It’s hard to believe that we’re on the precipice of another campaign season, but the influx of fundraising emails we’ve been receiving the past several weeks to “help get X re-elected” tells the story.
The midterms for a first-term president are historically bad for his party. We’re not naïve. But there are special opportunities for President BidenJoe BidenManchin to vote to nix Biden's vaccine mandate for larger businesses Congress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight Senate cuts deal to clear government funding bill MORE and the Democrats to hold onto control of the Senate and Congress if the messaging is right.
Before we discuss that plan, it would be negligent to ignore the weekend’s developments in Afghanistan. With the departure of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban’s declaration of the country as the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” Biden and Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenOvernight Defense & National Security — Quick vote on defense bill blocked again Kremlin claims Ukraine may try to win back rebel-controlled regions by force Blinken: Iran actions risk collapse of new talks MORE have their work cut out for them. America invested thousands of lives, trillions of dollars, and immeasurable amounts of human capital in transforming Afghanistan. That work is now all but lost. And this will surely matter for some voters, even though Afghanistan was an intractable conflict that a majority of Americans supported leaving.
Having said that, there is a tremendous story of success from the past year to tell. As we have seen consistently in the last two election cycles, following the Democratic playbook that focuses on quality-of-life issues is the road to success. This playbook has been used by some in our party and ignored by others to their detriment. While those who ignore the playbook may have some individual successes, their messaging often feeds Republican narratives that have proven to be extremely effective.
There are three key areas of focus for Democrats to win: infrastructure, the American Rescue Plan Act, and COVID-19 management.
After many years of the running joke that it was “infrastructure week,” last week actually was infrastructure week. Biden was able to pull off the impossible and get a $1 trillion dollar package that focuses on roads, bridges, rail service and broadband initiatives passed with support from 19 GOP senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCongress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight House sets up Senate shutdown showdown Biden says he doesn't believe a government shutdown will happen MORE (R-Ky). This is a staggering success for the American people and especially so considering the heavy partisanship that dominates Washington politics.
What’s more, a majority of Americans like the package. Sixty-two percent favor the bill overall, and 56 percent are in favor of the additional items such as climate change and child care, which are part of the House’s $3.5 trillion version. It’s now on House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCongress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight On The Money — Congress races to keep the lights on House sets up Senate shutdown showdown MORE (D-Calif.) to keep her caucus in line and get the infrastructure and spending bill through.
The American Rescue Plan Act was passed in record time and matched the urgency of the crises facing the country. Between COVID-19 and the ensuing fallout, the bill delivered immediate and thoughtful relief that put money in Americans’ pockets to help them stay safe. That’s why it’s backed by more than 70 percent of Americans, including a majority of Republicans. The fact that its effects were felt right away, as opposed to selling more abstractions such as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in 2009 that also bailed out financial institutions, make it a campaign messaging opportunity.
We’ve also seen tremendous job gains. The most recent report from the Bureau of Labor showed that the U.S. added 943,000 new jobs, the largest gain since August of last year. Additionally, unemployment fell to 5.4 percent. Since May 2020, America has added back 16.7 million jobs. We still have nearly 6 million to go, to reach pre-pandemic levels, but that’s a pretty great economic story to tell, coupled with the $15 billion that went out to more than 35 million families with children in the form of an enhanced child tax credit. As one of the largest anti-poverty measures in U.S. history, it stands to cut childhood poverty in half. Sing it from the rooftops, Democrats.
There hasn’t been a bigger storyline of the past year than the COVID-19 virus, the vaccine rollout, and now the surging Delta variant. Though a Fox News poll shows a 10-point dip in Biden’s handling of the coronavirus, he still stands at 54 percent approval and 42 percent disapproval. To keep himself and Democrats above water on this front, a continued push for vaccinations coupled with respect for Americans’ desire to “get back to normal” is the key to staying on top of the polls. Democrats can’t be seen as the party of lockdowns in a post-vaccine world — they must be the party of science and economic prosperity to match the message of the American Rescue Plan Act and infrastructure packages.
There is undoubtedly more progress to champion on the campaign trail, such as President Biden’s overseeing the most diverse Cabinet in history — including the first openly LGBTQ Cabinet secretary, first Native American Cabinet secretary, first woman Treasury Secretary, first African American secretary of Defense, first Latino secretary of Health and Human Services, and first Asian American U.S. Trade Representative. Biden also, with the Senate, has had more federal judges confirmed in his first six months as president than any president has had confirmed in the first year of his presidency, including a record number of women, a key pledge.
As we look toward the pivotal midterms, make no mistake the world is depending on our success at the ballot box. Some of the players have changed, but our playbook should remain the same if we want to succeed. We must keep telling voters what Democrats have done for them. It has worked before and it will work again.
Jessica Tarlov is head of research at Bustle Digital Group and a Fox News contributor. She earned her Ph.D. at the London School of Economics in political science. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaTarlov.
Antjuan Seawright is a Democratic political strategist, founder and CEO of Blueprint Strategy LLC, a CBS News political contributor, and a senior visiting fellow at Third Way. Follow him on Twitter @antjuansea.