One party is running on democracy and elections in 2022, and it’s not the Democrats.
Despite a broad consensus on the left that the country’s most revered institutions are in trouble, with President Biden and other leaders warning gravely that protecting voting rights and fair elections is of paramount importance, the vast majority of Democratic candidates are veering away from those issues on the campaign trail.
Instead, they are focusing on bread-and-butter economic topics like inflation and gas prices. Continuing to win elections must come first, the thinking goes — and polls and focus groups show that the issue of voting rights is far down the list of voters’ most urgent concerns.
“You cannot buy a lot of groceries with voting rights,” said Trey Martinez Fischer, a Texas state representative who organized Democrats’ flight from the state in July in a failed effort to block a Republican election bill. “Last summer there was nothing more important than voting rights, but the universe has shifted, and it’s become a conversation about our economy and inflation and the cost of goods.”
But as that conversation has shifted, Democrats have largely ceded the political turf on the structure of American democracy to Republicans. Riding a lasting wave of anger over the 2020 election, many G.O.P. candidates have put what they call “election integrity” front and center, even as they attack Mr. Biden and Democrats over the rising cost of living.
Many Republican candidates have falsely argued in debates, social media posts and TV ads that the 2020 race was stolen from former President Donald J. Trump, views that are shared by large numbers of the party’s voters. Mr. Trump’s allies have continued to try to decertify the 2020 results, and he has made questioning the last election a litmus test for winning his endorsement, which is coveted in Republican primaries.
“It’s critical that we keep the heat on in terms of exposing what was a stolen election,” Peter Navarro, a former top White House adviser to Mr. Trump, said on Steve Bannon’s podcast last month.
There is no evidence of meaningful fraud in the 2020 election, a finding consistent from the initial days after the vote through an array of reviews in the nearly 18 months since. Republicans ranging from William P. Barr, Mr. Trump’s attorney general, to state officials from Wisconsin to Wyoming have acknowledged that Mr. Biden was the rightful winner.
The parties’ wide gap in energy on elections and voting — which comes during a midterm year when Republicans are ascendant — worries some Democrats, especially Black Democrats who have been dismayed by the party’s inability to pass federal voting protections while in power.
“If people don’t see that Democrats are defending our right to vote, then people may not be enthused about coming out to vote,” said Angela Lang, the executive director of Black Leaders Organizing for Communities in Milwaukee.