President Barack Obama took partial responsibility for years of Democratic losses in governor’s mansions and statehouses across the country during his presidency.
During an interview with the president on ABC’s “This Week,” host George Stephanopoulos pointed out that Democrats lost over 1,000 seats total in state and federal politics over the course of Obama’s time in office.
“I take some responsibility on that,” Obama said.
The president argued that many voters in the 2010 midterm elections were disenchanted with his presidency due to the slow economic recovery following the 2008 recession, which allowed Republicans to redraw districts more favorably in many states following the 2010 census.
“I think we did a really good job in saving this economy and putting us back on the track of growth. But what that meant is in 2010 there were a lot of folks who were still out of work. There were a lot of folks who had lost their homes or saw their home values plummet, their 401(k)s plummet,” Obama said.
He added: “And we were just at the beginnings of a recovery. And the, you know, whoever is president at that point is going to get hit, and his party’s going to get hit. That then means that suddenly you’ve got a redistricting in which a lot of state legislatures are now Republican. They draw lines that give a huge structural advantage in subsequent elections.”
But Obama also acknowledged that he was not entirely focused on energizing grassroots voters to support Democrats.
“I think that what is also true is that partly because my docket was really full here, so I couldn’t be both chief organizer of the Democratic Party and function as commander-in-chief and president of the United States. We did not begin what I think needs to happen over the long haul, and that is rebuild the Democratic Party at the ground level,” Obama said.
The president advised Democrats to campaign in areas without current high levels of support, taking a slight shot at campaigns that focused on maximizing turnout among existing Democratic constituencies instead of attempting to win over new voters.
“If there’s a theme in my public career it’s that if ordinary people get involved, then good things happen. So I want to see the Democratic Party move in that direction. And what that means is that we aren’t just microtargeting to eke out presidential victories. It means that we’re showing up in places where right now we’re not winning a lot,” Obama said.
While he has publicly avoided current intraparty debates, including the race for the Democratic National Committee chair, Obama has repeatedly said part of his post-presidential mission will be to focus on rebuilding the grassroots Democratic Party.
“We’ve ceded too much territory,” Obama told NPR last month. “One of the big suggestions that I have for Democrats as I leave, and something that, you know, I have some ideas about is, how do we do more of that ground-up building?”
Many Democrats have increasingly acknowledged they plan to focus on building up state parties in the years leading up to the 2020 presidential election.
In an interview with Business Insider, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Peter Buttigieg, a DNC chair candidate, argued that Democrats have focused too much energy on winning the White House alone.
“If you are just focusing on the White House, even when you get the White House, you’re going to have a lot of problems, if the other party is dominating the states and Congress,” Buttigieg said.
He added: “Look at the monstrous obstructions to getting anything done, even while we had a lock on the White House for eight years, and in the event that we don’t get the White House, then you’re left with nothing. And that’s part of how the party now is finding ourselves at the lowest level of influence we’ve had in nearly a century.”