WASHINGTON — The 2020 election campaign season kicks off today, and the Democratic Party has emerged from the midterms not only with control of the House, but as a far more progressive team preparing to take on President Trump in a battle of not just words and insults, but ideas.

But Democrats still have a long way to go in reaching many of the voters they need to have a shot at the White House, including Latino voters, who party organizers failed to energize — even as Democratic leaders decried Trump’s message on immigration as bigoted and divisive.

“It’s more than about specific issues, it’s about the character of the country,” former Vice President Joe Biden told reporters yesterday after he voted in Delaware, previewing a message Democratic strategists said will be a 2020 mainstay for candidates up and down the ballots.

The lynchpin of the Democrats’ plan for victory in two years is focusing on health care, the biggest issue of the midterms despite Trump’s focus on painting immigrants as a threat. An NBC exit poll last night showed that health care was the top motivator of Democratic voters, and even for independent voters, health care beat out immigration as the top issue by more than a 2-to-1 margin, 43 percent to 20 percent.

The Democrats’ progressive shift means Medicare will be a key messaging point — and so far Democrats are coalescing. More than 70 percent of Democratic candidates on ballots yesterday support Medicare for all, some form of universal Medicare option and/or expanding Social Security, according to an analysis by the Progressive Change Institute.

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Even candidates identifying as moderate Democrats expressed support for other progressive policies like reversing the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and eschewing corporate PAC campaign funds.

Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee called yesterday’s election “a massive shift in the center of gravity within the Democratic Party and the general electorate — in an economic-populist direction.”

And Trump has made clear that immigration will remain a centerpiece of his message, which has angered the Democrats’ base, including Latino voters. But that won’t translate into votes unless Democrats do a better job in registering eligible voters and improving the ground game. Latino turnout continues its persistent trend of lagging behind other groups.

“That Democrats still didn’t prioritize Latino voters — after Hurricane Maria, after DACA, after the quote-unquote caravan — is the type of political malpractice that drives me nuts,” one Democratic strategist said.

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(c)2018 the Boston Herald

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