Warren? Biden? Sanders? Dems have different answers on 2020 after 2018

Warren? Biden? Sanders? Dems have different answers on 2020 after 2018
© Getty Images

Democrats are wrestling anew with what kind of candidate would have the best chance of knocking off President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP House campaign chair condemns 'send her back' chants: 'There's no place for that kind of talk' GOP lawmaker decries 'send her back' chants: 'This ugliness must end' Trump primary challenger Bill Weld responds to rally chants: 'We are in a fight for the soul of the GOP' MORE after a midterm election that saw the party make significant inroads in states it lost in 2016.

The results gave conflicting information to Democrats strategizing over whether the party is better off nominating someone like former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenCan Biden's canceled cancer initiative be salvaged? Biden's health care gaffe shows he's not ready for prime time The Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP MORE, a more centrist candidate with a reputation for appealing to Rust Belt voters, or a progressive firebrand in the mold of Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders to call on 2020 Democrats to reject money from drug, health insurance industries The hidden connection between immigration and health care: Our long-term care crisis Harris tops Biden in California 2020 poll MORE (I-Vt.) or Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenDemocratic Houston councilwoman announces Senate bid Biden's health care gaffe shows he's not ready for prime time The Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP MORE (D-Mass.).

It’s a fight that is expected to dominate the 2020 primary contest, and Tuesday gave ammunition to people on both sides of the argument. 

ADVERTISEMENT

“The election did not prove anything one way or another,” said Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis, who served as senior aide to presidential candidates John Edwards and Wesley Clark. “The results actually complicate the answer.” 

Democrats are desperate to win back Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin in 2020 after Trump became the first Republican since the 1980s to win the Rust Belt states.

On Tuesday, voters elected Democratic governors in all three states, defeating longtime Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) in the process. Democratic Senate candidates also won handily in the three states, and they picked up House seats in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

In 2020, if a Democratic presidential candidate keeps the states won by Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump thanks 'vicious young Socialist Congresswomen' for his poll numbers Will Trump's racist tweets backfire? Democrats fret over Trump cash machine MORE and adds Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, they’d have 278 electoral votes, enough to win the White House. 

Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said the results from Tuesday night proves a progressive could win those states handily. 

“When you look at the results broadly, it wasn't liberals who lost, it was the moderates,” Lake said. “We don't have to explain ourselves. We won!”

She pointed to Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownThe Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment On The Money: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency | Tech giants on defensive at antitrust hearing | Democrats ask Labor Department to investigate Amazon warehouses Hillicon Valley: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency plan | Trump vows to 'take a look' at Google's ties to China | Google denies working with China's military | Tech execs on defensive at antitrust hearing | Bill would bar business with Huawei MORE's reelection in Ohio as proof that a progressive candidate can win and win big in the heart of Trump country. 

“I think the biggest thing is that he has a very strong economic message and trade is a big part of that,” she said. “But he's in touch with his voters lives. He relates to his voters.”

Gov. Tom Wolf in Pennsylvania also has a “lean-in, strong economic message,” she said.

“Voters in these states have shown they're ready for big solutions,” Lake said. “Medicare for all is widely popular, increasing taxes on the wealthy is widely popular, expanding Social Security, widely popular.” 

Trump, she continued is also a “big ideas guy.”

“He didn't win by being moderate,” Lake said. “He won by being bold. Progressive policies do that.”

A Democratic strategist looked at the same results and offered a slightly different take, arguing the more centrist Biden was the more compelling candidate to win Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

The strategist said Biden would best emulate what Brown, Wolf and Tony Evers — the Democrat who beat incumbent governor Scott Walker — brought to their races.

“The people who won statewide this week were all able to leave the progressive bubble and put on their moderate hats. They weren't just 'progressives. They ran their campaigns from the political center. That's why they were successful, full stop,’” the strategist said. “I'm sorry but I just can't see someone like Elizabeth Warren being able to attract a swing voter in Ohio. She has painted herself as a lefty and that's not going to cut it with someone who has voted for Republicans. Those voters want someone who represents their values too. You won't get that with a straight up progressive.”

Former Rep. Steve IsraelSteven (Steve) J. IsraelWill Trump's racist tweets backfire? The real estate tycoon meets Iran How to unite the nation once more MORE, who headed up the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2014, agreed, saying Biden, who was born in Scranton, Pa., has the ability “to win Lucerne County in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia,” something that could be more difficult for staunch progressive candidates. 

The midterms this year, Israel said, proved to be “a realignment election that tied urban and suburban districts together and the last person to do that was Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP Democrats warm to idea of studying reparations Trump blasts minority Democrats, rally crowd chants 'send her back' MORE.”

Labels aside, he said the candidates who won in states like Ohio and Wisconsin have proven “the ability to win swing voters or crossover voters. and whoever can do that wins nationally.”

If Democratic hopes for 2020 were lifted by what happened in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, they were dampened by the results in Ohio and Florida.

The party went into the night with high hopes that it would win the governorships of both states. Instead, both Andrew Gillum in Florida and Richard CordrayRichard Adams CordrayWatchdog agency must pick a side: Consumers or scammers Kraninger's CFPB gives consumers the tools to help themselves House rebukes Mulvaney's efforts to rein in consumer bureau MORE in Ohio, went down to defeat.

Those losses are contributing to a sense among Democrats that it will be difficult to beat Trump in the two perennial swing states.

“I don’t think it’s going to give anyone pause who’s thinking about running in 2020,” Kofinis said.

He argued candidates will find their own reasons to argue why 2018 showed that they are the one that Democrats should nominate in 2020.

“It’s such a jumbled picture, they’re each going to pick their own anecdote to justify their rationale,” he said.