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This week Democrats got trounced in Missouri. A bloodbath and we all feel really bad, although, as Duane Graham observes in his blog, The Erstwhile Conservative, “Democrats who live where I live expect our candidates to lose each and every election.” Graham is speaking about Southwest Missouri, but the experience is similar if not quite so dire for the rest of us. Even when Democrats win, there are some cases where it’s no cause for celebration. Democratic turncoat Keith English, for instance, won his race. Another Democrat, Linda Black, left the party, turned Republican, the day after winning her race as a Democrat, because of, you know, the gay. With Democrats like these … well, you know the rest.

On a related note, over at Occasional Planet, a “Guest Writer” notes that a local Democratic Club declined to list Arthur Lieber, the Democratic candidate running against Ann Wagner in the 2nd district in a GOTV email designed to help Democratic candidates. The reason given to the Guest Writer when he/she pursued the matter?:

“We talked about him and decided not to include him, because he’s not a serious candidate. He can’t win, and he probably won’t even get 20 percent of the vote,” he said. “He’s not raising money. He’s in a district completely gerrymandered for the Republican. I don’t know why he’s even running: The only reason to file for office in this district is to draw resources away from your opponent-to make her spend time and money opposing you. He hasn’t accomplished that. Also, we never heard from him: He didn’t contact us to make an appearance at our meetings.”

I’ll say nothing about the specifics* of this response since, the Guest Writer ably punctures the half-baked effort at strategic thinking. Instead, I’ll offer some Missouri election statistics I came across in the same Graham post I referenced above:

Most of Missouri’s eight U.S. House districts produce pretty lopsided election results, six of them going for Republicans and only two for Democrats. That’s the way the Republican-dominated legislature designed these districts. They are heavily partisan with predictable results.

But there is a fact that stuns the soul of every democracy-loving Missourian, or at least it should. Democrats got 41.8% of all votes cast in Missouri’s eight U.S. House races in 2012, when turnout was 65.7%, yet it was only possible for them to end up with 25% of the seats, which were essentially capped at two. Republicans got 54.6% of all votes in House races across the state in 2012 but ended up with 75% of the seats. Some of us don’t think that is very democratic, but that’s the way it is.

This year turnout in Missouri was a paltry 35.2%. Think about that. A little more than half of the registered voters in this state who voted in the presidential election two years ago bothered to vote in this one. That amounts to 608,119 fewer Democrats and 627,051 fewer Republicans who didn’t vote, all things being equal. Those numbers look like they might be an advantage for Democrats, since more Republicans bugged out this year than Democrats. But it is a matter of percentages.

In 2012, as I mentioned, Democrats got 41.8% of House votes and Republicans got 54.6%. But in 2014, with the dropout of voters, Democrats only got 35.9% of House votes and Republicans got 58.8%. The lesson: voter apathy hurts Democrats in states like Missouri much more than it hurts Republicans.

See any possible relationship between these two narrative strains? Do you think worthless Democrats and a weak-kneed Democratic aparatus might have something to do with Democratic apathy?

Democrats are never going to win in this state unless they play it like they mean it. That means forgetting the zero-sum, cost benefit strategies that dedicate resources to a few sure-thing, right-now wins, while neglecting the long-term. That, in turn, means putting up  good candidates, capable of making a strong case for progressive values, and supporting them – if for no other reason than to establish a presence, grow a stronger base and defeat the “learned helplessness” that characterizes our apathetic Democrats, and that, when we do win, produces timid candidates who willingly promulgate Republican narratives (remind you of anybody you know – Claire McCaskill, or, perhaps, Jay Nixon?).

The crucial ingredient, though, is individuals who are willing to put themselves out there, make those very likely hopeless runs for office, pit themselves against the GOP noise machine and the big money boys who are pulling the strings in Missouri. And make no mistake about it, though the odds are long, most of our losing candidates have the hearts of thoroughbreds, they’re running to do more than just place.

In my area, heroes like Susan Cunningham, candidate for state Representative in the 119th district, or Arthur Lieber who stood up against the Daddy Warbucks’ candidate for the 2nd district federal House seat, Ann Wagner – who, incidentally, hid  herself from her constituents during the campaign – did more than just give us a choice when we marked our ballots; they insured that the progressive argument had a voice even though neither won. Out-state, candidates like Jim Evans who ran against Rep. Billy Long – he of the gargantuan restaurant bills – in the 7th district, are among the people who are trying to help us build the foundation we’ll need for 2016 and later. Sadly, in Missouri there are lots more among the fallen. We all congratulate the Democrats who won and we know they have a hard road ahead as a nearly helpless minority in Jefferson City, but the ones who lost, most of whom stood up to what they knew were nearly impossible odds, deserve just as much praise. Nor, if you’ll forgive a dose of grandiosity, did they fall in vain.

As unpleasant as military metaphors may be to some more gentle souls, politics is like war, elections are battles, except that it’s not who lives and who dies that is at issue, but how we’re all going to live our lives. In order to win this war for the good life, progressive Democrats have got to begin to really start thinking strategically, many moves ahead, rather than doing short-term cost-benefit analyses. The people who stood for the Democratic party in the 2014 midterm election were our footsoldiers, the winners and the losers will help crack open the increasingly solid Republican door in Missouri; their example will continue to allow us to widen the opening bit-by-bit if we can only begin to do the right things. Right now the GOP is talking about a “100 year majority” – any resemblance to another group of losers who planned for a 1000 year empire is, I’m sure, purely incidental. But if we’re able to send this group of empire-builders to the same “dust-heap of history” as that earlier, even more unpleasant group, people like our Democratic contenders will be the ones who take us forward.

* I just have to set the record straight on one point, though. Arthur Lieber, who did minimal fundraising, had little media presence (apart from a surprise endorsement from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch), managed to harness about 33% of the vote. Do you wonder what would that percentage have looked like if he’d had full party support?