Eye On 2020Politics

South Carolina Dems have already lost 2020

People keep asking me: what are South Carolinians going to do about Lindsey Graham? My answer is simple. Nothing — if we leave it up to the South Carolina Democratic Party.

Though the Trumpian madness that has overtaken our senior senator seems recent, the institutional failure that has kept him in place for 12 years is not.

If we want to send a Democrat to Washington in Graham’s place, we need a complete overhaul of the state party leadership.

It’s no secret that Democrats in the south should expect long-shot battles in nearly every race — but we also should expect a good faith effort from our party.

No such effort has been made.

Here is where I’ll pause. People reading this might say I have no idea what I’m talking about because I wasn’t on the ground for the election, and they’re half right.

That’s because twice now I’ve had to leave South Carolina to seek the tools and know-how that I thought I would need to come back and help my home state Dems win.

I’ve sought opportunities that a better state party infrastructure could have provided for me but were not, and still are not, available to me.

I’ve learned a lot along the way, though, and I’ve already been seeking ways to bat for the home team, even from my current position in Philadelphia. But you can only play ball if the coach will put you in.

Trav Robertson, SCDP State Chairman

Earlier this year, I reached out to SCDP Chair Trav Robertson to see if I could help transform the state’s digital program from being an email newsletter into a fundraising vehicle similar to the $100k programs I’ve run before. But all I got from Robertson was the runaround.

That’s why it was such a surprise to see when the email program took off — and I reached out again to ask why. Instead of letting one of his own blow the dust off of SCDP’s email list, he outsourced it to a 2020 candidate who’s already making her power grab on South Carolina.

So when I say Trav Robertson’s not interested in building the party from the inside out, I’m saying it because I know first hand.

This is only one of Robertson’s shortcomings as Chair. A person doesn’t have to dig much deeper to see how the party is failing under his watch.

Democrats in South Carolina keep losing because party leadership is not doing its job to recruit quality candidates.

South Carolina could have had a strong black woman running for governor like Stacey Abrams in Georgia, but instead, the state party keeps drafting boring white men to run, and, to absolutely no one’s surprise, they aren’t winning.

SCDP is aware of this, too. Former party chair (and current DNC associate chair) Jaime Harrison was quoted in The State saying, “African-American voters… carry significant weight in the Democratic Party, making up more than 60 percent of its voters.”

Those voters will show up if you give them an inspiring candidate to vote for, and with so many talented black leaders already serving South Carolina, it shouldn’t be hard to find a black candidate who can win.

Among the other contests we lost this year was State Superintendent of Education — a critical race considering South Carolina ranks 48th in Education — but the SCDP candidate, Israel Romero, had to withdraw less than a month before the election on account of a felony conviction that left him ineligible to take office.

That’s Trav Robertson’s fault, y’all. Thoughtful candidate recruitment is one of the most important jobs the party chair has, and this one can’t even be bothered to run a simple background check on his people. Let’s not even talk about how he missed the wife-beating skeleton in Archie Parnell’s closet.

I wish I could say that SCDP put up a good fight for these lousy candidates. You need a comprehensive field operation if you hope to win any election, and the field program ran during this election was anything but strategic.

That’s what you get when you hire an inexperienced Field Director (I mean no disrespect to retired Major, USMC Dwane Sims — thank you for your service) as well as underpaid organizers ($2,000 a month — the going rate starts at $3,000) and deploy them into the field without any resources.

I’ve heard first-hand accounts of organizers without access to the essential software used to keep track of voter outreach data, otherwise known as the Voter Activation Network (VAN). You can’t run a successful data-driven field operation without it.

And let’s talk about digital. If 2016 taught us anything, it’s that you absolutely cannot win a campaign without a thoughtful digital strategy. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both had to invest millions of dollars into email cultivation and Facebook ads in order to activate their voters online.

As previously explained, SCDP chair Trav Robertson was completely resistant to allowing an expert to craft one such strategy for the party.

In October, SCDP had a prime opportunity to use Facebook Ads to clear up confusion about the voter registration deadline change, but they did not use the tool to tell voters about the extended deadline.

And most recently, when Dr. Michele Phillips stepped up to run as a write-in candidate for State Superintendent of Education, the state party didn’t even bother to send out an email encouraging people to vote for her, and she was not included in their 2018 Guide to Voting.

These kinds of decisions make one thing clear: SCDP chair Trav Roberson isn’t in the business of winning. His leadership is setting South Carolina Democrats back when we could be leading the way for Dems across the country.

He’s content to allow turbulent “love ’em and leave ‘em” presidential candidates to build up the state infrastructure and tear it back down every four years as well as run a failing party — but I have hope for new leadership and a better future for South Carolina Democrats.

It won’t be long before the new generation takes control, and we’re tired of business as usual. Most of us are still out gaining the skills we need to launch the South Carolina Democratic Party into the future, but don’t worry. We’re paying attention, and we’ll be back soon.

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Taylor Casey

Taylor Casey creates digital experiences to help people connect with their audiences and is driven to make more seats at the table for women of color in politics. She has worked in consulting, nonprofit, and campaign settings, including Hillary for America, Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, and Demand Justice.

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