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Can Campaigning On Good Policy Stop A Red Wave Midterm?

Forget these voters; they're not open to rational policy arguments

Most Americans-- though not most Republicans-- back women's Choice. Biden's SCOTUS nominee will certainly be a full-throated defender as well. Since Biden was aware that Breyer would be retiring, why isn't he ready with a nominee this week and why is he waiting 'til the end of February, giving conservative dogs like McConnell and Collins even more time to undercut him? The Meet the Press team may have answered that this morning: The late February "nomination is going to serve as an appetizer to the main course of the Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade and the future of abortion in this country (which could come in June). So while Biden’s SCOTUS replacement gives him an opportunity to reset, the abortion case has the potential to alter the midterms’ trajectory and issue matrix. And we stress 'potential' here, because abortion hasn’t been a top-tier midterm issue. At least not yet."

How does that jive with Amy Walter's unending midterm doom and gloom scenarios for Democrats at Cook? "So," she asked today, "what’s a Democratic candidate to do? They can’t make President Biden more popular, as he’s the only who can convince the public that he’s up to the job. Many argue that Democrats need “better messaging” and a more proactive advertising campaign. But, boasting about lowered child poverty rates and strong GDP growth only goes so far at a time when Americans continue to be confronted with rising costs of everyday items like groceries and gasoline. Even so, there are candidates who are able to swim against the tide and succeed even as their colleagues fall short. Some candidates get lucky. Sometimes the political climate improves over the year. Or, a big and unexpected event re-sets the political calculus. But, counting on luck or a sudden change in the political climate isn’t a strategy. And, wish-casting doesn’t win races."

These are her recommendations for Democratic incumbents in the face of what she feels will be a big red wave election:


1. Take the race seriously, no matter how easily you or Pres. Biden won your state or district last time.
This should be obvious. But, plenty of incumbents fail to recognize the danger until it is too late. If you are in a state or district where Biden took anything less than 55 percent of the vote, you are in a danger zone-- on top of that, redistricting means that almost every House member has to introduce themself to a bunch of new voters and new regions of the state. Don’t wait until the fall to do that.
2. Define your opponent early and often.
Midterm elections are a referendum on the party in power. When things are going well, you ride that momentum. When things aren’t going well, you have to find a way to change the topic. You can’t suddenly make people care less about inflation or COVID. But, you can try to undercut the image of your opponent. Or to force them into a fight on policy/ideological turf that is more comfortable for you than them. “You are in a constant battle to keep the campaign off of the major narrative of the election,” another strategist told me. “Obviously, the easiest way to do this is to make it a character campaign, if your opponents background allows for that.” Even then, however, voters may be willing take a risk with a flawed challenger rather than sticking with an incumbent party they feel has lost its way. I remember talking to GOP campaigns back in 2006 who were flummoxed at how challenging it was to make any of their attacks on their Democratic opponents stick. Things that would have sunk their opponent in a previous cycle didn’t move the needle.
3. Distinguish yourself from an unpopular president.
That is easier said than done. As my colleague Jessica Taylor and I have highlighted in recent weeks, past presidential results are more predictive of down-ballot performance than ever before, making it harder for a candidate to create separation from the person at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The good news for some Democrats is that they are currently more popular in their state than the president. For example, a Quinnipiac poll put Biden’s job approval rating in Georgia at just 36 percent, with 59 percent disapproving, including a jaw-dropping 66 percent of independents disapproving of the job Biden’s doing as president. Sen. Raphael Warnock has a more robust job approval rating of 47 percent, thanks to his higher standing with Democrats (net approval was 23 pts better than Biden) and independents (net approval was 42 points better). A survey for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed similar results: Warnock’s job approval was a net 32-points better than Biden’s.
Even so, Warnock’s 47 percent approval rating may be his ceiling. The bleak political climate and the unpopularity of Biden may be just too much of a drag to allow him to get much higher than this.
I asked these same strategists to give me a realistic range a candidate could expect to ‘out-perform’ opinions of the president in their state or district. One consultant puts the range at 3 - 7 points-- meaning if Biden were sitting at 40 percent job approval in that state, a Democratic candidate could get between 43 and 47 percent of the vote. And, said this person, that size of that range is “dependent on the ability to penetrate the minds of the voters to drive an actual choice between the two candidates.”
4. Swing voters still matter.
These days, much of the discussion has focused on the drop in approval for Biden among his own base, especially voters of color. While an enthusiasm gap is problematic, it’s simpler to fix than trying to win back independent voters. One of the easiest ways to improve morale among Democratic voters is for Democrats in Washington to stop fighting with one another on everything from Build Back Better to the filibuster. This would have the added benefit of helping with independent voters since swing voters already think of Washington as a dysfunctional snake pit.
A successful roll-out and appointment of a Black, female Supreme Court nominee would also do a lot to help boost Biden’s standing with base voters.
But, when it comes to winning back swing voters, a Democratic candidate has to convince enough of them who are currently skeptical about Biden that they are a better and safer choice than their GOP opponent. That takes a lot of work, some luck, and an opponent who is not as quick on his/her feet as they need to be.

She's wrong about the implied centrism Cook always advocates in an utterly knee-jerk way. The BBB platform is gigantically popular, not just with Democratic base voters but with swing voters as well. Republicans in Congress, of course, oppose all of it. It's a readymade platform for any Democrat running for election or reelection. Examples:

Allowing Medicare to Negotiate Drug Prices-

Overall support is 73%, including 86% of Dems and 71% of Independents

Lower Insulin Prices-

Overall support is 87%, including 94% of Dems and 84% of Independents

More Access To Long Term Care For Seniors-

Overall support is 74%, including 83% of Dems and 74% of Independents

Raising taxes on the super-rich and on corporations-

Overall support is 63%, including 85% of Dems and 61% of Independents

Clean Energy-

Overall support is 58%, including 79% of Dems and 56% of Independents

Expanded Child Tax Credit-

Overall support is 59%, including 71% of Dems and 24% of Independents

And then there are issues that also differentiate progressives from conservatives, and should be used in campaigns against Republicans (and, in primaries, against conservative Democrats where appropriate):

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