Viewpoint: Democrats lost in 2021; Here’s what they need to do not to lose in 2022, 2024

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Viewpoint: Democrats lost in 2021; Here’s what they need to do not to lose in 2022, 2024
Karen Rubin, Columnist

What the hell happened?

How did popular Democrats get tossed from office in Nassau County and North Hempstead where Democrats are in the majority?

I didn’t sense the same voter anger over vaccine mandates, masking, schools or delay in infrastructure bill getting passed, or the threat of Critical Race Theory consuming children’s brains, as are claimed to be the issues in Democratic candidate losses elsewhere.

Curran ran a positive campaign solidly based on her record and her agenda for a second term. Blakeman offered tired tropes about high taxes (related to school taxes which Nassau County doesn’t control) and the reassessment (didn’t hear what he will do about it), and apparently, they were able to make a bogeyman out by associating state bail reform to a nonexistent rise in violent crime.

I didn’t hear anything from Blakeman on issues that should concern every Nassau County resident: will he continue Curran’s efforts to increase the county’s climate resilience and sustainability?

Revitalize downtowns? Promote transit-oriented development? How will he use the IDA – as a giveaway (as Mangano did) to cronies? What will he do to promote offshore wind farms? Will he use the hundreds of millions of dollars the County is getting from the federal government to Build Back Better, or to reduce taxes and buy the county’s way out of NIFA oversight?

Will he defy state mandates on vaccinations for county workers and masking? What will he do to promote and facilitate vaccinations and testing?

As far as I know, Blakeman was never asked about any of these issues nor about his record as Presiding Officer of the County Legislature when the county’s fiscal situation went down the tubes even as the nation was experiencing an economic boom.

Did Democrats feel so confident and smug about election prospects, they didn’t bother to show up, even with the ease of early voting and absentee ballots (a referendum making no-excuse absentee balloting permanent was rejected by voters- go figure).

There was some comment about Democrats not doing enough door-knocking. But I didn’t see any door knocking by Republicans – never even got a mailer asking for my vote. I had to search the Newsday Voter Guide to even figure out who was running.

“We ran the most well-funded, vigorous campaign we ever ran. We raised and spent over $7 million in Nassau County,” Jay Jacobs, the New York state Democratic chairman and Nassau County Democratic chairman, said in an interview.

So what was going on? It’s important to understand because 2021 is being used as a harbinger for 2022.

The turnout figures from the Nassau County Board of Elections show Democratic turnout in Nassau in 2021 down significantly from 2017 when Curran first won office and a year after Trump’s election, falling from 32% in 2017 (122,857 out of 386,781 registered Democrats), to 27% (106,619).

But Republican turnout was significantly higher, despite a sizeable drop in the number of Republican-registered voters – 40% of the 297,640 Republicans voted in 2021 compared to 38% of the 327,761 registered Republicans in 2017. The result? Curran lost by a margin less than 1%: 142,635 (50.35%) to 140,489 (49.59%).

Democrats seemed to be complacent and they may have been over-confident in Curran’s reelection, based on her strong record dealing with COVID-19, bolstering the economy and downtowns against the worst impacts. And there likely was complacency that Wayne Wink would sweep in as North Hempstead Supervisor after Judi Bosworth’s popular and successful tenure.

Indeed, polling eight days out showed Curran at 53% to Blakeman’s 33% – a 20-point lead, Jacobs said. Democrats were winning the early voting and absentee ballots – representing 25-30% of the vote – “overwhelmingly”.

But 70% of voters come out on Election Day. And just a few days before election, the inflation figures came out (horrors! 6% higher costs compared to COVID-2020!), and a poll that showed a majority of Americans saying the country was on the wrong track.

“What happened here is you can knock on a door, they can shake your head, but if not motivated, at end of day on Election Day won’t vote.

Democratic voters were exhausted by politics. Their major goal of getting rid of Trump was satisfied. But they were disheartened by what they were seeing coming out of Washington and by the fact inflation and gas prices were going up, the Afghanistan withdrawal and you had all these at same time, with very little results to be excited about.”

What drove Nassau County Republicans? They were triggered by the “Stop the Steal” and the “Big Lie” and took their outrage, anger and vengeance out against any and all Democrats.

Outrage trumped complacency. It always does.

Here’s what I think:

Democrats are crap at messaging.

“Republican messaging is easier,” Jacobs said. “It’s easier to motivate out of fear, anger, particularly if you’re not constrained by truth, rather than to motivate by aspirational things and be constrained by the truth. That’s who we are. It’s a tougher hill to climb, always.”

Democrats assume that right and reason of their policy and argument will prevail. What is it about that expression, “Don’t underestimate the voters?” Nonsense, you can’t underestimate the gullibility of voters enough.

Democrats don’t see elections as vital to preserve what have won. They don’t appreciate the ramifications of bringing in a new regime that does not place the same value or priority on social, environmental, economic, criminal or political justice.

The “typical” voter, Jacobs reflected, did not appreciate the significance of Republicans taking over the County’s levers of power because of “redistricting” and their propensity for “gerrymandering.”

Low turnout in minority districts that typically vote Democrat caused Curran’s loss? Perhaps raising the alarm that they would be gerrymandered out of their vote and voice, would have increased urgency and the turnout.

And voters’ are prone to selective amnesia. They don’t fault Republican regimes for the cronyism and corruption that brought Nassau County to the brink of bankruptcy during one of the greatest economic booms in the nation’s history while failing to “remember” or give credit to Democrats had to pick up the pieces.

They don’t remember how scared and anxious they were at Thanksgiving last year, and how much better things are – jobs, wages, mobility. So what if thanksgiving meal costs 5% more, just eat 5% less.

Biden and the Democrats have not accomplished anything?

How about the American Rescue Plan, passed without a single Republican vote, that saved Nassau County businesses from collapse, residents from homelessness and enabled public schools to reopen. Upset about high New York State property taxes? Why not blame Republicans for limiting the SALT deduction in order to punish Blue States and pass their tax-cut for the rich?

So what has to happen in order not to lose everything in 2022 and 2024?

Democrats can’t just lay out what they are for – give an agenda or even a “positive vision” that for so long was considered essential for a winning campaign. Democrats have to show what is at stake.

Everything.

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