Friday, November 9, 2018

Democrats, don't blow it.

A version of this was published in Sky Hi News print and e-edition November 14, 2018 and on line
Democrats scored heavily on November 6 in the midterms.  There were significant gains in the suburbs and in bringing new voters to the polls .  The result was a large shift to blue in many state legislatures, seven governors, and in the  U.S. House of Representatives. The structural foundation  has been laid for Democrats in the 2020 presidential year, especially in the Senate and in states where redistricting and gerrymandering activities would be in control of more Democrats than in 2016.  The GOP remained in control in the Senate and  gained some seats  in the Senate though some races are still facing recounts. In 2020  many more sitting Republican Senate seats will be contested in blue states. Democrats can build on this if they do not blow it .

Colorado went deep blue.  GOP Congressman Mike Coffman lost his suburban seat to Democrat Jason Crow, and the state Senate flipped from red to blue, as did every single state office currently held by Republicans. The governor’s seat and state House legislature  remained in Democratic hands.  Joe  Neguse , a Democrat ,  won Jerad  Polis’ vacated seat as Polis won his race for governor. Neguse will be Grand County's representative to Congress.  Colorado Politics, a publication limited to subscribers, reports a poll showed that much of the Democratic wins were due to unaffiliated shifting to them because they loathed Donald Trump himself.

Grand County  has always been very red, but it went pink this year.  Grand County’s registration’s most recent  party affiliation  (Feb. 2018) numbers were   21.6%  Democrats,   38.3% Republican,  and  40.1  independents/Libertarians/Green.  However, in the midterms  Democrats impressively  outperformed their registration share  especially when  compared to 2016 results of Trump(52%)-Clinton (38%), a 14% difference.   In the 2018 midterms, Grand County GOP voters trumped Democrats by only  a 5% margin of total votes  in the Governor and Congressional race and 8% in the other state wide positions. Grand County, part of a state House district with  the county's  majority voting for the GOP candidate,  found its Democrat state representative, KC Becker, re-elected and named Speaker of the House for the next two years.
Democrats can take a lesson from their  national midterm success. The winners and the near winner gainers emphasized solving local problems, red tide, water quality, roads and bridges,   and focusing on access to health care. Protecting the pocket books and health of middle income Americans was a winner.
However, fundamentally contributing to  Democrat’s wins was Donald Trump.  He made the midterms an election about himself and voters took him up on that.  The Democrat’s pitch, check him by turning the House blue, appeared to have resonated.  Per  PBS exit polls. race, gender, age,  and education levels were  also determining factors per Pew Research. Per Politico, race and age were not factors in Colorado, but the richer, more educated counties tilted to Democrats.   Trump’s  constant belittling and  insulting  women, especially women of color  (horse face, pig, empty barrel, a graduate of Yale law school, state legislature minority leader was unqualified) who challenge him resulted in a 19 point  gender gap for women, doubling the 2016 gap per pollster Fivethirtyeight.
Here is how the Democrats can blow their growing advantage for 2020.   Democrat’s control of the House and a slightly increased GOP control of the Senate  makes impeachment unlikely, but it also saves Obamacare and meaningful coverage of pre-existing conditions from GOP Senate efforts to repeal, and not replace.  The  Democratic House turns any   GOP Senate  initiative to sabotage and repeal Obamacare a futile exercise.  A Senate still in GOP hands makes impeachment unlikely. If Democrats had a weakness at the beginning of 2018, it was viewed as just “anti-Trump” and no one knew what it stood for. Saving Obamacare (ACA) Medicare and Social Security, emerged as their plank .Not only must  Democrats make an effort to   deliver, they also must be perceived by the middle class voters as looking after their family budget concerns.  Having every news cycle dominated by sensational House investigations into Trump administration misdeeds could drown out efforts to develop Democrats’ credibility as advocates for middle class pocket book issues. In 2020,  Donald Trump may not be the GOP candidate.

  That is going to be a challenge. Donald Trump has already thrown down his gauntlet with a move the day after the elections, in an overt maneuver to cut the Mueller investigation off at the knees. He fired Attorney General Sessions and replaced him with a loyalist,  anti-Mueller probe, who had never been confirmed by the Senate, setting off  charges that this appointment was illegal. A media firestorm erupted.

House Democrats are aware of the balancing act of checking Trump v positioning themselves on winning public policy issues before 2020.  I heard one Congressperson comment that "don't worry; we can walk and chew gum at the same time".  The problem is that media gets fixated on the the more sensational, headline grabbing, breaking news stories and the grind of the legislative process is a slow burn and, as often noted: "like sausage being made", some times ugly and taking many steps. The hot topic on health care will be the media fixation on what faction of the Democratic party wins: the Bernie Sanders Medicare for All or the more moderate: repair Obamacare.  In the next two years, given the GOP control of the Senate, legislation will likely become deadlocked and Democrats will be lucky just to see preservation of Obamacare  as it is now. Should the Supreme Court, now firmly ideologically to the right, rule Obamacare is unconstitutional or that the coverage of pre-existing conditions is the part of Obamacare that is unconstituional, then the job of the House is to make sure any replacement legislation is not just a bill title, but truly is an equivalent and comparable replacement.  The worst screw-up  the Democrats could do would be to break up into two factions over which form of health insurance they want. Medicare for All is a moot issue until 2020 when the Democrats have a chance to flip the Senate blue, keep the House, and have someone in the White House who will not use the veto pen.

One possible strategy for the next two years would be for the House to originate two health care insurance bills: one woud be for Medicare for All , to pass tha,t and ship it to the Senate for them to be on the record of killing it and then, after it is killed,  send through an Obamacare repair bill.  That would permit the CBO to score it so we really know what the comparative  costs would be on the   official record. Otherwise there will be wild claims made to scare people away from either partisan side.  It would also put on record where every member of Congress stood on the issues for the purposes of the 2020 election cycle.

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