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Confused Advice

Doug Schoen believes that Democrats should imitate Joe Sestak and Bill Halter, who were both more progressive candidates running against compromised “centrists,” but they should also imitate Mark Critz and “move decisively to the right.” As you may have noticed, this doesn’t make much sense. All three do have some anti-Washington credibility, and they can all cast themselves as being independent of the administration and party leadership in different ways, but there is nothing ideologically consistent about them. The correct lesson is that Democratic candidates should tailor campaigns to suit specific electorates, whether that means running away from, towards or (if it is possible) alongside Obama and the Democratic leadership. Critz’s victory shows how Democrats can win in conservative Democratic, McCain-voting districts. It is not “the only way the Democrats can win.” If the Democrats try to pursue a single model one way or the other, it will backfire.

There are states and districts where a Critz-style campaign would depress Democratic turnout and would do nothing to win over independents. This is what Creigh Deeds’ awful campaign did in Virginia, and he was routed decisively. The story for the last year has been low Democratic enthusiasm, which has translated into genuinely weak turnout in most off-year and primary elections. This has not happened because Democratic voters were disillusioned by a supposedly left-wing agenda, but at least partly because Obama coalition voters found that the administration favored “centrist” compromises and solutions most of the time. On the other hand, there are states and districts where Critz’s approach would work quite well. A suburban, Obama-supporting district such as Pennsylvania’s 7th will require a different approach and a different message from the anti-outsourcing, socially conservative message that worked in Pennsylvania’s 12th.

The DCCC and DSCC have a record during the last two cycles of correctly recognizing the differences and adjusting accordingly. Their Republican counterparts seem obsessed with running the same kind of candidate with the same broken-record, unimaginative national message almost everywhere. Rand Paul in Kentucky is practically the only Republican candidate that doesn’t match the cookie-cutter model that the party keeps trotting out at every election, and it is probably partly because of this difference that Paul generated such a strongly favorable response from primary voters. That doesn’t mean that Republicans should follow Schoen’s advice and try to copy Rand Paul in every other race. All that this would do would be to replace one uniform, national strategy with another.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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