ALG Partner Brian Stryker joined Lavora Barnes, chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, and Eric Goldman, Gretchen Whitmer’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign manager, to break down how democrats can win back the White House in 2020. The article was featured in USA Today on December 16, 2019.
Whitmer’s 2018 victory left more than an impression, it left a playbook for 2020. Her campaign spurred the largest midterm turnout since 1962 in Detroit’s Wayne County. It persuaded swing voters in the blue-collar Macomb County and white-collar Oakland County suburbs. And it even won counties in the Republican stronghold of western Michigan. Here’s how Whitmer did it, and how other Democrats can, too.
Talk about issues and get personal
► First, Whitmer didn’t run a campaign selling an ideology — moderate or progressive. She talked about the issues that matter to Michigan voters: affordable health care, assuring access to clean drinking water and reasonable auto insurance and fixing the roads. Voters in Michigan (and the other 49 states) are not preoccupied with who is the most progressive or moderate. They want you to have real urgency about creating change on the kitchen table issues that affect their daily lives.
► Second, Whitmer started her campaign by telling voters about herself and her values. Just as President Barack Obama talked in his 2008 and 2012 campaigns about paying off his student loans, Whitmer laid out touch points in her life like working in a lumber yard, stocking buffet tables at the Royal Fork Buffet, and having to fight insurance companies while her mom was dying of cancer and she was caring for her children. Those experiences told voters a lot more about how much she valued hard work and how she got what was wrong with the health care system than a 17-point policy plan could have. Tell your story about that change you will create. If voters know you and get where you are coming from, you’ll give them a reason to vote for you rather than just a reason to vote against your opponent.
Don’t mess with success:Democrats had a winning 2018 playbook. They should use it to beat Donald Trump in 2020.
► Third, Whitmer went everywhere in Michigan. She campaigned in each of the state’s 83 counties. She based her campaign in Detroit (not typical for a Democrat), she was a fixture in the suburbs and she also traveled to mid-sized towns down the spine of the state where Trump won outsized support in 2016. And the result? She carried all 83 counties in the primary, and she won nine Trump counties in the general election. Democrats must do better than quick pit stops in Detroit and Ann Arbor or Milwaukee and Madison. You may not reach every person, but leaving the state’s liberal bastions sends a message that you care about the whole state and not just those blue pockets many parts of the state resent.
It’s all about the rich:The Rust Belt is done with Donald Trump’s gold-plated populism
► Finally, Whitmer won the general election during the primary season. While her Republican opponent was going all-in on Trump, Whitmer spoke to all Michiganders. She was consistent about her vision for Michigan’s future and communicated the values she shared with working families across the political spectrum during the primary and the general election. And it worked. A year before Election Day, internal polling and public sources had Whitmer running neck and neck with her eventual Republican opponent. But by August 2018, when she swept the Democratic primary, she had a double digit advantage in the general election that she would carry to a 9.6-point win. So run your primary like general election voters are listening, because they are.
Woo everyone and start early
Democrats in Michigan are ready to go. In the past, we made the mistake of only showing up for our voters when election season rolled around. But not this time. The state party is investing in a robust network of offices and staff across Michigan to elect Democrats up and down the ballot in 2020. We’ve already recruited hundreds of volunteers who are knocking doors, making phone calls and highlighting our positive vision for the future. Our voters are motivated, and we’re channeling that passion into action.
So take the early 2020 polls with a grain of salt and ignore the hot takes. Let’s get to work on a plan that delivers a resounding victory for Democrats in Michigan and across the country. The path is clear: Talk to people about things that affect their lives and share your values, go everywhere, compete to woo the entire coalition we need to win —and don’t wait until the general election. Do it during the primary campaign. If we follow Michigan’s 2018 playbook, we can put an end to the Trump nightmare.