Democrats have shot at flipping the House if they can stay in the center

Democrats have shot at flipping the House if they can stay in the center
© Getty Images

With all ballots counted in the 18th congressional district of Pennsylvania, the results are in: Democrat Conor Lamb has won the district which, just over a year ago, favored President TrumpDonald John TrumpGrassley: Dems 'withheld information' on new Kavanaugh allegation Health advocates decry funding transfer over migrant children Groups plan mass walkout in support of Kavanaugh accuser MORE by nearly 20 points.

Special elections typically received outsize attention on the national stage. Last year, House races in Kansas, Montana, Georgia, South Carolina and Utah had politicians and pundits alike making broad statements about the national implications of results.

ADVERTISEMENT
The results of the special election in Pennsylvania are no exception. Looking ahead to the 2018 midterm elections, Lamb’s victory is particularly noteworthy, as it represents a radical change in voter sentiment in a district that elected Trump by a landslide in 2016.

Lamb’s triumph over Republican Rick Saccone sends a clear message to both parties: The House is in play and with the right centrist strategy, Democrats can flip it in their favor. Moreover, with his victory, Lamb has provided a tremendously instructive model for Democrats to follow this midterm election cycle.

“I think everyone’s watching what Conor Lamb’s doing, and I hope they’re taking notes,” said Congressman Seth MoultonSeth Wilbur MoultonDemocrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her 11 Dems float anti-Pelosi leadership plan: reports To cure Congress, elect more former military members MORE of Massachusetts, who is often recognized as one of the top younger and future leaders of the Democratic Party. The clear path to winning back the House is to recapture the votes of Trump defectors in red states and swing states by leaving behind polarizing positions and revitalizing the centrist Democrat.

This means that, like Lamb, whose positions on certain divisive issues were markedly moderate, the Democratic Party must move away from the progressive left and toward the moderate center. Indeed, Lamb’s victory demonstrates that Trump defectors, many of whom voted for Obama in 2008 or 2012, prioritize moderate positions over party labels.

Lamb eschewed the temptation to tout the out of touch progressive party line on single-payer health insurance, the radically unfeasible “Medicare for All” system, and promises to hike the minimum wage. Instead, Lamb ran on a centrist agenda of job growth, infrastructure investment, and reforms to make health care more affordable — and succeeded.

Beyond Pennsylvania, this strategy already has a proven record of success. President Clinton campaigned and governed on an inclusive and traditionally Democratic agenda that appealed to voters across party lines. However, it is worth noting that, to succeed beyond a single election cycle, Democratic candidates who run as moderates must uphold their promise and govern as moderates once in office.

In particular, Democrats should take one from Lamb’s playbook and disavow stale establishment leadership like House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiDems see Kavanaugh saga as playing to their advantage Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her Sinema, Fitzpatrick call for long-term extension of Violence Against Women Act MORE, who represents a narrow faction of the Democratic Party, and has little to no appeal to the rest of the electorate. Early in his campaign, Lamb stated that he would not vote for Pelosi for Democratic leader if elected. Then in one noteworthy campaign ad, Lamb looked directly into the camera and said, “I don’t support Nancy Pelosi.”

Undeniably, it is time for Democrats to leave entrenched politicians like Congresswoman Pelosi, and former Secretary of State and failed presidential candidate Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGraham: There's a 'bureaucratic coup' taking place against Trump Fox News poll shows Dems with edge ahead of midterms Poll: Democrats in position to retake the House MORE, in the past. It is notable that Clinton inserted herself in the news this past week, on the heels of Lamb’s important victory, while on her recent trip to India.

Clinton mocked Trump voters, suggesting that they are backward-looking and opposed to the success of females and minorities, in essence doubling down on the statements she made during the 2016 campaign calling Trump voters “deplorables.” Such rhetoric only serves to inflame tensions within the Democratic Party and shifts the focus away from the important work to be done in potentially winnable districts in 2018.

Ultimately, Lamb’s victory in Pennsylvania demonstrates that there is a viable path to victory for Democrats who run on a centrist, pro-growth, inclusive platform to succeed this November. If Democrats heed this lesson and follow Lamb’s example, the party will have a real opportunity to win back the House this November.

Douglas E. Schoen (@DouglasESchoen) served as a pollster for President Clinton. A longtime political consultant, he is also a Fox News contributor and the author of 11 books, including “Putin’s Master Plan: To Destroy Europe, Divide NATO, and Restore Russian Power and Global Influence.”