The messages that won, and lost, the midterms

Politicos weigh in on Tuesday's results.

Photo credit: Getty images

Kamyl Bazbaz, partner, Pramana Collective
Former regional communications director, Obama for America
The most important messages were local ones. Looking for a big overarching narrative to explain everything overlooks the excellent work house Democratic candidates did to tailor their messages around what matters the most to people in their communities, giving supporters something to vote for and not just something to vote against.

Matt Canter, SVP, Global Strategy Group
Former deputy executive director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee
Democrats realized that healthcare is the dominant economic issue for most voters. The cost of healthcare has a greater influence over voters’ economic well-being than the stock market, and they leveraged the party’s advantage on that issue.

Lee Carter, president, maslansky + partners
Frequent guest commentator on Fox News
Healthcare and medicare for all was the winning message for Democrats, and it was used in more than half of their advertising. It tied directly to the number one concern of voters and resonated strongly with Democrats and many independents as well.

Ben Coffey Clark, partner and head of new business, Bully Pulpit Interactive
Ran digital campaigns for Democrats in 2014 and 2016
With two years in full control of the judicial, legislative, and executive branch, Republicans failed to advance any policy agenda that resonated with voters. According to the exit polls, the tax bill, one of their few accomplishments, failed to connect with voters with only 28% of people saying it was helpful, 25% saying it hurt them, and the rest said it had no impact on their lives. Turns out you need to actually do something when in power, and after Democrats defended one of their key policy wins from when they were in power, pre-existing conditions, netting seats as a result.

Ben Finzel, President, RenewPR
Former legislative director for Rep. Bill Richardson (D-NM)
Voter interest in providing a check on the president's power drove Democratic gains and helped to deliver the House for the Democratic Party. It's a fine line, however: voters don't necessarily want all anti-Trump all the time, so the new Congress will have to be thoughtful in how it opposes the actions of the administration, picking and choosing key issues that make the most sense (e.g. healthcare, economy, immigration).

Trevor Francis, partner and president, JDA Frontline
Former communications director at the Republican National Committee
President Trump’s supporters, the resistance, and every American in between can all credibly find some validation in the midterm results. Voters identified with candidates and messages that spoke to them and voted accordingly, in huge numbers. The message we’re all left with as a result is that our nation’s politics are as muddled after the midterms as they were before.

Adam Hodge, VP, SKDKnickerbocker
Former DNC communications director
Protecting healthcare, building an economy that benefits all Americans, and restoring a sense of civility and decency were key winning messages last night. Democrats running in districts across all corners of the country who stayed true to their core beliefs and promised to be a check on the president succeeded, and they’ll need to govern on that agenda in the new Congress.

Greg Jenkins, founder, North Bay Strategies
Deputy assistant to President George W. Bush
Don’t make the mistake of mid-interpreting the midterms. The Democrats won by focusing on issues, not by running against Trump. That won’t be the case in 2020.

Kevin Lewis, senior leadership team counselor, Blue Engine Message & Media
Former spokesperson for President Barack Obama
Americans want a more balanced government and candidates that reflect their values. The level of representation from diverse candidates and the record number of women elected to Congress is truly remarkable. Voters sent a message that they want to see more diverse perspectives on critical policies related to health care, immigration and the economy.

Frank Marino, founder and CEO, Marino
Comms for New York City Economic Development Corporation in the Koch administration
Unfortunately, fear works in politics as it does in real life. It drove Trump supporters and opponents equally to the polls. The red states maintained the Senate and blue-leaning congressional districts turned the House blue. In both cases, fear - of Trump himself or immigration - played a vital role.

Mike McCurry, distinguished professor of public theology, Wesley Theological Seminary
White House press secretary to President Bill Clinton
Whew, glad that is over. What a messy and confused election, but one thing did not change. Neither side in this election built a persuasive and positive case for a new direction in America. Sure Democrats pressed healthcare and the Trump party pushed immigration and (to a surprisingly minor extent) economic progress, but we will be just as polarized and divided in the next two years as in the last two. Our nation unifies around strong and visionary candidates for president and that contest begins today. Who will land on a visionary message that moves the country? That’s where the political story now goes.

Hilary Rosen, partner, SKDKnickerbocker
Longtime Democratic pundit and strategist
It is clear that we still live in very divided time. The fact that this election became a referendum on President Trump offers little comfort to either side that they are winning the culture war, the who started it war, the who is nicer war, and even the war over who is really for the "people." The president was repudiated in key districts in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that won him the Electoral College in 2016, but he was reinforced in other areas of the country solidifying his base and increasing his support among rural America. When both sides are claiming victory, you know there is no rest.

Jim Wilkinson, Chairman and CEO, TrailRunner International
Chief of staff to Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson
The winner last night was the simple message that every vote counts. The loser in the midterms was President Trump’s tone, temperament, and character. The results are a stark reminder for any leader that what matters most is how you treat people and the message(s) you convey with your personal behavior. That’s called character. A president enjoying economic growth and unemployment numbers like today’s might have broken the trend on presidential midterm losses. But by his actions, Trump and his personal flaws remained the centerpiece of the campaign, costing his party the House and pickups in the Senate given the very favorable GOP map. The initial data show that the president motivated his opposition and alienated key demographics, especially suburban women. In any communications effort, it’s best to have an appealing messenger with an appealing message. In this case, the lack of the former was determinative.

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