On the campaign trail in her northeast Florida congressional district, Nancy Soderberg says the main thing she hears from the people she hopes to represent in Congress are concerns about the basics – not the larger than life reality television president who has come to dominate American political discourse during the past two years.
Shortly after sharing a stage with Vice President Joe Biden and other prominent Florida Democrats at a recent Orlando rally, Ms Soderberg’s claim was illustrated. As she prepared for an interview in the fast-emptying Cheyenne Saloon – a lavish ballroom that oozes a sense of old west Americana – the candidate was approached by a constituent who had made the trip to see her speak.
The two shook hands, and he told her that her speech had resonated with him on a deeply personal level – he recalls his mother struggling to gain access to affordable medicines and cancer treatment before the passage of Obamacare in 2010 required coverage of pre-existing conditions. Now, after nearly two years of attempted assault on that legislation from President Donald Trump and his party, the constituent said he hoped Ms Soderberg could fight in Congress for continued access to essential healthcare services.
“As a diabetic, I know what it’s like to be told ‘No, you can’t have insurance because you have a pre-existing condition’. This is before Obamacare – we can’t go back to that,” Ms Soderberg told The Independent after meeting with the voter. “People are afraid it is going to disappear”.
Ms Soderberg – a Democrat who once served as a top official on former President Bill Clinton’s National Security Council – is running in something of a peculiar race in the 2018 midterms, where she and her Republican opponent Michael Waltz, a combat decorated Green Beret and Fox News contributor, are hoping to win the seat vacated by Republican former Representative Ron Desantis, who left the seat to run for governor.
While Mr DeSantis has publicly embraced his ties with Mr Trump alongside many Republican candidates in the bellwether state of Florida and across the country, Mr Waltz has declined an invitation to campaign publicly alongside the president. Mr Waltz has not been distancing himself from Trump policies per-se, but he and his campaign decided that Mr Trump when he is live – in front of a crowd on the campaign trail with nobody holding him back from sparking the next media outrage – is just too much of a liability for the candidate, according to Politico, even if others like Mr DeSantis and Florida Governor Rick Scott, who is running for US Senate, are jumping at any chance they can to be seen next to the president.
"Michael Waltz proudly supports the many successes President Trump has achieved on behalf of the American people and has said EXACTLY THAT in dozens of interviews on FOX News, on the campaign trail and in campaign ads,” the campaign said in a written statement delivered to Politico regarding the decision to not campaign shoulder-to-shoulder with the president.
The campaign did not dispute in the statement that there was concern about Mr Waltz appearing at a live event with the president, however. “Michael Waltz is determined to make his case directly to the voters of this district based on his own experience as a decorated combat veteran and small business owner who’s dedicated his entire adult life to serving this country.”
And, while Ms Soderberg – who in her career so far has also served as a US ambassador at the United Nations, worked as a foreign policy advisor to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and was appointed by former President Barack Obama to be the chair of the Public Interest Declassification Board that promotes public access to foreign policy decisions – said that she thinks Republicans in general are running campaigns based on fear, the 60-year-old Democrat says that she has not encountered an electorate driven primarily by the president’s record.
They want to hear ideas, and from candidates who are willing to work across the aisle on difficult issues from healthcare to education and jobs, she said. And, Ms Soderberg has some experience working to find consensus between two warring factions – literally, as she played a crucial role in the Clinton administration's successful efforts to broker peace in Northern Ireland in the 1990s.
“I think people voted for change in 2016, but they’re going to vote for change again in the 2018 midterms because they want Congress to get things done,” Ms Soderberg said. They’re tired of the partisan bickering, more of the same, this divisiveness and corrosive interest of special interests”.
She continued: “People see through that. The American people are smart, and I think they’re going to vote again to have some focus on American families, and kitchen table issues are at the forefront of this campaign”.
Attempts to contact the Waltz campaign were not returned.
If Ms Soderberg manages to claim Florida’s 6th Congressional District for Democrats, the victory could represent the kind of blue wave that pundits and political handicappers have been musing about for months now as the November midterm elections have crept closer.
The district was carried easily by Mr DeSantis in 2016, when he captured 58.6 per cent of the vote compared to his Democratic challenger, who received 41.4 per cent of that vote. In each of the counties that make up the 6th Congressional District, Mr Trump also beat challenger Hillary Clinton by similar margins, if not more.
To overcome that historic deficit, Ms Soderberg said that she will continue to knock on doors to speak to voters, and highlight her plans to protect Obamacare provisions that Republicans have repeatedly tried to repeal, to push for economic policies that help average Americans instead of the wealthiest Americans who were the major beneficiaries of the Trump tax cuts, and to help struggling American families who are not seeing major economic success even in a flourishing national economy.
And, she said her campaign is going to continue focusing on those issues instead of the president.
“Honestly that never comes up. People don’t ask me about that,” she said of the president. “What people ask me about is are they going to be able to keep their kids on their insurance, pay for pre-existing conditions, afford their kid’s cancer treatment, and be able to get a job here at home”.
“We’re going to be very proud of our country on November 6,” Ms Soderberg said, referring to the date of Election Day. “We’re going to stand up and say, ‘this is who we are, and this is the right thing that we want Congress to do’”.
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