I don’t think the results of today’s Democratic Party vote surprised anyone, but I’m hopeful that the outcome and swift decision will inspire Democrats to fight for this seat and maybe even bring a little passion back to a Party that has been battered a bit the past few weeks.
Avoid Any Temptation to Run to the Middle
Unlike purists who would rather lose elections, I understand the impulse for Montana statewide candidates to run as moderate, or even conservative, Democrats. Winning statewide elections in this state requires a different kind of candidate than winning in legislative seats in Missoula or Butte, and I’m glad we have had a moderate Senator voting for sensible policy rather than Dennis Rehberg voting for anything.
That being said, there’s nothing to be gained by Amanda Curtis positioning herself as a moderate here. For one reason, there’s more than enough video and audio to make it clear that a moderate candidate she’s not. The Republicans are going to do their best to paint her as some kind of a radical; instead of moving to the center, she’d be much better served by embracing the charges—and then forcefully asserting that if supporting working men and women, ensuring adequate wages, and access to education are radical ideas, the problem is with the Republican Party, not her.
The other reason to embrace her liberal view is to inspire young voters to get involved and maybe even increase the passion from some of us old folks. There has certainly been a cost to the Democratic Party as it has moved to the center; working to reinvigorate the liberal base of the Party is probably even more important than winning this race.
Focus on the Voters that Republican Party Policies Hurt
Okay, I realize that’s most people making less than a million dollars a year, but there are some focused targets to go after. I don’t think we’ve done enough to show Montana’s elderly how destructive Republican budgets will be for the services vital to them, to show middle class Montana families how devastating cuts to Pell Grants and other assistance for college will be, or enough to show working Montanans the danger of more pressure against the unions that protect wages and ensure access to health care. Winning this race has to be about more than millionaires versus the middle class; it has to be about the specific members of the middle and working classes who will be hurt by Steve Daines in the Senate.
Get in His Grill
The last thing Steve Daines wants to do is define or defend his record. The number of issues he refuses to take a position on is astonishing for someone who wants to be in the Senate. It was the same strategy he employed in his race against Kim Gillan, to refuse to answer whether he supported the Ryan budget, to refuse to take positions on wilderness bills. Once he got elected, of course, he swiftly became “most conservative member” of Congress from Montana, ever. Challenge him to debate, loudly, publicly, and often. When Republican talking heads suggest that Ms. Curtis isn’t experienced enough for the Senate, we should be asking why he’s afraid to face her in a debate. The truth is that Mr. Daines is too conservative for Montana and voters need to know that. We’re not Wyoming, even if the Montana GOP would like us to be, polluted skies and all.
Every time the press asks Ms. Curtis her position on an issue, she needs to remind them just how often Mr. Daines won’t take one.
Move the Energy Offline
The groundswell of support for Curtis started online and swiftly moved her into the position of the favorite for the Democratic nomination. The trick will be turning those online activists into offline campaigners, who will talk to their friends and neighbors. Twitter and Facebook don’t turn out voters—the unions and other organizations that supported the Curtis candidacy need to turn out their people and generate some excitement offline.
This is No Time For Cautious Calculation
When I analyzed the potential picks for the Senate seat earlier in the week, it seemed likely that the Democrats would pick a candidate with an eye to the future (launchpad candidates) or one with an eye on the past (the idealists). I think Ms. Curtis has the chance to bridge that divide, but not if she becomes a candidate who embraces caution for the sake of future elections. The only chance to win the election against Representative Daines this late in the cycle is through boldness of deed and action. Even if this race is the longest of shots, Democrats are far more likely to remember a candidate who ran boldly and lost than one who calculated her way to safe loss.
Can we win this race? It’s going to be an incredible challenge, but stranger things have certainly happened in Montana politcs, and this is Butte we’re talking about.