Monday, September 11, 2006

The D-word

On the subject of the name recognition problem for the Webb gubernatorial campaign in Virginia, Chris Bowers at MyDD has some interesting food for Idaho Democratic thought:
My point is this: while all candidates need bio ads in order to raise their name ID and present a warm, fuzzy side to the electorate, in order to knock off incumbents this year, challengers are going to need large numbers of voters to be willing to vote for the Democratic Party itself. The incumbent rule is weakening primarily because people do not even know who incumbents are anymore, much less the people who are challenging incumbents. News programs spend less time devoted to actual news, DVR's are quickly on the rise in American homes, and when it comes to local political news we have experienced a nearly complete market failure nationwide. In order to win, Democratic candidates must not just brand themselves as viable alternatives to incumbents in an anti-incumbent year, but they also must brand the Democratic Party as a viable alternative to the Republican trifecta. Failure to do otherwise will result in a very disappointing 2006 for Democrats around the nation.
Yes, yes, and hell yes. I think we can see this very well in the recent poll that shows Larry Grant beating Bill Sali with a plurality of supporters, but with a simple majority of those surveyed calling themselves "undecided." We all know that Idaho voters in general are skittish about the D-word, but I'd wager they're a lot more likely to know (or think they know) what a Democrat is and what the party stands for than they are to know exactly who Larry Grant is and what he stands for.

This is yet another challenge for the Idaho Democrats, but it's an important one and not an impossible one. I sat through a voter identification training recently where the speaker noted that if you ask a person whether they consider themself a Democrat, a Republican, or an Indepenent, the majority of people will call themselves Independents. I can understand - it seems short-sighted to box yourself in to one side or the other, and no one likes to think of themself as a straight-ticket zombie. Interestingly, the speaker said that if you only give people two choices - Republican or Democrat - they'll usually pick one or the other.

You can see in their campaigns that Sali and Grant are capitalizing on these phenomena. Sali is trying to keep voters corralled into either party with a bright line between them, while Grant trying to use the current GOP identity crisis (Hello, tax-and-spend Republicans!) to help people reimagine their concepts of Idaho Democrats and Idaho Republicans. Right now is the time for Idaho Democrats - all Democrats, and not just Grant or Brady - unify and find a message that alienated Idaho Republicans can get behind. We're moving in the right direction, but we've got to keep the momentum if we're going to make "Idaho Democrat" into something other than a dirty word.

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