Pennsylvania's primary offers smart lessons for Democrats on way to November midterms

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Primaries held Tuesday in four states – both Democratic and Republican – should make Democrats optimistic, but wary.

Big primary fields in Pennsylvania demonstrated the positive energy behind Democrats, where attention has been largely focused on congressional races.

Incumbent 18th-District Rep. Conor Lamb secured the Democratic nomination in the newly redrawn 17th District, where he will face the incumbent from the 12th District, Republican Keith Rothfus.

To be sure, Lamb is a new face in the Democratic Congressional Caucus, having just won a special election in March to win his seat in Congress representing a district that voted for President Trump by 20 points.

Democrats need to highlight the policy specifics of their message, focusing on how their agenda will promote inclusive economic growth and put more money in the pockets of everyday Americans.

Lamb’s campaign excited left-leaning voters who have grown weary of the Democratic establishment, as he promised to help support new party leadership, replacing figures like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., if elected.

The success of political outsiders like Lamb has helped pave the way for a wave of newcomer candidates.

In Pennsylvania’s newly redrawn 5th District, an impressive 10 Democrats competed for their party’s nomination, with education advocate and lawyer Mary Gay Scanlon ultimately winning the nomination there.

Some of these primaries have come to represent a struggle over the future of the Democratic Party.

In Pennsylvania’s 1st District, Scott Wallace, a wealthy 66-year-old businessman and grandson of World War II-era Democratic Vice President Henry Wallace, defeated Navy veteran Rachel Reddick for the Democratic nomination.

Like Lamb, Wallace has expressed skepticism of Pelosi and other long-time leaders, saying the party has “some older leaders currently in the House. New blood is always a good thing.”

Wallace, Lamb, and their fellow congressional candidates will join incumbent Democratic Sen. Bob Casey and Gov. Tom Wolf, both of whom are favored to hold their seats in statewide Pennsylvania races this November.

Democrats nationwide have to look to both retain the districts they currently hold while encouraging new faces like Lamb to challenge established Republicans and gain seats in the House. This is especially important in Pennsylvania.

The recent redistricting throughout the state has evened the map, putting historically Republican congressional districts into play for the Democrats. At the same time, it is essential that incumbents like Casey and Wolf maintain their spots.

The Democrats should also maintain their position in Oregon, where Hillary Clinton won by over 10 points and where Democrats control the state Legislature overwhelmingly. Incumbent Gov. Kate Brown is broadly expected to secure re-election.

In Idaho, meanwhile, Republican Governor Butch Otter may be retiring, but this race, and many others in Idaho, appear to be fairly untouchable right now, indicating the limits of Democratic energy.

In Nebraska, too, most races solidly favor Republicans, with the exception of the 2nd District, where former Rep. Brad Ashford, a Democrat, is running to win his seat back from incumbent Republican Rep. Don Bacon, who unseated Ashford in 2016.

While the focus on “resistance” to President Trump has galvanized some voters, Democrats need to focus on showing voters the actual benefits of voting blue if they want to start even making inroads in states like Idaho and Nebraska.

If the Democrats want to win in these states they need to start appealing to a broader range of voters, including moderates and former Democrats who voted for President Trump. The Democrats need to highlight the policy specifics of their message, focusing on how their agenda will promote inclusive economic growth and put more money in the pockets of everyday Americans.

Ultimately, this message will be more compelling than just claiming the moral high ground and providing some sort of counterweight to President Trump and the Republicans.

For the Democrats, it’s time to stop rehashing 2016, shake off those losses, and aim higher than reckless calls for President Trump’s impeachment. Instead, it is vital to refocus on effective policy alternatives to the Republicans and the future of this country.