Democratic midterm fears mount as policies fail to resonate with voters

At a virtual fundraiser late last month, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) shared a blunt assessment about the Democratic Party.

“Democrats are terrible at messaging,” she said, according to notes taken by one attendee. “It’s just a fact.”

The admission surprised some attendees for its frankness, but it’s a sentiment that is widely shared among other lawmakers, donors and party leaders. The concerns are growing more urgent as Democrats gear up for grueling midterm elections, in which most in the party expect to lose control of the House and many are also increasingly pessimistic about retaining a majority in the Senate.

Beyond a struggle to sell the nuts-and-bolts of legislation, there are deeper fears among Democrats that the party lacks a cohesive and convincing argument to win over voters in next year’s elections. Democrats are eager to tout the bills they have passed in President Biden’s first year, but a strategy tying together the disparate pieces of legislation — from lowering the cost of child care and eldercare to combating climate change to building roads and bridges — is still lacking.