Democrats’ path to winning in 2022 could come down to fielding the right messengers for swing seats

Democrats’ path to winning in 2022 could come down to fielding the right messengers for swing seats

When the House of Representatives passed President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 rescue package in the wee hours of Saturday morning, Republicans lined up unanimously against it despite the fact that it’s arguably among the most popular legislative initiatives in over a decade. 

Frankly, it’s a political gift to Democrats, priming them to head into 2022 with a incredibly simple but potent message: We went to Washington and fought for you.

Republicans are clearly making a different political bet based on the structural advantages that have put them on a razor’s edge of achieving minority rule in every election cycle for the foreseeable future. At some point, pandering solely to a dwindling demographic of aggrieved white voters will bite Republicans in the butt, but it’s unclear exactly when. For now, their rejection of wildly popular relief that’s broadly supported by both GOP (some 40%) and swing voters (75%) alike further illustrates how GOP lawmakers are banking on their voters simply being so anti-Democrat and divorced from reality that they go to the polls like automatons and back Republican candidates down the line.

Unfortunately, that’s not an entirely unfounded bet once one factors in Republicans’ already extensive voter suppression efforts and the potential advantages of gerrymandering. On the bright side, Trump’s incompetent handling of the Census could delay new, more GOP-friendly districts for one more election cycle, buying House Democrats at least a touch more room to breath in 2022.

Whatever the case, next year’s midterms are bound to be a fight to the finish, and perhaps even more so in the House. As the Daily Kos Elections team reported last week, the number of crossover congressional districts—where voters made a different partisan choice at the top of the ticket than they did for down-ballot races—hit a historic low in 2020 of just 16 districts. “Following the 2016 elections there were 35 crossover seats, which was an increase from 2012 but a steep drop from the 83 produced by the 2008 Democratic wave,” wrote Daily Kos political director David Nir.    

Those 16 districts will inevitably be home to some of the most hotly contested races, with nine Republicans representing districts Biden won last year while seven Democrats hold districts that Trump won. In essence, with their current five-seat majority in the House, Democrats don’t have a lot of room for error either in how they play defense or where they choose to play offense. 

All of which brings us to the question of how House Democrats should approach the midterms, particularly in red-leaning districts that might offer some pick up opportunities.

There’s no one right to answer to this, but some interesting insights did emerge this week when Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas and I finally got a chance to interview Sarah Longwell, a dedicated never-Trumper and publisher of The Bulwark, for a special segment. We’d been trying to get Longwell on The Brief for a couple weeks to discuss the future of the Republican party. She’s also the founder of several active anti-Trump groups, the Republican Accountability Project and Republican Voters Against Trump, so she’s been walking the walk. And in the interest of full disclosure, she’s an old friend of mine from when I was reporting on LGBTQ issues back in Washington D.C. 

But our discussion of the current state of the GOP, which Longwell framed as both “dangerous” and “anti-democratic,” inevitably turned to the best way for Democrats to keep Republicans out of power until it’s no longer a fascist cult in thrall to one man—Donald Trump.   

Her view was that picking Democratic messengers (i.e. candidates) for these conservative-leaning districts was among the most important factors to Democrats maintaining control of the House. After conducting years of focus groups with Republicans and Trump voters, Longwell’s simple conclusion isn’t a shocker—Democrats have a brand problem.

While many of the GOP voters in her focus groups couldn’t really articulate what being a Republican meant to them, “if you ask, what don’t you like about Democrats, they got a list,” she said. Though most of those voters couldn’t name specific policies, they would echo right-wing talking points about Democrats such as, “They want to spend all the money” or “They’ll run up the debt.” Longwell also noted that they weren’t really read in on GOP or Trump policies either. So if you asked something along the lines of how they thought Trump was doing on reducing the national debt, they would offer something like,”I really think he’s chipping away at it.” So they were completely clueless that Trump and congressional Republicans were actually running up the debt, including by giving a giant tax break in 2017 to the nation’s rich and corporate-y.

In essence, Longwell was telling us the same thing that we heard on The Brief from Democratic strategist Joe Trippi and the director of Matt Hildreth—Democrats have a real uphill battle in reaching these voters and good governance alone isn’t going to cut it. 

Her formula for success in these GOP-leaning districts came back to what she viewed as Democrats’ “outstanding” strategy in 2018—find candidates who, by virtue of their biography, can’t be smeared as “lefties.” Candidates with military backgrounds like Rep. Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania or with deep national security experience, such as Reps. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan or Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, give Democrats a fighting chance.

“They profile as people that a moderate, centrist, or even center-right voter would say, that person doesn’t seem like a radical leftie,” Longwell said. To her, the formula was to pick the candidate with the right profile for the district and then arm those candidates a super popular policy to run on, such as protecting pre-existing conditions coverage in 2018.

“Take one of the most popular provisions, take a woman with a military background who flew helicopters like (New Jersey Congresswoman) Mikie Sherrill, put her in a swing district and bing, bang, boom—you’ve got a landslide, you pick up 40 districts,” said Longwell. Just to be clear, Longwell wasn’t predicting a 40-seat pick up for Democrats in 2022 but rather highlighting how successful the strategy proved to be in 2018.

The whole 30-minute segment was super interesting, and I encourage people to give it a listen. But the upshot is, Democrats seem poised to pass a COVID-19 relief package almost entirely on their own that could prove to be the perfect message for the right Democratic messengers heading into next year’s contentious midterms. 

But in order to have a chance with these voters, we need to field candidates that voters in the district are inclined to trust and who can easily deflect the “leftie” label that Republicans will be pushing nonstop for the next two years. 

As RuralOrganizing’s Hildreth told us, the biggest advantage Republicans have with most white rural voters is they believe to their core that Republicans are fighting for them, policy be damned.  

Longwell is saying, the key to Democrats reclaiming that mantel is more about the messenger than it is the policy. In 2018, Democrats got the both the messenger and policy right, and they are now on the road to having one half of that equation in place for 2022.  

From Daily Kos at Read More. This article is republished from DailyKos under an open content license. Read the original article at DailyKos.

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