Soul-searching House Democrats look for reasons for losses

Soul-searching House Democrats look for reasons for losses
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who led phone-in review of the Democratic party’s disappointing results from Tuesday’s election (J Scott Applewhite/Pool/AP)

House Democrats have cast blame for their disappointing US election results on their main message, their tactics on the ground, and their leadership under Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s team after expectations for major wins came crashing down in Tuesday’s poll.

Among reasons put forward during a three-hour caucus call on Thursday were that the Democrats:

– focused too narrowly on health care, when voters were also worried about the economy;

– failed to fight back when Republicans labelled them “socialists” aligned with the party’s most liberal firebrands;

– did not knock on doors to meet voters, focusing instead on phone calls, digital outreach and TV ads, due to the health risks of campaigning during the pandemic;

– lost Latino voters in some places, and white, working class men in others;

– did not pass more Covid aid through Congress when Americans needed help most.

The Democrats’ Joe Biden may be poised to take the White House, but his party has been left to reflect on disappointing election results elsewhere (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Perhaps most importantly, Democrats are coming to grips with the fact that whether President Donald Trump is re-elected or defeated by Joe Biden, they still have problems understanding and winning over Trump voters.

Democratic politicians unloaded during the caucus call, with some 30 members putting their views.

Representative Abigail Spanberger, in a tight race in Virginia, spoke with “passion” about the party’s campaign failures, according to a person familiar with the private call and granted anonymity to discuss it.

No one spoke against Ms Pelosi, who tried to remind them that they did in fact win: Mr Biden is on the verge of replacing Mr Trump, and House Democrats are on track to keep their majority, according to another person familiar with the call.

“We did not win every battle but we did win the war,” Ms Pelosi said.

But there were plenty of complaints to go around — over faulty polling, Republican attack ads — as expectations had been raised sky high for election night gains and that made the setbacks all the more disorienting.

Rather than bolstering their majority, as planned, Democrats lost a handful of new representatives who had just won in a 2018 midterm election backlash against the president. They also failed to add to their ranks as Republicans defeated one Democratic challenger after another.

Asked what went wrong, one Democratic strategist granted anonymity to run through the list of shortcomings, said: “All of the above.”

Money, with the onslaught of campaign cash flowing to Democrats in an anti-Trump revolt, was the one thing on their side. But money alone was not enough.

Key Democrats said the GOP attacks against them as wild-eyed “socialists” were damaging, as were some of the party’s most liberal proposals.

They cited the “defund the police” movement that calls for shifting law enforcement resources to social workers and other ways of resolving conflicts. It gained prominence last summer after police killings of black people, including George Floyd, sparked a nationwide reckoning on racial injustice.

The Democratic party needs to clearly push that we are not supportive of ideas like socialism or defunding the police or anti-Semitism

Representative Stephanie Murphy

Democrats also were criticised this year as insufficiently supporting Israel because of liberal proposals helping Palestinians.

“I think that the Democratic party needs to clearly push that we are not supportive of ideas like socialism or defunding the police or anti-Semitism,” said representative Stephanie Murphy.

Several Democrats said the “socialist” label particularly harmed representatives who lost seats in Florida with its vast Cuban and Venezuelan communities who largely reject socialist ideologies.

Ms Murphy said the House leadership team was putting “lipstick on a pig” by touting the overall election outcome as a success.

“This playing footsies with socialism is not going to win over most of America,” she said. “There’s no amount of lipstick that can cover up the fact that these far left ideas are costing us races.”

But progressive ideas were also defended on the call, said another person granted anonymity to discuss it.

Other Democrats argued it was always going to be difficult to defend the House majority. It was won in 2018 with more women and minority candidates in history, reaching into districts Trump had won in 2016. Holding onto those seats would be tougher once the president was back on the ballot.

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