The path to victory in 2018 isn’t left or right — it’s local

The path to victory in 2018 isn’t left or right — it’s local
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Democrats received more good news this week following their stunning special election victory in Pennsylvania. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that Democrats hold a 10-point advantage over Republicans in congressional preference for the 2018 midterm elections.

With excitement building about a potential “blue wave” in November, many political strategists are rushing to figure out which path will ensure a Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives.


There is much to learn from the results of last week’s election. Attaining identical results, however, does not necessarily mean following the identical path to get there. Instead of mimicking the messaging that worked in southwestern Pennsylvania, candidates should tailor their campaigns to fit their districts.


Unfortunately, in the aftermath of the special election, candidates around the country are being urged to adopt the model used by Conor Lamb. To win, some say, candidates must run to the political center.

While Lamb’s candidacy and messaging were effective, southwestern Pennsylvania is not demographically or ideologically identical to other regions that Democrats will need to win in November. The conservative 18th District in the Keystone State is 94 percent white and was one that Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpStates slashed 4,400 environmental agency jobs in past decade: study Biden hammers Trump over video of world leaders mocking him Iran building hidden arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles in Iraq: report MORE won by 20 points.  

There are 97 Republican districts in which Trump’s margin of victory in 2016 was less than 20 points. Those offer Democrats a similar — or better — likelihood of success than they had in the Pennsylvania election. Of those, 96 are more racially diverse than Lamb’s.

In fact, of the top 25 potential pick up opportunities as ranked by the Cook Report Partisan Voter Index, census figures show seven of those districts have majority-minority populations and another five are more than 30 percent racially or ethnically minority. Those demographics are very different from what we saw in Pennsylvania.

New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District illustrates the problem with uniformly applying the “Lamb model” to other congressional races. Southern New Mexico is a rural region that has been represented by Republican Steve PearceStevan (Steve) Edward PearceNew Mexico Dems brace for crowded race to succeed Udall The 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority The legal scandal that no one is talking about MORE since 2010. Trump won this traditionally Republican district by 10 points, but it is one that Democrats might win with a strong candidate in a wave year.

Much like Lamb, the Democratic candidate in New Mexico’s 2nd District, Xochitl Torres Small, is young, accomplished and rooted in her local community. The Cook Political Report has said that she has “the potential to be a star.”  And like Lamb, Torres Small promises to focus on finding commonsense solutions and expanding economic opportunities for her rural constituents. She is a hunter and gun owner.

But the district also is one that is 52 percent Hispanic. A candidate cannot win there without speaking to the diverse base. That means talking about issues that impact people’s lives there, such as fixing the nation’s broken immigration system. That is certainly not an issue that was central to the Lamb campaign.

This is not to say that Democrats should run to the political left or that they should offer ideologically-based, non-pragmatic solutions. That would be as much a mistake as running to the political right. Instead, the lesson that should be learned from the Pennsylvania special election is that the focus of each campaign must be local.

The swing districts that can potentially flip in November all are different, ideologically and demographically. Issues that a candidate should focus on in one district might be issues that should not be raised in another.

So, while there are elements of Conor Lamb’s successful campaign that other candidates should adopt, it is a mistake to say that the campaign and its messaging should be replicated everywhere. The path to victory for Democrats  in November is to remember that all politics is local.

Oscar Ramirez is co-founder of InSight Public Affairs, a lobbying and public relations firm that represents corporate and nonprofit clients. He sits on the National Committee of the Latino Victory Fund. He was special assistant to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis during the Obama administration, the Virginia policy director for the 2008 Obama campaign, and a senior Democratic staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives.