Newly elected House members 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.
Frankly, 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 electoral cycle. At some point, it will bite the Republicans’ butts just to turn to a dwindling demographic of damaged white voters, but it’s not clear exactly when. Right now, their 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 to just do that anti-democratic and separated from the reality that they go to the elections like machines and support the Republican candidates down the line.
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 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 margin for error in either defending or deciding to play offensively.
All of this brings us to the question of how the 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, interview for a specific 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 is also the founder of several active anti-Trump groups such as the Republican Accountability Project and Republican Voters Against Trump. And in the sake of full disclosure, she is an old friend of mine when I was reporting on LGBTQ issues in Washington DC
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 the Democrats to keep Republicans out of power until it is no longer a fascist cult of One Man – Donald Trump.
Their view was that the selection of 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 in their focus groups couldn’t really articulate what it meant to be a Republican, “If you ask what you dislike 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 points 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 about how Trump would reduce the 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 corporate a huge tax break in 2017.
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.
Their formula for success in these GOP-oriented districts returned to their “standout” Democratic strategy in 2018: Find candidates who cannot be smeared as “leftists” based on their biographies. Candidates with a military background like Rep. Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania or with deep national security experience like Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan or Abigail Spanberger of Virginia give Democrats a chance to fight.
“”They stand out as the kind of person a moderate, centrist, or even center-right voter would say, that person doesn’t seem like a radical left, “said Longwell. For them, the formula was to select the candidate with the right profile to be elected District and then arm these candidates with very popular policies, 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 (New Jersey Congresswoman) Mikie Sherrill, take her to a swing neighborhood and bing, bang, boom – you have a landslide, you choose to 40 counties, “said Longwell. To be very clear, Longwell did not predict the Democrats would get 40 seats in 2022, but instead highlighted 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 conservatively-minded voters, we need to put forward candidates whom the district 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 getting half of that equation into effect for 2022.