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How a Progressive Message Won House Seats

Advocating policies like Medicare-for-all, a significant expansion of Medicare, or a buy-in at age 55, Dems won in heavily blue and red districts

District 27 Democratic candidate Donna Shalala, center, celebrates her victory over Republican television journalist Maria Elvira Salazar in Coral Gables, Florida. (Photo: Emily Michot/Miami Herald via AP)

District 27 Democratic candidate Donna Shalala, center, celebrates her victory over Republican television journalist Maria Elvira Salazar in Coral Gables, Florida. (Photo: Emily Michot/Miami Herald via AP)

In my election-eve column on Tuesday, I suggested that we take a close look at Democratic candidates who ousted Republican incumbents, to see where a progressive message worked. Here are some early verdicts.

At this writing, according to FiveThirtyEight.com, there are 29 projected Democratic pickups, and another seven where Democrats are leading and likely to take the seat. Of these, 12 Democrats won in heavily Republican territory by advocating Medicare for all, a significant expansion of Medicare, or a buy-in at age 55.

They included former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala in Florida, Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania, who is now chair of the House Expand Social Security caucus, as well as Abigail Spanberger, who looks to have upset Dave Brat in the Richmond, Virginia, area, and Anthony Delgado in the Hudson Valley.

The point is that Democratic candidates made a progressive message win in all kinds of districts—hard-core Trump territory as well as suburban swing districts.

One other key takeaway from an election that was disappointing to Democrats in some respects: Democratic candidates won the popular vote for House candidates by about eight or nine percentage points. Were it not for gerrymandering, they would have won dozens more. Thanks to their pickup of several governorships and state legislative chambers, gerrymandering will not be as severe after 2020.

In addition, Democrats lost a number of seats because of voter suppression, in states like North Carolina, Georgia, Texas, Ohio, and Arizona. The only cure for this is an even bigger blue wave next time to take back more statehouses. 2018 showed that our democracy has been pummeled by Trump and his henchmen, but it still lives to fight on.

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Robert Kuttner

Robert Kuttner

Robert Kuttner is co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect magazine, as well as a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the think tank Demos. He was a longtime columnist for Business Week, and continues to write columns in the Boston Globe and Huffington Post. He is the author of A Presidency in Peril: The Inside Story of Obama's Promise, Wall Street's Power, and the Struggle to Control our Economic Future, Obama's Challenge, and other books.

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