Democrats have a delicate balancing act over the next 18 months to retain control of Congress, a reality made clear in a presentation Thursday by a veteran party strategist.
President Biden has focused his first few months on the passage of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, which he signed into law last week. That emphasis will not ebb, as Biden and Democrats plan to raise awareness about the benefits of the deal for much of this year and into the next.
As that happens, Congress will take up multiple big-ticket items. An effort to improve the nation’s infrastructure — which could attract Republican support — will sit alongside a bitterly partisan battle over voting rights and election laws. And that is where the tension lies for Democrats.
It’s critical for Democrats that they make sure voters know how the COVID relief bill helped them, but the new voters who helped Biden win the White House also want to see progress on racial justice issues.
Guy Cecil, chairman of Democratic super-PAC Priorities USA, said that the group he leads will spend most of its efforts this year promoting the rescue plan.
“Our job is to make [voters] understand that not one Republican lifted a finger to make this happen,” Cecil said of the COVID relief bill, which indeed received no votes from Republicans in either the House or Senate. “We’ll lean more heavily into that versus just straight advocacy for pending legislation.”
That reference to “pending legislation” would include something like the For the People Act, the Democrats’ signature voting rights legislation. Senate Democrats introduced the bill on Wednesday. The legislation passed the House March 3 on a party-line vote. But it cannot pass the Senate under current rules, which require 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.
There is talk of bringing back the “talking filibuster,” a requirement that those who seek to use it to block legislation they oppose would have to physically hold the floor of the Senate and debate the issue.
But Cecil’s presentation to reporters, which was based on polling that the group has done in key swing states, argued that the Democrats’ biggest edge is on economic issues that build on the belief among many key voters that Republicans “favor the wealthy.”
Cecil said this is also why the infrastructure issue is a political winner for Democrats. “We know we have some battles coming over taxes,” he said, as Congress debates how to pay for spending on roads, bridges and other projects.
“We have pretty strong numbers across the board in terms of how people are viewing the tax argument,” Cecil said.
This applies to the kind of white working-class voters who cast their ballots for Trump in large numbers over the past two elections, who lean right on culture war and racial issues but lean left on economics and favor raising the minimum wage or expanding health care.
On the other hand, Cecil made clear that Democrats have been taking the support of Black and Latino voters for granted, and that that has to change in the 2022 elections.
“Democrats for too long viewed Blacks and Latinos as voters for mobilization purposes,” Cecil said. “That no longer works. We need to understand that Black and Latino voters are voters that should be persuaded and mobilized.”
In the parlance of election professionals, a “mobilization target” is someone who is already going to vote for your candidate and just needs to be instructed on when and how to vote. A “persuasion target” is a voter whose support is not certain.
In the 2020 election, then-President Donald Trump increased his support among both Latino voters and Black voters, especially Black men.
Cecil said that in plurality Black precincts, if there was an increase in participation, Democrats did better there. But if participation was down, Democratic vote share declined.
In heavily Latino areas, if participation went down or even stayed flat, that benefited Trump in 2020, while an increase in new voters helped Biden.
“If Democrats don’t spend significant resources online communicating to new Biden voters, we will lose in ’22,” Cecil said. He emphasized that this messaging has to start now. “We must mobilize these people in 2022.”
The profile of a new Biden voter, Cecil said, is 57 percent female. The racial breakdown is 54 percent white, 21 percent Black, 17 percent Latino and 4 percent Asian. While 48 percent of these voters consider themselves liberal, 37 percent consider themselves moderate and 9 percent identify as conservative. The biggest slice, at 45 percent, is under 35 years old. And 62 percent do not have a college degree.
The good news for Democrats, Cecil said, is that these new Biden voters reported in overwhelming numbers that they plan to stay engaged in politics. Cecil said he hadn’t seen responses like that ever.
“There is a real opportunity for Democrats if we will focus on these voters going forward,” he said.
But “they want to see progress,” he added.
And 91 percent of these voters said that they “wanted to elect someone who would address racism and stand up for racial justice.”
But while the fight over voting rights is clearly one of the top issues for racial justice advocates, for now it appears that messaging from top Democratic firms like Priorities USA is going to be focused on touting progress made — like the COVID relief package and its benefits — rather than progress thwarted.
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