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Dem governors on 2020: Opposing Trump not enough

NEW ORLEANS — Democratic governors coming off their best election cycle in nearly 40 years say their victories in red and purple states this year show the party must offer ideas that go beyond opposition to President TrumpDonald John TrumpJoaquín Castro: Trump would be 'in court right now' if he weren't the president or 'privileged' Trump flubs speech location at criminal justice conference Comey reveals new details on Russia probe during House testimony MORE in the upcoming presidential contest.

In interviews this weekend, both incumbent and incoming governors said their party has at times failed to communicate properly with middle-class voters, especially in Midwestern states critical to winning the White House, an implicit critique of the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonComey reveals new details on Russia probe during House testimony Clinton among VIPS attending pre-wedding celebrations for daughter of India’s richest man Comey’s confession: dossier not verified before, or after, FISA warrant MORE.

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They said candidates who won this year did so by focusing on local issues like roads and infrastructure, education and health care.

“The Democratic Party writ large has to stand for something more than being against Trump. That is so important, and I think governors lead on that,” said Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D), the newly elected chairwoman of the Democratic Governors Association.

Democrats picked up seven governorships in last month’s midterm elections. The party won in blue states such as Illinois, Maine and New Mexico, swing states including Nevada, Michigan and Wisconsin, and even in deep-red Kansas.

Once all newly elected governors are sworn in, Democrats will hold 23 executive offices around the country, states worth 283 votes in the electoral college. Republicans hold 27 governorships, after Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R), sworn in on Monday, defeated Democrat Mark BegichMark Peter BegichDem governors on 2020: Opposing Trump not enough Dem Begich concedes Alaska governor race to Republican Dunleavy Democrats gain governorships in red states MORE.

For the first time since 2010, a majority of Americans will live in states with a Democratic governor.

“The Democratic Party is in business across the country, and I know there was a lot of angst and hand-wringing after 2016 to think that somehow we were out of business in the Midwest, for instance. That’s just wrong, we’ve proven that totally false,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D).

Inslee said the Democratic wins this year “showed the blue brick road to the White House.”

That road runs through Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, three states that voted for Democratic presidential nominees in six straight presidential elections — and then voted for President Trump in 2016. All three states elected Democratic governors this year.

Some governors said winning campaigns this year struck a balance between offering a plan of their own and tying their Republican opponents to Trump or to unpopular Republican governors.

In Kansas, Gov.-elect Laura Kelly (D) sought to pair Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) with former Gov. Sam Brownback (R), who left the state with dismal approval ratings and a struggling budget. In New Mexico, Gov.-elect Michelle Lujan GrishamMichelle Lynn Lujan GrishamOvernight Energy: Senate advances Trump energy pick | Manchin votes 'no' in surprise | Carbon emissions on track for record | EPA targets another Obama coal rule Dem governors on 2020: Opposing Trump not enough Hispanic Caucus picks Castro as its next chair MORE (D) highlighted Rep. Steve PearceStevan (Steve) Edward PearceDem governors on 2020: Opposing Trump not enough Election Countdown: Recount prospects grow in Florida | Abrams team to sue over absentee ballots | Dem wins pivotal Georgia House seat | A look at the uncalled races | Corporations spend big to beat ballot measures Torres Small flips New Mexico House seat for Dems MORE’s (R) votes backing key Trump administration proposals.

The message for the 2020 presidential contest, Lujan Grisham said, is that Trump has to play some part in the Democratic message.

“You can’t just run against Trump or anybody else. You have to be running for something,” Lujan Grisham said in an interview. But she added: “Here’s a guy that said, ‘Not going to be status quo, I’m for you, I’m going to make sure that I’m paying attention, and I’m going to fight for you.’ And things are worse. Well, that’s an important thing to remind voters about.”

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Several governors who won election this year said they tried to start a conversation with voters who hadn’t heard from Democratic candidates in recent years.

“We Democrats were not messaging properly to our traditional voters. Middle-class voters and people who are striving to get to the middle class are suffering,” said J.B. Pritzker, the governor-elect of Illinois. “We need to be laser-focused, in my view, on how we’re going to improve the lives of the middle class and people who are working class and trying to get ahead, and giving them a view of a future that the Democratic Party is going to provide that the Republican Party really doesn’t.”

Many newly elected governors this year focused much of their paid advertising on decidedly parochial issues. Michigan Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer (D) insisted she would “fix the damn roads.” Wisconsin Gov.-elect Tony Evers (D) used softer language to suggest that Gov. Scott Walker (R) had ignored the state’s crumbling infrastructure for too long.

Lujan Grisham ran a television ad touting a clean energy plan that showed her climbing to the top of a wind turbine in the middle of the New Mexico desert.

Democrats will test the proposition that local issues can help rebuild the party in next year’s elections, when voters in Louisiana, Kentucky and Mississippi will elect governors.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), the only Democratic governor facing reelection in 2019, led several governors-elect on a tour of a local health care provider that has signed up thousands of new patients after Edwards expanded Medicaid in 2016. 

He said Medicaid expansion has worked for Louisiana, where the number of people without health insurance has fallen by more than 10 percentage points since the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010.

“We’re doing right by the people of Louisiana, because we’ve had too much poverty for too long,” Edwards told the incoming governors. “The beneficiaries, they’re Republicans, Democrats, independents, or maybe they’re not even registered to vote.”

Less than a year before Election Day, no prominent Republican has announced they will run against Edwards. On Monday, the most likely candidate, Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R), said he would not challenge Edwards.