Houtopia, a Bayou City blogger, offered this comment to my sourpuss post about why Chris Bell lost. I am going to publish it here, because I think it is very smart, without being right.
Mostly I agree that this race was lost for Bell the moment the Austin district court judge ruled Simmons could stay on the ballot. I know the D Party Chair complained loudly about this maneuver and other stacking of the deck against Bell in the runoff (part of his job, I suppose), but that’s life in the rough and tumble world of politics. Them that’s in charge makes the rules, and Ds would do the same if the shoe was on the other foot.
SD 17 still tilts Republican, particularly in a runoff situation like this one, so winning this was always going to be an uphill battle for Bell. The fact is, it is more difficult to turn out Democratic base voters, many of whom tend to be of modest income and low-information, than it is GOP voters, particularly with nothing else on the ballot.
With these marginal voters, one needs a highly organized, aggressive field effort, with a no-nonsense pocketbook issues message — E.g., thanks to the status quo in Austin, your light bill has gone through the roof, your kids can’t get health care, and forget about ever being able to afford college — that is relevant in their daily lives. That’s no small task.
Trouble is, many consultants don’t like to do field. It’s hard work, difficult to manage, and there’s no money in it for them. Much simpler to crank out a mail piece (which is pretty much a waste of money with marginal voters), and be done with it. But it ain’t gonna get you many votes.
Democrats in Texas will be successful in districts like these and at the statewide level when they can finally engage enough of these marginal voters to turn out. The good news is, there are more than enough of them in this state to get there. The bad news is, convincing enough of them that civic engagement and voting are important is tough sledding.
It’s going to be a while yet.
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I agree with almost everything in here, particularly Houtopia’s insight into the consultant world, and his assessment that “it’s going to be awhile yet.” But I disagree that the Democrats need to concentrate on engaging the marginal voter. That has been the Democratic mantra ever since I got interested in politics. It’s never going to work. The marginal voter just doesn’t have enough of a stake in the political process to be persuaded that his vote will make a difference in his life. If there are any hard and fixed rules in American politics that I believe in, they are (1) the same people always vote, and (2) show me a party that casts its lot with attracting new voters and I’ll show you a losing party. Even Obama could not change these truths. The youth vote increased by just one point, from 17% to 18% of the electorate.
The voters the Democrats should be concentrating on are those disaffected Republicans who have turned away from the party in large numbers because they have no affinity for a religious-based conservatism and the social issues that it espouses. The winning position in American politics is economic conservative/social liberal. This was the position from which Bill Clinton was elected president twice, in spite of…well, you know what it was in spite of. There ought to be a race going on in American politics for the first party to get to this position. I don’t see how the Republican party can ditch the social conservatives, so the Democrats have the advantage here. If they can be a credible moderate party, they can isolate the Republicans on the far right of the political spectrum. But idiots like Nancy Pelosi, who has already drawn the line in the sand about the White House not trying to ally with the congressional blue dogs, think that the whole world is like California. Oh yes, there’s one immutable rule in politics. The liberals always blow it.