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 TrumpMueller report findings could be a 'good day' for Trump, Dem senator says Trump officials heading to China for trade talks next week Showdown looms over Mueller report 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 Dem candidate has Hawley served subpoena at CPAC Annual scorecard ranks GOP environmental efforts far below Dems in 2018 MORE of Missouri, Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterSanders, Ocasio-Cortez back 'end the forever war' pledge Dems wrestle over how to vote on ‘Green New Deal’ White House pleads with Senate GOP on emergency declaration MORE of Montana, and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyLobbying World Lobbying World Overnight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down 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) ManchinManchin says he won't support LGBTQ protection bill as written Senators offer bipartisan bill to fix 'retail glitch' in GOP tax law Murkowski, Manchin call for 'responsible solutions' to climate change 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 KavanaughGOP eager to exploit Dem court-packing fight Court-packing becomes new litmus test on left Warren, Harris, Gillibrand back efforts to add justices to Supreme Court MORE. Representative Conor Lamb won a convincing 56 percent victory in the redrawn 17th district in western Pennsylvania. Senator Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownWarren, Klobuchar call on FTC to curtail use of non-compete clauses The Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Dems put manufacturing sector in 2020 spotlight Trump faces political risks in fight over GM plant MORE won another term in Ohio.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 WarrenHere's what the Dem candidates for president said about the Mueller report Booker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements Harris wants Barr to testify on Mueller report as 2020 Dems call for its release MORE of Massachusetts, Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDems introduce bill requiring disclosure of guest logs from White House, Trump properties Sanders announces first staff hires in Iowa, New Hampshire McConnell works to freeze support for Dem campaign finance effort MORE of Rhode Island, and Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersHere's what the Dem candidates for president said about the Mueller report Booker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements Harris wants Barr to testify on Mueller report as 2020 Dems call for its release 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 BidenBooker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements Former Georgia candidate asks Abrams be given 'space' amid 2020 buzz Biden team denies 'pre-cooked plan' of Abrams as early running-mate pick MORE, or even Beto O’Rourke, may give the party a shot at the White House. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisKamala Harris to pitch using federal funds to give teachers pay raises Dem senator: 'Appropriate' for Barr, Mueller to testify publicly about Russia probe Here's what the Dem candidates for president said about the Mueller report 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.