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Spanberger to House Dems: Never "use the word 'socialist' or 'socialism' again"

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 13:  U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) speaks to members of the media at the U.S. Capitol March 13, 2020 in Washington, DC. Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi held a briefing on the Coronavirus Aid Package Bill that will deal with the outbreak of COVID-19.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 13: U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) speaks to members of the media at the U.S. Capitol March 13, 2020 in Washington, DC. Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi held a briefing on the Coronavirus Aid Package Bill that will deal with the outbreak of COVID-19. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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"If we are classifying Tuesday as a success from a congressional standpoint, we will get [expletive] torn apart in 2022."

Democratic Virginia Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger, whose 7th District House race has yet to be called although she leads in votes, did not hold back on a caucus call Thursday.

Spanberger, who was first elected in 2018, is a moderate Democrat in a district that is traditionally Republican.

In audio obtained by The Washington Post, Spanberger decried the party's focus on socialism and defunding the police.

"The number one concern in things that people brought to me in my [district] that I barely re-won, was defunding the police," Spanberger was heard saying in the audio obtained by the Post. "And I've heard from colleagues who have said 'Oh, it's the language of the streets. We should respect that.' We're in Congress. We are professionals. We are supposed to talk about things in the way where we mean what we're talking about. If we don't mean we should defund the police, we shouldn't say that."

Spanberger was adamant about socialism, according to the audio obtained by the Post, saying it was a reason some House Democrats lost their races.

We want to talk about funding social services, and ensuring good engagement in community policing, let's talk about what we are for. And we need to not ever use the words 'socialist' or 'socialism' ever again. Because while people think it doesn't matter, it does matter. And we lost good members because of it.

As votes were still being counted and reported, throughout the day Friday she maintained a nearly 5000 vote lead over Republican state delegate Nick Freitas. Spanberger appeared headed for potential defeat until fifteen thousand votes were counted starting Wednesday that the Henrico County registrar says were mistakenly left unreported on election night.

Although Spanberger declared victory in the race Wednesday night, as of Friday afternoon Freitas had not conceded, and the Associated Press had still not called the race.

ABC7 was told Friday ballots postmarked by Tuesday that arrived before a noon deadline Friday were still being counted. Updates from some counties involved relatively small numbers of votes and helped Spanberger slightly expand her lead.

Their majority shrunk, House Democrats cast blame Thursday on their election message, ground game and leadership under Speaker Nancy Pelosi's team after expectations for big wins came crashing down by a stark reversal in Trump country.

They focused too narrowly on health care, when voters were also worried about the economy.

They failed to fight back when Republicans labeled them “socialists” aligned with the party's most liberal firebrands.

They didn't knock on doors to meet voters, focusing instead on phone calls, digital outreach and TV ads, due to the health risks of campaigning during the pandemic.

They lost Latino voters in some places, and white, working class men in others.

ALSO READ: Virginia's 7th District still un-called but incumbent Democrat Spanberger claims victory

They did not pass more COVID aid through Congress when Americans needed help most.

And perhaps most importantly, Democrats are coming to grips with the fact that whether President Donald Trump is re-elected or defeated by rival Joe Biden, they still have a problem understanding and winning over Trump voters.

On the call, Spanberger, in a so-tight race in Virginia, spoke with “passion” about the party's campaign failures, according to a person familiar with the private call and granted anonymity to discuss it.

The marathon call ran three hours, with some 30 members adding their views.

No one spoke against Pelosi, who tried to remind them, they did, in fact, win: Biden is on the verge of replacing Trump, and House Democrats are on track to keep their majority, according to another person familiar with the call and granted anonymity to discuss it.

“We did not win every battle but we did win the war,” Pelosi said.

But there were plenty of complaints to go around — over faulty polling, Republican attack ads — as expectations had been raised sky high for election night gains and that made the setbacks all the more disorienting.

Rather than bolstering their majority, as planned, Democrats lost a handful of freshman lawmakers who had just won in a 2018 midterm election backlash against the president. They also failed to add to their ranks as Republicans defeated one Democratic challenger after another.

ALSO READ: USB formatting issue leads to 15,000 uncounted votes in Va. U.S. House race

Asked what went wrong, one Democratic strategist granted anonymity to frankly run through the list shortcomings, said: “All of the above.”

Money, with the onslaught of campaign cash flowing to Democrats in an anti-Trump revolt, was the one thing on their side. But money alone was not enough.

Key Democrats said the GOP attacks against them as wild-eyed “socialists” are damaging, as are some of the party's most liberal proposals.

They cited the “defund the police” movement that calls for shifting law enforcement resources to social workers and other ways of revolving conflicts. It gained prominence last summer after the police killing of Black people, including George Floyd, sparked a nationwide reckoning on racial injustice. Democrats also were criticized this year as insufficiently supporting Israel because of a liberal proposals helping Palestinians.

“I think that the Democratic party needs to clearly push that we are not supportive of ideas like socialism or defunding the police or anti-Semitism,” said Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., a co-chair of the House's centrist Blue Dog Coalition.

Several Democrats said the “socialist” label particularly harmed lawmakers who lost seats in Florida with its vast Cuban and Venezuelan communities who largely reject socialist ideologies.

Murphy said the House leadership team was putting “lipstick on a pig” by touting the overall election outcome as a success.

"This playing footsies with socialism is not going to win over most of America," she said. “There’s no amount of lipstick that can cover up the fact that these far left ideas are costing us races.”

ALSO READ: A guide to Virginia's competitive Congressional races

But progressive ideas were also defended on the call, said another person granted anonymity to discuss it.

Other Democrats argued it was always going to be difficult to defend the House majority. It was won in 2018 with more women and minority candidates in history, reaching into districts Trump had won in 2016. Holding onto those seats would be tougher once the president was back on the ballot.

In defeating Democrats, Republicans filled many of the seats with more women and minority candidates than ever, after their ranks of both had dwindled to single digit numbers in the House.

Democratic freshman Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who won re-election in Michigan, did so with a more narrow margin than she did in 2018.

“With President Trump on the ballot, it just drove enormous turnout that was almost impossible to surmount” in some areas, she said.

Other lawmakers in Oklahoma, New Mexico and South Carolina did not fare as well, and were defeated.

Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., the brash former hockey player, delighted after the GOP wins in reminding people that Democrats laughed when he first rolled out the Republican plan for the election.

“Our message from day one was that the Democrats' radical socialist agenda is a threat to middle-class Americans,” he said on Wednesday conference call with reporters.

The Democrats, he said, "should have listened."

Polling was clearly a problem, on all sides, strategists said. Republicans, too, thought they were heading toward losses but instead made gains.

But they also need to learn how to win back the Trump voters they have lost.

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“Is there something that we’re missing about these Trump voters? said Rep. Ami Bera, D-Ca., a member of the centrist House New Democrat Coalition. “Because we certainly saw a lot of Trump voters show up.”

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