Former Democratic Chair Likens Elections to 2009 Disaster, Warns of Losing Majority

Former Representative Steve Israel said Tuesday's elections spelled trouble for Democrats and warned the party might not be able to hold on to its majority in the House of Representatives if the losing trend continues.

Israel, who represented New York as a Democrat in the House from 2001 until 2017, was chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He said Tuesday's results reminded him of a similarly bad showing from his party's candidates years ago.

"This is 2009 all over again," Israel told Politico, referring to the 2010 midterm elections, when Democrats lost more than 60 House seats. "The only benefit they [the Democrats] have now over 2009 is knowing just how bad it can get."

Steve Israel
Former U.S. Representative Steve Israel is warning that Democrats may lose their majority in the House if they don't listen to voters in the suburbs. Above, Israel answers questions following a meeting of the House Democratic Caucus on May 9, 2014. Getty

In Virginia this week, Republicans won three top offices and could take the state House once vote counts are finished in close races. The GOP also claimed state legislative districts previously held by the Democrats in New Jersey, while their gubernatorial candidate in the state came close—but ultimately failed—to incumbent Democrat Phil Murphy in his reelection bid.

The suburbs were key to Virginia Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin's win over Terry McAuliffe, a former governor of the state who was recently joined at a campaign event by former President Barack Obama.

Youngkin took many suburban areas of Virginia that voted for President Joe Biden only a year ago, a trend that occurred in other parts of the country on Tuesday. Israel said Democrats should look closely at these results and try to tap back into the suburban base that helped usher in the so-called blue wave of Democratic victories in 2018.

"If Democrats can't reclaim those suburban voters, I don't see a path to keeping the majority, plain and simple," Israel told Politico, "and you reclaim them by talking about those issues that those voters are discussing at their kitchen table."

A strategy the Democrats leaned heavily on was trying to link GOP candidates to former President Donald Trump, who still remains largely unpopular in several of the suburban districts that Republicans managed to flip on Tuesday.

Dan Sena, a former executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, echoed Israel's comments on suburban voters. He told Politico that Democrats should have focused more on concrete issues that appeal to those voters in this election cycle, rather than the countless ads pointing to GOP candidates' ties to Trump.

"There were clear warning signs in 2020 that simply tying a candidate to Trump doesn't work," Sena said. "You have to point to a larger thing that they are doing that impacts people's lives. In 2018, we didn't use the Trump playbook in any way, shape or form."