David Wasserman is among the best political analysts in the country and he is especially good on House races, his specific beat at the Cook Political Report. He has a new piece out on "Five Takeaways" from 2020 House races.
Friday, December 18, 2020
Democrats' Sad Performance in House Races in 2020--and Yes, "Defund" and "Socialism" Did Hurt Candidates
First, the results: they're not as bad as you think they were--they're worse!
"[I]n the House, Republicans nearly swept the 27 races in our Toss Up column and won seven races in our "Lean" and "Likely" Democrat columns. These included some big upsets: Republicans held every vulnerable seat in Texas, picked up four Biden/Clinton-won seats in California and even picked up two Miami area seats Clinton had carried by more than 15 points in 2016.
In 2018, Democrats won most of the Toss Ups and even four seats we had rated as "leaning" or "likely" Republican — not entirely dissimilar. But this time, instead of a strong majority, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is left with 222 seats and virtually no margin for error — especially with Reps. Cedric Richmond (LA-02), Deb Haaland (NM-01) and Marcia Fudge (OH-11) set to decamp for administration posts."
The only races where Democrats are still holding out hope are New York's 22nd CD, where Rep. Anthony Brindisi trails by 12 votes pending a court-ordered recanvass of votes, and Iowa's 2nd CD, where Democrat Rita Hart is contesting her GOP opponent's certified six vote margin before the House Administration Committee. Otherwise, 25 of the 27 Toss Ups broke to the GOP.
It's clear that we and others in our frenzied, polling-addicted sphere misjudged the down-ballot environment more than in any cycle in recent memory and must assess the polls' (and our own) blind spots before moving on."
And here's Wasserman on an important lesson from the results:
"Republicans' attacks on "socialism" and "defund the police" were potent - and Democrats didn't do enough to blunt them.
Throughout the cycle, Democrats rolled their eyes at Republicans' incessant ads on these themes. After all, a minuscule number of House Democrats actually identify as "democratic socialists" or have advocated reducing police funding.
But in a presidential cycle with plenty of voters who aren't immersed in the policy weeds, these attacks worked. In one ad, former GOP Irvine Mayor Beth Van Duyne was flanked by seven police officers and accused her opponent, Democrat Candace Valenzuela, of siding with "radicals" who want to "defund the police, end cash bail and release criminals."
Van Duyne ended up beating Valenzuela, who ran as the progressive in the Democratic primary, by a point - even though non-whites are now a majority in the suburban Dallas seat and Biden carried the district at the top of the ticket. Although Valenzuela's ads played up her advocacy of school safety on the school board, the damage was too much to overcome.
Relatively few Democratic challengers aired ads inoculating themselves against these attacks. Most chose to stay on "offense" on healthcare and COVID in their messaging. And, many paid the price. Says one GOP consultant, "In 2018, Dems were seen as normal. But after the rise of AOC, the primaries and 'defund the police,' it was easier to paint them as radical."
Democrats' genuinely progressive challengers fared the worst. Medicare-for-All proponents Kara Eastman and Dana Balter lost to GOP Reps. Don Bacon (NE-02) and John Katko (NY-24) by five and ten points respectively, despite Biden carrying both districts by seven points. The DCCC/HMP spent a combined $9.8 million on these two races.
Very few non-incumbent Democrats ran ahead of Biden in their districts, but one was Cameron Webb (VA-05), who touted support from sheriffs in his ads and flipped the script by accusing his GOP opponent of voting to cut police funding. He took 47 percent, two points better than Biden's 45 percent. Had all Democrats outperformed by that much, they would have gained a dozen seats."
Wasserman is probably a Democrat but I believe he's neither particularly left or center. He's just calls 'em as he sees 'em. And I think he's right.