DNC members are 'overly optimistic' about Democrats' chances in the midterms despite increasingly grim polling for Biden and the party

DNC members are 'overly optimistic' about Democrats' chances in the midterms despite increasingly grim polling for Biden and the party
DNC Chairman Jaime Harrison addresses party members at their 2022 winter meeting.Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
  • Democratic National Committee members met in Washington this week for party business.
  • Democrats' polling is grim ahead of the midterms, but members were still optimistic.

Their public approval was underwater, but Democrats were stubbornly upbeat at their party meeting in DC this week.

Beginning on Thursday, Hundreds of Democratic National Committee members streamed into the Washington Hilton, after two years of convening in the doldrums of Zoom. Officials went about party business during the day and attended cocktail hours at night. The resolutions committee recommended resolutions, to be recommended to the membership. Investments at the grassroots level were repeatedly affirmed. Speeches were given, minutes were taken, chairs were elected, motions were seconded.

At Saturday's closing event, DNC finance chairman Chris Korge declared the weekend had "literally been flawless."

But a cloud hung over the entire affair, which had nothing to do with the winter storm that blew into town on Saturday and enveloped the Hilton in a life-sized snow globe.

A poll released on Friday by the Wall Street Journal found that Democrats were losing ground to Republicans on a bevy of key issues, including their handling of COVID-19. A stark 57% of voters disapproved of President Joe Biden's performance, while only 42% approved. Voters trusted Republicans over Democrats on major issues like restoring the economy, securing the border, curbing inflation, and returning children to schools. The data dropped after months of low approval ratings for the president.


In what amounted to a 72-hour pep rally, Democratic leadership attempted a last-minute messaging reset as the midterm elections truly got underway. Their directive to DNC members was clear: if they could make voters understand what Democrats had done for them, the party would prevail against historical odds in November.

The Democratic Party had a "message that resonates," President Joe Biden assured DNC members in a speech on Thursday. "Now what we have to do is sell it with confidence, clarity and conviction and repetition."

DNC Chairman Jaime Harrison introduced a refrain of "Democrats Deliver," which he sprinkled into impassioned speeches to various caucus and council meetings. In his speech, Biden distilled his economic accomplishments into talking points aimed squarely at the middle class, which members from across the country could repeat back in their states.

Harrison, Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and other party stalwarts emphasized the main bullet points of the trillion-dollar fiscal infusions from the American Rescue Plan and bipartisan infrastructure bill, such as the recently-expired child tax credit aimed at working families, and funds to repair bridges and expand broadband internet.

DNC members are 'overly optimistic' about Democrats' chances in the midterms despite increasingly grim polling for Biden and the party
President Joe Biden addresses the Democratic National Committee's winter meeting on March 10, 2022.Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The political landscape left DNC members trying to navigate their emotions between realism and optimism this week. In interviews with Insider, they acknowledged their party would have an uphill battle to keep their majority in the US House and Senate given the turmoil of the past two years, but had taken to heart the idea that they would prevail with consistent outreach.


"I am overly optimistic," said Lottie Shackelford, a member from Arkansas and chair of the DNC Women's Council. "I know what history says that the party in power, particularly in the presidency, tends to lose seats in the midterms. But it's like everything else. These are still very different times. And if people take a look at where they are, and what Democrats are doing to deliver for them, then I'm hopeful that's going to be enough to propel us to be able to not just maintain — even to grow our numbers a little bit — in the Congress."

"It's just going to take a lot of work and making sure we turn out Democrats, and when Democrats turn out, we win," Kansas Democratic Party Chair Vicki Hiatt said.

"It's a challenge," said Radhika Nath, a DNC member from Colorado. "We need to make sure that people are feeling the effect at the grassroots level. And so we have work to do, we have to reach out to people where they are, at the moment."

"I can tell you," DNC treasurer Virginia McGregor declared at a Saturday presentation, "We are going to win."

Historically, the president's party loses seats in Congress in the midterm elections, a fact DNC members repeatedly acknowledged before launching into an explanation of how they'd defy the odds. This year, the Democrats face their biggest midterms challenge since the 2010 cycle, when Republicans swept into power in Congress thanks to activism from the nascent Tea Party movement. The conservative grassroots effort advocated for fiscal restraint, but was also animated by backlash against the election of Barack Obama, the nation's first Black president.


The costs of any losses are steep. If Democrats lose a single seat in the US Senate, the chamber cedes to Republican control. Meanwhile, Democrats control the US House of Representatives by just 11 seats, and 31 of their representatives will retire or seek higher office before the next term. At stake is Biden and Harris' ability to pass any major policy initiatives into law.

"The work ahead is not going to be easy, everybody knows that," Harris said in a speech to DNC members on Saturday. "When we show what we have accomplished, just in a year, and when we show it is because the American people voted, I believe we will meet the moment again."

"Our task is to show people that in many ways they got what they ordered," she said.

Then Harris stepped off the stage to a standing ovation, and McFadden and Whitehead's "Ain't No Stopping Us Now" blasted over the loudspeakers.