Underneath all the turmoil of the Democratic presidential race our headline seems the real issue for voters. Are the most leftist ideas in the field a bridge too far for the winning electorate? Or is a more measured approach failing to seize the public mood?
The answer may depend on where you live. Folks in New York City and Los Angeles and perhaps even Chicago seem to relish the ideas that moderate Democrats call extreme. In states like Wisconsin, where the voters may lean Democratic, the successful gerrymandering of a decade has locked the Republicans in legislative power -- despite a smart Democratic governor.
Individual voters who may passionately like the lefter the better are being pulled up short remembering they live in a country with Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell leading the baying pack on the other side of the divide. They fear that America has revealed itself as a country in which too many forgive moral cowardice and racism, thinking they are getting what they want despite the racism and cowardice. The underpinnings are beginning to strip the economy into failing pieces, but that is of no interest to those enamored of the surface prattle from the right.
In Wisconsin, party leaders are openly seeking Democrats for the legislature who fit the dozens of districts long controlled by the GOP. Flamethrowers not welcome because, the theory goes, they can’t win.
Interestingly, both the so-called moderates and the so-called leftists agree on the final goals – universal health care, expanded social security, higher wages, genuine concern for workers, progressive taxes that make the very rich dig even deeper, immigration reform with a path to citizenship, and on and on. The important differences are in how to get there and how quickly and how cost effective.
And there is not even general path agreement among the most progressive. “Medicare for all” is a term made popular by Bernie Sanders and embraced by other presidential candidates (Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Bill De Blasio).
But each candidate advocates something a little bit different. Several other candidates noted how private insurers play key roles in national health insurance in other countries. Sen. Amy Klobachur, flat in the polls, nevertheless has made inroads saying fixing the ACA is an essential first step to universal health care. (The differences continue in education policy though all are pushing for less costly (or no loan) higher education at public institutions.)
Former VP Joe Biden shaped the curve within the Democratic electorate, insisting that the most socially progressive are smart people but the country is not there yet, and that his first step – restoring the best of Obamacare – is where the voters stand.
Right or wrong, the way forward is not just a national question. It will determine the winning candidates particularly in crucial state elections that percolate under the presidential scene.
State upon state are forming interesting races for the US House and Senate that rely on voter attitudes and also feature some sellable names.
Former Marine pilot and Democratic moderate Amy McGrath has raised impressive money in a bid to defeat Senate leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky. Former astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of Gabby Giffords and a leading voice in sensible gun control, is attacking Arizona’s appointed Republican senator Martha McSally. In a New Mexico House race, a noted name from the past, Valerie Plame, exposed as a CIA agent by the Bush II administration, is running in a crowded field for the Democratic seat held by Ben Ray Luján, who is moving up to try and replace retiring Tom Udall as senator. On and on around the states there are races local newspapers are eager to write about.
But not so much are they crazy to write about races on the level of state-wide legislatures. It’s hard to get the media and the public interested, yet those races are even more critical for the Democrats.
Many states are fighting extreme partisan gerrymandering imposed by the Republicans that the conservative US Supreme Court, while expressing its disgust, suggests that only the US legislature can remedy. The high court refuses to. Obviously, given the moral cowardice of the GOP Senate, a legislative remedy won’t happen. It is actually a great incentive in November 2020 for Democrats high and low, elevating in importance local contests as well as getting rid of Trump.
Speaking to experts in state politics though, with more than half the states controlled by Republicans, they estimate that Democrats will have to punch 20% to 25% above their natural political weight to turn things around. (In 32 state legislatures, Republicans control 1,000 more seats than Democrats.)
“Like it or not,” said one Democratic leader in Wisconsin, “the bill we have for partisan-neutral redistricting is not going anywhere with this GOP and we will have to live within the existing gerrymandering.”
Democrats, those interviewed added, are still working out their election strategies since many districts controlled by Republicans do not yet have “a viable Democratic challenger.” Many leaders are concerned that efforts to turn Wisconsin’s Assembly and state Senate are not high among voter awareness.
The feeling of these political insiders is that the core minority sticking with Trump is abetted by the weakness to resist of elected Republicans. In that situation, the issue of how to rouse the voters into action differs from state to state, from rural to urban politics.
How far left is too left? That seems to depend on what you want – and what you can get.