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Democrats turn to state parties to personalize appeals to voters

Madeline Monroe/Julia Nikhinson/Greg Nash/Anna Rose Layden/Getty Images

Democrats are turning to state parties to personalize their agenda ahead of November’s midterm elections, focusing on how the American Rescue Plan, President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure package and health care impact voters directly.

The state parties are hoping localizing the issues helps get base voters fired up and peels off critical swing voters. 

The effort comes as Democrats have faced criticism for not having a clear message in a year when they face headwinds in races up and down the ballot. Republicans, on the other hand, have had success with localizing national issues, like crime and education. Additionally, the GOP is seizing on soaring inflation and rising energy prices — issues that hit most Americans’ pocketbooks — ahead of the midterms. 

But Democrats argue the American Rescue Plan, infrastructure and protecting the Affordable Care Act are all also economic issues and have a direct impact on voters. And they plan to tell voters what that impact is.

“Democratic state parties have the boots on the ground in the places where we need to win,” said Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler. “We are making sure that when people pick up the newspaper or turn on the local news, they see trusted community members talking about how Democrats came through.” 

While Democratic state parties have long been working in tandem with the national party apparatus, Wikler noted that in Wisconsin the state party has only expanded.

“We have a bigger operation now than we had in 2018, dramatically,” he said. “The critical partnership with the DNC [Democratic National Committee] in supporting work has made it possible for us to run a year-round voter protection operation, a year-round coalitions operation working with Black, Latino and Asian American [and] Pacific Islander Wisconsinites, and to expand their year-round organizing operation instead of waiting for the final months of the election.” 

DNC Chairman Jaime Harrison touted the importance of working with state parties in a statement to The Hill, citing his own background as chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party. 

 “As a former state party chair, I know how important it is that we are talking everywhere to everyone about what Democrats are doing to lower their costs on everything from health care to child care, rebuild our country’s aging infrastructure and to build a better America,” Harrison said in a statement to The Hill. “While Republicans are talking about raising taxes on over half of Americans and taking health care away from millions, Democrats in all 50 states are talking about what we’re doing to put money back in people’s pockets.”

State Democrats say they are zeroing in on “kitchen table” issues in an effort to connect with voters. 

“Needed funding from the American Rescue Plan is making a real impact at kitchen tables, public schools and communities across Arizona — because Democrats are ready to provide working families with real solutions to the struggles they face,” said Morgan Dick, communications director at the Arizona Democratic Party.

In recent months, the national Democratic Party and state parties have deployed a full-on public relations blitz, selling Biden’s two biggest legislative achievements: the American Rescue Plan and the bipartisan infrastructure package. 

The president signed the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure legislation into law in November, and earlier this month, Democrats marked the one-year anniversary of Biden signing the American Rescue Plan into law. 

“We’re talking about the things that matter to people. We’re talking about how we’re actually passing legislation and how we are working to change people’s lives, especially under infrastructure,” said Angelica Luna Kaufman, a spokesperson for the Texas Democratic Party. 

“What that means over the course of the next several years is going to be transformative to several communities across our state,” she continued.  

The DNC celebrated the one-year anniversary of the American Rescue Plan earlier this month by sending cookie cakes to GOP Govs. Ron DeSantis of Florida, Brian Kemp of Georgia, Chris Sununu of New Hampshire and Kim Reynolds of Iowa in an effort to call them out for criticizing the American Rescue Plan but ultimately taking its funds to use for their respective states. 

Biden also celebrated the plan’s anniversary with a trip to an elementary school in Philadelphia, highlighting the plan’s education funds. 

Meanwhile, state Democratic parties in Michigan, Indiana and North Carolina held press conferences to mark the plan’s anniversary, while other state parties rolled out a barrage of statements highlighting the plan’s substance. 

“It is very important that we let HBCU students know that their tuition was reduced because of the bill that the president passed, that the child tax credit was the result of the American Rescue Plan, and that small businesses were able to reopen because of the American Rescue Plan,” said North Carolina Democratic Chairwoman Bobbie Richardson, who is touring rural communities in North Carolina to tout the national and state Democratic agenda. 

In another example of the attempts to connect with voters at the local level, North Carolina Democrats touted a local news article about Greensboro getting $3 million in infrastructure funding to upgrade to electric buses.

Democrats also say they are working to combat what they say is Republican disinformation about the Biden agenda. The parties have used the plan as a rebuttal to GOP attacks accusing Democrats of being lax on crime and education. 

“A lot of what’s happened with these issues like education or health care or voting here in Texas, it’s been very twisted on the Republican side, it’s been framed in a way to create division, it’s been framed in a way to create fear and so our side of it is to get out there on these same topics and issues and policies, but just tell the truth,” Kaufman said. 

More recently, Democrats have pounced on comments from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), in which the incumbent senator said he would like to see the Affordable Care Act repealed if Republicans win back control of the White House and Congress in 2024. Johnson later issued a statement saying he was not suggesting repealing and replacing the health care law should be a priority but was rather using Republicans’ failure to repeal and replace it as an example of how the GOP should be prepared to deliver what they run on. 

Nonetheless, Democrats in the states are using Johnson’s comments, along with the 12th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act on Wednesday, to ring alarm bells over what could happen to health care if Republicans win in 2022 and 2024. 

In Wisconsin on Wednesday, the state Democratic Party will organize a rally outside of Johnson’s office to mark the health care law’s anniversary. Meanwhile, the Florida and Pennsylvania Democratic parties have press calls plans to mark the anniversary. Both states will host high-profile Senate and gubernatorial races. 

But Democrats are still facing headwinds going into the midterms. The party must already deal with the historical trend of a first-term president’s party losing seats in the midterms on top of sky-high inflation, rising energy costs and questions over the future of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Republican National Committee hit back against Democratic efforts in a statement to The Hill, citing its own work coordinating with Republican state parties. 

“Democrats have the impossible task of deodorizing Biden’s rotten agenda,” said RNC spokesperson Emma Vaughn. “When the DNC finally ventures out to real America, they’ll soon realize that the RNC and our state parties have been working in unison, mobilizing volunteers and engaging with voters at the local level for multiple cycles. No amount of spin or catch up will bring them up to speed.”

Polls show Biden with low approval ratings, while Republicans appear to be leading on the generic ballot. A Politico-Morning Consult survey released earlier this month showed Biden’s approvals rating at 45 percent and his disapproval rating at 51 percent. Meanwhile, the latest RealClearPolitics polling average shows Republicans leading by 3.6 points on the generic congressional ballot. 

Still, Democrats are putting a positive front up ahead of November, starting with their state parties. 

“Voters are learning exactly what Republicans will do with a Senate majority, in their own words: raise taxes on seniors and working families, end Medicare and Social Security — and once again try to spike the cost of health care while ripping away coverage protections from Americans with pre-existing conditions,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesperson David Bergstein. “The work that is being done on the ground in Senate battleground states will ensure the GOP’s toxic agenda is front and center for voters.”

Tags Brian Kemp Chris Sununu Jaime Harrison Joe Biden Ron DeSantis Ron Johnson
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