I suppose it would be wrong to say that Frank Bruni recently parachuted into New York State's 19th Congressional District -- it's a couple of hours' drive north of New York City -- but he seems to have spent a few brief moments in the district and come away with the conclusion that Democrats are probably dooooomed.
But first, Bruni takes a quick glance south:
From the scandalous look of the last week, dominated by James Comey’s testimony, Democrats are beautifully positioned to trounce Republicans wherever Republicans are trounce-able. But the party has done an ace job of sabotaging itself before. The 19th District, also known as the Hudson Valley, tells that story well.
So could Georgia’s 6th District, the Atlanta suburbs where a fiercely contested special election — the most expensive in the history of House races — concludes on June 20. If the Republican, Karen Handel, emerges victorious, it will in part reflect the shortcomings of her Democratic opponent, Jon Ossoff. At 30, he has an underwhelming résumé and occasionally callow air, and lives near, but not in, the district that he’s vying to represent.
Yes, but Ossoff is also trying to run as a Democrat in a district that the Cook Political Report rates as R+8, a district where Republican Tom Price consistently won more than 60% of the vote in House races before being chosen to be health and human services secretary. If Ossoff loses, it may just be because Republicans aren't "trounce-able" in his district. (The New York district Bruni visited, the 19th, is only R+2, according to Cook.)
Here's Bruni talking about the general state of the party:
Next year, Democrats should pick up many seats in Congress, given the usual midterm correction and the unusual melodrama in the Trump administration.... But that presumes that Democrats can get their act together.
They’re still not sure how much of Trump’s victory had to do with Hillary Clinton’s flaws versus the party’s poor grasp of America....
Translation: poor grasp of white working-class America. Because, as we've all learned in recent months, the rest of America isn't really America. (Never mind the fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by about 3 million.)
They’re still not sure how much of Trump’s victory had to do with Hillary Clinton’s flaws versus the party’s poor grasp of America, and the more they focus on the former, tattling for the tell-all book “Shattered” and then tittering over its revelations, the less they own up to the latter.
I love this about the liberal-bashing liberals in the media. First they say, "Read Shattered because otherwise you'll continue to labor under the pathetic delusion that Hillary Clinton was an acceptable candidate." Now Bruni says, "Stop reading Shattered because it's making you labor under the pathetic delusion that the 2016 loss was all Hillary Clinton's fault."
More about the Democrats from Bruni:
They’re still searching for a concise, coherent message. They’re still feuding: the Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren wing versus the moderates.
Warren endorsed Clinton, but whatever.
And they’re still indulging in elitist optics at odds with the lessons of 2016. Although new research commissioned by Priorities USA, a Democratic super PAC, concluded that many Obama-to-Trump voters believed that Democrats are out of touch with less affluent Americans, a recent, high-profile Democratic brainstorming session in Washington was held at the opulent Four Seasons Hotel.
Yes, because you know what Joe Lunchpail thinks when he gets in the voting booth: I was planning to vote for the Democrats. But then I read about a Democratic strategy session at an upscale hotel -- because the first thing all white working-class people read in the paper every day is news about party strategy sessions -- and I said to myself, "That's it, I'm voting for the party led by this guy."
Bruni is not off base when he notes that Democrats chose congressional candidates poorly in 2014 and 2016. The 2014 choice was Sean Eldridge, who had no roots in the area and who essentially hoped to buy the seat -- his husband, Chris Hughes, is a Facebook multi-millionaire. Zephyr Teachout, who ran in 2016, was smarter and a better candidate, but her focus wasn't local and she also didn't have roots in the area.
But 2018 will be different. The winner of that 2016 race, Republican John Faso, is backing the wildly unpopular Trump/Ryan/McConnell tax cut for the wealthy disguised as a health care plan. He's being assailed for this support in the district.
Stop right there, says Bruni:
But health care wasn’t a bridge to victory in the recent special election in Montana. Maybe that’s because of the state’s conservative bent, or maybe Democrats need to recalibrate.
Maybe that's because of the state’s conservative bent? The statewide congressional district in Montana is R+11, According to Cook. It's amazing that was ever a race.
Oh, but Democrats might pick a bad candidate anyway, says Bruni. Here's the guy with the biggest war chest:
There’s Antonio Delgado, a Democrat who has reported $300,000 in campaign donations. He has a dazzling academic background, including a Rhodes scholarship and a Harvard law degree. But that may be less persuasive to the district’s voters than the fact that he works for the Manhattan-headquartered firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, which is synonymous with high-priced influence and high-stakes lobbying. Until a move to Rhinebeck, N.Y., just months ago, he lived in Montclair, N.J.
But he grew up in nearby Schenectady. His parents worked for the city's best-known employer for much of the twentieth century, General Electric. His wife grew up in the district. Umm, he's not white, and that may be a problem, but I'm getting an Obama feeling from this campaign video:
Bruni portrays him as a carpetbagger, which is curious because Faso, the incumbent, grew up far from the district, on Long Island. He attended high school in Queens, went to college up near the Great Lakes, got a law degree at Georgetown, worked in D.C. government jobs, and then moved to the area precisely so he could run for office:
After law school, Mr. Faso took county and state political jobs in Washington, but all the while he was thinking about a run for elective office in New York. In 1983, the Fasos bought a fixer-upper in Kinderhook, in Columbia County outside Albany, purposely choosing a district of a longtime assemblyman, Larry Lane, whom Mr. Faso wanted to replace. He did estate and real estate work at Rapport, Meyers, and soon enough, in 1986 the Assembly seat came open.
He won that race and became a state legislator. I guess it OK to be a carpetbagger if you were a carpetbagger a long time ago. (Greg Gianforte won that Montana race despite his New Jersey roots.)
Could Democrats screw up the NY-19 race? Sure. Is it inevitable? No. A story elsewhere in the Times suggests that the party is hopelessly doomed because of an ideological split:
The growing tension between the party’s ascendant militant wing, and Democrats in conservative-leaning terrain, where the party must compete to win power in Congress, was on vivid, split-screen display over the weekend: in Chicago, where Senator Bernie Sanders led a revival-style meeting of his progressive devotees, and in Atlanta, where Democrats are spending colossal sums of money in hopes of seizing a traditionally Republican congressional district....
It may be essential for Democrats to reconcile the party’s two clashing impulses if they are to retake the House of Representatives in 2018....
In a special election that has become the most expensive House race in history, Mr. Ossoff, a 30-year-old former congressional aide, presented himself as essentially anti-ideological. Greeting suburban parents near a playground and giving a pep talk to volunteers, he stressed broadly popular policies like fighting air and water pollution and preserving insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.
Bucking the left, Mr. Ossoff said in an interview that he would not support raising income taxes, even for the wealthy, and opposed “any move” toward a single-payer health care system. Attacked by Republicans for his ties to national liberals, Mr. Ossoff said he had not yet given “an ounce of thought” to whether he would vote for Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, in a future ballot for speaker.
His own race, Mr. Ossoff told supporters, was about “sending a message to Washington.” But that message, he said, was about “decency and respect and unity, rather than division.”
Do I love that message? No -- but I don't live in Ossoff's district. It may the right message for that district.
But the party is so hopelessly split that Ossoff is struggling to get backing, right? Um, no:
The tension between Mr. Ossoff’s message and the appetites of the national Democratic base has not appeared to hinder his bid for Congress. He has raised more than $23 million, an astonishing sum, largely in small online donations from Democrats seeking to put a dent in the Republicans’ House majority. Several polls over the last week showed Mr. Ossoff leading his Republican opponent, Karen Handel, though both parties agree that the race remains a tossup.
So, despite this seemingly irreconcilable party split, Ossoff is raising money like crazy, and doing it the way Sanders did, via small donations. And it's quite possible he's winning.
Look, I'm a pessimist about a lot of things. But I don't think Democrats have to be perfect to win -- certainly not right now -- nor do I believe that most Democratic voters are focused on ideological litmus tests. Yes, the loudest ones are, but they're a minority. We can still win elections, particularly at this moment.
Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog