Democrats face a crossroads after two successive defeats in national elections. Should they broaden their appeal by moderating their policies, or should they pander to their activist progressive base, fired up by Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primaries? The results in yesterday’s contests show that Democrats have decided to double down on populist socialism, especially in Pennsylvania. Four candidates formally endorsed by a socialist party won nominations to state legislative seats, and at least two of them will win in November by default:
Four Democratic candidates backed by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) won primary elections for legislative seats in Pennsylvania on Tuesday.
In the Pittsburgh area, Summer Lee and Sara Innamorato, Democrats who are both members of the DSA, won primaries for state House Districts 34 and 21.
Lee and Innamorato defeated state representatives Paul Costa and Dom Costa, both Democrats. They do not have Republican opponents in the general election.
One might shrug that off by noting that state legislative races offer more potential for fringier candidates, especially in one-party-dominant districts. And that would be correct, but it also demonstrates in these one-party-dominant districts that the direction of the party in the absence of competition is not heading towards moderation. One could just as easily ask why Democrats couldn’t find successful candidates that hewed closer to Tim Ryan than Bernie Sanders for those seats.
Besides, that’s just the appetizer. Politico reports that Democrats may have more headaches in Pennsylvania in House races than they anticipated, thanks to a few unpleasant surprises from their primaries. And it’s not just in Pennsylvania where they may have blown an opportunity or two:
If last week’s primaries focused on GOP efforts to maintain or expand their majority in the Senate, the second big primary night of 2018 was all about Democrats and their chances to win back the House this November. And in both Nebraska and Pennsylvania, Democratic voters picked nominees for battleground seats that the national party didn’t expect — and may not have wanted.
In Nebraska, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee wanted former Rep. Brad Ashford as its nominee for an Omaha-based seat. But Tuesday night ended with liberal Kara Eastman, a social worker, proclaimed the winner by more a thousand votes. …
Moderate Democrats got a rude awakening on Tuesday night. Aside from Ashford in Nebraska, Northampton District Attorney John Morganelli, another centrist who drew a challenge from the left, lost. …
Another moderate candidate in Pennsylvania, Rachel Reddick, also lost to “proud progressive” Scott Wallace. The self-funding millionaire drenched the airwaves with TV ads that attacked Reddick for recently being a registered Republican.
Ashford, meanwhile, held nearly all the advantages of incumbency in Omaha: high name recognition and party support, named to the DCCC’s “Red-to-Blue” list of favored challengers. But Eastman, a first-time candidate, harnessed liberal energy to beat Ashford in a district that the former congressman lost to Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) in 2016.
Thanks to Pennsylvania’s redrawn congressional district map, Democrats may well win these races anyway, but the shift to the progressive extreme complicates matters. The upset win for Eastman in Nebraska likely ends any hopes of winning the seat back from Bacon. Nebraska’s 2nd CD has an R+4 Cook index rating, and it narrowly went for Donald Trump in 2016, 48/46.
It’s still early in the primary season and may not translate into other red or purple states where Democrats hope to flip House seats. Combined with their falling support in polls and Trump’s slowly improving job approval numbers, though, the midterms may well end up being fought over Democratic extremism rather than Trump’s performance — and give the same result Nancy Pelosi has gotten in four previous national elections.