What would a 159 county Democratic strategy for Georgia look like?

I’m taking a one day break from discussing the platform of the Democratic Party of Georgia to do some general musing about political strategy.

I’ve always voted and I’ve often campaigned for candidates, but I’ve never examined the overall aims and day-to-day operations of the Democratic Party here in any detail, so writing this blog also entails a learning experience for me.

For instance, I’m looking at the county by county breakdown of the presidential election results posted on the website Politico. One thing that stands out is that Douglas County, which still has a strong GOP presence at the local level, went for Obama 51.5% to 47.5% (about the same as the current tally of the national popular vote). 

There are two things I feel reasonably comfortable asserting.  One is that the Democratic Party of Georgia is well aware of the numbers from Douglas County, and is actively working on consolidating the Democratic presence there, and  the other is that the strong Democratic showing is largely due to demographic changes in the county.  As the African-American and Latino populations in Douglas County increases, the county becomes bluer.  It’s the same thing happening all over the country, and it’s the reason the GOP is falling further and further behind in presidential election results.

So in and of itself the results in counties like Douglas don’t point to any strategy for the party except for ensuring high voter turnout among the Democratic Party base in minority communities.  That’s not a bad strategy, and worked very well for the Obama campaign in several swing states, but on the other hand if the goal is for the Democratic Party to start being competitive in statewide races in Georgia, it’s a pretty passive strategy.  It amounts to sitting back and waiting for changing demographics here to move the state into a tipping point.

Let’s look at it from another angle.  Let’s examine Walker County, in the northwestern part of the state.  Walker County is an Appalachian county which cast 74.2% of its votes for Mitt Romney.  Now Walker isn’t a very populous county, so it’s doubtful that either the GOP or the Democratic Party is paying much attention to it.  But looking at it can draw attention to both the dilemma and opportunity for the Democratic Party.

Walker county is roughly 95% white, with a poverty rate of just under 13%.  It’s a poor, white, county.  There’s little logical reason for over 70% of a county with a high poverty rate to be voting for the GOP, the party whose perennial obsession is abolishing the capital gains tax for wealthy individuals.

Now there is no good reason that the Democratic Party could not put together a realistic, progressive,  and viable message to the low and middle income whites in Walker County, and there is also no reason that a campaign like that would have to undermine or betray the progressive principles of the Democratic Party.  We could fight for those votes on the basis of Democratic principles, not by pretending to be a better version of Republicans.  What would need to happen is that the party would have to put some real thought into what such a message would look like, talk to Democrats in that county about the concerns of people in their day-to-day life, and then put resources into contesting those counties which we currently think are unreachable.

While contesting the meager 25,000 or so votes in a place like Walker County might not seem like a particularly good use of resources, the opportunities for duplicating those efforts across Georgia’s 159 counties could be immense.  The GOP’s natural constituency is the rich, the Democratic Party’s natural constituency is everyone else.  What percentage of the voters in Georgia’s 159 counties are rich?

When Howard Dean was the chair of the national Democratic Party he put forward what was called the 50 state strategy.  It helped the Democratic Party to make inroads in states which the party had previously written off.

I think that a 159 county strategy is in order for Democrats here.  We need to build the ground game, voter registration, and get-out-the-vote efforts where we are already strong, but we should also attempt to go for the hearts and minds of voters in the areas where we are weak.