Election Results and the 10 for 20 Test
After an exhausting 2018 election cycle, we now take stock in where we are in Tennessee and Shelby County. Given the results of our top ticket races, it is easy to focus on the negative. Bredesen and Dean ran well-funded, “moderate” races. They did everything that the political class tells us that Democrats are supposed to do to prevail in Tennessee. Then they both lost. Soundly.
It is easy to focus on Bredesen and Dean’s losses. However, doing so misses the green shoots that are taking root throughout the state. For me, the story of interest is not that Democrats failed to win in a tough state. Instead, the story is how close we are to a political breakthrough. To understand that breakthrough, we have to understand the real plan.
The plan is simple. We have to flip enough state house seats (7 or 8) to threaten a shutdown (block a quorum) of the legislature. This will then give us negotiating leverage during the redistricting process in 2021. This in turn gives us a fairer (but likely imperfect) electoral map. This map will mean that in 2022 we are in a position to make deep electoral gains over the coming decade. It will be the Tennessee Democratic party of the future that can field and support a successful statewide candidate.
Thus, the project of breaking the Republican’s gerrymandered control on power was always going to be the work of many election cycles. However, looking below, the top line results of Bredesen/Dean’s campaign, we see where this work has been greatly advanced. Of the unofficial 2,218,000 votes cast in Tennessee, control of 10 house seats came down to just a total vote margin of 32,326.
It is worth remembering that in 2016 the Democratic party was unable to even field candidates in dozens of state house races. For example, that was the case in District 97 where Democrats didn’t even contest in 2016, but where Future901-backed, first-time candidate Allan Creasy came within 2,225 votes of flipping the district.
It was the case in District 83 where Future901-backed, first-time candidate, Danielle Schonbaum cut the Republican margin of victory in half from 2016 (3,653 in 2018 vs 7,394 in 2016).
Similarly, first time candidate Gabby Salinas came within 1,500 votes of unseating State Senator Brian Kelsey. She did so in the face of being outspent by an estimated $300,000 from out-of-state PAC money.
Further, at the start of 2018, Future901-backed, District 96 incumbent, Dwayne Thompson, was widely feared to face a losing reelection bid, having only prevailed by 300 votes in 2016. Instead, during this midterm (where Democrats are supposed to underperform Republicans), Thompson extended his margin of victory to 3,767.
So, what is the takeaway? We now have a clear understanding of where the districts are that we can flip to give us the 7-8 house votes we need for 2020. We also know who most of the people are that should run in those districts given their performances in this election. What we need is a serious plan to fund these races and that funding needs to start now. Future901 indents to be part of that process for these races in West Tennessee.
Next, I have avoided Monday-morning quarterbacking Bredesen/Dean. They faced tough fights on even tougher terrain. I also know that, in the final month of the campaign, they did quite a lot to help these house and senate candidates. However, their problem was that these down-ticket races were always an afterthought. They should have been part of both candidates’ game plans from the beginning. Messaging and resources should have been focused on helping flip these districts. If a few hundred thousand of the tens of millions had been spent helping these candidates early on, it would have potentially made the difference in finding the 32,326 votes they collectively needed. Instead, you had first-time candidates struggling to get mere name recognition with the public a month out from the election while all of the attention was on the top ticket races.
This leads me to a proposal that I hope progressives state-wide will adopt. I call it the 10 for 20 test.
We will soon see jockeying from candidates that wish to run against Lamar Alexander. We will also soon play host to many, many national presidential hopefuls that will want to win Tennessee in a primary race, want to take our donor money and want to recruit our volunteers. Great. We welcome them. However, I will not support any candidate for US Senate or primary presidential candidate that does not first help support these ten races. Whether it be getting their donors to assist our candidates or putting their field offices in the swing districts, we will be watching to see who is willing to give back.
I know that I will hear the disingenuous arguments from these federal campaigns that they cannot directly give to state candidates per election law. This is completely true. However, nothing prohibits the candidate from calling ten of their best donors and asking them to cut checks to these state house candidates and/or support a Tennessee state PAC that is helping them. Nothing prevents them from using their social media platform to help draw attention to these down-ballot races.
We came tantalizingly close to a breakthrough this election. 32,000 votes in ten races. If we stand firm in demanding that the national party give attention to these races now, we can secure the resources we need to finish the job in 2020.
Written by Robert Donati, a Future901 founder.
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