Democrats face tough 2020 battle after blowing chance at blue wave

If there is one thing the left is consistently poor at, it would be managing expectations. Since President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rips Dems' demands, impeachment talk: 'Witch Hunt continues!' Nevada Senate passes bill that would give Electoral College votes to winner of national popular vote The Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push MORE was inaugurated, his opponents have hung their fortunes on the idea of a massive blue wave to sweep away Republicans in Congress in the midterm elections this week.

Instead, we saw a modest Democratic gain in the House and a strong Republican gain in the Senate. Democrats lost crucial races where they ran candidates too far left to carry moderate or conservative districts. Moderate Democrats had the best shots, while most of the hardcore leftists lost race after race. Democrats believed that the midterm elections would be a bellwether for 2020. In many ways it is, but only if the party can move toward the middle instead of pushing for ideological purity.

Just about every pollster and political analyst predicted a massive sweep for blue candidates across the nation. In states where Democrats needed a commanding majority, they actually lost ground with voters. Gains in some parts of the Rust Belt, like Pennsylvania, were matched by losses in Ohio and Indiana. Democrats lost many of these tight races because they nominated candidates whose agendas are well outside the mainstream.

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Democrats tried to run the table and found fewer wins in states that did not already lean left. They won impressive victories in New Mexico, Virginia, and Colorado. However, this effort largely failed to reach out to independents and moderates that Democrats won over in 2006 and 2008. In several notable examples, candidates who aligned themselves with the progressive wing of the party lost clearly winnable races.

Florida was, again, the ultimate bellwether. Andrew Gillum led the final Real Clear Politics average by more than 3 points and was practically inaugurated in national press coverage. Instead, he lost by a slim but still shocking 1 point. Gillum turned out to be a far more underwhelming candidate than the party originally advertised. The major reason for his loss? His politics were well to the left of the traditionally pink state. Most notably, he called for a steep 40 percent increase in the state corporate tax rate. Yet, even this $1 billion tax increase is not enough to pay for his radical agenda. His plan would have cost an extra $2.6 billion each year.

Overlooked in most of the coverage of the two Florida gubernatorial candidates was a stealth issue that cost Gillum thousands of votes. He had been leading consistently in the polls, but it is likely that one ballot initiative made a key difference in how people voted for the top of the ticket. Florida citizens decided on an amendment that changed the state constitution to only allow tax increases with a supermajority vote in the legislature. The amendment passed with almost 65 percent of the vote.

The Democrats lost in races where reputed moderates voted far too liberal when it counted. Senators Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillLobbying world Big Dem names show little interest in Senate Gillibrand, Grassley reintroduce campus sexual assault bill MORE of Missouri, Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterOvernight Defense: Trump officials say efforts to deter Iran are working | Trump taps new Air Force secretary | House panel passes defense bill that limits border wall funds GOP angst grows amid Trump trade war Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Pentagon approves transfer of .5B to border wall | Dems blast move | House Dem pushes Pelosi to sue over Trump's Yemen veto MORE of Montana, and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyObama honors 'American statesman' Richard Lugar Former GOP senator Richard Lugar dies at 87 Ralph Reed: Biden is a 'formidable and strong candidate' MORE of Indiana all cut independent images in their previous campaigns but voted sharply left on taxes, the Affordable Care Act, and the Supreme Court. Only Tester survived his race. Democrats left a number of high profile races on the table because their base kept nominating candidates too left for their districts. Democrats won in the cases where they nominated candidates appropriate for their districts.

Senator Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate panel approves Interior nominee over objections from Democrats Labor head warns of 'frightening uptick' in black lung disease among miners Labor leader: Trump has stopped erosion of coal jobs MORE eked out a victory largely due to his moderate image as the former governor of West Virginia and thanks to his “yes” vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael Kavanaugh2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests Maker of 'F*ck Trump' lipstick vows to donate proceeds to reproductive rights groups Women's civil rights are not a state issue MORE. Representative Conor Lamb won a convincing 56 percent victory in the redrawn 17th district in western Pennsylvania. Senator Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownOn The Money: Judge upholds House subpoena for Trump financial records | Trump vows to appeal ruling by 'Obama-appointed judge' | Canada, Mexico lift retaliatory tariffs on US | IRS audit rate falls Lawmakers grapple with the future of America's workforce The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Restrictive state abortion laws ignite fiery 2020 debate MORE won another term in Ohio.

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While each of these candidates spans the political spectrum of the Democratic Party, they carry two main commonalities. First, they are not socialists. Second, they are tailored to run in their districts. Democrats had a unique shot at taking both the House and Senate this year. Despite the booming economy, many voters, especially those living in richer suburban areas, have a deep dislike of Donald Trump.

A coalition of hardcore progressives in cities and moderates elsewhere would have been a winning strategy. As much as voters dislike Trump, when they had a choice between “sending a message” to Washington and how their states were run, they voted with their wallets. Jamming in nominations of candidates just because they support single payer health care is nowhere near what it takes to win general elections. Now that the small blue wave is fading, the job for Democrats will only get harder.

One of the clearest examples is in deep blue New England. The region sent Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann Warren2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests Biden says Congress must move to protect abortion rights Harris seeks Iowa edge with army of volunteers MORE of Massachusetts, Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseOvernight Energy: EPA watchdog finds Pruitt spent 4K on 'excessive' travel | Agency defends Pruitt expenses | Lawmakers push EPA to recover money | Inslee proposes spending T for green jobs Lawmakers take EPA head to task for refusing to demand Pruitt repay travel expenses Dems request investigation of lobbyist-turned-EPA employee who met with former boss MORE of Rhode Island, and Bernie SandersBernie SandersIraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran 2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests Iowa Democrats brace for caucus turnout surge MORE of Vermont back to the Senate. Its House delegations are nearly all Democratic. However, Republicans won the governor races in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.

Bay State voters were willing to elect Warren while keeping Republican Governor Charlie Baker by an even larger margin. It harkens back to one of the three laws of politics that “everyone is conservative about what he knows best.” New England voters showed the nation they are against the administration while bringing in local leaders who will keep their state taxes and fees lower. Think of it as socialism for thee but not for me.

Now that the 2020 cycle has started, Democrats should move toward the center if they want to increase their odds of winning both chambers of Congress and the White House. Excessive investigations and a hardcore leftist agenda will severely harm their chances. A presidential candidate like Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push Democrats sense new momentum in Trump tax return fight Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie becomes first African to deliver Yale graduation speech MORE, or even Beto O’Rourke, may give the party a shot at the White House. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisThe Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push Biden says Congress must move to protect abortion rights Harris seeks Iowa edge with army of volunteers MORE and Elizabeth Warren are incompatible with most of the nation, and they showed that this week. Most of all, Trump still has the bully pulpit, and he used it effectively in these midterm elections.

Kristin Tate is a libertarian writer and author of “How Do I Tax Thee? A Field Guide to the Great American Rip-Off.” Follow her on Twitter @KristinBTate.