By now we’re all aware that the race for 2016 started before the ink was dry on the race for 2014. Even before President Obama delivered his already-partially-failed State of the Union slate of promises, we knew that he was going to attempt to pivot away from his party’s disastrous performance in the midterms with a renewed commitment to populist platitudes; what we didn’t know is whether or not his oft-divided party would follow his lead.

Follow his lead they have, according to statements from high-ranking Democrats gathered this week in Philadelphia to talk strategy.

From AP’s Big Story:

Their newly appointed chief of messaging, Rep. Steve Israel of New York, said House Democrats are “absolutely unified on three essential messages going forward. And it’s middle class, middle class and middle class.”

Israel acknowledged that Democrats talked a lot about the middle class in last fall’s elections. But world calamities distracted voters, he said, and Democrats failed to show that their economic policies would directly benefit working class families.

Riffing on a campaign line of President Bill Clinton in 1992, Israel said the Democrats’ new theme will be, “It’s MY economy, stupid.”

Many Republicans scoff at Democrats’ talk of better messaging. “Updating the packaging doesn’t help if the product is still lousy,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Fortunately for Representative Israel, most of voting America isn’t yet paying attention to the fact that he’s mistaken global calamities for the ones Democrats caused at home. If they were, they’d be calling him on it, because even people who don’t live in our political bubble know that the rebel siege on Ukraine isn’t responsible for skyrocketing health care costs and larger grocery bills.

Still, the focus on the middle class is a smart one for Democrats; they may be terrible at writing effective policy, but they’re the as-yet undisputed masters of messaging when it comes to presidential politics, and middle class voters are obviously a must-get demographic. They’re also the voters whose wallets have been ravaged by Harry Reid’s obstructionist Senate and Obama’s power-hungry administration, which means that Democrats will have to both sell a product and regain the trust of its consumer before they can even entertain a hope of maintaining control of the White House.

Of course, none of that matters if Republicans drop the ball when it comes to their own messaging to the middle class. Right now, all Democrats have to market is, in fact, a lousy product. During Obama’s first campaign, national Democrats served up a dream candidate on a silver platter; because Obama had no real record to run on, strategists were free to construct a fever dream of “hope” and “change we can believe in.” Now, a term and a half later, Democrats find themselves left defending the ruin of potential against a deep bench of Republican challengers.

Republicans are on offense, and we should take advantage of that position before Democrats truly begin to organize around a Clinton or Warren, or someone else with both a record and a talent for emotional appeal. The primary is far enough away that we don’t even have to pick one or two candidates to rally around (although I wouldn’t necessarily fault someone who did)—we just need to start emphasizing the fact that our bench has a history of solid policymaking, effective governing, and—bonus!—showing up for votes on important bills.

Democrats are going to use every angle available to them to not only reach the middle class, but connect with them on a deeper level than they managed in 2014; but they’ll be digging themselves out of a hole. Republicans have the opportunity to do the exact same thing, only we’ll be capitalizing on the work we started in 2014 by expanding local grassroots initiatives, microtargeting communities with tailored messaging, and focusing not on voters as demographics, but as people who stand to win or lose based on who we send to the Oval Office.

Outreach for 2016 starts now; and if we do it right, it won’t have anything whatsoever to do with whichever Republican contender has managed to wrangle the spotlight from the rest of the bunch.


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