Senate

Centrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren’s agenda

A group of Senate Democrats are arguing that big wins in Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania this week show why the party needs to nominate a moderate instead of a progressive candidate such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

These Democrats note that this week’s victories in suburban areas that have traditionally voted Republican were scored by moderate candidates who ran as practical problem solvers and not as “bold,” big-idea progressives in the mold of Warren or Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

{mosads}While lawmakers are careful not to directly criticize Warren, a colleague, they believe Tuesday’s state and local elections bolsters the argument for a nominee with centrist credentials such as former Vice President Joe Biden.

Senate Democrats need to pick up three GOP-held seats and control of the White House to win back the majority they lost in 2014. Republicans currently hold 53 Senate seats to the Democrats’ 47.

The key states they are targeting in 2020 — Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Maine and North Carolina — more closely resemble the battleground areas of Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania that swung Democratic on Tuesday than the liberal hotbeds of California, Massachusetts and New York, which together have accounted for 48 percent of Warren’s fundraising.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who is up for reelection next year, said the candidates who won “ran on more moderate issues” and emphasized a “Virginia-centric” platform.

He said he was not aware of any winners touting universal health coverage, for example.

Warner added the success of centrists this past week is part of a larger trend in Virginia, where candidates who run on centrist, fiscally responsible platforms do well.  

“This is not just a message to come from 2019,” he said, noting that when Virginia Democrats picked up 15 seats in 2017 “there was arguably one, maybe two candidates that were super progressive.”

He said “the vast majority” of successful candidates “had very much followed in the traditional Virginia Democratic model of we’re going to give you responsible government, it’s going to be fiscally responsible.”

Biden’s backers in the Senate are also seizing on the wins in Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania to argue that having a moderate atop the ticket in 2020 will help Senate candidates. 

“The lesson I take away from [Tuesday’s] victory in Kentucky is that if we want to win absolutely critical Senate races in states across the country, we need someone at the top of ticket who can help our candidates win in those closely contested states,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who supports Biden.

Biden has emphasized his centrist credentials on the campaign trail by telling voters he’ll be able to work with Republicans in Washington to break the legislative gridlock that has characterized Washington in recent years.

He has touted the deal he struck with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on New Year’s Eve to extend some of the Bush-era tax cuts and avoid what was being called a “fiscal cliff” that could have crippled the recovering U.S. economy.

Sen. Doug Jones (Ala.), the Senate’s most vulnerable Democratic incumbent, said Tuesday’s elections were “a good sign for moderate voices.”

Jones, who supports Biden, said it was “an important signal for folks like me.”

He said voters are telling Democrats that “they want to see people get things done.”

“I hope Democrats around the country are paying attention,” he added.

Other Democrats warn that the nation is not in step with several of Warren’s boldest proposals, such as “Medicare for All,” free college tuition, the elimination of student loan debt and the Green New Deal, which have virtually no chance of becoming law anytime soon, even if Democrats capture the White House and Senate in 2020.

“I happen to believe that America is a center-right country and that people want us to work across the aisle, and what they’re most interested in is problem solving rather than rhetoric,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who has endorsed Biden.

Feinstein said Democratic wins this past week in areas that Republicans have recently dominated is an argument for nominating Biden and shows that voters favor candidates who run on a platform that has a good chance of getting accomplished.

“Showing that you have the background and expertise to deal with this world, which is so different than it was 20 years ago” is important, she said, adding, “I happen to believe that Americans are interested in solving problems.” 

Many Democrats think Warren’s Medicare for All proposal is unworkable and fear it could become a political liability for the party in 2020. 

“This is not rocket science. If they need a math degree for this, to figure this one out? Don’t go crazy. People will not elect extremes,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said when asked about the lessons for Democrats after Tuesday’s wins.

He said Medicare for All “is not going to fly.”

“It’s not going to fly because we can’t even pay for Medicare for some,” he said.

Manchin said Medicare for All wouldn’t even get majority support in the Senate Democratic Conference if it came to a vote.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “You might get the ones running for president.”

“I think they’re even coming out against it. I saw [Sen.] Kamala Harris [D-Calif.] has turned,” he added, noting that Harris in a recent MSNBC interview emphasized that her health plan would retain a role for private insurers.

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president in 2016, took a shot at Medicare for All on Wednesday by saying it can’t become law, even as she praised its lofty goal of universal health coverage.

{mossecondads}She urged Democrats to instead build on the reforms of ObamaCare, arguing that “the smarter approach is to build on what we have.”

A Senate Democratic chief of staff who requested anonymity to comment on party strategy said there is growing concern that Republicans will effectively use health care as a weapon just as Democrats did in the 2018 midterm elections.

Democrats hit Republicans in 2018 over their attempt to repeal ObamaCare, arguing it would cause millions of people to lose health insurance. Now, Republicans are going on the offensive over Medicare for All, painting it as an effort to strip people of employer-provided health insurance.

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) this week attacked Warren’s health care plan as “a complete takeover by government of American health care.”

“If you’re one of the 180 million Americans who get your health insurance through work, you will lose it and you will be forced onto a one-size-fits-all government-run plan,” he said.

Senate Republicans have grown increasingly concerned about the future of their majority as President Trump’s approval rating has trended downward in recent weeks amid the impeachment fight.

But they believe Warren would be a great equalizer if she wins the nomination.

McConnell says he wants to make 2020 “a referendum on socialism,” an argument made easier if Warren instead of Biden, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) or South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg wins the nomination.

Democrats are trying to get out in front of the health care attacks by arguing that their party, despite differences over Medicare for All, is united behind expanding coverage.

“They’re going to demagogue everything,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said of Republicans, noting that many Democratic presidential candidates are pushing back against Medicare for All.  

Tags Amy Klobuchar Bernie Sanders Chris Coons Debbie Stabenow Dianne Feinstein Donald Trump doug jones Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Joe Manchin John Barrasso Mark Warner Mitch McConnell Pete Buttigieg
See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more

Video

See all Video