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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Month: October 2010

Aerial photography Indicates Stewart/Colbert “March for Sanity” was twice the size of Glen Beck’s “Restore Honor”

here. A more detailed description of the methodology is presented here
The results are significant for more than simple bragging rights or partisan propaganda. Ed Kilgore and many other Democratic election analysts have been arguing that structural factors – the typically more conservative-leaning demographic turnout in mid-term elections and the unusual number of Democrats defending seats in basically Republican districts — will explain a large part of the Republican victories, much more than the “enthusiasm gap” that has been detected in the opinion data.
The size of mass demonstrations provides an important source of information about relative levels of “enthusiasm” – one that is independent of opinion polling. If the Republican storyline were correct – that the coming vote will reflect a growing, passionate rejection of the Obama and Democratic agenda by the American people, one would expect to see an increasing arc of conservative mass mobilization as more time passed, more outrage accumulated and the critical elections neared.
Instead, the September 2009 Tea Party march in Washington D.C. – which had at best 90-100,000 participants marked the high point of attendance. This year’s September Tea Party march was only a fraction of that number and Beck’s heavily promoted “Restore Honor” rally was only about the same size. The fact that the March for Sanity was double the size of Beck’s rally suggests that any Republican spin about “All Americans (except a small minority) are rising in rebellion against the Dems” is simply not supported by the data on mass mobilization.

How Many Blue Dogs Will Voters “Boot”?

This item is cross-posted from The New Republic.
The inevitable loss-induced “struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party” has already begun. In a New York Times op-ed, The Nation’s Ari Berman has written that liberals should “Boot the Blue Dogs,” suggesting a smaller but more ideologically homogeneous Democratic congressional caucus would be happier, more effective, and more progressive [see J.P. Green’s earlier analysis of the essay].
I disagree with Berman’s argument on substantive grounds–particularly the CliffsNotes version that the Times’ word limit imposed on him–but in addition, isn’t this a really weird time to be talking about a purge of Democratic moderates? After all, Republicans are poised to do the job themselves, seizing so many seats that they’ll drastically shrink the size of the Congressional Blue Dog Caucus.
How many of these moderates will actually be left after November 2? Currently, there are 54 members of the Blue Dog Coalition in the House. Four of them are retiring, and two others–Brad Ellsworth of Indiana and Charlie Melancon of Lousiana–are running for the Senate. All six of these open seats are very likely to flip to the GOP.
Looking at Nate Silver’s very precise projections of House races, there are 47 incumbent Democrats that he rates as having a better-than-even chance of losing. Of those, 21 are Blue Dogs. If you assume they all do lose, then add in the six open seats, and acknowledge there are likely to be no reinforcements from the tiny Democratic class of 2010, this leaves you with a Blue Dog Coalition of 27 members, exactly half the current number.
With some luck, the numbers could be higher, but they could be a lot lower, too; four more Blue Dogs are rated by Silver as having a 40 to 50 percent chance of losing, and three more make his list of those with a 30 to 40 percent probability of getting booted.
Silver’s entire projection estimates a net loss of 53 seats by Democrats, leaving a House Democratic Caucus of 203 members. In that scenario, a Blue Dog Coalition of 27 members would represent 13 percent of the caucus, as compared to 21 percent today.
In other words, progressives won’t have much purging to do. It’s hard to assess the influence that this far-smaller group of Blue Dogs would have on the Democratic minority, particularly in a House of Representatives controlled by the most ideologically coherent Republican caucus in history. But it is worth noting that talk about “booting the Blue Dogs” seems beside the point–and it might only aid the Republicans who may soon be attempting to lure Ben Nelson or Joe Lieberman across the line to gain control of the Senate.

Gender Gaps Versus “Mama Grizzlies”

At pollster.com, Margie Omero takes a fascinating look at the gender gaps in polls involving female candidates in some major races. There’s a lot going on in her charts, and thanks to the variable availability of crosstabs, she has to rely on polling data of variable reliability.
It’s clear, however, that by and large, all those “Mama Grizzly” Republican candidates aren’t exactly pulling women across the line. The two races with the largest gender gaps actually involve women running on both tickets, the OK and NM gubernatorial contests (unfortunately, dreadful performance among men has kept both Democrats from being competitive, though NM is much closer than OK). But there are also sizeable gender gaps in two races involving Democratic men and Republican women (the Senate races in NH and CT).
The female Republican candidates who do seem to be seriously appealing to women in a race against a man, creating an unusually small or even non-existent advantage for Democrats among women, are, surprisingly, Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell. Keeping in mind that this is a Rasmussen poll we are talking about, O’Donnell is actually running slightly better among women than among men, though she’s losing the former by 11 points and the latter by 12. The only Republican women in Omero’s analysis who are actually leading among women are Oklahoma’s Mary Fallin (who’s going to win very big because she’s leading among men by 50 points), and SC’s Nikki Haley (a favorite to win, but not by a lot), both by four point margins.
All in all, there’s not much evidence that the much-noted emergence of conservative women is having a big impact on women’s votes, though it is helping the GOP achieve some desperately needed diversity in the ranks of its candidates.

TDS Contributor Bob Creamer on GOTV (Get out the vote)

First and foremost, for Democrats to beat the odds next Tuesday, our get out the vote operations must function flawlessly. Basically, these operations must defy the “likely voter” models that have dictated the gloomy scenario in most polls.
There is little question that between the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the DNC’s Organize for America (OFA), the individual campaigns, and Democratic allies like AFSCME, AFL-CIO, SEIU, MoveOn.org, USAction, NEA, Center for Community Change, et al, Progressives are conducting the most effective Get Out the Vote (GOTV) effort of any Mid-term in history. Many Latino, African American and women’s organizations are also conducting special programs targeting their communities.
Many of the veterans of the Obama campaign — which ran the most effective GOTV program in American history — are deeply involved. The culture and systems developed by the Obama field structure will go a long way to creating well oiled, efficient GOTV organizations. Well organized coordinated campaigns are functioning in key states, focusing heavily on early voting and mail vote in many, and this accounts for a robust showing by Democratic-registered voters in many states. And they all plan massive 72-hour voter contact drills and Election Day operations to run votes.
Democrats are relying heavily on door-to-door contact, while Republicans use paid phone calls and mail. But studies show conclusively that door-to-door contacts are far superior to phones and mail.
Over the next five days, Democrats have to deliver in the field if they intend to upset the odds. We must make millions of door-to-door and phone contacts. We must repeatedly contact voters who would vote Democratic, but our unlikely to vote. We need to explain to these voters how critical it is that they vote. And we need to deliver that very effective Election Day message: “I won’t get off your porch until you vote!”
Everyone, no matter where you live can increase Democratic effectiveness in getting out the vote. Pick up the phone and call your local campaign, Democratic Party, your union, or MoveOn.org. Volunteer to go door to door or get on the phones.
We know from research that the more we contact mobilizable voters, the more likely they are to vote. You don’t have to “persuade” them, you just have to contact them. You just have to get their attention, and the likelihood they’ll vote goes way up.
And if you don’t live where there is a critical campaign, you can still get involved. OFA and MoveOn both have programs that allow you to call voters in swing states from the comfort of your own home.
To volunteer, go to OFA.BO/GOTV
To call swing districts: Call.BarackObama.com. That will automatically give you a targeted list of voters in a swing district.
To volunteer with MoveON with a campaign near your home, go here: www.moveon.org/2010
If you want to call from home, go here: pol.moveon.org/2010
If you want to go to a MoveOn campaign event, go here: pol.moveon.org/event/lastchance

A Tea Party For Medicare

One of the most interesting spectator sports of this election cycle is to watch Tea Party-oriented candidates rant and rave about government spending being a threat to liberty, and then change their tune entirely when asked about a specific, popular program like Social Security and Medicare. Here (via Dave Weigel) is ForbesShikha Dalmia, who wants to cut entitlement spending bad, complaining about Tea Party gutlessness:

[P]olls by the New York Times and Bloomberg have found that although a vast majority of Tea Party supporters favor smaller government, they don’t want cuts in their Medicare or Social Security, a contradiction perfectly captured in a sign at a Tea Party rally: “Keep the Guvmint out of my Medicare.” Indeed, the Bloomberg poll discovered that even though Tea Partiers dislike ObamaCare, they want Medicare to offer more drug benefits and the government to force insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions. The upshot is that while the rhetoric on entitlements has become bolder during this election, the discussion about reform has become tamer.
In fact, setting aside the lapsed witch of Delaware, Christie O’ Donnell, in the most visible Senate races where Tea Party or Tea Party-anointed candidates are running, only two have stuck to their crosses on entitlement reform. One is Joe Miller of Alaska, a man so unfamiliar with the First Amendment that he conducted a citizen’s arrest of a reporter for asking tough questions. The other is Sharron Angle of Nevada, a genuine bright spot in an otherwise bleak Tea Party landscape, who admirably admonished Harry Reid to “man up” and admit that Social Security had a problem.
Literally all of the others are equivocating if not completely backing off from their original plans to give at least partial ownership of Medicare and Social Security to individuals themselves.

Indeed, the Man Who Would Be Speaker, John Boehner, seems to be moving in a very different direction, according to David Frum:

On the Sean Hannity radio program this afternoon, Speaker-presumptive John Boehner was interestingly cautious about promising actually to do anything in the new Congress.
But there was one thing Boehner did specifically pledge: Republicans would call a vote on restoring President Obama’s cuts to Medicare.

Clearly, the impending collision between Republican rhetoric on budget deficits and their specific spending and tax cut commitments is going to be pretty massive, and this time, it’s not something that will go without notice.

Time For a New Theory?

This item by Ed Kilgore was originally published on October 25, 2010.
Many journalists never bother to acnowledge when their theories or predictions don’t pan out. That’s not true of TAP’s Mark Schmitt, who’s acknowledging that his sanguine attitude towards what Barack Obama might be able to accomplish substantively and poltically via a sort of post-partisan pragmatism wasn’t terribly prescient after all:

Republican intransigence and Democratic fecklessness have been well chronicled. But the more troublesome error in the theory appeared only after those barriers were overcome. Obama’s legislative victories, the most significant for a Democrat since Lyndon Johnson, began to seem like a burden rather than a source of future strength. The Obama presidency isn’t over, but his theory of governing — that change is possible by bridging partisan differences and enacting incremental policies that would pave the way for bigger proposals — is defunct. What comes next?

As someone who shared much of Schmitt’s optimism, I guess it’s time for a little self-criticism as well. My own theory of “grassroots bipartisanship” suggested that Obama’s conspicuous post-partisan approach might either split the GOP or force it into a position of self-destructive extremism. The split never happened; in effect, the right wing of the GOP has killed off its moderate wing, such as it was. So the GOP has been encouraged (not that it needed much encouragment) to become extremist, but so far, has not paid any tangible political price for it. Indeed, GOP extremism has excited the party’s conservative base, boosting midterm turnout.
Now it’s almost certain that this short-term outcome is the result of the economic calamity and the inability of Democrats to do much about it that voters will praise (avoiding greater calamity will await the praise of historians). Combined with the pro-GOP tilt of the midterm electorate, and the usual midterm reaction to any new administration, the economy has been enough to largely insulate the newly radical GOP from the consequences of its own bad behavior.
But that’s the short-term outcome. Emboldened by their initial success, and pushed by an activist base that will now be convinced the GOP has a mandate for extremism, the Republican Party going forward is in a fine position to squander its midterm wins and remind swing voters why they got so throughly sick of Repubican rule in 2006 and 2008.
So I’m not ready just yet to accept that Obama’s original “theory of change” was fatally flawed, and might not succeed in the long run. But Schmitt’s obviously right: this is not where we were supposed to be two years after Barack Obama’s election, and fresh thinking about the strategic and tactical challenges facing progressivism and the Democratic Party are most definitely in order. But panic, or a kneejerk decision to emulate Republican extremism, are neither fresh nor a form of thinking

The House and Senate Expectations Game

At present, the CW about November 2 is that Republicans will win the House while Democrats retain the Senate, and if GOPers complain about the spin being a split decision, they have no one to blame but themselves for their year-long orgy of triumphalist rhetoric.
Perhaps anticipating a sense of disappointment among Republicans, RCP’s Sean Trende tries to cheer them up today with some analysis about the nature of Senate contests and what should be reasonably expected. His main point, which should come as no surprise to those who remember this started out as a cycle in which Democrats thought they might actually pick up Senate seats, is that the Senate seats that happen to be up this year are disproportionately held by Republicans already. Thus, the Senate landscape is tougher than the House landscape, as Trende explains by looking at the states and districts from the perspective of PVI (Presidential Voting Index, the generally accepted measurement of the partisan character of any given jurisdiction):

To take the ten seats they need to win the Senate, Republicans have to either run the table in every state that is D+5 or better, or make up for any misses in even bluer states. To put this in perspective, for House Republicans to pull off the same feat, they would have to pick up about 123 seats! The landscape is also more difficult for Republicans given that four of the GOP’s five most Democratic seats are open this cycle.

This is all true, but the same PVI data that makes the likely Senate results look better than they might first appear also creates some needed “perspective” for contextualizing likely House gains:

[B]ecause of Democratic gains in Republican-leaning districts over the last two cycles, House Republicans have been waging this election on relatively favorable turf. If Republicans defeat every Democrat in an R+4 district or better, they’ll pick up 47 seats. Almost 100 seats are held by Democrats in districts that were D+3 or better, i.e., in swing districts or districts leaning toward Republicans.

Turn that insight around, and you can say that Republicans can pick up 47 seats without beating a single Democrat in a district where the PVI is better for Democrats than R+4. That would be an impressive GOP win, but hardly the stuff of any big pro-Republican long-term trend, particularly if you take into account (1) the especially large age-related Republican midterm turnout advantage; (2) the economy; and (3) the near-universal phenomenon of midterm losses by the party controlling the White House.
As Sean says, it’s all a matter of perspective.

Should Dems Want a Smaller Tent?

This item by J.P. Green was originally published on October 25, 2010.
No matter what happens in the mid term elections, expect an intensified debate about the future of the Democratic Party in general, and an even more heated discussion about the breadth of the Democratic Tent — more specifically what to do about the ‘Blue Dogs.’
The debate has been going on for a few years. But a re-opening salvo has just been fired by Ari Berman, in his New York Times op-ed “Boot the Blue Dogs.” Berman, a contributing writer for The Nation and author of “Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics,” argues that the Democratic tent has gotten too big, and the time has come to purge the party of conservative Democrats who are obstructing not only the Democratic agenda, but also the party’s ability to grow. He makes a strong case:

With President Obama in office, some notable beneficiaries of the Democrats’ 50-state strategy have been antagonizing the party from within — causing legislative stalemate in Congress, especially in the Senate, and casting doubt on the long-term viability of a Democratic majority. As a result, the activists who were so inspired by Mr. Dean in 2006 and Mr. Obama in 2008 are now feeling buyer’s remorse.
…Democrats would be in better shape, and would accomplish more, with a smaller and more ideologically cohesive caucus. It’s a sentiment that even Mr. Dean now echoes. “Having a big, open-tent Democratic Party is great, but not at the cost of getting nothing done,” he said. Since the passage of health care reform, few major bills have passed the Senate. Although the Democrats have a 59-vote majority, party leaders can barely find the votes for something as benign as extending unemployment benefits.

Berman sees two pivotal benefits of dumping the ‘Blue Dogs’:

…First, it could enable them to devise cleaner pieces of legislation, without blatantly trading pork for votes as they did with the deals that helped sour the public on the health care bill. (As a corollary, the narrative of “Democratic infighting” would also diminish.)
Second, in the Senate, having a majority of 52 rather than 59 or 60 would force Democrats to confront the Republicans’ incessant misuse of the filibuster to require that any piece of legislation garner a minimum of 60 votes to become law. Since President Obama’s election, more than 420 bills have cleared the House but have sat dormant in the Senate. It’s easy to forget that George W. Bush passed his controversial 2003 tax cut legislation with only 50 votes, plus Vice President Dick Cheney’s. Eternal gridlock is not inevitable unless Democrats allow it to be.

Berman adds “Democrats aren’t ideological enough. Their conservative contingent has so blurred what it means to be a Democrat that the party itself can barely find its way.” He does not say exactly how Democrats should get rid of the Blue Dogs, but withholding financial support from them and otherwise disciplining Democratic members of congress who refuse to support the majority agenda are measures that have gained support among Democratic progressives who want to diminish the power of the Blue Dogs.
Single-payer, pro-choice, tax-the-rich, withdraw-from-Afghanistan progressive Democrat that I am, I worry about the effects of a wholesale purge of the Blue Dogs. I think it’s a mistake to stereotype all Blue Dogs as ideologues. Many are, but some are fairly progressive, and merely want to survive in their conservative districts, hoping to lead their constituents forward to a more progressive vision. Some Blue Dogs in marginal districts deserve a little wiggle room.
Use redistricting where possible to reduce Blue Dog numbers, while not cutting the number of Democratic districts, yes. Allocate less Party money to Blue Dogs and give it to needy progressive candidates in close races, sure. Invoke stronger party discipline with respect to committee assignments on those who fail to support the party a standard percentage of the time, of the time, absolutely.
As for conservative Democratic Senators (‘Blue Dogs’ is a term usually reserved for House members), it’s easier to draw a line in the sand. Cloture betrayal, as Ed Kilgore has persuasively argued, should invoke party discipline.
Generally, Dems should use more carrot and stick to sway the Blue Dogs in a progressive direction. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that majority status is so important for getting anything done in congress, that it would be a mistake to embrace a level of rigid ideological purity that denies Dems the speakership, committee chairs and the ability to enact legislation.

Springtime For Race-Baiting

We are often told that this year’s GOP/Tea Party uprising is some sort of act of self-defense by Americans resisting the takeover of their lives by Big Government, and that the whole right-wing “movement” is about fiscal issues and constitutional liberty, not cultural resentments or ethnic/racial fears.
Funny, then, that so many political ads this year dwell not so subtly on The Others In Our Midst. Salon‘s Alex Pareene has collected some doozies that he has awarded with what he calls the “Baitys.” Here’s his summary:

Are you scared of gang-banging Mexican illegals? Islamic sleeper cell jihadists? Chinese people? Then this was the election cycle for you! From the primaries through the week before election day, America’s been blanketed with race-baiting political campaign ads from insufficiently guarded border to shining sea. Today’s the day when those countless hours spent by soulless political consultants poring over stock images of young Latino men looking for the shot that screams “about to kidnap your daughter” pays off.

Some of the ads about illegal immigrants are especially over the top, which is interesting insofar as rates of immigration have been dropping rapidly of late. And any Democrat who has failed to wax hysterical about the so-called Ground Zero Mosque is subject to attack as a conscious agent of radical Islam bent on subjecting good Christian folk to Sharia law.
What’s most striking about these ads is how generic they are, with little connection to the actual issues in any actual electoral contest. But then again, given the highly centralized nature of the conservative attack ad machine, it’s small wonder that cookie-cutter race-baiting has spread across the land like pestilence.

Following the Money

Via Joan McCarter at Daily Kos, you should check out this nifty NPR interactive map of the small, incestuous world of “independent” organizations spending mega-millions to attack Democratic candidates.
The consultants who run these groups, and the donors who finance their nasty attack ads, constitute a self-appointed shadow political system that operates outside virtually all the rules that govern the parties and candidates. Some of the folks involved have backgrounds and views that belong at a Halloween Party rather than any conventional political party.
This is the sort of thing that political scientists will be studying about Campaign 2010 for many years to come.