We Need Democratic Recruits. And We Need Them Now. (UPDATED)
Author’s Note: This is a major revision of an earlier post about how Virginia Democrats are in desperate need of recruits to run for the Virginia House of Delegates in 2017. After a long weekend talking to a lot of Democrats from across the Commonwealth, I can confirm I was off about how much of this work is going on and who is ultimately responsible. I still think it was near impossible to come to any other conclusion given the public evidence, but having now talked to the people in charge, I can state that Virginia Democrats probably don’t need to panic. That said, there is certainly a very limited window for Virginians who do want to run to throw their hats in the ring. –DJ
If you live in Virginia, and you have any inkling of running for office, now is your time to shine. And time is running out.
In the next few weeks, Democrats need to have their candidates lined up and ready to run. Why so soon? Formally, Democrats have until June 13th to hold a primary or convention, and worse comes to worst, they can hand-select a candidate by June 18th. But I’ve seen claims that we have only until March 30th to decide to hold a primary for each race, and state law seems to indicate we only have 105 days before June 13th to decide to even hold a primary. That's the end of February.
So, while I'm not sure what the actual deadline is, I do know this: whatever the deadline, nominees should (in an ideal world) be selected through competitive primaries and not by the party unilaterally. That means candidates need to declare right now in order to have their campaigns up and running in time for June. Trust me, four months is absolutely nothing in campaign time.
The good news is that the Virginia House Democratic Caucus seems to be on the case in terms of recruitment. They say they have candidates for all 17 of the Virginia delegate districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. That’s an impressive feat and speaks to the energy among the folks doing the recruiting (led by Delegate Rip Sullivan and Trent Armitage, Executive Director of the Virginia House Democratic Caucus) as well as rank-and-file Dems who are heeding the call. That’s a ton of recruits in a very short period of time.
All that said, there’s still reason for concern. Because there has been almost no public and highly visible effort to recruit candidates, there’s now a patchwork of groups like Indivisible and Run for Something scrambling to publicize the need for recruits. I’ve spent weeks trying to assess how those recruitment efforts are going (and how people like me can help), and only after writing a viral blog post with a lot of uninformed assertions in it did I get the information I needed. This is suboptimal to say the least. Even worse, it calls into question whether party Democrats really want a flood of everyday people stepping up to run. Lord knows I do.
I get why a party might not want to scream from the rooftops about their strategy involving recruiting, but the very major downside of that is that rank-and-file Democrats don't have any freaking clue these efforts are happening.
Again, my worry is that even if there’s a lot of good work being done out there, the message of needing recruits isn’t really coming out of the formal party apparatus. I get a lot of e-mails from the Democratic Party of Virginia asking for money, which is fine, but what would really get me to donate is the party showing what donors are getting for that investment. I received a blanket e-mail from the party asking me to sign a birthday card for our Governor Terry McAuliffe, when a much more productive (and lucrative) e-mail would have read “WE NEED YOUR HELP GETTING RECRUITS IN THESE DISTRICTS TO BEAT TRUMP AND TAKE BACK THE VIRGINIA HOUSE.” Again, Democrats should ideally run multiple candidates in these primaries to get the best possible nominees, and I don’t see how you get there with a recruitment effort operating largely in secrecy. It's also downright counterproductive when so many groups like Emerge Virginia, the Sorensen Institute, and Democratic Road Forward PAC offer candidate trainings.
I also worry that a quiet recruiting effort hampers the goal of having all 100 Virginia Delegate races contested by Democrats. Even if you think the vast majority of these are “unwinnable”, we have a Governor’s race in 2017 that’s going to be very close. Having 100 full-time campaigns (as opposed to say just 60 or so) with candidates knocking doors and raising money means that Democrats will be playing offense in the redder parts of Virginia. We can’t spare a single vote. And for those of you worried about not having enough resources to support all these candidates, I give you two words: Terry McAuliffe. The man will make sure our candidates have the resources. I promise you that.
Again, I know these kinds of critiques can sound harsh to those running the recruitment efforts, especially when they’ve put in so much time and sweat. I cannot imagine how hard they must be working to pull this off.
But there’s no more time. I wish I could be more diplomatic about this, but we are not getting the word out enough that these races need candidates, and that we need Democrats from all walks of life to step up. This might be our only opportunity in a decade to take back an insanely gerrymandered statehouse back. There could a complete and utter revolt against Trumpism where Democrats treat this off, off-year election like it was 2020. If there’s a wave, we have to have candidates to catch it.
Those are the stakes. We are running out of time to field a full and complete team. Virginia Democrats deserve a lot of credit for lining up candidates in these races. But we need more.
For those of you looking for next steps, here's what I recommend (and will be doing myself):
· If you live in Virginia, please reach out to your Delegate in Richmond and ask what he or she is doing (and what you can do) to recruit candidates in Hillary-won districts. You can find your Representative here: http://whosmy.virginiageneralassembly.gov
· Contact our awesome campaign chair for the Virginia House Democratic Caucus, Delegate Rip Sullivan at Rip@RipSullivan.com and ask him what you can you do to help candidate recruitment. You can also try Executive Director Trent Armitage at Trent@vahousedems.org
· Put the word out on Facebook and other social media and try to figure out if you know anyone in these areas who might be interested in running.
· If you feel so inclined, try to find civic and business leaders in these areas and try contacting them, asking them to run. A lot of people are just waiting for someone to ask them to run.
I'm going to be doing my all to get candidates running in these seats. I can't think of anything more vital we can be doing to win back Virginia.