Medicare for All in Trump Country
The case that socialist ideas sunk Democrats in 2020 is undermined by the fact that every single cosponsor of House Progressive Caucus cochair Pramila Jayapal’s 2019 Medicare for All legislation won reelection this year, the only exceptions being lawmakers who retired, died, gave up their seats, or were unseated in primaries.
Seven of these Democratic incumbents were replaced this year by backers of Medicare for All, including the DSA-backed Cori Bush (MO-01) and Jamaal Bowman (NY-16), while four were replaced by Democrats who didn’t support it. One of those is Christy Smith, a self-described “centrist on issues of finance, business and economic issues” who opposes Medicare for All.
With 2 percent of the votes yet to be counted, Smith is currently trailing her GOP opponent by 0.04 points, in a district described by the Cook Political Report as evenly split on partisan lines, and which had been carried by her predecessor and Medicare for All cosponsor Katie Hill by nearly 9 points in 2018.
Critics would point out that most of those cosponsors reside in safe Democratic seats. But in fact, a number won reelection in competitive swing districts.
After flipping the seat in 2018, Matt Cartwright won reelection this year by 3.4 points in Pennsylvania’s 8th district, which has been represented by a Republican for fourteen of the last twenty years, and has voted for Obama twice before voting for Trump in 2016. He did this despite not just cosponsoring Medicare for All, but going on Fox to make the case for it. Incidentally, the district is also the home of Scranton, the working-class town known as the former home of president-elect Joe Biden, who centered both his primary and general election candidacies on his opposition to the policy.
Likewise, after winning a 2018 special election for an open seat in Pennsylvania’s 7th district, Susan Wild has now won reelection to the seat for the second time, in a district whose Republican-tilting voting patterns are identical to Pennsylvania’s 8th. Wild won in spite of being on the receiving end of exactly the kinds of GOP attacks that other Democratic supporters of Medicare for All have been subjected to. Andy Levin (MI-09), too, handily won reelection in a district that, even as its sat mostly in Democratic hands the past two decades, voted for Trump in 2016.
Three of the bill’s cosponsors won reelection in Republican-leaning districts in California this year, too. Josh Harder (CA-10) won by nearly 11 points in a district that’s voted Republican six of the last ten years, Mike Levin (CA-49) won by 6 points in the seat that Republican Darrell Issa held from 2002 to 2018, and Katie Porter (CA-45) won reelection in an Orange County seat that she flipped in 2018 from unbroken Republican control since it was created thirty-seven years ago.
Similarly, their earlier support for the measure and cosponsorship of Jayapal’s bill didn’t doom Jared Golden in Maine’s 2nd congressional district, which had flipped for Trump in 2016, and which he won again this year; Ann Kirkpatrick in Arizona’s 2nd congressional district, which has historically voted Republican; nor Peter DeFazio in Oregon’s 4th district, which Trump had narrowly lost in 2016. (Golden in 2020 backed away from his support for the bill, while Kirkpatrick didn’t run on the measure this year).
Of course, one can also point to steadfast Medicare for All backers who lost elections this year. Kara Eastman lost in Nebraska’s formerly Trump-supporting 2nd congressional district, and Mike Siegel (TX-10), Julie Oliver (TX-25), and Donna Imam (TX-31) all lost in gerrymandered, Republican-held Texas districts.
But by that same token, one could point to the close but likely losses of Rita Hart (IA-02) and Ben McAdams (UT-04) in districts rated by the Cook Political Report as toss-ups despite their vocal rejection of the policy, as well as the defeat a parade of other Medicare for All–opposing Democrats in other Trump-voting seats, such as Collin Peterson (MN-07, unseated after nearly thirty years), Xochitl Torres Small (NM-02), and Kendra Horn (OK-05). We might also look at the Medicare for All–opposing Democrats who lost in safe Democratic seats this year, such as Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in Florida’s Miami-Dade county.
Of course, chalking these losses up to the candidates’ positions on Medicare for All would be absurd, given all the factors involved in any given election. The defeat of vulnerable Democrats in Trump country is hardly surprising in a year that saw massive pro-Trump turnout, while Shalala and Mucarsel-Powell were likely victims of Biden’s decision to ban door-knocking and his resulting underperformance in Miami-Dade — a factor that also hurt Seigel, Oliver, and Imam, as well as other, less progressive down-ballot candidates in Texas.