washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Discussion panel

Understanding voters’ angst in the 2016 election

On September 20, E.J. Dionne hosted two of the nation’s leading pollsters from both sides of the aisle—Stanley Greenberg and Whit Ayres—and Markle Foundation CEO and President Zoë Baird for an illuminating and frank discussion on the conflicting state of American politics. What are the roots of pessimism regarding America’s economic and democratic future, how are demographics influencing this election, and is there a potential path toward unity in its aftermath?

Watch the video.

Stan Greenberg

Stan Greenberg Speaks

“The core problem is the stagnation of incomes over a long period of time… almost permanent. [People are] angry at leaders who have not addressed the problem.”

Watch the Video.

E. J. Dionne

A Non-Partisan Discussion

E. J. Dionne moderates—with sponsorship from from the Markle Foundation—a serious discussion of  voters and their concerns coming into the 2016 presidential election.

Watch the Video.

The Daily Strategist

October 27, 2016

After the Election, Paul Ryan’s Career Will Take a Turn for the Worse

There is a lot of uncertainty still surrounding election day and its aftermath. But one politician whose future looks bad no matter what happens is House Speaker Paul Ryan. I discussed his downward trajectory at New York earlier this week:

There is a small but quite real chance that a Trump-led Republican meltdown will award Democrats control of the House, leaving Ryan with one of America’s worst jobs, House Minority Leader.

But at least that disaster would leave Ryan with a lot of spare time on his hands. The more likely but equally hellish outcome would be a significantly reduced GOP majority in the House, leaving Ryan at the mercy of surly backbenchers and vengeful Trumpites. Norm Ornstein explains what that might mean for Ryan’s immediate future:

“Freedom Caucus member Rep. Mark Meadows (who led the charge to oust John Boehner) said recently, ‘A lot of people who believe so desperately that we need to put Donald Trump in the White House – they question the loyalty of the Speaker.’ Meadows and his allies are trying to delay the Caucus vote, scheduled for the week after the election, to mobilize opposition to Ryan. They might confront Ryan after the election and before the Republican Conference votes to choose its candidate for Speaker, demanding concessions that would include cutting discretionary spending even more sharply, returning to the use of the debt ceiling as a hostage to force the new President Clinton to capitulate to their demands, and refusing to cooperate with her on any area of public policy—a set of demands Ryan could not accept without destroying his capacity to lead, along with deepening governmental dysfunction beyond its current sorry state.”

In other words, a weakened Ryan might be right back in the same impossible position John Boehner occupied in much of Barack Obama’s second term, with the added problem of a GOP divided not just over legislative strategy and tactics, but over the recently concluded presidential election and the path forward for the entire party.

If, as appears increasingly likely, Republicans lose control of the Senate while losing the White House for the third consecutive time, Ryan would become the subject and object of all of the angst in the GOP over its not-very-effective leadership. Perhaps that would enhance his already-massive Beltway prestige, but probably at a terrible cost in the party and the country at large. He is already significantly less popular with rank-and-file Republicans than Trump. Becoming a one-man choke point obstructing everything Hillary Clinton tries to do will definitely damage his general popularity. But he won’t be in any better position than Boehner in trying to impose the GOP’s will on the White House. To the extent that the entire Trump phenomenon was partly caused by Republican “base” frustration with GOP fecklessness in the fight to destroy Obama, it will not go away during another phase of divided government, even if Trump himself goes away, which is extremely unlikely. Like Boehner, Ryan will probably have to rely on Democratic votes now and then to keep the country (or at least the federal government) functioning. Like Boehner, he will earn burning hatred from many of his fellow Republicans each time he does so.

Ornstein thinks Ryan might look at the terrible situation he is in and decide to make a strategic retreat to preserve his political future, and perhaps his sanity:

“He could say, ‘I stepped into the breach reluctantly to save the party and the country and become Speaker. Now I want to step back and take the role where I can do the most good: chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.’ Or, to preserve his future role in politics, he could decide it is a good time to leave the House to spend more time with his young family.”

It doesn’t say much for the health of the Republican Party that the leader most likely to be left standing on November 9 — a pol, moreover, who has already been on a national ticket and has been lionized in the national media to the point of embarrassment — might well pack up the U-Haul and head back to Wisconsin. But that may be the most rational course of action for Paul Ryan, who would benefit from an environment where his endlessly discussed potential does not perpetually and conspicuously stop short of actual accomplishment. Becoming mayor of Janesville might be a good call.

How the mighty may soon be fallen!

New DCorps Poll Shows Dems Positioned for Big Down-ballot Gains with Clinton’s 12-Point Lead

The following article by Stan Greenberg and James Carville is cross-posted from Democracy Corps:

Tuesday, October 25 2016
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The final pre-election national survey for Democracy Corps shows Clinton moving into a commanding 12-point lead over Trump, getting to 50 percent of the vote as the third party vote is squeezed.[1] This lead is produced by some historic voting patterns and a breathtakingly unpopular Republican Party led by Donald Trump. It is also produced by a country where President Obama’s approval has reached 56 percent and wrong track numbers for the country’s direction have begun to fall.


Critically, the association of GOP candidates with Trump and a closing Democratic economic message have the chance to translate to much larger Democratic margins down-ballot.  After voters hear the simulated campaign play out, Democrats take a 9-point lead in the House ballot, just at the edge of a majority.

Clinton has consolidated 90 percent of Democrats and actually has room to grow. Trump is winning white working class men 57 to 31 percent, but that is not better than Mitt Romney (65 to 32 percent). He is only running even with independents, men, white college educated men and seniors. That allows Clinton to run up the score with women (56 to 33 percent), unmarried women (59 to 31 percent), white college educated women (56 to 30 percent), millennials (59 to 20 percent) and in the suburbs (54 to 36 percent).


The third party vote has been squeezed and Gary Johnson is only getting 5 percent of the four-way ballot. Though it is a small sample size, the remaining Johnson voters are mostly anti-Trump Republicans and they may not vote in the end: just 39 percent report the highest interest in voting, half the level of all likely voters. Jill Stein is only getting 2 percent of the four-way vote and her voters are Democrats.

No one is surprised that Trump emerges with a net favorability of -28 points and 60 percent hold unfavorable views of the GOP nominee. The House Republicans have an even worse image than Trump (-31 unfavorable) and the Republican Party has a -23 point unfavorable image with over half unfavorable (53 percent). With the Democratic Party at parity of positive and negative reactions, the Republicans have a brand problem. That is unlikely to change as only 26 percent of Republicans want their leaders in the next Congress to work with President Clinton to make progress.

There is a chance to translate Clinton’s emerging landslide into a wave down-ballot. In a simulated contest where the Republican congressional candidate argues they are needed as an independent check on Clinton, the Democrats move into a 9-point lead in the congressional match-up after the Republican is attacked.

Overall, the current strategy of linking Republican candidates to Donald Trump and not opposing him produces the biggest overall shift down-ballot. That is an effective message and moves Republicans and independents.

But when Democrats echo the economic message that Clinton used in the debates – vowing to build an economy for everyone and raise taxes on the rich, in contrast with an opponent who wants more trickle-down economics – there is dramatically more consolidation with Democrats and the Rising American Electorate, particularly unmarried women and white unmarried women and millennials. There is room for more consolidation among Democrats down-ballot and at the top of the ticket and this economic message will help Democratic candidates get there.




[1] This national survey took place October 21-24, 2016.  Respondents who voted in the 2012 election or registered since were selected from the national voter file.  Likely voters were determined based on stated intention of voting next month.  Margin of error for the full sample is +/-3.27 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.  Of the 900 respondents, 65 percent were interviewed via cell phone in order to accurately sample the American electorate.

Dems Press Case Against Split-Ticket Voting, Tie GOP Candidates to Trump

Greg Sargent’s Plum Line post, “The GOP has a new strategy to hold Congress. Here’s how Democrats will fight it” previews dueling messaging for the final two weeks of the presidential campaign. As Sargent explains,

Republicans scrambling to salvage control of Congress amid Donald Trump’s downward tailspin have hit on a new message: A GOP-controlled House and Senate are necessary to act as a check on President Hillary Clinton. The message basically argues for divided government as a way to prevent her from going too far, in effect admitting that the presidential race is a goner.

But Democrats insist that this message will be a non-starter, and they shared new internal polling with this blog that they argue backs up their claim. Dems say they can rebut the Republicans’ line of attack by pointing out that they are openly, explicitly promising more obstruction in Washington, something swing voters and independents despise.

Sargent notes that pro-Republican PACs have ads loaded that are designed to gin up fear of a ‘rubber stamp’ congress ready to Give HRC free reign. He notes that Democratic internal polling, with all of the appropriate caveats, indicates voters in 30 contested House districts are more inclined to vote for the Democratic congressional candidate by a margin of 50 to 40 percent.

Further, adds Sargent, “66 percent of respondents expect Republicans to try to block Clinton even if it means more gridlock and inaction in Washington, while only 23 percent think they will work constructively with Clinton, meaning they’re prepared to believe GOP control means more obstruction.”

Recent history indicates that split-ticket voting in presidential election years is declining. The Republicans hope that 2016 will prove to be an exceptional year and the Democratic nominee will prove to be more of a drag down-ballot, but statistical evidence of that happening is scant at best. If Clinton is a drag down-ballot, Trump is a leaden anchor.

“Republicans want this argument to be about whether Congress will stand up to overreaching President Hillary,” says Sargent, “while Democrats want it to be about whether Washington is going to function again or whether we’re going to see more of the same gridlock and dysfunction that GOP control of the House meant during the Obama years.”

The Republicans have already done a thorough job of branding themselves as the party of obstruction, as most recently demonstrated in John McCain’s comments. As Jonathan Bernstein notes at Bloomberg View,

We’ve heard hopeful claims lately that the Republican Party could be a normal, healthy, functional political party if it hadn’t accidentally nominated Donald Trump. But John McCain has reminded us that this is not the case.

McCain, speaking in support of Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, said: “I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up.”

It’s probably too much to hope that McCain will pay the appropriate price for his nakedly obstructionist comments, even though Clinton is doing better than expected in Arizona. Democrats need only to remind voters of other GOP leadership comments openly urging endless gridlock, and they’ve got plenty of examples. If American voters are genuinely fed up with Republican obstruction, the GOP has a very tough sell two weeks out.

The implicit message behind the GOP strategy is an admission that their presidential candidate is going to lose, which may further depress turnout of Republican voters, or drive many of them to vote for a third party candidate, like Gary Johnson. “Ultimately,” concludes Sargent, “a lot of this may end up being determined by how big a margin Clinton runs up in victory.”

Democrats have every reason to be optimistic about winning back Senate control. A net Democratic pick up of four senate seats is not that much of a stretch, particularly with such a deeply-flawed presidential candidate providing the face of the G.O.P.

I’ve seen estimates that Dems will win back the House speakership on Clinton’s coattails, if she wins the popular vote by 7 percent to double-digits. “The House of Representatives was thought to be out of play because it is so affected by partisan redistricting as to require a seven-plus-point swing to Democrats for them to net the more than 30 seats required to recapture the chamber,” writes David Malet at The Conversation. But such ‘rules of thumb’ matter a lot less down-ballot than which party cranks up the better GOTV effort. In that regard, early voting indications, weak Republican turn-out operations and other signs point to a bad outcome for the Republicans.

Political Strategy Notes

For your response, the next time some Trump defender charcterizes the Republican nominee as some sort of champion of working people: “…Trump often portrays himself as a savior of the working class who will “protect your job.” But a USA TODAY NETWORK analysis found he has been involved in more than 3,500 lawsuits over the past three decades — and a large number of those involve ordinary Americans…who say Trump or his companies have refused to pay them…Trump’s companies have also been cited for 24 violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act since 2005 for failing to pay overtime or minimum wage, according to U.S. Department of Labor data. That includes 21 citations against the defunct Trump Plaza in Atlantic City and three against the also out-of-business Trump Mortgage LLC in New York. Both cases were resolved by the companies agreeing to pay back wages…n addition to the lawsuits, the review found more than 200 mechanic’s liens — filed by contractors and employees against Trump, his companies or his properties claiming they were owed money for their work — since the 1980s. The liens range from a $75,000 claim by a Plainview, N.Y., air conditioning and heating company to a $1 million claim from the president of a New York City real estate banking firm. On just one project, Trump’s Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, records released by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission in 1990 show that at least 253 subcontractors weren’t paid in full or on time, including workers who installed walls, chandeliers and plumbing.” — from USA TODAY exclusive: Hundreds allege Donald Trump doesn’t pay his bills.

It’s not enough to sell our candidates to the public. We must also work on improving the party’s image. If Dems won’t define the party, Republicans will. This is an OK start, but Democrats need a continuous series of ads that define what the party has accomplished and what it means to be a Democrat.

More required reading for Democrats: “Here’s how to fight Trump’s ballot bullies” by WaPo columnist Colbert King, who writes, “Trump has called for his supporters to stand watch at polling places in “certain areas,” a tactic that could be aimed at intimidating and suppressing the votes of African Americans and other minorities…“And when I say ‘watch,’ you know what I’m talking about,” Trump said at an Ohio rally in August. “Right? You know what I’m talking about.”…Expect Trump’s vigilantes to hover at the polling places of people who don’t look like them. They will be taking a page from their forebears, who used poll taxes, literacy tests and violence to challenge and suppress the black vote…Trump and his posse make GOTV all the more urgent…National civil rights groups, led by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, intend to come out in force nationwide with volunteers trained to serve as a first line of defense against the intimidators…Pastors have to take to their pulpits and preach on exercising this basic right. Closer to home, the influential Metropolitan AME Church is spearheading “Ready, Set, Vote” to stir up voters, especially millennials, to go to the polls…National organizations such as the Links Inc., a group of nearly 14,000 professional women of color in 41 states and the District, are devoting the month to mobilizing voters.”

In their Washington Post article, “Buoyed by rising polls, Clinton shifts to a new target: the House and Senate,” Philip Rucker, Ed O’Keefe and Mike Debonis write “Hillary Clinton is pouring $1 million into Indiana and Missouri in the campaign’s final weeks — not because the Democratic presidential nominee thinks she can carry those reliably Republican states, but because she believes that, with an extra push, Democrats can win the Senate and governors’ races there…In Michigan, the Clinton campaign is propelling a late surge by Democratic state legislative candidates to regain their House majority. In parts of Maine, Nebraska, Virginia and other states, Clinton volunteers are touting Democratic congressional candidates in their phone calls and fliers to voters. And as Clinton rallied supporters across Pennsylvania on Saturday with running mate Tim Kaine, she touted Senate hopeful Katie McGinty and attacked her GOP opponent, Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, as beholden to presidential nominee Donald Trump…“As we’re traveling in these last 17 days, we’re going to be emphasizing the importance of electing Democrats down the ballot,” Clinton told reporters Saturday night.”

Politico’s Scott Bland illuminates Democratic funding strategy to win a House majority, and observes: “To date, more than a dozen Democratic challengers are benefiting from such “hybrid” advertising, getting extra hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The technique has been a small but consistent part of Democratic strategy in recent years, but new legal guidance has also allowed Democrats to share costs on ads linking their opponents to Trump on policy…“You have a historically unpopular Republican presidential nominee, which increases the appeal of doing this sort of thing,” said a Democratic operative. “If you can find a way now that you only have to pay 50 percent of an ad, and link your opponent to Trump, and that makes strategic sense in the district, that’s a no-brainer.”..The cost-sharing has turned into a critical tool for the DCCC, as it suddenly tries to compete in more districts and support little-known challengers made unexpectedly viable by Trump’s late slide.”

Less than three weeks from the election, there is a stat tie for the presidential race in GA, with Trump at 44, Clinton at 42 and Gary Johnson at 9, according the the Atlanta Journal Constitution poll released October 21st.

“…New analytical tools by physicists at The City College of New York promise a quicker and remarkably accurate method of predicting election trends with Twitter….Hern´an A. Makse, Alexandre Bovet and Flaviano Morone have developed analytic tools combining statistical physics of complex networks, percolation theory, natural language processing and machine learning classification to infer the opinion of Twitter users regarding the Presidential candidates this year…”Our analytics, which are available at kcorelab.com, unleash the power of Twitter to predict social opinion trends from elections, brands to political movements. Our results suggest that the multi-billion public opinion polling industry could be replaced by Twitter analytics performed practically for free,” concluded Makse.” reports phys.org in the post, “Physicists develop analytics to predict poll trends.”

In his FiveThirtyEight election update, Nate Silver explains why “Trump May Depress Republican Turnout, Spelling Disaster For The GOP.” As Silver notes, “The nightmare scenario for the GOP is that high-information Republican voters, seeing Trump imploding and not necessarily having been happy with him as their nominee in the first place, feel free to cast a protest vote at the top of the ticket. Meanwhile, lower-information Republican voters don’t turn out at all, given that Trump’s rigging rhetoric could suppress their vote and that Republicans don’t have the field operation to pull them back in. That’s how you could get a Clinton landslide like the one the ABC News poll describes, along with a Democratic Senate and possibly even — although it’s a reach — a Democratic House.”

These maps from FiveThirtyEight raise a lot of interesting questions:

Clinton-Haters On Top in GOP

You have probably heard a lot lately about the growing tensions between Donald Trump and congressional Republicans–especially Speaker Paul Ryan–and the likely post-election battle for control of the GOP. I tried to make some pertinent points at New York about how this does and does not matter:

As noted conservative-watcher Robert Costa of the Washington Post reported today, all sorts of bad blood is in the water between Trump loyalists and Establishment Republicans led by Speaker Paul Ryan:

“The axis of furious conservative activists and hard-right media that spawned Trump’s nationalist and conspiratorial campaign is determined to complete its hostile takeover of the GOP, win or lose …

“The first post-election target for the grievance movement is likely to be House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), who has drawn Trump’s wrath for not supporting him more fully. Trump’s backers, both inside the House Republican caucus and out, are already talking about a takedown.”

Specifically, says Costa, Sean Hannity, probably in a panic over the horror so many Republicans were privately if not publicly expressing about Trump’s debate performance, was talking after the debate about finding a challenger to Ryan as Speaker. The calculation is probably that Republicans will maintain control of the House with a sharply reduced majority, making Ryan very vulnerable to a combination of Democrats and conservative back-benchers who want to deny him the gavel. Meanwhile, Trump is steaming toward Election Day more and more dependent on the views of people like his Ryan-hating campaign chairman, Stephen Bannon.

Now you can go back and forth about which faction of the GOP holds the whip hand. In Costa’s account a staffer for independent conservative president candidate Evan McMullin contemptuously remarked: “Ryan is going to have to crack the whip and instill some discipline to remind these guys that they don’t run the party.” Trouble is, polls keep showing that Ryan’s less popular with rank-and-file Republicans than Trump.

Until the “struggle for the soul of the GOP” sorts itself out, though, there is one thing it guarantees: No one will dare take the chance of getting outflanked with the party “base” by even vaguely hinting at a willingness to cooperate with a President Hillary Clinton. Going “bipartisan” in conjunction with the hated (and presumably election-stealing) Clinton is the one thing that would guarantee a successful revolt against Ryan (or Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, if he still has a majority). Indeed, the only way congressional Republican leaders could possibly have the intra-party leeway to play pretty with Clinton is if they lose their majorities altogether — in which case Democrats probably won’t want or need their help even if it against all expectation happens.

So to play this all out a bit, would Democrats have a betting favorite in a battle between Trump and anti-Trump factions after November 8? They’d probably prefer a Trump ascendancy, if only because a deeply divided and half-crazed GOP might offer the governing party the rare opportunity of winning a midterm election. Other than that, they may just get out the popcorn and watch as Republicans rip each other apart.

To put it more colloquially: you could put a pro-Trump and an anti-Trump Republicans in a barrel and roll it down the hill, and there would almost certainly be a Hillary-hater on top all the way down.

Trump’s Election-Bashing, Clinton’s Vision Edge Point to Democratic Victory

The third presidential debate was not likely a game-changer, but early polling indications suggest that it added momentum to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.

As Glenn Thrush put it at Politico:

CNN’s quickie post-debate poll gave Hillary Clinton a solid but decisive edge – 52 to 39 percent – not good for a guy who needed a big win, but not fatal either. The problem is one of narrative: Every single sentient being in the press watching the debate, and not currently on the payroll of the Trump Organization, knew instantly that his refusal to accept the results of the election (foreshadowed by a similar feint during the primaries) was the moment of the debate, and quite possibly the most important moment of the campaign.

At The Independent Feliks Garcia reports:

…The latest YouGov poll also declared Ms Clinton the clear winner on Wednesday night. Out of 1,503 registered voters who tuned into the debate, 49 per cent of participants said Ms Clinton came out on top. Thirty-nine per cent of voters argued that Mr Trump won the contest while 12 per cent claimed it was a tie…A large majority, 68 per cent, of those surveyed said that the candidates should “pledge to accept the result of the election” – which included 51 Republicans. Only 14 per cent opposed such a pledge, while 18 per cent did not know…When it came to temperament and fitness, Ms Clinton dominated. Sixty-nine per cent said that Ms Clinton demonstrated “excellent” or “good” knowledge of policies, as opposed to Mr Trump’s 40. Some 59 per cent of viewers surveyed also found Ms Clinton presidential, while Mr Trump only earned 40 on this point.

Former RNC Chair Michael Steele called Trump’s implicit threat to discredit the results of the election if he didn’t win was “a disqualifying moment” during Chris Matthews post-debate discussion at MSNBC. In his Washington Post column, Dana Milbank wrote,  “The refusal to accept this bedrock principle of democracy was shocking, even for a candidate who had told audiences about a “rigged” and “stolen” election. And it should pour hot lava on any notion that Trump is going to revive his candidacy in the final 20 days.”

“Clinton’s core claim is that Trump is a dangerous man who lacks respect for American institutions and American democracy,” concludes E. J. Dionne, Jr. in his syndicated column. “On this central issue, Trump chose to prove Clinton right.” In her New York Times column, Gail Collins agreed, noting “O.K., two critical takeaways. Trump won’t promise to concede if he loses, and if he wins, he gets control of the nukes. These are the only things you need to think about for the next two and a half weeks.”

Worse, Trump has put his fellow Republicans in a bit of a trap, as Ed Kilgore notes at New York Magazine,

…In effect, Trump was saying he’d only accept the election results if he wins…This posture is not going to win over any swing voters, and we can only hope that a segment of his base is horrified as well. At a minimum, he has opened the door to a wholesale declaration of independence by down-ballot Republican candidates. Maybe Trump cannot win, but many of them can, and it’s hard to imagine they will refuse to accept the integrity of their own elections.

Trump blundered on other topics, as well. In one of Clinton’s strongest moments she eviscerated Trump’s history of demeaning women and adroitly used the opportunity to underscore her vision,

“He goes after their dignity, their self-worth, and I don’t think there is a woman anywhere that doesn’t know what that feels like. So we now know what Donald thinks and what he says and how he acts toward women. That’s who Donald is. I think it’s really up to all of us to demonstrate who we are and who our country is and to stand up and be very clear about what we expect from our next president, how we want to bring our country together, where we don’t want to have the kind of pitting of people one against the other, where instead we celebrate our diversity, we lift people up, and we make our country even greater.”

Considering all three debates as one long one, it is clear that Trump had almost no moments where he showed the maturity and measured judgement he needed to inspire confidence that he has a more compelling capacity for world leadership. If Trump’s gambit was to persuade the few remaining fence-sitters that he was more prepared, he failed miserably. If Clinton’s end goal was to show that she alone had the skill set and vision to be a credible President of the United States, she succeeeded impressively.

At Vox, Ezra Klein wrote,

The polling tells the story. As Nate Silver notes, on the eve of the first presidential debate, Clinton led by 1.5 points. Before the second, she was up by 5.6 points. Before the third, she was winning by 7.1 points. And now, writing after the third debate — a debate in which Trump said he would keep the nation “in suspense” about whether there would be a peaceful transition of power, bragged about not apologizing to his wife, and called Clinton “such a nasty woman” — it’s clear that Trump did himself no favors. Early polls also suggest Clinton won…And it’s not just the presidential race. Betting markets now predict Democrats will win the Senate. Polls have started showing Democrats in striking distance of the House. The GOP has collapsed into a mid-election civil war, with the party’s presidential nominee openly battling the speaker of the House.

The hope for Democrats is that Trump’s divisive messaging and the GOP’s civil war will damage prospects for Republican down-ballot candidates. This morning there is even more reason to believe that hope will become a reality.

Holder & Obama Aim at 2020

If you’ve been wondering about Barack Obama’s post-White House plans lately, here’s some good news for you. At New York earlier this week, I discussed the importance and difficultly of the project to which he has made a commitment.

[Obama is] signaling that he will make a new Democratic redistricting project headed up by former Attorney General Eric Holder “the main focus of his political activity once he leaves office.”

Holder’s group, dubbed the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, aims at reversing or at least mitigating the Republican state-level advantage the GOP won in 2010. Republicans used that edge to protect incumbents and open up new opportunities via the decennial reapportionment and redistricting process.

At the moment, Republicans hold “trifectas” — the unified control of the governorship and both legislative branches that gives them total control over redistricting for the U.S. House and state legislatures — in 23 states. There are only seven Democratic “trifectas,” with partisan control being divided in the other 20 states. Democrats can make some inroads among legislatures this November if the national ticket is doing well. Unfortunately for them, they already hold eight of the 12 governorship up this year. Two more are up in 2017. Then come the all-important 2018 elections, with most legislators and 36 governorships (including 24 controlled by Republicans) at stake. And then the parties will have one more bite at the apple in 2020 before the deal goes down for another decade.

Without question, Democrats are playing catch-up on redistricting. The new NDRC is designed to take a big leap:

“The NDRC plans to hold regular meetings of Democratic groups and allies, building collaborative strategies on recruitment, ad spending, get out the vote and other efforts to maximize resources and impact. House campaigns would then work with state senate and assembly campaigns, unions, progressive organizations and others in high opportunity areas, hoping to push up their numbers as much as possible ahead of the 2020 census.”

Democrats are fortunate the final big round of state elections before redistricting are in a presidential year, when turnout patterns are relatively favorable. Last time around, in 2010, a big Republican midterm-turnout advantage emerged, which recurred in 2014; it is mostly caused by the close current alignment of the two parties with groups that do (older white people) and do not (young and minority voters) tend to participate proportionately in non-presidential elections.

Trouble is, 2018 is probably the single most crucial election in determining the balance of power in the states going into redistricting. And aside from the pro-Republican midterm-turnout pattern, the odds are that we will be halfway through a third consecutive Democratic presidential term. This is typically a bad year for the White House party. And assuming the GOP comes out of a post-Trump “struggle for the soul of the party” intact, 2018 could be the “revenge” year for Republican base voters furious about one of its maximum demon figures succeeding the other as president.

Holder and Obama are exactly right: If Democrats want to go into redistricting at something other than a serious disadvantage, they’d better get cooking right now.

Three Ideas for Clinton in the Final Debate

“With her campaign expanding to compete in traditionally Republican-leaning states and her advantage growing in most of the battlegrounds, Mrs. Clinton is well positioned as the race enters its final days. Because Mrs. Clinton is now so heavily favored to win, the debate offers an opportunity for her to start looking beyond the election and toward unifying a country that has been divided by an ugly campaign…After praising Michelle Obama’s “when they go low, we go high” credo, Mrs. Clinton now has a chance to turn that advice into action. And doing so would not simply be an exercise in high-mindedness to win plaudits from centrist commentators. By vowing to represent all Americans after the election, including Mr. Trump’s supporters, she can also disarm an opponent who relishes confrontation but has little aptitude for conciliation.” — from “Presidential Debate: How Will Trump and Clinton Handle Sexual Assault Allegations?” by New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin, Alexander Burns and Alan Rappeport.

“One certain question Clinton will be asked is whether she would renominate Garland to the Scalia vacancy or preserve her right to come up with her own candidate for the Court. And that question could come with a twist: John McCain’s blunt statement this week that Senate Republicans will fight absolutely any nomination Clinton could make for the entire course of her presidency means there is not much point in going with a perceived judicial “moderate” like Garland when a younger, more progressive nominee would attract the same support and arouse the same opposition. But if Clinton does anything tonight other than promise to renominate Garland there will be spin-room shrieking about her constitutional radicalism.” — from Ed Kilgore’s New York Magazine post “Clinton and Trump to Debate SCOTUS.

“While it’s hard to argue with Clinton that the U.S. should be doing more to help those deeply suffering inside Syria, she should explain to the American people how her plan would work in practice. She should also explain the scale and scope of the no-fly zone she’s presenting. Will these safe zones encroach on territory held or coveted by Assad’s regime forces and their allies? If so, how will the U.S. military confront Syrian government and Russian forces that are seeking to protect or take them? Which country’s ground troops will protect the safe zones?”  — from “Clinton Should Say More About Syria: The Democratic nominee should fully lay out her Syria strategy” by Stephen Miles and Michelle Dixon in U.S. News.

2016 Provides Ultimate Test of Quantity vs. Quality in Media Coverage

GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has banked a lot on the old saw that “any publicity is good publicity.” That may be true when selling widgets to suggestable consumers. But Geoffrey Skelley has put the notion to the test in his Crystal Ball post “The Danger of the Political Limelight,” and the results suggest otherwise, at least when one of the candidates is named Donald Trump. Skelley explains:

…Using Gallup data for the question “Did you read, hear, or see anything about Hillary Clinton/Donald Trump in the last day or two?” and comparative Google Trend data for the search terms “Hillary Clinton” and “Donald Trump” in the United States, it really does appear that the candidate receiving more attention tends to struggle more.

Probing “the correlation between the polls and the Gallup data as well as the correlation between the polls and the Google Trends data,” Skelley explains that “First, we compared the Gallup data to the polling averages from HuffPost Pollster and RealClearPolitics, taking the percentage of respondents each day for Gallup who said they read, heard, or saw something about Trump and subtracting the percentage who said the same about Clinton. Then we compared the Trump margin in Gallup’s data to Trump’s margin in the polling averages. It should be noted that, on average, Trump has had slightly more net attention than Clinton by a five percentage point margin in Gallup’s measure…” In addition,

…Each candidate received gobs of attention during their party conventions, which complicates any analysis. So if we look at time periods after the convention, it’s easier to sort out who is going through spells of greater or lesser attention from the public. For the period from Aug. 1 (the Democratic convention ended on July 28) to now, the correlation is moderately strong — just above .5 — for all four polling averages. During this time, when one of the nominees has garnered notably more attention, always for negative revelations, that candidate has suffered…

Also, “Clinton and Trump have the highest unfavorable ratings of any major party nominees in modern history, notes Skelley. “Thus, when one has been in the news a good deal more than the other, it has usually been because of negative stories (outside of some convention coverage).”

Noting that “modern media coverage, especially in the Trump-Clinton contest, tends to be fairly negative,” Skelley concludes that “there is sufficient evidence to say that the 2016 presidential election has two highly disliked major party nominees who seem to perform worse the more attention they attract.”

Three weeks out, Clinton seems to be holding a lead in the polling average of about 5 points. And, while the horserace polls have shifted subtly with the media’s focus on the troubles of one presidential candidate over the other, it appears that Trump’s media coverage has been significantly more damaging overall. This may not apply quite as well to future presidential campaigns. But it looks like Trump is proving that the “any publicity is good publicity” notion is a bad premise for media strategy in politics.

Political Strategy Notes

Democrats, don’t skip The New York Times opinion pages forum on “How to energize demoralized Voters,” featuring four articles by leading academic researchers on the topics: Same-Day Registration and Increased Absentee Voting Would Help; Why Get-Out-the-Vote Drives Rarely Work; Teach Civic Responsibility to High School Students; and Direct Voter Contact Is Key to Boosting Turnout.

Republican pollster Whit Ayres, quoted in Bill Barrow’s AP article, “For Donald Trump, low-turnout strategy is unlikely to work,” puts it charitably “Any strategy of trying to drive down turnout in a democratic election is not the most noble of motivations to begin with…And there’s just no chance for it work.” Barrow adds, “Ayres, the Republican pollster, said elections that are “reasonably close” and involve “clear consequences” usually generate higher turnout. “I’d say this election meets both standards,” he said.”

Clinton leads by 6 points in batleground states, according to a new CBS News/YouGov poll of more than 4,000 voters. Clinton leads by by 15 points with women and Trump is down 7 points from last month with Republican women.

At The Daily Beast Patricia Murphy explains why “Democrats Worry About Hillary Clinton’s Ground Game: Hillary Clinton has a better ground game than Donald Trump’s, but it still falls far short of the campaign network Democrats in some critical states consider the gold standard: President Obama’s.” Murphy notes, “The good news for Democrats is that the Clinton ground game is vastly superior to Donald Trump’s. A FiveThirtyEight analysis shows that in terms of field offices, the Clinton operation is far outpacing Trump’s. Clinton has 489 field offices nationwide, compared to 207 offices for Trump…Clinton’s numbers don’t come close to replicating the Obama operation, which had 789 field offices in 2012. The pattern holds for battleground states. In Florida, Clinton has 68 offices, compared to for 29 Trump, but 103 for Obama. In Virginia, Obama had 61 offices, compared to Clinton’s 27 and Trump’s 11. In Ohio, she has 75, while Trump has 22. Obama had 131 Ohio field office…“Barack Obama had an army of volunteers in 2012. You could flip a switch and knock on one million doors in Florida in a weekend,” said a Democratic operative involved in GOTV efforts for the party in 2008, 20012, and 2016. “There is no Hillary army. Not even close. In tight races, that matters.”

In other worrisome news, Philip Bump reports that “Early voter registration numbers don’t suggest big surges among Democrats or women.”

Marianna Sotomayor reports at nbcnews.com that more than a half million new immigrants may not be able to vote in November, owing to a backlog in processing their applications at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Julia Sonenshein’s Politico post, “Revenge of the White Working-Class Woman: The white blue-collar vote isn’t the GOP monolith everyone thinks: It’s splitting fast, and Donald Trump is just part of the reason” should provoke some hand-wrining inside the Trump campaign. “…over the past several months, that seemingly rock-solid core has started to fracture—and the fracture has widened dramatically this week for one key reason: Most of the white working class is actually female. And working-class white women now appear to be jumping off the Trump train…The first polls to emerge since the release of the “Access Hollwood” videotape now show a historic gender gap splitting what might be the GOP’s most important constituency. The fracture was already apparent back in August, when a four-way poll showed Trump’s lead over Clinton among white men without a college degree was 40 percent, but only 12 percent among women without a college degree. This week, after the 2005 videotape was released, that number stayed roughly the same for blue-collar men—Trump is still up in that group by 43 percentage points—but it tanked for women, to a low that hasn’t been seen since the 1960s, with the exception of Bill Clinton in 1996. According to the first post-videotape poll, among white women without a college degree, Hillary Clinton had pulled even.”

Millennials Are Now Moving Toward Clinton, But Will They Turn out and Vote?” At Alternet, Steven Rosenfeld explores the evidence in Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund/Democracy Corps polling.

Carlos Maza and Coleman Lowndes have a disturbing report at Media Matters: “VIDEO: CNN Has A Trump Surrogate Problem: The Network Is Paying Professional Trump Supporters To Derail Negative Segments About Trump.” Icky.