Leonard Quart | Letter From New York: Taking back House won't be easy

Letter From New York

NEW YORK — The midterms are coming up, and I am hopeful that the Democrats can at least win the House back. They will have to overcome a Republican majority filled with right wing ideologues and Trump toadies like Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan and Devin Nunes.

Winning the House will be particularly hard to do when gerrymandering creates a stacked deck in many districts. Currently, 8 out of the 10 of the most gerrymandered districts favor Republicans. Both parties have in the past cynically used the gerrymander, but it's the Republicans, largely in control of the redistricting process after the 2010 census, who successfully gerrymandered districts across the country.

There are districts that LA Times political correspondent Ronald Brownstein calls "red pockets" — predominantly white-collar suburban seats held by Republicans in solidly Democratic metropolitan areas. But making gains in these districts won't be sufficient to take the House. Brownstein also writes of white-collar suburban seats ("Romneyland") in purple and even red states where Mitt Romney almost universally got a stronger vote than Donald Trump did in 2016.

The third is what Brownstein calls the "blue-collar blues": mostly blue-collar, non-urban seats in blue states, where Trump almost without exception did much better than Romney. These are upstate New York seats according to Brownstein like those held by John Faso, John Katko and Claudia Tenney who after Parkland said, "It's interesting that so many of these people that commit the mass murders end up being Democrats." It's in the `red pockets" that Brownstein sees the majority of Democratic gains.

If there is in his words "a suburban recoil from Trump in places like New Jersey; the Philadelphia suburbs in Pennsylvania; and Orange County, California," it can propel Democrats to the brink of a U.S. House majority: These are in the main districts that have more college graduates than the national average, and the majority of them went for Hillary Clinton.

Yes, a few blue-collar seats can possibly be won, for there is some erosion of Trump support among white working class women. Still most of those districts will continue to support him, for white men without a college degree remain the most committed part of his base, with Trump drawing more than 60 per cent approval from them in most states. And given that Trump's economic agenda, specifically his tax bill, benefits America's wealthy, not its blue collar workers, it's clear that the basis of their support for him does not primarily lie in his meeting their economic needs.

So for the Democrats to recapture the House they must generate a strong turnout from minorities and the young, the groups who are most alienated from Trump. Still, the young are especially hard to get out to vote in a midterm election. There are also blue-collar women in the Rust Belt and white -collar whites in the Sunbelt whose votes can be shifted.

Wag the tail scenario

It's looking more positive for the Democrats, but nothing is guaranteed. Given the chaos of Trump's reign, and the threat of the Mueller investigation, no one knows what could happen in the next few months. Trump and his new, bombastic national security adviser John Bolton could initiate a military attack against an enemy like North Korea, which would unify the country around him.

Still, the upcoming Democratic House primaries are crowded with candidates, with a record number of women running, most of them Democrats. A few of the primaries are clearly ideological contests between progressives and moderates. One of the more striking primaries occurred between antiabortion Chicago Democrat Rep. Daniel Lipinski, an old-time machine politician who refused to support Obama in 2012. Marie Newman, who liberal groups including NARL supported, challenged him. It was a tight race, but Lipinski eked out a victory. Many moderates are not right-wingers like Lipinski but more like Diane Feinstein, a long-term and effective senator who is also facing competition from a progressive, and is a true centrist.

My preference is for progressive candidates, but I am opposed to those who contest moderates that wield power and get things done in Congress, or those who are running in districts like that of Pennsylvania's Conor Lamb that no progressive could ever win.

The presidential election is a few years away, in 2020, but I received a glut of emails from potential Democratic candidates stating their position on issues ranging from gun control, to banking, to immigration. These hopefuls are also quietly fundraising and testing the waters among Democratic constituencies. They range from progressive populists like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders to a moderate liberal popular among white working class voters like Joe Biden, to younger, aggressively ambitious senators like Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, Chris Murphy and Kamala Harris.

There are also candidates like the very popular ex-Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Minnesota's Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who are not yet fully committed to the race, but would make excellent candidates.

It's a strong group of potential candidates, but one could find flaws in all of them. Some are too old, others relatively inexperienced, and others have only recently moved like Gillibrand from the political center to become progressives. The most significant question for the party is to decide who among them is able to reach white working class voters, suburban whites repelled by Trump, as well as the Democratic base. It's a neat trick, but if the candidate is sufficiently charismatic, and can promote a progressive agenda without alienating the support of voter blocs that will help him achieve victory, it is possible.

And given what the Trump year has so far wrought — it is imperative.

Leonard Quart can be reached at cinwtit@aol.com


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