If it were only the governor’s race in Virginia that Democrats lost on Tuesday there might be no reason for panic about how the party will fare in congressional contests next year, but there were other warning signs, like the miniscule victory margin of the incumbent Democratic governor of New Jersey and the loss of a Democratic House seat in San Antonio.

All the cable news talking heads have been expending gales of hot air analyzing what Democrats need to do to save themselves from disaster. The dominant line is that the failure to pass President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda in a timely and orderly fashion has turned off voters. Others blame Biden’s bad polling numbers. Some say the problem is a failure of Democrats to be progressive enough while others insist the party has already gone too far in that direction and has alienated the middle-of-the-road suburbanites who swung the 2020 presidential election to Biden.

There is a decent argument to be made for all those assessments, and they may all be factors – even the contradictory ones. The one that resonates with me, though, has to do with messaging. Democrats have not been as good as Republicans at reducing what they want to say into a catchphrase that will stick in the brains of people who vote with their gut, not their brain – and that is the vast majority of swing voters.

Build the wall. Make America great again. Lock her up. Donald Trump was lifted to the White House on those empty, mendacious slogans. Maybe Republicans do better with this kind of thing than Democrats because their voters have had their minds sautéed in thin but hot rhetorical gruel through years of watching Fox News and listening to talk radio. Democratic voters more often affect an interest in policy details and high-minded appeals (even if it is really their gut telling them what to do, just like everyone else).

But the voters Democrats need to win over if they have any chance to maintain control of Congress are the voters who do not pay attention to policy and politics, the voters who bounce around every election to the next shiny object; voters who could cast a ballot one election for Barack Obama and the next for Trump and then, four years later, for Biden. Those voters need something simple but compelling to latch onto.

Are Democrats clever enough to figure out what it might be? Here’s a tip: It ain’t Build Back Better.

See more of David Horsey’s cartoons at: st.news/davidhorsey

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