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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

‘A Memo to Democrats’ by Democratic Strategists

Democratic strategists Patrick Gaspard, Sanley B. Greenberg, Celinda Lake and Mike Lux have co-written “A Memo to Democrats,” cross-posted here from The American Prospect:

The four of us have been around politics a long time. We have been a part of some of the Democratic Party’s biggest victories; we have seen some big losses. In the 2022 election, things are as close as we have ever seen them. But we are right on the edge of overcoming historical trends and other factors weighing us down, and winning a decisive victory.

What we have to do, though, is end on a strong economic argument. Democrats need to understand that we have a winning message on the economy and inflation. But rising costs will beat us if we avoid the issue.

Don’t get us wrong: we are all firmly convinced of the power and central importance of abortion. The Dobbs decision changed the trajectory of this election, and it is the most powerful issue we have in turning out Democratic base voters. No Democratic candidate should stop talking about abortion. But going down the stretch, we need to make sure our closing message also talks about the cost of living, inflation and the economy.

Even before the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS and Science Act, when Joe Biden’s approval ratings were still in the 30s, what was striking in the focus groups we were watching was that people were not blaming Biden for inflation. They certainly wanted him to do something about rising prices and to be in touch with their lives, but their primary ire was directed at big corporations that have moved jobs overseas and created supply chain issues; and at the near-monopoly power these wealthy corporations have over prices, allowing them to price-gouge consumers.

Voters want politicians to solve these problems. Inflation and the cost of living is their number one concern right now, and they are thinking and talking about it all the time in part because they believe it is getting worse with no end in sight. They understand that the problems are complicated and tough to solve, but if they don’t think the Democrats are prioritizing their everyday costs, they will be put off. They want to know you understand what is going on in their lives. They want to know you are helping with their number one problem and have a plan.

They want to know the difference between Democrats and Republicans when they cast their votes.

If voters never hear ads from candidates mentioning rising costs; if the mail they receive never mentions it; if they only hear it touched on in stump speeches; if the answers to the inflation question in debates are mushy; voters are going to decide those Democratic candidates are not prioritizing the issue they are most focused on.

And our research shows that it’s important for voters to know that you are in touch with what they are facing economically, especially Gen Z and millennials, Blacks and Latinos, and blue-collar women, all of whom are the key swing voters in this campaign.

There is not a reason in the world Democrats need to be defensive or mushy about their plan for inflation. The American Rescue Plan included the enhanced Child Tax Credit, tax relief for poor, working and middle-class families. The Inflation Reduction Act will bring prices down for pharmaceutical drugs, health insurance premiums, and energy prices. The House passed an anti-price gouging bill that all Republicans voted against. A populist message on the issue has been tested repeatedly and it works.

That Republicans voted against or stopped many of these measures is a key reason to highlight the difference of what happens when you elect Democrats or Republicans. The GOP has also announced that they would reinstate the Trump tax cuts on the wealthy and wealthy corporations.

Rather than dwelling on Republicans stopping these measures, we should embrace those popular answers as key to the choice in the election.

Democrats defeated special interests— including big oil companies and big pharmaceutical companies—to make these happen. So, here’s the choice in the battle over the cost of living: Democrats fighting special interests to help working people with these high costs, or Republicans simply helping their big corporate donors.

This is time for a powerful close that shows Democrats embracing these messages:

1. Wealthy corporations with monopoly power are jacking up their prices, and their profits are going through the roof. Big oil, food, shipping, health care, and real estate companies have been making record profits over the last two years. I will crack down on price gouging, but to be clear: My opponent takes the opposite position.

2. I will fight hard to bring down health care costs, especially for prescription drugs.  Because we passed the Inflation Reduction Act, Democrats took a good first step. Pharma is going to have to negotiate with Medicare on prescription drug prices for the first time. it’s about time, and Medicare premiums as well as drug costs will be going down as a result. I want to do even more to lower costs, but the Republicans want to repeal negotiating prescription drug prices, the price caps on insulin, the lower health insurance premiums, and the cap on seniors’ out of pocket drug costs—all while having no plan of their own. Seniors will be getting the biggest increase in their Social Security payments in 40 years, which will help them cope with inflation, but Republicans are talking about ending Social Security.

3. I will fight for the Child Tax Credit, which will give parents up to $600 a month to help with groceries, gas, and housing. And I’m going to pay for it by taxing wealthy corporations and millionaires who are paying little or nothing in taxes right now. My opponent is against the Child Tax Credit and wants to give structural tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy.

These three points make up a compelling, highly persuasive set of policies that help with the cost of living. Here’s what an ad might look like:

“The cost of living is hitting working families and senior citizens hard. They haven’t seen a pay raise in years, and now this obscene rise in global prices.  Elect me because my top priority will be tackling rising prices. We should crack down hard on corporate price gouging and start making things in America again, so that we have fewer supply chain problems. We should also help people cope with rising prices. Under the Biden administration, Social Security’s cost of living increase was the biggest in 40 years, and Medicare premiums went down for the first time in a long time. The Inflation Reduction Act lowers drug prices by forcing Big Pharma to negotiate with Medicare, but we need to build on that to keep health care costs declining. Republicans will undo all that if they regain power. For parents, we should bring back the expanded Child Tax Credit, which gives parents up to $600 a month to help with housing, groceries, and gas prices, paid for by finally making wealthy corporations pay what they owe.

“I will fight for you and your family, not just to survive, but for the freedom of every family to thrive. Because every American deserves a shot at the Dream.”

Yes, Democrats, also keep talking about the fundamental threat to the right to an abortion. That remains a priority we must deliver too. It’s really important in turning out the Democratic vote and persuading swing Independent and Republican women to vote for us.  But your path to victory is to also make sure voters know you will prioritize fighting rising costs and for an economy that works for working families.”

The American Prospect provides an audio version of the article. Author bio notes:

Patrick Gaspard is the president and chief executive officer of the Center for American Progress.

Stanley B. Greenberg, a founding partner of Greenberg Research, Democracy Corps, and Climate Policy & Strategy, and Prospect board member, is a New York Times best-selling author and co-author of It’s the Middle Class, Stupid!

Celinda Lake, the president of Lake Research Partners, is a pollster and political strategist for Democrats and progressives.

Mike Lux, a senior staffer in the Clinton White House and a senior adviser to the DNC chair, has worked on seven presidential campaigns, and authored two books.


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