When Jake Zimmerman spoke at the last West County Dems meeting, he painted himself as a one time St. Louis County Council candidate and then “party-unifying state rep candidate”. The crowd laughed, knowing that Temporiti had talked him out of running against Barbara Fraser in the primary for the Council seat and into running for her just vacated state rep seat. Jake joked, “I’m sorry, did I just pat myself on the back?” But joking aside, his point was that Democrats have to find ways to work together to get as many Dems elected as possible.
Don’t misunderstand Jake’s character. He’s not into increasing our numbers just as an exercise in power. Rather, he’s thrilled to help write the laws that govern this state. It feels like a childhood dream come true to him, but that dream would be “a heck of a lot more vivid, and in bright, beautiful colors that involve good public policy, if we had a majority in the House of Representatives.” It’s because he wants the possibility of a passionate debate about policy where he actually has the chance to win, to keep thousands of children from being cut from the Medicaid rolls, for example, that he–and Rachel Storch–have allowed themselves to be tasked with becoming cold and calculating cynics. Think of Rachel as Nancy Pelosi and Jake as a slightly chubby Rahm Emanuel. His job is to look at Mike Garman and to look at Byron DeLear, both running for Akin’s seat, and see–not a person in either case–but a turnout machine.
His job is to look at Jay Nixon and think, not “Boy I really hope you’re going to be governor”, but think instead “What have you done for me lately as far as helping Dem candidates running for the House?” As an aside, Jake adds that no matter what his “job” is, of course he cares passionately about whether Nixon becomes governor and passionately about getting a Democrat into the White House. Because we are all team players.
But for the next ten plus months, his job is electing a Democratic House. He will focus on that, not just because it’s his little parochial bailiwick, but because, aside from electing Nixon, it’s our best chance to change the course of this state. Matt Blunt is the weakest Republican governor in the nation right now, thank god, and we stand an excellent chance of getting him out of there.
But we also stand a good chance of changing a trend in this state that has been going on for 25 years and that has only just recently started to realign itself. The numbers in our favor are so compelling that the possibility of change sits tantalizingly before us. Jake wants that and he wants it bad.
Here’s the reason it looks so good. In 2006, Democrats at the national level had a really good year, much better than it should have been. To understand just how good, you have to understand how lousy the maps were.
If you looked at the U.S. Senate races in a non-presidential year election, Democrats weren’t supposed to do very well. Dems had tough open seats and vulnerable incumbents to defend. Republicans had relatively few open seats and a couple of incumbents that might be vulnerable if everything went wrong, but were probably OK. Democrats, in order to take the Senate, would have needed to run the table, to take every single seat they were perceived as even having a shot at–and hold on to all their vulnerable ones.
2006 was such a good election year that the Democrats did exactly that, with one exception: Tennessee. We came close in Tennessee but didn’t take it. On the other hand, Jim Webb picked off a popular Southern senator with presidential ambitions. And Jon Tester beat a not so popular senator in a very conservative state called Montana.
That’s not supposed to happen. You’re supposed to get one goofy upset like that, but each side is supposed to get one goofy upset like that. The fact that Democrats are in charge of the U.S. Senate today is a testament to what an amazing year 2006 was.
Similarly, in Missouri, Democrats weren’t supposed to have a whole lot of opportunities, and we were supposed to have a bunch of people we needed to worry about. Instead we picked up five seats in the House and could have picked up seven or eight if a couple of races had gone the other way by a couple of hundred or a hundred and fifty votes.
That’s striking. It’s even more striking when you consider that since 1978 House Democrats have not had a net gain in seats in the legislature. Period. You’re waiting for the comma after that; there’s no comma. Since 1978, House Democrats have either lost seats or, at best, held steady in every single election. Finally, in 2006 we won five additional seats.
That movement away from the Democratic Party has been happening in a number of border Southern states for thirty or forty years. It’s a shift that happened after the civil rights movement. Before that, lots of yellow dog Democrats voted for the party reflexively, because their grandpappy did. But the civil rights movement and the growth of evangelical megachurches has caused a realignment–which is, by now, pretty much complete. The people who moved away from the Democrats are likely to stay where they are because that’s where their ideology fits.
At the same time, old line, moderate Republicans, Nelson Rockefeller types in the Northeast, have pretty much become Democrats. That realignment is also pretty much complete. So Jack Danforth bemoans that the Republican Party of his earlier years has been hijacked. Right, and he ain’t getting that party back. The Republican Party now is the property of the Christian right and it’s going to stay that way.
This new alignment in Missouri means that the old Democratic territory down in Southeast Missouri probably will never come back. Sure, there are places down there where we can still do well, like the Bootheel, for example. As Jay Nixon likes to say, “If you farm cotton or watermelons in this state, you’re a Democrat.”
But the best opportunities for us now in this state are in the suburbs and in the exurbs, where a lot of moderate Republicans used to live. In fact, they do still live there and consider themselves moderate Republicans, but the Republican Party no longer represents them.
That is the nature of our opportunity, that is the reason we took some seats in 2006. The far right religious ideology of the Republicans, coupled with the fact that they became so controlled by corporations, allowed us to take some seats, and will allow us to take more.
The picture looks, as he said, tantalizing. All we have to do is … work for it.
In my next posting, I’ll let Jake describe for you more specifically how he sees 2008 playing out for us in Missouri.
This posting, like the last one–and the next one, no doubt–is largely in Jake’s own words, but so mixed with my words that I despaired of separating them with quotation marks.