Lessons from Georgia, Stacey Abrams, the DNC, DPNM and Xochitl Torres Small & a Tribute to Our Vets

Too often Dems try the same formula: appease moderate Dems, appeal to the GOP, and ignore your base and the untapped, unengaged populations that could expand your base. Our CD-2 race was a disaster; Georgia provides a different model. Read on.

We need to find some means of shifting both the NM Democratic Party and the DNC or we could be in for a big surprise in 2022 and 2024. But before we dive into these issues, it is Veteran’s Day and so we pay tribute to those who have given their lives and those vets who continue to fight for peace.

Veteran’s, Since 1945 Most Often Victims of Imperialism,
Not Defenders of Freedom

Veterans for Peace, Santa Fe

Today, we honor those veterans who have given their lives in service of their country. Certainly those vets who gave their lives in WW II, did so most nobly and in defense of freedom. But while their sacrifice has been no less noble, since 1945 veterans have laid down their lives in one misguided imperialist venture after another. Korea, Vietnam, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and a myriad of other more clandestine efforts to prop up puppet leaders friendly to US corporate interests or US economic hegemony. Very seldom have any of these military or paramilitary attacks been aimed at securing justice, freedom or economic equity. But I suspect that few of the vets who have died in these colonialist ventures were thinking about capitalist expansion when they donned their uniforms and gave their lives. They were serving their country. And so, today we honor their sacrifice.

But we also honor the veterans who since the Vietnam War have protested these wars and the sacrifice of more lives. The greatest honor we could pay our vets is to resist the military industrial complex here in NM (LANL, Sandia, Kirkland), to implore our national leadership to cease its overt and covert intervention in the affairs of other nations and to support organizations like Veterans for Peace in their ongoing efforts to choose peace over war and to secure rights, resources and supports for veterans in our communities who are too often forgotten except for on Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day when we bow our heads to their sacrifice..

So, in honor of Veteran’s Day, please consider a donation to the Santa Fe chapter of Veteran’s for Peace. Click here to contribute to the Joan Duffy Santa Fe Chapter of Veterans for Peace. Veterans for Peace advocates with its allies to ensure that the perspective, needs and priorities of veterans are respected and to advocate for peace.

The Democratic Party:
When Will It Learn?

Despite abundent evidence that running to the right is a losing strategy and mounting evidence that aspirational campaigns to educate voters and expand the base, Democratic Party leadership seems incapable of learning its lesson. Today we examine two NM state races, one where we have won a tremendous victory and one where suffered a humiliating loss. We then shift gears and examine what we can learn from successful races run in Geogia. Bottom line, the mainstream Democratic Party seems hellbent upon running to the center, ignoring the needs and aspirations of the working class people and communities of color that have been their historic base. Instead the party runs too many milquetoast candidates and offers tepid messaging to try to draw in moderates and Republicans. While this messaging may garner some votes, it eliminates any hope of inspiring a far larger voting block, those voters who never vote because they see nothing to vote for.

First, CD 2 and the Xochitl Torres-Small Disaster & Senate District 23 and Harold Pope, a Study In Contrasts

I want to acknowledge that I don’t know CD-2 as well as many. I also want to state the obvious, CD-2 is a much more moderate district than either CD-1 or 3. In 2016, Roxanne and I canvassed for Torres-Small in 2016 because we believed she would work to educate her constituents and build a base of Democrats committed to its principles. That simply did not happen and her 8% loss to a terrible GOP candidate is the result. Retake has written often about the national Party’s failure to embrace their FDR ideals. Our August 2017 piece outlining how progressives won impressive victories in 2016 despite national results tilting red. This piece and others we’ve written critiquing the DNC are instructive and point to how a different kind of Torres-Small campaign might have elicited a better result.

If you did nothing but watch the ads, you would think that the Herrera — Torres-Small race was a GOP primary. There was absolutely zero aspirational messaging from Torres-Small’s campaign. One of the best things about November 3 is that we no longer have to watch her at the shooting range or hanging out at a fracking operation.

I received numerous emails from Retake subscribers from CD-2, most all lamenting the messaging of the Torres-Small campaign. She shot guns, toured fracking operations and when attacked for voting 95% of the time with Pelosi, never once noted any of the significant benefits that went to CD-2 voters as a result. She could easily have made this a referendum on Trump, his non-response to Covid, the hundreds of thousands of lives lost, his Party’s failure to extend Covid relief, and Pelosi’s strident advocacy for Covid relief for people, not just corporations.

I can already hear centrists say, “but this is CD-2 and messaging that works in Santa Fe isn’t gonna fly down here.” Of course it won’t, but that does not mean you need to run what amounted to a GOP primary in November. I recall a conversation in July with one of NM Dems top campaign operatives. I was asking about Harold Pope’s chances against Sen. Rue. I was told that Pope had no chance because he was running too progressive a campaign for a moderate distric

But not only did Pope run an unabashedly progressive campaign, he inspired hordes of volunteers and donors to join that effort and he easily defeated a very popular Republican incumbent in a very moderate district. Lesson learned: if you give people an inspiring candidate and a clear, progressive message, you will do far better than running an uninspiring candidate who tries to look like a Republican-lite. Besides, how can Democrats expect the nation to understand who they are and what they stand for if they change principles and priorities based upon their perception of what some voters want.

Despite Harold Pope’s impressive win and Torres-Small’s dispiriting loss in CD-2, I’ve heard some suggest we just need to use redistricting to make CD 2 a tad bluer. Perhaps a better strategy is to embrace long held blue policies and principles to inspire people not just to vote, but to work for the party. And as demonstrated in Georgia, sustained, year found voter outreach and education campaigns, can boost the Democratic voter roles without trying to gerrymander your way to election wins.

Mainstream Democratic Party Messaging

I’ve written about this in several posts, most recently: “Why 40+% Will Vote for Trump,” and “How We Went Wrong & How We Can Get It Right.” Since the 70’s the Democrats have run from their FDR roots, abandoning the working class folks that were supported by FDR policies and who overwhelmingly voted for him. Suce the 80s the Democratic Party has turned its backs on labor, rejecting one progressive principle after another beginning with accepting Reagan’s credo that government can’t help people, cutting taxes on the wealthy and corporations repeatedly over decades, draining the government of resources to serve the public benefit, while bestowing huge wealth on the rich.  We’ve entered into trade agreements that were good for Wall St. but bad for working people. We have not fought for a $15 minimum wage or any meaningful increase in the federal minimum wage.

Over time, this has led to the erosion of support for the Democratic Party from working people. The Dems have stopped courting communities of color and the poor, except to ask for their votes every two years. All the while the Party simply assumes that they will safely vote for Dems because the GOP is worse, all the while the Party caters to Wall St.. And while many of the long-time Democratic faithful among labor and working people continue to vote for the party, we are simply failing to inspire young people and we haven’t done much to advance good reasons for the disenfranchised to vote.

And when Trump came along promising to drain the swamp and asking what has the DP done for you lately, his message resonated.

Which brings us to Georgia and Stacey Abrams.

Over the past ten plus years, Stacey Abrams and the two organizations she founded, the New Georgia Project and Fair Fight, have built a huge base in Georgia, not by running to the middle but by engaging in grassroots organizing voter education, and voter registration. In just the past two years, their efforts have resulted in over 1 million newly registered Democratic voters in Georgia. And Georgia flipped blue by a mere 30-40,000 votes.

We’ve all read about Georgia’s flipping blue and awarding its electoral votes to Biden and its now having two Senate runoff races where the Dems can take control of the Senate with two wins. But this is not the only place where Abrams’ strategy has come to play. In the House 7th District, a suburb of Atlanta that had been controlled by the GOP for over 25 years, an unabashedly progressive Democrat, Carolyn Bourdeaux won the seat last week. In the 5th district another suburb of Atlanta that tilts purple, Democrat Lucy McBath won re-election, running on affordable health care, sensible gun legislation and women’s right to choose.

I’ve given this a good deal of thought, not just in relation to Torres-Small, but in relation to why Trump was elected in the first place and why he secured over 70 million votes even after four years of driving us through the pits of hell. While we should celebrate our win, we also need to question how we could possibly have won such a narrow election in a campaign against a mad man who has practically destroyed the nation. With 70 million Americans voting for Trump, we have not won a ringing endorsement of the Democratic Party, nor have we achieved a repudiation of Trumpism. Why not?

So, the real lesson in NM CD-2, (and likely in other House races) is that Democrats lost because Torres-Small ran a campaign that sounded more like a sensible Republican, instead of going out and using all that ad money to educate CD 2 about how moderately progressive policies actually benefit the very folks she was trying to attract with her pro fracking and shooting range ads. Moderate Republican voters didn’t believe her ads or her and those same ads completely turned off a whole lot of Democrats. I can’t tell you how many emails I have gotten from CD 2 folks saying that they were gonna hold their nose and vote for Xochitl out of fear of the alternative….But they weren’t going to contribute or volunteer. 

At a national level, the Party needs to learn that it was the progressives and the grassroots activists in Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia, and other cities across the nation, who won the presidential campaign for Biden. The Party needs to give Dems especially the working poor, the poor, and communities of color good reasons to continue to vote for, contribute to and work for the Party or we will be in for a surprise in 2022 and 2024 when there won’t be an existential fear driving people to the polls. Perhaps DPNM needs to invest more in commuity based organizations with roots in CD-2 and other NM communities, to educate and inspire the disinfranchised, to register those voters, to cultivate their support with policies that more resemble FDR than Ronald Reagan.

What do you think?

In solidarity & hope,

Paul & Roxanne



Categories: Economic Justice, Community & Economic Development

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21 replies

  1. Thanks Paul & Roxanne.
    I think you expressed my feelings exactly. So many long time southern NM Dems have told me that this is a traditional republican district that cannot be won on progressive values, but that republican lite message didn’t cut it against very effective ads calling Xochitl a Pelosi clone with a D rating from the NRA. Many people voted for her last time as a protest against Trump. This time she didn’t project that she was against Trump and many of her ads stated that she supported Trump when his policies benefited New Mexicans. Obviously this was the wrong message.
    Bob Libby

  2. I lived in CD2 for many years and was a key worker in several campaigns. CD2 has always been and still is majority Dem and majority minority, so redistricting isn’t the answer. Getting voters out, which has been an ongoing issue for many years, is the only thing that will work. From my experience, I have found that Hispanos esp prefer personal contact, which Dems didn’t do in this pandemic year. R’s did.

  3. Yes, they democratic party has been feckless for years. Read George Lakoff , The political mind. The Democrats try to use fact, reason, logic, none of which have any effect. The Republicans know how to push the emotional buttons, for example, “the welfare queen“, “crooked Hillary“. This is what gets the vote

  4. Thank you for your very candid assessment of the state of the recent elections. I hope everyone who reads your article will take it to heart and work for needed change in Democrat Party campaigns. Political changes won’t be possible without year around efforts. eg.. Stacy Adams efforts in GA. We can all learn a lot from her. Keep up the good work.

  5. Well Said. It seems to be Moderate Democratic Leaders (are you listening Marg?) who run from progressive values and issues. The NMDP needs to stop bowing to the lost values of GOP and start claiming the future — renewables and how we will adapt to survive and build a new economy for the people as Climate Change becomes undeniable. Adhering to the past is not a successful strategy. At some point, Progressives, Greens and Working Families will form a new coalition and NMDP will be lost in the dust.

  6. So spot on! I’ve thought about this so much, beginning this year when I worked for the Elizabeth Warren campaign. Joe Biden was close to the bottom of my list of preferred candidates, but both my husband and I worked for Common Cause to get out the vote. Unfortunately I can see the cycle starting again…be nice to Republicans, backtrack on progressive solutions, reach “across the aisle.” Some Dems mock blue collar Republicans for voting against their own interests, but my dog, we’re doing the same thing. How can we turn this thing around?

  7. Thanks to all for addressing this CD2 race straight-on. It is a poster child for the establishment Dem refusal to listen to the people, to have the courage of their convictions (what ARE their convictions anyway?), and to double down on losing strategies. If you’re risking “losing”, risk telling the truth and have some cajones while you’re at it. But then, one has to have authentic principles and leave the hubris behind. Please don’t tell us that we have to keep on keeping on with the ever-more-apparent corporate bought-and-sold Dem establishment. I voted against Trump – that meant I put my mark in the Biden column. But, the difference is that – in my own set of priorities – I had no intention of supporting Biden and weak Dem accepted talking points post election. Really – just “we’re not Trump” is never going to get this country what its’ citizens are suffering for, what they are crying out for. I’m will support the real deal – and the establishment Dems are not it. As many astute comments have reflected, “It never should have been this close – period.”

  8. Paul, you captured my feelings about the Torres-Small campaign completely. I am relieved not to see those ads anymore. I do not live in CD2, but if I did, I could not have brought myself to vote for Torres-Small (“Ban fracking? Not on my watch!) in spite of all the party rhetoric about unity an any cost.

  9. So many people continue to vote for Trump because there is no real alternative, and if nothing else, Trump has accurately captured the indignation and rightful anger of the public. The Democratic party is too busy courting the corporate interests while condescendingly chastising the rest about why they are wrong in not voting for the Dems or in demanding any substantive change.

  10. It’s critical that national and local Dems draw the right lessons from the election. Already many are blaming progressives for being too vocal and letting Trump brand Democrats as ‘socialists.’ This is bunk, but Dems went into a defensive crouch rather than defend policies and values to help working and rural Americans. If Biden will fight for a $15 minimum wage and forgiving student loans and healthcare for all and a big infrastructure program, he will earn support. Fight means fight, be 100% in favor and explain why.

  11. Adam, we have been through this already – they won’t draw any lessons. They will find someone to blame their losses on (the Russians, China, Bernie, etc.). The only way for the Dems to change is to be unapologetically taken oven by the radical left. I am using the word “radical” as in “getting to the root” of the problem, as in when Howard Zinn said that he liked being called “a radical,” reclaiming the term.

  12. 2020 Democratic Primary Results. The “left” needs to learn from this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Results_of_the_2020_Democratic_Party_presidential_primaries

  13. Although I agree with much of what everyone has said, I am deeply concerned about the failure of Democrats to have a huge victory. I have found a theory in Thomas Picketty’s huge book Capital and Ideology, a theory that seems to make sense about why the current Democratic Party fails to attract the voters it should. He is looking past the traditional Left vs Right breakdown that seemed to hold sway through the 1950’s. Now he says there is a different binary division that is imposed on the old Left vs Right or Democrat vs Republican model. One of the binary divisions is egalitarian vs inegalitarian. That is the Inegalitarians support governments that support the wealthy while Egalitarians support redistribution of income to the lower classes. The other binary division is between Globalists vs Nationalists. Globalists support free trade, free flow of capital around the world, and immigration. The Nationalists are opposed to free trade and immigration. Each party is split in two:

    Inegalitarian/Globalist Democrats are basically the oligarchs and their supporters who seem to control the media and the mainstream party. Biden is clearly one of them The Egalitarian/Globalists believe in a strong safety net and progressive taxation. They support immigration. This would be the Sanders wing, the Working Family Party and the Democratic Socialist Party. On the other side, the Inegalitarian/globalist group are the oligarchs funding the Republican Party: the Koch Brothers, Adelson and others who pushed through the Tax Cut and the Federalist Society that put right wing/pro business judges in the Federal Courts. I don’t think they care about immigration. Then there are the Egalitarian/Nationalists. Trump promised to “Drain the Swamp” but we know now that was a lie to attract voters who are nationalists, anti-imigrationists, as well as overt racists. ie he is a demagogue who tricked the lower middle class and nationalistic voters to combine with the Inegalitarian oligarchs to create an electorally effective coalition. At the same time the Inegalitarian Globalist DNC has no effective message for the Egalitarian/globalist part of the party. Thus the intense fight between the two.

    Even though there is good evidence that egalitarian ideas are wildly popular in the country, the media control and the resources behind the DNC are not going to let the Egalitarian/Globalists into the halls of power in the DNC no matter what they say.

    One solution that Retake Our Democracy could take on is to push for Ranked Choice Voting in NM. I think Maggie T-O is open to the idea, so perhaps an effort by Indivisible and Retake, and other Egalitarian organizations could pressure the Legislature to pass RCV this time around.

    What do people think? I am sorry that this is pretty geeky and Capital and Ideology has been a slow grind to get through, but I think we have to look deeply at new ways to think about politicds.

  14. I appreciate Retake Our Democracy’s efforts to make the Democratic Party more progressive in message and action. I think it’s a misconception, though, to see CD2 as a moderate district. CD2 has a solid majority of deeply conservative voters who simply do not agree with Democrats on culture, style or the basic issues, no matter how deftly we message or advertise. Xochitl was able to win the district in a non-presidential year, but this year 65,000 extra voters showed up for the presidential election, two-thirds of whom were there to vote for Donald Trump. While they were there they voted against every single Democrat on the ballot, including Xochitl. This is a simple fact of life not only for CD2, but in dozens of other congressional districts around the country, just as it is, in reverse, the case for Republicans with no hope of ever wining AOC’s or other strongly Democratic districts.

    I also suggest that we de-personalize these discussions a little bit. Xochitl Torres Small is a smart, courageous, deeply honorable person who stepped up and won in 2018 against all the odds. She voted (as Republicans charged!) with the Democratic House majority leader 95% of the time, including to impeach the president. She’s a friend to progressives, not an enemy, and she deserves our appreciation and respect.

    • Thanks, Don for your comment.

      I agree that we shouldn’t personalize this. It is more a party issue than a personal one. But the point is that even if Dist 2 is more conservative than Dist 1 or 3, they still have more Dems than Republicans and if you add Dems and DTS together it is 63% of registered voters in CD 2. But to motivate those Dems and DTS to support Democratic values, we need a long-term organizing and education strategy to help voters understand what Dems stand for and why that is good for CD 2 voters. They need to motivate them. The CD-2 campaign in 2020 was like a GOP primary and Xochitl’s messaging didn’t even remotely advance Democratic Party principles, priorities and policies, so how does it advance the Party’s standing in CD 2. The campaign should have started the day after the 2018 election with ongoing messaging about why Xochitl supporting so many “Pelosi” bills and why they were good for CD 2 voters. Voter registration for CD 2 from 2020 SOS page, below.
      Dems: 154,210 39 % Lib: 3,383 1 % GOP: 141,746 36 % DTS: 94,473 24 % 393,812 31 %

  15. Paul, I absolutely agree with your overall point about the importance of year round outreach/base building and the importance of continually educating all voters about the benefits of Democratic values and policy. One small point about CD2: tens of thousands of those registered Democratic voters, especially in the southeastern counties, don’t vote Democratic and haven’t since the Harold Runnels era ended 40 years ago, and that generation will be with us for another decade or two. Many other registered Democrats, of course, are theoretically reachable, but tribal loyalties (as in defining oneself through “live free or die” or supporting Trump) have been pulling many away into territory that will be hard to recapture. I’m not arguing against the remedy you’re proposing, but cautioning against expecting it to be — absent re-districting — enough to fix the underlying demographic problem in CD2.

  16. I heard yesterday that Eric Holder had personally taken the helm of guiding these down-ballot races for the DNC. What? No wonder we showed so poorly. They need to put Stacy Abrams in charge of elections and GOTV nationally.
    I also saw a post today that showed an example of dark money backing unknown candidates in several states with surnames that would attract local votes, to just tip the scales in favor of the Republicans in the race. It is frustrating.

  17. I can’t say that I follow the reasoning of this piece with regards to the race in CD-2. You think that if Torres-Small had portrayed herself as a progressive and advocated for a fracking ban, the green new deal and other policies supported by the progressive wing of the party she would have done better? In that case, her ads would have looked pretty much like Herrell’s attack ads against her. I find it very difficult to believe that such a campaign would have been more successful in CD-2.

    I think that there is just as good of a case to be made that Torres-Small went down because of having too progressive of a voting record while in office – the afore-mentioned 95% voting alignment with Pelosi and voting for Trump’s impeachment. (Recall that in 2018 Torres-Small didn’t have a voting record to defend).

    I also think that Pope’s win in Senate district 23 doesn’t offers much evidence that progressive campaigning is the clear path to democratic victories in moderate/conservative districts. Senate district 23 is in Bernalillo County (which has been trending democratic over the last few election cycles) and Sander Rue, the republican incumbent, only won by around 800 votes in the 2016 election cycle out of ~23,000 votes cast. As such, SD-23 is hardly a republican stronghold like CD-2 has been since the 1980’s.

    I also think that the evidence from Georgia isn’t as clear cut as you make it out to be either. Yes, Stacey Abrams with the New Georgia Project and Fair Fight have done a lot of great work getting democratic voters registered, but there has also been a fairly large number of people moving to Georgia from the Northeast and West coast and have brought their politics with them. This has had a clear impact on voting patterns is Georgia. See
    https://www.georgiatrend.com/2020/03/31/at-issue-blue-state-exodus/

    What will really be more telling is how well the two democratic candidates do in the senate run-off elections in January. Jon Ossoff is on the more conservative end of the spectrum among democrats, while Ralph Warnock is a true card carrying progressive in the Abrams mold. If Warnock does better than Ossoff, that would support your argument, but it should be noted that in the regular democratic primary that Ossoff won with over 52% of the vote against six other candidates, none of the more progressive candidates (such as Maya Dillard Smith) got more than 9% of the vote.

  18. Nice to see this discussion happening. I’d like to add two points-
    one is that DTSs down here are not necessarily Demleaning. That may be a safe assumption up north but I think it is closer to a 50/50 divide in CD2.
    The other point is that we still need to expand the electorate. Great that over 68% of registered voters participated, but that means nearly one in three did not. And of course there are still all of the people not even registered.
    I’d like to believe that an unapologetically progressive platform and candidates will turn those people out, but as Don cautions, it won’t be in one election cycle or even a couple. And then those candidates will need to deliver. So let’s hope our new state senate does just that!

  19. I know Xochi and have had conversations with her. I first met her when we were working for Obama in 2008. As the local MoveOn organizer, I have led protests at her office on immigration issues and support for asylum speakers. We have had a couple of heart-to-heart conversations on the border issues. I encouraged her to run before years ago.Our local Indivisible group worked to get her elected and then re-elected. Frankly I get a bit irritated about all the analyses coming from folks who don’t live in CD-2. If you want to beat Yvette, come on down and work with us.

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