Democratic candidates for president flew to the Twin Cities last week to make their pitches to members of the Democratic National Committee. They did not come to debate—a missed opportunity highlighted by Martin O’Malley in a fiery speech decrying the DNC’s constricted debate schedule—but to sell themselves to the men and women who devote their waking hours to figuring out how to elect Democrats.
For Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner and a veteran of DNC gatherings going back to the 1970s, the point of the visit was to reinforce traditional understandings of electability.
For Bernie Sanders, a longtime independent who has emerged as Clinton’s most serious challenger for the party’s 2016 nod, the point was to expand the understanding of who is and who might be electable.
Clinton spoke a language that DNC members know well, focusing ably on broad themes that are familiar to Democrats and on the electoral mechanics that are a source of fascination for members of the party’s national committee. She promised “to help Democrats win up and down the ticket—not just the presidential campaign.” She declared, correctly, that “It’s time to rebuild our party from the ground up.” And she tipped her hat to the popular notion that the party needs to get back to the 50-state strategy of former DNC chair Howard Dean. “We have to compete everywhere,” announced Clinton, to loud applause, which continued as she declared, “We’re building something that will last long after next November.”
Sanders spoke a language that DNC members are learning in a turbulent campaign season that has already produced a fair share of surprises; offering a mixture of progressive-populist agenda and political tough love. The senator from Vermont held nothing back when he spoke to the committee members—and to a crowd of Minnesota grassroots activists that had packed into the ballroom to cheer him on. “My friends, the Republican Party did not win the midterm election in November: We lost that election,” Sanders declared. “We lost because voter turnout was abysmally, embarrassingly low, and millions of working people, young people and people of color gave up on politics as usual and they stayed home. That’s a fact.”
“In my view, Democrats will not retain the White House, will not regain the Senate or the US House, will not be successful in dozens of governor races across the country, unless we generate excitement and momentum and produce a huge voter turnout,” said Sanders, who added, “With all due respect—and I do not mean to insult anyone here—that turnout, that enthusiasm, will not happen with politics as usual. The people of our country understand that given the collapse of the American middle class, and given the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality we are experiencing, we do not need more establishment politics or establishment economics.”