The following article by Andrew Levison and TDS Managing Editor Ed Kilgore, co-directors of The White Working Class Roundtable, is cross-posted from a Democratic Strategist e-blast:
Conor Lamb’s victory in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district required winning strong majorities among college educated whites in the suburbs around Pittsburgh but it could not have been achieved without also sharply reducing the margin of victory that Trump achieved in 2016 among whites without a college degree. The district includes many union members and other white working class voters who comprise around 60% of the population, many living in small towns. In 2016, Trump carried the two counties that have few college graduates by over 60%.
Last week Lamb held his opponent’s margin to 57% in one of these two counties and 53% in the other — providing the critical margin for his victory.
This TDS Strategy Memo discusses five key strategies behind Lamb’s victory in detail and explains how Democratic candidates can apply them to regain support among white working class Americans.
Most of the analyses of Lamb’s strategy in this election focused on his carefully calibrated “moderate-to-liberal” policy stances on specific issues ranging from abortion and gun control to economics and social security and union rights. But in seeking lessons for other candidates running in areas with substantial numbers of white working class voters there are five other important strategic lessons that can be learned.
- Lamb did not pander to racial prejudice or the demonization of immigrants. He won by seeking votes among white working class Trump voters who were not motivated by racial and ethnic bias and intolerance.
- Lamb’s campaign placed partisan conflict in the broader framework of the widespread cynicism and disgust that exists regarding corruption and “big money” domination of the political system as a whole. His refusal to be defined as a “Nancy Pelosi Democrat” was designed as a signal that he was seeking to move beyond “business as usual” in the political system.
- Lamb’s campaign was based on promising authentic and sincere representation rather than support for any broad Democratic agenda. He emphasized local issues and his identification with the actual needs of his constituents rather than adherence to any formal national agenda.
- Lamb had deep personal roots in the district. His father and grandfather were well-known political figures and Lamb himself grew up in the district. After military service, he returned to the state to work as a federal prosecutor.
- Lamb did not strictly follow either of the two main Democratic political strategies — Bernie Sanders’ progressive populism or “third way” centrism. He shaped his campaign platform to the specific contours of his district rather than allying himself with either broad strategic approach.