Politico: Yes, Dems really getting worried about midterms now

Should they be? As much as they bragged about coasting to a new House majority over the last several months, the sudden and repeated hits on the panic button might give observers whiplash. Politico reports that dissension has grown in the ranks as polling has reversed itself not just on the generic Congressional ballot but on the economy and Donald Trump himself.

All of this is cause for concern — but is it a trend, or a temporary blip?

Now many Democrats say they’re watching nervously as polls start to trend in Republicans’ favor — and worry they’re witnessing the beginning of a slow-motion train wreck that they have no idea how to stop.

There are still widespread disagreements within the diverse 193-member caucus about what campaign message Democrats should rally around in the final months before the midterms and even who should be the party’s chief messenger. …

“People get caught up in the anti-Trump messaging. That’s what the messaging has been,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.).

“The Democrats focus so much on Trump and the carnival that is around him that we don’t spend enough time talking about who we are and what we will do if the voters give us a chance in the majority.”

Polls have shifted in the GOP’s favor, but that’s in part because of the hysteria Democrats whipped up ahead of the tax-reform bill. That increased their generic-ballot gap advantage to 13 points in the RCP average, but the positive impacts of the bill have sapped that momentum. As John noted last night, the tax cuts now draw majority support from American voters, despite the hysterical claims that it would literally kill people.

So far, though, generic ballot polling seems to have stabilized with a Democratic lead between six and seven points. That doesn’t portend a major wave election, but it doesn’t necessarily preclude a majority either. Democrats have both a structural advantage in such polling and a structural disadvantage in House elections — namely, their base is limited to the urban-coastal cores where they already hold seats. They only need to flip two dozen seats to take over the House, and the Pennsylvania Supreme  Court made that task easier:

Pennsylvania’s high court issued a new congressional district map for the state’s 2018 elections on its self-imposed deadline on Monday, potentially giving Democrats a boost in their quest to capture control of the U.S. House unless Republicans are able to stop it in federal court.

The map of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional districts is to be in effect for the May 15 primary and substantially overhauls a congressional map widely viewed as among the nation’s most gerrymandered. …

Still, the new map likely gives Democrats a better shot at winning seats in Philadelphia’s heavily populated and moderate suburbs where Republicans had held seats in bizarrely contorted districts, including District 7 which has been labeled “Goofy Kicking Donald Duck.”

“It snakes across five different counties, spreading from the suburbs in Montgomery County, northwest of Philadelphia, down to the state line in Delaware County (but skirting around the City of Chester), and then west to Chester County, north to Berks County, and even over to a few bits of Lancaster County,” according to Fair District PA.

The Supreme Court declined to intervene earlier in the case, but that was before the Supreme Court drew the new map themselves. That may prompt a stay, as the Supreme Court is already deciding whether courts have jurisdiction over redistricting disputes when the issue is partisan representation rather than immutable characteristics such as ethnicity. If this map stands, it will give Democrats a head start on flipping the House.

The problem for Democrats will be reaching out to other districts where their message has not succeeded in years. And some Democrats think that it’s not just the message, but the messenger too:

“We should be winning the tax-cut argument, not losing it,” said Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas). “Republicans making headway is evidence we need to do a much better job at it.”

Vela suggested that Massachusetts Rep. Richard Neal, ranking member on the Ways and Means Committee, should be Democrats’ lead messenger against the tax bill, not Pelosi, given Republicans’ reliance on her as a campaign cudgel.

Other Democrats say the problem is not necessarily Pelosi herself but how she has chosen to combat the GOP tax law. The minority leader described benefits to the middle class — such as pay bumps or bonuses handed out by businesses after its passage — as “crumbs” compared with the tax breaks corporations received.

Most of the worry about Nancy Pelosi can be summed up in the old “Republicans pounce” cliché. They see her as a lightning rod exploited by Republicans, rather than the real problem — which is that Democrats continue to choose an extremist snob as their party leader. She’s lost them four straight Congressional elections, so why have they kept her in power? Most voters will conclude that, no matter how they massage their message in the district, their choice of leader speaks vastly louder than their words.

Until Democrats figure that out, they’ll keep hitting the panic button and keep losing elections they should win.