The House midterms are, at this point, the Democratic Party’s to lose. Every benchmark favors them: the political energy, the money raised, the generic ballot, and a presidential job approval rating unable to break the forties. There are more than 60 truly competitive races in districts categorized as “toss up” or leaning” in one direction or the other on the electoral battlefield for November. Fewer than a dozen of these seats are currently held by Democrats. The rest are held by Republicans.
Put it all together and the odds are good that Democrats will take the majority, but there are obstacles. Gerrymandering controlled by Republicans will enable them to protect districts from a blue wave. The consensus of expert opinion is that Democrats will land anywhere from just below to just above the 218 seats they need to take the majority with single digits in either direction. So fasten your seatbelts, Democrats, but not around your necks. Here are six ways that the Democrats could lose.
First, fall into the Donald Trump trap by letting him set the narrative. Respond to every one of his actions with an equal reaction. Adding to the white noise of his dark White House agenda will only numb the electorate. Swing voters will tune out and that will depress their turnout. Fight this on your ground, Democrats, not on Trump’s field.
Second, make the midterms all about Robert Mueller. If voters want to know about Medicare, why not shift to the special counsel investigation? If they want to talk about crops, why not bring it all back to collusion? A surefire way to lose is insisting to voters that this election is about Trump’s tweets instead of their medical bills or their pay stubs.
Third, feed the distracting narrative about ideological tensions within the Democratic Party. After all, a Beltway brawl is exactly what everyday voters think about in competitive districts, right? News flash to candidates: If a voter asks you whether you lean more towards the Alexandria Ocasio Cortez or Joseph Crowley wing of the House Democratic Caucus, they’re probably already with you or against you.
Fourth, stay focused on data. Remember that exhilarating feeling we had in the weeks, days and even hours before Hillary Clinton’s anticipated election to the presidency? All those polls, all that parsing and extrapolating of data to lull us into a complacent stupor. In this environment, the only way to stay ahead is to run as if you’re behind.
Fifth, forget that winning is brain science. Republicans don’t run by appealing to hearts and minds. They target the amygdala, that almond shaped gray matter where emotion is experienced. They peddle fear and insecurity to voters. Democrats, meanwhile, try to capture the areas of the brain that animate reason. Answer Republican fear mongering with strength and resolve, not a 22-point plan. These midterms are all about guts, Democrats. So for God’s sake, show some already!
Sixth, let the Republicans sandbag you. In a toxic environment like this, Republicans would lose 30 to 60 seats. But their brazen control of gerrymandering has enabled them to position sandbags to protect the last few districts from falling as we get closer to November. They get to play deep, and Democrats have to play wide. The Democrats will need to be cold blooded in hitting key targets in the final weeks of the cycle.
The competitive battlefield means a potentially long election night. The majority could conceivably rest on recounts. Democrats have done everything right so far, particularly early candidate recruiting and aggressive fundraising. But, at the beginning of football season, keep in mind no one gets points for getting the ball within the 10-yard line.
Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years. He served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is a novelist whose latest book is “Big Guns.” Follow him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael and on Facebook @RepSteveIsrael.
Reprinted from TheHill.com