Democrats feel better than they have since the day Trump won a year ago. The results of elections across the country last week prove that Americans still share many of their values and that the country can swing back their way. They’re almost giddy about the prospect of an electoral wave in 2018 that could take back Congress and put a more robust check on Trump’s power.
Now, it’s time to throw a little cold water on the exuberance. David Leonhardt of the New York Times notes that only one of the 15 House of Delegates seats that Democrats won in Virginia was carried by Trump. I was told this weekend, but have not seen the data, that Democrats won 55% of the votes for Delegate but still came up short of winning control of the chamber. The election next year is not going to be easy.
In particular, Leonhardt says, Democrats need to figure out how to reach out to white working class voters. While Democratic Governor-elect Ralph Northam won by bigger margins in cities and suburbs, he lost by larger margins in rural counties than the current governor, Democrat Terry McAuliff, did four years ago. So, while racking up big margins in the fastest growing areas may bode well for statewide candidates, they have far less impact on Congressional and legislative districts.
In North Carolina next year, Democrats won’t have a governor’s or Senate race to help them along. The fights will be in districts drawn by Republicans to give them advantages. Most Congressional districts feature swaths of rural areas that went heavily for Trump last year. That’s also true of many of the legislative districts Democrats will need to win if they hope to actually capture a chamber.
A lot Democratic operatives and strategists argue that Democrats just need to turnout more minority and younger voters. That strategy may run up margins in Democratic districts and help pick up a few in Republican-held seats in urban areas, but it probably won’t be enough to win majorities in either chamber. Democrats need to figure out how to get a larger share of the white non-college educated voters. At the very least, they need to stop hemorrhaging that vote.
Leonhardt says, “Democrats have to get the white working class to focus on the working-class part of their identity rather than the white part.” Democrats should focus on the economic struggles of working-class voters, regardless of race. Providing tools to upward mobility like better wages, better jobs and affordable healthcare appeals to everyone who has been left out of the modern economy. It can both win a few more white working class voters and offer something to minority voters, especially men, who stayed home last year.
Democrats have a lot to be happier about today than they did before last Tuesday, but they still have a lot of work to do. Yes, they need to improve turnout of their base, but they’ve also got to build a bigger tent. Half the population is white without a four-year degree. Democrats can’t win districts if they continue to lose an increasing proportion of this population.