In 2018, Conor Lamb won a special election in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, a district Trump won by 20 points. Joe Biden knows the politics of Pennsylvania as well as anybody – he comes from the part of northern Delaware that is essentially a suburb of Philadelphia – and he campaigned for Lamb when nobody thought Lamb could win. According to Reid Epstein in the Times, Biden's strategy is a duplicate of the one used by Lamb:
Mr. Lamb’s victory showed Democrats how to prevail in Republican territory during the Trump era: focus on kitchen-table issues; inspire defections from college-educated suburban voters — especially women — who had been core Republican voters for decades; and offer conservative-leaning voters a sober, reassuring alternative to a chaotic president.
It helped that Mr. Lamb was a Marine veteran and a former federal prosecutor — a résumé of service to the country that he and fellow Democrats used to contrast themselves with Mr. Trump and Republicans who came from the business world.
Mr. Biden has likewise used his decades of experience in the Senate and eight years as vice president to highlight his own public service, while reminding audiences that he regularly ranked among the least-wealthy senators. . . .
“There are a lot of people who voted for me in 2018, not so much for reasons of policy or party, but just reasons of change,” Mr. Lamb said from atop a picnic table during an outdoor interview this past week in a park near his home in Mt. Lebanon, a suburb. “People were unsatisfied with how things were going, and I promised that I would do my job differently than the guy you had before me. And I think that’s what Vice President Biden is basically doing.”
When Mr. Lamb won in March 2018, he served notice for Democrats aiming to wrest control of the House and give the party control of at least one lever of the federal government. The answer to defeating Trump-aligned Republican candidates was not to emphasize the president’s erratic, divisive tenure in the Oval Office. Instead Democratic candidates focused narrowly on policies affecting voters’ lives, like protecting provisions in the Affordable Care Act and casting Republicans as a party pandering to corporations and the very rich, attacking the 2017 tax cut that Republican Party leaders had intended to use as the tent pole achievement for their midterm campaigns.
During his remarks at Mr. Lamb’s rally, Mr. Biden called the tax cut “obscene.” . . .
In Congress, Mr. Lamb is a rank-and-file Democrat who has not rocked the boat or voted against the party’s leadership on any significant issues. At home, he’s cultivated an image of a Democrat focused on Pennsylvania jobs above all else — a sentiment he says Mr. Biden has echoed.
“No matter what side of an issue my party was on when I went to Washington, I would be fighting for their jobs no matter what,” Mr. Lamb said.
One reason Biden generated so little enthusiasm among Democratic activists during the primaries was that he refused to spend his time attacking Trump's character or corruption and would not sign up for big new policies like Medicare for All. The activists wanted someone who would match Trump insult for insult and promise big change in the country. Biden's plan all along has been to attack Trump as just another Republican on the side of the rich and present an alternative in style by acting with dignity.
To state what is probably obvious, both Lamb and Biden are, in effect, offering themselves as genuine conservatives, in the temperamental sense. They are candidates for folks who fear risk and dramatic change, who value stability and dignity in public life, and who downplay conflict. Their economic policies emphasize protection of working people against the risks of capitalism, not redistribution for the purpose of changing society. They also don't have fantasies of dramatic change in American foreign policy, either in the direction of empire or of going it alone. In these senses, I would say that, for a while now, the Democrats have actually been the more conservative party.
There's even an aspect of nostalgia, a kind of longing for that FDR, "Fanfare for the Common Man" liberalism of the 30s and 40s.
And, to be clear, I'm quite happy with all that.
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