I called a long-time Democratic friend of mine to get his take on the upcoming election. He gave me his insights, but he wanted to remain anonymous so he could be brutally frank and not be treated as a pariah by fellow West Virginia Democrats.
I asked for a rating of Democrat Lacy Watson’s chances of upsetting incumbent Republican Carol Miller in the new 1st Congressional district—excellent, good fair or poor? His response was a category I had not mentioned—“non-existent.”
Next was his evaluation of the possibility of Democrat Barry Lee Wendell beating incumbent Republican Congressman Alex Mooney in the new 2nd District. Again, the answer was “non-existent.”
My friend was only slightly less pessimistic about the legislative races. He rated as “poor” the chance of Democrats gaining more balance in the House or Senate by at least eliminating the Republican supermajorities.
Now, these were just passing observations by a knowledgeable West Virginia Democrat. He might be off base, but I strongly suspect he is not. The once-dominant West Virginia Democratic Party has undergone an epic decline over the last two decades, both in offices held and party registration.
New party chair, Delegate Mike Pushkin, and his team have their work cut out for them. They must stop the slide and rebuild, and it does not appear that will start with this election.
The party has lost its bench. Not that long ago, Democrats fought it out in the primary and then coasted to a win in the General Election. Now, Democrats have trouble even filling the ballot. Twenty-four of the 100 House of Delegate races have no Democratic candidates.
The rebuild will be incremental and targeted, starting at the local level. The party must find qualified candidates to run in local races, city and county elections where they have a legitimate chance of winning.
The state has “blue geysers,” pockets of Democratic voters where candidates can be successful. If the Democratic Party does not know exactly where those voters are, then find them and appeal to them directly. Certainly, the national Democratic Party has the technology to help the party to identify those voters and the issues they care about.
Those issues may well be different from the national Democratic Party’s agenda. The state party and candidates need to meet voters where they are rather than where they think voters should be.
The two-party system isn’t perfect, but it does provide for some balance, and the minority party must at least be strong enough to be a check on power. Political commentator S.E. Cupp said, “When one party is losing so spectacularly, it emboldens the other party to overreach.”
The only check on West Virginia’s Republican Party now comes from the internal party disagreements—of which there are many. A return to a competitive Democratic Party would bring balance to government, while giving voters more and better choices.