Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Rebuilding A Temporarily Dead End Country Road

Our West Virginia field listserv still keeps us in touch and today, this NYT article on what the hell happened in West Virginia was the topic of choice (see comments for entire text).

It's a bit of a discouraging article for Democrats - especially to those of us who were in West Virginia. Here are a few points of interest:

1.) The article begins by saying that WV Dems "could practically taste" a Kerry victory on the eve of the election. I guess I was already out by then. It never felt like anything less than an uphill climb - which, I'd argue - was actually a good thing for us field organizers. I woke up each morning with a burning sense of fight.

2.) "This election will make it respectable to be a Republican," said ousted WV Justice McGraw's campaign manager. That may be true - and it is a very bad thing for a state where FDR still hangs over many a fireplace.

3.) From the article:

But they were deeply dismayed by Mr. Kerry's showing. Four years ago, Vice President Al Gore all but ignored the state, and his loss could be written off to neglect. This year, Democrats were out in force for months registering voters, recruiting volunteers and defending Mr. Kerry's positions on gun control, coal mining and steel tariffs. Yet the margin of defeat grew.

"The Democrats did everything right by the playbook and still got blasted," said Robert Rupp, a professor of political science and history at West Virginia Wesleyan College.
It's the "playbook" reference that is a harbinger of bad things. Of all battlegrounds I can think of - West Virginia should have been the place where the old book still worked. With the exception (albeit important) of the eastern panhandle, increasingly a Washington, DC bedroom community, West Virginia isn't undergoing a lot of demographic change. Well, except in the wrong direction. People aren't coming - they're going. But the folks who remain should've been life-long, diehard, yellow dog voters. But those dogs don't hunt anymore. So while I don't fault anyone for using the old playbook, it's clearly time to start drafting a new one.

4.) Most terrifying of all: The Reeps are "confidently looking to challenge" Robert C. Byrd in 2006. Sweet Jesus. Were he to lose, it would be as sure a sign of the coming apocolypse as anything I could think of. According to the article, Byrd's anti-Bush campaigning will prove a liability in 2006. I'd hate to think that's true - but then again, Joe Manchin certainly displayed his cautious side by doing - in a word - nothing for the Kerry campaign. And he won by 60 points. I'll let you guess as to who I think more admirable. In his defense, Byrd says:

"I have always known where the values of West Virginia lie - patriotism, faith, family, opportunity, a clear sense of right and wrong, and justice," Mr. Byrd said. "The Democratic Party needs to get back to reflecting those core principles."
And that's what hurts most. At what moment was our guard down long enough to let the Democratic voters think that Bush was a better embodiment of those values than the Democratic party and its candidates?

West Virginia is the perfect case study - the confusion of the Democratic Party in real-time. And it had an excellent field program - at least from my vantage point. Strong people who wanted to win getting up everyday and doing what needed to be done. If we can fix West Virginia, I think we can fix the world . . . .

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