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Democrats setting aside differences as US elections approach

Another kind of storm -- this one involving snow -- in Washington
AFP

Washington (AFP) – They’re Democrats who oppose abortion, defend gun rights and work with President Donald Trump. And, no, they are not hell-bent on wrecking their party.

Intent on retaking Congress from the Republicans in midterm elections in November, different factions of the Democratic Party — from moderates to far left — are setting aside their differences for now and staying together.

Despite the vigorous primary fights already under way, the end justifies the means.

“The Democratic Party elites, they just want to get the majority. They don’t care what kind of candidate they get it with,” said Robert Boatright, associate professor of political science at Clark University.

So one sees things like this: Democratic Party leaders welcoming the recent special-election win of one Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania. Lamb favors gun rights, opposes abortion and wants to get rid of the long-time leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.

From Texas to Massachusetts, Democrats have pledged to prevent Pelosi from becoming speaker of the House if in fact the Democrats take the chamber in November.

In Illinois, outgoing Democrat Dan Lipinski, who opposes abortion rights, recently won a tough primary race against a progressive candidate backed by Bernie Sanders.

And when Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill dared criticize Hillary Clinton for the way she refers to Trump supporters, Fox News ran a long segment on its morning show screaming about “the Democratic civil war.”

Such an assessment is “significantly overstated,” said Norman Ornstein, a seasoned observer of US politics who is with the American Enterprise Institute.

“There’s a cultural difference between the left and the right in this country,” he said.

The Democrats’ internal disputes, he added, are a far cry from the upheaval that shook the Republicans in 2010 with the emergence of the Tea Party — the ultra-conservative movement that aimed to overthrow the Republican establishment.

In Congress, the Democrats do not have anybody who constantly puts a stick in the eye of their leaders, as Republican lawmakers like Rand Paul or Ted Cruz do.

– Abundance of Democratic hopefuls –

Midterm elections in America are widely seen as a referendum on the record of the president elected two years earlier. The president’s party tends to do poorly.

Such was the case of Bill Clinton in 1994, or George W. Bush, bogged down in the Iraq war, in 2006, or Barack Obama in 2010 after he enacted the signature health care reform that bears his name, Obamacare.

Trump, whose approval ratings stand at around a meager 40 percent, could follow in their footsteps, even if he is convinced that a strong economy and the tax cut he engineered will play to his advantage.

At the national level the Democrats are therefore hoping for a wave of anti-Trump fervor to mobilize their supporters.

But they are also working quietly and discretely in districts that Trump won in 2016, reckoning that some voters are willing to back the Democrats so long as Trump is not raked over the coals.

“Democrats don’t need to win a ton of Trump voters to take back the House,” said John Hudak, a scholar at the Brookings Institution.

Of the 435 seats in the House, some 50 congressional districts are deemed competitive  enough politically that they could go either way. The Democrats need to gain 24 seats to retake the chamber.

Besides getting good numbers in the polls, the energy of the Democrats is seen in a surge of activism among their supporters.  

Steven Rogers, a professor of political science at St. Louis University, crunched the numbers and found that never before have so many Democrats come forward to run for seats in state legislatures. This is not the case for the Republicans, he added.

The example of the 2006 midterms shows that a party does not need to agree on everything in order to triumph.

Back then, the Democrats managed to take seats away from the Republicans in their home turf — in states such as North Carolina and Idaho — by fielding moderate candidates. And at the time the Democrats were not all in agreement on the Iraq war.

In the end, that strong showing allowed the party to kiss and make up internally and regain its stride. In 2008, it took the White House, with Obama’s historic win.

Today the same zeal and spirit are empowering the Democrats, said Ornstein, pointing to Democratic wins in special elections like the one in Pennsylvania.

“So far, you look at the results and they speak for themselves,” he said.

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