Editor’s Note: Bakari Sellers is a former Democratic member of the South Carolina House of Representatives and a CNN commentator. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion at CNN.
Few events reveal the plight of everyday Americans as honest and sincere as state-level political elections. Voters in state-level elections are far more likely to split with their party. And state-level candidates are more likely to promote political platforms that distinctively reflect the intimate concerns of their voters.
Elections in Virginia and Kentucky on Tuesday affirmed both theories.
I am a proud Democrat, but I can humbly admit that neither political party has a monopoly on the best policy ideas. However, I can also declare that Democratic solutions tend to be bolder and more comprehensive. The GOP realizes this fact. To avoid campaigning on stale policy measures, they rather flood local discourse with Trump impeachment and national matters that deflect attention away from kitchen-table issues. Gov. Matt Bevin’s apparent loss to Democrat Andy Beshear offers a clear example of this. Bevin has said that he is not conceding.
Democratic energy across the South is very real. But as we observe Tuesday’s results through the context of the upcoming 2020 elections, let’s be clear – Democratic voters in Lexington, Kentucky, are not your Democratic voters in the Bronx.
Furthermore, if Democrats are serious about defeating Trump, flipping the US Senate, and expanding our lead in the US House, we must understand that purity tests – making sure that a candidate’s ideology lines up perfectly with their party’s – do not work.
Former President Barack Obama warned us about the rigidity of progressive politics and villainizing allies over policy difference. “You have to recognize that the way we’ve structured democracy requires you to take into account people who don’t agree with you, and that by definition means you’re not going to get 100 percent of what you want.”
Trump won Kentucky by 30 percent in 2016. Given this fact, a universe simply does not exist where Beshear wins while stomping across the Bluegrass State preaching a policy gospel that is to the extreme left of his congregation.
Indeed, all politics is local, but your “local” may look particularly different from a voter’s “local” in Kentucky, rural Virginia, or my hometown of Denmark, South Carolina.
We watched Hillary Clinton succumb to these flawed progressive tests during the 2016 Democratic primary. Democrats must take heed, but also adhere to the lessons that Virginia and Kentucky displayed on Tuesday night.
Get our free weekly newsletter
I’ve said it before, but the road to taking back Washington goes through the South. And a one-size fits all policy agenda simply won’t suffice.