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Commentary: Democrats' closing argument is "we are better than this"

Democrats on the ballot have one last chance to make their closing arguments to voters in this last weekend before Election Day. In a political season that has been more geared toward national concerns than in previous elections, the campaigns have been bitter and partisan, and the challenge for Democrats is to break through -- especially with the onslaught of both legitimate crises and 11th hour political stunts from a White House anxious to shift the momentum.

At this late stage, it's no longer about persuading people on the fence. Campaigns should be focused on getting the converted to their polling places. For Democrats, the message is simple: We are better than this.

President Trump is doing everything he can to try to control the news cycles he has dominated since he stepped into the political spotlight, floating half-baked trial balloons like ending birthright citizenship, claiming he'll advance a middle class tax cut, and sending thousands of troops to the border to whip up his base, which is already terrified by his false characterizations of a caravan of asylum seekers who won't be reaching the U.S. border for weeks. 

His latest volley – a racist video of a convicted cop killer who happens to be an undocumented immigrant – makes it clear where he's driving the discussion in these final days of the campaign.

All of this could actually help Democrats. 

Frustration with the president might push sporadic voters who don't typically wade into midterm elections to head to the polls and sway independents and moderates. Early vote numbers indicate turnout is already higher than previous cycles — 40 percent of ballots had already been cast as of Halloween morning. In key states like Georgia, Florida, Nevada, Michigan, and Texas, numbers are up significantly, including among young voters, which could be good news for Democrats like Stacey Abrams and Beto O'Rourke looking for upset victories.

So what should Democrats focus on in these final days?

Local matters

It would be a mistake for any Democrats to make their final pitch to voters exclusively about Trump. Even in this hyper-national landscape, Democrats can't forget that local elections require a local frame – and voters need to believe a candidate understands their needs and has a vision for making their lives better. Voters are still worried about how they're going to pay the bills, what kind of education their children will have, and whether they can afford to visit the doctor.

This election is a broader referendum on Republicans, who hold both houses of Congress, the White House, and the overwhelming majority of governor's mansions nationwide. Republicans campaigned in 2016 on repealing Obamacare, but their efforts failed because they couldn't answer the question, "Then what?" A jittery public worried about losing health care coverage ultimately doomed the repeal effort in the Senate. Yet Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is still thinking about trying again to repeal the Affordable Care Act and cutting back on Medicare and Medicaid to help pay for the ballooning deficit caused by the Trump tax cuts. 

Democrats should be pounding home the message that they're the ones who will protect health care coverage for Americans and pushing back on disingenuous claims by Republicans that they'll protect people with pre-existing conditions. The latest CBS News polling illustrates this point. In Florida, Arizona, and Indiana, where the U.S. Senate races remain hotly contested, voters say health care tops their concerns, and protections for pre-existing conditions are a specific factor in determining which party they'll support. Voters want to know they're not one illness away from bankruptcy.

Don't boo -- vote

We'll see if Democrats are able to translate the rage and anxiety in our communities into voters. Women in the suburbs, in particular, are expected to be a decisive voting bloc in dozens of congressional, Senate, and other statewide races. The #MeToo movement is likely to motivate large swaths of women to head to the ballot box. 

At the same time, Democrats can speak to the broader phenomenon increasingly described as a kind of "Trump Anxiety Disorder." Effective democracy requires faith in our institutions, experienced leadership, and a steady hand in both peace and in crisis. In the era of Trump, we have none of these. Americans have seen the most contentious Supreme Court confirmation hearings in decades, a White House and Cabinet that's constantly turning over, and a president who stokes fears, snubs traditional U.S. allies while embracing strongmen, and peddles falsehoods daily. It's no surprise that they want a check on Donald Trump – in some surveys by as much as a 2 to 1 margin.

Most important, Democrats must convince the so-called Obama coalition to go to the polls. Former President Obama's call to action, "Don't boo, vote" has never applied more. Remind young people their voice matters and arm them with the information to make smart choices. Remind the communities of color that often sit out off-year elections that they should be using their power to affect the outcome of these elections.

Time is short. Get-out-the-vote weekend starts now, and early voting continues in 37 states around the country. 

  • Lynda Tran

    CBSN contributor Lynda Tran is a founding partner of progressive grassroots strategy firm 270 Strategies