine. Few people gave her much of a chance against such long odds but despite all that she prevailed and will be a phenomenal chief prosecutor for Henrico. Shannon’s victory is a testament to the Democratic Party of Virginia’s commitment to doing more for local candidates and we will continue that commitment in 2012 and beyond.
There were also reasons to be disappointed. As a former House member I am distressed at the composition of the House. We need to rebuild just as we did last decade when we held as few as 34 seats but worked over three election cycles to be within striking distance of the majority. We start today recruiting and developing candidates to run in 2013. On a personal note, my good friend Ward Armstrong fought valiantly after being redistricted into a heavily Republican area but was ultimately unsuccessful in his bid to return to the House.
If indeed we end up with a tied Senate it will be more important than ever for us to work together. We must fight for an agenda that creates opportunity for every person. I hope you will take a moment and reflect on the enormity of the challenges we faced together this year and the many reasons for Democrats to be energized and optimistic heading into the future.
Many people have asked me what this election means for 2012. I sincerely believe that we will prevail next year. Despite Governor McDonnell pouring millions of dollars to attack our Democratic incumbents our grassroots community of Democrats stepped up and answered the call to mobilize Democratic voters. Next year we can increase voter turnout by more than two fold giving Barack Obama and Tim Kaine the support they need to once again win in Virginia.
Let’s resolve to take the energy created during this election cycle to power on to 2012 and make Virginia a better place to live, work, and raise a family.
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