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Joe Biden foresaw blue-collar voters slip from Democrat base

Democrats can’t say Joe Biden didn’t warn them.

Reeling from their election losses, Democrats are seeking answers to the core question of how to reclaim blue-collar voters who were once a key part of their base. Hillary Clinton had the worst showing among union households on Election Day for a Democratic candidate since 1984, when President Reagan won re-election in a landslide.

It was exactly the kind of performance that Vice President Joseph R. Biden feared, as Republican Donald Trump made big inroads with his pitch to blue-collar workers.

Time and again during the campaign, Mr. Biden sounded the alarm about Democrats in Washington losing touch with working-class voters. During the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July, Mr. Biden worried aloud that party officials had become elitist and were talking down to the middle class.

“The Democratic Party overall hasn’t spoken enough to those voters,” he said. “We have the right policies, but I don’t think we spend enough time — I know we’re running out of time.”

In August, the vice president, who speaks often of his birthplace in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and his middle-class roots, said the party was becoming swayed by Ivy League-educated young people who reminded him of the 1960s “limousine liberals.”

“The truth is we are not showing enough respect [to voters],” Mr. Biden said. “At its core, there’s a disconnect with some really, really, really smart, good, decent people who are with us and part of the larger Democratic younger elite, the millennial elite who don’t understand the middle class anymore.”

In October, about two weeks before the election, Mr. Biden said of blue-collar voters, “We don’t associate with their difficulty anymore.”

The vice president’s concerns were borne out on Election Day. Mrs. Clinton outperformed Mr. Trump among union households by 8 percentage points, the smallest Democratic advantage since 1984, when Reagan crushed Walter F. Mondale in a 49-state landslide.

In 2012, President Obama won union households by 18 percentage points over Republican Mitt Romney.

Brad Crone, a Democratic political consultant in North Carolina, agrees with Mr. Biden that Democrats “need to have a better connection with middle-class working families.”

During the fall campaign, Mr. Crone was struck with that realization as he watched a political television show that took viewers inside Mrs. Clinton’s campaign headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, where the candidate’s team was preparing for a “rapid response” to a speech by Mr. Trump.

“There wasn’t a single person in there who’s ever had to sweat a FICA payment,” said Mr. Crone, president of Campaign Connections in Raleigh, North Carolina. “There wasn’t a single person sitting around that table who’s ever had to fill out a Census Bureau small-business survey. They have no clue what small-business people put up with on a day-to-day basis. The Democrats have got to get back down to a level of being able to communicate with people on Main Street, not just Harvard Yard.”

Sounding the alarm

Mr. Biden wasn’t the only Democrat sounding the alarm. In February, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta received an email from Democratic political consultant Barbara Lee of Massachusetts warning that Mrs. Clinton’s economic message wasn’t strong enough for working families.

“The lack of a powerful enough economic message is contributing to losses of more independent voters, more blue-collar voters, and unmarried women in the primary and weaknesses among independent blue-collar voters, even women in the general,” Ms. Lee wrote. “Voters remain depressed about the economy, their own situation, and the future for the next generation. The women’s economic message of equal pay and child care is popular in polling, but it isn’t big enough to turn the economy around in voters’ minds.”

Those sentiments are at play postelection among Democrats in the House, where Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California is facing a leadership challenge from Rep. Tim Ryan of Youngstown, Ohio. Mr. Ryan is arguing that Democratic leadership hasn’t “focused on the economic issues that are so important to people in working-class places like Youngstown.”

“Our economic message clearly isn’t penetrating,” Mr. Ryan said on “PBS NewsHour” this week. “I think we need to be focused on these folks who live in areas like mine, where the median household income is $ 57,000 a year, which means a husband and wife are working and each making under 30 grand. The people in Middle America think that the Democrats are too close to the donor class and that they care more about the donor class than they do about the working class.”

He said Democrats must address manufacturing jobs in high-tech industries and in the renewable-energy sector while recognizing that “there’s a lot of people in communities that don’t want to get retrained to run a computer.”

“They want to run a backhoe, and they want to sling cement blocks,” Mr. Ryan said. “And so by rebuilding the country through a strong infrastructure program, we could put those people back to work, too.”

Mr. Obama, whose job approval rating has climbed to 57 percent, has expressed frustration that he has been pushing a similar agenda without success in Congress. The president asserted at a news conference Sunday that his priorities, including gun regulations and Obamacare, “garner majority support” in polls.

“And yet what’s been true during the course of my eight years is that does not always translate — in fact, too often it hasn’t translated — into working majorities either at the state level or at the federal level,” Mr. Obama said. “Democrats do have to do some thinking about how do we make sure that the message we have is received effectively and results in winning elections. This is something that I’ve been wrestling with throughout my presidency.”

Democratic debacle

Democrats have lost seats across the country almost since the start of Mr. Obama’s presidency. Since 2009, Democrats have lost 64 House seats, 13 Senate seats, 10 governorships and 11 state “trifectas” in which Democrats controlled the executive and legislative branches.

Nationwide, Democrats have lost about 900 seats in state legislatures, and for the first time in history, the party does not control a single legislative chamber in the South.

Former Sen. Jim Webb, a Virginia Democrat who briefly challenged Mrs. Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary, said the party has been turning off white working-class voters in rural areas of the country.

“Particularly over the last eight years, the Democratic Party has moved into interest group politics and in many cases white working people have become the whipping post,” Mr. Webb said on Fox News after the election.

Other centrist Democrats, such as Rep. Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota, worry that the party has become known among rural voters as the party of gay rights, abortion rights and gun control.

Privately, some Democrats worry that the contest for chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee will further hurt their standing with blue-collar voters if Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who is black and is the lone Muslim in Congress, wins the post.

Other top Democrats say the selection of Mr. Ellison would be a strong statement on behalf of racial and religious minorities who feel threatened by the presidency of Mr. Trump. During the campaign, the Republican proposed a temporary ban on Muslim immigrants.

Departing Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has endorsed Mr. Ellison as “a terrific leader and a strong progressive who knows how to get things done.” He said the DNC needs “new thinking and a fresh start.”

Some Democrats are concerned that the election has only sharpened the divide between the party’s progressive and centrist wings.

“The election has only empowered the liberal wing of the party to show its dominance,” Mr. Crone said. “I don’t think voters are willing to embrace a liberal agenda. They’re much more centrist. They’re much more practical than what the party would look like under Keith Ellison or [Sen.] Elizabeth Warren [of Massachusetts]. If the party wants to win again, they’ve got to develop a message that’s much more centrist, much more mainstream than some people in our party are willing.”

Source: www.washingtontimes.com stories: Politics

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