washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Month: February 2007

Watch Pair of ’07 Gov Races for Clues to ’08

While everyone’s focused on the ’08 prez and congressional races, Larry J. Sabato reminds us that there are important gubernatorial races in ’07. Sabato sees statehouse races as more significant than one would gather from inside-the-beltway msm because the states are “laboratories of democracy” and Governors play a critical role in redistricting. In addition, he sees a ‘canary in the mine” reason for paying more attention to these races:

For example, in 1993 Republican gubernatorial victories in the two states up that year, New Jersey and Virginia, presaged the GOP landslide of 1994, and in 2005 Democratic triumphs in the same states hinted at the Democratic wave of 2006.

A good point. Sabato says The key races this year are in Kentucky and Louisiana, with the Mississippi governor’s race a cake walk for the GOP’s Haley Barbour. Sabato goes into considerable detail about individual candidates’ chances in both parties and notes of the Dem’s chances in KY:

the Democrats smell blood, and voters will need a detailed program to follow all the players. There is no obvious favorite at the moment…None of the Democrats comes close to being a shoo-in, and they all have some damage to their goods…It will be a major surprise if there isn’t a run-off primary for the Democrats, and that could drain money and stir acrimony, to the party’s detriment, especially if the GOP has been able to settle on a nominee in May.

Louisiana is looking increasingly like the marquee race of ’07, and the buzz is all about Governor Blanco stepping aside to let former Dem Senator John Breaux take on the GOP’s rising star, Rep. Bobby Jindal. Sabato stops short of giving Breaux the edge, but many believe Jindal would have a very tough time beating him. Looking toward ’08, Sabato sees only one Dem Governor seriously endangered at this point, Washington’s Gregoire, and predicts Dems will retain a majority of the Governorships.
Sabato has much more to say about individual candidates, demographic changes and races, all of which is well worth a read by political strategy watchers.

Watch Pair of ’07 Gov Races for Clues to ’08

While everyone’s focused on the ’08 prez and congressional races, Larry J. Sabato reminds us that there are important gubernatorial races in ’07. Sabato sees statehouse races as more significant than one would gather from inside-the-beltway msm because the states are “laboratories of democracy” and Governors play a critical role in redistricting. In addition, he sees a ‘canary in the mine” reason for paying more attention to these races:

For example, in 1993 Republican gubernatorial victories in the two states up that year, New Jersey and Virginia, presaged the GOP landslide of 1994, and in 2005 Democratic triumphs in the same states hinted at the Democratic wave of 2006.

A good point. Sabato says The key races this year are in Kentucky and Louisiana, with the Mississippi governor’s race a cake walk for the GOP’s Haley Barbour. Sabato goes into considerable detail about individual candidates’ chances in both parties and notes of the Dem’s chances in KY:

the Democrats smell blood, and voters will need a detailed program to follow all the players. There is no obvious favorite at the moment…None of the Democrats comes close to being a shoo-in, and they all have some damage to their goods…It will be a major surprise if there isn’t a run-off primary for the Democrats, and that could drain money and stir acrimony, to the party’s detriment, especially if the GOP has been able to settle on a nominee in May.

Louisiana is looking increasingly like the marquee race of ’07, and the buzz is all about Governor Blanco stepping aside to let former Dem Senator John Breaux take on the GOP’s rising star, Rep. Bobby Jindal. Sabato stops short of giving Breaux the edge, but many believe Jindal would have a very tough time beating him. Looking toward ’08, Sabato sees only one Dem Governor seriously endangered at this point, Washington’s Gregoire, and predicts Dems will retain a majority of the Governorships.
Sabato has much more to say about individual candidates, demographic changes and races, all of which is well worth a read by political strategy watchers.

New Republic?

One of the odd but revealing bits of intra-Left agitprop in recent years has been the lefty blogger campaign against The New Republic, the venerable liberal magazine. Despite its very diverse product (including anti-Iraq War writers like Spencer Ackerman, and seriously lefty writers like John Judis and Rick Perlstein), TNR has often been demonized on the Left, and lumped into the Evil D.C. Democratic Establishment. Markos Moulitsas regularly refers to TNR as “dying,” and when former TNR editor Peter Beinhart admitted he was wrong about the originial decision to invade Iraq, he was generally savaged in the blogosphere for having the temerity to do anything other than retreat, in sackloth and ashes, into perpetual silence.Last year Beinart was replaced as TNR editor by Franklin Foer, who immediately penned editorials supporting single-payer health coverage, and retracting any suggestion that TNR supported Bush’s Iraq policies. And now the magazine has been bought by a Canadian media firm that presumably cannot be accused of neo-conservative views.It will be interesting to see if TNR’s detractors give the magazine a break, or instead continue to attack it for allowing, not highlighting, unorthodox center-left arguments on Iraq and other issues. After all, there is a point of view in the progressive blogosphere that any dissent from the party line, as defined by themselves, reinforces “conservative memes” and cannot, cannot be tolerated. Free speech is limited to those who support the broader Cause, doncha know.When it comes to TNR specifically, one irritant to progressive blogospheric opinion is definitely going to be the continuing role of Marty Peretz as editor-in-chief. The big irony is that Marty’s fantasy is an Al Gore candidacy in 2008, which also happens to be the fantasy of Markos and other netroots detractors of The New Republic. In the unlikely event that Gore decides to run, it will be fascinating to watch lefty bloggers make common cause with Peretz, as against the ostensibly more liberal cynics at TNR and elsewhere.UPCATEGORY: Ed Kilgore’s New Donkey

Felon Disenfranchisement: Key Component of Voter Suppression

Over at TomPaine.com, Kara Gotsch, advocacy director of The Sentencing Project has an update on what is arguably the GOP’s most powerful tool for voter suppression — felon disenfranchisement. Gotsch sums up the problem succinctly:

…an estimated 5.3 million Americans. Forty-eight states (all but Maine and Vermont) and the District of Columbia prohibit inmates from voting while incarcerated for a felony offense. In 35 states, people on parole also cannot vote. And, in the dozen most regressive states, the right to vote can be permanently denied to people with felony records.

That’s right, a dozen states don’t care if you have served your time and paid your debt to society. You still can’t vote — ever.
Gotsch explains how these laws target African Americans, the most reliable constituency of the Democratic Party:

During the Jim Crow era, disenfranchisement laws in southern states were revised to silence the political voice of newly emancipated slaves. Today, racial disparities in the criminal justice system contribute to dramatic rates of felony disenfranchisement for African Americans. Thirteen percent of black men are disenfranchised and as many as 40 percent of black men are projected to lose their right to vote in states that disenfranchise after completion of sentence….

The 2006 elections have increased momentum for reforms to restore voting rights to ex-felons. Reform legislation has been introduced in 20 states. This is critically important in Florida, where Gotsch notes that one million felons have been disenfranchised for life, thanks in part to the leadership of former Governor Jeb Bush. Reformers are hopeful that the new Republican Governor Charles Crist will rise above partisan concerns and sign an executive order restoring voting rights to hundreds of thousans of Floridians who have served their time.
Democrats increased their strength substantially in the state legislatures and among the governorships in the ’06 elections, and now have an unprecedented opportunity to reinstate voting rights to ex-felons. Strengthening a mass movement to restore voting rights to those who have served their time ought to be a top priority of state Democratic parties in ’07 — a cause that serves justice, as well as their party’s future.

Felon Disenfranchisement: Key Component of Voter Suppression

Over at TomPaine.com, Kara Gotsch, advocacy director of The Sentencing Project has an update on what is arguably the GOP’s most powerful tool for voter suppression — felon disenfranchisement. Gotsch sums up the problem succinctly:

…an estimated 5.3 million Americans. Forty-eight states (all but Maine and Vermont) and the District of Columbia prohibit inmates from voting while incarcerated for a felony offense. In 35 states, people on parole also cannot vote. And, in the dozen most regressive states, the right to vote can be permanently denied to people with felony records.

That’s right, a dozen states don’t care if you have served your time and paid your debt to society. You still can’t vote — ever.
Gotsch explains how these laws target African Americans, the most reliable constituency of the Democratic Party:

During the Jim Crow era, disenfranchisement laws in southern states were revised to silence the political voice of newly emancipated slaves. Today, racial disparities in the criminal justice system contribute to dramatic rates of felony disenfranchisement for African Americans. Thirteen percent of black men are disenfranchised and as many as 40 percent of black men are projected to lose their right to vote in states that disenfranchise after completion of sentence….

The 2006 elections have increased momentum for reforms to restore voting rights to ex-felons. Reform legislation has been introduced in 20 states. This is critically important in Florida, where Gotsch notes that one million felons have been disenfranchised for life, thanks in part to the leadership of former Governor Jeb Bush. Reformers are hopeful that the new Republican Governor Charles Crist will rise above partisan concerns and sign an executive order restoring voting rights to hundreds of thousans of Floridians who have served their time.
Democrats increased their strength substantially in the state legislatures and among the governorships in the ’06 elections, and now have an unprecedented opportunity to reinstate voting rights to ex-felons. Strengthening a mass movement to restore voting rights to those who have served their time ought to be a top priority of state Democratic parties in ’07 — a cause that serves justice, as well as their party’s future.

The Roots of Hillary-Phobia

Another fine post at TNR Online today was Jonathan Chait’s LA Times piece about the “Clinton Machine” in the imagination of the political Right. Chait goes through several aspects of the Right’s vast investment in Hillary Clinton’s inevitability as the Democratic nominee in 2008, and then nails it in terms of conservative fascination with the Clintons:

The bigger factor, I think, is that conservatives are spooked by the Clintons. They had Bill Clinton on the ropes when they took control of Congress after the 1994 elections. He beat back their revolution. They had him again a few years later when they caught him with his pants down and made his misbehavior a theme of the 1998 midterm elections. Instead, Democrats won seats.In the Republican mind, there must have been some sort of Clinton voodoo at work. The public was on their side, they believe, yet through some sort of nefarious dark political art, he turned the tables on them.The conservative hatred of the Clintons has always had around the edges a certain fear of the supernatural. A famous 1993 American Spectator cover story depicted Hillary Clinton as a witch. A witch is an object of hatred, of course, but also a creature with dark and frightening powers.

That’s undeniably correct. Bill and Hill represent a political phenomenon with which conservatives have never been able to come to grips. They can’t get at Bill anymore, so Hill is the last, best chance to redeem the lost Republican Revolution of 1994. The fact that many on the Left have the same, if more submerged, demons about Bill Clinton, which they are also taking out on his wife, makes her presidential candidacy a fascinating referendum on the 1990s, as well as the next four years.

Early Polls Have Weak Track Record for Dems

Early horse race presidential polls have an unimpressive track record in predicting the Democratic nominee. In fact, historical experience suggests there is money to be made betting against the current front-runners. As Associated Press reporter Will Lester explains:

…Edmund Muskie in 1972, George Wallace in 1976, Ted Kennedy in 1980, Gary Hart in 1988, Mario Cuomo in 1992 and Joe Lieberman in 2004 were early front-runners among Democrats. None won the nomination.

But, as poll analyst Mark Blumenthal notes in his Pollster.com article “Pew Center on Past Presidential Trial Heats”:

…two of the four that did not win (Cuomo in 1991 and Hart in 1987) “withdrew from the race for reasons other than lagging support in the polls.” So make of that history what you will.

And further, as Blumenthal quotes Pew Research Center’s Nilanthi Samaranayake and Scott Keeter:

the increased front-loading of the primaries and the growing importance of early fundraising means that the dynamics of the nominating process are apt to be somewhat different this election cycle, making comparisons with past elections less useful.

True ’nuff. And there are two exceptions to the trend, as Lester notes:

Democrats nominated a former vice president, Walter Mondale, in 1984, and a sitting vice president, Al Gore, in 2000. For those elections, the early polls were more predictable at picking the front-runner.

Of course, we’ve never had a presidential spouse in early front-runner position before, much less the spouse of a popular President who had eight years of comparative peace and prosperity and who is a popular U.S. Senator. So don’t go betting the ranch that Hillary will tank. But the point that early presidential trial heat polls have little predictive value for Dems is nonetheless worth keeping in mind.
Interestingly, the reverse is true for the GOP, says Lester:

Republicans have picked the early front-runner in seven of the past 10 elections, according to Gallup polling. In the other three elections, Republican incumbents cruised to re-election.

Lester offers a couple of possible explanations for this phenomenon. But could it be that Dems are just more open to change?
None of this is to say that early horse race polls have no value to Dems. They do help candidates identify areas of strength and weakness and who they need to challenge at various stages of the race. The thing to keep in mind is, the early polls help the candidates shape their message, persona and strategy, not those who want to predict the Democratic nominee.
For a peek at who the early “smart money”, i.e. the gambling community, is actually betting on at this stage, check out the surprising current betting odds at Intrade’s web pages.

Rudy and Abortion

This is likely to be New Republic Day here at NewDonkey, given some interesting new stuff up on its site, along with the news that the venerable mag has been bought by a Canadian media firm that is presumably disconnected from its previous owners’ ideological shibboleths. More about all that later.But first up, I wanted to draw attention to a TNR Online debate over Rudy Giuliani’s viability as a candidate and as a potential president, involving two friends of mine: former American Prospect editor Mike Tomasky, and the New York polymath Fred Siegel, who wrote an admiring but not uncritical book about Rudy a few years ago. Up first, Tomasky focuses his Rudy-skeptic case (which I share) on Giuliani’s position on abortion, which is formally pro-choice but with lots of winks and nods indicating that he would make Supreme Court appointments guaranteed to doom Roe v. Wade.In passing, Tomasky says that Republicans have not “nominated a pro-choice candidate since Gerry Ford in 1976.”That raises a very interesting and pertinent question: among Republicans, what passes for a “pro-choice” position, and what doesn’t? Ford actually supported a constitutional amendment to overturn Roe v. Wade, and return abortion policy to the states. He did not, however (unlike his primary challenger Ronald Reagan) support the Human Life Amendment, which would have leapfrogged both the Supreme Court and the 50 states to endow human embryos, from the moment of conception, with “personhood” under the 14th Amendment.More than thirty years later, while support for a Human Life Amendment remains formally the position of virtually all anti-abortion groups, and of the Republican Party as expressed in its national platforms, nobody’s really serious about it. When Bob Dole said he didn’t feel bound by that platform plank in 1996, it created a lot of controversy on the Right. When George W. Bush said much the same thing in 2000 and 2004, it was regarded as something of a truism. Aside from the political and practical impossibility of the HLA, what changed, of course, was a significant enhancement of a non-constitutional, non-legislative strategy for overturning Roe: simply stacking the Supreme Court with “strict constructionists” who would perform a constitutional counter-revolution.Thanks to Bush’s SCOTUS appointments, right-to-lifers and their opponents think they may be one or two High Court appointments away from that fateful day. The big question now is whether the Bush message to social conservatives–I’m with you, but not vocally; and I’ll get it done indirectly through Court appointments–can be successfully replaced by the Giuliani message–I’m not with you, but not vocally; and I’ll also get it done indirectly through Court appointments.So for Rudy and his handlers, the big gamble is the hope that social conservatives have “matured” enough to accept a Republican nominee who will not even pay their formal positions the kind of lip-service they’ve grown to expect, in exchange for another GOP president who might give them what they actually, realistically want. And the X-factor here is that Rudy’s rather spotted ideological history (at least from the point of view of the Right) may require more explicit assurances to social conservatives that will make this whole double game unsustainable in a general election campaign.I hope this particular issue–a critical subset of Giuliani’s entire political case for nomination and election as president–continues to get serious attention in the Mike-versus-Fred debate as it rolls out.

Early Polls Have Weak Track Record for Dems

Early horse race presidential polls have an unimpressive track record in predicting the Democratic nominee. In fact, historical experience suggests there is money to be made betting against the current front-runners. As Associated Press reporter Will Lester explains:

…Edmund Muskie in 1972, George Wallace in 1976, Ted Kennedy in 1980, Gary Hart in 1988, Mario Cuomo in 1992 and Joe Lieberman in 2004 were early front-runners among Democrats. None won the nomination.

But, as poll analyst Mark Blumenthal notes in his Pollster.com article “Pew Center on Past Presidential Trial Heats”:

…two of the four that did not win (Cuomo in 1991 and Hart in 1987) “withdrew from the race for reasons other than lagging support in the polls.” So make of that history what you will.

And further, as Blumenthal quotes Pew Research Center’s Nilanthi Samaranayake and Scott Keeter:

the increased front-loading of the primaries and the growing importance of early fundraising means that the dynamics of the nominating process are apt to be somewhat different this election cycle, making comparisons with past elections less useful.

True ’nuff. And there are two exceptions to the trend, as Lester notes:

Democrats nominated a former vice president, Walter Mondale, in 1984, and a sitting vice president, Al Gore, in 2000. For those elections, the early polls were more predictable at picking the front-runner.

Of course, we’ve never had a presidential spouse in early front-runner position before, much less the spouse of a popular President who had eight years of comparative peace and prosperity and who is a popular U.S. Senator. So don’t go betting the ranch that Hillary will tank. But the point that early presidential trial heat polls have little predictive value for Dems is nonetheless worth keeping in mind.
Interestingly, the reverse is true for the GOP, says Lester:

Republicans have picked the early front-runner in seven of the past 10 elections, according to Gallup polling. In the other three elections, Republican incumbents cruised to re-election.

Lester offers a couple of possible explanations for this phenomenon. But could it be that Dems are just more open to change?
None of this is to say that early horse race polls have no value to Dems. They do help candidates identify areas of strength and weakness and who they need to challenge at various stages of the race. The thing to keep in mind is, the early polls help the candidates shape their message, persona and strategy, not those who want to predict the Democratic nominee.
For a peek at who the early “smart money”, i.e. the gambling community, is actually betting on at this stage, check out the surprising current betting odds at Intrade’s web pages.

The First Ex-Catholic President?

Speaking of Catholic discipline, and in light of a new national Q-poll showing Rudy Giuliani with a large lead over the rest of the GOP presidential field, I’ve gotten fascinated with a question that nobody seems able to answer: is Rudy, who is often described as a strong possibility to become the first Catholic Republican nominee for the presidency, actually still a Catholic?After all, the man has been married three times. His first marriage of fourteen years was annulled on grounds of a rather tardy discovery that he was married to his second cousin. I’m assuming this annullment was blessed by the Church. So his second marriage was technically his first. But what about his third? Did he somehow get a second annullment? Or was either his second or third (performed by none other than Mayor Bloomberg) marriage just a civil ceremony unblessed by the Church, which means Rudy was self-excommunicated by openly living in sin and/or pretending to be remarried?After reading Kate O’Beirne’s New York Daily News piece discussing Rudy’s unsettled but crucial relationship with Catholic voters, I sent a couple of emails around to conservative Catholic acquaintances, some of them not at all unfriendly to Giuliani, and found out nobody seems to know about Rudy’s formal relationship with the Church, beyond his own assertion that he is Catholic.I’m not interested in personally throwing stones at Giuliani about his marriages or his Catholic status. I couldn’t care less; politicians are not generally, much as we might wish otherwise, exactly moral, marital or religious role models. But given the suggestions of people like Bill Donohue in 2004 that John Kerry should be denied access to communion because he was pro-choice, it’s obviously worth asking if a conservative politician who’s not only pro-choice (despite his crab-like efforts to suggest otherwise) and perhaps, in the eyes of the Church, polygamous, can properly be described as “Catholic.” Or is the GOP, or for that matter, America, ready for the first ex-Catholic presidential candidate?