Democrats struggle to come up with 2018 election theme

Associated Press

NEW YORK (July 17, 2017) — House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley hesitated when asked about his party's core message to voters.

"That message is being worked on," the New York congressman said in an interview this past week. "We're doing everything we can to simplify it, but at the same time provide the meat behind it as well. So that's coming together now."

The admission from the No. 4 House Democrat — that his party lacks a clear, core message even amid Republican debates — highlights the Democrats' dilemma eight months after President Donald Trump and the GOP dominated last fall's elections, in part, because Democrats lacked a consistent message.

The soul-searching comes as Democrats look to flip at least 24 GOP-held seats necessary for a House majority and cut into Republican advantages in U.S. statehouses in the 2018 midterm elections. 

Some want to rally behind calls to impeach the Republican president over the allegations of possible collusion between Trump's campaign and the Russian government. Democratic leaders are reluctant to pursue that approach as it only energizes the GOP base. Others want Democrats to focus on the GOP's plans to repeal or revise Obamacare.

As Democratic officials debate their party's message, so do voters across America.

Just 37 percent of adults believe the Democratic Party "stands for something," according to a Washington Post-ABC poll released on Monday. Another 52 percent said the party "just stands against Trump."

For now, at least, Democrats are waging a tug-of-war largely between the Russia investigation and the GOP's attempts to gut the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

Several liberal groups that had been laser-focused on health care have intensified calls for impeachment in recent weeks, including MoveOn.org, Indivisible and UltraViolet.

"We need to be talking about impeachment constantly," said Scott Dworkin, co-founder of the recently formed Democratic Coalition Against Trump. He warned on Twitter, "If you're an elected Dem & you're not talking impeachment or 25th amendment then find a new party."

Yet one of the left's favorites, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, is focusing almost exclusively on health care.

Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Senate Democrats, said in an interview that "there should not be a rush to judgment" after emails released by Donald Trump's son this week revealed that Trump's top advisers held a meeting with a lawyer they were told represented the Russian government.

Democratic operative Zac Petkanas, who led Hillary Clinton's campaign war room, agrees that this week's developments in the Russia investigation shouldn't change the party's focus heading into 2018.

"Candidates need to be saying the word 'health care' five times for every time they say the word 'Russia,'" Petkanas said. He added, "I think it's a fundamental mistake to make this election a referendum on impeachment."

Many Democrats outside Washington insist they must go beyond opposing Trump and his policies if they expect to make major gains in 2018 and beyond.

"Democrats would make a mistake if we thought pounding Trump and not having an authentic message of our own is a winning strategy," said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper. "The message of Democrats has to be about issues that matter to people at their kitchen table."

 

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