Win, lose or draw, the allure of the “white working class voter” never dulls for big D Democrats.
Whatever happens in election season, the party’s conclusion is always the same: the “white – read male – working class” voter holds the key to the future. Not the reproductive justice voter, or the criminal justice reform voter; not the green voter, or the universal health care vote. Not the person of color, BIPOC, or young voter. The party’s pursued their white, male, whale for so long, they ignore the waves of tomorrow, even as they break.
Take this year’s midterms. Democrats made greater gains than expected, winning tight races in both the Senate and the House. Now, to quote one indicative New York Times article: “Democrats See a Blueprint in Fetterman’s Victory in Pennsylvania,” why? Because “John Fetterman flipped a key Senate seat in part by attracting white working-class votes, including in the reddest parts of his state.”
The argument that follows is that Fetterman showed Democrats how to solve their white working class problem by slightly improving on Biden’s performance in red counties. He didn’t win in the red zones but he shaved points off Republican margins by appealing in his shirt sleeves to the WWC.
This is the mantra that will not die; the mantra that sank a mountain of money in Tim Ryan’s failed Congressional bid in Ohio, and poured next to nothing into Cheri Beasley’s near-win in North Carolina. This is the mantra that brought us a Democratic campaign fixated not boldly on bodily autonomy, racial justice and climate rescue, but one in a defensive crouch on inflation and gas prices, and crime and “threats to democracy” – while simultaneously trying to not to piss off WWC voters who voted for incipient fascists the last chance they got.
In Pennsylvania, the irony is, voters showed up in spite of all this. They showed up for Fetterman and they showed up for Summer Lee, a lawyer and a former labor organizer, endorsed by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and AOC’s so-called Squad. Lee won her primary unsupported by her local Democratic Party, and she beat her Republican opponent and a mountain of dark money with a campaign that was steadfastly multi-racial, multi-generational and refused to step back.
In response to attack, Lee affirmed her stance for unions, reproductive choice, criminal justice reform, and a fracking ban. Now she’ll be the first Black woman ever to represent her state in Congress where she’ll be joining an expanded progressive bench. Her base in Pittsburgh is heavily Democratic, sure enough, but her movement building was felt far beyond her district. The enthusiasm around her campaign is credited with helping secure a Democratic majority in the Pennsylvania state house. “This was a movement that was about what it looks like when we prioritize the most marginalized,” Lee said on election night in Pittsburgh.
Could that catch on, or is it just more fun to search out white men who don’t actively hate Democrats?
You can watch our post-election debrief with a cross section of organizers and learn why one pro choice activist accuses Democrats of electoral malpractice this week on Public Television, or subscribe to the free podcast at lauraflanders.org.