CONCORD, New Hampshire — Democratic presidential hopefuls scrambling to win over voters still on the fence pitch an electability message that looks across the aisle: Your Republican neighbors will vote for me.
“A lot of folks when I’m shaking hands after an appearance kind of reveal to me that they’re exactly that kind of ‘future former Republican,’” former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg told reporters in Durham, New Hampshire, last week. “It’s part of how we demonstrate that I’m putting together the kind of campaign that can defeat Donald Trump.”
Most Democratic primary voters and caucus-goers, 68% nationally according to an Economist/YouGov poll released Wednesday, prefer to back a candidate who can beat President Trump in November rather than one they might agree with more on policy issues.
That leads some voters to base their decision on who they envision can woo Republican neighbors and family members or an imagined swing-state voter who backed Trump in 2016.
With five days until the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses and two weeks until the New Hampshire primary, candidates are so aware of Democratic voters’ angst that even left-wing candidates, such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, are trying to make the case that they can win over Republicans.
“I’m going to start with something that not only our whole party can run on, but start with something that is really appealing to a lot of Republicans around the country,” Warren, 70, said during a call with Iowa supporters on Tuesday.
It is a striking message from Warren, whose bold plethora of plans such as a wealth tax, student debt forgiveness, and breaking up tech companies have helped push the Democratic Party further left ideologically.
“I get it, we’re not going to get every Republican, but we are going to treat people with respect,” Warren said. “We’re going to treat them with dignity, and we’re going to treat their arguments as serious around these economic issues.”
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’s plan to win over working-class people who voted for Trump, in addition to expanding the electorate, is central to his electability appeal.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, 77, often touts his ability to work with elected officials in the opposite party, but he is signaling that he is already winning over Republican voters. At a high-dollar fundraiser in Boston last week, the host noted that some of the people in the room were Republicans.
“Whether you’re Democrat or Republican — and I hope there are Republicans here — there’s a lot on the ballot this year,” Biden said in remarks at the fundraiser.
Those who support Biden argue that he has the ability to win over Republicans.
“Joe Biden will be able to pull together a coalition of Democrats, independents, and Republicans to beat Donald Trump, I’m quite confident with that,” former New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch told reporters on Monday.
Lower-tier candidates also demonstrate that they have Republican support. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang often touts polls that show Trump voters picking him in the Democratic field. At a campaign stop in Claremont, New Hampshire, last week, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, 38, asked those in the room to raise their hand if they identified as Republican, independent, or libertarian. A dozen hands went up.
“Our campaign is already building the kind of diverse coalition of support, coming from Democrats, Republicans, independents, and libertarians that is necessary to win in November,” Gabbard said.
However, Iowa voters are not quite convinced that a Democrat can win over those from the opposite party.
“Republicans are only reachable if they’re not Trump voters,” Buttigieg supporter and Ottumwa, Iowa, resident Jackie Lauer, 73, told the Washington Examiner on Tuesday.
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