If it takes a movement, not a candidate, aren’t we all responsible?

(This began as a diary comment, but I’m expanding it given the encouragement of some community members.)

Kos has published a diary on the frontpage that links to Benchmark Politics’ Twitter feed with an excerpt from exit poll findings that DecisionDeskHQ published last night for the Wisconsin primary.

If you take the finding at face value, it suggests that one in seven Sanders’ voters could not positively recall who they voted for in the downballot Wisconsin Supreme Court race between JoAnne Kloppenburg and Rebecca Bradley. Some may have voted Kloppenburg, some not, some not at all. While this race was ostensibly “non-partisan”, educated voters closely following local politics knew that there were marked ideological differences between the candidates, with Bradley embraced by the GOP, whose allied groups spent 4-to-1 on the race to turn out Republicans to vote for her.

The first problem here is that we really can’t take the DecisionDeskHQ exit poll at face value. By their own admission, the final exits excluded the final two hours of voting (where a Sanders surge was evident), excluded early voting, and in fact predicted a lopsided Kloppenburg victory (she’d lose by six points). Her loss was most explicable by the fact that GOP primary voters composed 52.3% of all voters in last night’s primary. How much did Rebecca Bradley take of the statewide vote?

Exactly 52.3%.

Her victory correlated to the decimal point with GOP voter participation rates in the state.

While the data above shows that the DDHQ exit poll was self-evidently wrong on core details of the Kloppenburg defeat, Markos produces some pretty broad generalizations from it about the limitations of Sanders’ movement-building, and his presumed culpability in failing to build coattails for downballot candidates.

This is odd, given Markos’ own skepticism about past exit poll findings suggesting, for example, Sanders successfully splitting the Latino vote in the Southwest, among other things. This case was even worse – a private exit poll with a huge margin of error, which reported on an unrelated race asked of a candidate segment of a partisan subsegment (literally <40 respondents in the cohort), excluded early and late voters, and yielded reportage that was hardly dispositive – the answers were ambiguous at best. There’s precious little signal to extract from the noise here, and it’s clear Markos recognizes this, but draws fierce conclusions anyhow. Because: narrative, horserace, and it’s time to put this process to bed.

But let’s say that in a theoretical universe, one in seven Sanders voters last night were indeed less clued in to the Kloppenburg-Bradley contest. Does that tell us much about the kind of race Sanders or Clinton is running, or the nature of progressive movement-building at all? Who bears the greatest responsibility for surfacing the Kloppenburg race to Wisconsin voters, and more to the point, of mobilizing voters to get to the polls to defeat Bradley?

I don’t think there’s any question that Clinton is activating the most reliable Democratic base voters – seniors, African-Americans, women over 40. Clinton’s core constituencies are older base Democrats who vote reliably Democratic in every election. These are the ones who already know about local races, because they are hardcore partisans, and being much older, are also already aware of regional politicians, having been through multiple election cycles.

Last night was not evidence that Clinton’s camp worked harder to educate voters on state issues. It was much more easily explained as demographic correlation in effect – older base voters already knew about Kloppenburg, and older base voters voted Clinton. These are really legacy Democratic voters, and they are responding to a legacy political brand – Clinton is fortunate to get these voters’ knowledge base for free. But truthfully, they would likely vote for any Democratic nominee, and vote straight ticket, including for less prominent candidates downballot, regardless.

Since a significant portion of those who voted for Sanders last night were new voters, younger and non-partisan, it’s a little presumptuous to assume that there will be uniform ticket punching for state and local races. But assuming they might do so, who bears primary responsibility for educating these newly engaged voters about all local and state races? Is it just Sanders himself? Or is it the Democratic Party, to include Hillary Clinton and her campaign, third-party issue and policy orgs, grassroots volunteers, and most especially online communities like this one?

Why does only one candidate – and one running a focused national race – bear responsibility for voter activation and education on state judicial races? Doesn’t the Democratic party and its frontrunner, who lost the state by 13+ points, also bear responsibility for failing to educate new and independent voters? (Clearly Clinton’s message did not reach them either.) You can’t have it both ways – either Clinton and the Party reached them, or they did not. And last night they did not. And this is potentially prefigurative of the general election, after all.

Doesn’t the Democratic Party and its frontrunner bear responsibility for activating, educating and mobilizing new voters to actually vote for the frontrunner herself? (Is there any robust evidence that Hillary Clinton is actually growing the party, and shouldn’t there be?)

In the context of a “wave election” – which is what the Democrats need to correct for losses in multiple off-year elections – what does it really matter that one candidate is most engaging the already-engaged?

Frankly, if you want to call someone to the mat for Kloppenburg’s defeat last night, Markos Moulitsas bears responsibility as well.

Markos has been trying to shut down the primary phase of this contest since early March – and he has been laser-focused on the presidential horse-race, without serious consideration of the impact this has of lowering turnout, decreasing registration and voter activation in those state and regional races that are scheduled coincident with the respective primary contests.

Again, you can’t have it both ways.

You can’t say the primary is over and not have downballot Democrats suffer for that preemptive conclusion.

If Wisconsinites had heeded Markos’ message, the Kloppenberg-Bradley race would have been an absolute blowout in Bradley’s favor. Instead, it perfectly correlated with the ratio of GOP to Democratic participants. This is a ratio that Markos’ recent messaging has sought to, perplexingly, tilt in the GOP’s favor, at least until the summer conventions.

I don’t understand this at all. Even if it were mostly theater, shouldn’t this site be invested in a vigorous contest with maximal participation until the last primary is done? At least for the Kloppenburgs to come?

While I have not personally been invested in the horserace this cycle (both candidates seem flawed and don’t represent the younger, diverse party that the Democrats have become), I am very invested in the potential of a wave election, and keenly aware of the fact that the Sanders’ coalition is the very coalition that Democrats need to build such a wave in November. The very constituencies that Sanders is most activating – youth, whites, independents – are the constituencies that Dems struggle most to activate and retain. We won’t take back the Senate and win downballot races on base voter mobilization alone – especially if the GOP nominee is not-Trump, and there’s increasing evidence that it will be not-Trump.

So the misdirection in Markos’ recent diary, which continues a pattern of misdirection since early March when he called to accelerate the end of the Sanders-Clinton contest, continues to confuse me. Rather than trying to pin poor voter mobilization and education on the very guy who is actually activating grassroots voters (the erstwhilte mission of this website), with double the number of individual donors as the frontrunner, how about focusing on the shortsighted tactics of Daily Kos itself this 2016 cycle?

Too much horserace coverage, and not enough serialized focus on downballot.

Why not take personal responsibility? Where is the skin in the game? Is Markos still an activist, or just another detached pundit focused on the horse-race – trying to build a brand with semi-sophisticated data-driven, short-term election analysis, like a junior Nate Cohn, Nate Silver, or Phillip Bump?

Where was the recurrent frontpage series on the Kloppenburg-Bradley contest?

If it merited a post-election rebuke of the Sanders campaign, didn’t it merit multiple pre-election voter activation diaries as well? Mention of it, where there was mention at all, was buried in massive text blocks and linked lists. It simply was not a frontpage priority here, so why hang it retroactively on someone else?

Markos failed Kloppenburg as much as Democrats generally – or Sanders specifically – did.

It really doesn’t matter if Sanders is an imperfect standardbearer for movement progressivism – or that he is unlikely to be the final nominee. He’s one of the stronger message candidates the American left has had in awhile – far stronger than Dean or Clark, both of whom we rallied around in these parts in a former life. And Sanders’ message is one that resonates strongly with DKos’ historical community, and the very community it hopes to fold in here. Going to war with his constituencies, or purging that community away does nothing for Dem victory in November.

Clinton doesn’t win if the wave fails to crest. Peering down the nose at her rival’s ‘dumb’ voters won’t help her in the least, any more than chastising Sanders for not doing all the educating of these new voters himself. Clinton bears responsibility for educating and mobilizing voters too, just like the rest of us.

But the main point is this: if the movement is not one person, what are you doing to build the movement? Are you just another self-styled pundit invested in a prevent defense, or are you pushing the message, aggressively, relentlessly?

Why the continued focus on Trump and the minutiae of the horserace, if downticket races matter as much or more?

This used to be a 50-state-strategy site that would sweat the Ned Lamonts of the world, even if they were serious underdogs. There would be tens of frontpage articles on state races, and a focus on key races like Kloppenburg-Bradley where the dynamics would shape regional policy for years to come.

Trump isn’t the big game, or shouldn’t be in these parts. Seriously, not even the betting markets think Trump is likely to be the nominee in the end any more – the GOP would rather cause chaos with an installed nominee than let Trump happen. It’s time to spread the bets. Daily Kos is all-in on Trump-Clinton, like CNN and Politico, when it could be a force multiplier for Congressional races, voter activation, emerging state initiatives, and judicial races like the Kloppenberg contest. This stuff is increasingly at the periphery, not the center, of Daily Kos frontpage coverage.

Let’s have done with blameshifting, and think about how Daily Kos itself could do better to bring folks like JoAnne Kloppenburg over the finish line.


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