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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Teixeira: Why Dems Need Biden – Or Someone Who Can Do What Biden Is Supposed To Do

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

Two new articles highlight two ways in which Biden might maximize the Democrats’ chances of beating Trump. I emphasize the “might”–it is possible Biden is not the best Democratic candidate to do these two things. But it seems to me unarguable that the Democratic nominee, whoever it is, must do very well in both of these areas.

1. The White Working Class Vote. The subtitle of Ron Brownstein’s new article is “Joe Biden’s candidacy is a proxy for the larger question of how the party can best rebuild a successful presidential majority.” As, Brownstein puts it:

“No choice in 2020 divides Democratic activists more than the question of whether the party needs a nominee best suited to winning back these white voters, who have been drifting away from the party for decades, or one best positioned to mobilize the party’s new alliance of minorities, young people, and white-collar whites, especially women.”

After noting the ongoing decline of the white working class share of voters, as underscored by recently-released Census data, Brownstein makes the following indisputable observation:

“The long-term erosion of blue-collar whites as a share of the national vote is unmistakable and irreversible. That trend has ominous long-term implications for a GOP that is relying more heavily than ever on squeezing greater advantage from that shrinking group. But those white voters are disproportionately represented in the pivotal Rust Belt battlegrounds of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin (as well as in Ohio and Iowa, which have trended further away from Democrats). Democrats wouldn’t need to focus as obsessively on those states, and on courting their large working-class white populations, if they could tip some of the diverse and growing Sun Belt states where those whites are a smaller share of the vote, such as North Carolina, Florida, and Georgia, much less Texas. (Arizona, probably the top new Sun Belt target for Democrats in 2020, actually houses an elevated number of non-college-educated whites because it attracts so many white retirees.) But until Democrats can reliably flip some of those Sun Belt states, they can’t downplay the Rust Belt in presidential contests.”

To bring this point into focus, projections indicate the voting electorates in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania in 2020 will probably be, respectively, 56 percent, 52 percent and 49 percent white noncollege. If turnout patterns are particularly favorable to the Democrats, you might knock another point off these levels. But that’s still a lot of voters. Biden says he can reach these voters better than Clinton did in 2016. Maybe he’s right. Maybe he’s wrong. But his Democratic rivals need to make the case that they’d be as good or better than Biden among these voters. Otherwise, they’re asking Democratic voters to draw to an inside straight.

2. The Union Vote. Nate Silver has a good item in his most recent “Silver Bulletpoints” column. Silver cites Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) data showing:

“Trump’s union support [was not] merely a matter of white men shifting en masse to Trump. While white women and nonwhite men in unions mostly voted for Clinton, her margins with those groups were considerably narrower than Barack Obama’s in 2012.

In fact, the shift among union voters was enough to swing the election to Trump. According to the CCES, Obama won union voters by 34.4 percentage points in 2012, but Clinton did so by only 16.7 points in 2016. That roughly 18-point swing was worth a net of 1.2 percentage points for Trump in Pennsylvania, 1.1 points in Wisconsin and 1.7 points in Michigan based on their rates of union membership — and those totals were larger than his margins of victory in those states.”

Again, Biden can make the case that he’s the best candidate to appeal to these voters. That doesn’t mean he’s right but it does mean that other candidates need to show how and why they’d be better than him at reaching union voters. And at the moment I’m not hearing any candidate besides Biden saying things like: “I make no apologies. I am a union man (or woman). Period.”

So Biden–love him or hate him, he’s got a real case. I’m ready to hear a better one, but so far I’m not overwhelmed.

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