Persuasion 2018 – Part Four

At this writing it appears that Democrat Connor Lamb scored an extremely narrow victory in the special Congressional election in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional district. This is a rare case in politics where winning or losing makes little difference; over performing is the story. There are lessons to be learned here so let’s explore.

Pennsylvania 18 is a solid red district. It has repeatedly voted Republican in presidential elections with Trump winning it by 20 points in 2016. Whether or not Lamb’s apparent victory holds up is irrelevant; the fact that a Democratic candidate closed a 20 point gap is the story. The questions that progressives should be asking are: How did he do it and how can we replicate it in November.

A major factor is that Lamb fit the district. This is huge and yet goes unrecognized by too many voters, candidates and Party officials. One of the few things I know about horse racing is the old adage: There are horses for courses. In politics that translates to the candidate must fit the contest. It stands to reason that the ideal candidate in a liberal, coastal, college town and in a rural, somewhat conservative, district in the interior of the country will have some differences even if they are both running under the same Party’s banner.

Democrats (the only logical option for progressives) cannot expect every candidate across the country to be of the “same shade of blue”. They may hold slightly different views on topics like guns and choice. That can be done while still adhering to the same core philosophy on those and certainly most other policies. If you juxtaposed Lamb and me on a spreadsheet we would differ (at least to a degree) on several topics. Remember I couldn’t get elected in Pennsylvania 18 and he can. If we start applying purity tests and/or eliminating candidates because we don’t agree with them 100% we doom ourselves to a lot of disappointing Election Nights.

Those considering becoming candidates have to take this into account during their decision making process. Perhaps they serve the causes they care about better by helping elect others instead of running. Party officials have to consider whether the potential candidate matches the district during the recruiting process. Most importantly the primary voter has to consider electability when they cast their primary ballot. I’ve heard some downright laughable excuses coming from Republicans to “justify” Lamb’s success; including an assertion that he ran as a Republican. (Even Paul Ryan wasn’t far off that one.) However here is one important factor; Lamb didn’t have a primary that forced him to the left. I’m not asking progressives to forgo their principles in the pursuit of victory; I’m simply asking for some flexibility in the recognition of reality.

Next we come to the 2018 wild card: Donald Trump. What we learned from Lamb (and several other successful special election Democrats) is to let Trump (with the aid of responsible, professional journalists), beat himself. Trump bashing is too easy, (I know I do it in most columns). The persuadable voters are much more interested in what you are going to try to do for them than in Trump jokes/applause lines. In fact I strongly suggest that Democratic challengers make it clear they will work with Trump (or anyone else) when the idea they are proposing is good for their constituents and America. Regardless of where they are on the spectrum of political philosophies, American voters want some productivity out of their elected officials. Instead I suggest you talk about what you will defend/work for, (I hate the word fight), things like Social Security and Medicare, school funding and public safety, national security, etc. Not being Trump is not enough.

Stay away from impeachment. Many on the far left embrace it but as a Democrat you have their votes anyway and they have a very good turnout record so you don’t have to worry about them staying home. If directly confronted with that issue, say that it is premature to address it and that you want to see the Mueller probe run its course first. I’m a perfect example; I want to see Trump removed from office in disgrace whether forced resignation (ala Nixon) or impeached. I also guarantee you I will vote for Congress in 2018 (there is no U. S. Senate race in North Carolina this year) and I will vote for the Democrat.

Allow me a final few words to would be candidates. Be true to yourself and your values. If you have to pretend to be someone you are not in order to win then don’t run. Support a more viable, but still palatable candidate instead. Invest in field work. One of the secrets of success thus far in 2018 has been that for the most part superior field operations have been victorious. There is still no substitute for shaking a person’s hand, petting their dog or kissing their baby while making them feel important by listening to what they have to say and asking for their help in the form of their vote and spreading the word on your behalf.

Also realize that we are in a period where political parties are not popular. Seek and take the “ground troops” help of non-Party but ideologically aligned groups. Personally I am encouraged to see that the DNC under Tom Perez is putting a renewed emphasis on the ground game by empowering state and local parties, but not everything can be accomplished within the formal Party structure.

Make sure you are a good fit and then work as diligently and intelligently as you are able to.

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