It’s All About That Base

Winning Elections in the Era of Trump

A lot is made of independent voters, but a question I always have is do they really exist. We are a two party system and for the most part, ideas and policy are shaped by those within those parties. Independents usually vote for the party that most reflects their values.

If you speak to an independent voter, they invariably say they vote “the man, not the party.” But, the “man” is part of a party. Invariably the two major parties get the lion’s share of the votes. If there were really independent voters, more parties would exist that were able to exert real power.

So when you speak of independent voters, or “undecideds” as they are referred to during election years what you’re really talking about are voters that don’t participate in local party politics, but vote for a party anyway.

Nowhere do we see that more reflected than in Western North Carolina particularly in the Appalachian counties. In our region, Trump won the vote by about 30 points. Hilary didn’t stand a chance here. Further, this is not the first year this region voted heavily Republican. It has been this way for decades. And don’t forget, at least one Congressman in this area, Patrick McHenry, is vying for a seventh term in office.

So what does this mean? It means that, for the most part, voters in this area of North Carolina are not the ones that could be swayed to vote for Democrats. Trump is wildly popular here and most of that support is the kind that if he defecated in Pack Square, they would still support him.

The voters in this region are not those angry working class of the Midwest and the Northeast. While unemployment here is higher than the national average, that is not what swayed them into Trump’s camp. They went there because of religion and race. And in those two areas, Trump is batting a thousand with them.

So how does that affect down ballot races? It means that any congressperson who continues to support Donald Trump will more than likely get the votes of the Trumpites. And they are numerous here. Democrats will continue to have an uphill climb.

But, a couple of things may work in the democrat's favor. A new poll was just published which asked whether “Patrick McHenry’s platform is in line with needs of Catawba County residents.” The results came back 65% no to 34% yes. It is a telling statistic.

It says what most of the polls have said repeatedly since the election. This poll is in the foothills, not the mountains. The less populated areas invariably will go to the Republican, however, with the possible exception of Asheville, if you move further East this may not be the case. In this instance, independent voters may be swayed in the democratic direction, though I wouldn’t count on it being in large numbers. The strategy to win in this part of the state consists of two parts: turn out and base.

You can’t just court one demographic and expect to win against an entrenched Republican. In order to have a chance, you have to work for the interests of the broad coalition that makes up the Democratic Party. We are diverse party, a big tent party. I know that sounds cliche, but it’s the truth. Some of the hardest workers in our party are our African American constiuents. Also, women, latinos, the LGBTQ community have a vested interest in the success of a democratic candidate. Add to that, the Bernie democrats and there is a coalition that can win.

Second, because this is a Republican stronghold, any democrat that makes it to the general election is seen as a sacrificial lamb. There is a good chance that Republican turnout will be low. So, energizing the base is the most important aspect of winning in this region. If you have boots on the ground and you get into those population centers you have a shot.

Courting Trump voters is not a path to victory. It is a recipe for disaster. You will sway a few, but in the long run, history will win out. They will remain loyal to the Republican Party. If you neglect the base, if you neglect women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community, you are going to lose your energy and momentum.

What we hope for is a strong candidate that has a grasp of the issues and the heart of the base. That will be our best shot. We’ve already seen closer than expected races in Georgia and South Carolina. We are chipping away their stronghold bit by bit. If we play our cards right, we will see it crumble.