WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats rolled out their message for the 2018 midterm elections Monday, vowing to focus on raising wages and creating jobs as they vie to reclaim majorities in the House and Senate.
In a press conference in rural Berryville, Va., top Democrats acknowledged they cannot merely oppose President Trump’s policies if they want to change their momentum after a challenging election cycle.
Instead they are pushing a strategy centered around the slogan “a better deal” that will include expanding job training programs, fighting back against high prescription drug prices and corporate mergers and boosting the minimum wage.
“This is the start of a new party,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. He added that “Democrats are unified” around the new series of proposals after years of highly publicized infighting between the progressive and moderate wings of the party.
The platform comes at a time when many observers believe the Democratic Party lacks a clear message. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that only 37 percent of Americans believe that the party stands for something. A majority of the voters surveyed said Democrats only stand for opposing Trump.
These numbers come on the heels of disheartening special election losses in Kansas, Montana and, most notably, Georgia, where Democrat Jon Ossoff was defeated by Republican Karen Handel despite leading in the polls ahead of election day. These losses all occurred in traditionally Republican areas, though Hillary Clinton narrowly won the Georgia district in 2016.
On Monday, Schumer noted that the party did not effectively lay out its own policies in recent election cycles. But he argued that the new message will change that.
“When you lose elections, as we did in 2014 and 2016, you don’t flinch, you don’t blink. You look in the mirror and ask, ‘What did we do wrong?’ The No. 1 thing we did wrong is not present a bold, strong economic agenda to working Americans so their hope for the future might return again,” Schumer said.
This includes a goal of “creating 10 million good paying jobs,” according to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
“We have focused on economic issues; we think that’s what the American people are most yearning about,” Schumer said. “That’s where the American people are hurting, and that’s what we most felt was missing in the past years, the last couple of elections. We all take the blame on that, I know I certainly do, but we have to get the focus back on the economy.”
Typically, the party out of power gets a boost in midterm elections, and this effect could be more pronounced at a time when Trump’s approval rating hovers around 40 percent.
But there are few strong opportunities to pick up seats in the Senate, and Democrats will be forced to defend members in strongly Republican states won by Trump in November, including North Dakota, West Virginia, Indiana and Montana.
The Democrats’ path to retaking the House, while far from a given, is clearer. There are 23 Republican districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016, including the district where their Friday messaging event was held, represented by Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va. Leaders say claiming victory in those areas will be a top priority.
But Democrats also face steep obstacles to retaking the House. In addition to more districts being gerrymandered to benefit Republicans, Democratic voters tend to be more densely packed in a fewer number of districts than their counterparts.
“While it’s early, there is no doubt that this district and so many others are up for grabs in the 2018 midterms,” said Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., and chair of the campaign arm of House Democrats. “But this won’t be easy, and Democrats can’t take anything for granted. As a matter of fact, we have a lot of work to do.”
Meanwhile, some Republicans rolled their eyes at the Democrats’ messaging event.
“Have you seen this creative, innovative, totally unique “Better Deal” messaging campaign coming the Democrats unveiled this morning for the 2018 cycle?” House Speaker Paul Ryan’s spokeswoman said in a statement, with a repeated tongue-in-cheek link to his own “A Better Way” plan.
“You might be thinking to yourself: That sounds familiar,” she continued. “I swear I’ve seen this message before. Maybe from House Republicans? Like maybe a year ago or so? I mean, who can say?”
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