There’s a story line running through the Democratic narrative about the 2014 election. In 2010, the story goes, the base stayed home and the Democrats suffered their worst loss in a century. So, this year, Democrats need to focus on getting their base to the polls. If they can do that, they can win in November.
But that’s not what happened in 2010. In the last mid-term election, the base did show up. It was the middle that Democrats lost.
In 2010, African-American turnout increased significantly (12%) over their turnout in the 2006 midterm. In addition, they made up 20% of the overall electorate. While that was down from 22% in 2008 and 23% in 2012, it was not enough to alter the broader outcome of the election.
However, if Democrats held only 80% of white Democrats in 2010, they only won 30% of white unaffiliated voters. And that’s the Democrats bigger problem. To win in 2014 and prevent another 2010, they need to win a larger segment of more moderate white voters.
While a large turnout of base voters will help Kay Hagan in her Senate race, the only partisan statewide contest, it won’t do much help Democrats in the gerrymandered Congressional and legislative districts. Republicans packed most of the Democratic base into very few districts. So running up the base may ensure healthier margins in those already solidly Democratic districts, but to win, Democrats need to appeal to moderate white voters.
That’s not to say Democrats can ignore their base in 2014 but turning out base voters is about half enthusiasm and half operations. In North Carolina, the Moral Monday Movement, missteps by the McCrory administration, cuts to education and other issues are keeping Democratic enthusiasm up. The more expensive and complicated part of the equation is putting together a field operation that can identify and then drive, both figuratively and literally, less motivated base voters to the polls.
Winning elections in North Carolina, as in most states, is not an either-or proposition. It’s both turnout your base and persuade the middle. Democrats have the message and formula for turning out their base, but they need the money and talent to put together their field operation. To win the middle, though, they need a message that won’t offend the base but will still appeal to moderate white voters. Without it, they can’t win.