The Democrats Have Issues
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
The two House races this week in which the Republican successfully held seats they controlled was a good day for the GOP. Coupled with the two other House races earlier this spring, Republicans have done well; but the picture is not a totally rosy picture for them as these were all strong Republican seats that they should have held. At the same time it was not a completely bleak picture for the Democrats, although they must heed a number of signals to be gleaned from these races or 2018 could might well not prove that “happy days are here again.”
First, the cost of the Georgia contests was preposterous. At $50 million for a House contest, it is impossible to contemplate the amount of money which could be spent at that rate in 2018—if there were only 100 contested races. (Keep in mind that suburban Atlanta was hardly the most costly media market in the country.) On the other hand, in South Carolina, in a much lower profile race, the Democrat Archie Parnell, running for the open seat lost by a narrower margin, 3.2%, than did Democrat Jon Ossoff in the expensive Georgia race, who lost by 3.8%. In Parnell’s defeat his campaign appears to have cost a total of approximately $1 million and his opponent around $1.25 million. Spending at the Ossoff level is unsustainable; certainly for the Democrats.
Second, Democrats appear still not to be projecting a positive message. An anti-Trump game plan will not be sufficient to win in 2018. As Hillary failed in 2016, the Democrats need to project not only a clear articulate message but they need to reach deeper to the dissatisfied, displaced, and non-motivated voters. In Georgia and especially in South Carolina, the Democrats failed to reach African-American voters or poor White voters. Like Hillary the GOTV effort here was not effective for the Democrats.
Third, Republicans are winning all these open House seat races by very narrow margins. The shift is dramatic and Republicans have much to worry about. In off-year elections the party in power usually does lose seats or margins, but it is about winning even by 1%. Democrats must do more in-reach to disaffected voters if they expect to take back the House.
Fourth, ideology is important but winning is the only thing. If Sanders is going to try to preach the Democrats to victory in 2018, both he and Elizabeth Warren will feel good but their Party will lose. This will be Pelosi’s last stand and she needs to make that clear, if not publically than privately. The Party needs her to raise the money one more time and then to ride out into the sunset. She does not expand the Democratic voter base and they need to achieve that to win,
Finally, the Democrats need a leader or a group of new faces to carry the congressional party to victory in 2018. There are some faces and names who will help regionally but, at this point do not appear to have the national recognition to drive the national party forward. Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Mayor Julian Castro, Congressman Joaquin Castro, Senator Cory Booker, Senator Al Franken, and Senator Amy Klobuchar among others, may be potential 2020 presidential nominees, but except in their home state or perhaps their region of the country, they are not household names.
Ironically, the one Democrat—other than Obama and Bill Clinton–who has national reach is Joe Biden. He has said that he still has one fight left in him. It could be that if it is not Biden, the Democrats will moan and groan about Trump, but they will not win.