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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Month: September 2007

Would Edwards Handcuff Democrats?

Most of the media coverage of money in presidential politics is really just a subset of the horse-race discussion: who’s got the most jack to spend where, and what does that say about their “viability?”
But now and then, you get a money issue with strategic implications, and that seems to be the case with John Edwards’ announcement yesterday that he was opting into public financing for his nomination campaign.
From a horse-race perspective, Edwards’ decision seems entirely logical: he can’t keep up with Clinton’s and Obama’s massive fundraising; he’ll probably have enough money with public matching funds to get through the big February 5 primaries if everything breaks right for him; and most importantly, public financing will give him a timely cash infusion going into Iowa in January, a contest he needs badly to win.
But here’s the party-wide strategic problem: by accepting public financing, Edwards will lock himself into a total primary spending “cap” that won’t expire until the Democratic convention. The concern I’m hearing today in insider circles is that if Edwards wins the nomination, he might well put the ticket at a large financial disadvantage to the GOP, whose nominee (unless it’s McCain or some other darkhorse who soon accepts public financing) will be able to run unopposed ads pounding him as a godless ambulance-chasing troop-hater through the spring and much of the summer. In other words, he’d handcuff the party.
Markos Moulitsas did a post yesterday airiing these fears (and calling the Edwards decision “stupid’); he then went on to update the post by reporting the Edwards campaign’s calm response to the handcuffing argument (e.g., the “cap” has a lot of exclusions, and non-campaign 527 organizations would be able to respond to any GOP barrage of ads). Then today Kos did another post basically arguing with the Edwards money strategy, and concluding that it puts a Democratic win in 2008 at an unacceptable risk.
I’m not suggesting that the real, live voters who will determine the Democratic nomination are following this exchange, or will care about it (though the blast from Kos is obviously not helpful to a campaign that’s worked very hard to make Edwards the preferred netroots candidate). But the underlying issue does throw some sand into the overarching argument that Edwards’ campaign has been making: he’s the best on the issues from a progressive point of view, and he also happens to be the most electable candidate as well. Given the well-documented interest of Iowa Democrats in particular about “electibility,” anything that raises doubts about Edwards on that score is bound to hurt. We’ll know pretty soon if such doubts have actually been raised, or if this is just another obscure insider bean-counting fight about unimaginably large sacks of cash.

CQ Study: South Is ‘GOP Firewall’

Today’s edition of CQPolitics has a sobering article entitled “CQ Ratings Show South Remains GOP Firewall Against House Election Disaster.” According to the staff-written post, “Democrats’ opportunities for more Southern gains in 2008 are very limited.” The CQ study sees NC-8 and FL-13 being the Dems’ best shot at House pick-ups, with slim pickings beyond those two seats and Dems struggling to hold several of their southern seats.
Puzzling that Dems can’t do better in Southern House races, especially considering that Democrats currently hold majorities of both houses of the state legislatures in LA, MS, AL, AR, NC and WV, and one House each in TN and KY. One possible explanation: As Ed Kilgore has pointed out, “nearly half the region’s House seats are in three super-gerrymandered states, Texas, Florida and Georgia.”

The Argument(s)

Week before last, Matt Compton posted a review here of Matt Bai’s influential book The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle To Remake Democratic Politics.
For those who enjoyed Matt’s review, or have read the book, or have simply heard the buzz about it, I recommend you go over to TPMCafe, where there’s an extensive discussion of it, including Bai himself, Mark Schmitt, Joan McCarter (a.k.a. McJoan), Garance Franke-Ruta, Nathan Newman, The Reapers (Ted Nordhaus and Michael Schellenberger) and yours truly.
To my surprise, much of the discussion (largely driven by the ever-thoughtful Mark Schmitt) has been not about the internal “argument” among Democrats on the direction of the party, but about the external “argument” Democrats need to present concerning the big challenges facing the country. It’s perhaps the most extensive discussion of a book I’ve seen at TPMCafe, and it’s still expanding. Check it out.

Crisis of the Christian Right, Part II

For those of you interested in where the Christian Right winds up in the 2008 presidential campaign, there’s an article by Jonathan Martin up at The Politico that provides an excellent overview.
While Martin frames his piece as a discussion of Fred Thompson’s lost opportunity to become the consensus candidate of the Christian Right (mainly because of his unwillingness to support a constitutional nationwide ban on gay marriages), the sense you get is that this community of would-be kingmakers is in real disarray, united in their opposition to Rudy Giuliani but unable to agree on an alternative. The case for Thompson’s candidacy made by big-time Christian Right activist Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention is revealingly defensive, and, well, about as enthusiastic as Big Fred himself.
There’s not much doubt that a viable Mike Huckabee campaign would be the answer to these folks’ prayers. But it’s not clear they are willing or able to do anything tangible to make that a reality. We’ll know more about the Arkansan’s prospects next week, when the third-quarter fundraising numbers start leaking out. If Huckabee continues to struggle in the money department, then he probably won’t have a prayer of answering the Christian Right altar call.

S-CHIP and Socialism

As Congress continues to debate a sure-to-be-vetoed reauthorization and expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), you have to admire, in a sick sort of way, the audacity of the rhetoric emerging from the White House and its conservative allies on this issue. It was best expressed in this morning’s Robert Novak column, entitled “Socialized Medicine’s Front Door.”
In this column, the Prince of Darkness chops and channels a variety of Republican speeches warning that the S-CHIP expansion represents a “government takeover of health care” (the hardy perennial sound-bite at the center of the successful effort to derail the Clinton health care plan back in 1994), and of course, “socialized medicine” (a term used less successfully a generation earlier by conservative opponents of the original Medicare legislation).
You’d think terms like “socialized medicine” might be reserved for systems in which most health care providers work for the public sector. And “government takeover,” as applied to health insurance, not the health care system itself, is a phrase that might reasonably be applied to a single-payer system that abolishes or radically limits private insurance plans
But in reality, S-CHIP, in the expanded as well as in the existing version, typically purchases private health plans for those it covers. And far from being some Washington leviathan, S-CHIP is run by the states, who make a wide variety of decisions about coverage, and also help finance the program.
When you really think about what Novak and other conservatives actually mean when they talk about “socialized medicine” or a “government takeover of health care,” the terms could and would be applied to any public-sector-financed effort to expand health care coverage, including the one Mitt Romney signed into legislation in Massachusetts. That’s why we should all get used to the anti-socialism campaign unfolding in Washington this week, because we’re going to hear it over and over again on the 2008 presidential campaign trail. And it deserves derision and contempt every time it pops up.

Thinking Veepstakes

It may seem early to be thinking about the Democratic presidential nominee’s running mate, but, hey that decision is less than a year away. Somebody has to get the ball rolling, so just for fun, here goes one blogger’s early shortlist:

Bill Richardson – Assuming he doesn’t pull a NH upset, he has to rank high on everybody’s veepster short list. Obviously, he brings serious Latino creds. And he just might ice the SW for Dems. He also has an appealing ‘regular guy’ quality that comes across in interviews. And he matches nicely with any of the other Democratic aspirants. Hard to see a downside.
Chris Dodd – Senator Dodd has decades of experience, and if there were more equitable media coverage, he would likely be one of the front-runners. Presidential nominees always say the primary criterion for their V.P. choice is someone who is “ready to be President at a moment’s notice.” Nobody in the current field fits that qualification better than Dodd.
Howard Dean – Smart, passionate and straight-talking, Dean would bring impressive grass roots creds to the ticket. Plus he can articulate the case for voting straight Democratic ticket down the line better than anyone, and we need that big-time. The “Scream” media fallout that ended his white house run in ’04 now seems more about trifling MSM coverage than his emotional stability.
Russ Feingold – Would energize left-progressives like no other nominee and bring home a swing state in the bargain. Would fit best with a more centrist presidential nominee.
Three rookies – Claire McCaskill, Sherrod Brown and James Webb. Each reps a swing state, and the “fresh face” thing might draw some extra interest. All three won close elections, but with broad-based support and could rumble with the best anywhere. McCaskill is an energetic champion of working families, Brown is one of the fiercest debaters in the Senate and Webb exemplifies the strong but more thoughtful foreign policy yearned for by many Americans.
Caroline Kennedy – Stop scoffing and try to remember her speech at the 2000 Democratic convention. Talk about poise, class and symbolic power. Yes, I also doubt she would accept it. But she is highly patriotic and, if called to serve by the right uncle, who knows?

My short list is based on the assumption that none of the ‘Big Three’ would accept the V.P. nomination. Can’t see Clinton or Edwards accepting it, or being offered it for that matter. And my hunch is that Obama might prefer thriving as a top Senator for a few years to cutting ribbons and attending funerals. Just thinking here. If you have any better suggestions, fire away.

“Catching Up” in the Polls

Inadequate disclosure of methodology, as Pollster.com has reminded us, is one common problem with political polls. But another is in how poll results are reported.
CNN provides a good example today, in a story headlined: “Giuliani Has Caught Up With Romney in New Hampshire,” based on a new CNN/WMUR poll of the Granite State conducted by the University of New Hampshire. The underlying data is that Mitt Romney’s nine-point lead over Giuliani in UNH’s July poll is now down to just one point.
So Rudy’s surging in NH, right? Well, not exactly. In July the numbers were Romney 34, Giuliani 20, Thompson 13 and McCain 12. Now they are Romney 25, Giuliani 24, McCain 18 and Thompson 13. So Rudy’s “surged” by four points, in a poll whose margin of error is 5.5%. The real news in the poll is a decline in Mitt’s support, and the most dramatic gainer was McCain, not Rudy.
From a pure horse-race perspective, the CNN story is accurate. But it’s also misleading unless you look at the actual numbers and particularly the margin of error. Still, I’m sure Rudy’s campaign is happy to take the gimme.

God and Mike Huckabee in South Carolina

In her new and very useful American Prospect weekly feature The FundamentaList, Sarah Posner scores an interview with Southern Baptist Convention president Frank Page (a South Carolinian), who talks about growing evangelical conservative support for Mike Huckabee. She also reports that Huckabee’s just won the presidential straw poll at a gathering of the Palmetto Family Council, a state-based satellite of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family empire.
The locus of these developments is significant because South Cackalacki is crucial to the long-shot scenario for a Huckabee nomination. His hopes would depend on a very strong showing in Iowa (a second place finish to Mitt Romney would do the trick nicely), a decent finish in NH (where his radical views on the federal tax system might strike a chord), and then a real breakthrough in SC, a state perfectly designed for his candidate profile. SC is also crucial, of course, to fellow-southerner Fred Thompson, and one big question is whether Fred’s standing will be heavily damaged in earlier contests.
On the other hand, the Michigan and Florida side-shows, which will apparently go forward as significant contests among Republicans if not Democrats, are a real problem for a candidate like Huckabee, who probably won’t have the money to compete in either. And that’s why it’s crucial for him that the calendar shift to move NH ahead of MI, and SC ahead of FL. If the stars all align for the Arkansan, strong and visible support from SC conservative evangelicals could be a matter of political life or death for him.

Catholic Voters Trending Blue

Bill Berkowitz has a post up at Media Transparency that should be of interest to Democrats seeking insights about winning Catholic votes. Noting that Dems reversed a trend of a quarter-century duration in winning over Catholic voters 55-45 percent in 2006, according to NEP data, Berkowitz reveals some of the inside history behind the “Catholic voter migration” (including the scandal involving the GOP’s point man for Catholic support) and he discusses current strategies being deployed by both parties to secure Catholic support.

Purple Virginia

SurveyUSA subscriber Marcos Moulitsas has shared with us the latest SUSA general election poll testing the Big Three Democrats (Clinton, Obama and Edwards) against the Big Three Republicans (Giuliani, Thompson and Romney), this time for Virginia.
I’ve been anticipating this poll in part because I was curious about the depth of the pro-Democratic trend in Virginia, and in part because the numbers might test my theory that John Edwards’ strong showing in national general election polls is not, contrary to the CW, due to any special appeal in the South.
The “purplish” color of Virginia–a state no Democratic presidential candidate has carried since Lyndon Johnson in 1964–was certainly reinforced by this poll. Of the nine matchups, only one (Obama versus Thompson) showed a Republican ahead (47-45).
As for Edwards, his numbers are difficult to distinguish from HRC’s. In nearly every matchup, she gets a higher percentage of the vote, while his margins over the GOP are better. If Edwards is benefitting from any “southern comfort,” or Clinton is suffering from a regional disability, it’s hard to tell here.