Senate Democrats preparing for 2016 focusing on candidate recruitment and fundraising

12/11/2014 11:00 PM

LEXINGTON — With Democratic membership in the state Senate at a measly 11 legislators, a newly elected leadership team is preparing to hit the road in an effort to make up lost ground.

Democrats elected Sen. Ray Jones to the post of minority floor leader last week after a tumultuous election season for state Senate Democrats in Kentucky and national southern Democrats. The state House, meanwhile, stayed in Democratic control due in large part to candidate recruitment efforts and hefty spending.

The long road back to power in the Senate will fall largely on the 11-member Democratic senatorial caucus as state party efforts will be directed at electing a Democrat to the Governor’s Mansion in 2015 and keeping the state House in their corner.

That doesn’t mean legislative superiority is out of reach for the group though, said Jones, who quipped the Republicans proved few can become many in the body.

“It can be done. Republicans did it.”

“If you look at what the Republicans did when they went from eight members to 26 — potentially 27 — it wasn’t done as an individual effort. It was done as a team effort with the Republican Party and the Republican Senate caucus,” Jones said.

The Pikeville Democrat said he will need to leave behind the hills and hollers of the eastern part of the state and hit the road to begin recruiting a crop of self-sufficient Democrats to challenge vulnerable members of the GOP.

Jones said part of the problem for Senate Democrats has been apathy in recent elections — essentially not running Democratic candidates against their GOP counterparts.

“The biggest failure of the Senate Democratic caucus historically is the failure to recruit top-quality candidates,” Jones said (3:11). “To use a horse racing analogy — if you can’t put a horse in the starting gate, you can’t win the race.”

Jones sat down with Pure Politics at the Paddock Grille at Embassy Suites in Lexington where Senate Democrats were preparing their strategy, and Jones said not only was the group working on candidate recruitment but also fundraising.

Fundraising has been a challenge for the group due in part to the slimmer than ever majority House Democrats have wielded.

“The first thing that we’re all interested in is making sure that we preserve the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives,” Jones said, in the second interview below.

The other problem Jones saw in the election came down to messaging. “We’ve been out messaged,” he said.

Jones credited the GOP with muddying the waters as to what a Democrat is in Kentucky and attempting to tie state Democrats to the national party.

“They can’t run against Barack Obama forever.”

In state House races, numerous outside groups and GOP candidates attempted to tie incumbent state lawmakers to President Barack Obama, who is likely the most unpopular political figure in the state. While the strategy did not work in House races, in most cases, it worked federally.

“There’ll be a lot of people that will be glad to see the president leave office,” Jones said “… And I made the statement to some Republican friends of mine that if I were the other party I would put the president’s picture and name on the Republican Party headquarters, because he’s probably done more to elect Republicans than anything Sen. (Mitch) McConnell or any of the Republican leadership could do.”

Jones said Obama has been out of touch with rural individuals and the president has become a liability for Democrats by placing too much political capital on the Affordable Care Act early and not enough on rectifying the economic collapse.

With Obama term-limited in 2016, Democrats will possibly see a run from a familiar name in Hillary Clinton. However, Jones was unsure how a Clinton candidacy would impact the 2016 election cycle.

“Two years from now it’s hard to say. Who knows what the issues will be. Who knows what the economy will be like,” Jones said. “I think she would resonate much better in Kentucky than President Obama.”


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