What Ga. and Pa. teach us is that middle-of-the-road wins elections for Democrats in swing states

Matt Yglesias has a good column up about lessons learned from the 2022 midterms and one of his chief arguments is a familiar one for anybody who follows him: Democrats are not going to win elections in conservative or conservative-leaning states by magically mobilizing some unseen progressive base that sits elections out.

Democrats are going to win in states with lots of conservative voters when Democrats are willing to very intentionally go after the votes of moderate Republican voters. And he starts by looking at Stacey Abrams’ blowout loss in Georgia — despite having an enviable get-out-the-vote machine — and how her loss can be explained in light of the fact that Warnock won (again) by appealing to middle-of-the-road voters who voted for Kemp but switched over to vote for Warnock:

I don’t think Abrams’ loss reflects poorly on her — I don’t see how any Democrat using any set of tactics could have beaten Brian Kemp in this midterm. It looked early in the cycle like a MAGA primary challenger might beat Kemp, in which case Abrams would have had a fighting chance and we could critique her choices.

But the fact that she lost badly is relevant context for Warnock’s win: he scored the plurality in the original election and won the runoff because a lot of Kemp voters voted for him. And if you look at how the down-ballot races went in Georgia, it’s clear that these aren’t just Brian Kemp superfans or people who have some huge problem with Stacy Abrams. The whole GOP ticket won, and the party controls both houses of the state legislature. As in all elections, a majority of Warnock’s voters were hardcore Democrats and a majority of Republicans voted for Herschel Walker, but the reason Warnock won is that a sliver of people who are otherwise party-line GOP voters backed him.

[Washington Post columnist] Perry Bacon, Jr. looked at these results and concluded that “Stacey Abrams didn’t win. But her ideas did.”

He then lists a bunch of Abrams-associated ideas that really were vindicated by the race, and it’s absolutely true that she was right to say in the wake of 2016 that Democrats had better odds of growing in Georgia than of winning back Ohio and Iowa. But I think it’s also indisputably true that along with the ideas Bacon attributes to her, Abrams is associated with the idea that Democrats could organize their way to victory. And that’s just not what happened.

There’s also not some huge mystery as to how Warnock’s campaign persuaded crossover voters. Especially in the runoff, his allies made direct appeals to Kemp voters urging them to vote for Warnock.

And obviously this worked in large part because Walker had a lot of serious flaws as a candidate. But Warnock’s campaign manager, Quentin Fulks, describes their deliberate efforts to court these voters.

“There could have been other campaign operatives or another campaign that could have said, ‘OK, Herschel Walker has all this baggage, so we’re just going to run to the left and just try to turn out as many of our voters and just let Republicans eat their own,” he told Bloomberg’s Sahil Kapur. “We didn’t do that.”

This idea of deliberately courting crossover voters is so banal that it hardly seems worth analyzing. But it really did go out of style in the wake of liberals’ shock and horror at the idea that anyone would vote for Donald Trump. Normally, when you lose an election, the first order of business is to figure out how to convince some of the people who voted for the other guy to change their minds next time. But lots of progressives found Trump so appalling that the idea of trying to do outreach to his voters was beyond the pale. Even though Hillary Clinton’s infamous analysis put only half of them in the basket of deplorables, there was very little interest in even trying to reach the other half. But there just isn’t some other way of doing politics.

I agree with much of what Yglesias says in this piece.

I am as blue as blue can be, and I think the life I lived mostly in Boston has inoculated me against even the idea of trying to appeal to any Republican voters. Especially in the Trump era.

But Georgia, Pennsylvania and other states are proving that fielding middle-of-the-road candidates, not offering up far left candidates who might magically get more liberal voters to the polls, is the way to win in statewide races in places where Democrats otherwise get creamed at the polls.

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