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Greg Landsman’s Majority Against The Chaos Caucus
Ohio’s newest congressman flipped a red seat blue by overperforming Nate Silver’s forecast by 11 points, forging a path to Democratic majority through a bipartisan coalition opposed to extremism.
Flipping seats from red to blue is a big deal, and we have been learning from those who have done it.
One of the biggest Democratic pickups in 2022 was Ohio’s 1st district, where Cincinnati City Councillor Greg Landsman defeated longtime GOP incumbent Steve Chabot in a race many of the rating agencies thought he would lose.
As we wrote in our February edition of “Best in the Big Tent,” FiveThirtyEight had “had Greg Landsman losing by 5.8 points in OH-01, when he ended up winning by 5.6.” That’s an 11+ point swing!
Since getting elected to Congress, Landsman has joined the mainstream New Democrat Coalition and has quickly taken on the role of a moderate torchbearer. We recently spoke with him about how he defied the pundits and prognosticators and flipped his Republican-held district in 2022.
Landsman’s overperformance was of Biblical proportions, so we pulled out five big themes — or Five Commandments — that struck us as lessons for how Democrats can win the middle:
Love Thy Political Enemy:
“You have to start with liking, if not loving, people, including those who don’t share the same opinions that you do.”
Thou Shalt Not Tweet:
“My recommendation is to stay off of Twitter and focus on what you actually hear in conversations with people in real life. Social media in general pulls folks into these conversations on things with language that doesn’t resonate with the majority of voters.”
Thou Shall Not Talk Like The Online Left:
“When you use that language, people feel left out or excluded and get the sense that you’re not truly part of their community.”
Thou Shalt Work Across the Aisle:
“You also need to have a track record of working in broad coalitions. It’s one thing to talk about wanting to work across the aisle, but it’s another to actually do that. People appreciate it more when there’s a history and track record of that person actually doing that work — and doing well in diverse and broad coalitions. You have to get good at that, and that takes time.”
Covet Your Neighbor’s (GOP-held) House Seat:
“If Democrats are going to win back the House, we need to beat incumbents who have been around for a while… The more we can look at these races against incumbents, the better off we’ll be.”
These were just a few highlights from our conversation with Landsman. The below interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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The Welcome Party: Tell us the story of why you ran for Congress and how your race went in 2022.
Greg Landsman: The number one reason was for democracy and to combat the existential threat to our country. The person I ran against played a role in what happened on Jan 6. The entire city [of Cincinnati] was going to be in his district, so I not only wanted to be part of the fight to strengthen democracy and expand it but also to end chaos and extremism in OH-01 — which we did.
How did engaging independents and moderate Republicans contribute to your victory in November?
It was huge.
This election was about Democrats, independents, and Republicans working together against chaos and extremism.
The next several elections won’t be traditional Democrats vs. Republicans but also independents and everyone who stands against Trumpism, chaos, and extremism — which we saw when the “chaos caucus” took the reins and forced us to vote a historic 15 times [for Speaker of the House] until they got the concessions they wanted. They want to break these institutions of our government and our democracy to establish the authoritarianism Trump and others speak so highly of around the world.
There are a growing number of Republicans and independents in it together against what Trump stands for.
“Chaos caucus” is such a great way to describe them.
Yes. They’re the chaos caucus because they want to break our government. And they want to break our government because, if it’s broken, they can do what they want. They want authoritarianism and autocracy. They don’t want democracy because they know where it’s heading for them.
How do you or do you have to differentiate yourself from most people's perception of what/who a Democrat is, particularly at the federal level?
Yes and no.
I don’t think people are as focused on national issues as pollsters and pundits. There are issues that are top of mind, but when it comes time to vote, they vote for people they believe are like them and will work for them.
That’s something you can build as I have done over time through a lot of work in the community, leading multiple ballot measures before and during my time at City Hall and developing relationships and a reputation as someone who got things done with both Democrats and Republicans. I try to make a point to appreciate the people I serve whether we agree or not.
What are characteristics or principles of a Democrat running in a center-right district?
This should be for everyone, not just Democrats, but start with a genuine appreciation for everyone — people who agree with you and people who don’t, people who know you and people who don’t. You have to start with liking, if not loving, people, including those who don’t share the same opinions that you do.
When you go into a community, people can tell whether they’re liked and seen and appreciated. If you don’t like someone or appreciate a community, they’ll sniff it out immediately. You have to fundamentally appreciate the folks you’re working with irrespective of their political position.
You also need to have a track record of working in broad coalitions. It’s one thing to talk about wanting to work across the aisle, but it’s another to actually do that. People appreciate it more when there’s a history and track record of that person actually doing that work — and doing well in diverse and broad coalitions. You have to get good at that, and that takes time.
My recommendation is to stay off of Twitter and focus on what you actually hear in conversations with people in real life. Social media in general pulls folks into these conversations around things with language that won’t resonate with the majority of voters. And if those conversations are resonating, they’re definitely not using that Twitter language. When you use that language, people feel left out or excluded and get the sense that you’re not truly part of their community.
What you talk about has to be inclusive, and talking about things that people talk about the way they talk about them is also imperative.
What would you want the rest of the country to know about how your race was special last cycle?
We were one of only two races where we beat an incumbent. We were the only race where we beat a nearly 30-year incumbent.
I believe we did that because we were very clear about what was on the line and why this particular election mattered. We went right at our opponent, who had become part of the anti-choice extremist movement. We didn’t pull punches.
It wasn’t a traditional race, and most of these races aren’t and won’t be for several cycles. This is the fight of our lifetime, most likely.
We spent time introducing me to the larger electorate, becoming decently well-known in the media market but not sufficiently, so we had to do some work to introduce me as a teacher and parent and someone who’d gotten things done in these broad bipartisan coalitions.
And we also hit back in most of our ads. We spent most of our time on the offensive. When you’re going up against an incumbent, you can’t waste time making people think you’re great. Instead, you have to make it a referendum on that incumbent.
Is there anything else you’d like to add to what we talked about?
If Democrats are going to win back the House, we need to beat incumbents who have been around for a while.
That only happened here and in New Mexico’s second district. The more we can look at these races against incumbents, the better off we’ll be. 2024 should be a referendum on these folks and how they’ve disqualified themselves from continuing to serve (everything from the Speaker vote to January 6th), and how they’re doing everything they can to spread chaos, nonsense, and extremism in governing.
The majority of Americans believe Republicans in Washington’s number one thing is power — not us or inflation or public safety. It’s power to install their kind of government. And we’re seeing it pop up against democracies across the globe. That is disqualifying for public office.
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