Campaign

Democrats must reconcile party factions to raise blue wave odds

In a stunning primary upset last week, Ayanna Pressley defeated the longtime incumbent Congressman Mike Capuano to win the Democratic nomination for the 7th district of Massachusetts. With no Republicans running in the district, the former Boston city councilor has all but become the state's first woman of color to be sent to Congress.

While this is a historic win, Democrats would be wise not to extrapolate from this result, among others, to say that young and progressive platforms will be a winning national strategy. To be sure, whether it was Alexandria Ocasio Cortez in New York, Andrew Gillum in Florida, and now Pressley in Massachusetts, people of color running with support from the left or Bernie Sanders are doing extremely well at the polls.

Yet, the success these candidates have had has been limited mostly to urban districts, where a substantial portion of the electoral participation comes from minorities. On a national scale, Democrats are not cultivating an energized and united base. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Take, for instance, the Senate primary in Delaware. Tom Carper, who has represented Delaware in the Senate for almost 20 years, had a solid win of 30 points against progressive challenger Kerri Evelyn Harris.

In what should have been an easy win for the senator and former governor, Carper instead saw 35 percent of Delawareans actively vote against him. In his last primary in 2012, he received 88 percent of the vote, winning by 75 points. This suggests deep divisions within the Democratic Party, along with an inherent weakness of the traditional liberal wing in more rural conservative states. This is precisely why Republicans will continue to exploit the strength and power of the left in their campaigns.

Resistance rhetoric and identity politics may create enthusiasm among Democrats, but it also is used by Republicans to fuel President Trump's base while alienating a lot of moderate Americans. With the primaries coming to a close, Democrats must display extreme caution in emboldening the loudest and most leftist voices arising on the trail.

The big test will come in New York on Thursday, where the Democratic gubernatorial primary will be paramount. In this race it is, of course, very likely that Andrew Cuomo will easily defeat challenger Cynthia Nixon with her well publicized but not well financed campaign. The question is whether Nixon will exceed the 35 percent effort that Zephyr Teachout got four years ago, or if New Yorkers reject her brand of extreme politics.

Indeed, while progressives may be hopeful in New York, far left candidates have had plenty of defeats in rural districts where Democrats increasingly are seen as out of line with mainstream thinking. In July, Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois said that candidates like Ocasio Cortez are only the "future of the party in the Bronx." She added, "I don't think that you can go too far to the left and still win the Midwest."

Duckworth is absolutely right. As we head to November, the importance of a reconciled Democratic Party with a national message for change cannot be overstated. According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey, from 2016 to 2018, voters describing Democratic candidates as "in the mainstream" fell sharply from 48 percent to 33 percent. The portion of voters describing Democratic candidates as "out of step" with most thinking rose dramatically from 42 percent to 56 percent.

America is still a centrist nation. Despite many of the unprecedented actions that have taken place in our politics the past two years, ideas like Medicare for all, guaranteed jobs by the federal government, or abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement are still viewed by voters as far too extreme. Not only are these far reaching campaign promises but, in practice, they are well intended at best and detrimental at worst.

Democrats have the clear edge when it comes to enthusiasm. Progressive candidates that do make it to the general elections will have to channel their support to get both young people and swing voters to show up for them in November. If the Democrats cannot accomplish this, they will not maximize their gains in Congress. But if they do, it will be a blowout.

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."

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