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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Month: July 2014

Campaign Finance Reform Gives Dems Edge in New Poll

The following report is cross-posted from a Democracy Corps e-blast:
A new poll of the 12 states where control of the Senate is being contested, fielded by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner for Democracy Corps and Every Voice, a major new advocacy effort, shows that voters of all political persuasions are disgusted with the current campaign system and are ready for real reform – and they are ready to vote to get it.
Campaign reforms, from a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United to public matching funds for candidates that reject large donations, are widely popular ideas that actually move voters in these critical battleground states during a simulated-debate.
In the simulated debate (using the actual candidate names), Democrats supporting a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and a proposal to reduce the influence of big money in campaigns gain a net five points, with the gains concentrated among swing center-right groups. Clearly, the debate around these issues puts Republicans squarely on the wrong side of public opinion.
Key findings:
There is an intensely Anti-Washington mood in the Senate battleground.
Voters are strongly negative towards Super PACs and believe spending in politics this year is worse than in the past and is very corrupting.
There is overwhelming cross-partisan support of a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United that can translate into added support for Democratic candidates who support the amendment and damage Republicans who oppose it.
Importantly, there is more than two-to-one support for plans to give public matching funds for small donations to candidates who reject big donations. Support holds steady after balanced debate on the proposal that accuses the supporters of favoring “welfare for politicians” with taxpayer dollars.
Republican candidates supporting the RNC lawsuit to eliminate individual contribution limits put themselves in danger of losing support.
Engaging in a debate about money in politics, when it includes both a push to overturn Citizens United and the matching funds campaign finance proposal, moves the Senate Vote a net 5 points towards Democrats.
Read the full memo here.

Economic agenda for working women: the difference in the senate battleground

Economic agenda for working women: the difference in the senate battleground

Political Strategy Notes

Julia Preston reports at the New York Times that a new poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 69 percent of respondents said that the 57,000 plus unaccompanied migrant children from Central America who have come to the U.S. should be permitted to stay “if authorities determine it is not safe for them to return to their home country.” Only 27 percent said they should be deported. However, notes Preston, “There is broad consistency for a policy offering support for the unaccompanied children and a determination process, not just an open door,” said Robert P. Jones, the chief executive of the research institute. “At the same time, there are concerns that policy may bring some negative consequences, and the situation has raised people’s concerns about immigrants over all.”

At The Upshot Derek Willis reports on Kansas Democrats’ promising new emphasis on demographic modeling and micro targeting persuadable/mobilizable voters.
In her Washington Post column, “Building a progressive alternative to ALEC,” The Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuval observes, “Recently, the American Legislative and Issue Campaign Exchange and the Progressive States Network announced a merger to build an organization that will be focused on moving a progressive policy agenda in the states. While the goals of the new undertaking may resemble those of ALEC, their methods are vastly different. They will operate transparently, use no lobbyists, and make their model legislation and resources available to everyone; their database already showcases 1,800 examples of progressive legislation. And they will engage with people, not corporations…As [executive directory Nick] Rathod underscores, “For nearly a generation, conservatives have outpaced us at the business of movement-building in states. They have focused hard on it, poured resources into it and have been ruthlessly efficient at it. Starting now, we will do the same.”

Oppo alert: Time magazine’s Jay Newton-Small reveals how House Republicans are planning to get a larger share of women voters.

The National Journal’s Lucia Graves and Stephanie Stamm crunch the data, explain “What Keeps Women from the Polls?” and find that the voter turnout of women, and African American women in particular, is adversely impacted by disproportionate caretaking responsibilities.

From the Christian Science Monitor: Jared Gilmour’s “Why Democrats are campaigning on your student loan debt: Student loan debt is a big issue, and Democrats are increasingly talking about it in an effort to get voters to the polls in key states this November” notes that “Student loan debt is a big issue with big reach. In fact, 37 million Americans currently face a record $1.2 trillion student debt load. And nearly 7 million borrowers are in default on $100 billion in loans, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.” Gilmour quotes DCCC Chair Rep. Steve Israel: “Show me a suburban district, and I’ll show you a district where that’s going to be a motivating issue” and notes that Democratic candidatures are advocating reforms in major Senate races.

At Brookings Elaine C. Kamarck discusses reforms for “Increasing Turnout in Congressional Primaries

Take a gander at this nifty political demographic map of North Carolina at the American Communities Project web page. You hover over the color-coded regions and it tells you which demographic group (i.e. “working-class country,” “college towns,” “military posts” “evangelical hubs,” “African American south,” “graying America” etc.) dominates the population. The analysis accompanying the map bodes well for Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan.

The headline of Steve Benen’s Maddowblog post “The GOP loses control of its Frankenstein monster” sums up the impeachment follies nicely. Benen observes, “Republican leaders created a monster, doing nothing to tamp down the right’s crusade to tear down the Obama presidency, and they suddenly find themselves scrambling now that the monster is running lose. As Arit John put it, Republicans have “lost control of the impeachment plot they hatched.”

GOP Impeachment Intentions Denial Increasingly Ridiculous

Regarding our post below about Republican leaders denying their party is pushing toward impeachment, do check out this link-rich post, “GOP’s base Clamors to Impeach Obama” by Drew Courtney at People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch, documenting the growing number of Republicans guzzling the impeachment Kool-Aid. Here are some of Courtney’s examples (click on the article for the links — there are more than 30 links, too many to include here for now):

  • In a radio interview last week, Rep. Michele Bachmann said that she believed the president has “committed impeachable offenses” but that first “the American people have to agree with and be behind and call for the president’s impeachment.”
  • This month, Rep. Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania said that there are “probably” the votes in the House to impeach the president for “absolutely ignoring the Constitution, and ignoring the laws, and ignoring the checks and balances.”
  • In March, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California hinted at impeachment proceedings in response to illegal immigration.
  • Last year, Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas toyed with the idea of impeaching the president over “the whole birth certificate issue.”
  • Also last year, Rep. Kerry Bentivolio of Michigan said that impeaching the president would be “a dream come true.”
  • Rep. Steve King has promised impeachment proceedings if President Obama issues an executive order granting work permits to undocumented immigrants.
  • Sarah Palin has repeatedly called for impeachment in recent weeks.
  • Glenn Beck has repeatedly called for the president’s impeachment for the IRS scandal, an imaginary plot to give weapons to Al Qaeda in Syria and for a supposed cover-up of the role of a Saudi national in the Boston Marathon bombings. “You need to file the articles of impeachment. He needs to have the stain on his record that they cannot remove,” he said.
  • The prominent right-wing legal group Liberty Counsel launched a campaign in February to call on the House to start the process of impeaching the president before he succeeds in “remaking the United States of America into a godless, socialist nation.” The group launched a similar campaign in 2011. Although Liberty Counsel officials have cited President Obama’s executive order on LGBT nondiscrimination, the Benghazi attack, marriage equality as possible reasons for impeachment, ultimately the group’s chairman Mat Staver said an impeachable offense can be “whatever Congress says it is at any given time.”
  • Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano has floated the idea of impeachment for at least a year.
  • In 2012, American Family Association President Tim Wildmon called for the president’s impeachment because he “intentionally misled the American people” about the attacks in Benghazi. This year, he declared that the GOP would have impeached President Obama even if he had been a Republican because the “Christian element” in the party would never tolerate “lawlessness and lying.”
  • The American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer demanded President Obama’s impeachment for his handling of the court case challenging the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act.
  • Gun Owners of America director Larry Pratt has called for Obama’s impeachment for his backing of “pagan” gun safety laws and before he takes “total control.”
  • WorldNetDaily managing editor David Kupelian wants Republicans to impeach Obama and remove him from office if they take control of the Senate: “We need to remove this guy or to stop what he’s doing as soon as possible. The next opportunity is in November and we’ll see what the Republicans and the Christians and the conservatives can do then.” The site’s editor in chief, Joseph Farah, has also repeatedly called for impeachment proceedings.
  • Former Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo called for Obama’s impeachment earlier this year, claiming that the president has become “addicted to dictatorial behavior.”
  • Tea Party Nation urged its members to sign a petition calling on Congress to “impeach and arrest the tyrant king Obama!”
  • Alan Keyes who lost the 2004 Illinois Senate race to Obama, advocated for impeachment over the Fort Hood shooting, Obama’s “dictatorial intentions,” and something to do with “gay lovers.” He has alsocalled on Michele Bachmann and Jesus Christ to help in the impeachment endeavor “before it’s too late.”
  • In 2012, Americans for Truth About Homosexuality’s Peter LaBarbera called for Obama’s impeachment for trying to “pander to his homosexual activist base.”

There are just two possible conclusions to draw from all of these examples : Either the Republican leaders know perfectly well they are careening toward squandering tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on an impeachment effort that is doomed to fail, or they have totally lost control of their unhinged base. Neither one will inspire much support from thoughtful voters.

GOP Impeachment Talk Looks Like a Game-Changer, Alright

From Nick Corosaniti’s “Impeachment, on G.O.P. Lips, Animates Democrats’ Base” in the New York Times:

Democrats cannot get enough of Republicans talking about impeaching President Obama.
They are using it to raise money and claim to have collected $1 million on Monday alone. They are using it to add supporters, with 74,000 new contributors. And, to animate their base, they would like to goad Republicans into debating impeachment in close races in the midterm elections…The talk of impeachment has had a catalytic effect on fund-raising for the Democratic campaign committee, which raised $7.6 million online through more than 400,000 donations since Mr. Boehner announced the lawsuit against the president. That is an average of $19 per donation
…All of which has forced Republican leaders in Congress to talk down any notion of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” saying that Democrats were cynically using the specter of impeachment as a “scam” to generate support.

Democratic leaders must be pinching themselves and asking giddily, “Can this be real?” If the Republicans proceed, they may write a new chapter in the annals of political stupidity, or at least a new take on “Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory.”
Boehner and McConnell are denying there is any such master plan. “Impeachment, who us?,” while several Republican members of congress are talking it up. Meanwhile Boehner is going forward with his lawsuit against the president for “abusing his power,” even writing an op-ed defending it, which looks a lot like a set-up for impeachment. As Corosaniti reports,

On Monday, an op-ed article published in USA Today, written by Mr. Boehner, defended his lawsuit, claiming, “President Obama has overstepped his constitutional authority.” Democrats seized on the language, sending email that threats of impeachment were “no laughing matter” and asking for contributions to help “take on the Tea Party.”

President Obama has plenty of messaging ammo to ridicule Boehner’s lawsuit, including the reality that he has issued fewer executive orders than Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan and Bush II and fewer total vetoes than any president since James Garfield.
Put all of that together with the “do-nothing congress” meme, and Dems have a potent message strategy to leverage for November. As DCCC Chairman Steve Israel, explains “This is going to be 98 days of daily process between Republicans, who are obsessed with lawsuits and appear to be moving closer to impeachment…It’s having the unintended consequence of moving our base in a midterm election and also moving persuadable voters to us in a midterm election…”
If it turns out that Boehner’s lawsuit tips the election enough to enable Democrats to hold the senate, Dems — and the nation — will likely get a bonus in the form of a new Republican House speaker, presumably one less opposed to any form of bipartisan cooperation.

Lux: Early Predictions on Presidential Elections Usually Wrong

From “Presidential Politics and Predictions: Be Ready to Be Wrong” by Democratic strategist Mike Lux, author of “The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be“:

… If you look at the history of presidential politics in the modern era, the last half-century-plus, the strongly favored frontrunner almost never cruises easily to victory. Big stuff, little stuff, insurgencies popping up out of nowhere, scandals, stumbles — frontrunners, even the dominant ones, have lost a lot more often than they won, and generally even when they have won, they had a hell of a tough road getting there. In fact, in only two of the past 11 Democratic presidential primaries where there wasn’t an unchallenged incumbent president has the clear frontrunner at this moment in the four-year cycle gone on to win the nomination, and in one of those two situations (Mondale), he had a far tougher fight than expected.
In 1960, LBJ was the clear frontrunner, the dominant figure in national Democratic politics. He had by far the most important endorsements, and the strong support of the party establishment in most of the states. Hubert Humphrey was widely thought of as the only guy with a decent shot of beating him. Jack Kennedy was a lightly regarded upstart, with his youth and Catholicism considered obstacles way too big to overcome.
In 1968, LBJ — this time as the incumbent president — was of course going to win the nomination hands down. He completely dominated the party machinery, had limitless campaign money stashed away, was further ahead in the polls than Hillary. Gene McCarthy’s campaign was considered worse than a joke, it was assumed to be a short-lived token protest movement. My first political memory, as a 7-year-old just getting interested in politics, was seeing that LBJ speech where he stunned the world by announcing he would not run again, and I will never forget the looks of shock on my parents’ faces.
In 1972, Ed Muskie was the overwhelming frontrunner — way ahead in the polls, the money, the endorsements, everything. A silly media frenzy over whether he cried, and a hippie volunteer army for McGovern in New Hampshire, were all it took to quickly dislodge him from the race.
In 1976, Teddy Kennedy was the frontrunner in the polls but did not run. There were several Senate heavyweights who were thought to be top tier candidates, all of them faltered. Absolutely no one predicted Jimmy Carter.
The 1980 race was the only serious primary against an incumbent in modern presidential election history, and oddly, Teddy Kennedy actually started with a huge lead in the polls, as Carter was pretty unpopular with the Democratic base. But after Kennedy’s disastrous 60 Minutes interview, everything reversed and Kennedy never recovered.
In 1984, Mondale was the overwhelming favorite, as far ahead as Hillary in the polls and with every major group and most politicians’ endorsements. He didn’t make any big mistakes, ran a strong early campaign, and easily won Iowa as predicted, beating Gary Hart 50-17. But Democratic primary voters were restless, bored with Mondale’s safe establishment-mandated coronation, and looking for someone new. When Hart came out of the pack of candidates with a surprising second place finish, he trounced Mondale in NH and was on a roll, winning most of the next several primaries. Without some stumbles, Hart would have been the nominee.
Speaking of stumbles, Hart’s big one on his friend’s boat, the Monkey Business, with Donna Rice forced him to withdraw in 1988 after being the overwhelming favorite in the early polling. Gephardt, who had been working Iowa for years, became the favorite after that, but last minute entry Dukakis raised a lot more money than anyone else, and Gephardt split the populist vote with Simon, Gore, and Jesse Jackson. Gephardt won Iowa, Dukakis finished a pretty anemic 3rd there, but the late-entry candidate who had been at 1% in the polls ended up easily winning the nomination in the end.
In 1992, Cuomo was the strong favorite in the polling and among pundits right up until the time he decided not to run (quite late in the cycle, he was still debating with himself in the fall of ’91). After that, Clinton was one of the favorites until he stumbled, after which everyone pronounced his campaign over, after which he came back and won the nomination. (And after he won the nomination, up until the Democratic convention no one thought he had a shot of beating Bush.)
In 1996, no one challenged President Clinton for the nomination after he decisively beat the Republicans in the budget showdown. In 2000, there was the only primary fight in this entire saga that went pretty much as predicted, with Vice President Gore keeping his early lead and turning back a challenge from Bill Bradley, although a lot of us who closely followed the race think that if Bradley hadn’t spent too many resources contesting the Iowa contest where he was never going to win, that he would have beaten Gore in NH (he only lost 51-47). In that scenario, Bradley might well have made that race a hell of a fight.
In 2004, Hillary Clinton was way ahead in the early polling but did not run, and there was no real favorite. In the early days of the race, it was thought that Gephardt would win Iowa and Kerry would win NH, but then both faded and Dean came on from nowhere (literally 0 or 1% in the early polling, with no one predicting he had a chance) to a big lead in the polls, money, and endorsements. When Dean made some late mistakes, and Kerry and Edwards put together a late surge, the race was reshaped again.
Finally in 2008, people have already forgotten how inevitable Hillary was seen then. At this time of the cycle then, July of 2006, it looked unlikely that Obama would even run. And throughout 2007, she had a wide lead in the polls and endorsements.
That’s the track record, folks: 11 contested primaries over the last 54 years, only one of them turned out pretty much as expected, and only two where the pre-season favorite even won…

Looking at the record of front-runner fade-outs, you could make a pretty good argument that it’s not such a good thing for Hillary Clinton that so many think she has a lock on 2016. Early coronations also invite lots of potshots and negative attention.
Measure that, however, against the considerable advantages of having lots of time to unify the party, rack up the contributions and recruit GOTV muscle. But Lux is surely right that betting on any candidate months before the campaign begins is unwise.

July 28: GOP’s Short-Sighted Strategies

Political parties often face choices between strategies that create (or promise to create) a short-term advantage, and those that address long-range challenges. One of the GOP’s problems right now is that it is developing a real habit of sacrificing the long game to immediate opportunities. I briefly discussed five recent examples today at the Washington Monthly:

The first example involves the many, many lies told by GOP pols and affiliated gabbers about the alleged horrific impact of the Affordable Care Act on old folks. These ranged from deliberate mischaracterization of the Medicare “cuts” in the ACA (raised to an infamous art form by Paul Ryan in 2012), and ranged on up to the amazingly effective if completely fabricated “death panel” meme. As a short-term strategy, this made sense, and certainly helped solidify the GOP’s sudden new dominance among older white voters, a key factor in 2010. In the long term, though, aside from the risk of hellfire, the tactic undermined the GOP’s simultaneous commitment to “entitlement reform,” the linchpin of its fiscal strategy.
A second choice of short-term versus long-term strategies has been the War on Voting, which has risked generational alienation of affected young and minority voters in exchange for dubiously effective electoral advantages. This is an ongoing choice, which only Rand Paul has (temporarily) seriously questioned.
A third, emphasized just today by Ross Douthat (though the critique has always been a staple of so-called Sam’s Club Republicanism), was the decision to make the 2012 economic message of the GOP revolve around the needs and perspectives of business owners, presumably to reverse the advantage Democrats had slowly gained since the Clinton years among several categories of upscale voters. This approach played right into Democrats’ new openness to populist messages, and while conservatives like Douthat are arguing for policies that appeal to the economic interests of middle-class voters, the shadow of Mitt Romney still looms large.
A fourth, which is also ongoing, was the sudden and almost universal embrace by the GOP of a “religious liberty” argument that identified the party with very extreme positions on birth control and same-sex marriages, undermining years of careful antichoicer focus on late-term abortion and reversing an implicit party decision to soft-pedal homophobia. Those who led this campaign in 2012 probably had visions of it serving as a wedge into the Catholic vote (which even some Democrats feared), which just didn’t happen.
And fifth and most definitely ongoing example is the decision to follow an immediate shift to the right in Republican and to some extent independent attitudes towards immigration reform in the wake of the refugee crisis on the border, even though Republicans know they’ll pay a long-term price in credibility with Latino voters.

Taking a snail’s-eye view of strategic opportunities isn’t an inherent Republican vice. But it’s becoming habitual right now, in part because any long-range strategy would require ideological concessions, and we can’t have that, can we?