Fair or not, voters have distaste and distrust this year for any candidate running under the “progressive” banner that was so wildly popular just last year.
“I essentially believe that ‘progressive’ is the wrong “P” to be describing yourself as this cycle,” said a Democratic strategist working on congressional campaigns across the country. “ ‘Populist’ is the way to go.”
Candidates, he said, should appear as an outsider who will fight for Main Street, not Wall Street.
Because the concerns of independents will continue to dominate the electoral landscape, the best that progressive candidates can do is to emphasize the overlap between progressive thought and populist ideals, such as reining-in corporate greed and influence.
In 2008 Barack Obama and Democrats won a sweeping victory through a somewhat uneasy coalition of progressive Democrats and a large wave of independent voters seeking populist change.
But President Obama and Democrats in Congress have not delivered to either group, which has tarnished their brand, especially the progressive label.
The progressive base, along with independents and Republicans, are angry.
Obama and the Democrats have not delivered, either, on the populist change they promised over and over during the campaign. They promised an era of bipartisanship. They promised an era of fiscal responsibility. They promised a government given back to the people, a government not beholden to special interests and corporate greed.
Independent voters who gravitated toward Democrats have seen none of this come to fruition but instead have witnessed bitter bipartisanship, soaring deficits and legislation plagued with special and corporate interests. Independents have lost their patience and become disenchanted; if they stay that way, a power shift truly will occur in Congress this fall.
Any politically expedient shifts will only further frustrate progressives and make it even more difficult for a liberal candidate to be successful in the coming mid-term elections, particularly when running against a more pragmatic, populist candidate.
To hold onto their majority, Democrats must focus on a populist message with real appeal and appear to be concerned about the voters’ angst.