MATTHEWS: Crime once again emerges as a campaign issue for Democrats 

FILE - District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks during a news conference. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Back in November 2020, House Democrats paid the price for their association with the radical “Defund the Police” movement by losing 13 seats, while no Republican incumbent lost their respective race and the GOP gained a total of 14 seats in the process. 

In the aftermath, centrist Democrats were heard on a well-publicized conference call blasting far-leftists in Congress for costing them seats in part by aligning themselves with groups who want to yank funding from police departments and reallocate it elsewhere, including social services programs. 

Here we are in early 2023, just ahead of the start of the 2024 campaign season, and Democrats are once again dealing with the issue of being viewed as “soft on crime.” A decision made by President Joe Biden last week is proof of the extent Democrats worry about how voters will ultimately judge them on the crime issue. 

Last Thursday, Biden announced that a Republican-led effort in the Senate to overturn the Washington, D.C. Council’s overhaul of their criminal code, which Republicans view as a “soft on crime” law considering it lowers penalties for some violent offenses, had his support should they have the votes in the Senate. 

“I support D.C. Statehood and home-rule — but I don’t support some of the changes D.C. Council put forward over the Mayor’s objections — such as lowering penalties for carjackings,” Biden tweeted. 

“If the Senate votes to overturn what D.C. Council did — I’ll sign it.” 

Though Republicans are in the minority in the Senate, they reportedly have the support of at least one if not one or two more Democrats in the Senate, which would mean their resolution to overturn the law would likely pass if brought to a vote. 

The GOP-controlled House already voted to overturn the law, with 31 House Democrats joining them. 

Biden’s announcement was widely seen as a move to thwart alleged Republican attempts at forcing him into vetoing a resolution overturning the D.C. Council bill, which those same Republicans would turn around and use against him and the Democratic Party in future campaign ads. 

But Biden siding with Republicans on this issue has had the effect of backfiring on him, as many of the House’s more “progressive” members have lashed out and accused him of only supporting statehood for Washington, D.C., when it’s politically convenient. 

In addition to this issue, Chicago’s Lori Lightfoot was ousted as mayor last week after failing to finish in the top two in her reelection bid. Many issues contributed to her defeat, including the fact that she was viewed as insufficiently supportive of police and soft on crime. 

Other elections and recall efforts in Democrat-run cities over the last two years have produced similar results, as voters in San Francisco recalled soft-on-crime District Attorney Chesa Boudin in the summer of 2022. Democrats in New York City chose Eric Adams as their nominee in 2021 over other candidates who were supportive of defunding the police. 

Adams went on to win in the general election. 

The 2021 mayoral race in Buffalo was also an example of a soft-on-crime “Defund the Police” radical (and one endorsed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) getting soundly rejected by voters in favor of the incumbent Democrat mayor. 

Of course, only time will tell if this issue hurts Biden and vulnerable Congressional Democrats next year. But if what happened in 2020 and since then in local elections is a reliable indicator, Democrats in battleground parts of the country trying to convince voters that they’re committed to keeping their communities safe will be a tough sell, made all the tougher by Republicans who are already cueing up their campaign ads on this issue as we speak. 

North Carolina native Stacey Matthews has also written under the pseudonym Sister Toldjah and is a media analyst and regular contributor to RedState and Legal Insurrection.