Democrats vow ‘Better Deal’ for voters in working class
After watching working-class voters flee their party in last year’s elections, congressional Democrats promised last Monday to try to win them back by becoming the economic populist warriors that President Trump had promised to be — and they have already lined up a record number of candidates to help them.
Busting out of the Beltway and into rural northwestern Virginia, Democratic leaders said they will push bills to boost Americans’ pay, punish large corporations and offer tax incentives to try to entice workers back into an economy still struggling nearly a decade after the 2008 crash.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York predicted that they can bridge the divide Mr. Trump exploited last year between Democrats’ special interest base and white workingclass voters, who felt left behind during the Obama years.
Flanked by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and other top Democrats, Mr. Schumer said the current president’s uneven messaging and failure to live up to campaign promises to boost the middle class have given Democrats an opening.
“The focus starts on economic issues,” Mr. Schumer said. “That’s where the American people are hurting. That’s what we most felt was missing in the past and the last several elections. And we all take some of the blame of that. I certainly do. We’ve got to get focused on economics, No. 1.”
Democrats traveled to Berryville, in Clarke County, which gave Mr. Trump a 20 percentage point victory over Hillary Clinton in November, to argue that they can still connect with rural voters.
The White House, though, undercut the event. Top adviser and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner picked the same early afternoon time to deliver a public statement about his private meeting with Senate investigators.
With the cable news networks focused elsewhere, Democrats insisted that they can make up ground by convincing voters they are not just against Mr. Trump, but also have ideas that can affect average voters’ wallets.
Their agenda is dubbed a “Better Deal.” Lawmakers promised full details in the coming weeks, though early ideas included breaking up big corporate monopolies, surging investment in American infrastructure, calling for more paid leave for workers, freeing Medicare to negotiate better prices on prescription drugs and offering tax credits to encourage job training.
Leaders said their goal is a policy agenda, not a political slogan, but they clearly had their eye on the midterm elections next year.
They are well ahead in recruiting challengers to try to unseat Republicans. A study found that 209 Democrats have registered with the Federal Election Commission and raised at least $5,000 for their campaigns — 16 months before voters cast their ballots.
That level of interest is remarkable, wrote Michael J. Malbin, executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute, who said it shows Democrats are ready to take advantage of any political tidal wave.
“The party riding a wave cannot win in a district unless it puts up a credible candidate,” Mr. Malbin wrote in his analysis, published by the Brookings Institution. “You cannot beat somebody with nobody. Finding a credible candidate has to come first.”
Democrats’ 209 House challengers compare with just 28 for Republicans. That gap is unlike anything else on record dating back to 2003, the report said.
Perhaps more stunning than the total number of challengers is the spread of the candidates. Brookings said 105 House Republicans now face at least one challenger who has raised $5,000. Ahead of the 2010 Republican wave, just 50 Democratic incumbents faced at least one such challenger at this point between elections.
Whether those candidates will be content to run on the national party’s message remains to be seen.
Democrats are already under pressure from their left flank. Liberals are pushing to end the use of private prisons, establish federal government-run health care, and provide taxpayer funding for abortions within Medicaid, Medicare and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, among other changes.
Party leaders said that the focus now is on economic issues, which the party appeared to lose track of in last year’s campaign season.
“The No. 1 thing we did wrong was not present a strong, bold economic agenda to working Americans so that their hope for the future might return again,” Mr. Schumer said. “Democrats have too often hesitated from directly and unflinchingly taking on the misguided policies that got us here, so much so that too many Americans don’t know what we stand for.”
Republicans said Democrats were recycling old talking points in an attempt to gloss over their near-universal opposition to Mr. Trump’s agenda.
“Until Democrats make a real effort to work with Republicans and President Trump on the priorities voters supported last November, they are going to continue to be lost in the electoral wilderness,” said Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.