While left-wing Democrats such as Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren gain unending press coverage as possible 2020 presidential nominees, Democratic Party strategists have taken a distinct turn to the middle in their overall plan to flip the House in 2018 from Republican to Democrat.
Party officials, recognizing the opportunity of a “Blue Wave” in November, have engaged in extraordinary interventions in the congressional primary process to ensure that their nominees for targeted House and Senate seats are capable of winning in November.
Even as the #Resistance movement dreams of Sanders-style congressional members in 2019 upending that Trump presidency, savvy Dem politicos are embracing centrist Democratic candidates who actually have a chance at winning.
The New York Times reports that in key primary races loyalists among the national Democrats have embraced House recruits at the political center in a wide array of states: Utah, Kansas, Arkansas, New Jersey, southern California, West Virginia, Indiana, Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania and upstate New York. In some cases, party tacticians have undercut leftist candidates who have little chance of winning in November.
In the process, the party has lit a fire under left-wingers looking for a radical change in Congress.
The Times reports that about a dozen crucial House races this fall are likely to feature Democratic nominees who are positioned markedly closer to the middle than the national party’s activist base — more than enough to determine control of the House. Some are veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars or have established markedly centrist track records in state legislatures.
In the Red States, Dem political operatives warn that, to win over Republicans disgruntled with Donald Trump, they can’t expect (mostly Southern and rural) voters to swing wildly from the president to a Sanders or Warren-style liberal platform in a single election.
As a result, the House Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has wisely focused on moderate/centrist candidates, even in less-Red areas, where the DCCC concludes that a less strident nominee would give the party its best chance of winning.
Most of these moderate candidates are conservative on fiscal and foreign policy issues while more liberal on economic and environmental matters. A few would be better described as conservative Democrats who are former Republicans, pro-life on abortion issues, or somewhat receptive to Trump’s overall agenda.
Meanwhile, the Republicans’ long-term insidious successes at partisan gerrymandering state-by-state, including in Michigan, may backfire in November as the national strategy was to pack Democratic voters into a few congressional districts while presenting Republicans with marginally GOP districts that would play out to their advantage. In several states, the goal was to consign Democrats to a semi-permanent House minority on Capitol Hill.
But those district boundaries drawn to create a safe, 55 percent majority for Republicans suddenly seem like highly competitive seats if the Democrats’ predicted “Blue Wave” materializes in the fall. The backfire to GOP gerrymandering tactics could become especially significant in key states like North Carolina and Ohio, where Republicans expected an anti-Obama era to extend for years.
Morgan Jackson, a Democratic consultant in North Carolina, told Politico: “In a normal year, (a Republican is) safe in these seats, but in a time like this, Democrats are within striking distance. This is when gerrymandering backfires.”
Given these pro-Dem developments, longtime political pundit Jonathan Alter recently proclaimed that the party is ready to implode if Sanders-style ultraliberals try to impose litmus tests in the congressional primaries.
Alter, a columnist for The Daily Beast, wrote last month that liberal Democrats’ insistence on a purity test for their candidates could sink the party’s chances in November:
The problem with this argument is that it ignores the mechanics of actually winning elections, which require party discipline and rejection of the narcissism of small differences. Nominating the most liberal Democratic candidate in a Republican district may feel principled but it reeks of moral vanity.
Democrats with their heads screwed on right are reviving an old ethic: party and country over personal preference. In swing districts, that means often resisting the natural inclination to support the candidate they like best in favor of the one who can win in November. In Trump’s America, pragmatism is a moral imperative.
More importantly, the intraparty Democratic splits could have an extraordinary impact in 2019-20. The Times points out that, if Democrats capture the House in November by only a narrow margin — perhaps half a dozen seats or fewer — a small cluster of centrists could wield enormous influence.
Photo: New York Times/Clarke Tucker, moderate Dem candidate in Arkansas