- Associated Press - Friday, February 13, 2015

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Lon Johnson, who took the helm of the Michigan Democratic Party two years ago promising that new strategies could win races, said Democrats lost too much in 2014 and must triumph in 2016 and beyond by better explaining their plan to voters.

“We have to start winning,” Johnson told The Associated Press in an interview this week ahead of the party’s convention on Saturday, when he is expected to be chosen for another two-year term.

He said campaign tactics are important, but “we’ve got to show voters what they will get when they vote for a Democrat. … What we’re going to do going forward is to clearly show the voters of Michigan in great detail what we’re going to do.”

Republicans often accused Democrat Mark Schauer of having no detailed plan in his ultimately unsuccessful bid to topple Gov. Rick Snyder in November. Asked if that criticism was valid, Johnson said: “Going forward, we are not going to be just the party of ‘We don’t like Snyder, we don’t like the Republicans.’”

Johnson said Democrats must be “bold” in five areas - education, the economy, infrastructure, natural resources and equality.

Other than Gary Peters’ win to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, Democrats had a bad year - as they did nationally in the sixth year of Barack Obama’s presidency.

Attorney General Bill Schuette and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, both Republicans, easily won re-election. Republicans also expanded their majorities in the Legislature.

The Democrats’ plan was to coax a lot more of their sporadic voters to cast ballots. Democrats turn out in bigger numbers for presidential elections but not in midterm years.

Democrats identified 900,000 Democrats who did not vote in 2010. The goal was to get 180,000 to vote and 229,000 did, Johnson said.

Yet overall statewide turnout dropped by 2.5 percent from 2010.

“It wasn’t enough. We achieved the tactical objective but didn’t achieve our goal, which was winning,” Johnson said.

Lon Johnson, 43, defeated longtime Democratic chairman Mark Brewer after union leaders and others decided new leadership was needed to help wrest back control of state government from Republicans.

He said the party’s infrastructure has grown under his watch, saying the email list quintupled to more than 500,000 and social media followers doubled to more than 45,000. Fundraising was roughly $1.5 million above the party’s goal.

Democrats stand to fare better in 2016. The party’s presidential nominee has won the state six straight times, and Democrats picked up House seats with higher voter turnout when Obama won in 2012.

Because of term limits, Democrats will not have to defeat an incumbent governor, attorney general and secretary of state in 2018. Democrats will not have held the attorney general’s job in 16 years, the secretary of state’s position in 24 years.

If Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek keeps his pledge to not seek re-election, Democrats would see an opportunity to win the 1st Congressional District in the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula.

“We lost, and we have to figure out why,” said Johnson, who is still analyzing the 2014 election. “It’s not always mechanical answers. We have to be the party of bold ideas.”


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