I want to highlight what Mike Lux over at Crooks and Liars has written about the redstate Senate contests in 2018 and 2020. No, it is not gloom and doom.
In 2018, we saw three different strategies to winning in red state America. The first was to run as a conservative, separating yourself from the Democratic label as far as possible, even play into Trump’s race baiting to an extent. This was the approach of Bredesen, Donnelly, Manchin, and McCaskill. They advocated for some combination of things like Kavanaugh’s confirmation or Trump’s immigration policy, and to label progressive Democrats as extreme or crazy. Manchin won doing this (he is uniquely West Virginian), but the other three got beat far worse than expected. All were rated as dead heat toss-ups throughout the campaign, all had dozens of polls right up to the end that were even or within the margin of error. But McCaskill lost by 6, Donnelly by 7, and Bredesen by 11… not even close.
I know full well about building a fuckin’ wall and being labeled an extremist. I live in Louisville, KY, and Donnelly ads were on the air a lot because Louisville TV stations are the major broadcasters for southern Indiana. Donnelly called for buidling Trump’s fuckin’ wall, and he repeatedly compared progressives to Trump lunatics. He ran ads of Trump praising him and so forth.
As I mentioned previously, I gave donations to Donnelly and said to myself, “OK. He has to run that type of race in conservative Indiana.” But I sure as hell didn’t appreciate being thrown under the bus by Donnelly. And it didn’t help him win.
Lux points out that you can either try to run as an independent Democrat or a Beto strategy. Moderates will argue that the Beto strategy didn’t work either, but if you dig into the details, it seems that the Beto strategy got closer than the conservative Democrat strategy. Yes, it is not winning though. But the conservative Democrat strategy only worked for Manchin.
I argued that the major factor facing redstate Democrats is Republican tribalism, and this played a role in the defeats we faced in 2018. But Lux states that my doom and gloom about redstate voters is not entirely justified.
However, Democrats can still win in red America. Contrary to conventional wisdom, rural America actually moved more away from the Republican Party percentage-wise than the suburbs did. We won the gubernatorial race in Kansas, and came damn close in South Dakota. In Montana, we won the Senate race, and came within five points of winning the House race with an underfunded candidate. Not to mention that MT Governor Steve Bullock is currently the most popular governor in America. We picked up a congressional seat in Oklahoma that no one had targeted, and ran a respectable race for governor. We picked up two congressional districts in Iowa with a lot of rural turf, came very close to winning the Governorship, and almost beat Steve King in a district that had gone for Trump by 28%. Don’t let any of your big city liberal friends get you down: Democrats are perfectly capable of competing in rural America.
He acknowledges it will NOT be easy to compete in redstates or win over enough rural voters in Senate contests. But he pointed out one thing that I am painfully reminded of with regards to the Kentucky Senate race in 2014:
Only some seriously dumb campaign decisions by Grimes kept hers from being a very competitive race last time. Mitch McConnell just isn’t that popular with his own party or in Kentucky.
Besides doing the obvious and admit to voting for Obama in 2008 and 2012, Grimes tried to out redneck McConnell in 2014. She ran a radio ad about “illegals” in Kentucky. And she NEVER embraced the ACA with it’s Medicaid expansion. And McConnell won in a landslide.
And McConnell is not popular in KY.
And we have never had a progressive run for statewide office as far as I can remember. Most are moderate to conservative Democrats. And they have been running the same play book for years now. We got the evil Mitch McConnell reelected, and we have Rand Paul to boot. And this same strategy by failed candidate Jack Conway got us Tea Party Governor Matt Bevin.
So some of the more moderate Daily Kossacks can maybe understand why my hackles go up when I hear that we need to run more moderate or centrists candidates in redstates. It is ALL we have been doing in Kentucky for years, and it has failed spectacularly. We now have no real Democratic Party in Kentucky.
Maybe the answer is independent Democratic candidates in Kentucky, but the “I agree with Republicans on various issues” routine is not working here.
Anyway, Lux has some valuable points in my opinion. Please go give him a read.