Democrats can win in 2022 — here’s how

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Democrats have a messaging problem. But, of course, they have always had a messaging problem. This hardly started with President Joe Biden, himself, a pathetic messenger.

Imagine if Democrats used the Child Tax Credit alone — eligible families can receive up to $3,600 for each child under age six and up to $3,000 for each age 6 through 17 for 2021 — this puts money in parent’s pockets for their children and yet few Democrats communicate this feat. Likewise, messaging Biden’s Build Back Better package or the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which will provide much-needed improvement to marginalized communities such as reasonable broadband access to ensure that Americans receive reliable high-speed internet, are keys to a potential win in 2022. 

The Democrats’ Build Back Better plan would ensure paid sick leave, home healthcare, another year of monthly child tax credits that have lifted millions out of poverty, universal prekindergarten, two years of community college, a cap on families’ child-care expenses, healthcare subsidies, Medicare hearing benefits, climate change programs and, to offset the costs, tax increases on corporations and the wealthiest individuals, as well as authorization for Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices. All of these are popular with the American people and Republicans, who dismiss the entire plan simply as “socialism” or “wasteful spending” without being challenged to address its popular particulars. 

Republicans have a far-reaching conservative media apparatus, dominated by Fox News and extending to right-wing websites, white evangelical churches, sources and local talk-show hosts to amplify their message, which is often how and why they are great at winning. Republicans have also directed the national political discourse with critical race theory.

Glenn Youngkin’s (R) Virginia gubernatorial victory over Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe, fueled by pandemic-era, schools-and education-related anguish that went well beyond the dog-whistle political buzzword of “critical race theory,” constituted a parental revolt. With a winning mix of rural Trump enthusiasts coupled suburbanites who voted for Biden — the 2021 Virginia gubernatorial election results forged unlikely alliances heading into next year’s midterms and even 2024 by spotlighting a potentially new COVID-created key constituency — piqued moms and dads. Republicans see the Virginia campaign as a playbook in the big U.S. Senate races in 2022.

Traditionally, voters have trusted Democrats more on education, but Virginia undermined that. It’s now a blueprint for Republicans. Outside of critical race theory, I believe Democrats underestimated how many voters and Democrats were mad at the school closures, especially metro-suburban white mothers. And Republicans have tapped into that anger, concern, crisis mode and fear.

Democrats have talked about raising the opportunity for all children, and where Republicans are winning the messaging war presently is they are focused on raising opportunities for your child. Republicans are betting that parents’ angst about educational issues ranging from the quality of curricula to mask mandates and culture wars will help them retake suburban independents in upcoming elections.

Following a string of wins on local school boards and a strong performance in the suburbs in recent gubernatorial races, Republicans say their message is resonating among parents, whose frustrations have boiled up during the coronavirus pandemic, and now include the quality of classwork, mask mandates and transgender rights. 

Democrats can start messaging to voters directly. Every Democratic operative or strategist can stay on message and discuss how Build Back Better will invest over $3.385 billion in capital access investments for small employers and entrepreneurs with nearly $2 billion in a Small Business Association direct lending program for the smallest businesses and government contractors or $60 million to diversify and create equity within the Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) program.

Democrats could win by going on offense, running the record of successes, not playing defense responding to GOP attacks. The simple lesson —  lean into the Democratic success and communicate these wins, mainly how the triumphs aid American families and children, engage African Americans and Asian-Americans including Korean Americans and Chinese Americans — communicate the talking points and how they improve these communities and others.  

Democrats should also capitalize on another critical issue in the midterm elections — the battle between traditional establishment Republicans versus Trump Republicans. Will the establishment fringe wing of the GOP gain control power from the Trump wing? As the GOP-civil war rages on, this allows Democrats further opportunity, in addition to touting the House’s successful passage of their social spending and tax passage as they try to ease voters’ concerns about inflation and shortages of goods.

The conservative-learning Supreme Court could also help Democrats maintain their House and Senate majorities and state legislatures in 2022 per their decision regarding reproductive rights by June of 2022 — five months before the midterm contests. As such, Democrats and progressive activists could use the Mississippi case’s threat to abortion rights and make the message hit closer to home for millions of women, including suburban women, potentially winning them back. 

Ultimately, Democrats predict the ruling against Roe v. Wade will energize the base. But Republicans are already mobilizing their base even amongst the infighting. Will the Democrats? 

Quardricos Bernard Driskell is an adjunct professor of legislative politics at The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management. Follow him on Twitter @q_driskell4

Tags Democratic Party Elections in the United States Glenn Youngkin Glenn Youngkin Joe Biden Joe Biden Political parties in the United States Politics of the United States Republican Party Republicanism in the United States Terry McAuliffe United States elections

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