laurakellyevent

Democratic candidate for governor Laura Kelly (left) and former Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius (right) spoke to a crowd of University students about Kelly's platforms at the Rock Chalk Stop Kobach event in November, 2018.

Can the same political strategy sink a presidential campaign while propelling a congressional candidate to victory? I’d say so.

With the 2020 Democratic presidential primary in full swing, candidates are hammering out policy proposals all over the left-wing of the political spectrum. U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) both have distinctly far-left proposals while others such as Former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) tout policies which are closer to the center. These center-left candidates are making a grave mistake: betting on white men.

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, has talked about appealing to working-class white people who have lost their jobs to free trade. It makes sense to target the demographic that left the Democratic party behind to support Trump in 2016, but doing so in the 2020 presidential election is disastrous.

Buttigieg’s strategy relies on the idea that people are flexible partisans who will vote in their own self-interest if presented to them. This rarely plays out in the real world.

The reality is Republican-leaning white working-class men will see Buttigieg is a Democratic candidate and will instantly be turned off. At best, he might be able to get a fraction of the white male vote with his wholesome mid-western rhetoric. But if Buttigieg — or any presidential candidate for that matter — is looking to win he should just ignore these white working-class voters.

In local elections however, it would benefit Democratic candidates to run closer to the center and court the white working class. In the most recent Kansas Governor’s race, the center-left candidate, now-Gov. Laura Kelly, was able to win against the far-right Republican candidate.

Another great example of this at work is U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids’ (D-Kan.) 2018 victory in Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District. Like Kelly, Davids ran as a relatively centrist candidate. This centrist strategy works better in down-ballot elections because the candidate has to be more representative of local voting population.

If you’re a Democrat running for president, you don’t need to — and probably can’t — win red states like Kansas. But if you’re running for a state-wide office in one of those states, that’s the only way to win. 

Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) should take note of the success of Kelly and Davids. A more centrist approach will almost certainly help their electoral chances, even if it would doom a presidential candidate.

In the end, candidates need to understand in the national arena it’s far more effective to run a left-wing platform — doing so turns out more Democrats to vote, which is crucial in a national election. However, in congressional and statewide races, Democratic candidates should turn to the center to win.

Ben Ferlo is a Junior from Gardner majoring in political science and economics.