Reflections on 2021 Elections and Looking Ahead to 2022
While we look forward to time with family and friends in the coming days to give thanks, we also are looking back to Election Day 2021 and how we prepare for 2022 and beyond. What a doozy.
We spent the last couple of weeks debriefing with our grantees to get their sense of lessons from out of state races, and how we expect to apply them in CA in 2022 and beyond. Thanks to groups like AAPI Force, Black Women for Wellness, California Working Families Party, Courage California, IE United, and LA Voice for sharing their lessons and learning with us.
Amidst major defeats for Democrats nationally, especially in VA statewide offices and an unexpectedly tight race for NJ Governor, Election Day 2021 it also held several progressive wins, including the successes of an AAPI progressive for Boston Mayor, the first Muslim mayor of Dearborn, and holding the line on school board races despite billionaire-backed challenger slates.
Here’s more of what we saw and some of our biggest lessons heading into 2022:
LESSON #1 Democrats have to run for something, not just against Trump. The latter didn’t work in our Recall, it didn’t work in VA, and it won’t work in CA in 2022, from the state level down to our crucial congressional races. CDT is prioritizing support for candidates who can run on what they’ve done, and will do, to deliver what Californians deserve.
Too many Democratic candidates and consultants think merely running against Trump will turn out enough base voters to win. That didn’t work in the CA Recall, and it didn’t work on election day. In fact Election Day 2021 showed that it might increase turnout by confirming for Trump followers that they should vote against Democratic candidates.
LESSON #2 When the right wing runs on racism, call it exactly that — racism. We expect this billionaire-backed backlash to happen in CA, with a base overlapping the anti-vaxxers. Fighting for racial equity, using a race class narrative across tax statuses, wins both people of color voters as well as enough white voters to win. We believe white voters can be treated as adults. We’ll beat that backlash.
The right wing portrayed Critical Race Theory as anything that makes white people uncomfortable about historic and present impacts of white racism. They then weaponized white fragility by targeting candidates, from Governors to school board members, alleging that they were promoting Critical Race Theory, which again, means making white people uncomfortable. Democratic candidates that did not meet that frame head on, but either explained that Critical Race Theory was not being taught in schools (thereby acquiescing to the rest of the frame), or attempted to pivot to other issues, and lost.
LESSON #3 When AAPI, Latino or Black candidates are spouting racist, sexist, xenophobic and/or homophobic messages, we progressives need to call it out, and have better alternative candidates. Whether it’s against Larry Elder, or Republican congressional people of color incumbents, we’ll continue to fund in-group and cross-community efforts holding them accountable for their words, actions and policies.
GA AAPI Republicans ran on pro-policy crime-fighting platforms, signaling anti-Black attitudes in Asian communities to drum up support for themselves. Similarly, in CA we can expect bruising fights around SF DA Chesa Boudin’s recall, the CA AG’s race, and congressional races especially in OC, where fear on attacks on Asians get leveraged for opposition to Democrats as well as progressive criminal justice policies that at least some Democrats are delivering throughout California. This will be exacerbated by having the leading Republican gubernatorial candidate be African American Larry Elder, who was already campaigning for conservative AAPI votes in Orange County during the recall.
LESSON #4 Multicycle support of POC-led and -serving c4 and political organizations makes a difference. We’ve been building and sustaining robust infrastructure in San Diego, Inland Empire, Orange County, the Central Valley, Contra Costa, and more recently Los Angeles. CDT will continue our strategy of supporting POC-led and serving c4 organizations across California.In fact CDT grantees have asked for CDT to continue to incentivize larger mostly white organizations to back progressive candidates of color locally, rather than relying on local organizations based in communities of color to make the case to bigger partners.
Boston elected its first Asian American, first woman, and clear progressive mayor in Michelle Wu. In doing so she ended the streak of white irish and italian male Boston Mayors since the 1930s. But Buffalo’s incumbent business conservative Black Mayor, after being beaten by a socialist Black woman challenger, won in the general election as a write-in candidate after being backed by both the Democratic and Republican establishments.
In both cases it took multicycle support of Asian American and POC-led c4 organizations (Chinese Progressive Political Action and Right to the City Voter in MA). The organizations pressed the candidates on the needs of communities of color and made a strong case for candidates that most aligned on community interests both in the primary and the general.
Lesson #5 CA counts more than ever. CA will have to win every likely, possible and reach congressional race in our state in order for the Democrats to hold the house.
This is a post-election day story, but it is now clear that Republicans are gerrymandering and voter suppressing their way to being favorites for the Congressional majority in 2021. The best articulation of that is this NYT story Republicans Gain Heavy House Edge in 2022 as Gerrymandered Maps Emerge.
Together we can, and will, make Election Day 2022 much better than 2021.