But the politics of winning the Senate are running into a buzz saw of progressivism on the presidential campaign trail. To win GOP-leaning states like Arizona, North Carolina, and Georgia, Democrats can’t afford to have an outspoken liberal as the face of the party. These states are uniquely sensitive to the ideological positioning of candidates. Moderates, like Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have shown the ability to win in tough circumstances. Meanwhile, an analysis by Third Way found that the only two swing-district Democrats whose campaigns or surrogates ran ads promoting government-run health care in 2018 were Kara Eastman in Nebraska and Dana Balter in New York—who both lost despite the Democratic wave.
Asked if a progressive candidate like Elizabeth Warren could hurt downballot Democrats, Senate Majority PAC president J.B. Poersch responded on C-SPAN’s Newsmakers: “It feels as if voters are looking for an alternative to Donald Trump, and I think they’ll find it in this process.” The generic assurance wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of Warren’s potential coattails.
Privately, Democratic strategists are more anxious, worried that any presidential nominee’s calls for Medicare-for-All and the decriminalization of border crossings will be damaging in the Republican-leaning states where so many pivotal Senate races will be fought. Red-state Senate candidates are currently able to promote poll-tested platitudes about their views on health care and immigration. They’ll find themselves constantly on the defensive if the socialist-minded musings of Warren and Bernie Sanders become the official Democratic Party doctrine.