Let Us Now Blame Mike Tate
Hatred for the state Democratic Chair is flowing. But is he at fault for the election debacle or was the party’s message lacking?
You might call it the Death March of Mike Tate. The Democratic party chair continues to trod this now overwhelmingly Republican state, espousing cockeyed optimism about his party’s “passionate, progressive” potential, even as liberal bloggers and commentators pelt him mercilessly with rotten fruit.
How do they hate him? Let us count the nays.
“He has been a dismal failure,” writes blogger Callen Harty. “Time for Mike Tate to leave. Maybe he could become a Republican and lead them to sure losses on upcoming election days and help even the score a little bit.” Harty went on to offer a devastating list of Tate’s failures as a political organizer going back to 2002.
Blogger Jeff Simpson piled on: “The amount of pain his incompetence has cost this state is almost unimaginable. One good thing to come out of this though, is we finally found a way to bring the state together. Start a petition to get Mike Tate to resign and people from all over the state will gladly sign it!
Aaron Camp calls Tate “an absolute failure as the leader of one of the weakest state-level Democratic Parties in the entire country… I’d like to see him resign immediately.”
Certainly the party has declined drastically. Its leader, from the standpoint of a statewide officer, is now Secretary of State Doug La Follette, who holds a meaningless position and has long served it with appropriate irrelevance. Republicans now hold 19-14 edge in the Senate and a massive 62-36 margin in the Assembly (give or take a seat or two still in dispute), their biggest margin since back in about 1957. Republicans also hold one of two U.S. Senator positions, five of eight congressional seats, and of course the governor and Lt. Governor positions.
Yes, the national electoral map continues to favor Democratic candidates for president, but off-year elections have become a recurring disaster for Democrats and giddy triumphs for Republicans.
In short, the idea that Wisconsin’s Democratic failures are somehow all the fault of Mike Tate is ludicrous. Yes, Tate may have had too much confidence in Burke (“I think she was a phenomenal candidate and ran a great campaign,” he says); She was simply too opaque as a personality to win over a majority. As she conceded after her defeat, “I don’t really fit the mold of most people who run for governor.”
Yes, Tate hasn’t always been the most compelling party spokesperson. And yes, he foolishly tolerated the outrageous comments of the party’s Communications Director Graeme Zielinski before finally letting him go.
But it’s not as though Democrats enjoyed a golden age when Tate’s predecessor, ex-legislator Joe Wineke, was party chair, from 2005 to 2009. Wineke may challenge Tate for this position, but a simple swap of leaders isn’t going to solve the party’s problem. As Dane County-based Democratic congressman Mark Pocan told the Cap Times, “Quite honestly, Mike Tate’s performance one way or another doesn’t have a lot to do with the outcome of our elections.”
It’s about the message, stupid. Gov. Scott Walker ran on a platform of cutting taxes, always a popular platform, and on trimming the budget deficit. He did divide and conquer, convincing middle class voters it was a good idea to levy huge increases in benefits contributions on middle class public employees. People voted with their pocketbook and a 52 percent majority felt Walker was better on that score.
In contrast, Burke ran as nice business person who would bring us all together. But her message on pocketbook issues was too vague. There was no reason to think she would bring more tax relief and not enough reason to think she’d bring more jobs.
Because so many Democrats hate Walker, they assumed a recall would win, and assumed a reasonably viable candidate would beat him in 2014. As Burke rightly noted, 80 percent of governors win reelection. No doubt the percentage is higher for governors who delivered tax relief.
“72 percent of whites without college degrees — a rough proxy for what we used to call the white working class — believe that ‘the U.S. economic system generally favors the wealthy.’ …on Nov. 4, these same men and women voted for Republican House candidates 64-34.
“Similarly, the overwhelmingly white electorates of Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota voted decisively in referendums to raise the minimum wage while simultaneously voting for Republicans, whose party has adamantly rejected legislation to raise the minimum wage.”
How is possible the party that favors the minimum wage is not seen as being on the side of the working man? That’s a problem for the Democratic Party to figure out. The wealth gap is arguably the central problem facing this nation, and whichever party is seen as being on the side of the middle class will win election. In 2014 it clearly wasn’t the Democrats.
-Another jaw-dropping statistic: Republicans now hold control of both the governorship and legislature in 23 states, while Democrats enjoy unified control in just seven, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
-The lowest voter turnout in 72 years undoubtedly hurt the Democrats nationally, but this was not as big a problem in Wisconsin, which had the second highest turnout. A robust 56.9 percent of people in this state voted compared to 36.3 percent nationally and just 28 percent in the somnolent state of Indiana.
-Burke actually got nearly as many total votes as Walker did in 2010, but the state turned out an additional 300,000 votes compared to 2010 and most of those people voted for Walker.
-In counterpart to Wisniewski’s contention that Burke only carried few more counties than Barrett in 2010, liberal blogger Jud Lounsbury writes that she improved the Democratic margin in at least half of the state’s counties. Tate says the Democratic Party is still crunching the numbers to get an exact picture.