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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 28, 2022

Political Strategy Notes

In “Forget DeSantis. Whitmer and Shapiro are defining the future,” Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes: “Here’s my vote for the values that Americans endorsed in the 2022 elections: reasonableness, democracy, governing, progress and freedom. Here’s what they voted against: extremism, Trumpism, culture wars and intolerance….Okay, let’s stipulate that all this applies north of the Florida state line. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, the top draft pick of those longing for Trumpism without Donald Trump, swept to a landslide victory there by playing on all the divisive themes his mentor-turned-enemy thought he had patented. No wonder Trump is going crazy….But in large parts of the nation, voters formed what Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) called an “exhausted majority,” desperate to move on to problem solving. Ryan, alas, lost his Senate race to J.D. Vance in Ohio, but two nearby Democratic victors on Tuesday effectively carried this banner and stand as the antithesis of DeSantis-ism….Meaning that every gushing story about DeSantis should be balanced by pieces about Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania….Like DeSantis, both Democrats won landslides in states that Trump carried in 2016. Both had coattails for down-ballot Democrats. Both linked progressive objectives, staunch support for the labor movement, a moderate tone and pragmatism about governing. Both showed how to isolate far-right culture warriors and broaden what you might call the live-and-let-live coalition….So don’t get too obsessed with a Trump-DeSantis rumble rooted in a tired, old cultural politics. “Fix the damn problems” is the sound of the future speaking.”

“Control of the House of Representatives remains unclear as of Sunday morning, as Republicans appear to have an edge but a path to a Democratic majority remains,” Andrew Prokop writes at Vox. “To win a majority, a party needs 218 seats. The totals for several close contests and races with many uncounted mail ballots remain in flux. But currently, Republican candidates lead in 221 districts and Democrats lead in 214….So to hold their majority, Democrats need to gain the lead in four House races where Republicans are currently ahead — as well as holding on to their own leads, some of which are quite narrow….A Democratic takeover is probably not the likely outcome at this point, but it is possible. One contest where a Republican previously led, in Maryland’s Sixth District, flipped to Democrats Friday, when Rep. David Trone (D) was called the winner. There are several other uncalled contests, particularly in California, where only 60 percent or so of the vote has been counted and tallies of the remaining mail ballots could change the leads….The catch is that Democrats’ small leads in other close races are far from secure….a lot would still have to go right for Democrats for the GOP’s takeover to be thwarted.” Prokop identifies the key districts to watch, and concludes, “If some of these Democratic leads slip away in favor of Republicans, it’s possible the House will be called for the GOP relatively soon. But if Democrats hang on here and start gaining ground in contests where Republicans are up, House control could take weeks to determine, as California and other states deal with the slow process of processing and counting many thousands of mail ballots. Buckle up.”

So, “Why Did Democrats Do So Well in the Midterms?,” Matthew Cooper asks, then writes at the Washington Monthly, “Let’s look at turnout as a factor in the Democrats staving off utter disaster. Almost 47 percent of eligible voters went to the polls, which is slightly lower than in 2018, when it topped 49 percent, but still high. If Roe galvanized the pro-choice majority, you would expect higher turnout than four years ago, when Roe was threatened but still the law….If the election were all about abortion, you might expect to see an explosion of turnout in states with abortion on the ballot. But if you look at states where the legal-abortion ballot initiatives fared well, turnout was lower than or the same as in 2018….There was a spike in youth turnout, and it was strongly Democratic. The Tufts University Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement found that 27 percent of those critical 18- to 29-year-olds showed up at the polls. That rate is lower than the national average, which is to be expected, but higher than usual, though still lower than 2018. Youth made up 12 percent of all votes in this midterm, still short of 2018, when they were 13 percent.” Cooper notes further, “We still can’t be sure why young voters moved left. Did they vote more Democratic because of abortion rights, or was it the combination of Dobbs and other issues—say, the Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness or the GOP’s less-than-enthusiastic support of LGBTQ rights? It will take time and more in-depth surveys of voter files or data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey’s Voting and Registration Supplement, due next year, to make more sense of it. Keep in mind that the 18–29 cohort becomes more Black and brown every year, more so than the rest of the population, and that alone could account for some of the leftward movement.” It seems plausible that many swing voters decided that Democracy and bodily autonomy were keepers. But, in light of the so-so turnout Cooper notes, I’m also wondering about the dog that didn’t bark — conservatives who were disenchanted with both parties and stayed home.

At Brookings, Elaine Kamarck shares some revealing observations about three states that have dominated headlines during the last few days. “Over time, states change their partisan make-up. Although this is a complicated process, most of it is due to people moving into a state and bringing their partisan leanings with them….Arizona used to be a reliably Republican state and yet, to Trump’s surprise and to the surprise of nearly every pundit in America, he lost that state in 2020. Today, it is the fourth or fifth most popular state in the union to move to—based on census data and on very interesting data from the U-Haul company—which tracks moves….A large number of the people moving to Arizona are from California. For many of them, Arizona offers a lower cost of living, lower taxes, lower housing costs, less traffic, and good schools plus natural beauty….Not surprisingly there are a lot of Democrats among these California transplants….Georgia is right up there with Arizona in terms of the number of people moving there. Atlanta has been an economic powerhouse for some time now. As one professor put it—Atlanta is part of the “growth” South not the “stagnant” South….People from around the country and the world have been moving there making it the center of Democratic politics in the state. In fact, as Professor Charles Bullock, a political scientist at the University of Georgia says: “We know that the strongest Republican voters are people who’ve been in Georgia more than 20 years… Individuals who have been in Georgia less time are more likely to be Democratic.”….Finally, Nevada, like Arizona and Georgia, has seen in-migration that is making it a more competitive state. Like Arizona, most of the new residents are coming from California. In Washoe County, home of Reno, Nevada, the new Tesla plant and other high-tech businesses are attracting people from the San Francisco Bay area who are bringing with them their famously deep blue politics. Meanwhile, Las Vegas, the state’s largest city, is a powerhouse of job creation, ranking behind only three other metro areas in the United States with the fastest growth in job postings. At the presidential level, Nevada has been Democratic since 2008, and its consistently high job growth seems likely to cement that tendency with voters from California….we can expect very close presidential and Senate elections in these states in the next few years. However, if the trends keep going, these states may end up as reliable wins in the Democratic column in future election cycles.”

Assessing Trump’s Midterm Culpability

I didn’t really trust either Trump or his Republican critics to give a fair accounting of his responsibility for Republican underachievement in the midterm elections, so I conducted a review of my own at New York:

A lot of Republicans are really mad at Donald Trump. They are unhappy that the big red midterm election wave they had been promised did not materialize, and a lot of the blame is being directed at him.

Some of this angst probably amounts to opportunistic potshots from Republicans who were looking for an excuse to undermine Trump’s position in the party and/or preferred other leaders (notably Florida governor Ron DeSantis, in whose state Republicans actually overperformed high expectations).

But some of the caviling is sincere. Instead of staying out of the news and letting voters forget he was the leader of the party that was hustling them to either vote Republican or stay home, Trump did two things that affected the elections. First, he pursued an extensive candidate-endorsement strategy in the primaries and in the general election that had a big impact on who represented the GOP in November and how they were perceived. Second, he constantly fanned the flames of grievances over the 2020 election in ways that encouraged candidates to become election-denying extremists, which was another distraction from the desired party message.

Trump’s endorsements are the main object of postelection finger-pointing. But some were clearly more important than others. Indeed, the majority of the ex-president’s 495 endorsements this cycle were for House GOP incumbents who were in no danger of losing; partly this was intended to pad his winning percentage but also to show he appreciated Republicans who didn’t cause him any trouble even if they weren’t shrieking MAGA bravos.

There were some House candidates closely identified with Trump who won contested primaries and subsequently lost winnable races or may lose when all the votes are in. These include Ohio’s J.R. Majewski, the man who “first caught the eye of then-President Donald Trump after going viral for painting his lawn into a massive ‘Trump 2020’ banner,” as the Toledo Blade explained; New Hampshire’s Karoline Leavitt, Trump’s former assistant press secretary; Washington State’s and Joe Kent, who with Trump’s backing purged pro-impeachment Republican incumbent Jaime Herrera Beutler and is now trailing Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez as results slowly come in. Perhaps the most conspicuous Trump misstep was his backing of Sarah Palin in a special election in Alaska, which she promptly lost to Mary Peltola, the first Democrat to represent the state in the U.S. House since 1973. Now Palin is trailing Peltola in the race for a full House term. Of course, she’s weighed down by baggage that predates Trump’s political career by a good while.

The newsiest Trump misfires involve U.S. Senate candidates who have apparently failed to flip that chamber. Let’s look at a few and assess Trump’s culpability.

Dr. Oz: A star born of Oprah, but a pol born of Trump.

While Mehmet Oz built the celebrity that he traded on in entering Pennsylvania politics from a TV career originally sponsored by Oprah Winfrey, there’s no question Oz’s surprise endorsement by Trump lifted him to the U.S. Senate nomination over his wealthy rival David McCormick, who unlike Oz was actually from Pennsylvania (though he left to make his fortune in Manhattan). He beat McCormick by an eyelash, and despite his anodyne political background, he ran a relatively MAGA-ish general-election campaign, ranging from his demagogic attacks on an allegedly pro-crime, pro-open-borders John Fetterman to his Trump-like cruelty in mocking his opponent’s struggle to overcome the effects of a mid-campaign stroke.

When Trump endorsed Oz, he said, “Women, in particular, are drawn to Dr. Oz for his advice and counsel. I have seen this many times over the years. They know him, believe in him, and trust him.” According to the exit polls, Fetterman trounced Oz among women by a 57-to-41 margin.

Trump fully owns this loser.

Herschel Walker: Trump’s friend and stooge but also a ruined hero.

To be clear, Herschel Walker may well be the junior U.S. senator from Georgia in January; he faces Democrat Raphael Warnock in a December 6 runoff after finishing (at this count) less than a point behind the incumbent. But since Walker ran nearly 5 points behind his ticket mate, Republican governor Brian Kemp, and failed to win the majority that every other statewide GOP nominee got in Georgia, he has clearly been a suboptimal candidate in a crucial contest.

Trump’s culpability here is real but not complete. He has been Walker’s patron for much of the brilliant ex-athlete’s adult life, signing him to his first professional-football contract in the early 1980s and later making him a compelling figure on Celebrity Apprentice. And Trump clearly talked him into leaving his Texas home to return to Georgia and run for the Senate; the ex-president announced Walker’s candidacy before the candidate did.

But in urging Walker upon Georgia Republicans, Trump was clearly pushing on an open door. Practically from the moment of Warnock’s election, Peach State Republicans began yearning for Walker as a unifying candidate in a party that might otherwise be torn apart in a divisive Senate primary. And when the state’s agriculture commissioner, Gary Black, ran against Walker and warned that the Heisman Trophy winner would soon be damaged goods after his background of questionable behavior toward women came out, most Republicans (including Mitch McConnell) dismissed these concerns and backed Walker to the hilt.

While Trump remains responsible for his friend and stooge’s candidacy, he probably didn’t know about the full extent of Walker’s baggage, particularly the allegations that, in the not-distant past, he repeatedly impregnated women outside of wedlock and on occasion urged (and even financed) their abortions. So the ex-president is only partially to blame if Walker fumbles this winnable Senate election.

Adam Laxalt: The golden boy adopted by Trump.

Adam Laxalt, the Republican U.S. Senate nominee in Nevada, lost to Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto. Some blame will be directed toward Trump since Laxalt has been a staunch MAGA supporter who actually ran the former president’s narrowly unsuccessful 2020 campaign in the state.

He was hardly unknown before Trump hit the scene, though. He’s the grandson of former Nevada governor and U.S. senator Paul Laxalt and the product of an affair between Laxalt’s daughter and Pete Domenici, the longtime Republican U.S. senator from New Mexico. He was elected attorney general of Nevada in 2014 before losing a gubernatorial bid in 2018. Trump is only partially responsible for Laxalt’s loss, like a stepdad dealing with a stepson’s misadventures.

Blake Masters: A child in joint custody.

Arizona’s Blake Masters lost his challenge to Democratic incumbent U.S. senator Mark Kelly. He ran several points behind the even Trumpier gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake. But while Lake has preternatural political talents that have led some to consider her a possible successor to Trump as MAGA chieftain, Masters is a strange dude who entered politics as a protégé and employee of rogue Silicon Valley mogul and proto-authoritarian Peter Thiel. Like his fellow Trump-Thiel joint-custody child J.D. Vance of Ohio, Masters received a crucially timed Trump endorsement during the primary season that elevated him over a crowded field of rivals who were battling for the MAGA vote.

Give Trump at least half the blame for Masters’ loss, which is probably as good an assessment as you will get of his overall responsibility for the Republican disappointments of 2022.

Abortion Rights Keep Winning at the Ballot Box

There’s not much question that the backlash to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision helped Democrats over-perform expectations in the 2022 midterms. But the pro-choice cause won direct victories on ballots as well, as I noted at New York:

In November 8’s midterm election, voters in Kentucky defeated a ballot measure that aimed to eliminate abortion rights from the state constitution. And voters in Michigan, Vermont, and California have amended their state constitutions to explicitly acknowledge abortion rights. The door to state abortion bans opened by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year when it reversed Roe v. Wade is being closed by voters whenever they have the opportunity to weigh in on the matter.

In the days after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision turning abortion policy over to the states, Republican politicians and other opponents of legalized abortion looked with bad intent at places where courts had identified a state constitutional right to choose independent of Roe. They immediately found two red states, Kansas and Kentucky, where it was relatively easy to get a compliant, GOP-controlled legislature to put a constitutional amendment on the 2022 ballot (the primary ballot in Kansas and the general-election ballot in Kentucky). The thinking was that in states where the electorate would lean even more conservative than usual due to a midterm Republican wave, it would be a snap to get “liberal” courts out of the way and give legislators the power to enact draconian anti-abortion laws.

This assumption was upended on August 2 when Kansas voters defeated the “Value Them Both” constitutional amendment, which would have ended state constitutional abortion rights, by a 59-41 margin. It was a stunning result in a state that Donald Trump had carried by a 56-42 margin in 2020, and it soon became apparent that a sizable minority of pro-choice Republican voters bucked their party leaders and elected officials by voting “no.”

By then, Democratic legislators in California and Vermont had already arranged for their own states to vote on constitutional amendments enshrining abortion rights. And after the Kansas vote, pro-choice advocates in Michigan secured enough petitions on a citizen-led abortion-rights initiative to get it on that state’s November ballot.

Kentucky’s “no right to abortion” initiative was losing by six points with 88 percent of the votes in, showing once again that some Republican voters remain pro-choice even if their politicians (e.g., Kentucky’s Rand Paul, who was easily reelected this year) are soldiers in the war on legalized abortion. Abortions are still largely illegal in the state by legislative statute, but at least the ban will not be made permanent via a proposed constitutional amendment. Michigan’s reproductive-rights constitutional amendment (Proposal 3) was approved by a double-digit margin. California’s very extensive abortion-rights constitutional amendment, Proposition 1, is being approved by nearly a two-to-one margin. And Vermont’s parallel Proposition 5 (guaranteeing a right to “reproductive freedom”) is winning by more than a three-to-one margin.

There was a much, much narrower ballot initiative at play in Montana, passed by the legislature long before Dobbs came down, requiring medical interventions to treat “born alive” survivors of botched abortions. It too is currently losing by a six-point margin. So there could be a pro-choice clean sweep at the polls. Reproductive-rights advocates and their Democratic allies are already planning additional ballot initiatives for 2024.

Dem Gains in State Legislatures Brighten Party’s Future

From “Democrats make big gains in state legislatures after beating expectations” by Phil McCausland at nbc.com:

National Democrats were fairly happy on Election Day as they dodged a predicted trouncing at the polls, but state Democrats might have even more to celebrate.

As with Congress, the president’s party typically faces a shellacking in state legislatures in the cycle after his election and few expected 2022 to be different, as Democrats prepared to lose ground across the country and fought to keep the few majorities they had.

But Democrats had a much better night on the state level than expected. With votes still being counted across the country, the party has flipped the Michigan state Senate away from Republican control, according to The New York Times, citing AP data. And Democrats appear on track to flip the state House in Michigan, as well as in Pennsylvania and Minnesota, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), the nonpartisan organization that represents legislative chambers.

Democrats are also competitive in races to flip the legislative chambers in Arizona and New Hampshire, the NCSL said.

Republicans, meanwhile, consolidated power by creating supermajorities in both Florida legislative chambers as well as the North Carolina Senate, Wisconsin Senate, Iowa Senate and South Carolina House. They have not flipped any chambers as of yet.

Pennsylvania Democrats were already celebrating their wins in the state assembly, anticipating that they’ll take control for the first time since 2010. If Democrats do flip the Michigan House as well as the Senate, they’ll have full partisan control of the state for the first time in nearly 40 years following Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s re-election this week.

McCausland adds, “Changes in legislative control could also have an impact on future elections….Democrats in Pennsylvania were already gearing up to head off similar challenges that they said threatened democracy, while in Michigan, Democrats were pulling together a long list of policy priorities they haven’t addressed in four decades….“This is clearly turning out to be a very, very good election for the Democrats, and it could get even better,” noted Ben Williams, program principal of elections and redistricting for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Political Strategy Notes

From the early days of the feminist awakening of the 1970s on down to Monday, the expression “sisterhood is powerful” seemed more of an unfulfilled ideal than a prophesy realized. No more. Although we don’t have solid data yet showing the impact of women voters on midterms outcomes, a top priority of the women’s rights agenda got a huge boost on Tuesday. As Amelia Thomson-Deveaux writes at FiveThirtyEight: “Results are still pending in some key states like Arizona, but Democrats won many contests that will shape abortion access for the next few years — and in some cases, much longer. Abortion-rights supporters managed to enshrine the right to abortion in three state constitutions, including the crucial state of Michigan, where a near-total ban on abortion from 1931 has been tangled up in court battles for months. And supporters notched another consequential win in Kentucky, where a majority of the state’s voters opposed a ballot measure that would have explicitly clarified that abortion rights was not protected under the state constitution….These are significant victories for Democrats and abortion-rights supporters, particularly as Democrats faced significant headwinds on other topics important to Americans. That success almost certainly means abortion will remain a defining political issue as the 2024 presidential race looms on the horizon. There will be plenty of opportunities for Democrats to push their message: Abortion-rights activists now have momentum to push for ballot measures like the one that passed in Michigan, perhaps in states with active or pending bans like Ohio, Oklahoma and Missouri. And candidates may see this week’s results as evidence they need to talk more about abortion than they may have otherwise.”

Thomson-Deveaux adds that, “the unpopularity of the Supreme Court’s decision isn’t just registering in polls – it’s also reshaping the country’s political landscape…abortion did make it to the ballot in five states – Michigan, Vermont, California, Kentucky and Montana – and although we don’t have final results everywhere, abortion-rights supporters appear poised to sweep the board.” However, Thomson-Deveaux notes that “turning the general air of displeasure about extreme abortion bans into electoral victories could be tricky for Democrats in red states like Kentucky. Many anti-abortion candidates were also elected in races across the country last night, too — so simply prioritizing abortion doesn’t necessarily translate into support for Democrats.” Yet, “In key purple states, though, abortion rights seem to have lifted Democratic candidates, and although some races are still outstanding, Democrats have already won most of the state-level races that will shape abortion access going forward. In Pennsylvania, where Republican legislators were making noises about stricter abortion bans, Democrat Josh Shapiro won the governor’s race handily, defeating an opponent who was one of the most ardent anti-abortion advocates in the statehouse….We’ll keep looking into how abortion shaped the results of the midterms in the coming days. But for now, it’s clear that the Dobbs decision did turn abortion into one of the most salient issues in the country — which means you’re going to be hearing a lot more about it as the 2024 presidential campaign creaks into gear.”

Nate Silver explains why “Candidate Quality Mattered,” also at FiveThirtyEight: “For one thing, just look at the large difference between Senate and gubernatorial results in states with both types of races on the ballot. In the nine states with battleground1 Senate races in states that also had a gubernatorial race on the ballot, there were significant discrepancies between the performance of the candidates. We could wind up with as many as five of the nine states where one party wins the governorship and the other wins the Senate race. It’s already happened in New Hampshire and Wisconsin. It could happen in Nevada and Arizona depending how the remaining vote comes in. And it will also happen in Georgia if Democrat Raphael Warnock wins the Dec. 6 runoff after Republican Brian Kemp comfortably won the gubernatorial race….And even in states where there weren’t split-ticket winners, there were still big gaps in candidate performance. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, won reelection by nearly 26 percentage points at the same time the GOP Senate candidate, J.D. Vance, won by just 6.2 In Pennsylvania, Democrat John Fetterman did well enough in the U.S. Senate race against Mehmet Oz, but Josh Shapiro nonetheless won by a much larger margin against Doug Mastriano in the gubernatorial contest….In the 2018 midterms, the results in a number of major Senate races also significantly diverged from the partisan lean of the state. Republicans nominated a series of inexperienced Senate candidates, and such candidates tend to underperform statewide benchmarks.” It appears primary meddling was an effective way for Democratic political campaigns to reduce candidate quality of Republicans in the midterms.

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. shares his early take on the midterm elections, arguing that “Republicans failed to put forward anything that could be considered a governing agenda….The consensus seemed to be that the GOP had run a very disciplined campaign focused on inflation and crime, with attacks on Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) layered in to fertilize discontent….It didn’t work, partly because Republicans offered nothing in the way of solutions to the problems they were bemoaning. They also fudged what was supposed to be an issue of high principle, fleeing in horror from the abortion question once they realized how much anger a right-wing Supreme Court had inspired by overturning Roe v. Wade….Their evasion didn’t help them. Exit polls showed that three-quarters of voters who cast ballots on abortion backed Democrats. And the GOP’s inability to specify what the party might do with power undercut Republicans on the issues that were supposed to be their salvation….It’s probably too much to hope that Democratic success will tamp down warfare between the party’s progressive and centrist wings. But both sides would do well to acknowledge a core fact of political life: Democrats win only when they can unite the left and the center. Democrats needed the turnout and the 88 percent vote share they won from the slightly more than a quarter of the electorate that described itself as liberal. But they also needed the 54 percent they won among the one-third of voters who said they were moderate….For all the good news for Democrats, the fact remains that the outcome of this election is up in the air. Many House seats and the decisive Senate seats remain undecided. Republicans could yet emerge with very narrow control of the House and possibly the Senate. A Republican Congress would make governing hell over the next two years….But even if it does gain a share of power, the GOP will have to reckon with how its fealty to Trump and trafficking with extremists is lethal, and how voters demand more from their politicians than rage. After six years of bowing, scraping and blustering, you wonder whether Republicans have any capacity for introspection left in them.”

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.

Teixeira: Dems’ Long Goodbye to the Working Class

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

As we move into the endgame of the 2022 election, the Democrats face a familiar problem. America’s historical party of the working class keeps losing working-class support. And not just among white voters. Not only has the emerging Democratic majority I once predicted failed to materialize, but many of the nonwhite voters who were supposed to deliver it are instead voting for Republicans.

This year, Democrats have chosen to run a campaign focused on three things: abortion rights, gun control, and safeguarding democracy—issues with strong appeal to socially liberal, college-educated voters. But these issues have much less appeal to working-class voters. They are instead focused on the economy, inflation, and crime, and they are skeptical of the Democratic Party’s performance in all three realms.

This inattentiveness to working-class concerns is not peculiar to the present election. The roots of the Democrats’ struggles go back at least as far as Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016, and, as important, to the way in which many Democrats chose to interpret her defeat. Those mistakes, compounded over subsequent election cycles and amplified by vocal activists, now threaten to deliver another stinging disappointment for the Democratic Party. But until Democrats are prepared to grapple honestly with the sources of their electoral struggles, that streak is unlikely to end.

From 2012 to 2020, the Democrats not only saw their support among white working-class voters—those without college degrees—crater, they also saw their advantage among nonwhite working-class voters fall by 18 points. And between 2016 and 2020 alone, the Democratic advantage among Hispanic voters declined by 16 points, overwhelmingly driven by the defection of working-class voters. In contrast, Democrats’ advantage among white college-educated voters improved by 16 points from 2012 to 2020, an edge that delivered Joe Biden the White House

Polling points to a continuation of these trends in 2022. Democrats are losing voters without college degrees while running up the score among college-educated voters. In the latest national New York Times/Siena poll, Democrats have a 15-point deficit among working-class voters but a 14-point advantage among college-educated voters. (The American Enterprise Institute’s demographic-group tracker averages poll results and confirms this yawning gap in Democratic support.)

In part, this results from further deterioration of Democratic support among white working-class voters. But nonwhite working-class voters—especially Hispanic voters—may be following suit. Democrats carried Hispanic voters by 35 points in 2018 and 25 points in 2020. Available data and reporting strongly suggest that this further decline is being driven by working-class voters, the overwhelming majority of this demographic.

In a proximate sense, it’s not hard to see how this might be happening, given America’s economic situation and Democrats’ campaigning choices. But these struggles tie back to the 2016 presidential election. Hillary Clinton’s campaign made two fateful decisions that decisively undercut her ability to beat Donald Trump. During the primaries, facing a stiffer-than-expected challenge from Bernie Sanders, Clinton elected to counter his class-oriented populist economics by flanking him to the left on identity-politics issues. This built on the party’s attribution of Barack Obama’s reelection in 2012 to mobilizing the “rising American electorate,” which ignored his relatively strong performance among working-class voters in the Midwest. For Clinton, turning to identity politics was a way of making Sanders seem out of touch.

After Sanders unexpectedly came close to tying Clinton in the Iowa caucus, she went on the offensive, seeking to characterize Sanders’s class-oriented pitch as racist and sexist. As NBC News reported at the time:

“Not everything is about an economic theory, right?” Clinton said, kicking off a long, interactive riff with the crowd at a union hall this afternoon.

“If we broke up the big banks tomorrow—and I will if they deserve it, if they pose a systemic risk, I will—would that end racism?”

“No!” the audience yelled back.

Clinton continued to list scenarios, asking: ​“Would that end sexism? Would that end discrimination against the LGBT community? Would that make people feel more welcoming to immigrants overnight?”

She continued that line of attack until the moment she secured the nomination. And once that was accomplished and her campaign launched in earnest, she made her second fateful decision, choosing to concentrate on Trump’s character and all the ways he was out of step with the rising American electorate. Studies of her campaign-ad spending reveal that the overwhelming majority of these ads had nothing to say about policy or even policy orientation, instead attacking Trump’s character and his many divisive and offensive statements. Her campaign slogan, “Stronger together,” was an implicit rebuke of Trump on these grounds.

Political Strategy Notes

At Mother Jones, Madison Pauly reports, “The Future of Abortion Is Up for Grabs in These States on Tuesday.” As Pauly writes, “California’s Proposition 1 and Vermont’s Proposal 5 would explicitly add abortion rights to their state constitutions—an additional safeguard where abortion access is already protected by law and insulated by left-leaning climates….Potentially more impactful is Ballot Proposal 3 in Michigan, where voters are considering a constitutional amendment that would guarantee the right to “reproductive freedom.” The amendment would establish full abortion rights for all, at least until fetal viability, as well as the right to make and carry out one’s own decisions about contraception, sterilization, and miscarriage management. “More so than any other individual race or ballot referendum,” my colleague Abby Vesoulis reported, “the results of this measure in this particularly purple state will reveal the degree to which middle-America voters support strong abortion protections in practice rather than in the abstract.”….The amendment would stymie attempts to bring back a blocked 1931 abortion ban, and guard against future anti-abortion lawmaking by the Republican-controlled state legislature….Kentucky’s Amendment 2 would go in the other direction, clarifying there is no right to abortion anywhere in the state constitution. If passed, the amendment would help cement the state’s zero-week abortion ban, throwing a wrench into pro-choice activists’ plans to argue that their right to privacy in the state constitution implies the right to end a pregnancy….Two more states have initiatives that indirectly implicate reproductive rights. In Alaska, Ballot Measure 1 asks whether to call a state constitutional convention; if they do so, some lawmakers would see it as an opportunity to prohibit abortion, according to Alaska Public Media. Meanwhile, Montana’s Legislative Referendum 131 would impose strict criminal penalties on health care workers who don’t take “take medically appropriate and reasonable actions” to provide medical care to infants born alive at any stage of development. The measure reportedly resembles model legislation by the anti-abortion group Americans United for Life.” Pauly also notes Governor’s races in PA, KS, MI and WI and some state legislative elections that spotlight the threat to abortion rights. Here’s hoping abortion rights ballot measures have ‘coattails’ that benefit Democrats.

Some excerpts from an article Democrats ought to share with seniors. “If a Republican-controlled Congress comes for your Social Security benefits in the next few years, don’t say they didn’t warn you,” Brett Arends writes in “Yes, some Republican senators really are talking openly about Social Security cuts” at MarketWatch….”Sen. Mike Lee of Utah brings to a round dozen the number of sitting GOP senators who have said, quite openly, that they want to put Social Security on the chopping block one way or another….As Social Security benefits are looking at a 20% cut without new taxes, we may be talking about major changes to America’s retirement plan….Meanwhile, according to the latest numbers at Predictit.org, the online betting market, the Republicans are cruising toward control of the House after next week’s midterms and have a growing chance of also winning the Senate. Which means they would have the means and opportunity as well as the motive to start taking the pruning shears, or an ax, to America’s retirement plan….Lee this week refused to disavow or deny his past remarks that he wanted “to phase out Social Security, to pull it up by the roots and get rid of it.” He made those remarks in 2010, and an audio recording just resurfaced — and is appearing in a (video) attack ad in Utah, where Lee is up for re-election….Changes, he said, should include raising the age at which those who have paid into Social Security become eligible for benefits. That’s a cut in benefits for each future beneficiary, no matter what people call it….Lee is not alone in wanting changes to Social Security. Fellow Senate Republican Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, one of his party’s ardent fans of anarcho-capitalist author Ayn Rand, is on record as wanting the program turned into “discretionary” federal spending….Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, who as a privatesector businessman once oversaw the biggest fraud against Medicare in history, is on record as wanting to introduce an automatic five-year “sunset” on all federal programs, including Social Security and Medicare. “If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again,” Scott said….Meanwhile eight other GOP senators say they want to “rescue” America’s retirement program with unspecified, er, measures … to be decided upon behind closed doors….That proposal, put forward by Lee’s fellow Utah senator Mitt Romney, is also being championed by occasional Republican maverick Lindsey Graham, who earlier year spoke out for lower Social Security benefits for some to help “save” the program.”

Leave it to our most eloquent former President to put Fetterman’s stroke into a perspective that should resonate with PA voters. As President Obama explained in Pittsburgh on Saturday “John’s stroke did not change who he is, it didn’t change what he cares about, it didn’t change his values, his heart, his fight,” Obama said. “It doesn’t change who he will represent when he gets to the United States Senate. He’ll represent you,” Jared Gans reports at The Hill. “Obama said the choice facing Pennsylvanians in the Senate race should be simple,” Gans writes, “because they don’t want a leader “who is just looking out for himself,” but one who will “work hard for you.” He said Fetterman knows “what it’s like to get knocked down and then get back up….When you get knocked down, you know he’s going to be there to help you get back up.” Fetterman has done a few interviews since his debate, and by now most PA voters can see that he is lucid and getting better. “Obama said Fetterman has been fighting for people his entire life, having worked for AmeriCorps to teach GED classes for young parents and run for mayor of a small town to create jobs and reduce gun violence.” One day out, FiveThirtyEight calls the Fetterman-Oz race a “dead heat,” giving Fetterman 54 out of a hundred chances to win, compared to a 46 chances rating for Oz. At Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Kyle Kondik writes, “Honestly, we think a Muhlenberg College/Morning Call poll released Tuesday showing the race deadlocked at 47% apiece is a pretty good approximation of where the race is now. The same pollster’s numbers from mid-September had Fetterman up 49%-44%.” The Real Clear Politics average has Oz up +0.1.

In “How Democrats Mishandled Crime,” Stanley B. Greenberg writes at The American Prospect: “In 2021, I created a multiracial and multigenerational team of pollsters funded by the American Federation of Teachers and the Center for Voter Information to look at how to raise Democratic support with all working-class voters. It included HIT Strategies and Equis Labs….They conducted the research in the African American, Hispanic, and Asian American communities. All of those communities pointed to the rising worry about crime. And they worried more about the rise in crime than the rise in police abuse. Yet Democrats throughout 2021 focused almost exclusively on the latter. Clearly, these communities wanted political leaders to address both….Despite Democrats’ seeming indifference to community safety, we found that Democrats in 2021 could make gains if they reassured voters on the police. Voters believed Democrats were for defunding the police, so messages that showed respect for the police and advocated for funding got heard. The message also included “urgent reforms, including better training and accountability to prevent excessive force and racial profiling.” And since the principal doubt was about the police, the message had to focus only on the police….This Democratic crime message was preferred to the Republicans’ by 8 points, and hearing it gave the Democrats another 2-point lift in their congressional vote margin….In a mid-October poll, I was able to test a crime message that got heard. It got heard because it dramatized more police, said Democrats heard our communities on violent crime, and also called out the small minority of Democrats who failed to address violent crime, and said, “Democrats in Congress are mainstream” and support our “first responders.”….To be honest, I didn’t want to open up this debate during the campaign when Democrats could do little to address it. That is why I am writing this article now, being published right before the election….Our effective crime message began with respect for police, but this time, the Democrat proposes to add 100,000 more police. That is a pretty dramatic offer that says, my crime plan begins with many more police. The message includes the same urgent reforms, but also adds, “those very communities want us to get behind law enforcement” and “fight violent crime as a top priority.”….This crime message defeats by 11 points a Republican crime message that hits Democrats for defunding the police, being with Biden who is soft on crime, and presiding over Democratic cities with record homicide rates. Democrats are in so much trouble on crime, yet this message wins dramatically in the base and competes with working-class targets….But the message gains even more support and shifts which party you trust better on crime when the Democrats call out the small minority in the House who supported defunding the police and voted against all efforts to fund law enforcement. This message had some of the strongest results in the survey, with the positive reaction outscoring the negative by 16 points….Whatever happens on Tuesday, Democrats should start by listening to the voters again and show that they know how to make communities safe, while raising the power and well-being of all working people.”

Trump 2024 Announcement Could Wrong-Foot Republicans

Today some unsurprising but still significant political news came over the transom, so I wrote it up at New York:

A loudly barking dog that has quieted down as the midterm elections approach their omega point is the de facto head of the Republican Party — Donald Trump. While he was ubiquitous during primary season, when he was emblazoning a host of candidates with his brand, he appears to have heard the whispered pleas or silent prayers of Republicans that he keep a lower profile so that the midterms could be a straight referendum on Joe Biden and his (allegedly) socialist Democrats. Yes, he’s doing last-minute rallies for favored candidates in Ohio and Pennsylvania and dubious events in the early presidential states of Florida and Iowa. But for a world-class narcissist like the 45th president, this level of activity is almost restrained — if not at all selfless.

It appears that this will change very soon, per a report from Axios:

“Former President Trump’s inner circle is discussing announcing the launch of a 2024 presidential campaign on Nov. 14 — with the official announcement possibly followed by a multi-day series of political events, according to three sources familiar with the sensitive discussions.

“Look for Trump to take credit for Republican victories across the board — including those he propelled with his endorsements, and even those he had nothing to do with.”

Before you mark November 14 on your calendars as a day to spend in a decompression chamber and far from Twitter, it should be noted that there were similar reports in the summer that Trump ’24 would launch any day. But it’s not like there’s any remaining doubt that he’s running. And a relatively early launch would not only allow Trump to come out bragging but could force potential rivals to bend a knee — before their own presidential ambitions tempt them to take the enormous risk of challenging the dark lord of Mar-a-Lago.

However, for Republicans (if not for Trump) there are potential disadvantages to a precipitous 2024 campaign kickoff.

There is a chance that control of the U.S. Senate will come down to a December 6 general-election runoff between Herschel Walker and incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock. As any Georgia Republican will privately tell you, Trump personally ruined the January 2021 runoff contests of David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler by coming to the state and talking about himself and Georgia’s rigged election system, which did not inspire enthusiasm to vote among Republicans. It seems unlikely that he would stay away from the runoff campaign of his buddy Herschel, but with Trump as a newly reminted presidential candidate, that might not be good for Walker, who needs to hang on to and mobilize every single Trump-skeptic Republican in the state.

Another moment for Republicans a Trump announcement might ruin is Joe Biden’s 80th birthday on November 20. If, as is widely expected, Democrats suffer serious losses on Election Day, there will be immediate talk about the need for replacing today’s party gerontocracy in Washington with fresh leadership. But the real-life prospect of a Trump comeback could do wonders in reminding everyone that Old Man Biden defeated his predecessor and may still be the only candidate who can do that in 2024. More generally, there’s nothing quite like hearing the Big Bad Wolf howling outside the door to instill a desire for unity among all the little piggies who fear being gobbled up politically just two years down the road.