Illinois election shows Democrats can win by embracing the center

Illinois election shows Democrats can win by embracing the center
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Last week’s primary election results in Illinois reinforced the opportunity that Democrats have in 2018. Nearly 600,000 more ballots were counted in the Democratic gubernatorial primary than the Republican race, demonstrating the Republican incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner’s vulnerability and the opportunity for Democrats to flip the governorship.

Rauner is among the least popular governors in the country and his job approval ratings among Illinois voters hover around the same levels as President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump calls Sri Lankan prime minister following church bombings Ex-Trump lawyer: Mueller knew Trump had to call investigation a 'witch hunt' for 'political reasons' The biggest challenge from the Mueller Report depends on the vigilance of everyone MORE, who lost the state by 16 points in 2016. Rauner’s Democratic challenger, J.B. Pritzker, is running on a message of unifying his party and standing up for traditionally Democratic values.

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To be sure, taking back the House and multiple governorships is a real possibility for Democrats in 2018. If they are to be successful, they need to continue to embrace the centrist policies that have been successful for them in recent months.

In a key congressional primary race, Democratic incumbent Dan Lipinski fended off a progressive challenger and won on a centrist platform. Lipinski resisted the temptation of defecting to the populist left and focused on traditionally Democratic issues that his constituents care about: job creation and economic growth.

Lipinski faced steep opposition from progressive groups that all saw him as a threat to their resistance agenda given his record of voting against the Affordable Care Act and the Dream Act, as well as identifying as pro-life. Planned Parenthood, National Abortion Rights Action League Pro-Choice America, and Emily’s List, all organizations that have become vanguards of the resistance movement, opposed his run.

Despite this populist opposition, Lipinski still won. His election comes on the heels of Democrat Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania. His win in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district, an area that President Trump won by 20 percentage points, shows that a centrist message works. Lamb and Lipinski have both taken centrist messages and have disavowed the rhetoric that has taken over the party since the ascent of Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersThe biggest challenge from the Mueller Report depends on the vigilance of everyone GOP Senate campaign arm hits battleground-state Dems over 'Medicare for All,' Green New Deal Warren unveils plan to cancel student loan debt, create universal free college MORE in the 2016 election.

These winning candidates have focused on job creation and training, infrastructure investment, are both anti-abortion, and have demonstrated an eagerness to work across the aisle on key issues. In regard to the president, these candidates have also been candid about Trump’s political success. In Lipinski’s words, “Donald Trump was elected president because there were Democrats who felt like the Democratic Party was not standing up enough for working people.”

Lipinski has been especially outspoken on the refusal of Democrats for difference of opinion when it comes to social issues like abortion. He has said that the Democrats need to avoid litmus tests, believing that such standards make people feel as though the Democrats are not open to voters of all viewpoints.

Most notably about Lipinski and Pritzker’s victories is that they were both challenged by candidates running on a hardline progressive issues, Marie Newman and Daniel Biss, respectively. The progressive platforms of their challengers failed to excite voters and garner the necessary support with a centrist candidate on the ballot.

These results, as well as the successes of centrist Democrats in Virginia and Alabama at the end of 2017, paint a very clear picture for the Democrats: The party is most successful when candidates emphasize centrist positions, not leftist progressivism or resistance.

Looking forward, the Democrats may not be as successful in November 2018 as they might like if they don’t offer an effective set of alternative centrist policies. Like in the case of Rauner in Illinois, the Republicans have many vulnerabilities in the upcoming midterms. The question that remains to be answered is whether or not the Democrats are fully prepared to seize the opportunity.

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.”