washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ruy Teixeira

Democrats Need to Be the Party of and for Working People—of All Races

And they can’t retake Congress unless they win over more white workers.
by Robert Griffin, John Halpin & Ruy Teixeira

Read the article…

Matt Morrison

Rebuilding a Progressive Majority by Winning Back White Working-Class Moderates

From the findings of Working America, the AFL-CIO’s outreach program to non-union working people.
by Matt Morrison

Read the article…

The Daily Strategist

February 25, 2018

Drew: Why Dems May Not Need a Message

In her New Republic article, “Do Democrats Really Need a Message?, Elizabeth Drew explains “How a fixation on messaging could harm Democrats as they head into the 2018 midterms.”

“The lamentations on the part of numerous political observers that the Democrats lack “a message” are becoming more frequent with the advent of the midterm elections,” Drew writes. “But they don’t comport with reality, even though many Democrats also express the same worry.”

Drew argues that “message discipline isn’t particularly characteristic of the Democrats, as opposed to the Republicans, who are more homogeneous and hierarchical.” She cites the “ideological and regional differences within the Democratic Party, ranging from the very liberal left to centrists” and the recent example of the “split among the Senate Democrats over immigration strategy.” Further, adds Drew,

It’s a lot easier to convey party cohesion in a presidential election year, when there exist an actual head of the party and a platform. (An exception to this general point is Newt Gingrich’s poll-tested “Contract with America,” which served as a party doctrine for the House Republicans in 1994.) But even when the Democrats have a presidential candidate there are limits to their cohesion. Ours isn’t a parliamentary system where voting is largely done along party lines, as is the voting of the members once they’re elected. Our elections are more based on the individual candidates than on their party identity. Indeed a candidate’s biography could well be his or her platform—the message. It could be some kind of an outstanding record: heroic military service or athletic achievement or a famous prosecutorial career, and this can matter a lot more than party identity.

Drew argues that “one positive effect of the lack of a “message” is that it allows a candidate to define his or her own race and to come off as authentic rather than as a party tool,” which is a gift to Republicans, who “specialize in portraying  Democratic candidates as instruments of a party leader who can be stereotyped.”

Drew quotes Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), “one of the more authentic figures on Capitol Hill,” who says,

Messaging has become a crutch; it’s like a narcotic. You can bring in your pollster, you can strategize until you’re blue in the face; and you’re inauthentic. You’re placating the public rather than leading. I think the people know the difference…Once you get addicted to the drug, you put your polling ahead of your performance.

“He believes,” Drew writes, “that too often Democrats have walked away from a fight for fear of upsetting some important figure, or don’t want to take on a battle unless they’re sure that they’ll win it. Whitehouse believes that the message comes from taking action, from fighting the good fight, rather than sitting through hours of meetings, studying charts and graphs about the public’s views.”

Drew’s observations about authenticity of individual candidates being more important than some sort of group message makes sense for Democrats, who can leverage their greater message flexibility to win more elections, if they do so boldly and authentically, without straining to conform to a nonexistant group mind. Let the Republicans parrot their meme du jour, which has its advantages in steering media coverage of politics. But if Democratic candidates come off as less regimented than their adversaries and more ‘real,’ that could be an advantage in many races, particularly with voters who distrust rigid ideologues.

The Democratic party does have to “stand for something.” But that’s not the same thing as everyone being in synch on a particular message. Dems should coalesce around the idea that they are the party of working people of all races and give each of their candidates the latitude they need to affirm that image. When that is accomplished, Republican message discipline won’t make much difference.

Partisan Gerrymandering Is Under Fire

After sorting through the various controversies over partisan gerrymandering, I wrote an analysis of how redistricting reform is changing for New York.

The recent decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to overturn and redraw a congressional map it deemed an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander by the GOP-controlled legislature illustrates a big and important trend in efforts to provide fair redistricting, just before a new decennial cycle begins.

Public (and sometimes judicial) opinion has long been scandalized by the common practice of partisan gerrymandering (particularly when it comes to state legislators drawing their own districts). But until quite recently, the focus of redistricting reform was on who drew the maps and what they looked like to the untrained eye. It’s not surprising that the most prominent national redistricting reform initiative has long been legislation developed by former Tennessee congressman John Tanner (reintroduced regularly after his 2010 retirement by Tennessee colleagues).

The Tanner bill would require that redistricting decisions be made by independent commissions whose members are appointed by the legislatures with formal responsibility for drawing maps. It also requires that the commissions to respect wherever possible what are generally called “traditional redistricting principles” such as compact and contiguous districts. This latter guideline was meant to avoid the unsightly lashed-together districts that gave “gerrymandering” (identified with early 19th-century Massachusetts pol Elbridge Gerry, who was complicit in drawing a district that looked like a salamander) its very name.

Despite the perennial popularity in good government circles of Tanner-style redistricting reform, its limitations have also become obvious. Thirteen states currently deploy some kind of independent redistricting body with responsibility for redistricting (though six of them do not handle congressional maps). But to the extent that members are appointed by partisan pols, their “independence” is perpetually suspect.

It’s also increasingly clear that the finely grained data available to map-drawers, which they can manipulate via sophisticated software, has made “traditional redistricting principles” less effective in combating gerrymanders. The Pennsylvania case in the news right now provides a great illustration: After the state Supreme Court told the legislature to come up with a new congressional map that was less partisan and also less disruptive of traditional redistricting principles, the solons promptly came up with a map that looked a lot neater and nicer but was just as partisan as the original.

So the Pennsylvania court emulated a federal district court in Wisconsin in looking beyond the usual considerations and challenging partisan gerrymanders not for how they were devised but for their partisan impact. And like that Wisconsin federal court, the Pennsylvania state court relied on new measurements of partisanship — notably a social science tool called “efficiency gap” — to measure the effect of partisan gerrymandering and determine an appropriate standard.

That’s why the timing of the Pennsylvania court intervention is so interesting. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the Wisconsin case — and on an alleged Democratic partisan gerrymander in Maryland, which a district court in that state refused to overturn — before the current term’s end in June. And the decision is expected to turn, as is so often the case, on the views of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who in the last big gerrymandering case (Vieth v. Jubelirer) back in 2004, fretted over the lack of a workable standard for partisan bias.

“Kennedy was also looking for a “limited and precise rationale … to correct an established violation of the Constitution in some redistricting cases.” He didn’t find one in that case, ruling against Democrats challenging a Republican gerrymander in the state. But he signaled he would be open to striking down extreme partisan gerrymanders if the court could agree on a standard to do so, like in racial gerrymandering cases where it’s possible to prove a clear violation of the Voting Rights Act.

“Voting rights advocates are hoping that time has come.”

Whatever SCOTUS is or is not planning, the Pennsylvania decision is probably a done deal, and could serve as an inspiration to state courts elsewhere with similar state constitutional provisions guaranteeing equal protection of the laws and equal voting rights. Yes, Republicans are trying to get the decision thrown out on grounds that the Pennsylvania judges are usurping the legislature’s U.S. Constitutionally established power over redistricting. But SCOTUS has already rejected an emergency appeal on that basis, and one voting rights expert called the GOP legal effort “the mother of all Hail Marys in terms of its likelihood to succeed.”

And if SCOTUS does rule in favor of the gerrymandering challengers, it could have a large impact on the next round of redistricting due to begin in 2021, whether or not it has the kind of effect on 2018 House races that Democrats hailing the Pennsylvania decision hope for.

Political Strategy Notes

The heat is on in Florida, where informed and articulate high school students are leading protests that have Republican politicians like Sen. Marco Rubio and Governor Rick Scott squirming in the headlights as they parrot the NRA party line. As Julie Turkewitz and Alexander Burns report at The New York Times, “In addition to the students amassing in Tallahassee, Democrats in Florida have vowed to make gun control a central campaign issue in 2018, and a national gun-control group is already targeting Mr. Scott with television ads that say he neglected public safety…The developing clash over firearms has the potential to define Florida politics in a critical election year, thrusting the state into the center of a stalemated national debate around gun violence and the Second Amendment. In a politically divided state where the National Rifle Association has held broad influence for decades — every governor for 20 years has been an ally of the group — even fierce supporters of gun rights now believe Republicans cannot afford to seem passive in response to gruesome scenes of violence.”

N.Y. Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney may have just nuked her prospects for re-election with her lame comment that “so many” mass murderers “end up being Democrats.” As Virginia Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly, ” wrote on Twitter that she “owes America a sincere and abject apology.” And her expected Democratic challenger this year, State Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, said in his own Twitter post that her “toxic rhetoric” was “a new low” and that “inserting politics into a national tragedy is beyond the pale & disgusting.” The NY-22 district was already considered a solid pick-up possibility for Democrats. Independents, moderates and Dems who are disgusted by Tenney can contribute to Brindisi’s campaign right here.

Here’s a Brindisi ad for the NY-22 race:

In his PowerPost article “For some Democrats running for Congress, a strategic navigation of gun issues,” Paul Kane notes that a number of Democrats running for House seats this year, including Connor Lamb, Paul Davis, Jeff Van Drew and Jason Crow, are taking cautious stands on gun violence prevention. Kane also quotes Adam Jentleson, a strategist at Democracy Forward, a liberal research group, who says “A tectonic shift is underway on guns. Democrats have tried making nice with the NRA and been burned again and again…More and more Democrats are coming around to seeing that there’s no upside to courting the NRA — they’re going to spend millions casting you as a gun-grabber regardless of your actual position, so what’s the point?”

Conservative apologists for Russian meddling in our elections are all bent out of shape because Twitter is putting an end to giving Russian bots free reign. As Jessica Guynn explains at USA Today, “Fake accounts on Twitter have been traced to a Kremlin-linked “troll farm” accused of inflaming political divisions on hot-button national issues such as gun control after last week’s Florida school shooting. According to researchers at the University of Southern California, conservatives retweeted Russian trolls about 31 times more than liberals and produced 36 times more tweets…An organization that tracks Kremlin-backed Twitter accounts — the Alliance for Securing Democracy — says such influence operations have remained active since the election, serving to amplify disputes bubbling on the Web. On Wednesday, #twitterlockout and #twitterpurge were the top and trending hashtags used by the accounts linked to Russian influence operations tracked by the Alliance’s Hamilton 68 project.”

At FiveThirtyEight, Nathaniel Rakich’s post “The 18 (!) Governorships Democrats Could Pick Up This Year,” includes this observation: “If the much-ballyhooed “blue wave” does materialize this fall, it could be Republican governors who suffer the most losses…The other day, we ran down the seven governorships held by Democrats or independents that could fall to the GOP in November. Today’s list of vulnerable Republican seats is more than twice as long. According to qualitative assessments by nonpartisan handicappers — The Cook Political Report, Sabato’s Crystal Ball and Inside Elections,1 — only eight GOP-held governorships are completely safe in 2018.2 That leaves 18 Republican-held governorships in some degree of danger…”

Reasonable people can disagree about whether Rev. Billy Graham was truly nonpartisan, even though he was perceived that way by many, and certainly the mass media. His influence waned substantially in recent years, as he faded from the scene and his politically-strident son, Franklin Graham, became more of a right-wing public figure. But Billy Graham’s death does add a bit of a punctuation mark to the end of the era when most prominent evangelical leaders proclaimed their nonpartisanship and valued a semblance of moral rectitude in the political candidates they supported.

WaPo conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin takes a look at the political moment, and offers this take: “One can look at guns and dreamers as discrete issues, but they can also be seen as issues on which Democrats want to change the status quo, while Republicans would prefer a logjam. The GOP is a prisoner to its anti-immigrant base and to the NRA, both of which would love for nothing to be done on their respective issues. Democrats not only have substantive support for legalizing dreamers and toughening gun laws, but they can make the case that the GOP is thwarting the will of the people and is beholden to special interests. That is a dangerous position for Trump — who promised to shake things up — and his party to be in. By contrast, Democrats need to impress upon voters that they are the problem-solvers and have responsible, concrete solutions. In a midterm election, when the party out of office can capitalize on the White House’s failure to live up to expectations, Democrats have reason to be encouraged.”

Aaron Blake has an amusing peek at Trump’s “empathy deficit” at The Fix. Blake’s article features a photo of Trump’s enumerated notes for his “listening session” with high school students. As Blake notes, “Yep, right there at No. 5 is a talking point about telling those present that he was actually listening to them. After what appear to be four questions he planned to ask those assembled, No. 5 is an apparent reminder for Trump to tell people, “I hear you.”…Even No. 1 is basically a reminder that Trump should empathize. “What would you most want me to know about your experience?” the card reads. So two-fifths of this card is dedicated to making sure the president of the United States assured those assembled that he was interested in what they had to say and their vantage points.”

How Much of Dem Focus Should Be on Russia Probe?

In her pbs.org post,  “Would focusing on Russia probe help or hurt Democrats in the midterms?,” Jessica Yarvin writes:

…Some liberal groups see a danger in Democrats focusing too much of their 2018 messaging on the Russia probe, its ties to the Trump campaign, and issues like corruption in politics.

Priorities USA, another prominent left-leaning group, put out a memo last week arguing that Democrats should stick to an economic and health care-centric message in the months heading into the midterms…“When voters hear the Democratic argument on health care or on taxes and then hear the Republican side, they side with Democrats,” Priorities USA Communications Director Josh Schwerin said.

The group wrote in its memo that its internal polling shows Trump’s approval rating climbed four points since November, from 40 percent to 44 percent. However, specific policies, like the tax law Trump signed late last year, and the GOP’s repeated attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, remain unpopular, the polling shows.

However, writes Yarvin, “In a report released last week, the influential liberal Center for American Progress group outlined several potential ways that Democrats could use the investigation and alleged collusion to their advantage this fall.” Further,

The CAP report cited several instances in which Russian money may have flowed to the Trump Organization through Trump’s business associates, including the real estate developer Felix Sater. Highlighting those connections could help build the case with voters that Trump can’t disentangle his work as president from his global business empire — an issue critics argue raises questions about corruption and conflicts of interest.

There is “a sense of out-of-control sprawling corruption that goes across a wide number of issues,” Jesse Lee, a senior advisor at the Center for American Progress, said in an interview.

The report describes “the fluidity with which Sater has shifted from real estate to geopolitics” and makes the case that “business relationships can be repurposed as pathways to foreign influence.”

There is ample polling data which indicate that corruption is a potent issue for assembling electoral majorities. This was true even before Trump, and it now looks like a huge gift staring Democrats in the face. Democrats also have a range of reforms to address corruption, including:

The report pointed to the DISCLOSE Act, which would ban campaign contributions from American corporations that have at least 20 percent foreign ownership. The bill was first introduced in the House by then-Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and in the Senate by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. in 2010. Since then., Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., has repeatedly introduced the legislation, most recently last July.

Trump’s particular corruption issues, along with the fact that McConnell, Ryan and other GOP leaders  have produced zero reforms to address corruption, remain a glaring political reality. Their inability to enact any anti-corruption legislation whatsoever, despite the GOP’s “trifecta” majority, amplifies the case against Republican-driven corruption.

The Russia probe escalates the Democratic edge on the corruption issue even further. To fail to leverage this advantage would be gross political malpractice, though it should be thoughtfully balanced with other specific campaign issues and tweaked for each electorate.

Teixeira: Yes Trump’s Approval Rating Is Up, No That Doesn’t Mean the Democrats Won’t Succeed in November

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog

Trump’s approval rating has clearly gone up in the last month, from a little under 40 percent to a little under 42 percent, according to the 538 composite. That’s not nothing and, all else equal, good for the Republicans. But it doesn’t change much about expectations for the upcoming election, which are still quite poor for the GOP.

Models, of course, disagree on how grim the forecast is for the Republicans, so any given model should not be taken as the last word. But Seth Masket at Mischiefs of Faction cites a midterm model that illustrates how difficult the situation is for them. The model is a simple one that relies on just Presidential approval and growth in real per capita disposable income (RDI). What it says is this:

[The model] predicts Democrats will pick up 45 to 50 House seats this fall, and take over 15 to 20 state legislative chambers. A loss of just 24 House seats would flip House control to the Democrats….

Most years, this model works fairly well. It predicted Democrats losing 46 House seats in 2010 (they lost 63), and it predicted Republicans losing 40 House seats in 2006 (they lost 31).

You can see in the chart above how this works, with Trump’s approval running a little over 40 percent and RDI growth around 1 percent in the last year. It’s apparent that moving Trump’s approval rating around a little bit at a given level of economic growth does not change the forecast much. Plus Trump’s approval rating have been bouncing around between 37 and 42 percent since early last April  so it’s hard to see the kind of mega-spike that might really change things.

A huge increase in RDI growth seems unlikely also though, of course, anything is possible. But as Masket observes:

Even if RDI growth jumped to 3 percent…the model would still predict Republicans to lose 37 House seats, more than enough to lose control of the chamber, and 14 state legislative chambers.

So the fundamentals don’t look good for Team Red. But it’s just one model so should be treated with caution. After all, there are lots of other factors like the various structural advantages Republicans take into an election like this. But even those have been declining as Nate Cohn has pointed out, knocking a couple of points off of the GOP’s “thumb on the scales”. This includes the effects of anti-gerrymandering court decisions, Democratic fundraising and candidate recruitment and Republican retirements.

It’s a long time ’til election day. But the basic story continues to be a positive one for Democrats, as these data and the results of recent special elections suggest.

Political Strategy Notes

A impressive Democratic candidate for Governor comes forward in Florida:

“Analyses by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence show that, with few exceptions, states with the strictest gun-control measures, including California, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York, have the lowest rates of gun deaths, while those with the most lax laws like Alabama, Alaska and Louisiana, have the highest…Avery W. Gardiner, a president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said that generally, blue states are, not surprisingly, more likely to regulate guns and require background checks and licensing. Conservative red states either lack gun-safety laws or fail to enforce the ones they have.” Ironically, however, the manufacturer of AR-15 rifles is headquartered in Connecticut.  — From “In Wake of Florida Massacre, Gun Control Advocates Look to Connecticut” by New York Times reporters Lisa W. Foderaro and Kristin Hussey.

“Slowly but surely, the considerable structural advantages — like incumbency, geography and gerrymandering — that give the Republicans a chance to survive a so-called wave election are fading, giving Democrats a clearer path to a House majority in November,” notes Nate Cohn at The Upshot. “The Republican advantage has probably dropped by about two percentage points since 2014, when Republicans won the party’s largest House majority since 1929…Since then, four court rulings have softened or even torn up Republican gerrymanders in four big states: Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and most recently Pennsylvania, where the state Supreme Court struck down the congressional map last month…The decisions in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia have already cost the Republicans a net of three House seats while generally eroding their position elsewhere in those states, giving Democrats better opportunities in 2018…Upshot estimates indicate that Democrats would need to win the popular vote by 7.4 points — albeit with a healthy margin of error of plus or minus more than four points — to take the House. Today, most estimates put the generic congressional ballot very near that number. So far from the election, the fight for control remains a tossup.”

In his New York Times column, “Attacking the ‘Woke’ Black Vote,” Charles M. Blow writes of the special counsel’s indictment of 13 Russians and three companies for interfering in the 2016 elections, that,  “Referencing actual voter suppression, it says that “in or around the latter half of 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, through their personas, began to encourage U.S. minority groups not to vote in the 2016 U.S. presidential election or to vote for a third-party U.S. presidential candidate…Just before the election, a senior Trump campaign official told Bloomberg Businessweek, “We have three major voter suppression operations under way,” in which Hillary Clinton’s “1996 suggestion that some African-American males are ‘super predators’ is the basis of a below-the-radar effort to discourage infrequent black voters from showing up at the polls — particularly in Florida.” This suppression may well have worked better against black people than other targets.”

In his article, “The kids are all Democrats,” David Faris provides a history lesson about the youth vote in presidential elections since the late 1960s: “…Despite the unpopular war in Vietnam and the swirling cultural revolution, Richard Nixon won under-30 voters in 1972. Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter split young voters evenly in 1980, while Reagan and George H.W. Bush crushed it with the young in ’84 and ’88. Bill Clinton carried the youth vote in 1992 and 1996, but then George W. Bush tied Al Gore in 2000 with 18- to 24-year-olds and only barely lost the 25-29 bracket…Something remarkable began happening in 2004, though. That’s the year John Kerry carried the under-30 vote by 9 points. And the next three presidential elections saw Democrats demolishing their opponents with young people by 34, 23, and 19 points…But the data gets worse for Republicans the deeper you dig into it. In 2016 exit polling, for instance, 18- to 24-year-olds went more heavily for Hillary Clinton than their older millennial counterparts, suggesting that, if anything, the Republican position is falling apart with the tail end of the millennial generation.”

Eleanor Clift warns at The Daily Beast, “The Constitution requires that every person—not citizen—living in the United States must be counted every 10 years. Now, a Justice Department request to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census has put the once-in-a-decade count of the American people into the crosshairs of partisan politics…Questions normally undergo years of testing, but common sense says that adding one about citizenship status would have a chilling effect on participation that would lead to an undercount of immigrants and minorities, hurting blue states and urban areas—setting the stage for Republicans to re-draw still more favorable congressional districts…A poorly run census that significantly undercounted immigrants and minorities would be the ultimate in gerrymandering.”

Greg Sargent shares a salient insight at The Plum Line: “If you read through the coverage of the battle over the “dreamers,” you’ll come away with the impression that we are locked in a conventional Washington standoff, in which two opposing sides are each demanding concessions in exchange for making concessions of their own. If a compromise is to be reached, each side hopes to tug it as far in their direction as possible; if not, well, they just couldn’t find a way to meet in the middle, and in true Washington fashion, both sides will then play the “blame game.”…But treating this situation as a normal negotiation fundamentally obscures its profound asymmetry. One side is putting forth genuine good-faith compromise offers that would require concessions by both sides. The other just isn’t doing this at all — instead, they are demanding that they must be given everything they want, while spinning their demands as reasonable in a manner that is absolutely saturated with bad faith from top to bottom…The idea that the tradeoff Republicans want represents the middle-ground, mainstream position in this debate is absurd on its face: a recent Quinnipiac University poll found that only 17 percent of Americans favor cuts to legal immigration, while 81 percent favor legalizing the dreamers. “

“A number of surveys show that bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines are popular among the general public,” argues Christopher Ingraham at Wonkblog. “A 2017 Pew Research Center poll found that 68 percent of adults favor banning assault weapons, and 65 percent support a ban on high-capacity magazines…More strikingly, substantial numbers of gun owners supported the measures as well: 48 percent of gun owners in that poll said they would support a ban on assault style weapons, and 44 percent said they favored a ban on high-capacity magazines. A Quinnipiac poll conducted later in the year showed similar numbers.”

No Slam Dunk for Republicans in PA-18 After All

Perusing the polls this week, some good news for Democrats popped up. I wrote about it at New York.

Democrats have been going through a sort of Poll Panic of late, agonizing over the apparent loss of a big advantage in the congressional generic ballot, and also small but steady improvements in the president’s job approval ratings.

Today, it’s Republicans’ turn to look at poll numbers and freak.

A rare public poll (from Monmouth) of the special congressional election race in the 18th Congressional District of Pennsylvania shows Democrat Conor Lamb within the margin of error of the lead of Republican Rick Saccone. The lead for Saccone ranges from five points (50/45) in a low-turnout scenario, to four points (48/44) in a very-high-turnout scenario, to just three points (49/46) in a scenario based on the turnout patterns in 2017 special elections.

That’s newsworthy because this is a race where the Republican should be far ahead. PA-18 is both strongly Republican and strongly pro-Trump. The GOP congressman (Tim Murphy) whose sex-scandal-driven resignation forced this special election faced no Democratic opponent in 2016 or 2014; even in the Democratic landslide years of 2006 and 2008 he won with 58 percent and 64 percent of the vote, respectively. There is not, moreover, any reason to expect an anti-Trump backlash to demoralize Republican voters: Trump carried the 18th by 20 points (as compared to his one-point margin in Georgia’s Sixth District, the historically Republican district that was the site of last year’s hottest House special election).

Some observers of the race have noted that Lamb, a young former prosecutor with deep roots in Pittsburgh politics, is a more attractive figure than Saccone. But the Republican has been given every bit of help money and power can arrange. Trump is scheduled to make his second appearance with Saccone next week. Mike Pence has been thumping the tubs for him as well.

For poll skeptics, Monmouth has a very good reputation, and it’s not some routinely pro-Democratic outfit (indeed, a January Monmouth poll showing the Democratic congressional generic ballot lead dropping to two points probably started the current Poll Panic among members of the Donkey Party). And for the record, it used the same variable-turnout-model approach in the run-up to December’s Alabama general election, and its 2017 special election model showed a dead heat, even as most pollsters predicted a Moore win.

If Lamb does pull the upset, or even gets close, it will provide fresh evidence that 2018 could be a big year for House Democrats — and that Trump Country territory like southwest Pennsylvania isn’t safe.

Political Strategy Notes

In his CNN Politics post, “Why Congress is hesitant to pass gun control, by the numbers,” Harry Enten writes: “Last year, Gallup asked Americans whether they would vote only for a candidate who shared their views on gun policy or whether it was one of many important factors they would consider before voting. Among gun owners, 30% said they could vote only for someone who shared their viewpoint. Among those who didn’t own guns, it was 20%. Not only that, but since 2000 the percentage of gun owners who said gun issues were key to their vote climbed by 17 points. It rose by just 10 points among those who didn’t own guns…Pew has made similar findings to Gallup. Gun owners are 9 points (21% to 12%) more likely to have contacted public officials about gun policy than those who don’t own guns. Americans who favor loosening gun laws have been 7 points (22% to 15%) more likely to contact public officials than those who favor stricter gun laws….Even if some Republicans were tempted to support stricter gun control, these numbers suggest that they might be pressured into voting against it because gun rights advocates are more likely to make their voices heard.”

Josh Voorhees wites at slate.com that “…There is major difference between an issue not being an automatic drag on your electoral prospects and actually being a boon to them. Saying gun control isn’t the losing issue it’s made out to be is not the same as saying it’s a winner. There are plenty of logical reasons for Democrats to fret. The majority of Americans may be in favor of small, specific actions like universal background checks or renewing the ban on assault weapons, but as Ramesh Ponnuru argued persuasively in the National Review in November after the mass shooting in Las Vegas, one reason the passion for those very actions is so muted is that many supporters don’t actually believe such laws would make all that much of a difference. Things only get more complicated when the debate moves into the abstract and away from the specifics (as it often does when the NRA is involved); opinions on gun control versus gun rights tend to swing toward control in the aftermath of a high-profile shooting before swinging back as time passes. That means a gun-centric pitch from Democrats would likely find a receptive audience today but an uncertain one in November…Democrats would have a particularly strong argument for tying Trump to the lack of action on guns, considering the NRA was one of Trump’s earliest backersto the tune of $30 million—and remains one of his strongest supporters. That gamble could come with a rather big reward if gun control activists were able to capture a few notable Republican scalps in November: the chance for them and Democrats to do a little mythmaking of their own. Convincing Americans that gun control isn’t toxic at the ballot box wouldn’t be enough to pass meaningful gun laws, of course, but it might finally be a start.”

From Vox, hypocrisy much?

At Politico, Elena Schneider reports that “Republican Rick Saccone holds a slim lead over Democrat Conor Lamb in the special election for a Western Pennsylvania congressional seat, according to a Monmouth University poll released Thursday…Saccone leads Lamb, 49 percent to 46 percent, the poll shows — only a marginal edge for Republicans in a district that supported President Donald Trump by 20 points in 2016. Another 4 percent are undecided, and 1 percent support a third-party candidate…The enthusiasm gap in the district strongly favors Democrats. Nearly half of Democratic voters, 48 percent, say they are following the March 13 special election closely. By contrast, only 26 percent of Republican voters are following the race closely.” The electiopn is March 13th.

Noting that the Monmouth poll has “a very good reputation,” Ed Kilgore elaborates: “this is a race where the Republican should be far ahead. PA-18 is both strongly Republican and strongly pro-Trump. The GOP congressman (Tim Murphy) whose sex-scandal-driven resignation forced this special election faced no Democratic opponent in 2016 or 2014; even in the Democratic landslide years of 2006 and 2008 he won with 58 percent and 64 percent of the vote, respectively. There is not, moreover, any reason to expect an anti-Trump backlash to demoralize Republican voters: Trump carried the 18th by 20 points (as compared to his one-point margin in Georgia’s Sixth District, the historically Republican district that was the site of last year’s hottest House special election)…If Lamb does pull the upset, or even gets close, it will provide fresh evidence that 2018 could be a big year for House Democrats — and that Trump Country territory like southwest Pennsylvania isn’t safe.”

E. J. Dionne, Jr. provides an eloquent description of one of Trump’s biggest liabilities, which Democrasts should think about addressing more creatively. In his column, “A Groundswell for Sanity,” Dionne writes, “The hardest of the hardcore Trump loyalists are still likely to cast ballots this year. But he also drew support from loyal Republicans and white working-class swing voters. Many of them were not enthralled by him but couldn’t abide Hillary Clinton — or were just plain angry. It’s hard to imagine they’re overjoyed with the past 13 months…Some members of this dispirited group overlap with a third key constituency that is underanalyzed because its ranks are not exceptionally partisan or ideological. They are citizens who ask for a basic minimum from those in charge of their government: some dignity and decorum, a focus on problem-solving, and orderliness rather than chaos. Trump and the conservatives sustaining him are completely out of line with this behavioral conservatism built on self-restraint and temperamental evenness…They include small-business owners who prefer low taxes but care about schools, roads, libraries and parks. They may be critical of government, but they also expect it to do useful things. They don’t much like bragging and find an obsession with enemies unhealthy…The obvious political calculation is that this fall’s elections will be decided by which side mobilizes its most ardent supporters. But here is a bet that there is also a quiet revolution of conscience in the country among those who are sick to death of the chaos they see every day on the news, a White House whose energy is devoted to stabbing internal foes in the back and a president who can’t stop thinking about himself. In the face of this, demanding simple decency is a radical and subversive act.”

“In the 2016 presidential election, black voters, on average, waited 16 minutes to vote, while Latino voters waited 13 minutes, according to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology survey of voters. In the same election, white voters waited 10 minutes. In 2012, black and Latino voters stood in line for more than 20 minutes to cast their ballot, nearly twice as long as white voters…Stephen Pettigrew, a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, has found if there are two neighborhoods in the same city, and one is majority-white and the other has more blacks and Hispanics, voters in the white neighborhood have a shorter wait…Voting rights advocates call the disparity a “time tax.” They argue that it violates the fundamental right to vote — and that it is often intentional…In poorer counties and cities, long lines may stem from a lack of resources. But even in wealthier counties, minority communities tend to get fewer polling places, voting machines and poll workers than white neighborhoods in the same county, according to a 2014 study from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law.” — from “Voting Lines Are Shorter — But Mostly For Whites” by Matt Vasilogambros at HuffPo.

Laura Clawson gets down to the nitty-gritty in her Daily Kos post, “How much of tax bill’s benefits do the richest 1 percent get? The answer might surprise you,” and concludes with a succinct soundbite for Democratic candidates everywhere: “The answer, of course, is more than 80 percent, something only 17 percent of voters currently realize. Democrats need to inform the public and drive that number up by November. It’s hard to wrap your head around, of course: 1 percent of the people getting more than 80 percent of the benefit? Even 20 percent of the benefit seems like an awful lot. But it’s true, and Republicans are going all out to keep voters from realizing what the Republican tax plan was all about. The more people know, the better the Democratic chances in November. ..So say it whenever you get the chance: More than 80 percent of the tax plan’s benefits go to the richest 1 percent of Americans.”

Ronald Brownstein addresses an unusual political question in his article, “Could Amazon Flip a State? Democrats could gain politically if the company chooses a city in a battleground state for its second North American headquarters.” at The Atlantic: “Amazon has signaled it intends to finalize its choice this year. Once it’s established, the number of workers connected to the new corporate hub is expected to grow significantly, with Amazon actively recruiting employees from around the country. Amazon projects that it will directly inject into the winning community up to 50,000 new jobs and $5 billion in investment. Based on the spin-off effects it has experienced in Seattle, the site of its first headquarters, Amazon forecasts that other companies will create roughly as many additional jobs. Add in the workers’ families, and Amazon’s choice city could attract well over 100,000 new residents…But the company’s selection could plausibly nudge the current swing states of Pennsylvania and North Carolina toward the Democrats—or accelerate Georgia’s transition into a genuinely competitive battleground. It might take years, but if Amazon founder Jeff Bezos picks one of those places, he could deliver a major political disruption right to the two parties’ doorsteps.”

“Pocahontas” Fights Back

Sen. Elizabeth Warren made a major speech this week that not only affects her political career, but is an instructive example of how to deal with Republican racial slurs. I wrote about it at New York.

The president’s inveterate use of the name “Pocahontas” in mockingly referring to U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren is a bit more than an example of Trumpian boorishness or of his habit of giving people derogatory nicknames. He’s picking up on a slur that certain Massachusetts opponents of Warren have been using since 2012, when the conservative Boston Herald found out Warren had self-identified as having a Native American background in a Harvard faculty directory back in the 1990s. Subsequent digging by various unfriendly and neutral sources discovered that Warren had no formal ties or right to identify with the Cherokee tribe she had been told was prominent in her mother’s Oklahoma background — but also that there was no evidence the highly regarded law professor had ever benefited from a Native connection.

Still, attacks on Warren for exaggerating her Native background struck a conservative chord by raising the familiar targets of diversity, affirmative action, and “political correctness,” then and now. Staff of her 2012 Senate opponent Scott Brown were caught on camera doing various pseudo-Native war chants at a campaign rally. By 2016, one of the most aggressive weaponizers of the “Pocahontas” slur, the hammerheaded Boston radio personality Howie Carr, introduced Donald Trump at a campaign rally with similar war whoops.

This nonsense has created a dilemma for Warren. Does she go out of her way to publicly confess her extremely minor misconduct in the faculty-directory listing, thus fanning the “scandal?” Does she ignore it entirely? Or does she find an effective way to fire back?

A Warren speech today to the National Congress of American Indians showed she has decisively settled on firing back.

For one thing, she’s insisting that Cherokee heritage was indeed part of her family’s life, even as she acknowledges that only tribes themselves can establish Native status.

“[M]y mother’s family was part Native American. And my daddy’s parents were bitterly opposed to their relationship. So, in 1932, when Mother was 19 and Daddy had just turned 20, they eloped …

“They’re gone, but the love they shared, the struggles they endured, the family they built, and the story they lived will always be a part of me. And no one — not even the president of the United States — will ever take that part of me away …

“I’m here today to make a promise: Every time someone brings up my family’s story, I’m going to use it to lift up the story of your families and your communities.”

At the same time, Warren ripped into Trump’s derisive references to her — which at one point he irrelevantly repeated during an Oval Office ceremony honoring Native military veterans — as an example of age-old racist distortions of Native history. After briefly recounting the actual tale of the actual Pocahontas, Warren offered this indirect jab:

“Indigenous people have been telling the story of Pocahontas — the real Pocahontas — for four centuries. A story of heroism. And bravery. And pain.

“And, for almost as long, her story has been taken away by powerful people who twisted it to serve their own purposes.”

Including you-know-who.

Warren later took a more explicit shot at Trump and at his favorite predecessor:

“It is deeply offensive that this president keeps a portrait of Andrew Jackson hanging in the Oval Office, honoring a man who did his best to wipe out Native people.”

And she linked advocacy for Native Americans to the more standard liberal causes she has embraced, including opposition to Big Oil profiteering from Native lands, the fight against GOP-supported safety-net cuts that disproportionately affect minorities, and even banking reform (“[I]t’s about 12 miles on average from the center of tribal reservations to the nearest bank branch.”)

It’s reasonable to assume that Warren will hearken back to this speech whenever Trump or anyone else calls her “Pocahontas” in the future, ensuring that the nastier aspects of the slur will not go unnoticed.That’s morally necessary and politically smart.

FL Mass Shooting Underscores Urgent Need for Gun Safety Reforms, Defeat of NRA at Polls

The U.S. is now averaging more than one mass shooting every day, and in just just 44 days into 2018, there have been 19 school shootings. The 19-year old who bought a semi-automatic AR-15 and mowed down at least 17 students in a Parkland, FL  high school from which he was expelled provides yet another a tragic example of how easy it is for just about anyone to get weapons of mass murder, in this case, depite his threats and worrisome tips to law enforcement from students who knew him.

It’s crickets for recipients of NRA contributions, other than their usual “thoughts and prayers” response. As in so many other mass shootings, there was no “good guy with a gun,” as the NRA argues is the best solution to the problem of mass shootings. Eventually they will respond with the usual parroting of misleading statistics and other aguments of distraction, as they bide their time until the outrage melts away.

Democrats have to provide some significant leadership for gun safety because it is a national security issue, of more immediate urgency than any of our military conflicts in other nations. The lack of common sense restrictions on weapons of mass destruction is a matter of urgent national security because it is facilitating the murder of American children, not in some imagined future, but right now.

The challenge for Democrats is to keep the heat on for gun safety reform at the federal, state and local levels. Every Democratic candidate, from school board to the presidency, must become an informed, articulate champion of common-sense restriction on semi-automatic weapons, and it wouldn’t hurt for rank and file Democrats to press the case through November 6th in social media, town hall meetings and all engagements with their elected officials. We owe that much to the children who have been slaughtered by semi-automatic weapons. There is no better way to honor their lives and help their families.

To become better-informed advocates for responsible gun safety reforms, check out “America’s unique gun violence problem, explained in 17 maps and charts” by German Lopez at Vox. Lopez has done an outstanding job of producing some easy to understand, but striking graphics, which can be especially useful in social media. We’ll share one of them here, urge you to read the whole article and make good use of the graphics, as Democrats press the case for actual reforms, instead of only ‘thoughts and prayers.’

See also this NYT editorial identifying the recipients of the largest NRA contributions.