Liberal Dems warn against narrow focus on rural or coastal voters

Liberal Dems warn against narrow focus on rural or coastal voters
© Greg Nash

Liberal Democrats are urging party leaders to avoid regional infighting as the Democrats seek a messaging strategy that can pull them from the minority abyss after a dismal showing at the polls last year.

November's election results had sparked a revolt from many Democrats furious that the party's message had failed to resonate with much of the country — particularly among the Rust-Belt, working-class voters who lifted Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump pens op-ed on kindergartners learning tech Bharara, Yates tamp down expectations Mueller will bring criminal charges Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open MORE to the White House and solidified the Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress. 

But the leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) are warning that it would be a mistake for the Democrats to adopt any messaging strategy designed with a specific regional or demographic focus. 

In a Tuesday letter to the heads of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee (DPCC), Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Mark PocanMark PocanThe Hill's 12:30 Report Another Democrat takes a knee on House floor to support NFL protests Dems celebrate Bannon's exit MORE (D-Wis.) promoted the notion that a strong adherence to liberal Democratic values will have broad appeal with voters of all stripes. 

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"As our party deliberates on how best to move forward, the Congressional Progressive Caucus encourages our colleagues to move beyond misguided debates such as whether to aggressively court blue-collar, rural, and inland voters or instead focus on professional, urban, and coastal Democrats," the liberals wrote to the DPCC co-chairs, Reps. Cheri BustosCheri BustosDems call for B to boost rural broadband Economy-focused Dems headlining Iowa fundraiser Dems to unveil ‘better deal’ messaging campaign Monday MORE (D-Ill.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.).  

"We believe that debating such tactical trade-offs misses the key to inspiring and mobilizing both of these constituencies: wholeheartedly embracing a bold, progressive, populist agenda."

The debate over Democrats’ messaging strategy and leadership structure has raged since the elections. Party leaders had widely predicted big gains in the House, a takeover of the Senate and a victory for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies DNC, RNC step up cyber protections Gun proposal picks up GOP support MORE in the presidential race — none of which happened. 

Instead, House Democrats picked up just six seats, the Republicans held the Senate and Trump won the White House, picking up several Democratic strongholds in the Midwest in the process.

Restive rank-and-file House Democrats, after briefly considering a move to challenge all three of the top leaders in the lower chamber, settled instead on a challenge to Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). 

Pelosi won that contest easily, but Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) won the support of roughly a third of the Caucus by stressing the importance of adopting "a message that resonates in the flyover states." 

"The level of frustration in our caucus is as great as I have seen it," Ryan said at the time.

The CPC leaders, however, have a different message, arguing that a broad populist message — not a targeted regional focus — will best help the Democrats at the polls.

"Indeed, as poll after poll proves, a transformative vision that fights to improve the daily lives of working people can and does resonate with vast majorities of Americans of all political stripes — perhaps most importantly, it could help Democrats reap dramatic, and necessary electoral gains," Ellison, Grijalva and Pocan wrote to the DPCC leaders.

On top of the letter, the liberal Democrats also met with the DPCC leaders on Tuesday.  

Cicilline and Jeffries are both members of the Progressive Caucus. Other CPC members present in that meeting were Democratic Reps. Jared Polis (Colo.), Judy Chu (Calif.), Suzanne BonamiciSuzanne Marie BonamiciReporter beats lawmakers to win charity spelling bee Gore wishes Mikulski a happy birthday at 'Inconvenient Sequel' premiere Dems to Mattis: Don't delay transgender enlistment policy MORE (Ore.), Frank Pallone (N.J.), Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), Dave Loebsack (Iowa), Jared Huffman (Calif.), Ro Khanna (Calif.), Carol Shea-Porter (N.H.), Pramila Jayapal (Wash.), Nydia Velazquez (N.Y.), Hank Johnson (Ga.), Alan Lowenthal (Calif.), Ruben Gallego (Ariz.), Matt Cartwright (Pa.), Bonnie Watson Coleman (N.J.),  Nanette Barragán (Calif.), Val Demings (Fla.), Rick Nolan (Minn.) and Yvette Clarke (N.Y.).