How Dems Can Court Republicans without Becoming Republican-lite
In 2022, Dem candidates are appealing to Republican voter without compromising their Democratic values.
At a time when the Republican Party is trying to destroy democracy, take away people’s freedoms, and siding with every troll from Ye to Vlad, why are so many Democrats putting Republicans in their ads?
That is a totally fair question. But it says more about democracy than Democrats.
Technically, the key Senate and gubernatorial races are a home game for Democrats. With few exceptions, they are happening in states won by Joe Biden just two years ago. But (and this is a big but), Biden won those states by a small margin, and most of them are more conservative than the nation as a whole. In other words, victory depends on Democrats persuading some number of Republican-leaning voters to come over to our side.
This is no easy feat in a highly polarized political environment where the Democratic President’s approval ratings are improved but still underwater. But it can be done. In fact, it’s how Biden won in 2020. According to the Pew Validated Voter Study, Biden won six percent of Republicans — a two percent improvement from Hillary Clinton in 2016. These are small numbers, but in an election decided by 40,000 votes spread across a few states, they are the difference between victory and catastrophic defeat.
Mark Kelly, Mandela Barnes, Raphael Warnock, and the rest are trying to appeal to people who don’t love Democrats. And so are countless Democrats up and down the ballot. To win in the past, Democrats in Purple and Red districts ran against their own party and adopted mealy-mouthed centrist positions. This time around, our candidates are more deft. Here’s how they are appealing to Republicans without compromising their Democratic values.
Method #1: Create a Permission Structure
Anyone who has listened to Pod Save America over the years has heard us repeatedly (and annoyingly) use the term “permission structure.” We are Obama-era nerds; and David Plouffe, our former boss, imprinted this word onto our cortexes back in 2007 and 2008. In that campaign, we knew people liked Obama. They wanted to vote for him, but they hesitated to do so because they thought he was inexperienced or might be unable to win because he was a Black man. Whatever the reason, our campaign knew we needed to create a permission structure for voters to do what they wanted to do. For example, winning in very White Iowa gave many Democrats, who loved Obama but thought he might be unelectable, permission to vote for him.
Democrats running in Red states cannot win with Democrats alone. They need a combination of people who supported Trump, or people who supported Biden for President but are Republicans down ballot. They need people who disagree with them on core issues. This ad from Tim Ryan is a very good example of someone trying to create a permission structure:
Ryan is running in Ohio — a state Trump won by eight points in 2020. He is also running against J.D. Vance, a former venture capitalist, Big Tech enthusiast, and Hollywood producer doing a particularly piss poor rendition of MAGA karaoke. Lots of Ohioans can’t stand Vance. They see him as the fraud that he is, but they need permission to vote for a Democrat.
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