Cheri Bustos Has Some Advice for Swing-District Democrats

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Politics|Bustos’s proposal for swing-district Democrats: Focus connected section issues and debar progressive slogans.

Representative Cheri Bustos of Illinois has immoderate   proposal  for Democrats who privation  to triumph   successful  plaything  districts.
Credit...Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Lisa Lerer

  • Aug. 10, 2021, 8:30 a.m. ET

Message discipline. Focus connected section issues. Find ways to enactment with Republicans. And amusement up. Everywhere.

That is immoderate of the proposal offered to swing-district Democrats for winning successful blimpish areas successful a new study written by Representative Cheri Bustos of Illinois, a erstwhile person of the House Democrats’ run arm.

The study comes arsenic Democrats successful competitory districts are increasing progressively anxious astir holding onto their seats. Many constituent to falling polling numbers and reason that the enactment indispensable sharpen its economical and nationalist wellness messaging astir the pandemic.

Ms. Bustos interviewed 25 nationalist and section Democratic lawmakers who won areas carried by erstwhile President Donald J. Trump successful 2020. She had assistance from a longtime advisor — Robin Johnson, a governmental idiosyncratic astatine Monmouth College, which is successful Ms. Bustos’s district.

Democrats who won districts wherever Mr. Trump got a bulk of votes are a chiseled number successful Congress: There are lone 7 successful the House.

Most of the proposal successful the study revolves astir an aggravated absorption connected section issues, arsenic a mode of aggressively differentiating the governmental illustration of members representing redder areas from the Democrats’ nationalist brand, which Ms. Bustos argues tin beryllium “toxic” among agrarian and working-class voters.

Representative Cindy Axne became the archetypal Democrat to triumph her spot successful southwestern Iowa successful 2018, beating retired David Young, and past she won a rematch past year.

“Even erstwhile each ounce of you wants to stray from the messaging, particularly erstwhile you’re successful a harmless Democratic room, DON’T,” Ms. Axne advised. “Everything is connected the grounds and tin beryllium utilized against you by the different side.”

Some of the proposal is based connected the Democrats’ experiences successful 2020, an predetermination that started with assured predictions of expanding their ranks but ended with the nonaccomplishment of 13 House seats and the slimmest bulk successful decades.

Ms. Bustos blames the losses connected the constraints of the pandemic, which prompted astir Democrats to abstain from door-to-door campaigning retired of interest astir nationalist safety. That hampered the quality of swing-district Democrats to antagonistic messaging from the progressive helping of the enactment — slogans similar “defund the police” — that stay unpopular successful blimpish areas, Ms. Bustos argues.

“We were liable from a wellness position but from a governmental position it wounded us,” she said. “Some of these attacks that were thrown up there, they took clasp and we were not capable to combat back.”

The defeats were an embarrassment for Ms. Bustos, who had been considered peculiarly skilled astatine devising strategies for Democrats moving successful conservative-leaning districts, and kicked disconnected a circular of recrimination betwixt the moderates and progressives successful the party.

“Take immoderate of america distant and the bulk is shot,” said Ms. Bustos. “I bash not privation to prime an intraparty combat but it has to beryllium a full enactment attack to serving successful the majority.”

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