Even Berke, whom Smith counts as a potential torch-bearer for the party, downplays his affiliation. “I have worked with Democrats and Republicans to pass critical legislation,” he said. “By focusing on economic development, accountability in government and education, we can make our city and state better. While elections often focus on party, the citizens judge government on results.”
Results are exactly what the New Path Forward is banking on. Even though Democrats largely blame their ouster on a force of political nature, their plan for resurgence depends on a phenomenon—similarly beyond their control. They’re betting on the very thing the Obama campaign is hoping to stave off: buyer’s remorse. After two legislative sessions during which Republican proposals often elicited national headlines (and sometimes mockery), they’re hoping to position themselves as the moderate adults on the Hill over the next few election cycles.
“I think [Democrats] have to get their act together, but the Republican state legislature has handed them a lot of opportunity,” said Geer, who added that moderate Democrats will still have opportunities in the state. “One of the things the [Vanderbilt poll] says is, yes the state’s conservative but it’s not as conservative as the state legislature was.”
The plan for Democratic revival requires that they’ve stopped falling. Holding the line would be a good start.
“I think our expectations are not particularly high,” Cheek said. “I don’t think anyone is expecting the party to retake the Senate. The expectations are modest. I just hope we have bottomed out. I hope that we have.”
If they haven’t, they might find cold comfort in the fact that there can’t be much further to go.
A version of this article was originally published in the Nashville City Paper. Cole Rose of The Pulse provided additional local reporting.