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- Moderate Democrats want flexibility to break with the party’s base on polarizing issues in order to be able to win in more conservative districts.
- Distancing themselves from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is another key component.
WASHINGTON – Many Democrats want breathing room for their candidates to break with both leadership and the base if they want to continue to win in moderate conservative districts across the US.
And their desire to break from the liberal orthodoxy is evidenced by Conor Lamb’s upset victory in the special congressional election in Pennsylvania on Tuesday night.
Lamb defeated Republican Rick Saccone in a GOP stronghold for a number of reasons: Overwhelming Democratic enthusiasm in a midterm cycle, facing off against an unappealing candidate, and more. But most importantly, Democrats on Capitol Hill said, is that Lamb was a unique fit for an otherwise conservative district.
“He wasn’t afraid to maybe break with some orthodoxy where he thought it would work in his district,” Connecticut Rep. Jim Himes told Business Insider. “And I think it’s indicative of the kind of room that our congressional candidates are gonna need in purple or red areas.”
Himes added that as more conservative and moderate Democrats sprout up across the country, those on the more progressive end of the party’s spectrum should avoid heavy criticism of candidates from the outside.
“I think Democrats’ first command has to be first do no harm,” Himes said. “Guys like Conor Lamb in districts that the president won by 20 points are gonna need room to say some things that in a place like Fairfield County, Connecticut would be problematic with the so-called base – not so-called base but the base.”
“Whether it’s 2nd Amendment or social issues, they’re gonna need room if they’re gonna win in more conservative districts and if we want to win a majority we’re gonna need to make sure to provide them with that room,” he added.
Wisconsin Rep. Ron Kind told reporters that “we need a big tent if we’re gonna be a governing coalition for this country again,” noting that like Lamb, President Donald Trump carried his district in 2016. Kind is part of the New Democrat Coalition (NDC), a group of younger, moderate Democrats in the House.
Kind added that the NDC would be adding eight more Democrats to its group on Wednesday, bringing the total to 68.
“And after this midterm, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re at triple digits of the coalition,” Kind said.
Asked about Democrats having enough leeway on polarizing issues like gun rights and opposition to abortion, House Democratic Caucus chair Joe Crowley said in a press conference on Wednesday that the party “always has been” a big tent.
“I think it’s something we should be looking at as well in terms of the future,” Crowley added. “But we are a big-tent party and we’re proud of that.”
Distance from Nancy Pelosi
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Lamb also made considerable efforts to distance himself from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a popular punching bag for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). The NRCC ran ads against Lamb telling voters he would be identical to Pelosi if he made it to the House, which other Republican groups piled on in the weeks leading up to Election Day.
Lamb took out an ad to remove himself from association with Pelosi.
“My opponent wants you to believe the biggest issue in this campaign is Nancy Pelosi. It’s all a big lie,” Lamb said in the ad released in February. “I’ve already said on the front page of the newspaper that I don’t support Nancy Pelosi.”
Being allowed to break from Pelosi should be allowed and encourage, according to Kind, who has been a vocal critic of the Californian’s leadership.
“I’ve been calling that for a number of years now that it’s time for new leadership in both parties quite frankly,” Kind said. “Because we’re stuck here. It’s so dysfunctional, it’s all top-down management. It’s not the way this institution is supposed to function and that starts with the leaders of both parties and that’s what needs to change.”
But top brass in the Democratic Party backed away from Republicans attacks on Pelosi. Crowley said the Republican strategy of linking candidates to Pelosi “is worn” and that she “has been an incredible leader for the Democratic Party and she continues to be.”
“The attempt here to nationalize it by the Republicans – I think they need to get a new gamebook,” Crowley said. “The attempts to use Nancy Pelosi is failing them at this point. And I think quite frankly it’s sexist. So they need to move on from that.”