As he mounts an uphill battle to unseat an entrenched leader in the House, Rep. Tim Ryan said Sunday that Democrats are no longer “a national party” and must reinvent themselves if they hope to recapture blue-collar, working-class voters.
Mr. Ryan, Ohio Democrat, is challenging Rep. Nancy Pelosi to lead the House Democratic Caucus. Ms. Pelosi had led the caucus for more than 12 years, but Democrats have lost congressional seats consistently over the past six years, raising questions about her leadership and her ability to help the party rebound from a string of defeats.
Both the House and Senate are now in GOP hands, and much of Democrats’ congressional representation is concentrated in urban areas on the West and East coasts, fueling the notion that the party is out of touch with middle and rural America.
But what’s even more concerning than the congressional losses, Mr. Ryan argues, is that blue-collar voters in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, and elsewhere ditched the Democratic Party and its White House nominee, Hillary Clinton, in favor of Republican Donald Trump in the presidential election. That shift, he says, proves the party has lost its way and is in dire need of new leadership.
“You need a robust economic message that covers everybody and we failed to do that consistently,” he said during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.” “We are not a national party right now. We cannot claim to be.”
He went on to say the party failed to capture many working-class Americans because it did not put forward a clear, concise economic message that appeals to all demographics.
“Those people left us in droves,” he said of working-class voters. “Without a good message that connects deeply with them where we’re talking about issues they care about … They’re never going to come back.”
Mr. Ryan’s comments echo those of Sen. Bernard Sanders and other prominent voices on the left who say the party no longer appeals to working Americans, particularly white Americans in rural America.
Mr. Sanders, an independent who challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, wouldn’t weigh in on the fight between Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Ryan. But he did say that Democrats must institute major changes after being throttled in both congressional races and state legislative and gubernatorial contests.
“But the real issue facing, I think, the Democratic Party, is to assess where they are and they’re not in a good place. And it’s not just the White House, it’s the Senate, it’s the House, it’s two-thirds of the governor’s chairs,” Mr. Sanders told ABC’s “This Week” program on Sunday. “What we need to do and what I am trying to do is revitalize the Democratic Party, bring in the young people, bring in the working people, become less dependent on big money.”
Despite many Democrats saying the party needs new blood at the top, challenging Ms. Pelosi is a difficult undertaking. She retains the support of many within her caucus and has been a key ally of the Obama administration over the past eight years.
Her work was instrumental in pushing key liberal policy goals — such as Mr. Obama’s signature domestic initiative, the Affordable Care Act — through the House.