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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

Huge Black Turnout May Spark Broad Dem Gains

Adam Nossiter and Janny Scott have an important New York Times article “In the South, a Force to Challenge the G.O.P.” The authors are primarily interested in the how the historically high turnout of African American voters in the south will help Obama’s chances, and they have this to say about his influence in the primaries thus far:

…turnout in Democratic primaries this year has substantially exceeded Republican turnout in states like Arkansas, Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia…Some analysts suggest that North Carolina and Virginia may even be within reach for the Democratic nominee, and they point to the surprising result in a Congressional special election in Mississippi this week as an indicator of things to come.

Scott and Nossiter note that Black primary turnout in SC more than doubled over ’04 and nearly doubled in GA. MD, VA and LA also had large gains in Black turnout. The Black turnout was pivotal in Mississippi this week in electing
Democrat Travis Childers, after Republicans tried to drum up racial animosity over Obama’s campaign. The authors acknowledge that the deep south, especially Mississippi, is still forbidding territory for Dems, but they believe the Childers victory provides “a case study in the effects and consequences of focusing on Mr. Obama.”
And Georgia, tied at 10th rank among the states in electoral votes with NJ and NC, could be added to the list of states in play if Bob Barr gets any traction as a siphon of GOP votes from McCain and/or Obama picks Sam Nunn as his running mate. In the February 5th primary in GA, Dems cast nearly 53 percent of the votes, and Black voters cast 55 percent of the Democratic ballots — an all-time high.
Whether Dems win or lose the presidency in November, it’s a safe bet that there will be an unprecedented turnout of African American voters nationwide, if Obama is nominated. Although most Black voters reside in the south, they can be a decisive margin of victory in Senate, House and state legislative races in many other states. As Josh Goodman notes at Governing.com:

It seems unlikely that solid red states will suddenly become swing states solely on the basis of more African-Americans showing up at the polls…But, even if Obama doesn’t win these states, the implications of increased black turnout for down-ballot races could still be significant. Plus, many swing states do have substantial African-American populations, including Virginia (19.6%), Florida (15.4%), Michigan (14.1%), Ohio (11.8%), Missouri (11.3%) and Pennsylvania (10.4%).

It’s never been more important for the DNC, DSCC, DCCC and national and community-based organizations to work together in getting Black citizens registered to vote. Writing at The Hill, David Hill explains:

…Even if non-voting blacks came out this election in numbers twice that of every other group of non-voters, it would not turn the election upside-down. There is a ceiling effect on how influential a surge in black turnout can be because of African-Americans’ comparatively small share of non-voters.
The development that would make black turnout more significant would be a surge in registration of African-Americans. This is a realm where the black population still lags in a meaningful way. According to the Census survey, only 69 percent of African-Americans are registered. While this compares very favorably to registration rates of other ethnic and racial minorities (52 percent of Asians and 58 percent of Hispanics are registered, according to the Census Bureau), it significantly trails the 75 percent rate of registration among non-Hispanic whites.
Because of non-registration, the electoral participation of all black adults is 60 percent, trailing whites by seven percentage points. If blacks closed that gap completely, it would bring 1.7 million additional African-American voters to the polls this fall. Scattered out across 50 states and 435 congressional elections…

Hill and Goodman are more skeptical about the effects of Black turout in November. But it’s hard to argue with the numbers cited by Nossiter and Scott and the implications of Childers’ victory, driven as it was, by Black voter turnout. In any event, another safe bet is that the GOP’s Black voter suppression machine will soon go into maximum overdrive.

Increasing Political Enclaves, Sharper Partisanship Challenge Campaigns

William A. Galston’s and Pietro S. Nivola’s Sunday New York Times Magazine article, “Vote Like Thy Neighbor” notes an interesting demographic development that should have significant implications for GOTV campaigns and political advertising:

Our research concludes not only that the ideological differences between the political parties are growing but also that they have become embedded in American society itself…Most strikingly, political polarization has become akin to political segregation. You are less likely to live near someone whose politics differ from your own. It’s well known that fewer states are competitive in presidential races than in decades past. We find similar results at the county level. In 1976, only 27 percent of voters lived in landslide counties where one candidate prevailed by 20 points or more. By 2004, 48 percent of voters lived in such counties.

The authors discuss the reasons for the shift and note that “majorities tend to become supermajorities.” They add “When states become more homogeneous, presidential campaigns begin by conceding a large number of contests to the opposition, disheartening their supporters in those states and increasing the majority’s electoral advantage.”
Nivola and Galston are OK with the resulting “hard-hitting partisan competition,” but lament the ill-effects of growing “hyperpartisanship,” which they believe can do damage to “public trust and confidence in government.” In his blog at theAtlantic.com, Matthew Yglesias responds to their article, arguing that the more partisanship, the better and he sees “a merited decline in trust” in government, given recent government abuses of civil and human rights. “Why would we pine away for a shift that would make government less accountable but more trusted?,” asks Yglesias. A fair question. But distrust of government practices/policies can morph into generalized government-bashing of the sort that enabled the rise of reactionary ideologues like Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich and empowered them to do their worst.
In any event, there is not much that can be done about halting the increasing geographic concentration of people with similar political attitudes, short of hoping that better-educated generations to come will lead to more progressive communities everywhere. Until then, Dems should take note of the trend and target their ads and GOTV efforts accordingly.

Beating McCain — With Seniors

Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, has a New York Times op-ed that merits a careful read by all Democratic candidates, especially Senator Obama. Kohut warns that “The personal and social resistance of older voters to the party’s likely nominee could well keep a Democrat out of the White House and reverse the nationwide Democratic trend,” and he provides polling evidence to make his case. Kohut cites an 8 point advantage (51-43) for McCain over Obama in favorability ratings by seniors in recent Pew Research Center polling, and notes,

…older voters — many of whom supported Democrats over the years — seem reluctant to support Mr. Obama. Hillary Clinton has carried the vote of people over 65 in 26 primary elections. And looking forward to the general election, the national polls now show John McCain running better against Mr. Obama among this older age group — as well as among middle-aged voters and younger voters.

The senior vote is becoming more important every election, because it is growing and because of seniors’ high turnout rates. The Kiplinger Retirement Report notes, for example, that “In the 2000 elections, people age 65 and older cast 25% of the votes although they made up only 12% of the U.S. population.”
In his Newsweek article “Generation Gap: Obama is trailing with older voters. Can he win them over?,” Jonathan Alter writes that “40 percent of the voters in Pennsylvania were over 60, which is not surprising considering that Pennsylvania trails only Florida as the oldest state in the union.”
Senator Obama is well-aware of his shortage of senior voters. Alter quotes Obama: “If you look at the numbers, our problem has less to do with white working-class voters [than] with older voters.” Alter agrees:

Obama did better among seniors in Pennsylvania, where he lost 59-41 percent, than in Ohio, where Hillary crushed him by 41 points in that age cohort. That 69-28 drubbing tells us almost everything we need to know about why Hillary won Ohio by 10 points on March 4.

Kohut points out that “significantly more older voters hold the highly conservative social opinions” on social issues like equal rights, iinterracial dating and immigration. He also provides April polling data showing McCain has an edge over Obama in the perceptions of RV’s 65 and older regarding characteristics such as: ‘patriotic’ (91-57); ‘tough’ (71-46); ‘honest (76-57); and ‘down to earth’ (68-51). However, Obama is more ‘inspiring’ to seniors by a margin of 53 to 39 percent.
Obama probably can’t make much headway with seniors who like McCain mostly because of his age/character/bio or conservative values. But Obama can make inroads into McCain-leaning senior voters who care about policy. Obama, like Clinton, has more agreeable policies for seniors regarding critical issues like Social Security, health care and Iraq. McCain will hit hard on tax cuts in appealing to seniors. But if Obama’s messaging on the aforementioned issues is sharp and well-targeted, he should be able to win a healthy portion of the senior vote. As Alter observes of McCain:

His problem is Social Security. McCain recently told The Wall Street Journal that he continues to support President Bush’s idea for private accounts. Whatever one thinks of that proposal on the merits, it’s a pitiful loser politically. Every place Bush visited in 2005 when he was stumping for his plan saw a decline in his popularity numbers when he left town…When Social Security gets discussed this fall, McCain had better duck. If anything, with the market down, privatization is even less popular now than in 2005. All the Democratic candidate has to say is, “If Senator McCain’s idea had been adopted, you would have lost a chunk of your retirement in the stock market.”

Alter is more optimistic about Dems’ chances with older voters, and believes “…Grandma and grandpa are likely to return home in November and vote Democratic, regardless of the nominee.” And given their unrivaled turnout rates, seniors — especially those who can be described as ‘high information’ voters — just may provide Obama’s margin of victory.

Super Delegates: Abolish or Reform?

Apropos of Ed’s post below citing the need for systematic reforms of our nominating process before ’12, abolishing the superdelegates or redefining their role and qualifications should top the list. Toward that end, Josh Marshall has an instructive TPM post “Thumb on the Scales” mulling over the history of the superdelegates, which were established in 1982, and he notes:

The more palatable argument was that the superdelegates balanced out the idealism of party activists with the more pragmatic experience of party regulars and elected officials who had experience winning actual elections. But however you argue it, the supers were put there precisely to second-guess the results of the primary and caucus process.
…Indeed, it’s not only that the concept is less palatable today. The sociology of the party is simply different; from the inside I don’t think the party’s critics any longer see its shortcomings in that way. The superdelegate concept was just a bad idea that got kept on the books because it seemed not to have any practical effect other than to give federal officeholders and sundry party bigwigs credentials to attend the conventions.

Marshall also comments on the important distinction between superdelegates who are elected officials, vs. party operatives:

…there are almost 800 superdelegates and they’re divided roughly equally between elected officials and party officials. While I think the superdelegate system should probably be scrapped in its entirety, the rationale for the elected folks is far, far greater than for the party operatives. The electeds are basically every Democratic member of Congress, Democratic governors and then a few miscellaneous folks like ex-presidents, ex-vice presidents and ex-congressional leaders. These folks are actually elected by Democrats on a fairly regular basis. And if they abuse the power they can be held accountable at the ballot box.

I come down with Marshall on the side of getting rid of them before ’12, as a way of making a clean break with the notion that it’s OK to thwart the will of the voters in some circumstances. Getting rid of them altogether would make a simple statement that the 21st century Democratic Party has faith in the decisions of voters. If the Party is going to keep the superdelegates, however, I would agree with Marshall that they should insist that only elected officials, not unelected party operatives, can serve in this capacity.
I can think of only one situation in which the super-d’s can serve democracy in an honorable way: in the event that a candidate gets enough delegates to secure the nomination despite the fact that her/his opponent got more popular votes. This can happen when a candidate loses or wins enough districts by a huge margin, despite having more/less popular votes nation-wide. In that event, the superdelegates could decide to give the nomination to the popular vote winner. But it should be stipulated that the superdelegate designees would be empowered as delegates only when the popular vote winner receives fewer delegate votes.
There are other reforms of the nominating process that merit consideration before ’12, including the primary calendar and possible incentives for caucus states switching to direct primary elections. But abolishing or reforming the outdated superdelegate system should be a simpler, and quicker fix.

Dems Need Stronger Unions

In his WaPo op-ed, Harold Myerson opines on the Democratic Party’s pursuit of the elusive “white whale” (working class). Meyerson notes that union membership has declined from 35 percent of the labor force in the 1950’s to 12 percent today (only 7.5 percent of the private sector). No doubt the figures for white workers are even smaller. Myerson sees unionization as Job One for getting the Democratic Party in position to win an enduring majority of the white working class:

In every election during this period, union members have voted for the Democratic presidential candidate at a rate about a dozen points higher than the general public and about 15 points higher than the non-union sector. In 2004, for instance, Kerry won 61 percent of union members while getting just 45 percent support from nonmembers….White male union members gave Kerry 57 percent of their vote; white male nonmembers, 38 percent — a 19-point gap. Fifty-seven percent of white male union members who didn’t go to college voted for Kerry, while only 34 percent of white male, non-union non-collegians backed him — a 23-point gap. Equivalently gaping differentials are present in exit polling clear back through 1972.

“White working-class voters vote two to one Republican if they are not in unions. They vote two to one Democratic if they are union members,” echoes Robert Borosage in his Campaign for America’s Future post “Bringing the White Working Class Into the Progressive Majority.”
Myerson sees enacting the Employee Free Choice Act (H.R. 800, S. 1041) as an essential first step for helping unions regain lost membership. More than 60 million workers would join a union of they could, according to a 2006 study by Peter D. Hart Research Associates and another survey found that private sector companies illegally fire employees for engaging in union activity in more than 25 percent of organizing campaigns. Not surprisingly, McCain, along with all other GOP Senators, has opposed allowing the bill to get a floor vote. Senate Democrats are nine votes short of the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture and get the EFCA and other progressive legislation moving.
In addition to EFCA, Borosage calls for more vigorous support for unions from federal, state and local government:

We have a great stake in turning that around, not simply by passing the Employee Free Choice Act, which is the centerpiece of reviving the right to organize, but by turning government at all levels into an ally of unions. “FDR wants you to join a union,” they used to argue in the 1930s. We have to make that slogan true for governors, mayors, legislators and the next president

Borosage sees women workers as a potential wedge for unions and Democrats seeking a larger portion of the white working class vote. “We should be focusing more and more resources and energy on our secret asset among white workers—women, particularly single women…Single women vote overwhelmingly on economic issues and overwhelmingly for Democrats and progressives.” White women workers have had low rates of voter turnout, Borosage concedes. But he adds that they have been “turning out in large numbers” this year.
Myerson credits the AFL-CIO ‘Working America” program, which mobilizes unorganized workers for political action, with helping to secure “large majorities in recent elections for such Democratic candidates as Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland.” With more support from rank and file Democrats, Working America and union GOTV campaigns may make the difference in November.

Dem Doomsayers Overlook Key Data

Our staff post this morning flagging Alan Abramowitz’s article in The New RepublicCheer Up, Democrats” merits a little amplification, given the exceptionally-favorable data he reveals. As Abramowitz explains:

According to every known leading indicator, 2008 should be a very good year for Democratic candidates at all levels. There are many factors that point to an across-the-board Democratic victory in November, including the extraordinary unpopularity of President Bush, the deteriorating condition of the economy, the unpopularity of the war in Iraq, and the fact that Americans prefer the Democratic position to the Republican position on almost every major national issue. However, the most important Democratic advantage, and one that has received relatively little attention in the media, is the fact that for the past six years the Democratic electoral base has been expanding while the Republican electoral base has been shrinking.
Since 2002, according to annual data compiled by the Gallup Poll, the percentage of Americans identifying with or leaning toward the Democratic Party has increased by about seven percentage points while the percentage identifying with or leaning toward the Republican Party has decreased by about six percentage points. Fifty-two percent of Americans now identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party while only 39 percent identify with or lean toward the Republican Party.
A surge in Democratic enrollment across the country has pushed the party far beyond its competitor in many of the key battleground states: There are now about 800,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in Pennsylvania, for example. And even in states without party registration, such as Ohio and Virginia, the fact that turnout in the Democratic primary dwarfed turnout in the Republican primary suggests that a similar movement has been taking place. As a result of these gains in Democratic identification, the 2008 election could see a number of formerly red states, such as Virginia, move into the purple column, and several formerly purple states, such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, move into the blue column.

And Further,

The fact that Democratic identifiers now decisively outnumber Republican identifiers means that in order to win, Democrats only have to unite and turn out their own base. If Obama wins the national popular vote by even a single percentage point, it’s worth remembering, he’ll almost certainly win the electoral vote as well. In order for John McCain to win, on the other hand, Republicans not only have to unite and turn out their own base, which they have been fairly successful at doing in recent elections, but they also have to win a large majority of the small bloc of true independents and make significant inroads among Democratic identifiers, which they have not been very successful at doing recently.
Political commentators often assume that Democratic voters are inevitably less motivated and united than Republican voters–that they either won’t turn out or, if they do turn out, they will defect in large numbers to an appealing Republican candidate like John McCain. Leaving aside the question of just how appealing John McCain will be in November after undergoing several months of withering attacks from an extremely well-funded Democratic campaign, this image of Democratic voters is badly outdated

If Dems can unify, project a clear message and mobilize their base, Abramowitz predicts that Obama will be inaugurated on January 20th. But Clinton supporters will also find Abramowitz’s case for a growing Democratic edge encouraging, should she win the nomination. His argument also points to substantial Democratic gains in congressional, state and local elections, no matter who gets elected President.

Lines being Drawn in May 6 Primaries

Lots of interesting analysis across the political blogs today on the upcoming NC and IN primaries. Kos, especially has a succinctly-presented wrap-up of Pollster.com data:

Indiana Clinton/Obama
Downs Center 45 50
Times/Bloomberg 35 40
SUSA 55 39
ARG 53 44
R2K 49 46
The Pollster.com composite is Clinton 49, Obama 43. Indiana will be tight. I suspect both candidates can legitimately win this state, and neither will by more than 5 points in either direction. In fact, this is the only state left in the calendar in which the ultimate outcome is actually in doubt.
North Carolina Clinton/Obama
SUSA 41 50
PPP 32 57
ARG 41 52
IA 36 51
Times/Bloomberg 34 47
Rasmussen 33 56
The Pollster.com composite is Clinton 36.1, Obama 54.5.

Clinton’s edge in Indiana polls may be somewhat offset by Obama’s lead in fundraising, as Maureen Groppe reports in the Indy Star:

The Illinois senator raised $218,865 from Indiana donors in March compared with the $79,622 in Hoosier dollars contributed to Clinton, a New York senator who grew up in the Chicago area and has the support of much of the Indiana Democratic Party establishment.
Obama has raised a total $883,375 from Indiana since the race began, compared with $664,254 raised by Clinton.

SurveyUSA has a post on their Indiana poll conducted 4/11-13 (before PA) indicating:

In a Democratic Primary in Indiana today, 04/14/08, three weeks until the primary, Hillary Clinton defeats Barack Obama 55% to 39%, according to a SurveyUSA poll conducted for WCPO-TV Cincinnati and WHAS-TV Louisville. Compared to an identical SurveyUSA poll released two weeks ago, Clinton is up 3 points, Obama is down 4 points. Clinton had led by 9 at the beginning of April, leads by 16 mid-month. Here’s where the movement is occurring: Among men, Obama had trailed by 2, now trails by 12, a 10-point swing to Clinton. In greater Indianapolis, Obama had led by 12, now trails by 1, a 13-point swing to Clinton. Among Democrats, Obama had trailed by 12, now trails by 27, a 15-point swing to Clinton. Among voters focused on health care, Clinton had led by 10, now leads by 30, a 20-point swing to Clinton. Among the youngest voters, Obama had led by 19, now trails by 2, a 21-point swing to Clinton.

It’s just one poll, but it does suggest Clinton may have some mo’ in Indiana. It appears there may well be a split in May 6 state bragging rights. Regardless, the real battle is over the size of their respective margins which will divvy up North Carolina’s 115 delegates and Indiana’s 72. Hoosiers and Tarheels are going to see a lot of both candidates.

All About Indiana?

Many states have been called a “must win” for Senator Clinton, and she has shown a remarkable ability to rally when it counts, PA being the most recent example. In the weeks ahead, however, Indiana looms especially large for the Clinton campaign.
Shane D’Aprile’s Campaigns & Elections post “Is Clinton’s Pennsylvania Win a Game-Changer?” sets the stage for the May 6 primaries in Indiana and North Carolina. D’Aprile explains:

Clinton has an uphill fight to get just one win out of the next two states on the Democratic primary docket. Polls show a mixed bag in Indiana where Clinton stands the best chance on May 6. The numbers range from a 5 point lead for Obama in the latest LA Times/Bloomberg to a 16 point advantage for Clinton in a recent Survey USA poll.
In North Carolina, polls suggest an Obama landslide. A recent Insider Advantage poll gives Obama a 15 point lead, while the latest numbers from Public Policy Polling give the Illinois senator a staggering 25 point edge. That poll also shows Obama leading among women and within striking distance of Clinton’s 5 point lead among white voters.

“North Carolina is a lost cause,” echoes U. VA political scientist Larry Sabato in D’Aprile’s article.”Obama will win big because of the large African-American percentage” (about 22 percent in 2005). Sabato believes Clinton has a better chance in Indiana, where Senator Evan Bayh’s support may help, although it would be counterbalanced to some extent by Obama’s familiarity to Indiana voters, 20+ percent of whom are in the Chicago media market.
D’Aprile’s article quotes Democratic strategist Steve McMahon on the effect of Clinton’s PA win: “It makes her claim that she can win the nomination a bit more legitimate…but it doesn’t change the fact that there’s a math problem that’s almost impossible for her to overcome.” But political analyst Rhodes Cook adds “She can probably pull out a victory in Indiana…And then even if she loses North Carolina, she still has Kentucky and West Virginia where she could conceivably win by 20 points each.”
One indication of how close it may be in Indiana is the stance of heartland rocker John Mellencamp, who has scheduled appearances for both Obama and Clinton next week. Tuesday he joins Obama at an Evansville rally and on Saturday he sings for Clinton in Indianapolis. Mellencamp has also performed at at fundraisers for John Edwards, Wesley Clark and Howard Dean. Mellencamp’s publicist, Bob Merlis said there was zero chance he would perform for McCain. “The Democratic Party is the agent for change (Mellencamp) has pinned his hopes on.”
Rock on, bad boy.

PA’s Complex Demographics Trending Blue

Apparently the media image of Pennsylvania as the emblematic “white working-class” state is somewhat over-stated, according to William H. Frey and Ruy Teixeira in their “The Political Geography of Pennsylvania: Not Another Rust Belt State,” a Brookings Policy Brief published this month. This is not to say that white workers are not a large and important constituency, explain the authors. But the tagging of PA as a “rust belt” state is highly simplistic, given the surging populations of minorities — especially Hispanics — along with white college graduates, in the eastern and south central regions of PA.
Teixeira and Frey point out that white workers are still very much a thriving demographic in the Harrisburg and Allentown areas. But they also note that a growing “upwardly mobile” segment of the white working class, defined as having ‘some college education’ is an increasingly influential constituency that tends to favor Democratic candidates. The GOP still dominates in the declining western part of the state, but the east is blue, lead by the Philly ‘burbs and has delivered state-wide wins for Democrats in the last four presidential elections.
The Brookings report provides the best demographic analysis of the PA battleground yet published and paints an encouraging picture for Dems looking toward November. This one is required reading for reporters who like to know what they are writing about, as well as the Clinton and Obama campaigns

Abundant Advice for Winning Workers’ Votes

One week out of the PA showdown, the rags and blogs are overflowing with advice for Senators Clinton and Obama as they seek the political holy grail — the votes of the white working class. As Mark Weisbrot puts it in his Alternet post “The Audacity of Populism“:

The white working-class voters that will swing Pennsylvania in the Democratic primary will probably also be the swing voters in the general election (if it turns out to be a close election)….But there is one way that Obama can reach those white working class voters who are currently — without consciously recognizing that it might have something to do with race — groping for excuses not to vote for him. It may be old fashioned, but he can appeal directly to their class interests…But he needs to do more. He needs to convince these voters that he will do everything in his power to protect them from the impact of this recession.

The Boston Globe has “Democrats must renew bond with working class” by Peter Canellos, who warns: