The Democratic base is excited that Congressional Democrats staged their sit-in last week in the House Chambers. The rest of America, not so much. But there is another group that should be not just not excited, but annoyed. These are the Democrats running in red to purple swing districts nationwide.
The Congressional map facing Democrats this cycle is daunting. Anti-Trump wave or not, Democrats have to net 30 seats to take back the House. They have low hanging fruit in Nevada, Illinois, Iowa and NY State. But even if they took every single competitive race in those 4 states they would only net 10 seats. This daunting map has always ensured that Democrats would have to take purple to red Congressional districts to regain the majority.
Now, Democrats have benefited from court ordered redistricting plans in Virginia and Florida. They will get a new majority-minority district in Virginia and they are set to gain 1-2 seats in Florida. That still leaves them with over 15 seats to take the majority.
This path to the majority runs through the Rust-belt, the West and the South in suburban and rural districts. These districts are unique and distinctive but they tend to be culturally and fiscally conservative making Democrats path to taking these seats with Clinton atop the ticket tricky.
Initially, Democrats were banking on the anti-Trump wave carrying many of their candidates to victory. These candidates would be free to distance themselves from the liberal national party. But, that has gotten harder as Clinton has doubled down on driving out her base for the general election. In other words, instead of pivoting, the Clinton campaign has become increasingly liberal in its policy positions.
Obviously looking to benefit from recent events the party quickly turned the Orlando terrorist attack into a debate over guns (Democrats lose in national security and terrorism debates). Looking forward to November, even liberal stalwarts such as Pelosi and Hoyer dropped fighting for an assault weapons ban and instead endorsed the more popular ideas of expanding background checks and denying people on the No Fly List from purchasing a firearm (due process be damned).
The electoral motivations mattered little to the party’s Congregational ideologues and led by Representative John Lewis, a number of House Democrats staged a sit-in of Congress last week. When Republicans tried to regain control of the Chamber they were shouted down. Don’t expect Republicans to forget this. Or their constituents.
There is just one problem with Democrats move. It destroyed the chances of the party regaining the House Chamber this cycle. It made the base happy and brought in donations to the Clinton campaign and DNC but it seriously hampered the chances of Democratic candidates running in the kinds of districts Democrats need to capture.
Now, endangered Republican incumbents in Minnesota, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin can run ads tying their opponents to Democratic leadership and the ideologues that want to take not just your guns but rights away. This is a particularly damaging argument for Democrats running in the Rust-Belt.
The region is culturally conservative by nature but has a predilection to vote Democratic at the Presidential level. While many voters in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Minnesota tend to be pro-gun, they still vote Democratic suggesting they are either fiscally liberal or struggle to fit into the GOP’s modern fiscal/socially conservative coalition.
Well, Republicans have just been given a gift. The Democrat’s most ideological members indicating they want their party to shift hard left on firearms and ban not just assault weapons but the very popular AR-15 as well. Not surprisingly, the move is unlikely to sit well with many of the region’s swing voters.
Further complicating the Democrats path to the majority is the about face of the Obama administration on firearms. Contrary to the claims of many conservatives and Republicans, the Obama administration has preferred to work with gun manufacturers to develop gun legislation. That has changed.
In a press conference held last week by Attorney General Loretta Lynch she made clear the White House was willing to go to bat over the issue. Probably because the Clinton camp had shown they were going to make it a major campaign issue and the White House needed to be on the same page.
Still, it is unlikely Clinton would do well in many of these districts. Trump’s appeal is strong in many of these areas and Clinton is toxic. Democratic candidates would have to emphasize their independence and conservative bonafides to voters to outrun her. They could do this because they could vow to return to their Congressional Caucus and fight for gun owners. It is harder to convince voters of that when your opponent is reminding voters that you are likely to be one of a lonely few in the ranks of an anti-gun party.