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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

A Democratic Political Strategy for Reaching Working Class Voters That Starts from the Actual “Class Consciousness” of Modern Working Americans.

by Andrew Levison

Read the Memo

RUBI Report Highlights Successful Approaches for Rural Democratic Candidates

Read the Report

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.

“Peaceful Protest” vs. “Rioting” is a False Choice.

There’s a Militant, Powerful Strategy for Protesting Police Injustice

Read the Memo

Democrats Will Lose Elections in 2022 and 2024 if They do Not Offer a Plausible Strategy for Reducing the Surge of Immigrants at the Border.

Read on…

The Daily Strategist

March 24, 2023

Political Strategy Notes

Despite all of the legitimate gripes about social media’s influential conservative bias (see Musk, Elon and Zuckerberg, Mark, for example), TV still rules when it comes to political ads. A couple of quick takes from Amy Walter at the Cook Political Report underscore television dominance: “….Traditional advertising (TV and cable), made up 73% of all ad spending in 2022 – But, CTV, Connected TV, has become a bigger share of the political advertising market, representing 12% of all ad spending this cycle. CTV is defined as a device that plugs into your TV (or is part of your TV) that allows you to stream content (think Roku or Apple TV). (AdImpact)….2022 was the most expensive midterm on record for TV ad spending. According to the campaign ad tracking firm AdImpact, the 2022 political cycle was the most expensive midterm election on record, with over $8.9B spent, more than doubling the $3.9B spent during the 2018 midterms. In fact, this year’s midterm spending was just $119M shy of 2020, the most expensive political cycle of all time….However, according to Wesleyan Media Project, while spending on advertising in House and Senate contests was up 10 percent compared to 2018, the volume of TV ads (the number of ads run) “does not break historical records in all cases.” It was 2020, not 2018, that saw the highest volume of TV ads in races for the House and Senate. In House races this cycle, writes the Wesleyan Media Project analysis, ad volumes cycle-to-date were down 7 percent from 2020 and in Senate races the volume was down 35 percent from 2020. “In general, though, ad volumes in congressional races since (and including) 2018 are higher than in the three previous elections in 2012, 2014, and 2016.”

In their op-ed, “Latino voters are still in search of a working-class agenda” in The Los Angeles Times, Republican strategist Mike Madrid and Democratic analyst Lucas Holtz write: “The education divide that has defined American politics over the last three election cycles has begun to appear in the country’s largest blue state, California. Democrats have captured and retained greater shares of college-educated voters in metro areas, but it has come at the expense of losing rural and blue-collar voters to the Republican Party….For California, this trade-off has had the effect of Democrats flipping down-ballot House seats in suburban places like Orange County and northern Los Angeles County but losing races in the rural Central Valley. It could also exacerbate ethnic, class and geographic tensions within the Democratic Party….In California, as with other states with large Latino populations, the educational realignment has become intertwined with Latino voters’ political shift to the right. California’s 17 most heavily Latino congressional districts (where a Republican and Democrat both ran in 2022) have an average college education rate 20% lower than the rest of the state. Every one of these districts swung right from the 2020 presidential election to the 2022 midterms, with an 11.2% aggregated shift. All but one of these 17 districts swung right from the blue wave of 2018 to this year’s 2022 midterm election. There were three competitive, toss-up districts among these 17, each of which Biden won in 2020 and Republicans managed to win this year….Republicans won seven of California’s 10 most competitive congressional districts in 2022, and Latino voters had an outsize impact in the outcomes of almost every one of these 10 districts….The backlash to the Supreme Court overturning Roe vs. Wade, the recent memory of the Uvalde school shooting and the constant drumbeat of MAGA extremism may have been enough to keep swing Latino voters in the Democratic column, but these issues become less motivating as Latino voters are disproportionately affected by rising living costs, steep housing prices and the employment damage done by the pandemic.”

Associated Press reporters  Ayanna Alexander and Gary Fields make the case that “Black voters have been a steady foundation for Democratic candidates for decades, but that support appeared to show a few cracks in this year’s elections….Republican candidates were backed by 14% of Black voters, compared with 8% in the last midterm elections four years ago, according to AP VoteCast, an extensive national survey of the electorate….In Georgia, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp more than doubled his support among Black voters to 12% in 2022 compared with 5% four years ago, according to VoteCast. He defeated Democrat Stacey Abrams both times….If that boost can be sustained, Democrats could face headwinds in 2024 in Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, where presidential and Senate races are typically decided by narrow margins and turning out Black voters is a big part of Democrats’ political strategy….It’s too early to tell whether the 2022 survey data reflects the beginnings of a longer-term drift of Black voters toward the GOP or whether the modest Republican gains from an overwhelmingly Democratic group will hold during a presidential year.” There’s no denying that Republicans are making some small, but potentially-significant gains with Black and Latino voters. Sharon Lure notes at U.S. News that “According to [Univ. of California researcher Robert] Fairlie’s analysis of the census data, the number of Black small-business owners was 28% higher in the third quarter of 2021 than it was pre-pandemic, compared to 19% for Latino business owners and 5% for white and Asian business owners.” Would it help Democrats if they  reviewed and updated their policies to benefit and win support from more small business entrepreneurs?

Paul Glastris explains “How Democrats Won More Rural Votes in 2022” at The Washington Monthly: “Instead of relying on out-of-district volunteers to canvas with scripted messages, [Wisconsin State Senator Jeff] Smith and other successful rural Democrats deploy locals or knock on doors themselves and let voters lead the conversation. They also buy ads in and give interviews to small-town newspapers and radio stations, even if those outlets are arch-conservative.” Noting that The Washington Monthly has been advocating similar strategy for a long time, WaMo Editor-in-Chief Gastric adds, “The overall aim is not to win the majority of rural voters—that’s virtually impossible these days for a Democrat—but to minimize their losses in these areas while getting the maximum number of their core Democratic supporters to vote….other Democratic candidates listened to what Johnson and other party critics had to say about the need to fight for rural votes. The most famous is Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senator-elect John Fetterman, who performed better than Joe Biden in 2020 not only in the suburbs but also in small, rural towns, as well with a strategy he dubbed “Every County, Every Vote.” The state’s newly elected Democratic Governor Josh Shapiro also ran hard in rural counties and did even better there than Fetterman. In Colorado, U.S. Senator Michael Bennet won reelection in a 15-point blowout, thanks partly to the Democrat’s better-than-expected showing in rural areas. And in Michigan, robust results in rural districts plus a new legislative map helped Democrats take control of both houses of the legislature for the first time in 40 years.”

Post-Midterms Priority for Dems: Restore Unions Where Possible

In “The First Thing Michigan Democrats Should Do With Their New Power” at The New Republic, Steven Greenhouse, senior fellow at the Century Foundation and author of Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor, writes:

Now that Democrats in Michigan have won control of the governor’s mansion and both houses of the state legislature for the first time in nearly four decades, they have an excellent opportunity to do what no state legislature in the U.S. has done in over a half-century: repeal a right-to-work law.

Such laws are deliberately anti-union and divisive. They let workers opt out of paying any dues or fees to their union while still enjoying the benefits their union provides them: winning better pay and benefits and fighting to protect them if they’re fired. Pushed by corporations and billionaire donors, Republican lawmakers have enacted these laws in state after state because they weaken labor unions by sapping their treasuries and undercutting their power—both in the workplace and in politics.

In an era when Republicans have repeatedly prevented Congress from enacting pro-union legislation like the Protecting the Right Organize Act, the Michigan legislature—as soon as Democrats take control in January—will be in position to take a momentous step to strengthen unions. Repealing right-to-work in Michigan would be a big symbolic and substantive shot in the arm for labor across the U.S. It would also be a powerful way for Governor Gretchen Whitmer to prove her labor bona fides if she runs for president one day.

Greenhouse notes that “One study found that the portion of workers in right-to-work states who opt out of paying union dues or fees ranged from 9 percent in Georgia to as high as 27 percent in Louisiana, 31 percent in Florida, and 39 percent in South Dakota. This translates into a sharp decline in dues payments, and that weakens union treasuries and hampers unions’ ability to do organizing and other work.”

As for the political consequences of unions, Greenhouse adds, “In a recent study, three scholars found that “when right-to-work laws are in place, Democrats up and down the ballot do worse.” They concluded that in “right-to-work counties,” Democrats perform about 3.5 percentage points worse in presidential elections, with “similar effects in Senate, House, and Gubernatorial races, as well as on state legislative control.” That study also found a 2 percent drop in voter turnout in “right-to-work counties.” Let’s not forget that in 2016, Hillary Clinton lost Wisconsin and Michigan by less than 1 percent of the vote. Further,

Conservative operatives know that once a state passes right-to-work and other anti-union measures, it’s easier for Republicans to enact other conservative legislation, like restricting voting rights, cutting Medicaid, and giving tax breaks to corporations and the rich. In his book State Capture: How Conservative Activists, Big Business, and Wealthy Donors Reshaped the American States—and the Nation, Alexander Hertel-Fernandez wrote, “State policy moves sharply to the right after the passage of anti-union right-to-work laws—with real consequences for ordinary Americans on issues like minimum wage and labor market standards.”

With 71 percent of all Americans, including 56 percent of Republicans, voicing approval of unions in an August Gallup poll, it is clear that red state legislatures—pushed by corporations and wealthy donors—are often far more anti-union than the public at large. In 2018, Missourians voted 67 to 33 percent to repeal a year-old right-to-work law enacted by the state legislature.

Unions are not only good for American workers; They are also essential for building working Democratic majorities in federal, state and local legislative bodies.

Political Strategy Notes

Digby reports on “The massive Cuban emigration” at digbysblog.net, and writes “I know why Trump put in place all the draconian policies that have now forced Cubans to try to emigrate to the US in massive numbers. But why are they still in place?….Cubans migrate to the US because, unlike any other group of refugees, they are fast tracked to residency as political refugees. If they put their feet on US land, they get to stay. I can only assume that this migration is, therefore, supported by Cuban American Republicans because they want these people to come to America….The people who push the Great Replacement Theory idea that Democrats want more immigrants because they believe they will vote for Democrats, actually seem to be doing what they accuse the Democrats of doing. Surprise.'” Digby quotes from a recent New York Times article, which notes, “Over the last year, nearly 250,000 Cubans, more than 2 percent of the island’s 11 million population, have migrated to the United States, most of them arriving at the southern border by land, according to U.S. government data….Even for a nation known for mass exodus, the current wave is remarkable — larger than the 1980 Mariel boatlift and the 1994 Cuban rafter crisis combined, until recently the island’s two biggest migration events….But while those movements peaked within a year, experts say this migration, which they compare to a wartime exodus, has no end in sight and threatens the stability of a country that already has one of the hemisphere’s oldest populations….The avalanche of Cubans leaving has also become a challenge for the United States. Now one of the highest sources of migrants after Mexico, Cuba has become a top contributor to the crush of migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border, which has been a major political liability for President Biden and which the administration considers a serious national security issue.” The massive migration from Cuba to the U.S. undoubtedly has political consequences favoring Florida Republicans, who are already having a good year.

From “With the creation of the Heartland Caucus, Democrats look to the Midwest for a winning strategy” by Zoe Clark and Rick Puta at michiganrdio.org: “The background: Michigan Democrats won the 2022 election handedly. For the first time in nearly four decades, they are taking over the Governor’s office, the state House and the state Senate in 2023. And that has many wondering if their strategy is a template for winning future elections nationwide….The question: Are Michigan issues the key to helping Democrats win elections nationally?….The answer: Michigan Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Dingell sure thinks so. “Sometimes it’s easy to fly over the heartland and we want to make sure that we have a collective voice in the heartland,” Dingell recently told us. She wants to see a new Democratic caucus in Congress known as the Heartland Caucus. It would be made up of Democratic members from at least 12 Midwest states, and Dingell says the caucus would focus on a long list of issues facing the Midwest surrounding agriculture, unions, telehealth services for rural areas and the Great Lakes….The idea is gaining traction after Dingell shared a map that has been getting a lot of attention. The map shows the power that coastal Democrats hold in Congress with leadership representing California and much of the East Coast but the Midwest being left-out. “This battle for the heartland and to make sure there’s more representation is something that, you know, I’ve talked about for years, for decades. I think a map that I put together that showed that the heartland in the Democratic Party had no representation in senior leadership or committee chairs got the attention of a lot of people,” Dingell explained….Dingell says Republicans — especially Trump Republicans — have tapped into the anxiety felt by working class voters in the suburbs and rural areas and she says if Democrats want to build on their successes they’d be smart to focus on issues that Midwesterners care about. Take a look, for example, at how Democratic Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin won reelection in her mid-Michigan swing district that went for President Donald Trump in both 2016 and 2020.”

Sasha Abramsky shares some insights regarding “How Democrats Beat Arizona’s Extremist Republicans” at The Nation: “Although Arizona has historically been a Republican state, in recent election cycles it has gone from red to purple to, at least in federal elections, a light shade of blue. Many moderate GOP voters, said a regional Republican consultant who asked to remain anonymous, “woke up and said, ‘I can’t take four more years of this shit.’ Donald Trump’s persona—people just said, ‘Enough is enough.’” The state has two Democratic senators, both elected under Trump, and in 2020, after the vast voter registration and mobilization efforts spearheaded by Unite Here Local 11 and other unions and a huge voter turnout for Biden in the Navajo Nation and other tribal communities, its Electoral College votes went to Biden….On many of the key issues of the day, from abortion to January 6 to climate change and immigration, Arizona voters are to the left of the GOP politicians who run the state and the candidates who ran for statewide and federal office in 2022….Tucson, in Arizona’s far south, has long been a liberal redoubt. Over the past several election cycles, it has increasingly been joined by the population center of Phoenix (America’s fifth-largest city) and surrounding Maricopa County, which have gone from being bastions of the sort of racist, demagogic politics preached by longtime sheriff Joe Arpaio—who was finally booted out by voters in 2016 after 24 years in office—to leaning Democratic. The mayor of Phoenix, Kate Gallego, is a Democrat, and its city council has a Democratic majority that pushes progressive housing, labor, and wage ordinances.”

“This year, young people appear to have made up a smaller portion of the electorate than in 2018, and they supported Democrats by a thinner marginthan in the last two elections. And despite what you’ve heard, young people aren’t one single, amorphous voting bloc that will continue to vote the same way,” Christian Paz writes in “What America’s politicians get wrong about young voters” at Vox. “Given Democrats’ struggles in holding on to support from voters of color, independents, and working-class people, this year’s results from young voters should be a wake-up call for both parties, but especially Democrats. Despite the identity often ascribed to them, young voters aren’t special or unintelligible — they are just as complex as other voting demographics….They’re also not the sum of stereotypes that both progressives and right-wing pundits project as conventional wisdom — young voters are not all clamoring for full student loan cancellation, vote based on climate policy and marijuana legalization, or are “brainwashed” leftists. Those issues do matter to young people but, this year, they behaved like most other voters: They balanced concerns over abortion, the cost of living, and election denialism in making their decisions….Though it varies by state, it looks in general as though young voters did turn out in above-average numbers nationally. In most places, they didn’t exceed the turnout of 2018’s blue wave or the historic 2020 presidential election year, which saw the highest youth voter participation rate in recent memory. But young voters likely exceeded the levels of participation seen in the 2010 and 2014 midterms during the Obama years, when Democrats were dealt significant setbacks in Congress. In specific states, like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nevada, and Georgia, their share of the electorate was closer to 2018 than 2014, while participation lagged in places like California, North Carolina, Texas, and Washington….What stands out is the breakdown in young voters’ support for Democrats: Voters under 30 years old preferred Democratic candidates by 28 points (which, according to exit polls, is a 7-point drop from their support in 2018’s blue wave), making it the only age group that Democrats won by a large margin. That same dynamic shows up in AP Votecast’s measure of vote choice based on age: 53 percent of voters under the age of 30 supported Democrats this year compared to the 41 percent who supported Republicans. That margin is down from 2020 and 2018, when the margins were 25 points and 30 points respectively….Young women, especially women of color, are much more Democratic than young men, according to Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. And rural youth are much more Republican than those who live in cities….But research published in the University of Chicago’s journal of politics shows that, for most people, political beliefs are longstanding and stable, but liberals are more likely to become more conservative than the other way around as people grow older.”

Battle of the Burbs Likely to Shape 2024 Election(s)

Some insights for Democrats in “Black Voters Are Transforming the Suburbs — And American Politics: An influx of Black voters into suburbia holds enormous promise for Democrats, but Republicans are fighting back” by David Siders, Sean McMinn, Brampton Booker and Jesus A. Rodriguez at Politico:

Around the country, the number of Black people living in U.S. suburbs ballooned during the first two decades of this century, increasing from 8.8 million to 13.6 million nationwide, according to POLITICO Magazine’s analysis. Today, more than one-third of Black Americans live in suburban areas — the fastest-growing areas in the country for Black people.

At first blush, the suburbanization of the Black vote holds enormous promise for Democrats, pushing the party’s most loyal base of voters into suburban areas that, in recent election cycles, have determined the balance of power in Congress and the presidency. According to a POLITICO Magazine analysis of election results from last month’s midterms, Democrats dominated suburban districts that saw a large influx of Black residents over the last two decades. Even in red states like Texas, where the Black population is eclipsed by white and Latino voters, Black people are by far Democrats’ most dependable constituency, with 84 percent of Black voters in Texas last month casting Democratic ballots in the state’s gubernatorial race, compared to 57 percent of Latinos and 33 percent of whites, according to exit polls.

“When you think about the suburbs becoming more diverse,” said Tom Bonier, CEO of the Democratic data firm TargetSmart, “it just creates a way more efficient distribution of Democratic votes, where they’re not as packed into the cities.”

The most recent example: the once reliably red state of Georgia, which has shifted in favor Democrats in the last two election cycles. The historic Senate runoff this month featured for the first time in modern Georgia — and one of the handful of instances in American politics — two Black nominees: incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock, the state’s first Black senator and an activist pastor who leads Martin Luther King Jr.’s church in Atlanta, and Republican Herschel Walker, a former running back and Heisman Trophy winner who had the backing of former president Donald Trump. Warnock’s victory, by roughly 97,000 votes, was secured by maintaining Democratic gains in counties that had traditionally voted Republican, including the Atlanta suburbs of Cobb and Henry counties.

The authors also note that “The migration of Black populations away from city centers to the nation’s suburbs is happening across the U.S., from southern cities like Houston and New Orleans to midwestern cities like Chicago to western cities like Oakland and Los Angeles, and all down the East Coast, from New York to Washington to Atlanta.” Further,

For Democrats laboring to take advantage of the rapidly diversifying suburbs, a bigger challenge isn’t the Black candidates Republicans are running, but total Republican control over redistricting in states like Texas. The constitutionally authorized process, by which state legislatures take census data and redraw their congressional maps, often means whichever party controls a state legislature gets to shape districts to its benefit — as long as there is no overwhelming evidence of racial discrimination.

According to the progressive Brennan Center for Justice, Republicans controlled the drawing of 177 House districts in 19 states, or 41 percent of the lower chamber’s seats, in redistricting’s last round. Democrats, by comparison, control redistricting in seven states, or 11 percent of seats. (Other states use less partisan venues to draw maps, such as independent commissions or courts, which represent 40 percent of House seats.) In the past, Republicans have used the process to draw maps that dilute the voting power of urban areas, which tend to elect Democrats, by carving them up and joining them with more conservative suburbs. But voting rights experts say that Republicans are increasingly targeting the suburbs themselves, which are becoming more liberal as Black voters and other voters of color move there. Their strategy: merging those diversifying suburban districts with rural areas, which tend to vote red.

The diversification of America’s ‘burbs’ is a pivotal trend, juiced by accelerating in-migration in many southern and western states. Much depends on how well the Democrats craft their messaging in these areas in 2024.

Teixeira: The Democrats’ Nonwhite Working Class Problem

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

With all the Democratic back-patting going on, I’m not sure they’re really facing up to an emerging problem that severely undermines their electoral theory of the case. I speak of their declining margins with the nonwhite working class. That’s not to say they don’t still carry the nonwhite working class vote, it’s just they carry it by a lot less. That wasn’t in the “rising American electorate” battle plan.

As I have previously noted, AP/NORC VoteCast estimates the decline in Democrats’ advantage among the nonwhite working class as 14 points between 2020 and 2022, 23 points between 2018 and 2022 and (splicing in some Catalist data, which are consistent with VoteCast data where they overlap) an astonishing 33 point drop between 2012 and 2022.

That’s the national data. It’s interesting to look at the state-level data to see some of these places where this pattern manifested itself.

Arizona. The 2020 Presidential election and 2022 gubernatorial election were both extremely close. Interestingly, while Democrat Katie Hobbs ran quite a bit ahead of Biden among white college voters, she actually ran 3 points behind among nonwhite working class voters.

California. Gavin Newson in 2022 ran considerably behind Biden in 2020. One place where he kept almost all of Biden’s support from 2020 was among white college voters. In contrast, he lost a lot of support among nonwhite working class voters: 14 points.

Florida. Ron DeSantis of course ran way ahead of Trump in his 2022 gubernatorial race—about 16 points. But he ran 27 points ahead among nonwhite working class voters. And he did 38 points (!) better among nonwhite working class voters this year than he did in his initial 2018 gubernatorial race.

Georgia. Brian Kemp ran ahead of Trump in his 2022 re-election, albeit not on DeSantis’ level. But he did 16 margin points better among nonwhite working class voters and, compared to his initial election bid in 2018, also against Stacey Abrams, did 27 points better among those voters.

Pennsylvania. John Fetterman ran almost 4 points ahead of Biden in his successful bid for the Senate. Interestingly, as confirmed by an analysis on 538, he actually did even better than that among white working class voters in the state. But the Fetterman magic did not extend to nonwhite working class voters. He did an astonishing 21 points worse among these voters.

Texas. Greg Abbott ran about 5 points ahead of Trump in 2022. He did even better than that among nonwhite working class voters, running 15 points ahead of Trump across the state.

This pattern did not hold everywhere but it held in enough places to give the Democrats plenty to worry about. And, as noted above, we are now talking about a general trend of fairly long standing.

Political Strategy Notes

At The American Prospect, Robert Kuttner ponders a question of much current interest, “Could Democrats Really Elect a Moderate Republican Speaker?: It’s a long shot, but not out of the question.” As Kuttner writes, “Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy, who hopes to become Speaker, is in a real pickle. His majority in the House will be just four or five. The far-right members of his caucus are pushing him to a point where moderates won’t vote for him. But conversely, if he fails to meet MAGA demands, he will lose the voters of the hard right. It’s hard to see how he gets to 218 votes….Here is the choreography. On January 3, the Republican House caucus will meet and cast ballots for a Speaker-designate. If they agree, the full House will then vote for Speaker, and the Republican majority will prevail. But if they deadlock, Republican moderates could try to seek a deal with Democrats….Then it gets really complicated. Is this a deal just to elect a moderate Republican Speaker? Or is it a genuine bipartisan, anti-MAGA governing caucus?…What would Democrats demand? No far-right Republicans as committee chairs and no committee fishing expeditions? Some Democrats as committee chairs?…And how would the far-right Republicans, who make up a majority of the Republican caucus, react? They would likely be livid, and could well kick the faithless moderates out of their caucus, which would make an anti-MAGA House bipartisan governing majority a reality.”

Nathaniel Rakich notes at FiveThirtyEight that “One of the most important numbers in American politics this year is 140 million. That’s the number of Americans who live in a state where Democrats will have total control over state government after the 2022 midterm elections. By contrast, only 137 million live in a state where Republicans will control state government…Democrats did better in state-level elections across the board in 2022. They flipped three governors’ offices: Arizona, Maryland and Massachusetts. Republicans flipped only one: Nevada. Democrats also took control of four state-legislative chambers, and they will share power in the Alaska Senate, too, thanks to a coalition with some moderate Republicans. Meanwhile, Republicans didn’t flip a single state-legislative chamber….Overall, Democrats took full control of state government in three new states: Michigan, Minnesota and Vermont, where they won enough seats in the state legislature to override the Republican governor’s vetoes. That means Democrats will control all the levers of policymaking in 18 states — including big ones like California and New York. Meanwhile, Republicans will enjoy full control of government in 24 states — but they’re mostly on the smaller end population-wise….Democrats’ new strength on the state level could lead to a flurry of new liberal policies. Democrats in Michigan and Minnesota are already talking about repealing anti-union laws, legalizing marijuana and passing paid family leave….any big legislation passed in the next two years is probably going to come from the states.”

Nicole Narea explains “How Democrats mostly neutralized Republican attacks on crime in the midterms: Crime was expected to be a defining issue of the midterms. Here’s what actually happened” at Vox: “It’s difficult to disentangle just how much influence Republicans’ arguments on crime actually had in the midterms, and the effect wasn’t uniform across the US. Democrats in New York appear to have suffered acute repercussions. But in many competitive races from where Republicans flooded the airwaves with their crime messaging, like in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, it appears that the media was too hasty to believe that crime was a major deciding issue. In other contests, especially some of the country’s hardest-fought attorneys general races, Democrats were able to diffuse the issue — even, at times, turning it to their advantage….Polling suggested that a majority of Americans were worried about crime ahead of Election Day. And it’s true that the national murder rate remains up over pre-pandemic levels….The state of violent crime overall is less clear due to changes in how that data is reported starting in 2021….As the Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg has previously pointed out, it’s hard to parse issue polling. Voters may say that they care a lot about a whole range of issues, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that any one of them will impact their decision to vote for a particular candidate or party or to vote at all….The candidates who were successful in fending off Republican attacks were those who had an affirmative argument for why voters should trust Democrats on crime. That’s exactly what the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee advised their candidates to develop in a memo sent around in March. And it’s an approach that’s been poll-tested by Democratic consultancy groups Change Research and HIT Strategies, which found that voters responded best to messaging on the solutions rather than laying blame at the feet of police….Some Democrats have also pointed to the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol and Republicans’ lack of support for gun control measures as evidence of their hypocrisy when it comes to law enforcement.”

From the conclusion. of “The Challenges of Leading in a Historically Divided Congress” by Charlie Cook at The Cook Political Report: “With the country so narrowly divided, even slight changes in support can tip races for the House, the Senate, and the presidency in a way that’s rarely happened before….Unless House Republicans reach outside of the chamber to elect a speaker and go with someone who has already held the top post before, anyone besides McCarthy would be a complete rookie at that level. Let’s just say that for the next two years, the House is more likely to look like a train wreck than a well-oiled and highly functioning machine….Because Republican bills will likely hit a brick wall in the form of President Biden in the White House and a Chuck Schumer-led Democratic Senate, look for the House to use its oversight and subpoena powers to conduct opposition research on Biden, his family, and his administration. Harassment will be the order of the day, the better to make life as miserable for Biden and Senate Democrats as possible and maximize the GOP’s chances of having a better 2024 than they had in 2020 and 2022….On the Democratic side, expectations will remain low for incoming House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, not the worst circumstances for on-the-job training. For Schumer, though, this is the time when he has to not only step up and assume Democrats’ alpha-dog leadership role that Speaker Nancy Pelosi has occupied for the better part of 20 years, but also defend the majority with a 2024 map that is very ugly. Democrats must defend 23 seats to just 10 for Republicans. Seven Democratic seats are up in states that Donald Trump carried at least once (three that he won twice), while no Republicans are up in states that either Biden or Hillary Clinton carried. Pushing through as many Senate nominations as possible, along with must-pass legislation, will be all that most anyone can expect.”

Midterm Outcomes and Navigating a Winning Future for Dems

In his New York Times opinion article, “What Really Saved the Democrats This Year?,” Thomas B. Edsall mulls over the debate about whether the midterm elections show that moderate or progressive policies are a better bet for the Democrats looking toward 2024. Edsall quotes political analysts, who make compelling arguments for both viewpoints. For example, Edsall quotes TDS contributor Ruy Teixeira, a leading advocate for Dems embracing a more moderate set of policies. As Edsall writes,

“The Democratic strategist Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a longtime critic of the Democrats’ progressive wing, contends in a recent essay, “Ten Reasons Why Democrats Should Become More Moderate,” that adoption of an extreme progressive stance is not only “dead wrong,” but also that “Democrats need to fully and finally reject it if they hope to break the current electoral stalemate in their favor.”

In the 2022 election, Teixeira writes,

the reason why Democrats did relatively well was support from independents and Republican leaning or supporting crossover voters — not base voters mobilized by progressivism. These independents and crossover voters were motivated to support Democrats where they did because many Democrats in key races were perceived as being more moderate than their extremist Republican opponents.

According to Teixeira:

As the Democratic Party has moved to the left over the last four years, they have actually done worse among their base voters. They’ve lost a good chunk of their support among nonwhite voters, especially Hispanics, and among young voters. Since 2018, Democratic support is down 18 margin points among young (18-29 year old) voters, 20 points among nonwhites and 23 points among nonwhite working class (noncollege) voters. These voters are overwhelmingly moderate to conservative in orientation and they’re just not buying what the Democrats are selling.

Teixeira’s final point:

Democrats shouldn’t be afraid to embrace patriotism and dissociate themselves from those who insist America is a benighted, racist nation and always has been. Large majorities of Americans, while they have no objection to looking at both the bad and good of American history, reject such a one-sided, negative characterization. That includes many voters whose support Democrats desperately need but who are now drifting away from them.”

Edsall Also quotes advocates for a more progressive mix of policies: “I asked Joseph Geevarghese, the executive director of Our Revolution, if the organization had flipped any House seats from red to blue. He replied by email:

This was not the goal of Our Revolution. Our Revolution’s goal in the 2022 elections was to push the Democratic Caucus in a progressive direction, and we succeeded with nine new members joining the ranks of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

In part because of Our Revolution’s support, he continued:

The Congressional Progressive Caucus is growing by nine newly elected members, all of whom were endorsed by Our Revolution. That includes: Summer Lee, Greg Casar, Delia Ramirez, Maxwell Frost, Becca Balint, Andrea Salinas, Jasmine Crockett, Jonathan Jackson, and Val Hoyle. Our Revolution’s success didn’t include just those running for Congress. Our Revolution’s success expanded to local races including St. Louis Board of Alderman President-elect Megan Green, whose victory creates a blue island in a state that is a sea of red.”

Advocates of both progressive and moderate policies point to victories for their Democratic candidates, while ignoring their defeats. But neither progressives nor moderates took away many Republican-held seats. For Dems, the big senate pick-up was John Fetterman in PA (a seat vacated by retirement of Republican Sen. Toomey). The marquee House seat pick-up for Dems came from Marie Gluesenkamp Perez in WA-3. Both of these candidates support mostly progressive policies, while presenting a working-class image. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) provides a good example of a progressive Democrat who got re-elected in a fairly conservative state by projecting a moderate image and tone. Policies do not necessarily define candidate image, and that’s something Dems ought to think more about.

The last words in this discussion come from Ed Kilgore, who has unmatched experience as both a Democratic Party strategist and operative and as a political analyst. As Kilgore, a TDS editor and contributor, observed in his column at New York magazine (and excerpted at TDS),

Data points are still being collected and assessed at this point, but a very strong effort by FiveThirtyEight’s Geoffrey Skelley to examine four big Senate races that Democrats won but were at various points in doubt (in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania) shows us that the search for some simple, overriding explanation may not be terribly fruitful.

Using county-level and in some cases precinct-level results, Skelley explains that the winning formula for Mark KellyRaphael WarnockCatherine Cortez Masto, and John Fetterman varied significantly. To oversimplify it, Kelly beat Blake Masters mostly thanks to overperformance among Latino voters; Warnock beat Herschel Walker via impressive margins in Atlanta’s urban core and suburbs; Cortez Masto (the one Democrat in these states to run a bit behind Joe Biden’s 2020 performance) held on against Adam Laxalt by a slightly inflated vote among white college-educated voters; and Fetterman dispatched Mehmet Oz pretty clearly by cutting into the recent Republican margins among white working-class voters.

Regardless of debates about progressives vs. moderates, turnout vs. persuasion and where to allocate campaign resources, winning Democratic campaigns have to be nimble to adapt to events and changing circumstances. While strategy is important, Kilgore concludes that “sometimes the key to victory is to set aside any predetermined grand strategy and simply take what each opponent gives you.”

National Abortion Ban Will Be a Litmus Test for Republican Presidential Candidates

Well, there’s certainly once element of the Republican coalition that’s excited about a competitive 2024 presidential nominating contest. I wrote about it at New York:

For the anti-abortion movement, 2022 was an epochal year, with its longtime goals, the reversal of Roe v. Wade and the abolition of federal constitutional abortion rights, accomplished in one fell swoop in the Dobbs Supreme Court decision. And the rush of Republican-controlled state legislators to enact newly available abortion restrictions was very exciting to those who spent decades struggling to find small cracks in the legal edifice created by Roe and by Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

But the grassroots political backlash to these developments should have been alarming to anti-abortion activists as they watched their long-time vassals in the Republican Party dance away from the aggressive steps to ban abortions everywhere that they had implicitly and explicitly promised to pursue once Roe went down. When Lindsey Graham tried to force a vote on a national 15-week abortion ban in the Senate in September, midterm-conscious Republican politicians all but shouted him down. By November, abortion-rights advocates had won ballot tests over laws in six states (Kansas, Kentucky, Vermont, California, Michigan, and Montana). And without question, the abortion backlash was a significant — maybe the most significant — factor in the underperformance of Republicans in the midterms.

Now divided government in Washington will paralyze policy-making on abortion and nearly every other issue for the next two years. So all eyes are on 2024, and worried anti-abortion activists are making it clear they will use all the leverage they can to reimpose their views on the GOP via litmus tests on Republican presidential candidates. As Politico reports, demand No. 1 will likely be the kind of national abortion ban Graham proposed to the horror of most of his colleagues:

“Anti-abortion advocates are insisting on more in a post-Roe era — namely, a hard commitment to back a federal abortion ban — and they’re holding out until they get it.

“That means potential Republican presidential hopefuls — such as Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose state’s 15-week abortion ban would have been at the leading edge of the anti-abortion movement a year ago — enter the 2024 cycle under pressure to go farther. There’s already a range of policy positions across the potential GOP field, from former Vice President Mike Pence’s support for a national abortion ban to former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s recent remarks that abortion should remain a state issue, and most have not yet detailed the exact anti-abortion policies they would push if elected.”

That will change assuming there really is a big, brawling competition for the 2024 GOP nomination full of candidate forums and dominated in some key states by activists who eat, breathe, and sleep abortion politics above all (such as Iowa, which among Republicans will remain the first contest of 2024 no matter what Democrats do). And despite the deep appreciation the forced-birth crowd has for what Donald Trump did to help bring down Roe and the powerful head of steam Ron DeSantis has built up if he decides to challenge the 45th president, no candidate will get to skip a tough abortion litmus test, or ignore demands to talk about the subject early and often.

“’Look, I’m appreciative of everything [Trump] put in place,’ Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, told POLITICO. ‘Evangelical voters and conservative voters have great admiration and appreciation for him, but they still want a vision cast for the future and they don’t want to go through four years of relitigating 2020.’

“Trump didn’t once mention abortion or the fall of Roe in his grievance-laden speech announcing his 2024 campaign, sparking conservative concerns that he won’t prioritize the issue in a third White House bid.”

DeSantis has been a bit dodgy, pushing through his legislature a 15-week ban with no exceptions but (so far) resisting demands to go farther now that he stands athwart Florida like a political colossus. But he and other potential presidential candidates will definitely have to take a stand on a national ban, which is not a theoretical matter since a very good Republican year in 2024 could give the GOP trifecta control in Washington. Certainly the topic will come up in the early and pivotal 2024 primary in South Carolina, Lindsey Graham’s state, where a potential presidential candidate, former governor Nikki Haley, has taken the position that abortion is exclusively a state issue. Here’s what Graham told Politico about that:

“’Each person running for the White House will have to come up with an answer to the question, post-Dobbs: “Should we consider this a states rights issue or a human rights issue?”‘ Graham said in an interview. ‘The pro-life community is still a strong component of the Republican Party and if you’re running for president, I think in certain states, like South Carolina, the position that the unborn have no voice in our nation’s capital will be a tough sell for the pro-life community.’”

At present the only potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate who is golden with the anti-abortion lobby is former vice-president Mike Pence, the conservative evangelical stalwart who has long favored a very tight national ban on abortions. Assuming he runs (which he’s giving every indication of doing) Pence will significantly ramp up the pressure on his rivals to commit to a federal ban on the strictest possible terms.

Will any potential GOP president look at some general-election polls and dare to push back on these demands? It’s an interesting question. The pro-choice wing of the Republican Party has been moribund for decades. But 2022 votes in Kansas and elsewhere have shown there are Republican voters who haven’t bought into anti-abortion extremism once it actually matters in terms of the law of the land. In any event, the national GOP’s position on the fraught subject will be tested as never before in 2024.

Political Strategy Notes

In “Why Zelensky’s surprise US visit is so hugely significant” at CNN Politics, Stephen Collinson touches on Republican ambivalence about America’s support of the Ukrainian leader and the people of that brutalized country: “His visit to Congress will also play into an increasingly important debate on Capitol Hill over Ukraine aid with Republicans set to take over the House majority in the new year. Some pro-Donald Trump members, who will have significant leverage in the thin GOP majority, have warned that billions of dollars in US cash that have been sent to Ukraine should instead be shoring up the US southern border with a surge of new migrants expected within days….Conscious of pressure from his right flank, the possible next speaker, GOP Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, has warned that Ukraine should not expect a “blank check” from the new House. Even though Ukraine still has strong Republican support in the Senate, it’s this kind of shifting political dynamic that appears to inform Kremlin perceptions about how long US resolve will last in a conflict on which Putin’s political survival may well depend.” Biden’s well-managed orchestration of Zelensky’s visit is an impressive testament to our President’s ability to call attention to the moral decay in the GOP core congressional leadership — just before Republicans take over the House speakership. For the most part, however, Republicans let their media ideologues make the nastiest comments about Zelensky. For some appalling examples,  check out “Putin’s Useful Idiots: Right Wingers Lose It Over Zelensky Visit: The anti-Ukraine right can’t stand America standing as the arsenal of democracy” by Cathy Young at The Bulwark.

You are probably not shocked by revelations that “Trump paid no taxes in half of the last six years and his returns have dozens of potential issues, as Mark Sumner explains at Daily Kos. Bearing in mind that many Americans are tired of hearing about all things Trump, his tax avoidance is nonetheless a subject that should resonate with many swing voters – particularly if he somehow becomes a GOP presidential nominee. As Sumner notes, “In all, over the six years of returns, Trump reported making money only in 2018 and 2019. He used a combination of reported losses and questionable deductions to keep his tax bills to $750 in 2016, $750 in 2017, and $0 in 2020. Trump did pay $641,935 in 2015, but don’t worry. He still has a “claim for refund” filed for that year based on a claim that he was owed more for “historic restoration.” If that claim is successful, it will return that 2015 money to Trump….This gives Trump a reported $54 million loss over these six years. In those years when he did pay taxes, he paid effectively 4% of his reported income in 2018, and 3% in 2019. The 2015 numbers involved paying taxes that carried over from the previous year, but Trump is still asking the IRS to reduce that year to no more than $750….Trump also appears to have written off over $2 million in property taxes as an income deduction; the committee notes that New York law caps that deduction at $10,000.” Trump’s tax forms also cast further doubt on his ‘successful business leader’ persona in Sumner’s view. “What’s also striking is that in every single year, including 2018, Trump’s core businesses—his golf courses, hotels, and real estate—operated at a reported loss. If Donald Trump actually makes money at anything, it’s not any of the areas in which he brags about being a success. In his best year, Trump reported that he lost $11 million on real estate.”

From “Notes on the State of North Carolina” a superb update on the state’s politics by J. Miles Coleman at Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “While Democrats broadly overperformed expectations in last month’s midterms, some weak spots in their coalition have become evident as more detailed data has emerged. Generally, Democrats relied more on persuasion — convincing swing voters to stick with them, as opposed to going with the other guys — than turnout. In several of the historically Republican suburban counties across the country, this played well for Democrats. But as news organizations like the New York Times have found, the Black vote, a key part of the Democratic coalition, was not especially animated this year….As we noted last week, North Carolina was 1 of only 7 states to be decided by less than 3 points in the 2020 presidential race — and the only state among that group to vote for Donald Trump….Though its race wasn’t in the highest tier of battleground Senate contests — the Crystal Ball had it rated as Leans Republican the entire cycle — 2022 was another cycle where Democrats came up a few points short in North Carolina. Rep. Ted Budd (R, NC-13) — who was, in retrospect, one of the better Trump-endorsed candidates running in a marginal state — held the state’s open Senate seat for Republicans by just over 3 percentage points. He beat former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley (D)….Beasley was not a weak candidate: In 2020, as Joe Biden lost North Carolina by almost 75,000 votes, she lost her seat by 400 that year. Part of what made her an attractive candidate to Democrats was that, as a Black woman with statewide stature, she seemed well-positioned to inspire minority turnout. In 2020, Cal Cunningham, a white man who was their Senate nominee, got fewer votes than Biden in most areas of the state that have high Black populations — this was something that, if rectified, could have helped Democrats close the gap….To be fair to Beasley and North Carolina Democrats, low Black turnout was, again, a national problem for Democrats this year. It was especially pronounced in the South, given the region’s large Black population. In Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and South Carolina, several heavily-Black rural counties that easily went for Barack Obama 10 years ago gave the GOP nominees for governor clear margins last month. In the Georgia Senate race, Sen. Raphael Warnock’s (D-GA) numbers in non-urban Black areas were down from his 2021 showing — but, as Georgia has less of a rural component than North Carolina, Warnock won by expanding his margins in the Atlanta metro area.”

At The Cook Political Report, Amy Walter flags four political developments coming up in 2023, which “could give us more insights into what 2024 could bring (as well as what we really learned from the 2022 midterms),” including: 1. Who Showed Up and Who Didn’t in 2022? 2. Who Stays Put and Who Retires? 3. Can Washington Work? and 4. Can Biden Keep His Momentum Going? Regarding the last point, Walter writes, “The better-than-expected midterm outcome have put President Biden in a strong position for 2024. Gone is the hand-wringing and second-guessing from his allies that dominated much of the 2021-2022 chatter. But, anyone who follows politics knows that the winds can shift at any moment. As The Washington Post’s Dan Balz noted, “despite Biden’s good fortunes in 2022 and Trump’s failures, there’s nothing certain about how 2024 will play out. Biden’s age and capacity to handle the job remain issues to many voters.” There will be unexpected events and crises. For now, the spotlight is trained on the former president and his troubles. But it won’t stay there permanently.” President Biden’s age, approval ratings and shifting winds notwithstanding, he does seem to have the determination to make an energetic run of it. Until that changes, Democrats would do well to focus more on preparing for down-ballot and state legislative races, plenty off which are also at stake in 2024.

Don’t Overthink the Midterms in Search of a Single Narrative

The more I stare at 2022 election results, the more it is becoming clear that they resist an easy explanation, and I wrote about that at New York:

After the dust has settled on any election cycle, there’s a natural interest in deriving future lessons for the two major political parties. Democrats are interested in bottling and then mass-producing whatever formula enabled them to avoid an apparent oncoming Republican freight train of a midterm and instead gain a U.S. Senate seat while holding the GOP to House gains that are almost (I said almost) more trouble than they are worth.

Data points are still being collected and assessed at this point, but a very strong effort by FiveThirtyEight’s Geoffrey Skelley to examine four big Senate races that Democrats won but were at various points in doubt (in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania) shows us that the search for some simple, overriding explanation may not be terribly fruitful.

Using county-level and in some cases precinct-level results, Skelley explains that the winning formula for Mark KellyRaphael WarnockCatherine Cortez Masto, and John Fetterman varied significantly. To oversimplify it, Kelly beat Blake Masters mostly thanks to overperformance among Latino voters; Warnock beat Herschel Walker via impressive margins in Atlanta’s urban core and suburbs; Cortez Masto (the one Democrat in these states to run a bit behind Joe Biden’s 2020 performance) held on against Adam Laxalt by a slightly inflated vote among white college-educated voters; and Fetterman dispatched Mehmet Oz pretty clearly by cutting into the recent Republican margins among white working-class voters.

Now it’s also true that all four of these winners more or less held on to the vast majority of Biden 2020 voters as well. But in an apparent era of very close partisan balance, gains and losses beyond rigid partisan bases are probably what matter most. It’s also true that all four candidates, and the Democratic Party as a whole, benefitted from certain unique developments that helped make the usual midterm referendum on the president more of a “choice” election, namely the reversal of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court and high-profile meddling in the election by Donald Trump. And, finally, Kelly, Warnock, and Fetterman — and arguably Cortez Masto as well — got lucky by drawing relatively weak Republican opponents.

So what does all this add up to as a lesson for Democrats going forward? Probably nothing in particular. They certainly cannot count on an epochal development in the judicial system at the very moment an election cycle is heating up to occur on schedule. And there’s only so much you can do to dial up bad opponents. It’s noteworthy that none of the four Senate races in question were among those in which Democrats played the dangerous but occasionally successful game of running ads attacking the most extremist Republican candidates to boost their prospects of winning GOP primaries. Two of the “bad” Republican Senate nominees in the states Skelley analyzed (Laxalt and Walker) were runaway favorites among GOP primary voters. The most prominent alternative to Masters in Arizona (Jim Lamont) was as out there ideologically as Masters himself. And the characteristics that made Oz a stone loser were not nearly as apparent in the primary season as they were when he suddenly started talking about the price of crudités.

It probably is noteworthy that three of the four Democratic Senate candidates in question (all incumbents) were unopposed in their own primaries, and the fourth, Fetterman, won his primary easily. And all of them raised money at a very good clip. But those are always positive candidate qualities in any election. That’s true as well of the successful microstrategies including Warnock’s early-voting blitz prior to the December 6 primary in Georgia, which we will likely learn more about as the story of 2022 becomes more fully available.

At this point, the closest you can come to a general lesson for Democrats in 2022 is that it’s a good idea to stay united, raise money feverishly, prepare for whatever opportunities the campaign offers, and choose candidates with the strength to endure the rolling nightmare that contemporary high-profile contests often produce. You cannot simply dial up candidates with the incredible stamina of Warnock or the amazing courage of Fetterman. But without question, in a period of electoral gridlock, 2022 did establish that, on the crucial margins, candidates and campaigns still matter. And in politics as in football, sometimes the key to victory is to set aside any predetermined grand strategy and simply take what each opponent gives you.