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Joe Henderson: To claim middle ground voters, Democrats can’t lean too far left

Just saying President Trump is bad won’t win for Dems. They must convince voters they’re better.

The battle by Democrats over how far they can lean to the left without scaring off millions of middle-ground voters came to Florida recently.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi named U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg regional vice chair for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s operations in the South. The Tampa Bay Times reported it was a move to keep Democrats focused on a message of “so-called kitchen table issues.”

While that was going on, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota took her presidential campaign to the Sunshine State. Klobuchar is moderate, especially when compared to liberal Democratic firebrands like U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and others screaming against better logic about impeachment for President Donald Trump.

Klobuchar stressed in a meeting with health leaders in Miami and House Democrats in Tallahassee that, “If all we’re focusing on is our own side, then we can’t win.”

That’s a subtle but unmistakable rebuke of some of the more incendiary comments by other Democratic candidates as the 2020 race heats up. Klobuchar, a former prosecutor, gained a following after the way she grilled U.S. Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings.

She was tough but respectful, pointed but not bombastic. It was a signature moment in her political career. Klobuchar came across as reasoned, fair, but someone who would not put up with much B.S.

She often has been cited as the “most electable” Democrat, which means little at this early stage. She also is well behind in early polls, hovering in the low single digits. More shrill voices are dominating the room now.

That brings us back to Charlie Crist.

Pelosi designated him to be a key lieutenant because Crist represents centrist politics. That’s where a majority of voters live, and it’s where elections are won or lost.

Democrats took back the U.S. House last November because enough of them convinced voters they had the best vision for the nation. Some of those wins were in districts that voted for Donald Trump, and the Democratic strategy in 2020 is to build on that approach.

Rather than fall into the trap of attacking Trump and demanding impeachment, Pelosi is steering Democrats toward those “kitchen-table issues” that can make a difference.

One reason Trump won is that he convinced enough voters in swing states that Democrats no longer understood or cared about them. As a key operative in the South, Crist can craft a moderate message that could resonate in 2020.

As the Times reported, Crist has the game plan down pat.

When asked how Dems can win next year, he answered: “Do what we did in this last fall election. The slogan was ‘For the people,’ and the people heard it loud and clear. That means things like working for middle America. That means getting healthcare cost down, reducing the price of prescription drugs, making sure we protect Social Security and Medicare, fight for our veterans.”

That was another reason for Klobuchar’s visit. She wanted to let people know she understands the important issues in Florida – the environment, health care, tourism and, of course, hurricanes.

It’s a big country, and each state has its issues. The winning candidate will be the one that convinces enough people he/she understands their needs and has a plan to address them. Democrats can’t do that by leaning too far left.

I mean, get real Democrats. Most people have already made up their mind about President Trump. The trick is to get them to believe you offer something better.

Written By

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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