Moderate Strategies to Election Victory

As partisanship has taken over our national political discourse, it’s easy to wonder whether a moderate has any chance at victory anymore. The problem, it seems, is that the Democratic Party seems to be controlled by a base comprised of far-left-leaning Progressives, while the Republican Party seems to be controlled by a base comprised of far-right-leaning MAGA election deniers. Who’s out there to represent the majority of us in the moderate center?

Surprisingly, there now appear to be at least three experimental approaches being tried by moderate candidates seeking to bring a sense of bipartisan maturity back to American politics. While these strategies have not been aimed at winning primaries, they are offered here for use by candidates whose jurisdictions may be amenable to one or more of these approaches.

First (and most obvious): Run as an independent. As I write these words in the city of Vancouver, Washington, a three-way race for Governor of Oregon is heating up across the Columbia River. Given the presence of a strong independent candidate (Betsy Johnson) and Oregon’s plurality-winner-takes-all system, it’s anyone’s guess who the winner will be.

Ms. Johnson’s campaign ads have been powerful and well targeted, though also a bit scary at times, offering a caveat to my notion that moderates always offer a mature alternative. For example, one of her recent TV commercials promises to “get the politicians out of the way” so that real progress can be made on problems related to homelessness and crime. While Spirited Reasoners sympathize with the frustrations of partisan gridlock, the idea that we can solve that problem by electing a third-party dictator is not particularly appealing.

Second: Run as a Democrat who’s tough on crime, pro-veteran, and pro-small business. Joe Biden’s victory in 2020 was a small step in that direction. Another example of this approach was the victory of Governor John Bel Edwards in Louisiana, a state that otherwise votes bright red. While he had the advantage of running against a seriously flawed Republican opponent, he also made it clear during his campaign that he was a graduate of West Point. The reason this type of background works for Democrats is because it destroys the Republican notion that Democrats are weak when it comes to protecting our citizens.

Here in the third Congressional district of Washington State, Democratic candidate Marie Gluesenkamp Perez now leads in polls against her MAGA Republican opponent, Joe Kent, who managed to bump off Jaime Herrera-Beutler. (Ms. Herrera-Beutler had voted to impeach Donald Trump.) Ms. Gluesenkamp Perez is campaigning as the co-owner of a small business, a position that steals thunder from Republicans who like to argue that Democrats are anti-business.

Third: Run as a non-Trump Republican (perhaps the toughest of the three strategies.) One of the first candidates to profit from this approach was Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin. Although he was endorsed by Donald Trump, he appeared to take pains to distance himself from that endorsement. A recent candidate who failed to profit from this strategy was Liz Cheney, who lost her seat in the House of Representative by double digits to a MAGA Republican. It is important to note here, however, that Ms. Cheney was running in a primary, not the general election. The reason this approach might work in some jurisdictions is because it eliminates the Democratic argument that all Republicans are MAGA election-deniers.

As we move through the 2022 midterm elections and into the 2024 general elections, Spirited Reasoners will be studying the map for additional strategies that might be available to moderate candidates. We could use a dose of maturity.