I have spent every day since election night writing, deleting, and then re-writing this article, as I have attempted to determine what the proper takeaway from 2018 politics was. There is very little unity even within the Democratic Party about what narrative we sell, and what game-plan we run for 2020 (Believe me, the invisible primary is already heavily underway). I’ve struggled on what I want to learn from 2018, as seemingly safer races were lost, and long shots were won. Nevertheless, Democrats did what they needed to do, and created a great groundwork for the next presidential election.
Where democrats truly found their success, wasn’t in running far left candidates across the country irrespective of congressional district. Instead they succeeded in selecting candidates that fit the district. Though we may like to imagine Democrats across the country embrace social and fiscal progressivism the way we do here at Wheaton, the truth is they often don’t. Running moderate candidates in moderate districts is a lot like democratic policymaking. This isn’t to say the democratic party completely abandoned any flavor of progressivism, for there is no doubt that the progressive caucus will still have plenty of power in the house. However, at the end of the day, candidates like Bernie Sanders aren’t the right fit for places like the New Mexico Second. It isn’t flashy, it’s rarely sexy, but it is effective. By running these moderate candidates in much of the country, Democrats also reminded the Rust Belt and the Sun Belt that they aren’t a party of out-of-touch coastal elites, but in fact are also still representative of union workers in Michigan and Latinxs in Arizona. This is an imperative long term strategy for the party, since the democrats don’t have any road to victory in 2020 without one or both of these on their side in the electoral college.
As a college liberal, I’d be remiss if I didn’t end my analysis with the race that stole the nation’s attention, Beto O’Rourke. When the primaries began, I found my podcast feed filled with political analysts talking about the perennial dream, turning Texas blue. This is a fantasy Democrats have been dreaming about since the early 2000s. After all, what state better represents red blooded conservative values than Texas? However, Beto actually continued to outperform my expectations in poll after poll. His fundraising was nearly equivalent to a presidential campaign. I won’t say that I ever fully bought the narrative that he would win, but I definitely believed he could win. He may have lost, but quite frankly, it doesn’t matter. Beto brought Texas, a state infamous for its red hue, to within a three point game. While this likely is not going to be a recurring theme in Texas, it solidified lower down-ballot races for Democrats across the state, helping provide some liberal voice to the Texas statehouse and the court benches. This is an important takeaway from 2018. While the flashy candidates may not have won all their close races, the country still proved Democrats are widely supported, and set themselves up for 2020.