How Democrats Can Win Anywhere and Everywhere

When Gov. Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania got an emergency call about I-95 last June, his first thought turned to semantics. “When you say ‘collapse,’ do you really mean collapse?” he recalled wondering. Highways don’t typically do that, but then tractor-trailers don’t typically flip over and catch fire, which had happened on an elevated section of the road in Philadelphia.

Shapiro’s second, third and fourth thoughts were that he and other government officials needed to do the fastest repair imaginable.

“My job was: Every time someone said, ‘Give me a few days, and I’ll get back to you,’ to say, ‘OK, you’ve got 30 minutes,’” he told me recently. He knew how disruptive and costly the road’s closure would be and how frustrated Pennsylvanians would get.

But he knew something else, too: that if you’re trying to impress a broad range of voters, including those who aren’t predisposed to like you, you’re best served not by joining the culture wars or indulging in political gamesmanship but by addressing tangible, measurable problems.

In less than two weeks, the road reopened.

Today, Shapiro enjoys approval ratings markedly higher than other Pennsylvania Democrats’ and President Biden’s. He belongs to an intriguing breed of enterprising Democratic governors who’ve had success where it’s by no means guaranteed, assembled a diverse coalition of supporters and are models of a winning approach for Democrats everywhere. Just look at the fact that when Shapiro was elected in 2022, it was with a much higher percentage of votes than Biden received from Pennsylvanians two years earlier. Shapiro won with support among rural voters that significantly exceeded other Democrats’ and with the backing of 14 percent of Donald Trump’s voters, according to a CNN exit poll that November.

Biden’s fate this November, Democratic control of Congress and the party’s future beyond 2024 could turn, in part, on heeding Shapiro’s and like-minded Democratic leaders’ lessons about reclaiming the sorts of voters the party has lost.

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