washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Popular “Moderates versus the Left” narrative about Democrats’ struggle to regain the support of working class voters is the “Night of the Living Dead” of American political commentary.

No matter how many times it is buried by the weight of events it keeps on coming back.

To Regain the Support of “Culturally Traditional but Not Extremist” Working Class Voters Democrats Need to Understand the Compelling Political Narrative That Leads Them to Vote for the GOP.

Read the Memo

The culturally traditional but non-extremist working class voters: who they are, how they think and what Democrats Must Understand to regain their support.

As the 2022 and 2024 elections approach Democrats have responded to their declining working class support by proposing variations on one or another of two strategies that they have advocated ever since the 1970’s.

The Popular “Moderates versus the Left” narrative about Democrats’ struggle to regain the support of working class voters is the “Night of the Living Dead” of American political commentary.

No matter how many times it is buried by the weight of events it keeps on coming back.

The culturally traditional but non-extremist working class voters: who they are, how they think and what Democrats Must Understand to regain their support.

By Andrew Levison

Read the Report.

The Daily Strategist

November 27, 2022

Political Strategy Notes

In his New York Times opinion article, “Trump Was a Gift That Might Not Keep Giving,” Thomas B. Edsall writes, “The 2022 midterm election revealed dangerous cracks in the Democratic coalition, despite the fact that the party held the Senate and kept House losses to a minimum….Turnout fell in a number of key Democratic cities. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the city’s “vote count dropped 33 percent from 2020, more than any other county and the statewide average of 22 percent. It’s not just a 2020 comparison: This year saw a stark divergence between Philly turnout and the rest of the state compared to every federal election since at least 2000.”…The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners reported that turnout of registered voters in 2022 was 46.1 percent, down from 60.67 percent in the previous 2018 midterm….According to the Board of Elections in Ohio’s Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, turnout fell from 54.5 percent in 2018 to 46.1 percent in 2022….The Gotham Gazette reported that from 2018 to 2022, turnout fell from 41 to 33 percent in New York City.”

Edsall continues, “Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist, made a similar case by email. “Swing voters in swing states and districts didn’t marry the Democrats; they just dumped the Republicans,” he wrote. “In the post-Dobbs environment, extremism is not a theoretical concern anymore. The two most valuable players of this cycle for the Democrats are Sam Alito and Donald Trump. Democrats should send them each a fruit basket.”….“I cannot think of a worse way for the House G.O.P. to introduce themselves as a governing party than braying about investigations into Hunter Biden and Anthony Fauci,” Begala argued. “Their candidates won by promising action on inflation, crime and borders.”….To counter the House Republican agenda, Begala wrote,Biden needs to say, “They’re obsessed with my family’s past; I’m obsessed with your family’s future.” At every hearing in which the Republicans are tormenting Hunter Biden or Dr. Fauci, I would have Democratic members ask, “How will this hearing lower the price of gas at the pump? How will it reduce crime? How will it secure the border?”

Edsall adds, “Should Democrats repeat a tactic used successfully this year to lift the chances that Republicans nominate their weakest general election candidate?…Both Begala and Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster, stood firmly opposed. “We should leave this to Republicans to nominate their own Trump,” Lake said by email….Begala gave three reasons for his opposition. First, “it undermines President Biden’s powerful message that Trump leads a mega-MAGA fanatical fringe that is a clear and present danger to our democracy.” Second, “Trump is still a massive, major force in American politics — especially in the Republican Party. I don’t want Trump anywhere near the White House.” Third, “while I respect the political success of governors like DeSantis, Youngkin, Hogan and Christie, if the Democrats can’t beat them, we don’t deserve the White House.” Begala’s first point resonates — Dems can’t hang the fanatic label solely on Republicans if Dems are enabling it. In addition, unorthodox tactics work well with the element of surprise, which you can’t count on repeatedly. And, as the post below indicates, Dems don’t have a lot of extra cash laying around to squander in Republican primaries.

Puzzling questions persist in the wake of the 2022 midterm elections, including, “Why are Democrats so weak in Florida, and why is it getting worse?” As Ryan Best , Humera Lodhi and Geoffrey Skelley  observe at FiveThirty Eight, “In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis won reelection by 19 points, while GOP Sen. Marco Rubio won by 16 points. Their performance in South Florida may have also helped Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Gimenez achieve the largest overperformances of any candidates in the House races we examined (although Diaz-Balart has long been a dynamo when it comes to easily winning elections).” Max Greenwood notes further at The Hill, “The scale of the Democratic wipeout in Florida is hard to understate. Tuesday’s elections saw Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R) win landslide victories and Republicans clinch supermajorities in both chambers of the state legislature. For the first time since Reconstruction, no Democrat will hold statewide office in Florida….In 2008, when former President Obama carried Florida for the first time, there were about 700,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans. As of Sept. 30, 2022, there were roughly 300,000 more registered Republican voters than Democratic voters.” Florida State Democratic Party Chairman Mann Diaz “released a memo on Tuesday in which he called out national Democratic groups for spending so little in Florida this year — about $1.35 million in 2022 compared to nearly $59 million in 2018…DeSantis, a star among conservatives nationally and prospective Republican presidential candidate, drastically outraised Crist throughout the campaign, pulling in more than $200 million for his reelection bid. Crist, on the other hand, raised about $31 million.” In “How to Fix the Pathetic Florida Democratic Party,”  Hamilton Nolan writes at In These Times,, “Georgia has two Democratic senators. Do you think Georgia is naturally more liberal than Florida? It ain’t. The party needs to get its act together….Only 5.2% of Florida workers were union members in 2021. That has to change….Labor and the environment: that is the coalition that the Florida Democratic Party should represent…No wonder potential Democratic voters in the state aren’t energized. For what? Give them a genuine vision…It means representing the people working at the gas station and the grocery store and the cafe. They need help, and Republicans aren’t helping them! “

New Poll: Warnock Ahead With Young Voters, Lagging with Seniors

At The Hill, Chloe Formar reports that a “Huge age gap shows up in AARP poll of Warnock-Walker runoff.” As Formar writes,

A poll released on Tuesday by AARP, an interest group for those aged 50 and older, found a significant age gap in voters’ preferences in the Georgia Senate runoff election between incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) and former NFL player Herschel Walker (R).

Warnock leads Walker by 24 percentage points among voters aged 18-49, while Walker leads by 9 points among voters aged 50 or older, according to the poll from AARP Georgia. The two groups differ in their preferences by a total of 33 points.

Former notes that “Respondents aged 65 or older favor Walker over Warnock by 13 points, while that lead shrinks to 4 percentage points among those aged 50-64.” In addition, “Black voters aged 50 and up differ in preference from their age group overall, however, with Warnock holding an 83-point lead over Walker among such respondents.”

Further, “Overall, Warnock leads in the poll of all age groups by 4 percentage points, despite voters aged 50 and older constituting more than 60 percent of likely runoff voters….AARP found that 90 percent of voters 50 and older ranked themselves “extremely motivated” to vote in the runoff, which will take place Dec. 6.”

According g to Formar, “The poll was conducted between November 11 and November 17, with 1,183 likely Georgia voters participating, including 550 voters aged 50 and older.”

Although the Democrats will continue to control the U.S. Senate with at least 50 seats, Warnock’s election would insure that Senate Democrats have working committee majorities and empower Democrats to confirm appointments to the federal judiciary. Also, as Reuters reports via AlJazeera,

Because of the 50-50 Senate divide, committee memberships are currently doled out evenly. These committees oversee a range of federal programmes, from the military and agriculture to homeland security, transportation, healthcare and foreign affairs.

Tied votes in committees on legislation or presidential nominations block, at least temporarily, such measures from advancing to the full Senate. It takes time-consuming procedural manoeuvres to break the committee deadlock so the full chamber can pass bottled-up bills and nominations.

A Warnock win would give Democrats at least one more member on each committee than Republicans, making it harder for Republicans to stand in the way of Biden’s agenda.

That could also provide Democrats with a stronger counter-balance to House Republicans, allowing Senate committees to advance more liberal legislation and nominees that, in turn, could help energize their core voters in the 2024 elections.

The report adds, “If Warnock manages to defeat Walker, he will put the seat in Democratic hands for six years — a full Senate term…” In addition, “A victory by Warnock would mean that Schumer could lose the support of one member of his Democratic caucus and still win floor votes. But he may have less opportunity for flashy moves, as Republicans will hold a narrow majority in the House of Representatives.”

Teixeira: Dems Can’t Count on Trump in 2024

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from The Wall St. Journal:

We’re still waiting for the final results of the 2022 election. But it’s clear that Democrats decisively beat both expectations and the elections’s “fundamentals”—the incumbent party’s usual midterm losses, President Biden’s low approval rating, high inflation, voter negativity on the economy and the state of the country. Republicans look set to take back the House but only by a modest margin. And the Senate will remain in Democratic hands, albeit narrowly.

The Democrats’ relatively good night is attributable, above all, to their secret weapon: Donald Trump. Mr. Trump’s ability to push Republican voters into picking bad, frequently incompetent candidates with extreme positions on issues from the 2020 election to abortion was a disaster for Republicans.

They know it. Scott Jennings, a former deputy to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, tweeted: “How could you look at these results tonight and conclude Trump has any chance of winning a national election in 2024?” Chris Christie, the Republican former New Jersey governor, noted: “We lost in ’18. We lost in ’20. We lost in ’21 in Georgia. And now in ’22 we’re going to net lose governorships. . . . There’s only one person to blame for that, and that’s Donald Trump.” Mike Lawler, a newly elected Republican congressman from New York, suggested the party needed to “move forward” from Mr. Trump.

This rising chorus will create some pressure for change within the GOP. Where might they turn? This election provides an obvious model, which could present a big challenge for Democrats. Call it their Ron DeSantis problem.

In Florida’s gubernatorial election, Mr. DeSantis absolutely crushed his Democratic opponent, Charlie Crist, beating him by 19 points. This landslide included carrying Hispanic voters by 13 points and working-class (noncollege) voters by 27 points. Democrats nationally have been bleeding support from both these voter groups. Since 2018 the Democratic advantage has declined by 18 points among Hispanics, by 17 points among working-class voters and by 23 points among nonwhite working-class voters.

The geographic pattern of results in Florida underscores Mr. DeSantis’s strength. He carried heavily Hispanic Miami-Dade county, historically the Democrats’ firewall, by 11 points. He carried Osceola County by almost 7 points—a county where Puerto Ricans, among the most Democratic of Hispanic subgroups, loom large.

Democrats assumed that Mr. DeSantis’s flying migrants to Martha’s Vineyard would disqualify him among Hispanic voters. Evidently not. They also assumed that his sponsorship of a law prohibiting instruction in gender ideology for K-3 children would hurt him politically. Wrong again.

How does Mr. DeSantis do it? By being a smart, disciplined politician who knows how to pick his fights and has a strong sense of public opinion, particularly working-class opinion. I believe his combination of traits—Mr. Trump’s greatest strength, without his greatest weakness—could give the Democrats fits. He would be able to attack them on crime, immigration, race essentialism, gender ideology, inflation and energy prices without presenting the easy target provided by Mr. Trump and his acolytes’ extreme ideas.

Democrats, truth be told, are now in a weird codependent relationship with Mr. Trump. They know—and they are correct in thinking this—that the craziness associated with him is their most effective point of attack against the Republican Party and its candidates. Mr. Trump, of course, loves being the center of controversy.

But this codependent relationship makes the Democrats lazy. Instead of taking stock of their weaknesses and seeking to overcome them, they go back to the well on the evils of Mr. Trump, his nefarious supporters and their election denialism.

Meanwhile, the weaknesses remain. In a pre-election poll conducted by Impact Research for Third Way, respondents preferred Republicans over Democrats by 18 points on the economy and inflation and by 20 points or more on crime and immigration. The poll also found slightly more voters regarded the Democratic Party as “too extreme” (55%) than felt that way about the Republican Party (54%).

These election results seem unlikely to provoke the kind of introspection Democrats need to correct these vulnerabilities, especially among working-class and Hispanic voters. Mr. Biden, cheered on by the left, has already announced that he will do “nothing” differently. This puts them in an exceptionally poor position to address the DeSantis problem. What if 2024 arrives and they no longer have Donald Trump to kick around?

To compound the problem, Democrats are staring down the barrel of an unfavorable Senate map in 2024. Democrats will be defending 23 of the 33 seats in play. Holding those Democratic seats will mean winning in a raft of red and purple states: Arizona, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin and West Virginia. The Republican seats that will be up are all in solid GOP states, with the possible exceptions of Texas and Florida (and we saw what just happened there).

Imagine a DeSantis ticket, accompanied by saner, more competent Senate candidates. Are the Democrats prepared for that? I think not. But instead of addressing the problem—or even admitting it exists—they’re counting on Mr. Trump to bail them out. This seems exceptionally foolish. It’s also morally reprehensible: They’re trading a better chance of winning for the possibility that Mr. Trump might become president again.

Mr. Teixeira is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a co-editor of the Liberal Patriot, a Substack newsletter.

Political Strategy Notes

In their article, “Democrats Must Do Better in Rural America,” Anthony Flaccavento, Erica Etelson and Cody Lonning write at The Nation: “According to the AP/NORC VoteCast Survey, Democratic support among rural and working-class voters continued to fall in 2022, the latter by seven points compared to 2018. Among working-class voters of color, the decline was even bigger, dropping 12 points across that same period, In North Carolina, the state Supreme Court is now entirely Republican. In more than 40 small towns and rural communities in Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, and elsewhere, local governments are passing “pro-life sanctuary” resolutions that proclaim that life begins at conception and pledge to prohibit abortions, in defiance of state law….If this midterm was a success for Democrats, it is a retreat from what they ought to expect. Success for the Party of the People can’t merely mean that they barely hold on to a tie in the Senate or lose the House of Representatives by only a few seats. This vision of success is far too modest to meet the enormous challenges our nation faces….For Democrats to do more than hang on by their fingernails in 2024 and beyond, it’s essential that they expand their base to include rural and working-class voters of all races. The Rural Urban Bridge Initiative (RUBI), which we cofounded, is one of a growing network of groups working to reach, understand, and engage rural voters. One important tool for doing that is our just-released report, “Can Democrats Succeed in Rural America? A Review of Strategies and Practices that Work.” It distills best practices from interviews with 50 Democratic candidates who ran for state or federal office in rural districts between 2016 and 2020….Rural races are different from urban and suburban races; running competitively in them requires a different approach in both style and substance. Two-thirds of rural voters hold Democrats in low esteem and are profoundly antagonized by liberal elites who scorn the “rubes of flyover country.” Though Democrats’ rural deficit runs deep, it’s important to remember that as recently as 2008, Barack Obama garnered 43 percent of rural votes. And this cycle, John Fetterman’s consistent presence in rural places produced a two-and-a-half-point improvementover the 2020 presidential race—enough for him to win statewide in Pennsylvania….“Can Democrats Succeed in Rural America?” describes more than a dozen strategies used by rural candidates and office holders, four of which we highlight here.

Flaccavento, Etelson and Lonning continue, “First, candidates must have local credibility. Whether through generational ties to the area or long-standing community involvement and problem solving, Democrats fare better when they have local roots and are fluent in the concerns and values of the people living there. This means being able to connect state or national issues to specific local realities, and responding to the everyday concerns of people, without regard to party affiliation. For example, Chloe Maxmin, a progressive who won rural seats in the Maine House and then Senate, suspended much of her campaign activities in the spring of 2020 to help provide essential services to sick and elderly residents….Second, candidates put local concerns and issues first, rather than trying to mobilize people around their own—or their party’s—policy agenda. These local concerns vary, though they almost always include “kitchen table” issues like jobs and health care. Making local concerns central to a campaign does not mean ignoring or adopting conservative positions on critically important national issues. Rather, it means respecting voters enough to put their priorities at the center of the campaign. In so doing, candidates sometimes find meaningful ways to tackle state and national issues by drawing upon local experience, as when a candidate in rural Appalachia stood up for local businesses by fighting the outrageous subsidiesused to recruit big box competitors….Third, candidates and campaigns seek people where they are, rather than strictly following the advice to “go where the votes are.” Canvassing and phone-banking strategies typically focus on people who vote regularly and lean Democrat. By contrast, many of our study’s successful candidates reached out to people usually overlooked by campaigns. In big districts, where comprehensive canvassing may not be possible, candidates routinely “showed up” in even the most out-of-the-way places, joining community events or hosting town hall meetings. While campaign consultants might view this strategy as inefficient, New Rural Project’s work in predominantly Black rural communities in North Carolina is modeling an approach that builds trust and activates people who’ve disengaged, especially when done year-round.Fourth, successful candidates listen more and talk less. Genuine listening entails more than a slight pause before rattling off your talking points. It requires respect for the experiences, values, and choices of the people with whom candidates are engaging. When effective rural candidates do speak, they do so with humility and respect for other points of view, steering clear of partisan talking points or jargon. They talk like a neighbor, not an activist, with clear, concise language and concrete examples rather than policy abstractions.”

By now, you’ve probably read a lot of election spin that says Dems did so much better than expected in the midterm elections because they did so well with young voters. We’re going to need better data to verify or debunk that assertion, since the exit polls have their limitations. We need a solid estimate of the percentage of the pro-Democratic turnout that came from young voters, as well as the gender breakdown of the youth vote. Meanwhile, consider Katha Pollitt’s take, also at The Nation, about the pivotal importance of women voters: “Here’s what actually happened. On November 8, with a rush of new voter registrations and a high turnout, five states chose reproductive rights, women’s health, and freedom. In California, 66 percent of voters passed Proposition 1, enshrining abortion and contraception rights in the state Constitution. In Vermont, voters went one better, locking down in their Constitution the rights to abortion, contraception, sterilization, and decision-making around pregnancy. In Michigan, voters won constitutional protections for abortion, contraception, and pregnancy and childbirth decisions….Most surprising, in cherry-red Kentucky, where post-Roe trigger laws currently ban most abortions, voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would have explicitly denied protection for abortion, and in even cherrier-redder Montana, where Republicans control the governorship and both houses of the state legislature, voters rejected a deceptively worded “born alive” law that could have given doctors who provided palliative care to infants with fatal fetal anomalies a $50,000 fine and 20 years in prison….Far from sinking Democrats’ hopes with their pesky uterine concerns, in many states pro-choice voters helped Democrats on to victories….According to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, support for abortion rights has surged since Dobbs: 66 percent of Americans now support all or almost all abortion, the highest since 1995—among women it’s 74 percent. Moreover, ABC News reports that “in the 14 states that have ceased nearly all abortion services, 63 percent now support legal abortion, up 20 points since April.” Reality bites….Abortion rights are popular, and Democrats should act that way. As Maya Rupert of the Center for Reproductive Rights put it to me in a phone call, “We have to let go of the idea that abortion is a uniquely divisive issue that people shouldn’t talk about.”

New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall shares some of Stanley B. Greenberg’s analysis of the midterm elections: ” From Nov. 6 to 8, Stanley Greenberg conducted a survey of 2,520 registered voters for Democracy Corps, including a 1,130 oversampling of voters of color, the results of which were releasedon Nov. 15. The conclusions Greenberg drew from the survey and earlier polling this year are a mixed bag for both parties….“Two-thirds rate the economy negatively,” according to Greenberg, “yet Democrats did not prioritize the economy in this election, and the president is still trying to convince people this is a good economy. This may be the toughest to make progress on.” In addition, the “failure of national Democrats to address the economy meant rural areas and white working-class communities were a political wasteland.”….The Democratic Party, according to Greenberg, “got respectable support with Hispanics, as well as young people, but women across the whole spectrum played the biggest role. Unmarried women, white college women and under-50, white working-class women all raised their vote level since October, no doubt motivated by the abortion issue.” But, Greenberg warned, Democrats remain “at risk with Hispanics and Asian voters if they do not rethink what they prioritize, what their policies offer, consciously battling for all in our coalition and acknowledging past mistakes and having an inclusive vision where all make progress in America,” noting that the Biden administration’s 2021 expansion of the child tax credit is “uniquely popular among Hispanics.”….Crime, Greenberg wrote,

was a top issue for many Democratic base voters. A quarter of Blacks and half of Hispanics and Asians voters trusted Republicans more than Democrats to address the issue. With Democrats trailing Republicans by 10 points on crime, Democrats have a lot of work to do.”

Coming Soon: Decisions on the 2024 Democratic Primary Calendar

One of my favorite wonky topics is the presidential nominating process, and as it happens, the way it’s shaping up for Democratic in 2024 is unusual, as I explained at New York:

Donald Trump’s 2024 announcement signaled that we are now officially in the run-up to the next presidential election. But there’s a big missing piece of basic election infrastructure, at least for Democrats: The order of states holding presidential primaries is very much up in the air.

Earlier this year, the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, which sets guidelines for the nomination process and administers sticks and carrots to get states to comply, announced it would authorize five “early states” allowed to have nominating contests prior to March 1, 2024. The four states that were allowed across this golden rope line from 2008 through 2020 — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina — would have to reapply for privileged status along with everyone else. As many as 20 state Democratic parties expressed interest in vying for these five spots. But because some of the changed calendar positions would require action by the state government, which typically control and finance primaries, the DNC delayed a final selection until after the midterms sorted out who ruled where.

Now Michigan Democrats, who flipped both legislative chambers and hung on to the governorship this month, are galvanizing the 2024 calendar discussion with a clear bid for an early spot, as NBC News reports:

“Michigan Democrats — led by Rep. Debbie Dingell — feel well positioned to join the coveted ranks of the early states, after they made huge gains in the Nov. 8 election. With Iowa facing possible eviction from the early states, many expect Democrats to elevate a Midwest state.

“Democrats now have full control of the Statehouse in Lansing, which would allow them to easily change state laws to support a new date for the 2024 primary.”

The DNC’s previously announced criteria for early states, as reported by CBS News, were diversity (racial, ethnic, geographic, and economic diversity as well as union representation), general-election competitiveness, and feasibility (whether states can move their contest into the early window, if they can run a “fair, transparent and inclusive nominating process,” and the logistical requirements and cost of campaigning in that state). It was an unstated but understood criterion as well that the five early states would represent different regions. So Michigan may be competing for an early-state slot with Minnesota, where Democrats also nailed down a trifecta in the midterms.

Iowa’s traditional first-in-the-nation caucus has looked doomed all along. The state is famously nondiverse and is now solidly Republican in general elections. The “feasibility” of an Iowa event was also called into question by the 2020 fiasco, in which no Iowa caucus results were announced until the next day.

New Hampshire will be harder to dislodge, despite its nondiverse population, because of a state law that authorizes the secretary of state to move the primary date around in order to maintain the position of first primary. But Nevada Democrats are making a sustained effort to leap ahead of New Hampshire by switching to a primary and aggressively advertising their superior diversity and obvious competitiveness. It’s unclear, however, whether Republican Joe Lombardo’s gubernatorial win in Nevada will disrupt efforts to authorize a new state primary.

That points to one of two variables complicating the early-state selection process: By and large, Republicans are happy with the existing order of states. There is no pressure within the GOP to dump Iowa or displace New Hampshire or do anything else unusual. So in states where Republican cooperation is necessary to move things around or make the requisite resources available, Democrats have to convince their partisan enemies to care about it as well. And if the proposed new primary date in any given state violates the RNC’s existing calendar rules, that state’s Republicans could be penalized and lose delegates to their own convention. The prospect of a serious battle for the GOP presidential nomination adds another series of calculations.

It’s a Rubik’s Cube, and that’s largely why the existing calendar for both parties has stayed in place for so long aside from the fact that, in Iowa and New Hampshire, both parties have long cooperated to defend their calendar privileges like crazed badgers.

The other big variable facing Democrats is the broader context: What sort of decisions will Democrats be facing in 2024? At this point, we don’t know for sure whether President Biden is running for a second term, and we don’t know if he’ll face major competition if he does. If Biden has to fight for renomination, how he performed in particular states in 2020 may have some influence on a loyal DNC deciding where he has to run in 2024. That might really doom Iowa, if it’s not already doomed, given Biden’s fourth-place finish there in 2020. And Biden finished fifth in New Hampshire. The DNC likely wouldn’t want to give calendar privileges to the home state of a potential rival.

But decisions have to be made, and the Rules and Bylaws Committee is set to make them when it meets from December 1 through 3 in Washington, D.C.



Dems Gain Leverage in State Governments

At FiveThirtyEight, Nathaniel Rakich explores the impact of Democratic gains in state governments as a result of the midterm elections, and writes:

Abortion bans, right-to-work laws, voting restrictions — for years, a lot of the major legislation coming out of state capitols has been conservative. But after Democrats’ clear victory in state-level elections last week, landmark liberal policies could be coming to a state near you.

For the first time in years, more Americans will live in a state fully controlled by Democrats than in one fully controlled by Republicans.1 Thanks to their wins in gubernatorial or state-legislative elections, Democrats2 took complete control of three new state governments in the 2022 elections: Michigan, Minnesota and Vermont. They broke the GOP monopoly on power in Arizona and, potentially, New Hampshire.3 They also kept full control of state government in four of the five states where they were in danger of losing it. And they prevented Republicans from taking full control of North Carolina, Wisconsin and maybe even Alaska.

Republicans, on the other hand, didn’t flip a single legislative chamber from blue to red. This is the first midterm election since at least 1934 that the president’s party hasn’t lost a state-legislative chamber, according to Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee President Jessica Post. And though it didn’t affect who controlled state government, Democrats flipped the Maryland and Massachusetts governorships and maybe the Pennsylvania state House.4

Democrats’ most significant win was probably Michigan. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was reelected, and Democrats took control of the state House for the first time since 2011 and the state Senate for the first time since 1984. Democrats won the popular vote for the Michigan state House in 2012, 2014, 2018 and 2020 but fell short of a majority each time because of state-legislative maps that favored Republicans.

The one major loss at the state level, according to Rakich was that “Democrats lost total control of just one state government this year. In Nevada, Republican Joe Lombardo defeated Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak in the gubernatorial race.” But, Dems held on to “Colorado, Maine, New Mexico and Oregon after winning the governorship and state legislature in each.”

As for the strategic implications, Rakich concludes, “State governments are often called the “laboratories of democracy” because they often pass ambitious or innovative policies before the federal government does. But with control of Washington, D.C., now split between Democrats and Republicans after the midterms, they could be the only places where meaningful policies are passed for the next two years.”

Political Strategy Notes

In “Georgia’s Runoff is the Opening Battle of the 2024 Senate Cycle” Kyle Kondik writes at Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “In a 50-50 Senate, the parties have equal representation on committees, based on a power-sharing agreement that the 2 parties reached early in the current Congress. An extra seat for Democrats would render such an agreement unnecessary and would give Democrats the advantage on committees. It also would make it easier for Democrats to confirm judicial nominees if they had an actual majority, because there are logistical challenges the party must surmount in a 50-50 Senate that would not exist in a 51-49 Senate. A big part of modern Senate majorities is simply keeping the judicial confirmation conveyor belt running at full speed: An extra Democratic senator would improve efficiency in that regard….A 51-seat Senate majority would also allow Senate Democrats to occasionally bypass their few members who are not always team players, most notably Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ). However, this is probably less important in the new Congress as opposed to the current one because the likely Republican takeover of the House means that the GOP will have a seat at the governing table — meaning that the kind of legislation Democrats would want to try to get through the Senate is not likely to pass the House anyway. There is also the filibuster, but eliminating it next year would not make any sense because Republicans control the House — even if Democrats had the votes to do so in a 51-49 Senate, which they likely would not….One other thing: A 50-50 Democratic Senate majority means that they are but one death or resignation away from losing the majority. A 51-49 edge gives the party a buffer on that as well….But the more important buffer, for Democrats, is electoral….In saving at least the tiniest of Senate majorities, Democrats completed the first step of a tricky 2-cycle challenge. It very well may not be enough to save them from eventually losing the Senate next cycle, but it does give them another 2 years of control and at least a fighting chance in 2024. But that fighting chance may be predicated on what happens on Dec. 6, when Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and former NFL star Herschel Walker (R) face off for a second time. This is a race we leaned to the Republicans prior to Election Day, but we are now characterizing it as a Toss-up.”

Kondik also provides a map that, gulp, shows which states have Democratic senate seats up in the 2024 election:

At The American Prospect, Harold Meyerson explains “Why Inflation Didn’t Wipe Out the Democrats.” As Meyerson writes, “It becomes clear when we examine two questions buried deep in the AP VoteCast exit poll. In the first, voters were asked how confident they were that they could find a good job if they needed to. In response, 65 percent answered they were very or somewhat confident, while just 35 percent said they were not too or not at all confident….Voters were also asked “how confident are you that you can keep up with your expenses?” To this, 67 percent said they were very or somewhat confident, while just 33 percent said not very or not at all confident….Inflation was clearly a problem, then, but for most voters, a manageable one. Even more important, these questions don’t reveal a level of economic anxiety that can turn an election when there are other pressing issues in play….But how is it that voters felt so confident about getting a good job and keeping up with their expenses? The answer, I suggest, is that the very same economic policies for which Biden has been raked over the coals for causing inflation also created a robust economic recovery in which jobs are plentiful and incomes are rising. The very same $1.9 trillion bill to offset the pandemic downturns—the bill on which every Republican on the Hill voted no; the bill that Larry Summers et al. predicted would have inflationary impacts—also created an economy in which jobs and incomes were, and still are, growing. And they still may, unless the Fed slams on the brakes so hard that growth turns negative….This isn’t to say that the bill wasn’t inflationary. It is to say that it also gave a boost to the economy—and to middle- and working-class Americans who were the intended beneficiaries of that boost—on a scale large enough to enable those Americans to feel confident about getting a good job and weathering the rising prices….Dare we say that the much-maligned Bidenomics actually worked? I think we dare.”

The blogosphere is not yet brimming with ideas for Democratic strategy in light of the Republicans taking over the speakership and House committees when congress reconvenes. But at FiveThirtyEight, Nathaniel Rakich shares some insights about the challenges facing Democrats: “So how should we assess the House results for Republicans? On the one hand, Republicans took control of the chamber and ended Democrats’ ability to pass legislation without GOP approval. That’s a big deal! On the other hand, though, Republicans have to be pretty disappointed with their showing. They will likely gain around eight seats, which is relatively low by historical standards. Since the end of World War II, the president’s party has lost an average of 26 House seats in midterm elections.2 Of course, Republicans had an unexpectedly good 2020 election in the House, so they were starting from a higher baseline (you can’t flip a seat that you already control). But even their raw seat total is underwhelming by the standards of recent midterms. Republicans controlled 242 seats after the 2010 midterms and 247 after 2014; Democrats held 233 after the 2006 midterms and 235 after 2018….More importantly, it will likely be a difficult feat for House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy to muster up 218 votes to pass anything — or even be elected speaker. While a GOP House would mostly be playing defense (killing Democratic bills, conducting investigations into the Biden administration) rather than offense (passing its own bills), it would still need to pass bipartisan legislation like the budget. And conservative hardliners made it difficult for Republicans to govern even when they had wider majorities in 2015-2016 and 2017-2018. So we could be in for a chaotic two years in the south wing of the Capitol and look back at the 2022 elections as a Republican victory in name only.”


Is the Democratic “Blue Wall” Coming Back in 2024?

To guard against unjustified optimism or pessimism, I took a look at one emerging take on the 2022 midterms and evaluated it at New York:

In 2020, Joe Biden beat Donald Trump by flipping a number of battleground states that the Republican carried in 2016, namely Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. One of the reasons Republicans were optimistic about winning back the Senate this year is that several key contests were in these states. If the states were very close in a presidential year, surely they would turn red in a midterm when an unpopular Democrat was in the White House, right?

Wrong, for the most part. Democrats defended a seat in Arizona (and another in Nevada, a state Trump hadn’t carried but nearly did in 2020), flipped a Republican-held seat in Pennsylvania, and held the lead in Georgia going into a December 6 runoff (similar to the two January 2021 Senate runoffs Democrats won). Biden’s party didn’t win the Senate race in Wisconsin, but it was close, and it did win the gubernatorial contest there, as in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Arizona.

So if Republicans were wrong to count on these states in 2022, are Democrats justified in counting on them in 2024, when presumably conditions will return to whatever is considered “normal” in these turbulent days? Even if the White House backlash didn’t emerge as expected, it does seem that Republicans did better than they would have if they didn’t have a relatively unpopular President Biden to kick around. So at this very early point, and without knowing what external factors will develop in the next two years, it’s reasonable to argue that Democrats begin this presidential cycle ahead. After all, Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin together have 71 electoral votes or, to put it another way, one electoral vote more than megastates Florida and Texas have together. Sounds pretty good, eh? Almost as good as the “Blue Wall” Democrats supposedly enjoyed in 2016 in states that hadn’t gone Republican in many years, like … Michigan and Pennsylvania, last red in 1988, and Wisconsin, last red in 1984.

Perhaps the Democratic Party is rebuilding an advantage in some of those states that were lost to Trump in 2016. But the situation is probably too fluid to make any neat assumptions. And there’s also a possibility that a big part of what happened in 2022 was simply voter inflexibility in a period of extreme partisan polarization and gridlock; we may not have the big swings between midterm and presidential votes we’ve grown accustomed to in the past. If so, that obviously helped Democrats in 2022, but might help Republicans just as much in 2024.

For all the disappointment they experienced in this year’s results, there were also some positive developments for the GOP. They continued to trend upward among non-white and especially Latino voters. If this latter trend continues, not only would the red hue of Florida and Texas intensify, but Republicans could gain a renewed advantage in Arizona and Nevada while becoming more competitive in New Mexico and Colorado (and eventually even California).

So let’s see what the 2020 and 2022 battleground states do in 2024 before shifting them into competitive or less-competitive groups and deciding either party is well on the way to an enduring majority.

Yglesias: Midterms Lessons, Bipartisan Prospects

In his slowboring.com newsletter, Matthew Yglesias shares observations about where he was wrong regarding some of the 2022 midterm campaigns. He reviews the history of the 2022 midterm campaigns, considers what he has learned from mistakes and looks toward the future with some hopes, including:

  • “I thought student loan relief was costing Democrats politically. This was dumb on my part. I thought this was a bad policy on the merits, and I let that cloud my judgment. I knew all along that the specific thresholds the White House picked in terms of means-testing and how much debt was forgiven were either heavily workshopped with pollsters or else by remarkable coincidence lined up with what pollsters told me was optimal for public opinion. I argued that the impact on inflation offset this kind of superficial read from the polls, but no loans have actually been forgiven yet, so it’s simply not possible that would happen. This was wrong, and I should have known it was wrong.
  • I also thought that Dobbs wasn’t hurting Republicans as much as it should have, because Democrats were refusing to give any ground to the popularity of restrictions on late-term abortions. I do stand by the idea that this is a political error, but Democrats’ television ads about abortion rights were extremely well-crafted and that let them really punish the GOP on this without moderating their stance.
  • This relates to my third error, which is that I’ve often accused Democrats of overrating what can be achieved with paid media versus through positioning in the free press. I continue to believe that earned media matters more than paid — see Jared Golden winning in a very tough seat despite being outspent because he got coverage for taking moderate stances — but paid media is more effective than I thought. Catherine Cortez Masto did basically nothing outside of her advertising to be anything other than a totally generic Democrat, and it worked out.”

Yglesias adds, “In life, it’s important to guard against overcorrection. I think a lot of people had exaggerated ideas about “firing up” young voters with student loan forgiveness or the ability to work miracles with pure campaign work. But that led me to tilt too far in the other direction. Democrats skated close to a real danger zone with this midterm, but in the end it worked out fine thanks to some very skillful political work and some good luck.”

Regarding prospects for bipartisan reform, Yglesias writes, “The left significantly underrated the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act rather than admitting they were wrong. And while the CHIPS and Science Act that ultimately emerged wasn’t as good as the original Endless Frontier proposal, it’s still a good law. I’m hopeful we can still get a bipartisan permitting reform bill done in the lame duck, there has been a lot of bipartisan legislating relating to Ukraine, and broadly speaking, it has been nice to see a functioning legislative process.”

Teixeira: Hispanic and Working Class Voters in the 2022 Election

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from The Liberal Patriot:

We don’t yet have final results in the 2022 election but it is fair to say Democrats convincingly beat expectations and “fundamentals” (a midterm election, Biden’s low approval, high inflation, voter negativity on the economy and the state of the country) with their performance. Republicans will likely still flip the House but only by a surprisingly thin margin and the Senate could well remain controlled (just barely) by the Democrats, pending final results of the Nevada race and a Georgia runoff.

Putting this uncertainty to the side, the basic reason for the Democrats’ relative success is clear. A combination of the Dobbs decision and Trump’s interventions into nominating contests produced a slew of Republican candidates who could be successfully portrayed as extreme by moderate Democratic candidates, allowing them to escape the drag of the national party’s image and the negative national environment.

A finding from a pre-election survey by Third Way/Impact Research encapsulates this dynamic nicely. The survey found that about equal numbers of voters found the Republican and Democratic parties “too extreme” (54 percent vs. 55 percent), but that the story in this election was quite different when it comes to candidates.

Voters…perceive the current slate of Republican candidates to be more extreme; when asked which party has nominated more extreme candidates, voters choose Republicans by a seven-point margin (44%-37%). Among swing voters, that margin was twenty points (36%-16%). Conversely, when asked which party has nominated the most moderate candidates for Congress this cycle, 34% chose Democrats while 25% chose Republicans.

With this in mind, it’s interesting and important to ask how different voter groups responded to this situation. In particular, did the Democrats’ relative success signal a turnaround in their difficulties with Hispanic and working class voters? I don’t believe so. Here are some data from the AP-NORC VoteCast survey (far superior to the exit polls in my opinion) that cast doubt on the idea that Democrats’ problems with these groups have been solved—or even substantially mitigated.

1. Nationally, Hispanic support for Democratic candidates declined substantially, falling to just a 16 point advantage from 29 points in 2020 and 34 points in 2018. That’s an 18 point decline in Democratic margin across the two cycles. Moreover, the 40 percent of the Hispanic vote that Republican house candidates received in this election is a level of support among this demographic Republicans have not enjoyed since the days of George W. Bush.

2. Education polarization increased strongly across the two cycles. In 2018, Democrats actually carried working class (noncollege) voters as a whole by 4 points, while carrying college voters by 14 points, for a 10 point difference. In 2022, the Democrats lost working class voters by 13 points, while still carrying college voters by 7 points, a 20 point differential.

3. Looking at working class voters by race (white and nonwhite), there is an impressively large decline in the Democrats’ margin among nonwhite working class voters between 2018 and 2022. In 2018, Democrats carried this group by 57 points. By 2022, that margin was down to 34 points, a stunning 23 point decline.

4. This was even larger than the fall among white working class voters where the Democrats’ deficit ballooned from 20 points in 2018 to 35 points in 2022.

5. The demographic where Democratic support held up the best was among white college voters, perhaps not surprising given the campaign they chose to run. Their margin among this group fell a mere 6 points between their very good 2018 election and 2022. This pattern is consistent with the sort of suburban seats where Democrats managed to stave off Republican challenges this year.

All told, these data do not suggest Democrats’ Hispanic and working class voter problems are now in their rear view mirror. Not even close. And consider they are staring down the barrel of a very unfavorable Senate map in 2024, where Democrats will be defending 23 of the 33 seats in play. Holding those Democratic seats will mean winning in a raft of red and purple states like Arizona (again), Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada (again), Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and (gulp) West Virginia. That’s a daunting task and, oh, the Democrats will also probably need to win back the House. More attrition among working class and Hispanic voters could be fatal to these aspirations. Relying on white college voters to somehow insulate Democrats from this weakness would be a slender reed indeed in such circumstances.

And then there’s what we might call the Democrats’ Ron DeSantis problem. There’s no guarantee Trump will be the GOP’s candidate in 2024, despite the Democrats’ evident wish for it to be so. In the wake of Republicans’ underperformance in 2022, much of it attributable to Trump and his influence, voices are growing louder in the party for an alternative. Blake Hounshell of the New York Times reported:

Marc Thiessen, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush during his presidency, called the outcome “a searing indictment of the Republican Party” that demanded “a really deep introspection look in the mirror.”

When Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, was asked for his reaction to the election results, he said, “I don’t deal in feelings.” But Scott Jennings, one of his former deputies, tweeted what many assume McConnell thinks: “How could you look at these results tonight and conclude Trump has any chance of winning a national election in 2024?”….

The National Review’s Jim Geraghty, in a blistering article headlined “The Red Splish-Splash,” called DeSantis “far and away the strongest candidate” and complained that Republican voters had “nominated clowns” in many races.

“Americans are tired of the circus, the freak show, the in-your-face, all-controversy-is-good, Trump-influenced wannabes,” Geraghty concluded.

Well then. Of course, there’s no guarantee that a groundswell against Trump would succeed in getting rid of him. But for the sake of a healthy democracy, shouldn’t we all be rooting for that—for Trump not to be the nominee? Hoping that he’s the nominee because he’d be relatively easy to beat, as many Democrats secretly (or not so secretly) do, is really rather appalling given the stakes.

Then indeed you might have to beat a candidate like DeSantis. That would not be easy given the Democrats’ current weaknesses. In DeSantis’ crushing victory over Democrat Charlie Crist, he actually carried Hispanics in the state by 13 points and working class voters overall by 27 points (!) A DeSantis ticket, accompanied by saner, more competent Senate and House candidates, would be quite a challenge for today’s Democrats.

That suggests that Democrats should take the task seriously of becoming America’s normie voter party and expanding the ranks of its working class supporters. If not—and Biden, cheered on by the left of the party, has announced he will do “nothing” differently going forward—it could be a very long decade.