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Bob Sparks: Elections show that National Democratic leadership needed to change

After every election, three things are certain. First, the winning party claims a mandate followed by the losing party lamenting the failure of their voters to turn out.

The final story of the post-election trilogy features the losing side commissioning a self-analysis to find out what went wrong.

Following their wipeout at the hands of Republicans two weeks ago, Democrats announced they would conduct a “top-to-bottom assessment” of their performance. Two years ago, President Obama’s re-election prompted Republicans to conduct a self “autopsy.”

This month’s results show the Republicans apparently learned a few lessons from 2012. Their data mining and exploitation dramatically improved and they appear to better understand what appeals to minority voters.

The Democrats’ assessment would do well to look at those at the top of the party food chain. After disastrous losses, parties are expected to consider turning over the leadership to someone, or a team, with different ideas. Especially if that leadership had multiple losing cycles or, even worse, have direct culpability for some of the carnage on the battlefield.

Can anyone seriously make the case that Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Harry Reid represent the way forward for the Democratic Party? Yet, both will be returning in January as the head of their party’s respective caucus.

These are the same “leaders” who have the 2010 and 2014 disasters on their watch.   Republicans have gained more than 70 House seats during that period.

In just four years, Reid’s Senate has moved from a filibuster-proof majority of 60 Democrats to today’s total of 47. The number is soon to be 46 if Sen. Mary Landrieu loses her seat in Louisiana as expected. Losing 20 percent of your caucus in four years would not seem to lead to two more years as Majority Leader.

Of course, Pelosi and Reid raised millions of dollars for Democrats seeking re-election. But how many of the endangered incumbents were in trouble at least partly because of the ineptitude of House and Senate leadership?

During his days with the woeful Pittsburgh Pirates of the 1950s, Baseball Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner was a prodigious home run hitter. Based on that fact, Kiner frequently sought pay raises from the team’s General Manager, Branch Rickey.

Rickey repeatedly rebuffed Kiner and decided to change course by trading the slugger, the team’s leader, to the Chicago Cubs. Rickey is said to have told Kiner, “we finished last with you and we can finish last without you.”

The Democrats need a Branch Rickey.

The Republicans are far from perfect in this area, but have done a better job of making changes. How did they respond to the last Republican disaster in 2006? Speaker Dennis Hastert did not seek the office of Minority Leader, paving the way for John Boehner to win that post.

Following another lackluster election in 2008, Missouri’s Roy Blunt and Florida’s Adam Putnam stepped down from their Nos. 2 and 3 House leadership positions respectively. Many Floridians might remember Putnam’s announcement that, in effect, Republicans lost and leadership needed to take responsibility.

With one exception, Pelosi’s inner circle has been around for a decade. Reid’s tenure in Senate leadership dates back to 1999.

One way or another, this will likely be not only Reid’s last two years in leadership, but his last two years in the Senate. He is up for re-election in 2016 and all signs point to recently re-elected Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval challenging Reid for his seat.

Reid barely won re-election in 2010 against a flawed Republican candidate. Sandoval won every county in Nevada by huge margins two weeks ago, something unimagined for a Republican.

Pelosi will maintain her House seat for as long as she wants it. Republicans hope the same is true for her place in the Minority Leader’s office.

What about party leadership?

I opined a few weeks ago that Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz would likely be on her way out. Logic would point to such change, but the donors will make that decision. If they want change, they will vote with their wallets.

In the meantime, we await the results of the Democrats’ “top-to-bottom assessment.” Will it assess the top as thoroughly as the bottom?

Bob Sparks is a business and political consultant based in Tallahassee. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Written By

Bob Sparks is a former political consultant who previously served as spokesman for the Republican Party of Florida, Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Attorney General. He was a senior adviser to former Gov. Charlie Crist. Before entering politics, he spent nearly two decades in professional baseball administration. He can be reached at and Twitter @BobSparksFL.

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