Jeff Smith: The Blogging Blue Interview

After the disastrous results of the 2014 election here in Wisconsin, many Democrats here in Wisconsin have called for Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chairman Mike Tate to step down from his position. Many (including yours truly) have criticized Tate for what’s seen as a lack of success in helping Democrats across Wisconsin win elections, and as a result a number of individuals have begun preparing to challenge Tate when his term as DPW Chair is up. It’s been speculated Tate may not seek reelection when his current term is up, but there’s no doubt that whether Tate seeks another term or not there will be no shortage of candidates vying to replace him.

Image courtesy Jeff Smith for Assembly Facebook page
Image courtesy Jeff Smith for Assembly Facebook page
One such candidate is former Democratic State Rep. Jeff Smith of Eau Claire (pictured, left), who told me during a recent conversation that he’s “pretty far down the road” towards formally announcing his candidacy and that he expects to make a decision shortly after the holidays. Smith noted that while other individuals have expressed interest in vying to become the next DPW Chair, he believes his abilities and experience make him the most well-prepared of anyone considering a run for DPW Chair.

When prompted to talk about what he felt separated him from other possible contenders for DPW Chair, Smith cited his experience having been on a ballot six times. Smith noted that while he didn’t win every election in which he was a candidate, he took pride in having run very competitive campaigns that in many cases exceeded expectations. He noted he got more votes in his races than the Democratic candidates at the top of the ticket in 2008, 2012, and 2014, and he added he won an Assembly Race in 2006 when he wasn’t expected to win.

Smith also cited his strong roots in a largely rural part of the state as something that would benefit the party, given the difficulty the Democratic Party has had in bringing rural voters who largely support Democratic Party issues into the fold. “Voters like the issues that Democrats support,” Smith noted, “but they still vote Republican,” adding that the Democratic Party of Wisconsin needs to figure out how to engage and educate those voters to bring them back into the Democratic Party “tent.” Smith added that it’s his belief the Democratic Party has focused on winning votes in urban centers for too long, and he noted that in his experience staff were often sent by the Democratic Party to work in the Party’s Eau Claire office with orders to only send volunteers or do phone banking in the city of Eau Claire while largely ignoring the rural areas surrounding the city.

“The Party can’t continue to win by engaging urban voters only,” Smith told me, adding that the Democratic Party can win rural voters back by listening to them. “All people want is someone to listen to them,” Smith said, noting that the results of referendums in which Wisconsinites opposed corporate personhood and the idea that money equals speech, supported the state accepting federal Medicaid funds for BadgerCare, and supported an increase in the minimum wage show that Democrats are on the right side of the issues but simply lack the right message to convince voters to vote for the Democrats who will address those issues. As an example Smith cited the fact that many rural voters care deeply about preserving their community schools, as many small rural communities are faced with the prospect of losing their community schools due to education funding cuts. “Many people are concerned about losing their community schools, yet they continue to vote for the very Republicans who cut education funding,” Smith said.

If elected DPW Chair, Smith said he’d make it a priority to engage county parties and empower them to be more proactive and make more of a difference in their communities. Smith said he wanted to see county parties doing more to recruit local volunteers who can both relate to local voters and who will have more credibility with those voters while doing outreach.

As I noted earlier, Jeff Smith expects to make a final decision on whether or not he’ll run for DPW Chair by the end of this year, and no matter what he decides to do it promises to be a crowded field come time to choose the next DPW Chair.


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43 thoughts on “Jeff Smith: The Blogging Blue Interview

  1. I like Joe Wineke for several reasons:

    1). Proven winner
    2) Understands the complexities of the DPW
    3). He’s a small town guy that can bridge the rural and urban messaging gap.

  2. It is good to see that we have multiple party members exploring a run for DPW chair. I think members of the party who are activists need to look at how we aspire our party to be in the future and find a candidate that can fulfill those aspirations in the future.

    I just do not buy the notion that the Democratic Base all voted and the Republicans Base turned out so we lost in 2014. When we look at college student turnout in dorms in the 2014 election it was horrible. We also have to look at Milwaukee participation which I think is an entire subject of its own that DPW needs to have a partnership with activists taking responsibility to get out the vote. Turnout in towns similar to Green Bay and Wausau were bad too. Even Vinehout’s state senate district voted for Walker and that is suppose to be a Democratic leaning seat that has the entire city of Eau Claire in it.

    Is the DPW going to change the landscape and go after new voters or will it continue to go after the same modeling universe that never is big enough to win elections?

    1. Your comment gets at the heart of what the new Chair must have a plan to turnaround and I would just add that they have to figure out a way to distance the DPW from the national organization and it’s neo-liberal, pro-Wall Street bias. I agree that it is incredibly positive great that two qualified, serious candidates are potentially in play.

  3. This year is unique in that we actually have a chance to reverse the damage caused by inept leadership decisions the last 3 election cycles. To me the big Q is who do we get to fill the vacuum when tate leaves? No doubt because of the relationship tate has with Nation Consulting, we will see jason rae run as a carbon copy of mike. That to me isnt the answer, we can say goodbye to 2016 then.

    the other issue is the assembly where barca is only interested in controlling the caucus and the ADCC cash not winning elections. thats going to take experience and someone who knows how to win to change. jeff smith is right on target here in addressing grass roots issues but i dont see him being able to work with barca and he lacks the hands on experience of someone who has actually been chair.

    a different year under different circumstances perhaps, not this time around. thanks to zach for staying on top of this and i am sure once joe wineke declares we will hear his views as well as from other candidates.

  4. Attention everyone. Special election bomb just dropped. Who do the Democrats have for the district? Circulation of nomination papers started yesterday and ends Jan. 6, 2015.

    Governor Scott Walker Announces Special Election for 20th Senate District
    Tuesday, December 16, 2014 – Press Release

    Madison – Governor Scott Walker today announced a special election for the 20th State Senate District. The following is a timeline for the special election:

    December 16, 2014 – Circulation of Nomination Papers Begins
    January 6, 2015 – Circulation of Nomination Papers Ends
    February 17, 2015 – Primary Election (If Necessary)
    April 7, 2015 – Spring Election
    The special election follows the resignation of Senator Glenn Grothman (R–Campbellsport). Senator Grothman’s resignation will become effective on January 3, 2015.

    – See more at:

    1. Not a single credible Democrat will run for that seat, because no Democrat will win there. There’s a reason the outgoing State Senator is Glenn Grothman, after all.

  5. Not just anybody is going to be able to waltz right into the DPW and turn this train around. There are some deep issues within the system that need to be examined. Jeff Smith is fine and dandy, but, not this go round’. Kevin Kratsch is right. Barca and types like Abele would have folks like Jeff Smith for breakfast. Joe Wineke all the way, or we are doomed.

  6. I like Jeff for Chair because he’s not a chair-sitter. He’s a walk-and-talker, and has a lot of energy that he communicates wherever he goes and whatever he does. That and hard work will win races for Dems. And I think that’s been missing for a couple of cycles despite the hopes of many people.

  7. @Steve, I’m not a politician, just an anxious and discouraged Democratic marketer who has sold a lot of stuff. When a company’s products have quite pulling, the first thing I look for is a way to move the company higher on a perceived social level in their market.I don’t expect many people in local Democratic circles to understand what I’m talking about, because they have little experience with professional marketers.

    IMNSHO Wisconsin needs to find a Daniel Moynihan and some experienced and successful professional marketers who will work 365 days of the year to get the governorship and legislature back into Democratic hands. I, for one, am tired of going to the polls knowing that my vote will make no difference.

  8. A populist message and platform based on principled public stands or actions (NOT Tammy Baldwin on the Cromnibus sell-out for example), won’t NEED to be sold, Cat. We’ve listened to the so called professional marketers and that is the problem. People on the left ignored the marketeers and stayed home. Snake oil is snake oil.

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding and you could illustrate then, with an example to enlighten us.

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