Can the Dems Find Their Soul and Take Back the Senate?

Jon Ossof and Rev. Raphael Warnock
Jon Ossof and Rev. Raphael Warnock

The short answer is probably not. That is until the Democratic leadership recognizes a significant shortcoming in how their brand is perceived and the urgent need to mount a communications plan to fix it.

Sure, “one America” resonated loudly with an electorate that was tired of four years of division and demonization by Trump, his GOP enablers, and the pernicious and pervasive right-wing media apparatus. Then why didn’t the highly anticipated Blue Wave materialize? It’s simple: the Democrats turned over the reins of managing their brand identity to the Republicans.

In Florida, Cubans and other Latino voters shuttered at the idea of “socialism” in America should the Democrats prevail. The Miami Herald concurred: “Republicans’ drumbeat of socialism helped win voters in Miami.”

Elsewhere, Republicans were lock-step in promoting the danger of “radical leftists” or, God forbid, “progressive liberals” seeking to “defund the police.” From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Effective messaging, political shifts helped fuel Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s landslide win.” Frank Luntz was in pig heaven.

Trump himself took every media opportunity to crow about “the radical Democrats.” As incompetent as he is, he knew enough to derisively call out the name of the party that voters would see when filling out their ballots.

From The AP:

They failed to fight back when Republicans labeled them “socialists” aligned with the party’s most liberal firebrands.

Other than Joe Biden occasionally proclaiming “I’m a proud Democrat,” Americans rarely heard any Democrat publicly extoll the actual accomplishments of their Party, let alone the word Democrat itself. Is there not enough historically defining material from which to draw between FDR, JFK, LBJ, or Bill Clinton? What about Obama and Biden who steered America back from the economic calamity that “W” and the GOP left us in.

While the Democratic Party neglected to use earned, owned, and paid media to tout its own accomplishments, it also failed to define the GOP for what it has become in the age of Trump. Republican voting records alone offered enough ammunition to paint a shocking contrast with the Democrats. Even today, a so-called moderate like Mitt Romney continues to tout the GOP talking points following Biden’s win:


I mean what a missed opportunity for Joe Biden to talk about the Party when he announced Kamala Harris as his running mate in front of a national prime time audience or this weekend at the car park victory celebration in Delaware for that matter!

As a veteran and somewhat respected New York-based PR executive, I’m constantly pulling out what’s left of my hair in frustration by the Democrats’ failure to recognize and cite by name the actual teams on the field. Is it hubris or is the Democratic tent just so large and unwieldy that achieving messaging consensus, like the GOP has, simply futile?

In the spring of 2016 just as HRC landed the Democratic Presidential nomination, I was invited to the West Wing by President Obama’s political director to share what I believed (and still believe) to be a no-brainer: a communications campaign that plainly juxtaposes the two dominant political parties by what they do, not what they say. If executed properly, this approach will lift all blue boats up and down the ticket.

Obama’s guy intro’d me to the new stewards of the Democratic brand, HRC’s campaign team, which gave me (and I later learned many others) lip service before eventually getting the brush off. (FWIW: HRC’s hubristic campaign manager was in charge of the Dems’ 2020 strategy to expand its majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.)

I decided to resurrect this messaging strategy heading into 2020. I reached out and had a couple of conversations with the digital communications lead at DSCC and struck up a friendship and ongoing dialog with a senior communications person at the DNC. Both instantly understood the power of the idea, yet it soon became clear that others were pulling the strategic communications strings. I nonetheless persisted throughout the spring, summer, and fall imploring them to re-take the reins of the brand.

As far as I could tell, it didn’t happen, and today the Democrats are doing some serious soul-searching, which brings me to the questions proposed in the title of this post:

Can two Democratic candidates beat their Republican opponents for the U.S. Senate seats in Georgia, and wrest control of the Senate? The WashPost doesn’t think so:

“But if you look at the data from November’s election, you’d rather be the Republicans than Democrats in this next round of races.”

And that’s even with Jon Ossof’s oratorical skill that draws on facts to illustrate the contrast:

Nonetheless, as untold millions pour into that race from all stripes of Democratic donors and supporters, the Democrats still have a brand identity problem. It’s a problem that the Republicans, their surrogates, and the right-wing media machine (of which Facebook is now a part) are certain to continue to exploit, i.e., labels like “radical Democrats,” “Socialists,” and “defund the police” are not going away.

Even AOC recognizes the Democrats’ Achilles’ heel:

Strength and resiliency are good.