Tuesday, January 3, 2017

How to make Wisconsin Democrats appealing in the race for governor

A progressive candidate who is willing to engage conservative minds would be seen as brave – and would be respected throughout the state

Progressives in Wisconsin need a candidate that is both a proponent of leftist policies as well as someone who isn’t so “in your face” about it.

Hear me out on this, because this strategy has worked – for conservatives. Scott Walker, himself a far-right gubernatorial leader, was seen as a “nice guy” before he ran for the state’s highest office. His conservative views weren’t hidden, easily accessible for those willing to look for them. I can even remember that centrists and even some left-of-center Democrats tended to think, “well, this guy isn’t that bad” while he was running.

Truth be told, Gov. Walker has possibly been the worst governor our state has ever had. Unfortunately for modern politics, much of what gets you elected isn’t policy arguments or five point plans. Those are important, of course, and shouldn’t be dismissed completely. But image is still a staple of our politics, and any candidate running on a liberal platform needs to convey both a leftist message as well as an “everyman” or “everywoman” ideal that can become relatable to the average voter.

That is why Walker keeps winning – not because people support his policies, necessarily, but because they support his message and his frames, which are more broadly communicated than what he wants to do about, say, road funding.

Dave Cieslewicz says the same sort of things about why Hillary Clinton lost in her presidential run against Donald Trump in his latest Isthmus column:
The Democrats probably could not have picked a better person to actually be president or a worse candidate to run in that moment. She was no crossover candidate. She was just one thing: competent. What they needed was someone both competent and charismatic. Both rational and radical.
Let’s take that assessment and apply it to state elections for governor. Tom Barrett wasn’t very charismatic. Nor was Mary Burke. Both of them had my support as candidates, of course, because they both represented left-of-center points of views about what Wisconsin could be. But they didn’t do it in a way that was relatable to most Wisconsin citizens.

Now, Democrats shouldn’t necessarily run someone who is the equivalent of Donald Trump on the statewide level. The answer isn’t dumbing our party down to the lowest common denominator. But at the same time, Democrats need to pump some energy into their candidates. Calm and cool worked for President Barack Obama, but calm and boring failed for Wisconsin’s other candidates, and it quite possibly failed to produce a win for Clinton in the state also.

I like Hillary Clinton. I like Tom Barrett. And I like Mary Burke. But the next candidate for governor, whether they run against Scott Walker or not, needs to be someone who injects a bit more energy into their campaign. They also have to be someone who will do so in a way that will be relatable to voters, without being abrasive, or worst yet, detestable while engaging them. We need someone who doesn’t appear to be an ideologue but who still takes strong positions from a progressive perspective, and who isn’t afraid to broadcast that message across the state, not just in Madison or Milwaukee.

Think of Bernie Sanders during his visit to Liberty College, as Cieslewicz suggested in his column. Or President Obama when he spoke to conservative lawmakers in 2010. Those type of engagements need to happen on a local level, too. Democrats in Wisconsin need to have town halls in Kewaskum, Ripon, Seymour, Waukesha County, Polk County, and other red areas. An act of bravery of that sort, while still showing poise and the ability to listen, would go a long way for many voters in this state who feel ignored by the Democratic Party.

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