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 TrumpVeterans groups demand end to shutdown: 'Get your act together' Brown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration Pence on border wall: Trump won't be ‘deterred’ by Dem ‘obstruction’ 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 McCaskillThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump AG pick Barr grilled at hearing | Judge rules against census citizenship question | McConnell blocks second House bill to reopen government Ex-Sen. McCaskill joins NBC, MSNBC Some Senate Dems see Ocasio-Cortez as weak spokeswoman for party MORE of Missouri, Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterSome Senate Dems see Ocasio-Cortez as weak spokeswoman for party Three GOP Senate candidates, NRA may have illegally coordinated ads: report Immigration is pressure point for both sides in shutdown showdown MORE of Montana, and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyEPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks Some Senate Dems see Ocasio-Cortez as weak spokeswoman for party Senate approves funding bill, preventing partial government shutdown 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) ManchinLeaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight EPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks The Hill's Morning Report — No new negotiations as shutdown hits 25 days 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 Kavanaugh5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony MSNBC anchor speculates Trump has something 'pretty extreme' on Graham Five things to watch during Barr’s confirmation hearing MORE. Representative Conor Lamb won a convincing 56 percent victory in the redrawn 17th district in western Pennsylvania. Senator Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownBrown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration Pro-Trump group doing opposition research on Sherrod Brown’s wife: report Press: White House not only for white males 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 WarrenBrown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration Gillibrand announces exploratory committee to run for president on Colbert Native American group denounces Trump for using Wounded Knee in attack against Warren MORE of Massachusetts, Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseAG pick Barr emphasizes independence from Trump Live coverage: Trump AG pick grilled on Mueller probe at confirmation hearing Democrat previews Mueller questions for Trump’s AG nominee MORE of Rhode Island, and Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersBrown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration Gillibrand announces exploratory committee to run for president on Colbert Dem chairman Cummings meets with Trump health chief to discuss drug prices 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 BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenBrown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration 5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony Gillibrand announces exploratory committee to run for president on Colbert MORE, or even Beto O’Rourke, may give the party a shot at the White House. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBrown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration 5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony Kamala Harris releases 'mixtape' on 'The Late Show' amid 2020 speculation 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.