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Thursday, October 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 42.0° F  Fair
The Daily
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Citizen Dave: The Democratic Party of Wisconsin's strategy is good for now

The big question at this weekend's state Demcratic Party convention is, will anybody show up who looks like a contender to take on Scott Walker next year?

Aside from that, the only interesting debate that seems to be shaping up isn't over policy but over some inside baseball strategy. The party's chair Mike Tate is being challenged by an opponent who believes that the party should try harder to win in every legislative district. It's a discussion worth having, but in my view it's also just a sideshow.

Here's the way it works now. The party and its allies have limited resources, so they pick the most winnable seats to invest in. Solidly Democratic seats (usually judged by voting history) and staunchly Republican seats don't get much attention. Resources are plugged into competitive seats where a decent candidate of either party has a chance.

That strategy makes so much sense that I have a hard time even understanding what the other argument is about. It seems to have something to do with a more grassroots approach versus the political professional strategy that Tate embodies. The grassroots folks seem to think that Democrats should have a chance in every district if we just work hard enough and have enough money and volunteers. I wish that were true, but it just isn't.

So, at least for the next couple of election cycles. it's clear enough to me that we should stick with the professionals' strategy. But here are a couple of things to consider.

First, while it's clear that the Republican-gerrymandered Assembly districts will frustrate the real will of voters for some time to come, it's possible that they won't hold up for the next ten years before the next redistricting. That's because even a gerrymandered district is just a snapshot in time. People die, people grow into voting age, and people move in and out. And we know that younger voters are more liberal, at least when it comes to social and some environmental issues. There may be districts where a Democrat has no chance in 2014, but will by 2020. So building some kind of organization in now solidly Republican districts based on demographic projections would make sense.

The other thing to consider is that what really matters is less a legislative strategy than a gubernatorial strategy. Even with more liberal voters coming up, taking back the Assembly anytime in the next decade is going to be tough, and while the state Senate presents a better opportunity, even that won't be easy.

But electing a Democratic governor in 2014 is possible and in 2018 it's crucial. That's because the governor who is elected in 2018 will be there for redistricting and can insist on a fair process resulting in more competitive districts. Ideally, that governor will insist on a nonpartisan commission that will change the process to a better one going forward.

And it's possible to win a statewide race because you can't gerrymander an entire state. President Obama won here twice, relatively convincingly each time, and we just elected Tammy Baldwin to the U.S. Senate. And, as I like to point out pretty much every hour on the hour, the Assembly Democratic candidates took almost 200,000 more votes I total than their Republican opponents last year. Wisconsinites are not nearly as conservative as the current governor and legislature that pretend to represent us.

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