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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Three Strategic Take-aways from the Midterms

Both Senate and House majorities are still not set as of this writing. But inside those two leading concerns there are some strategic lessons Dems can milk from the midterm elections, including:

Meddling in Republican primaries didn’t hurt and ultimately helped a number of Democratic candidates in their general elections. Democratic Governor-elects Wes Moore (MD), J. B. Pritzker (IL) and Josh Shapiro (PA) all did well, as did Reps. Hillary Scholten (MI-3) and Ann Kuster NH-2, along with Sen. Maggie Hassan (NH). There were at least seven campaigns in which the meddling strategy did not get the desired Republican extremist nominated. But nowhere did primary meddling backfire in the general elections.

Doesn’t mean primary meddling will work again. Doesn’t mean the Dems wouldn’t have won by even bigger margins if they didn’t meddle. Doesn’t mean it will work in any situation. Doesn’t mean the money would not have been better-spent on other races. But it does mean that it worked pretty much as planned for these six important campaigns.

What would Madison think? It’s winning ugly; It’s cynical; it’s a little sleazy. But it’s not illegal and it is right out in the open. And, it’s not like Mitch McConnell doesn’t play dirty, is it? ‘Divide and Conquer’ is an ancient principle of political strategy for a reason — it often works, and many forms of it it will be deployed in the future.

A lot of Democrats felt we should stop playing patty-cake when our opponents show up with brass knuckles, especially in a year when democracy itself faces an unprecedented threat. Voters seemed ok with it…for now

One caveat is that it may not work again because voters might get sick of it. It could backfire in the future. And, what is to prevent Republicans from using it in the next election, turning our democracy into versions of  the poker games, “pass the trash” and “fuck your buddy”?

All caveats notwithstanding, primary meddling might well work again in special circumstances. But it should be even more carefully considered in the future. And yes, it would be better if Democrats classed up their candidate recruitment and support systems, so we don’t have to squander limited campaign funds in GOP primaries.

We don’t know yet if Herschel Walker lost to Sen. Raphael Warnock. But he certainly got extremely close for a guy with all of his baggage. I’ve often felt Democrats could profit from running some jocks and entertainers. There are plenty of them who are as sharp as most national politicians. Republican Reagan did alright, as did Democratic Sen. Bill Bradley.

Walker’s success is also a testament to the huge popularity of college football in the south, at least. But I got the feeling that Walker was helped by harsh criticism vented by the media and some Democrats. The tone got a bit too nasty, and it may have created some ‘underdog’ sympathy for him. Not that his awful record didn’t deserve tough scrutiny.

Warnock, on the other hand, is a moral leader of the U.S. Senate and has an excellent record, which didn’t get much play. Next time, Dems should promote the positive accomplishments of top candidates, like Warnock with more zeal. This is a six-year term, so don’t be surprised if Republicans fight dirty to defeat Warnock, if it goes to a run-off.

Lastly, and with benefit of hindsight and considering the close margins, Democrats should have provided more support for the Barnes, Cortez Masto, Beasley, Ryan and Kelly Senate candidacies. Easy to say on Wednesday morning, but it’s not so easy to make good decisions about who should get how much financial support. And it’s not all on the party. Democratic voters could also give more in the future.

2 comments on “Three Strategic Take-aways from the Midterms

  1. Lance from Asheville on

    NC was definitely a missed opportunity. There are enough D voters in the state, but turnout was dismal, and just enough of a difference to limp Budd to victory. Dems won the added House seat making for an even split, and will likely prevail up and down the ballot in the 24 general once we convince the DNC and MSM that we are a purple state.

  2. pjcamp on

    People in the South are plenty able to separate “football hero” from “needs to be in government” so stop being condescending. Walker, and Tuberville before him, do as well as they do not because of football but because of Trump and owning the libs.

    And frankly, I suspect Democrats promoting nut cases was largely just a waste of money. As Walker shows, Republicans are plenty able to find nuts on their own.


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