Mod­er­ate Dems know how to win

Pawtucket Times - - OPINION - By JIM KESSLER and LANAE ERICK­SON

Twenty-three mil­lion peo­ple cast bal­lots for Democrats in the 2018 midterm pri­mary sea­son, and more than 50 mil­lion voted for Democrats on Tues­day in the gen­eral elec­tion. As the po­lit­i­cal fo­cus now im­me­di­ately turns to the 2020 pres­i­den­tial race, what should the le­gions of Democrats seek­ing to de­feat Trump con­clude from all of that vot­ing? De­spite all the talk about how “all the en­ergy is on the left,” pro­gres­sive pop­ulism and demo­cratic so­cial­ism un­der­whelmed in the pri­maries and were close to shut out in com­pet­i­tive gen­eral elec­tions. The ac­tual vot­ing en­ergy in the midterms pro­pelled mostly main­stream Democrats who closely matched their pur­ple and red dis­tricts or states.

To start, de­spite some elec­tric wins by ul­tra-pro­gres­sives in cobalt-blue House dis­tricts, the real story is how well main­stream and prag­matic pro­gres­sive Democrats fared in both the pri­maries and gen­eral elec­tion con­tests. The mod­er­ate New Demo­cratic cau­cus in the U.S. House en­dorsed 37 can­di­dates in pri­mary races, and 32 earned the nom­i­na­tion – an 86 per­cent win rate. By con­trast, Our Revo­lu­tion, the grass-roots or­ga­ni­za­tion founded and run by Bernie San­ders’s back­ers, had a win rate un­der 40 per­cent in the pri­maries. Once the gen­eral elec­tion rolled around, 23 New Demo­crat-backed can­di­dates flipped House seats to help gain the ma­jor­ity, while not a sin­gle Our Revo­lu­tion-en­dorsed can­di­date cap­tured a red seat. Zero.

Speak­ing of zero, our team watched ev­ery one of the 967 ads that Democrats ran in com­pet­i­tive House dis­tricts since La­bor Day, and just two can­di­dates men­tioned ei­ther Medi­care­for-all or sin­gle payer, and of those, nei­ther won. In the pri­mary sea­son, ac­tivists hounded Demo­cratic can­di­dates to en­dorse Medi­care­for-all, the cen­ter­piece of the San­ders agenda, and a fair num­ber com­plied. By the gen­eral elec­tion, most of those can­di­dates were in full re­treat af­ter a se­ries of stud­ies es­ti­mated the re­quired tax bill at $32 tril­lion and noted other neg­a­tive side ef­fects.

Repub­li­cans from coast to coast smelled blood and launched a full-scale at­tack, leav­ing those who had en­dorsed the pol­icy mum­bling some­thing like “this is just one op­tion of many” be­fore mov­ing on to a ring­ing de­fense of Oba­macare. The hit was so po­tent that a pu­ta­tively Trump-au­thored op-ed cen­tered on it. By our es­ti­ma­tion, Repub­li­cans heav­ily in­vested in ads in at least two dozen swing dis­tricts to try to stick it to their Demo­cratic op­po­nents. As The Wash­ing­ton Post, they even falsely claimed that some Demo­cratic can­di­dates en­dorsed the pol­icy when they never did.

So 2020 hope­fuls be­ware: Medi­care-for-all failed the Hip­po­cratic Oath. It did harm. And when you face pow­er­ful forces in­tent on mak­ing it a lit­mus test in the pri­mary, pro­ceed with cau­tion.

All of this be­lies the lazy con­ven­tional wis­dom that has started to so­lid­ify about the new di­ver­sity in Demo­cratic pol­i­tics: Sup­port for the mag­nif­i­cent range of di­verse can­di­dates who have been in­spired to run sim­ply does not equal a de­mand for demo­cratic so­cial­ism. Th­ese midterms will usher in a new gen­er­a­tion of Democrats that is more rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the full panoply of vot­ers than any class in his­tory. In the 116th Congress, close to 40 per­cent of the Demo­cratic cau­cus in the House will be women, nearly half the cau­cus may be non­white, and the LGBTQ com­mu­nity could boast as many as eight rep­re­sen­ta­tives – all a record. That is a wel­come and over­due change for the party. But don’t as­sume peo­ple of color, women and LGBTQ can­di­dates are all pop­ulists or far-left pro­gres­sives. They run the ide­o­log­i­cal gamut in­side the party.

New Mex­ico Gov.-elect Michelle Lu­jan Gr­isham is a main­stream Demo­crat and Latina. Min­nesota Rep.elect Angie Craig is a mod­er­ate and a les­bian. Michi­gan Gov.-elect Gretchen Whit­mer is a woman and pro-busi­ness. Illi­nois Rep.elect Lau­ren Un­der­wood is an African-Amer­i­can woman en­dorsed by the mod­er­ate New Democrats. They have three things in com­mon: They’re not white men, they’re prin­ci­pled Democrats, and they won tough races in tough places.

You don’t get that sort of di­ver­sity any­where else. In fact, in its ground­break­ing 8,000-per­son sur­vey, More in Com­mon found that “pro­gres­sive ac­tivists” in the elec­torate are 92 per­cent white. Of all the “po­lit­i­cal tribes” it iden­ti­fied in its re­port on “The Ex­hausted Ma­jor­ity,” only “de­voted con­ser­va­tives” (at 94 per­cent) are more con­sis­tently white. Ap­peal­ing to the broad de­mo­graphic di­ver­sity of the party is an ab­so­lute im­per­a­tive for 2020. But pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates should not con­flate that with ap­peal­ing to the far left with pop­ulist rhetoric and a demo­cratic so­cial­ist agenda.

The blue wave that won the House, clawed to de­fend so many tough seats in the Se­nate, turned at least six gov­er­nor races and flipped 350 state leg­isla­tive seats was a mam­moth ef­fort and a huge step in the right di­rec­tion for the coun­try and the party. But the big fight comes in 2020. Twenty-three mil­lion Demo­cratic pri­mary vot­ers and 50 mil­lion vot­ers who cast bal­lots for Democrats in the gen­eral elec­tion can’t be wrong. Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls should heed the mes­sages they sent.

Kessler is se­nior vice pres­i­dent for pol­icy at Third Way. Erick­son is vice pres­i­dent for so­cial pol­icy and pol­i­tics at Third Way.

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