One of the most significant questions facing Democratic candidates in House races this year is whether running against Donald Trump — something nearly every House Democratic candidate will promise to do — will be enough to secure victory. Can congressional hopefuls win over primary voters on criticism of Trump alone, as the party’s moderates suggest, or are the increasingly influential progressives right when they say Democratic voters demand something more?
The answer will shape general election matchups against Republicans in the fall and could complicate what many Democrats expect will be a wave election year.
“Opposition to Trump, that’s table stakes,” said Mark Longabaugh, a senior adviser to Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign. “From there, in many of these primaries and especially in Democratic-leaning seats especially, you’re going to have to have a bolder progressive agenda to put on the table, or it’s not just going to be enough. You’re going to get outflanked.”
The Merced Sun-Star reports that Democratic strategists fret that in such crowded primaries, the competition for votes will drive candidates further and further to the left as they try to stand out from the pack. Those concerns are most acute on issues such as single-payer health care and impeachment, issues where public support is relatively soft, but also extend to liberal priorities such as free college tuition and so-called “sanctuary cities” for undocumented immigrants.
For all the talk of a rising liberal movement within the Democratic Party, even some progressive strategists expressed reservations that their brand of candidate will have widespread success this year. Many House races are relatively low profile, lacking in local media coverage and with smaller pool of money available for TV ads and other media.
Those who win often do so because they raised the most money. Not every House primary might be primed for an ideologically liberal candidate, either.
Perhaps picking up all those GOP seats in Southern California won’t be so easy after all.