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At Netroots Nation, Progressives Attack Consultant Class

“People don’t vote because they’re tired of lip service. Our party hasn’t been as bold … as in generations past,” said EJ Juárez.
At Netroots Nation, Progressives Attack Consultant Class

Yes, many of the Democratic consultants are just awful, and continue to run the same cookie-cutter campaigns that no longer appeal to voters:

PHOENIX—Good morning from Netroots Nation, the 10th annual gathering of 3,000 progressive activists, many of whom work for prominent interest groups on the left. With 2016 heating up – Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley speak here tomorrow – a central focus of the meeting is pulling the Democratic Party to the left during the nominating fight and beyond. Progressive activists, still processing last year’s thumping in the midterm elections, blame the Democratic establishment for blowing it by trying to water-down differences with Republicans.

“People don’t vote because they’re tired of lip service. Our party hasn’t been as bold … as in generations past,” said EJ Juárez, the director of Progressive Majority Washington, an organization in Washington state that tries to recruit and elect liberals to office. He complained that the rank-and-file have “ceded our souls” to Democratic operatives. Asked what went wrong in 2014, he identified “a consultant problem” that led candidates to play for the center when they should have been trying to fire-up true believers. “We live in blue states that don’t act very blue,” he said.

Nina Turner, the former minority whip of the Ohio state Senate, was the Democratic nominee for secretary of state last year and lost by 24 points. She complained that a veteran Democratic operative told her to downplay her race to appeal in rural parts of the Buckeye State. “I had a consultant say, ‘You happen to be black … Now, listen, don’t draw too much attention to your ethnicity,’” she recalled. “We’ve got to have a mindset change … I don’t happen to be; I am! … Any consultant that advises you to leave a group behind should be fired.”

Robert Cruickshank, a senior campaign manager at Democracy for America, the outside group founded by Howard Dean, moderated a panel yesterday afternoon on “Reversing the Democratic Collapse in the States.” He recalled arguing with consultants about which voters to spend their money targeting. They wanted to send mailers to the most reliable voters, while he wanted to invest in getting drop-off voters engaged. “A lot of Democratic candidates probably don’t speak enough to the base,” he said.


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— Many liberals are interested in running the same playbook that’s been used successfully by groups like Heritage Action, the Senate Conservatives Fund and the Club for Growth to pull the Republican Party to the right. Turner, of Ohio, said that progressives should employ scorecards to keep track of which Democrats actually follow through on their liberal rhetoric during tough votes, something that conservative groups have successfully used to put fear in the hearts of establishment Republicans.

I don't know that simply switching to a progressive litmus test is the best solution, because progressives will always differ in good faith on some subjects (check out the controversy over the current attempt to overhaul No Child Left Behind) and some issues are too complex to see clearly. But in general, yes, we need to hold candidates accountable.

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