Speaking before the gathered state Democratic leaders yesterday, Terry McAuliffe gave his postmortem on the election. In his relentlessly upbeat style he maintains, "We put everything that we had on the table," but I am not yet fully convinced (NYT). I say this not as someone who wants to excoriate our outgoing DNC chair and those who worked so hard on KE04, but in order to talk about what is needed for '06 and '08.
He confirms what I suggested here before: Though the Democrats had sophisticated data on voters similar to the data Republicans had, it was not used to target the persuadables as carefully and aggressively as the GOP had. On the one hand, the Times reports:
Mr. McAuliffe took pains not to criticize Mr. Kerry or his campaign. But he offered what amounted to unusual and effusive praise of the campaign run by Mr. Kerry's opponent, in particular its use of consumer modeling to identify and appeal to specific segments of Democratic and independent voters.
On the other hand, these same data appear not to have been used as aggressively to broaden the Democratic coalition, which the Republicans clearly were doing:
He said Democrats were never able to catch up with a campaign that pressed Mr. Bush's opposition to same-sex marriage, to appeal in African-American churches; his opposition to late-term abortion, to appeal to Hispanics; and Mr. Kerry's support of gun control, to undercut Democrats in union households. While Republicans were doing that, Mr. McAuliffe said, Democrats were relying on more traditional means of drumming up turnout among typically Democratic areas.
"They were much more sophisticated in their message delivery, very specific targeted niche," he said. "Which is what we now need to do as a party."
Why exactly were we not doing so? Gore won the popular vote in 2000 but by a narrow margin, and reapportionment had shifted the advantage to red states since then. A Democratic strategy to use marketing data to firm up its base was a strategy to lose.
This is probably too harsh; I'm sure some effort was given to market to swing voters and maybe even Republican moderates. Nevertheless, the contrast is striking and is confirmed by the statements by McAuliffe this week and Ken Mehlman not long ago.
As Matt Stoller at MyDD and some others have written, McAuliffe did much to strengthen the party. For all the fears many had about the impact McCain-Feingold would have on Democratic fund-raising, the party is in better financial shape than at any point in recent memory. But the party no longer has an advantage in getting out the vote, and it found itself outmaneuvered in this election.
Fixing the problems need not result in self-immolation. The threats by MoveOn to take their toys and go home is hardly the right spirit. KE04 lost, but not by a lot. Our deep disappointment should not be mistaken for getting trounced; if anything, that merely confirms Bush's dubious claim to a mandate. There were some positives and the party should build on those rather than ripping it up from the roots.