Dem leaders vow to work harder, sharpen message

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Warren — The Democratic Party has to work harder, listen better and sharpen its message to win back voters and succeed in future elections after Donald Trump won Michigan in November, national Democratic leaders said Friday.

Local Democrats of various ages and backgrounds here told Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez and Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon about the sobering reasons why they lost in last year’s presidential election. They said traditional Democratic voters were taken for granted, the party got away from its core principles and Trump was allowed to define the Democrats.

The Democratic “Turnaround Tour” event at the United Auto Workers Region 1 headquarters in Warren featured 18 people including union leaders and members as well as other party faithful from their 20s to their 60s.

Other stops for party leaders Friday were planned for Flint and Detroit. But the first stop was in Macomb County, rich with traditional Democratic voters who supported Trump and helped him win the county 54 percent to 42 percent over Hillary Clinton.

Perez promised the group that “we don’t have our heads in the sand” and that the listening tour will give the Democratic Party the knowledge to move forward. The local elections, he said, are just as important as the presidential ones. And there were “times when we took things for granted,” he said.

“I think our values, the values of opportunity, the values of inclusion, those values are timeless values,” said Perez, who was a labor secretary for former President Barack Obama. “When the Democrats succeed, America succeeds. But those messages, though, ... we’ve gotten away from touching everyone in every county. We started our tour in Michigan today because we want to listen and learn.

“Votes are not something that you’re given. Votes are something that you earn.”

Annett Sheardrick Higgins, a UAW member from New Haven who was part of the panel, said the she didn’t want to step on any toes but she didn’t think the party was working hard enough in Macomb County to win.

“They weren’t present,” Higgins said. “No one was knocking on the doors. No one was leaving stuff in your mail slots. You didn’t even get a lot of stuff through the mail. You’ve got to get out and knock on doors. My opinion is the Democratic Party just wasn’t there, in Macomb County anyway.”

Others on the panel complained about the lack of signs or attempts to appeal to younger millennial voters. “I don’t think that at any level the Democratic Party engaged millenials,” said Alysa Diebolt, 27.

Perez told the group that Michigan has the “energy” to win back the Republican-controlled statehouse in the coming years in a purplish state that has two Democratic U.S. senators but a Republican governor and GOP-controlled Legislature.

In a statement, National Republican Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel of Michigan said the Democratic leadership “is visiting Michigan in a desperate attempt to win back support from Americans who have become disheartened and disillusioned” with their party.

“For years, Democrats have taken the support of Michiganders for granted,” she said. “As the hard-working men and women from Michigan struggled to find jobs in a difficult economy, Democrats ignored their voices. But last November, Michigan voters spoke loud and clear when we elected President Trump.”

But the Democrats in the room said they can overcome what they called the dishonesty of the president, arguing the Republicans have bamboozled their message.

Dillon said there were no surprises at the roundtable but the time to act on changing the party is now, especially with more door-to-door canvassing at the grassroots level.

“I think the No. 1 takeaway is people want to see action,” Dillon said. “They want to see the Democratic Party out doing things and standing for things.”

Perez said change is coming and that voters won’t be taken for granted anymore. “I’m optimistic that we can move forward,” he said.

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