Politics

Staving Off G.O.P. Attacks, Democrats Show New Urgency on Crime

But in Washington, Democratic leaders are now plainly more preoccupied with heading off attacks from the right than on placating the activist left.

If this week has marked a highly visible turning point in Democratic politics, the party’s shift toward treating public safety as a central political concern has been a gradual one. Indeed, the coincidental overlap in Mr. Adams’s strong performance and Mr. Biden’s speech served to create a kind of artificially sudden climax in what was really a monthslong process of reshaping the Democratic message on crime and law enforcement.

As early as last November, congressional Democrats were engaged in a pitched debate over the impact of the “defund” movement on down-ballot elections. In the 2020 general election, Republicans savaged Democrats all over the country by linking them with the most strident faction of activists to emerge during a summer of racial-justice protests. Many Democrats were convinced the party’s candidates had suffered as a result, while progressives bristled at what they described as centrist scapegoating.

Two Democratic reviews of the campaign concluded that the party had not sufficiently pushed back on those attacks. One report, by a collection of Democratic advocacy groups including the centrist think tank Third Way, concluded that Republicans had weaponized the “defund the police” slogan with particular effectiveness “against candidates of color in swing districts with large white populations.”

By late spring of this year, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was employing a more aggressive approach to answering Republican attacks. In a special election to fill a vacant House seat in New Mexico, Republicans were battering the Democratic candidate, Melanie Stansbury, for endorsing sweeping liberal legislation that would have reduced funding for police departments and placed stricter limits on law-enforcement authorities, among other progressive wish-list goals. With a crime wave buffeting Albuquerque, it was a potentially damaging attack.

But Ms. Stansbury and her national allies mounted a determined response, blanketing the Democratic-leaning district with ads promoting her votes in the New Mexico State Legislature to fund local law enforcement. She won the race by a huge margin.

In another special election, pitting two Black Democrats against each other for an open House seat in Louisiana, the victorious candidate, Troy Carter, deflected criticism from a more progressive candidate, Karen Carter Peterson, who accused him of being too supportive of the police.

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