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11/7 Takeaways: Democrats Did Good ... But, They'll Need Better in 2024
Trump's ongoing toxic brand, the inability of House Republicans to show any capacity for basic governance, and the GOP's overall distaste for democracy and diversity draw an electoral backlash.
Charles D. Ellison | Publisher’s Riff
It seemed interesting to many of us keener observers how American mainstream media became over-consumed by constant, non-stop, fairly 24/7 coverage of the Israel-Hamas war. Not that it’s not an important and critical event to keep track of (because, if not managed properly - along with Ukraine and Taiwan - it could result in World War III) but, it occurred at a very critical moment for American media consumers when there was a need for their focus on and participation in very critical state and local elections nationally. Indeed, we didn’t see any significant news coverage of these major state and local elections this past Tuesday until pretty much the day before and the day … barely. Headline focus stayed squarely on events unfolding on the Gaza strip, as if the war was being executed in the U.S. and as if certain populations in the U.S. should be more concerned about it than the more direct and potentially dangerous consequences of electoral outcomes to them at home.
We grabbed a number of key takeaways from last night’s state and local election results that everyone should be paying close attention to as we head into Election 2024 …
Democrats did superbly well on Tuesday, and in some respects better than expected due to the low expectations set by cynical pundits bracing for Democratic losses in key races. Instead: they maintained their hold on the Governorship in Kentucky, they managed to inflict major blows on Republicans in Virginia by taking over the entire General Assembly, ballot initiatives on abortion and legalized marijuana were approved in Ohio, they rolled over Republicans in crucial Pennsylvania state Supreme Court, Commonwealth and Superior Court races, while they expanded their majority in New Jersey. In addition, Democrats locked in state and local victories elsewhere, from mayoral races in Indianapolis and Philadelphia to now split control in Kentucky and Virginia to County Executive and Boards of Elections wins in key battlegrounds such as Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Based on Tuesday night’s results, it is very easy to conclude that there are serious and very damaging problems with the Republican brand, which can’t wrestle itself from Trump’s toxic personal brand.
What we’re also leaving out in this conversation: The toxicity of House Republicans as they’re inability to manage a chaotic House Speakership transition from Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to Mike Johnson (R-LA) while steering us all even closer to the 22nd federal government shutdown since 1976. Meanwhile, they’re all in on impeaching President Biden on repeatedly unproven allegations. Republicans are showing lots of capacity for destroying democracy, but not much - if any - at all for basic governance.
As a result, Democrats - Biden included - should have started much earlier in the negative framing of Trump rather than relying on a once crowded Republican presidential primary field to do it for them.
Republicans are completely stunned by last night’s results and are, already, beginning to say the quiet part out loud about their collective distaste for democratic institutions and norms. As former Republican governor Rick Santorum said on Newsmax: “… pure democracies are not the way to run a country”
Still: Will Democrats maintain this same level of momentum heading into 2024? If not, Tuesday’s gains, in many respects, would be all for naught.
The other thought: is it that Trump is very toxic, scary and repulsive to voters? Or, is it that Biden - contrary to all the disastrous polling showing him losing against Trump - really doesn’t have that much of an image problem? Were voters in state and local elections even drawing associations to national figures like that?
Yes: abortion rights is a very powerful issue for Democrats to use, especially as they head into 2024, as they used it effectively on Tuesday. But, how much more will it resonate as an issue in presidential, Congressional and Senate elections once Republicans now have enough time to recalibrate their message in the wake of these devastating state and local losses?
Still, we have to ask: Will Democrats overuse the abortion issue at the expense of raising other issues? It’s a question more observers need to ask. Heading into 2024, Democrats can’t take what is perceived as the electorally easier way forward when other issues are ranked just as high and more important, especially to specific groupings of voters. Take these Economist/YouGov polls for example …
The other key question we don’t have answered yet: How did Black voters perform on Tuesday? How motivate and critical were they in states like Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia? We’d like to see those results given enormous worries over Black voters and potential voters pulling away from Biden and Democrats. But, we did see signs of the potential for reversal, where in deeply red former Jim Crow states like Mississippi Black voters turned out so heavily in that gubernatorial race that they almost unseated incumbent GOP governor Tate Reeves - despite the fact we’re seeing credible evidence of voter suppression that requires immediate investigation. Did Black voters lash back in the Kentucky governor’s race, despite the fact that the GOP nominee was Black, for political revenge over tragedies such as Breonna Taylor? How key were they in Ohio and Pennsylvania?
Democrats will need to look carefully at Black voter performance, especially in places like Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania and elsewhere to explore what can motivate them in 2024. It’s not abortion alone, especially when they’re identifying economic issues such as inflation, jobs, healthcare, civil rights, guns and climate (in that order) as top issues … but, abortion shows up at the bottom for them.
In other good news: We have another Black state House speaker. There are now a total of seven, as Don Scott becomes Virginia’s first Black Speaker of its House of Delegates.