Optimism Over Potential Senate Gains Buoys DNC Summer Meeting
WASHINGTON — Okay, so a gathering of the Democratic National Committee is a bit like a rancorous family coming together for Thanksgiving dinner — there are differences over particulars, little asides that cause one after the fact to say, “Wait, what?”
But as three days of individual sessions progressed at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center this week, the overriding sense one walked away with was that while not overconfident or getting ahead of themselves, Democrats are feeling pretty good about the situation they find themselves in less than 60 days before the midterm elections.
Appearing before the group Thursday night, President Joe Biden appeared to personify the feeling in the hall as he strode to the podium to urge his fellow Democrats to “organize, mobilize and … vote, vote, vote.”
After months of hearing how the midterms were going to be a washout for his party, Biden’s broad smile and renewed energy signaled the momentum had shifted considerably.
Not only has the administration notched several key policy victories, but once-surging gas prices have subsided significantly easing inflation pressures, and controversial decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court on abortion, the powers of the Environmental Protection Agency and other issues — all supported by Republicans in the House and Senate — have stoked widespread anger at the GOP, even cutting into its candidates’ fundraising ability.
“I want to be very clear up front, not every Republican is a MAGA Republican … the mainstream Republicans, there’s still a few of them left,” Biden said at one point, striking a conciliatory note, during what was an intentionally partisan speech.
But with that, the president offered a no holds barred assessment of the GOP, telling his appreciative audience that if Republicans had their way, “They’d come after contraception, marriage equality, the whole right to privacy. …”
And further calling the party out, saying “you can’t be pro-insurrection and pro-democracy” at the same time.
He went on to mock Republican lawmakers who’ve gone back to their districts touting new bridges and roads being built with infrastructure law funding they voted against.
“They ain’t got no shame,” the president said to appreciative applause.
“Guess what,” he continued. “Republicans talk about being fiscally responsible, but we’re the one’s reducing the deficit. … Last year I reduced the deficit by $350 billion.
“You’d think that if they really cared about inflation, reducing it, they would have voted for the Inflation Reduction Act, but every single Republican, in the House and the Senate, every single one … voted against it,” Biden said.
With that, a loud “boo” rippled through the crowd.
“Now every single American needs to return the favor and vote them out of office,” Biden added as the boos shifted to loud cheers.
Revving Up the Faithful
Appearances by the president, Vice President Kamala Harris, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff and Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana (who visited with a group of rural Democrats Friday morning) were explicitly intended to rally the party faithful.
The real work during a series of 90-minute sessions over the three-day meeting, however, was solidifying the party’s ground game and sharing best practices not just for the midterms, but even more so for the presidential contest two years from now.
Over the course of the meeting, Jaime Harrison, the South Carolinian who is chairman of the Democratic National Committee, played the self-described role of “hype man,” using humor and passion to keep his vanguard focused on their purpose.
“My predecessor, Tom Perez, used to talk about how Rome is burning, well, democracy is on fire right now,” Harrison said while visiting a group of Midwestern Democrats.
“And there are some people with matches in their hands. There are some with pails of water, trying to douse the flames, and then you’ve got some folks who are just standing around talking about the color of the flames,” he continued. “Folks, it’s time for people of goodwill to stand up and grab a bucket and put out those flames.”
Harrison jabbed at what he described as the Republican party’s single-minded quest for power, and accused it of having no platform or policy beyond self-aggrandizement.
And he hammered away at the idea that the Republican response to Democratic success wasn’t to wage a battle of ideas, but rather to simply game the electoral system by supporting candidates for “governor and secretary of state and attorney general who don’t believe in the sanctity of elections.“
“Let’s try to get the system so that when it comes back around in 2024, these states aren’t the difference makers,” he said.
“Right now we have some elections coming up that are crucial to saving American democracy,” he said. “If we are not victorious in these elections, God help us all,” Harrison said.
Of course, partisan rhetoric was to be expected at a partisan event. But if there was a consistent central theme to the three-day event it was the need to get out and tell the party’s story — now, of course, the Biden-Harris administration’s story.
Moving from room to room to talk to each of the groups, Emhoff spoke at length about what the administration had accomplished in 19 months.
“But we can’t just sit here and rest on our laurels, assuming everyone knows what we’re doing,” he said.
“We have to be out there, pushing, reminding people and showing them what we’ve done,” he continued.
To underscore the urgency of doing so, Emhoff recalled how he was an attorney, basically tending to business, when his wife, Harris, became the vice-presidential nominee.
Suddenly, he said, he found himself “plucked from my COVID lawyer workspace” and totally immersed in campaigning.
“And we worked hard to the very last day, believing Trump had to go because this country could not survive another four years of his administration. Literally, everything was riding on the outcome of that election,” he said.
“Two years ago, we all said, ‘This is the most consequential election in our lifetime. Because we literally have to save democracy.’ Now, two years later, guess what, we have to do it again,” Emhoff said.
“And in some ways it’s even a little worse, because they’ve told us what they’re going to do if they gain power again, and it’s not about governance. It’s not about helping people. It’s about a bunch of nonsense that has nothing to do with public policy.”
Transmitting the Message to the Grassroots
A short time after Emhoff made his rounds, Melissa J.C. Sterry was sitting in a convention center courtyard with fellow members of the DNC Veterans and Military Families Council, helping a reporter cut through the spin and get down to practicalities.
“The DNC is structured in two ways,” Sterry explained. “The caucuses, like the women’s caucus or the LGBTQ caucus or the Black caucus, are made up exclusively of DNC members, who are elected by their state parties.
“So, a state like Maine will send its chair, its vice chair, its executive director, its male DNC member and its female DNC member, and they can sit on the caucuses of their choosing,” she said.
“The councils, which also account for a number of events on the meeting schedule, are more like constituent-based groups, composed of volunteer Democrats from around the country,” she said.
“So for instance, in our case, our council focuses on turning out veterans and military families to support candidates — hopefully also from the veteran and military family community — running for state or federal office.“
Whether a council or a caucus, the purpose of the sessions within the larger meeting is to share information.
For instance, in the Environment and Climate Crisis Council session, attendees were asked to share three “reflections”: What was one win they had this year and how will it propel future success? What does success look like in their state in 2022? And what is one thing that was being done in their state that they wanted to share as a best practice?
Once digested, the messaging at the broader DNC meeting is communicated to state directors and regional coordinators, and then passed down to the people on the ground who are actually trying to get the Democratic vote out.
“For instance, for us, the recently passed burn pit legislation is a massive, huge, life-changing event for our veterans. … So when we’re talking about what the Biden administration has done for veterans, this is a big thing that we talk about,” Sterry said.
“And remember, there are 18 million veterans in this country and with every veteran goes another two or three votes — from parents, spouses, children, siblings,” she said.
“So it really is a case of gathering here, talking to each other, talking about what the Biden administration has done and then transmitting those discussions to the state chair, who’ll call the county chair, and then the county chair will call the town chair, who calls everybody on our Rolodex giving them the names and phone numbers of veterans and their families,” she continued.
“And from there, it’s knocking on people’s doors and telling them this story. It’s sitting in the local VFW and reminding a fellow veteran of what Joe Biden has done for their community while you’re drinking a beer.
“It’s really the essence of what politics is supposed to be about, and each of the councils that is attending this meeting is going to do that for their respective demographic group, whether it be rural voters, environmentalists, interfaith organizations, small businesses … and hopefully, as a result of all these efforts, we’ll be partying in November and December, only to start the whole process rolling again next year,” Sterry said.