In an interview with Gazette-Mail reporter Lacie Pierson, West Virginia Democratic Party Chairwoman Belinda Biafore presented a “live and learn” attitude regarding the party’s shellacking in the November election.
Biafore said she thought Democrats had a chance of taking the Senate and a competitive governor’s race. Instead, the Republican Party ended up with a supermajority in the Senate and House of Delegates, and Democrat-turned-Republican Gov. Jim Justice cruised to a second term with 64% of the vote.
The lesson learned, it seems, was that Democrats underestimated the down-ballot power granted to the GOP by outgoing President Donald Trump, who took West Virginia by nearly 69%, despite losing the election to Democrat and former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. The coronavirus pandemic also made campaigning difficult. The GOP certainly benefited through incumbency in some races, but had the same disadvantage as the Democrats in others.
Lesson learned. Fair enough. But what about the other part of that equation? Can the West Virginia Democratic Party actually live to fight another day?
Biafore believes the party fielded quality candidates and that there’s hope to regroup for 2022 and 2024. We agree with the first part of that assessment. The latter is harder to accept.
Trump is a cult-of-personality populist who has created a fanatical following. Biden will not generate that same type of enthusiasm down the ballot, at least not in West Virginia.
With a supermajority, the state Legislature can pursue all kinds of legislation that goes for the gut instead of the head; things like “religious reformation,” allowing guns on college campuses, putting the Bible in public schools and similar items that have failed before. Such legislation does little to better the lives of West Virginians, but presents an image of “taking back” things that were never really lost, and sticking it to the opposition. If the past four years have revealed anything, it’s that voters can be primed to gobble that stuff up. It’ll be hard for Democrats to make inroads in that type of environment.
But the biggest problem for the state Democratic Party is that the GOP has a supermajority at the same time the Legislature is overhauling the House of Delegates, redistricting to make every district a single-delegate seat. This will give the GOP a decided advantage in entrenching control of the House.
The state Democratic Party may have the will to get up off the mat, but the odds will weigh heavily against an immediate comeback.
Hope isn’t completely unwarranted. If Biden can return some sense of stability and any hint of unity to the nation, it will help. There’s also more than a slight chance the GOP will sabotage itself through infighting. With “friends” like Robert Karnes returning to the Senate and John Mandt coming back to the House, the GOP certainly doesn’t need any enemies. And if the Republican Party remains fixated on breaking the teachers’ unions — a gambit that cost Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, his seat in this year’s primary — the pendulum could certainly swing the other way.
It’s still a long road back for the state Democratic Party, and a hard look in the mirror is overdue. The state party needs to reevaluate many things, including if a shakeup in personnel is needed, just what it is the party is offering voters and how best to deliver that message. It’s going to take more than hoping the GOP performs so poorly that voters will come back.