The Democrats' path to victory in 2022 may very well be to make use of the correct messengers for swing seats
Newly elected members of the House of Representatives Abigail Spanberger (C) (D-VA), Mikie Sherrill (L) (D-NJ) and Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) took a selfie in front of the US Capitol picture of new representatives on after an official class November 14, 2018. Spanberger is a retired CIA officer, Sherrill is a retired helicopter pilot and US Navy attorney, and Houlahan is a retired US Air Force officer.
When the House of Representatives passed President Biden's $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 bailout in the early hours of Saturday morning, Republicans unanimously opposed it, despite arguably one of the most popular legislative initiatives in over a decade.
In all honesty, it is a political gift to the Democrats that prepares them for the road to 2022 with an incredibly simple but powerful message: We went to Washington and fought for you.
Republicans are clearly making a different political bet based on the structural advantages that have for the foreseeable future brought them to minority rule in each election cycle. At some point it will bite the Republicans' buttocks to just turn to a dwindling demographic of damaged white voters, but it's not clear when exactly. Right now, the rejection of a hugely popular relief, widely supported by both the GOP (around 40%) and swing voters (75%), continues to show how GOP lawmakers trust their voters just like that anti-democratic and separated from the reality that they go to the elections like machines and support the Republican candidates across the board.
Unfortunately, given the already extensive efforts by Republicans to suppress voters and the potential benefits of gerrymandering, this is not a completely unfounded bet. On the positive side, Trump's incompetent handling of the census could delay the new, more GOP-friendly districts for another election cycle and give the House Democrats at least a little more leeway in 2022.
Anyway, next year's halftime is sure to be a fight to the end, and maybe more in the house. As the Daily Kos Elections team reported last week, the number of crossover congressional districts where voters at the top of the map had a different partisan election from voting rounds hit an all-time low of just 16 districts in 2020. ""After the 2016 elections there were 35 crossover seats, an increase from 2012 but a sharp decrease from the 83 seats created by the 2008 democratic wave, "wrote David Nir, Political Director of Daily Kos.
These 16 boroughs will inevitably be home to some of the most hotly contested races Nine Republicans who represent districts Biden won last year, while seven Democrats hold districts Trump won. Essentially, with the current five-seat majority in the House of Representatives, Democrats don't have much room for error in either defense or a decision to play offensive.
All of this brings us to the question of how House Democrats should approach halftime, especially in red-colored districts that might have some pickup options.
There's no right to answer, but some interesting insight came up this week when Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas and I finally got the chance to meet Sarah Longwell, a dedicated Never-Trumper and editor of The Bulwark, for a special Interview segment. We had spent a couple of weeks trying to get Longwell to join The Brief to discuss the future of the Republican Party. She's also the founder of several active anti-Trump groups like the Republican Accountability Project and Republican Voters Against Trump, so she went the way. And in the interests of full disclosure, she's an old friend of mine when I was in Washington D.C. reported on LGBTQ problems.
But our discussion of the current state of the GOP, which Longwell described as both "dangerous" and "anti-democratic," has inevitably been the best way for Democrats to keep Republicans out of power until it is no longer a fascist cult. Donald Trump.
Her view was that choosing Democratic messengers (i.e. candidates) for these conservative boroughs was one of the most important factors for Democrats keeping control of the house. After years of focus groups with Republicans and Trump voters, Longwell's simple conclusion doesn't come as a shock – Democrats have a branding problem.
While many of the GOP voters couldn't really articulate in their focus groups what it meant to be a Republican, "If you ask what you don't like about Democrats, they have a list, ”she said. While most of these voters were unable to provide specific guidelines, they would make right-wing discussion items about Democrats such as: "You want to spend all the money" or "You will run into the debt." Longwell also noted that they weren't really read into the GOP or Trump guidelines either. So if you were to ask something like Trump reducing national debt, you would be something like "I really think he refuses. Little did they know that Trump and the Republicans of Congress were actually building the debt, including by giving the country's rich and corporations a huge 2017 tax break.
In essence, Longwell was telling us the same thing we heard in The Brief from Democratic strategist Joe Trippi and RuralOrganizing.org Executive Director Matt Hildreth – Democrats have an uphill battle to reach these voters, and good governance alone will don't cut it.
Her formula for success in these GOP-oriented districts returned to her "standout" Democratic strategy in 2018: Find candidates who cannot be smeared as "leftists" based on their biography. Candidates with a military background like Rep. Conor Lamb from Pennsylvania or with in-depth national security experience like Rep. Elissa Slotkin from Michigan or Abigail Spanberger from Virginia give Democrats a chance to fight.
""They distinguish themselves as people who a moderate, centrist, or even center-right voter would say, that person doesn't seem to be a radical left, "said Longwell. For them, the formula was to select the candidate with the right profile for election District and then these candidates arm a very popular policy, such as protecting pre-existing conditions in 2018.
"Take one of the most popular destinations, take a woman with a military background who flew helicopters like Mikie Sherrill (New Jersey Congressman), take her to a swing neighborhood and bing, bang, boom – you've got a landslide, you choose up to 40 wards, "Longwell said. To be very clear, Longwell did not predict that Democrats would get 40 seats in 2022, but rather emphasized how successful the strategy was in 2018.
The whole 30 minute segment was super interesting and I encourage people to listen to it. The result, however, is that Democrats seem poised to adopt a COVID-19 bailout package almost entirely on their own, which could prove to be the perfect message for the right Democratic messengers heading into the controversial interim periods of next year.
But to stand a chance with these conservative-minded voters, we need to put forward candidates whom the district's voters trust and who can easily distract the "leftie" label that Republicans will be promoting continuously for the next two years.
As Hildreth of RuralOrganizing told us, the biggest advantage Republicans have with most white rural voters is that, at their core, they believe that Republicans are fighting for them, damn it.
Longwell says the key to the Democrats reclaiming that cloak is more the messenger than politics. In 2018, Democrats got both the messenger and politics right, and they are now well on their way to having half that equation in place for 2022.