A Recipe for Democratic Success This November
Earlier this week, voters in New York and Florida cast their ballots in a series of primary and special elections that offer a glimpse into the state of the midterms this November. The most notable takeaway: the red wave that had been widely predicted for this fall does not appear to be materializing, opening the door for Democratic opportunities to hold onto the Senate, limit losses in the House, and add governorships and control of state legislatures.
There’s a number of reasons for this — backlash to the Dobbs decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has energized Democrats across the board; high-quality candidates running effective campaigns; and, perhaps most importantly, Democrats have tallied a string of victories providing solutions to challenges facing Americans including the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act.
There’s no question that our nation still has major challenges, but it is clear Democrats have a message and a record of accomplishment to run on amid the historical challenges of a midterm year. So as we inch closer to election day, here are five things that state and local leaders should work into their closing arguments.
1. Tout meaningful policy accomplishments. Then do it again. And again.
Democrats from the statehouse to the White House have enacted a meaningful economic agenda that has lifted millions of people in America out of poverty and created widespread opportunity.
The United States has created 9 million jobs under President Biden — the highest number in any president’s first 17 months, and the unemployment rate sits at a historic low of 3.5%.
Gas prices are coming down dramatically with more than 70 days in a row of declines. Democrats in Congress approved historic legislation that will address climate change, lower prescription drug prices, reduce the national debt and create jobs.
But we can’t assume that Americans are aware of the benefits of this agenda, or even know Democrats have acted. A recent Third Way poll found only 24% of respondents knew the infrastructure bill became law, much less what it means for them.
Democrat-led investments aren’t just numbers on a balance sheet. They represent Americans who can finally get online to access work and education, families who don’t have to choose between medicine they need to be healthy and putting food on the table and communities with access to cleaner water. We need to tell the stories of Democratic accomplishments and the real-world impact they are having on working families across the country.
2. Meet people where they are and address their economic concerns head-on.
Even with so many positive indicators, fears about the cost of living are sky high, and too many Americans have been left behind for far too long without a viable path to the middle class. Democrats get it. We understand these real concerns and have a raft of solutions to meet the moment.
Across the country, Democrats can look to state and local leaders who are turning investments made by Democrats in Washington into tangible solutions: In Michigan, the Whitmer-Gilchrist administration has strengthened the services of 6,000 child care centers amid a national shortage of affordable providers while boosting the pay of 38,000 child care workers. And in Phoenix, Arizona, Mayor Kate Gallego has partnered with local community colleges to help students enter high-wage careers in essential industries including health care and semiconductor manufacturing, including by offering free tuition, monthly stipends and employment assistance.
When Democrats take affordability and economic opportunity issues seriously and focus on day-to-day concerns, we have the advantage.
3. Draw a bright line: This is an election about common sense vs. chaos.
Republicans, by contrast, aren’t offering solutions. They are only focused on division, and they are sowing chaos.
As the Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol has laid out in painstaking detail, Donald Trump — joined and supported by his allies in Congress and in several states — led a concerted effort to obstruct the peaceful transition of power, defraud the American people and overturn the results of the 2020 election.
The Supreme Court dominated by conservatives threw out a well-established precedent when it overturned Roe v. Wade. Now, states like Wyoming and Indiana are passing new laws outlawing abortions, even in cases of rape, making it difficult for doctors to provide needed care for pregnant women, and denying millions access to vital health care services despite the fact that nearly two-thirds of Americans express strong support for reproductive rights.
Democrats need to show that we have the mainstream approach when it comes to abortion rights and other issues, while Republicans are pushing an extreme agenda.
4. Be authentic.
Earlier this year, Democratic Michigan state Sen. Mallory McMorrow offered a masterclass in authenticity in a floor speech responding to a fellow senator who called her a “groomer.” The speech was grounded in her experience, story and values. “I’m a straight, White, Christian, married, suburban mom” who is “the biggest threat to a hollow, hateful scheme” because she’s “another parent standing up to say, ‘No!’”
In explaining who she is and what she stands for, McMorrow not only provided a blueprint for how to respond to ugly Republican attacks, but also provided a way for well-meaning people from across the political spectrum to find common ground in contrast to her colleague’s extreme views.
5. Don’t just talk to your team, talk to voters across the political spectrum.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has the right idea. He doesn’t just go on MSNBC and preach to the choir. He goes on Fox News, takes on the tough questions from sometimes hostile hosts and turns the tables on the conservative media.
Some believe that Democrats can regularly win elections simply by turning out the base alone. But the makeup of the electorate does not bear that out. Ultimately, Democrats have to persuade independents and open-minded Republicans that our policies and approach make sense.
Put it all together, and Democrats have a strong case to make this fall.
Debbie Cox Bultan has 25 years of experience in center-left politics, public policy and nonprofit leadership. As CEO of NewDEAL, she oversees both strategy and day-to-day operations for the organization. She previously served as executive director for the Civic Leadership Foundation, a Chicago, Illinois-based nonprofit that prepares underserved youth for college, career and civic life. Prior to helping launch NewDEAL, she spent 15 years at the Democratic Leadership Council where she served in a number of capacities, including national political director and chief of staff. Among her accomplishments at the DLC was developing a network of, and policy tools for, state and local elected officials across the country. You can reach out on Twitter @debbiecoxbultan and @newdealleaders.