Sometime in the near future the leaders of the West Virginia Democratic Party should have a retreat where some soul searching will be in order. The party of Robert Byrd, Jay Rockefeller and dozens of other successful Democratic politicians over the years is adrift, foundering on the shoals of Election Day defeats that were unthinkable just a few short years ago.
Consider the following:
–The re-election of the state’s three incumbent Republican Congressmen—David McKinley, Alex Mooney, and Evan Jenkins—was never in doubt. The average margin of victory was 65 percent to 32 percent.
–Leading up to the 2014 election, Democrats held a 24-10 advantage in the state Senate. Two General Elections later, the Republicans hold a 22-12 majority. Republicans seized control of the House of Delegates in 2014 with a 64-36 advantage and only lost one seat in last week’s election.
–The GOP tweeted out over the weekend, “Based on results pending from Tuesday, every WV county is now represented fully or partially in Charleston by a Republican, but Braxton.
–Prior to the 2014 General Election, Democrats had locks on the Constitutional offices of Attorney General, Secretary of State, Auditor, Treasurer and Agriculture Commissioner. Several of those seats had been controlled by Democrats for generations. But now Republicans occupy all but one of those seats. Only Democratic State Treasurer John Perdue remains.
–Democratic voter registration has dropped from 65 percent in 1994 to 46 percent today. Those precipitous losses have erased the long-held Democratic advantage of just getting a reasonable turnout from their party on Election Day.
–The most successful Democrat this election was Jim Justice, who won the Governor’s race convincingly over Republican Bill Cole 49 percent to 42 percent, but Justice was the exception, not the rule. He had significant personal wealth and he ran more on his persona than his politics. He even rejected the national Democratic Party’s presidential nominee.
–The state’s leading Democrat, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, is up for re-election in two years. A handful of potential Republican candidates are already lining up to consider a challenge. That would have been unimaginable not long ago.
So what does the Democratic Party do?
I’ve heard rumblings from the party faithful that it’s unclear what they stand for. The New Deal Democratic base that coalesced around the working class has disappeared as the national party has moved farther to the left and the Republican presidential nominee has seized on populist ideas.
I’ve also heard some Democrats suggest the state party should adopt the leftward tilt of the national party, but that would be risky. West Virginia is a conservative state and Hillary Clinton, who espoused the increasingly liberal policies of the national party, received just 27 percent of the vote.
One suggestion is to adopt the strategy the Republicans used in gaining control of the state: Recruit stronger candidates and run better races. That has little to do with policy, but it forms a basis to build upon.
The state’s Democratic Party leaders are no doubt grieving over the election results, and that’s understandable. Its next phase should be a candid analysis and a new plan for the future. Otherwise, the results of the next election in West Virginia are already predictable.