Editor's Note: The following is part of the discussion on centrism and appealing to independent voters, and features perspectives from Democratic Michigan State Representative Laurie Pohutsky and Republican Political Consultant Alex Hays. The commentary originally published on Divided We Fall.
Democrats’ Efforts to Deliver for Independents Will Pay Off in November
By Laurie Pohutsky – Democratic Michigan State Representative
For roughly the last year and a half, many people have asserted that Democrats across the country will face electoral losses in 2022. To be fair, historical data supports this claim more often than not. There have been notable exceptions, however, and this year’s election will be one more due to the decisions of independent voters.
Independent voters are primarily issue-driven rather than animated by one particular party. They’re more likely to support candidates that have had a positive impact on universal issues, such as prescription drug pricing, inflation, and infrastructure improvements. Democrats have delivered on these issues throughout the last two years.
In November of 2021, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) was signed into law. This bill made historic investments in rebuilding the roads and bridges that Americans drive on every day and provided crucial funding for transportation and broadband infrastructure. It received near-unanimous support from Democrats in both the House and Senate, while a majority of Republicans voted against the legislation. Many of these Republicans have since had to publicly reconcile past statements denouncing the IIJA with their later praise of the funding it brought into their districts. Voters will pay attention to how their elected representatives voted.
This will prove to be even more true in the case of the Inflation Reduction Act, which has been passed without a single Republican vote. The legislation addresses multiple “kitchen table issues” while also having a positive impact on inflation. In fact, far from supporting the bill, Republican opposition actually led to the removal of a widely popular proposal, a provision that would have capped the price of insulin at $35 a month for private insurance.
Republican Policies Are at Odds With Constituents
Republicans have leaned in on many extremist policies that run counter to the views of a majority of Americans. The most obvious example of this is abortion access. According to a poll conducted this year, a majority of Americans consider themselves to be pro-choice. Inexplicably, many Republicans have opted to introduce cruel and draconian anti-abortion legislation in clear conflict with the desires of the bulk of their constituents. Outrage over the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has spurred state-level action at the ballot. Just last month, Kansas voted down a constitutional amendment by a margin of 19% that would have rolled back its residents’ constitutional right to abortion. In Michigan, the Reproductive Freedom for All constitutional amendment is poised to land on the November ballot, having received over 300,000 petition signatures more than the number required to do so. This could be extremely detrimental to anti-abortion Republicans running opposite such a ballot question.
The simple fact is that Republicans have consistently been on the wrong side of the very issues that animate independent voters. There is every reason to assume that these voters will remember that when they take to the polls.
Empty Bills and Wasteful Spending Cannot Cover for Incompetence
By Alex Hays – Republican Political Consultant
As a Washington State moderate Republican with a political consultancy that has helped elect moderates in both parties, I’m somewhat different from many in politics in that I take pride in building coalitions and avoiding tribal partisan stereotypes. As a voter, I urge you to consider voting for Republicans—and Democrats—who would do the same.
Who will voters choose in 2022? I believe 2022 will see a modest bump for Republicans. This is notable because it was looking like it would be a massive Republican wave. Like everything in politics, there are many factors influencing outcomes. Some are easy to identify, some are hard to see, and some arrive unexpectedly.
Known factors are the serious failures of the Biden Administration that have made this government somewhat less popular than the Trump Administration. Let’s consider the four most serious. 1. Biden failed to address Covid and instead further politicized the pandemic by dehumanizing people concerned about vaccines. 2. Biden failed to address inflation, instead belittling people hurt by his policies. 3. Biden failed to strategically exit Afghanistan, lied about the military’s advice, and shifted blame to others while creating a humanitarian crisis. 4. Biden has adopted a deeply inhumane border policy, neither open enough to avoid migrant loss of life nor closed enough to dissuade unlawful entry and the dangers to migrants and the U.S. that such entry creates.
The Neutralizing Effect of the Abortion Debate
The bills touted in this debate in support of the Democrats are largely meaningless to normal voters. The Inflation Reduction Act is actually a climate bill. The infrastructure bill is more about Democratic donors than bridges and roads. Even student loan forgiveness does little for working-class Americans (i.e. potential swing voters) while it does a lot for Democratic voters. $35 Insulin was never opposed by Republicans. My opponent fails to tell you it was adopted by Trump, killed by Biden, and then implemented as one provision of a much larger and defective bill.
An unexpected factor, which has so far proven almost as strong as the failures of Biden and the Democrats, was the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson, giving wider power to states and Congress to regulate abortion access. This ruling took what was expected to be a historic loss for the Democrats and has instead made this appear closer to a neutral year.
There are a few issues I want you to consider though. First: Democrats killed the bill to codify Roe v. Wade. A group of bipartisan Senators drafted a bill that would have made Roe law—something that I’ve urged for years as a sincere Republican advocate for social moderation. The bill was killed when Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren opposed it, saying it “wasn’t an obvious improvement.” This is not supported by the facts. It would have adopted nationwide the very policy that my opponent in this debate drafted for adoption in Michigan, showing its reasonability. Democrats decided your abortion rights were less important than their power, however. A bipartisan bill restoring abortion rights would have been good for women but bad for Democratic politicians. One operative said protecting your rights would have “taken the wind out of the sails” of Democratic campaigns.
Save Democracy by Voting for the Person Not the Party
Second: at this point in time it’s likely that Democrats are the biggest donor to the extreme right, meddling in Republican primaries by spending vast sums to promote otherwise failing far-right Republicans. Republicans who put “country before party” were targeted by the Democrats in U.S. Senate and House races, as well as governor’s races. Prior to the deluge of spending to prop up the extreme right, reasonable Republicans were doing a great job winning their primaries.
As a person whose career has been based on uniting people—not merely using the rhetoric of unity for political gain—I believe it is important to remember that splitting your ticket, choosing the more qualified person, rejecting bad conduct from your own party, and having unbiased, unwavering standards for what is ethical is vitally important to preserving democracy. Our political leaders must stand by their principles, and not just play games to draw out their time in power.
Republicans Have Lost the Plot and Will Lose at the Polls
By Laurie Pohutsky – Democratic Michigan State Representative
My opponent’s response is a case study in how Republicans running for office across the country have lost the plot. Rather than answering the question posed to us, his first instinct was to attack me and accuse me of being too far left. While immaterial to the question at hand, it’s worth noting that I flipped a historically Republican-held seat in a 50-50 district that has now elected me twice. It’s growing increasingly obvious that Republican politicians are grappling with the fact that they oppose popular policies and are left with little recourse other than to continue to argue against reality.
Although my opponent failed to cite sources for his so-called failures of the Biden administration, it is easy to rebut his points. Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan is popular among a majority of Americans. The assertion that it will not be helpful to working-class Americans is demonstrably false.
By Mr. Hays’ own admission, abortion access will be a pivotal issue in November’s elections. While trying to generalize and equivocate various pieces of legislation (the U.S. Senate bill Mr. Hays’ rebuttal mentions would return us to “the day before Dobbs,” per the article he linked, while my bill would take us back to the day before Casey), these details are fairly irrelevant when the truth is that Republicans are pushing unpopular and extremist anti-abortion legislation. No one buys the lie that Democrats are the obstacles to abortion access and that will be more than evident after the midterm elections.
In Times of Strife, Cooler Heads Must Prevail
By Alex Hays – Republican Political Consultant
My opponent in this debate staunchly defends the Democratic party—yet also argues that it is too conservative. She leads an organization whose mission is to move the Democratic Party further to the left. My work for both parties has been to hold my state at the center. It is clear to me that the candidates who remain moderate will do better in November, and do better as policymakers.
Biden’s student loan forgiveness favors the more affluent; my sources clearly establish that. The working class will be subsidizing people wealthier than them.
True, some Republican legislators are adopting severe restrictions on abortion. Others, however, are supporting the limits accepted by most voters: 24 weeks or viability. Congressional Democrats, on the other hand, actually blocked a bill that would have codified Roe for political advantage, a fact that my opponent waves away as unconvincing to voters. In the states, Democratic legislators are promoting even more extreme bills, allowing abortion even until the moment before natural birth. Nonetheless, a moment of praise for my opponent: the abortion bill she drafted seems perfectly reasonable to me.
Finally, it is shocking that my opponent ignores the role of her party in promoting candidates they call “fascist” and a “threat to Democracy.” They have spent almost $20 million to fuel a problem they claim is so serious that it deserves imprisonment. Politics does not require this level of hypocrisy. Do not reward these partisan games.
Republican governance in states such as Maryland, Arizona, and Massachusetts has shown that Republicans are better at holding to the center, and are more competent when they do. Where moderate Republicans win, the people win.