DNC charts path after brutal election losses

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Story highlights

  • A 10-person task force put together a report to lay out plans to avoid losses incurred during President Barack Obama's tenure
  • The task force was largely defensive of Democratic policy positions, saying most are popular with voters

Washington (CNN)Democrats are plotting a three-election effort to retake congressional and state legislative seats they've lost during President Barack Obama's tenure in the White House.

In the wake of widespread losses in the 2014 midterms and more disappointments in 2015, the Democratic National Committee released a 19-page report laying out the party's strategy to avoid similar losses -- particularly in lower-turnout elections when a presidential candidate isn't on the ballot.
Among the other fixes prescribed by the 10-person task force that put together the report: A cohesive message linking local, state and national Democratic candidates; more collaboration between the DNC and state parties; and the recruitment of a "next generation of Democratic leaders."
    The report -- five months later than the DNC initially said to expect it -- is largely defensive of Democratic policy positions, saying most are popular with voters.
    "However," the task force wrote, "we lack a clear message about what unites and animates us as Democrats. This has contributed to a disjointed style of communicating through long lists of policy statements, which are not well understood or embraced by voters."
    The task force was largely defensive of Democratic policy positions, saying most are popular with voters.
    "However," the task force wrote, "we lack a clear message about what unites and animates us as Democrats. This has contributed to a disjointed style of communicating through long lists of policy statements, which are not well understood or embraced by voters."
    It lays out the huge losses Democrats have seen since Obama's election in 2008: The party has shed 69 House seats, 13 Senate seats, 12 governor's offices and more than 900 state legislative seats -- as well as 30 state legislative chambers.
    Many of those losses were solidified after Democrats were drubbed in the 2010 midterms -- giving Republicans more power as states redrew their legislative district lines after the once-a-decade census.
    Democrats now hold 3,172 of the nation's 7,383 state legislative seats, and 30 of the country's 99 state legislative chambers.
    The report says the DNC will work more closely with the Democratic Governors Association, where the chairman, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, is launching a new effort dubbed the "2020 Redistricting Fund." It's a website and fundraising push that will work in at least 18 states where the Democrats said governors play a role in the redistricting process.
    The task force also said it's up to the DNC to ensure the health of state parties -- with "a baseline of financial support" and professional staffing. The DNC is also planning to work more closely with state parties on data and engagement efforts "with an eye towards more fully integrating the operations of the DNC and the state parties to maximize electoral successes." State parties, in exchange, are being asked to provide written plans detailing how they'll coordinate with Democratic allies in their states.
    "We recognize the challenges our candidates down-ballot have faced in off-year election cycles, and the recommendations of the Democratic Victory Task Force are meant to address those concerns and to chart a path to strengthen our voter engagement in every cycle," DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement.
    The Democrats could be at a disadvantage in implementing their plans.
    The party had $5.5 million in cash on hand at the end of September, and owed $6.7 million in debts -- leaving it in worse shape than the Republican National Committee, which had $19.4 million cash on hand and $1.8 million in debts.
    It's also impossible to ignore that a leader of the task force -- outgoing Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear -- this month watched a Republican win his office, picking up a seat that Democrats have held for 40 of the last 44 years.
    And the leader of its redistricting effort, McAuliffe, also suffered a setback in this month's elections. He failed to pick up the state Senate seats he needed to implement the Medicaid expansion envisioned in Obama's health care law.
    RNC Chairman Reince Priebus jabbed at both Beshear and McAuliffe over their state parties' recent losses in a statement, saying the DNC has "set itself up for more failure at the ballot box."
    "The direction President Obama has set the Democrat Party on has led to historic defeats across the country, and nothing in this thin, 5-month late report suggests a meaningful course correction," Priebus said.