Inside the House Democrats’ post-election reckoning

Over the next several months, Joe Biden must assemble a team to help rebuild a shattered economy, fight a global pandemic, and recover from one of the most polarizing elections in US history. Sounds easy right? POLITICO’s Megan Cassella breaks down as she fights for some of the toughest jobs in the country.

A dozen races are left untouched and the Democrats warn they won’t have all the answers for months. However, many in the party warn that the Democratic Campaigns Committee’s top priority must be to revise its message. They say there needs to be a proactive campaign that counters GOP attacks on everything from Medicare for All to fracking – if they hope to keep their majority in 2022.

“There were advertisements all over the country about socialism and the Green New Deal, and in some parts of the country that didn’t help,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) In an interview. “I think it would be irresponsible for someone in our family – the Democratic Caucus family – to worry about not mentioning it.”

Others were blunt: “From my point of view as a moderate democrat … it is clear that we need a different message than the one we had,” added Rep. Kurt Schrader (Erz).

The fight for the police

Top Democrats had prepared themselves for the police reports of the GOP. DCCC polled the issue last summer when nationwide protests against social justice ruled the headlines and found it “incredibly harmful,” according to a democratic strategist familiar with the data.

Shortly thereafter, DCCC teamed up with the political arm of the Congressional Black Caucus in an attempt to produce a campaign message that addressed systemic inequalities without giving the GOP a victory in the police debate. They created a few ads, including police reform ads that were shown in the Black Community on seats of vulnerable Democrats.

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), Chairman of the Black Caucuses campaign arm, CBC PAC, said it was clear the party had come up short. He added that there is an urgent need for the party to recalibrate quickly if Democrats are to have any hope of winning two Senate runoffs in Georgia in January, their only chance to take control of the upper chamber to take over.

“We want the caucus to be accurately represented. And if you look at the Democratic caucus, if you want to pinpoint it – unlike the Republicans – then we are not in favor of defusing the police and we are not socialists, ”Meeks said. “We’ll do everything we can to make sure we win in Georgia.”

He added that he had worked closely with DCCC chairman Cheri Bustos on the matter and had no complaints about her leadership, despite the campaign arm failing to counter Republicans in several key races.

Most of the Democrats at risk were fighting to stem the spate of GOP ads on the matter: The Republicans ran about 70 different radio ads referring to “Defund the Police,” according to Advertising Analytics, a media tracking firm.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a top GOP super-PAC, said they saw the early potential of these hits, which made them at least a little confident that they could help raise the sheer amount of campaign money Democrats had overcome.

“Democratic advertising barely said a word besides Donald Trump and the pre-existing conditions, and these were messages that simply didn’t bring voters down,” said CLF President Dan Conston. “We spent most of a year testing the most effective ways to set out the Democrats’ economic agenda and their most radical ideas when Defund the Police came up as a key issue.”

In a Staten Island seat with large numbers of police and firefighters, CLF saw Democratic MP Max Rose’s image rating drop by 21 in the months after they started broadcasting “Defund the Police” spots had decreased.

republican were adamant as they sent 30 second attack ads that inundated incumbents at risk. In red-leaning districts like that of Democratic MP Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.) In New York State, the Defund the Police adverts highlighted violent demonstrators and looters. In a purple seat in suburban Philadelphia held by GOP MP Brian Fitzpatrick, who won re-election, the advertisements featured a mother feared a smaller police budget would make her family less safe from robbers.

Democrats have tried repeatedly to combat these attacks on law and order. Some, like Rose, an Army veteran, swore in a television commercial that they would never disappoint law enforcement. And money wasn’t the problem – Democratic candidates outperformed their GOP opponents by a ratio of nearly 2: 1 in the past few weeks. Still, they struggled to beat the hits.

Rose – who admitted on Thursday – is one of the nine Democratic incumbents who have lost so far. As of Thursday, the House’s GOP was ready to receive seven seats.

Incorrect trust in the survey

The unexpected surge in Republicans also exposed election weaknesses in unexpected places, such as districts in South Florida and Orange County, California, which Hillary Clinton wore in 2016. It also sabotaged Democratic hopes of moving up to 10 seats in Texas, where the campaign arm had invested heavily, and even opened an outpost in Austin.

Bustos, who announced this week that she would not seek re-election as chairwoman, has defended the campaign arm in the days since the election. Several of their allies have argued that the election campaign was impossible to predict.

Bustos said DCCC identified some trouble spots for its incumbents before it was too late. The committee helped representatives Haley Stevens in Michigan, Susie Lee of Nevada, and Peter DeFazio in Oregon, and all three won reelection.

“When we saw that a race was slipping too late, we invested quickly and aggressively in the final track which helped us win some very close races,” Bustos told members on a call this week.

Warnings from incumbent operators

Still, some Democrats said there were signs from vulnerable areas that the party was ignoring.

Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) Said her biggest takeaway from the GOP excitement in south Florida, where two incumbents were ousted, was that the Democrats didn’t make it their warning In early 2019, it was serious that GOP attacks on “socialism” found favor with the expat community in their home state, including many Cubans and Venezuelans who fled from communist regimes decades earlier.

“I kept ringing the doorbell,” said Murphy, whose family was rescued by the US Navy when they fled Communist-ruled Vietnam in the late 1970s. Trump also outperformed South Florida Latinos.

“I’m not sure we as a party took up this attack directly and delivered our counter-narrative,” Murphy said. “It is not enough to say what you are not, you have to define what you are. And we have to define it in such a way that it does not frighten the American people.”

However, other Democrats argue that the overall strategy and message were less important than the GOP’s turnout. At-risk incumbents were suddenly – and unexpectedly – forced to outperform Biden by double digits and many just couldn’t, which shows Trump’s strength and popularity.

“The expectations have become high. But if we’re being honest, it wasn’t just expectations. We have all missed something in our analysis and survey data and we really need to take a deep, objective look at what we are missing, ”said Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif., Chairman of the moderate New Dems Action Fund. “We have to break up the party and rebuild our brand.”

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