Looking for electability in all the wrong places

By Jessica Tarlov, Opinion Contributor, The Hill

We are getting more and more information about the 2020 race for the Democratic nomination by the day. In a matter of hours on Monday, we saw two surveys with vastly different results. Monmouth University’s poll showed a virtual three-way tie between former vice president Joe Biden and Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Results from Morning Consult and Politico were much more in line with recent findings: Biden holds a more than 10-point lead over the second-place candidate.

There are issues with the methodology of the Monmouth poll, which sampled fewer than 300 Democrats. Additionally, the Monmouth poll's margin of error is over 5 points and, even though the findings fall in line with a recent Economist/YouGov poll that put Biden at 22 percent, Sanders at 19 and Warren at 18, it is out of step with the others — which the Monmouth poll's director acknowledged in a statement. Both of Wednesday’s USA Today/Suffolk University and Quinnipiac polls confirmed that Biden maintains his very real — and durable — lead over Warren and Sanders.

The upshot? The Biden and Warren campaigns must be very happy.

The question of electability still tops the list of concerns for many voters. It remains the most powerful argument for Biden’s candidacy and one that isn’t hurting Warren as much as it had been. In an Economist/YouGov poll, 65 percent of Democratic voters said Biden would “probably beat Donald Trump” — the same percentage that believed this in June. But Warren experienced a 14-point jump, to 57 percent who said she could beat Trump.

As David Drucker reports in the Washington Examiner, Warren supporters are becoming more dug in when it comes to her electability. It’s becoming more commonplace to hear folks say, “No one knows who can win” — a commentary on many Democrats’ unhappiness with Biden as the presumptive nominee and a nod to the disappointment they still feel from Hillary Clinton’s shocking 2016 loss.

But there are some folks who know who can win because they’ve done it themselves. The 30+ Democrats who flipped seats from red to blue in the 2018 midterms are very much the key to the puzzle. It would seem they would know better than anyone else what “electability” really means and how far a liberal agenda can go in purple and red districts.

To this end, members of the New Democrat Coalition, the largest ideological caucus in the House, sent a letter to the Democratic presidential candidates requesting individual meetings with them. New Democrats were responsible for winning 32 of the 40 seats Democrats took back in 2018, sending home big Republican names such as Barbara Comstock in Virginia and Pete Sessions in Texas.

Now there is a new class of big (Democrat) names, a majority of whom are part of this moderate ideological coalition offering advice and lessons from hotly contested elections.

Thus far, only Sanders and former congressman John Delaney have met with the group. Though both were closed-door, off-the-record meetings, someone familiar with the meetings told me that New Democrat members’ ideas and experiences were well received. Even Sanders, who acknowledged a huge gulf in policy priorities with the New Democrats and an aversion to “middle-ground” thinking, reportedly listened intently.

Indeed, these Democrats are proof that “middle-ground” thinking is not something to fear but something to welcome. We know this because of the races they won, and also because of public sentiment.

Take health care, for example, a policy area that far-left candidates believe they cannot compromise on — although Sanders was forced to revise his “Medicare for All” plan so that union members could keep their private plans — and consider what Americans are saying. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 51 percent favor a single-payer system, down 5 points from April. Sixty-five percent favor a public option, which would compete with private health plans. Similarly, in the Monmouth poll, 53 percent of Democratic voters want a system with a Medicare opt-in and only 22 percent want a system with no private insurance option.

It isn’t even close. And to continue to hammer Medicare for All with the abolition of private insurance feels like a futile exercise in campaigning and serving the American public. Better to listen to Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.), a nurse who authored legislation to protect the Affordable Care Act, lower health care costs and reduce premiums, or the bipartisan bill offered by New Democrat Coalition member Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) to lower prescription drug prices.

There are other important issues that mirror these findings, including addressing immigration and climate change. Biden’s middle-ground approach certainly recognizes the realities of where the electorate stands, and it comes as no surprise that his campaign co-chair, Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), is a member of the New Democrat Coalition.

As the primary campaign goes forward, I can’t think of a better place to get advice and counsel than these representatives who pulled off victories that few thought possible. I’m sure all the candidates will get their meetings scheduled as soon as their schedules permit. The sooner the better, I say. These Democrats know a thing or two about electability.