TIME

THE MIDDLE ROAD

The Democrats’ path back to power runs through the heartland
Bustos works the phone at her office on Capitol Hill in May 2017

CHERI BUSTOS SHOWS HER OPPONENTS no mercy. Even in Skee-Ball.

The hypercompetitive three-term Congresswoman from northwest Illinois is walking with a fellow Democrat at a union picnic in the Cincinnati area when she spots the arcade game. “Aftab,” she calls to Aftab Pureval, a former prosecutor who is looking to unseat an 11-term Republican in this southwest corner of Ohio. “How are you at Skee-Ball?” Soon both are shoving tokens into the machine. But as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s chair of heartland engagement, Bustos is a professional multitasker. Between turns she talks about the bigger competition she’s focused on now: helping House Democrats win a bloc of seats that stretches from Omaha to the Philadelphia suburbs.

Democrats have struggled in these working-class districts in recent years, but Bustos has ideas for how to win them back. First, don’t lead with the controversial issues that are popular with the party’s fringe. High-cost, pie-in-the-sky proposals for a guaranteed universal wage and single-payer health care can be toxic with voters who think government is already doing too much, and little of it well. “You don’t go into

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