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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Month: October 2012

Election Countdown: Day 6

Those of us not directly affected by Sandy are beginning to get fully into the final, teeth-grinding phase of this very long and difficult election cycle. Before getting to items of interest to TDS readers from today’s posting at Washington Monthly, here’s some breaking news: first real national polling on Obama’s handling of Sandy, from ABC/WaPo Tracking Survey, shows very high positive assessments (78/8). We’ll see if it matters.
* Mitt Romney’s “storm relief event” in Ohio a good example of successfully cynical manipulation of media.
* Trende/Cohn agreement on unlikelihood of electoral vote/popular vote “split decision” worth paying attention to, along with belief that either national or state polls are just plain wrong.
* Has-been underachievers as important as Tea Party upstarts in important story of GOP’s likely failure to take back Senate despite most favorable landscape in many years.
* Brief essay on how Iowa extremist Steve King benefits from partisan polarization.

Romney’s Waffling on FEMA Won’t Win Many Votes

This item by J.P. Green was originally published on October 30, 2012.
In his Washington Post article, “Hurricane Sandy highlights how Obama and Romney respond to disasters,” Ed O’Keefe describes the President’s course of action addressing frankenstorm Sandy:

…Obama has signed at least nine federal emergency disaster declarations in the past 24 hours at the request of state governors, directing FEMA to deploy more resources in anticipation of significant recovery efforts. He canceled campaign stops for Monday and Tuesday to return to the White House to oversee the federal government’s evolving storm response.
…Obama campaigned four years ago on a promise to revamp the federal government’s disaster-response functions and has embraced changes long sought by state governors and professional emergency managers. Since becoming president, he has led the federal response to multiple natural disasters, including tornadoes, flooding and major hurricanes, learning from government stumbles during the presidency of George W. Bush — most notably in the case of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Obama’s posture has been to order federal agencies to aggressively prepare for and respond to major storms and other disasters.

It’s a portrait of a president leaving no task unmet. O’Keefe sees “a moment of sharp contrast between President Obama and Mitt Romney and how their different ideas of governing apply to the federal response to large-scale disasters.” O’Keefe adds that “Obama has been aggressive about bolstering the federal government’s capability to respond to disasters, while his Republican challenger believes that states should be the primary responders in such situations and has suggested that disaster response could be privatized.” Further,

As governor of Massachusetts, Romney requested federal disaster assistance for storm cleanup, and he has toured storm-ravaged communities as a presidential candidate, but he has agreed with some who suggest that the Federal Emergency Management Agency could be dissolved as part of budget cuts.
When moderator John King suggested during a June 2011 CNN debate that federal disaster response could be curtailed to save federal dollars, Romney said: “Absolutely. Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.”

At the time, Romney didn’t have much to say about, ahem, how states should work together when a natural disaster overlaps state borders, as they most always do. But in the Romney campaign’s partial walkback statement, we get this:

“Governor Romney believes that states should be in charge of emergency management in responding to storms and other natural disasters in their jurisdictions,” said campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg. “As the first responders, states are in the best position to aid affected individuals and communities and to direct resources and assistance to where they are needed most. This includes help from the federal government and FEMA.”

Which is pretty much how the system works, as O’Keefe points out. He adds that the Romney campaign is also collecting supplies for the storm’s victims, which FEMA says is not such a good idea in the earliest part of the relief effort, because cash and blood donations are more urgently needed and donated supplies can cause logistical bottlenecks too early on.
After President Bush botched the Hurricane Katrina relief effort the agency has undergone major restructuring and reorganization under the leadership of President Obama and FEMA administrator Carl Fugate, as O’Keefe explains:

Fugate and Obama have earned praise for restoring the agency’s reputation in the years since Katrina. Despite working for then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush as head of the state’s emergency agency, Fugate said he rebuffed overtures from George W. Bush to lead FEMA after Katrina, saying that the GOP administration did not want to rebuild the agency in the fashion since embraced by Obama.

O’Keefe adds that “Fugate has batted away questions before about possible privatization of his agency: “I’m too busy working on other stuff. Ask that to somebody who would give you the time and day to answer that,” he said in a 2011 interview. O’Keefe notes that Obama’s FEMA reforms have “earned plaudits from then-Gov. Haley Barbour (R) of Mississippi and Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) of Louisiana — usually tough Obama critics — and professional emergency managers who had sought the changes for years.” O’Keefe concludes with a quote recalling Bush’s ‘Heckuvajob Brownie” mismanagement of Hurricane Katrina relief:

Obama’s changes at FEMA “have been night and day” compared with those under previous administrations, according to one veteran emergency manager who was not authorized to speak publicly for fear of jeopardizing federal disaster grant requests. “I don’t know who will be the next president, but they can’t put a political hack in the job of leading FEMA ever again.”

Some may protest that it’s unseemly to call attention to the differing approaches of the candidates in a time of national emergency, when Americans should be pulling together. But lives are at stake and it’s important that voters pay attention to the management philosophies and track records of the two candidates in addressing major disasters. This is a matter of national security as much as any foreign policy issue.
What voters are left with is an image of Romney posturing his ideologically-extravagant privatization schema and federal government-bashing, and a more grounded and experienced President Obama taking care of business. My hunch is that the clear distinction will not be lost on observant swing voters.

Stalking the Elusive White Male Voter

This staff post was originally published on October 26, 2012.
For those Democrats who have been puzzling over the inability of the Obama campaign to get more traction with white male voters, Brian Montopoli has an excellent post up at CBS News Politics, with the somewhat misleading title, “Will White Men Sink Obama?”
The title is misleading because Montopoli makes it clear that Obama can win; it’s more about the reasons behind the segmentation of the white male vote at this political moment. Montopoli sheds light on the challenge facing Democrats with this still-influential constituency and provides some insightful observations, including:

…While women outvoted men by about 10 million votes in the 2008 presidential election, men still made up 48 percent of the electorate. And white men alone made up more than one third of the electorate – 36 percent – according to national exit polls.
It’s true that whites are slowly shrinking as a portion of the electorate as blacks, Hispanics and Asians grow in influence, which is why you don’t see many news stories about them as a voting bloc. But they still pack a powerful electoral punch. White men, in fact, are providing the biggest drag on the president of any voting bloc as he tries to win another four years in the Oval Office. Even if the president gets his expected 80 percent support from minority voters, he is unlikely to win the election if he can’t win more than one in three white men. And he might not.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll released this week found that white men support Romney over Mr. Obama 65 percent to 32 percent – a 2-to-1 margin. That suggests the president is doing worse among white men then he did in 2008, when exit polls showed he lost white men by a 57 percent to 41 percent margin. The poll also found white men moving away from the president: Romney’s 19-point mid-October lead on handling the economy among the group has risen to 35 points today.

Montopoli quotes Progressive Policy Institute President Will Marshall on the problem:

Many white men, and many, in particular, non-college white men, have not seen that the Democratic economic agenda is in their interest…There’s an account from the left that says these voters have been estranged from Democrats on social issues. And there’s some truth to that. But I also think these voters believe the economic policies of Democrats have benefitted somebody else – not them…

But, as Montopoli points out, there is a strong regional influence on the way the white male vote breaks down:

…A survey released last month by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that Romney led 48 to 35 percent among whites lacking four-year college degrees who are paid by the hour or the job. Yet while Romney led by 40 points among southern working-class whites, the president actually led by eight points among Midwestern working-class whites. The president’s relative strength among whites in the Midwest is the reason a state like Pennsylvania appears likely to remain blue despite a relatively large white population.

As Marshall puts it in Montopoli’s post, “The sense that he’s doing better with white voters in the Midwest is the firewall for Barack Obama…It’s what’s giving him hope that he can win in the Electoral College even if he potentially loses the popular vote.”
Montopoli adds that Romney is weaker in the more unionized midwest, despite his Michigan roots, as a result of his opposition to the auto bailout and Obama’s relative popularity in the region. With white working-class women, however, the situation is a little more complicated. Moreover, adds Monopoli:

…The PRRI study found that while Romney holds a 2-1 advantage among white working class men, the two candidates were tied among white-working class women. David Paul Kuhn, author of “The Neglected Voter: White Men and the Democratic Dilemma,” reported that Democrats have seen a 25 percent decline in white working-class male support between 1948 and 2004, even as white working-class women held steady.

But the Bush meltdown may have exacerbated the insecurity of white men in particular. “The effect of the 2008 economic collapse has been dubbed a “he-cession” because it disproportionately left men out of work,” adds Montopoli.
Romney, for his part, has been struggling to make inroads with white male working-class voters in the region with repeated references to “the war on coal” and the like. But his campaign seems to be stuck in neutral at the moment.
It does appear that 2012 may be the last election in which the white male vote is a decisive force. As Montopoli concludes, “The silver lining in all this for Democrats: The impact of their disadvantage among white men looks likely to diminish as time goes on.”

Lux: It’s All About GOTV Now

This item, by Democratic strategist Mike Lux, author of The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be, is cross-posted from HuffPo, where it originally appeared on October 23, 2012. :
We are now officially at the end game. What this election boils down to now is simple as can be: pumping up and getting out the Democratic base vote.
It really helps that Obama so dominated last night’s debate. He was steady and authoritative, putting Romney on the defensive early and keeping him there all night. The horses and bayonets line, unanswered by a stunned Romney, is the keeper debate line of the 2012 cycle, destined to join “there you go again, Mr. President” from Reagan in 1980, and the “you are no Jack Kennedy” line from Bentsen in ’88, as one of the most repeated debate lines in American history.
What was most fascinating about last night’s debate happened in the first minute, though. When moderator Bob Schieffer opened the debate by asking Romney the Benghazi question, I think everyone watching assumed that this would be the biggest flashpoint and battle of the debate, that this would be the fireworks and the news coming out of the night. When Romney chose instead to immediately punt on first down and turn the very specific and pointed Benghazi question into a rambling generic answer about foreign policy in general, he stunned everyone — and he took the biggest potential weakness for Obama on foreign policy off the table for not only the rest of the night but the rest of the campaign. If Romney didn’t have the guts to challenge the president on it when the question got teed up so directly for him, how is the Romney campaign going to make a credible case against Obama on it for the next two weeks? They aren’t. I don’t know whether there was some kind of big campaign decision that, having swung and missed in the last debate, he just wouldn’t go there, or whether Romney just flat out choked (I strongly suspect the latter) but, either way, having buried it in the debate, that issue will be very hard for the Romney campaign to resurrect.
The president fired up the Democratic troops last night. Now it is up to the troops to deliver. In the battleground states, we have to not only do the crucial mechanics of turning out the vote — door to door, calls, early voting, visibility, friend to friend and neighbor to neighbor — we have to fire our people up and get them motivated to vote. I have a great deal of confidence in the Obama ground game, but it won’t be easy.
Poll after poll has shown that some of the most important Democratic base groups are less engaged in this campaign and less fired up about voting than they were in 2008. In fact, it is young people, unmarried women, Latinos and African Americans that have been hardest hit by economic hard times, and when you are struggling economically it is a lot harder to get excited about voting. Because of those hard times, more of the voters in these demographic groups have also been wavering in terms of the president, as well. In 2008, Obama won 69 percent of the voters in those demographic groups, but according to the new Democracy Corps poll just out yesterday, Obama is only winning 62 percent right now. In the last two weeks of this campaign, our highest strategic priority should be to focus on these voters, remind them of how terrible Romney’s policies would be for them and do everything in our power to pump them up about voting and voting for Democrats.
The good news is that despite those lower numbers from our base, the DCorps poll showed Obama going into the final two weeks ahead by three, 49-46. I put a lot of trust into DCorps’ numbers, as Stan Greenberg has an extraordinary amount of experience polling in presidential politics and they have the best predictive record of any poll out there. Especially given Obama’s decisive victory last night and the small but steady edge in most of the key swing states, DCorps’ numbers make me think we are going to win this race. But absolutely key to the endgame is appealing to and firing up Democratic base voters. Our success with those voters will determine this election.

Creamer: Romney Embraces Bush Template on FEMA, Economy, War

The following article by Democratic strategist Robert Creamer, author of Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, is cross-posted from HuffPo:
Earlier this week — as he was barnstorming the country for Barack Obama — former President Bill Clinton subbed in for the president as Obama flew back to Washington to oversee the country’s response to a major hurricane.
That would seem an appropriate context to ask the question, why hasn’t the most recent Republican President, George Bush, been barnstorming the country for Mitt Romney?
It says a lot that for most Americans this sounds like an absurd question.
Clinton was a major featured speaker at the Democratic Convention. Bush wasn’t even invited to Tampa.
Bush is not campaigning for Romney because he and the policies he implemented are politically radioactive to most American voters.
George Bush is off in political Siberia because the Romney campaign is doing everything humanly possible to prevent voters from realizing that Romney intends to return precisely those same failed Bush policies to the White House if he is elected president next week.
Let’s start with the matter that is uppermost in the country’s attention — the hurricane.
It’s fair to say that his response to Hurricane Katrina was not Bush’s finest hour. But Bush’s failure to respond quickly and effectively to Katrina was not simply a reflection of his administration’s incompetence. It was a reflection of the fact that his administration didn’t believe in government.
Natural disasters make people remember why it is so important that we have a society where we have each other’s back. They make us remember that government is the name we give to the things we choose to do together.
Natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy make us remember why the law of the jungle — why a self-centered, irresponsible, unbridled focus on you and you alone — isn’t what we learned in Sunday School.
Even far right New Jersey Governor Chris Christie reprimanded New Jersey citizens who refused to evacuate low-lying areas because they would put the lives of first responders at risk — because they had a responsibility to each other.
Bush — and his response to Katrina — exemplified the right wing’s failure to understand that most Americans believe in a society where we are all in this together, not all in this alone.
And Mitt Romney completely shares Bush’s view. Romney actually proposed eliminating the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) and hand over responsibility for response to disasters to the states. Romney ignores that when disaster strikes, we are Americans first. We have each other’s back whether we are from Mississippi or New Jersey. We do that because it’s right. We also do it because while disaster may strike our neighbors in New Jersey today, it could strike those of us who live in Illinois tomorrow.
But of course there are many other reasons why the Republicans have failed to ask George Bush to campaign for their presidential ticket. Two stand out.
We have had two great economic experiments in America over the last 30 years. One succeeded. The other failed — in fact, it was a man-made disaster.
The first was led by President Bill Clinton. Clinton believed that you grow the economy from the middle out — not the top down. He understood that businesses don’t invest and hire unless there are customers out there with money in their pockets — that they are the “job creators” — not a bunch of hedge fund managers on Wall Street.

Teixeira: Public Wants Tax Hikes for Rich, Opposes Obamacare Repeal

In his latest ‘Public Opinion Snapshot,’ TDS Founding Editor Ruy Teixeira shares the most recent public opinion data regarding tax increases for the wealthy and repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Teixeira reviews new evidence from the Public Religion Research Institute’s just-released 2012 American Values Survey, noting:

In that survey, the public was asked whether they supported increasing taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year. By an overwhelming 61 percent to 36 percent margin, respondents said they did.

In addition, says Teixeira, the survey provides “even more of a shocker for conservative sensibilities”:

… The public does not embrace conservatives’ other sacred cause of repealing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. According to the survey, the public opposes repeal by a 49 percent to 41 percent margin.

It appears that the Republicans two leading legislative priorities are non-starters. As Teixeira concludes, “Conservatives should look for some other sacred causes to embrace. If they’re interested in public support, that is.”

Ezra Klein: The GOP’s extremist strategy worked; Romney benefited, America lost

Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog post, “Mitch McConnell and John Boehner’s strategy worked” finds a common denominator in recent endorsements of Romney:

…In endorsement after endorsement, the basic argument is that President Obama hasn’t been able to persuade House or Senate Republicans to work with him. If Obama is reelected, it’s a safe bet that they’ll continue to refuse to work with him. So vote Romney!
That’s not even a slight exaggeration. Take the Des Moines Register, Iowa’s largest and most influential paper. They endorsed Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, Al Gore in 2000, John Kerry in 2004, and Barack Obama in 2008. But this year, they endorsed Romney.
Why? In the end, they said, it came down to a simple test. “Which candidate could forge the compromises in Congress to achieve these goals? When the question is framed in those terms, Mitt Romney emerges the stronger candidate.”

Klein says that The Register argues that President Obama has abandoned bipartisanship, while crediting Romney with bipartisanship as Governor of Massachusetts — despite the fact that Obama “spent most of 2011 negotiating with John Boehner.” He notes a similar argument in the Orlando Sentinel endorsement of Romney and cites David Brooks’ Romney endorsement being based on a greater likelihood that the Republican would have a better chance of securing bipartisan cooperation.
Klein recalls Republican statements citing the defeat of President Obama as the mother of all GOP priorities but adds,

While it’s true that President Romney could expect more cooperation from congressional Republicans, in the long term, a vote against Obama on these grounds is a vote for more of this kind of gridlock. Politicians do what wins them elections. If this strategy wins Republicans the election, they’ll employ it next time they face a Democratic president, too, and congressional Democrats will use it against the next Republicans. Rewarding the minority for doing everything in their power to make the majority fail sets up disastrous incentives for the political system.

Klein is right that the strategy worked in securing some ill-considered endorsements for Romney. Yet, a vote for Romney is a vote to institutionalize political extortion as the new driving wheel of American politics. “We care less about enacting any policies that benefit the American people than defeating a Democratic president” is a pretty infantile approach to political deliberation.
Voters who want a return to some semblance of bipartisan cooperation would be far wiser not to reward the perpetrators of political extortion, the party of Gridlock, Obstruction and Paralysis. Giving them a sound thrashing up and down ballot would more likely accomplish that goal.

Election Countdown: Day 7

Sandy is still overshadowing politics in a big way, confusing the usual Final Week activities, but we should be coming back into the light quite soon. Here are some posts of interest to TDS readers from my WaMo haunts:
* Romney’s doubling-down on Jeep-jobs-to-China fable shows Team Mitt has lost any sense of restraint when it comes to mendacity.
* But Mitt’s waffling on FEMA goes straight back to Bush and “Brownie.”
* Anticipatory panic about a Democratic Senate caving to a President Romney doesn’t take into account changes in composition of Caucus.
* Per Alec MacGillis, Sandy impact could cut in two very different ways.
Tomorrow could begin to produce a partial return to what Mitt Romney’s predecessor Warren G. Harding called “normalcy.”

Team Obama’s State-of-the-Art Voter Research Smokes GOP

Is there a more important question at this political moment anywhere than “Just how good is the Obama campaign’s voter research operation?” Slate.com’s Sasha Issenberg has a go at it, and his conclusion – and impressive research – should provide a little relief for Democratic nail-biters. After dispatching the Republicans voter research as antiquated, Issenberg says:

…The electioneering right is suffering from what amounts to a lost generation; they have simply failed to keep up with advances in voter targeting and communications since Bush’s re-election. The left, meanwhile, has arrived at crucial insights that have upended the conventional wisdom about how you convert citizens to your cause. Right now, only one team is on the field with the tools to most effectively find potential supporters and win their votes.

In stark contrast, Democratic research is light years ahead in analysing voter behavior, says Issenberg:

…The most important methodological and conceptual breakthroughs in recent years have originated in the academy, specifically through insights from behavioral psychology and the use of field experiments. Since 2004, myriad advocacy groups and consulting firms on the left have joined forces and launched a series of nominally for-profit private research institutions devoted to campaign tactics. The most impressive among them, the Analyst Institute, was created to link the growing supply of academics interested in running randomized-control trials to measure the efficacy of political communication with the demand of left-wing institutions eager for empirical methods to test their programs. These partnerships have birthed a generation of political professionals–many baptized in the unprecedented pools of data collected by Obama’s 2008 effort–at ease with both campaign fieldwork and the techniques of the social-science academy.
This summer, a top Republican analyst stumbled upon a job notice posted by the left-wing League of Conservation Voters. The position was Targeting and Data Director. The analyst looked admiringly at the description of the job, especially its duties to “explore and devise opportunities to test and measure the impact of all of our programs, including working closely with entities such as the Analyst Institute.” He marveled at what that language revealed about the sophistication of his rivals’ intellectual enterprise. “One thing the left–Catalist, Analyst Institute, New Organizing Institute–has done very well is training and seeding of this sort of stuff, this sort of philosophy,” said the analyst, who asked not to be identified because of election-season attachments but has worked closely with the Republican National Committee and presidential campaigns.
Dozens of such postings exist in what some call the “progressive data community.” I asked the Republican analyst what analogous jobs existed among the institutions of the right. How many of the League of Conservation Voters’ ideological foes–like the Chamber of Commerce, or their frequent allies at the National Rifle Association or the Faith and Freedom Coalition–have data managers and targeting directors with similar mandates to test and measure?
“I honestly don’t know,” the analyst replied. “If I had to guess? Zero.”

Issenberg goes on to explain how Dems have become much more adept at “persuasion microtargeting” and message testing in the field. It adds up to a qualitative advantage that Republicans are not going to match this year, or anytime soon. He concludes that Democrats can now “confidently extend their hunt for persuadable voters outside the unexpectedly perilous middle terrain and to calculate who among them will be responsive to particular messages (like on Medicare) or specific modes of contact (a call from a volunteer).”
Apparently Republicans will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century in terms of their ground game research, as well as their ideological rigidity.

Voter Vigilantes Threaten Election Integrity

Justin Levitt, an associate professor of law at Loyola Law School (L.A.) has a disturbing post, “The Danger of Voter Fraud Vigilantes” up at The New York Times. Leavitt provides examples of overzealous voter vigilantes, most notably in Montana, where six thousand citizens had their voting rights compromised by self-appointed “amateur detectives” and then explains:

…In the final days before the election on Nov. 6, “voter integrity” groups have begun to object to the participation of voters they find suspicious. Civic participation in our electoral process is not only welcome, but necessary. But excess zeal and an absence of accuracy turns volunteers into vigilantes.
The past weeks have seen challenges based on ostensible felony status in Florida, ostensible deaths in North Carolina and ostensible address problems in Ohio, among others. Some of these challenges appear to be the work of isolated individuals, others are coordinated by local groups “empowered by” national entities like True the Vote. The common thread is that the challenges are based not on personal information about particular voters, but computerized scans of data records.
Thus far, most local election officials have met the challenges with firm resistance. These officials understand that they must safeguard the voting rights of their legitimate constituents, and, backed by federal law, they are admirably standing their ground against the tide. By and large, they have assessed mass challenge efforts with a skeptical eye.
Their skepticism is appropriate. One need not impugn the partisan, racial or tactical motives of those sponsoring mass challenges to fear their impact. I suspect that most citizens who have signed up for such efforts honestly (and commendably) believe that they are valiantly protecting the franchise against the elusive scourge of voter fraud. But enthusiasm without precision causes real problems.

Levitt may be over-trusting with that last observation. But he is right on target in defining the responsibility election officials have toward such voter vigilante exercises:

Maintaining the voter rolls is a delicate science. Officials need to keep records clean, but they also need to ensure that voters are actually ineligible before jeopardizing their constitutional rights. Taking lapsed records and ineligible people off of the rolls helps prevent potential problems; taking eligible individuals off the rolls immediately creates real ones. The proper balance calls for the care of a skilled surgeon, excising cysts from the rolls in an atmosphere of quiet calm. Take out the bad, but be careful not to cut out the good. Mass computerized challenges in the closing days of an election cycle are like operating with a chainsaw. The results are unhealthy, no matter how good the operator’s intentions.

Levitt cites an extensive litany of common mistakes and things that can go wrong in the voter certification process. He warns that “At the polls, an eligible voter’s ballot cannot turn on the outcome of a shouting match built on the flawed product of a flawed computer algorithm. Citizens walking around with long lists of ostensibly illegal voters are most likely walking around with long lists of mistakes.” Sadly, in 2012, it appears that too many of these overzealous voter vigilantes are targeting Democrats.