Our problem is that our core groups generally suffer the worst turnout rates. We've gotten pretty good at getting them out in presidential years, but our ability to do so in non-presidential years determines whether we get a 2006 or a 2010.
We've long argued that campaigns geared toward turning out "independents" (nowadays, mostly conservatives too embarrassed to say they are Republicans) does nothing to turn out base groups, thus harming our electoral chances. What might've worked in those dark days of the 2000s is no longer operative. Triangulation is dead, even if so many Democrats refuse to acknowledge it. Which is why Virginia is suddenly so important.
I won't ever pretend to like Terry McAuliffe, but the Democratic candidate is rewriting the rules on how Democrats win—even in purple states like Virginia.
Virginia Democrats historically have sought a cautious middle ground on such questions, largely in hope of holding culturally conservative blue-collar, evangelical, and rural white voters long considered indispensable to statewide success. But McAuliffe has repeatedly adopted liberal social positions that ensure repeated conflicts with those voters—while providing fuel to energize the Democrats’ new “coalition of the ascendant” centered on minorities, the millennial generation, and white-collar white voters, especially women.Given how tight he is with the Clinton camp, an easy McAuliffe victory (which is what the polling suggests) would confirm that Democrats can win even tough states by activating our base, not trying to hold on to long-lost Reagan Democrats. I mean, McAuliffe has endorsed an assault-weapons ban in a Southern state! A fast changing one, of course, but isn't that the point? Today's America is dramatically different than the America of a decade ago, when even civil unions was considered radical.
America has changed, and the biggest danger to a Hillary Clinton presidential candidacy is that she doesn't account for that change, that she continues trying to triangulate her way to victory. McAuliffe is demonstrating the new Democratic playbook, the one that depends on the party's base to turn out and deliver victory.
The contrast in Virginia is clear: McAuliffe is running on muscular liberalism, GOP nominee Ken Cuccinelli is an unabashed right-wing ideologue. It's an off-year battle of the bases. And given that the liberal agenda is far more popular with non-partisanized Americans than the conservative one, the advantage is ours. And will be ours in a majority of this great nation of ours.