Monthly Archives: November 2018

Ten Action Items for Democrats

The 2020 presidential campaign began on November 7th, the day after the midterm elections; many Democrats are prepared to work every day for the next two years in order to oust Donald Trump from the White House. For this prolonged effort to be effective, national Democratic leaders should heed these words of friendly advice.

1.Develop a 50-state strategy: In 2016, the national Democratic leadership abandoned whole swaths of the U.S. and focused primarily on the coasts and the rust belt. In 2018, the Party began to move away from this model and, as a result, fielded competitive candidates in — what had been regarded as — deep red states such as Georgia and Texas.  (Although a lot of support from candidates like Stacey Abrams and Beto O’Rourke came from organizations outside the traditional Democratic framework — such as Way to Win ( )).

In 2020, Democrats must compete in every state at all levels.

2.Learn from 2018.  There are valuable lessons to be learned from the 2018 elections; the national Democratic leadership should spend the time and money to study what worked and what did not work.  For example, Montana Senator John Tester was Trump’s number one target; yet Tester won by 3 percentage points in a red state.  How did Tester accomplish this when other  red-state Democratic Senators got stomped?

As another example, in Ohio. incumbent Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown won by more than 6 percent while Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray lost by 4 percent — competing for an open seat.  Why the discrepancy?

Each state has races that deserve a detailed study.  For example, in California where Dems captured 46 of 53 congressional seats, two dreadful Republican incumbents won: Devin Nunes (CA 22) and Duncan Hunter (CA 50).  Why?

3.Deal with voter suppression.  In several states, notably Georgia, voter suppression was a major problem for Democratic candidates.  (Democrat Stacey Abrams lost the Georgia gubernatorial race by 55,000 votes and there’s reason to believe that several hundred thousand votes were suppressed by Republicans.)

As part of their 50-state strategy, Democrats need to assess the voter suppression problem on a state-by-state basis and start working to combat this.  For example, on November 27th, the Georgia “Fair Fight” PAC. “filed a federal lawsuit against Georgia election officials asking a judge to order fixes to what it says are deep-seated problems in the state’s election system.( )

4.Convince their (unelected) “stars” to run again.  Several charismatic candidates, such as Stacey Abrams and Beto O’Rourke narrowly lost in 2018.  National Democratic leadership should convince them to run again: Abrams for Georgia Senate versus Republican incumbent David Perdue and O’Rourke for Texas Senate versus incumbent John Cornyn.

The demographic tide is running in a direction that favors Democrats.  Candidates such as Abrams and O’Rourke can win if they start their campaigns now, by registering new voters and dealing with voter-suppression issues.

5.Recruit exciting candidates.  This was a change election and one of the primary changes was the election of many women and people-of-color.  This trend must continue.  The Democratic Party needs to look like America.

National Democratic leadership needs to embrace diversity.

6.Expand the use of ballot initiatives.  In 2018, one of the many reasons that Democrats prevailed was their intelligent use of state ballot initiatives,  For example, in Michigan, a state where Democrats retained a Senate seat (Stabenow) and added a governor (Whitmer) Dems boosted their turnout with three initiatives: legalizing marijuana for recreational use, creating an independent redistricting commission, and adding additional voting policies to the state constitution — including automatic voter registration.  These ballot initiatives furthered Democratic objectives and increased voter participation.  (The statewide turnout was 57.5 percent, the highest midterm-election participation in more than 50 years.)

7.Develop a rural strategy.  A recent Alternet article ( ) declared: “If there was one demographic group that blunted the force of the ‘blue wave’ in this month’s midterm elections, it was rural white voters.”  The CNN exit polls indicate that 56 percent of rural voters favored Republicans (versus an even 49-49 percent split in the suburbs and only 32 percent in suburban areas).

Alternet notes: “As the suburbs have turned against the Republican Party of President Donald Trump, rural whites have embraced the Party’s new message of economic protectionism, immigration restrictions, and an ‘America First’ foreign policy.” [emphasis added]

There’s a way for Democrats to sway some rural voters: convince them that Donald Trump’s economic policies are not working.  In other words, change them frame of the discussion from ideological to practical: “Donald Trump has deceased your income and opportunity.”

8.Talk to White Evangelicals.  One of the most surprising 2016-election statistics was that 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump.  In 2018, Pew Research found that 75 percent of white evangelical Christians voted for Republican candidates ( ).

Writing in the Washington Post, Sociologist Janelle Wong explains Donald Trump’s hold over this segment of his base: “I find economic anxiety isn’t [their] primary reason for supporting Trump. Rather, white evangelicals fear losing racial status. White evangelicals’ perceptions they’re the targets of discrimination – more so than other groups — influence far more than simply their votes for Trump.”

There’s no simple strategy for appealing to white-evangelical Christians except to find ways to talk to them and seek common ground.  We know that conversations about Trump, immigration, and feminism are unlikely to succeed.  Possible positive topics are health insurance (pre-existing conditions), education, and infrastructure-related jobs.

9.Anticipate Trump’s fear initiative.  Trump’s go-to strategy is to appeal to fear.  At the conclusion of the 2018 election campaigns, when Trump thought that Republican control of the Senate was in doubt, he invented an immigrant “invasion,” blew it out of proportion, and used this fear to motivate his base to vote.

Why didn’t the Democrats anticipate this?  Why didn’t they come up with an effective counter measure?

10.Counter Trump’s Tweet of the Day.  It’s part of Trump’s persona to dominate the news each day.  Usually with a series of early morning tweets but sometimes with impromptu news conferences.  Heading into the 2020 presidential election, Democrats have to find a way to counter this.  (Sigh.)  Democrats have to have more message discipline.

Looking Forward to 2020

The 2018 midterm-election results are in and it’s clear the anticipated “blue wave” happened; Democrats rolled to a convincing victory in the House of Representatives — gaining at least 39 seats.  But it’s also clear that Republican voters didn’t give up; where he needed to, Donald Trump turned out his base.  As a result, Republicans held onto the Senate and won key governor’s races.  This sets the stage for a very competitive race in 2020.

Looking forward to 2020, there are several factors to consider:

1. A lot of Americans voted on November 6th.  More than 116 million Americans voted; 49.3 percent of the voting-eligible population — the highest midterm percentage since 1914 ( ).   Voters turned out where there were competitive races — for example, Montana (62.1 percent) where there was a competitive Senate race — and often where there wasn’t — for example, in my congressional district (CA 13) where 66.7 percent voted and Congresswoman Barbara Lee got 88.3 percent of the vote.

538’s Nate Silver estimates that more than 60 million voters cast ballots for Democratic congressional candidates — compared to 63 million Trump voters in 2016.

2.Democrats regained an Electoral College advantage.  As we learned in 2016, in a presidential contest it’s not sufficient to win the overall popular vote; the key is to prevail in enough states to win the electoral college.  After the midterms, 538’s Nate Silver did a projection of what the electoral college would look like in 2020 ( ) — Trump versus an anonymous Democrat.  Dems win with 314 electoral votes.

Silver’s analysis is complicated but he notes the key to a 2020 Democratic win is the fact they appear to have regained political control in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin — states that Trump narrowly won in 2016 and that provided him with his electoral college win.

In the 538 analysis, Silver says Dems can win even if they lose seven swing states: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas.  But, it seems unlikely that they would lose all of these states in 2020; for example, Democrats are surging in Arizona and just won a Senate seat (Sinema) and 5 of 9 congressional races.

3.There’s an urban-rural divide.  Writing in Mother Jones, Kevin Drum noted that among 2018 white voters, support for Democrats went up by 22 points among those with a college education — compared with 2016 — and down by 8 eight points among those without a college education ( ).  (The New York Times reported that, unlike 2016, 50 percent of white women voted for a Democrat.)

A recent Alternet article ( ) declared: “If there was one demographic group that blunted the force of the ‘blue wave’ in this month’s midterm elections, it was rural white voters.”  The CNN exit polls indicate that 56 percent of rural voters favored Republicans (versus an even 49-49 percent split in the suburbs and only 32 percent in suburban areas).

It’s easy to see this rural/non-rural divide in California.  The Golden State has 53 congressional districts.  In 2018, Republicans lost several seats — notably those in Orange county — and now control only eight.  (Districts 1, 4, 8, 21, 22, 23, 42, and 50; BTW, 21 is still “too close to call.”)  These are rural districts; primarily on the eastern border of the state.

While Democrats could win the 2020 presidential election without rural voters, it’s important to understand their perspective, if Dems want to unify the nation and take control of the Senate in 2020.

4.The urban-rural divide is a proxy for a new tribalism.  Alternet notes: “As the suburbs have turned against the Republican Party of President Donald Trump, rural whites have embraced the Party’s new message of economic protectionism, immigration restrictions, and an ‘America First’ foreign policy.” [emphasis added]

A recent large survey of 8000 voters helps to understand the emerging split between urban and rural voters.  The Hidden Tribes Survey ( ), conducted by the More in Common Institute, identified seven “tribal” groups: Progressive Activists (8 percent of the population); Traditional Liberals (11 percent of the population); Passive Liberals (15 percent of the population); The Politically Disengaged (26 percent of the population); Moderates (15 percent of the population); Traditional Conservatives (19 percent of the population); and Devoted Conservatives (6 percent of the population).

The strongest views are those held by the Progressive Activists, Traditional Liberals, Traditional Conservatives, and Devoted Conservatives.  That’s where the big ideological divides occur.  As one would one expect, 99 percent of Progressive Activists disapprove of Donald Trump and 98 percent of Devoted Conservatives approve of him.

The most notable divisions occur on hot button topics, such as immigration.  99 percent of Progressive Activists agree with the statement: “Immigration is good for America, helping sectors of our economy to be more successful and competitive.” On the other hand, 90 percent of Devoted Conservatives agree with the statement: “Immigration nowadays is bad for America, costing the welfare system and using resources that could be spent on Americans.”

The Hidden Tribes researchers did not ask direct questions about Trump’s economic policies, such as economic protectionism.  But they did ask a question that serves as a proxy: the role of personal responsibility in life outcomes.  For example, 92 percent of Devoted Conservatives agree with the statement: “People who work hard can find success no matter what situation they were born into.”  Whereas, 90 percent of Progressive Activists agree: “Some people’s situations are so challenging that no amount of work will allow them to find success.”

Summary: Considering the information in the Hidden Tribes study, it seems obvious that Donald Trump played to traditional conservative beliefs to turn out rural voters in the 2018 midterms.  This strategy worked in Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, and Texas.  (For example, Beto O’Rourke would have won the Texas Senate race if rural white voters had not voted overwhelmingly for Ted Cruz.)  Obviously, it did not work in many other areas; the areas with the most voters.  Thus, Democrats start the 2020 campaign with positive momentum.

Ten Midterm Takeaways

The results of the 2018 midterm election are in. Democrats achieved some, but not all, of their objectives. Here are ten takeaways from the November 6th results.

1. The Resistance worked.  Even before Donald Trump was coronated, Democratic protest groups — such as Indivisible — sprang up across the United States.  One of their objectives was to flip congressional districts where, in 2016, Hillary Clinton prevailed but a Republican won the congressional contest.  This objective was accomplished: Democrats won at least 225 seats (of 435) with 13 to be determined.

Now Trump is forced to deal with Democratic members of Congress.  To say the least, this is a huge accomplishment; for example, it will block any further Republican attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

2. Nonetheless, a lot of work remains to be done.  Republicans retained control of the Senate with at least 52 seats.  They continue to have the exclusive power to determine appointments to the Federal judiciary — which means that Trump and Senate Majority Leader McConnell will continue to pack the courts with conservative judges.

Democrats came close but failed to win a majority of gubernatorial races; they now hold 23 with one race (Georgia) yet to be decided.  (Democrats did not win in Florida, more about that below).  Nonetheless, Dems now control most of the populous states — such as California and New York.  And they control key swing states, such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin — states that Trump unexpectedly won in 2016 (Democrats did not prevail in the Ohio gubernatorial race).

3. Big voter turnout didn’t necessarily translate into winsThe New York Times estimates, “Approximately 114 million votes were cast in U.S. House races in 2018, compared to 83 million in 2014.”  Most Democrats believe that when there is high voter turnout, their candidates win; but this fails to take into account the electoral college effect, that is, it depends where the voters turn out.

A record 80 million voters participated in Senate contests — not all states had a Senate race.  Democrats cast 57 percent of the votes and still lost 3 seats.(!) Because Republicans turned out where they had to.  For example, in Texas, Democrats had an excellent candidate, Beto O’Rourke, and Republicans had a loathsome candidate, Ted Cruz.  Democrats turned out in record numbers — more than 4 million voters — but Cruz won (50.8 percent) because Republican voters also turned out.

Giving credit to the devil: Trump abandoned House races and, instead, focussed on Senate races that Republicans absolutely had to win.  For example, he went to Texas and cajoled Republicans to vote for Cruz — even though Trump and Cruz detest each other.  This strategy also worked in Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, and Tennessee; and, maybe, in Florida.

Notably, Trump’s strategy did not work in Montana, where Democrat John Tester — Trump’s number one target — won with 50.1 percent of the vote.  The New York Times analyzed: “Tester has prevailed as a Democrat in a state that leans Republican largely on the strength of his local appeal: he flies back from Washington, D.C., to work on his farm nearly every weekend, and emphasizes the value of knowing your neighbors.”  There was also record turnout in Montana and Tester overwhelmingly won the female vote and 67 percent of the youth vote — it helps that he’s friends with the members of Pearl Jam.

4. Florida remains a mystery:  Before November 6th, polls showed Democratic Senate candidate Bill Nelson up 3-5 points over Republican Rick Scott; the polls also showed Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum up 3-5 points over Republican Ron de Santis — who is a turkey.  De Santis apparently won by 35,000 votes and Scott apparently won by 15,000 votes — there will be a recount in both contests.  Like the situation in Georgia, the Florida vote feels like there was malevolence involved.

5. Republicans like crooks.  Remember when Republicans were the “Family Values” Party?  Now they’ve become the Trump Values Party; “It’s not how you play the game, it’s whether you win.”  In New York (CD 27) voters apparently re-elected Chris Collins who is under indictment for securities fraud.  In California (CD 50) voters re-elected Duncan Hunter who is under indictment for campaign corruption.  (BTW, in the classless move of the election, Hunter accused his opponent Ammar Campa-Naijar of being a muslim terrorist.)

6. Georgia has voter suppression issues. Democrat Stacey Abrams, an African-American, managed to garner at least 49 percent of the vote.  the problem is that her opponent, Republican Brian Kemp, is also Secretary of State and has done a bunch of things to suppress the vote — particularly that of African-Americans.  (On November 8th, a lawsuit forced Kemp to resign (  Looks like this election will end up in court.

7. Trump’s popularity tracked the Senate races. The biggest key to the Senate results was Trump’s popularity in the state the contest was held in.  Morning Consult ( ) has a chart that shows where Trump is most popular: In North Dakota he was +15 and the Democrat lost.  In Indiana Trump was +9 and in Missouri +8; Dems lost.  In Texas Trump was +7 and that was too much for Beto O’ Rourke to overcome.  (The exceptions to this rule are West Virginia, where Democrat Manchin won even though Trump was +24 and Montana where Tester won even though Trump was +10.  I think Manchin had local authenticity, like Tester.)

8. Trump motivated his base with immigration horror stories –the “invasion” from Central America.   This had an impact in Texas.  CBS News reported: “Voters in Texas are relatively split about what they think the most important problem is facing the country, according to exit polls. More than one-third of voters believe that health care is the most important problem and among them, more than two-thirds voted for Democrat Beto O’Rourke.  Of the third of voters who believe that immigration is the most important problem, about three-quarters support Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. Nearly a quarter of voters things the economy is the country’s biggest problem, and among them, the majority voted for Mr. Cruz.” [Emphasis added]

ABC News reported that immigration was the most important issue for one-third of Arizona voters.  “[Republican Senate candidate] McSally overwhelmingly is winning voters focused on the issue of immigration.” (84 percent)

9. Trump voters belong to a cult. They resolutely hold onto their justification for voting for Trump (immigration, abortion, guns…) and close their eyes to his ethical shortcomings,  They’ll do anything to win.

10. Democrats prevailed because of the female vote.  Pew Research noted: “Nationally, voters favored Democratic candidates for Congress over Republican candidates by a margin of about 7 percentage points… [However] Women favored the Democratic candidate in their district by 19 percentage points (59% to 40%) while men voted for the Republican 51% to 47%.”  (White women split 49 percent to 49 percent; while college educated women favored the Democratic candidate 59 percent to 39 percent.)

This was a blue wave.  It’s a tremendous accomplishment to take back the House of Representatives and to elect so many qualified Democrats throughout the country.  Congratulations!

Now get to work preparing for the 2020 presidential election.