washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

tds

It’s The Economy, Schaller!

by Ezra Klein
Participating in these forums often puts me in mind of the Richard Hofstadter’s impish nickname for the New York Review of Books: He liked to call it The New York Review of Each Other’s Books. Tom is a friend of mine. I think his book is great. You should buy it. Democrats should pay attention to it. I’m fairly convinced by it. But saying so makes for a staggeringly uninteresting 1,500 words. So let’s try the opposite on for size.
Tom’s basic thesis is that demography is destiny. Leaf through the census data, the exit polls, the surveyed preferences, and the historical trends of the South and squint: Like one of those magic eye pictures, a region decidedly hostile to Democratic resurgence will come into focus.
Problem is, I could never get the damn things to work. In fact, I just spent five minutes straining my eyes on this one, and failed yet again. So let me suggest an alternate maxim: Economics is destiny. But Tom, alas, predicts my critique, and notes that poorer whites in the South vote heavily Republican. Explanations abound: Their cultural conservatism, low levels of unionization, racism, tribalism, foreign policy preferences, etc. For Tom, however, those preferences simply exist; a puzzling feature of the political landscape that Democrats must detour around en route to any eventual majority. Better to focus elsewhere. Their mutability lies basically unexplored.
The economic trends of the present moment aren’t pretty though. The corporate welfare state is in sharp decline. Between 2000 and 2006, health premiums shot up 81% for the average family. Wages did not. In fact, since 2000, they’ve slipped. As Jon Chait explained (subscr.) in a recent New Republic article, the old link between productivity increases and wage increases has been severed, puzzling economists and harming family incomes. And the new quarterly numbers suggested productivity increases have stopped altogether, effectively ending the hopes of wage growth in the near future. Housing, gas, energy, and college costs — all up. Inequality? Up. Poverty? Up. Risk? Up. Outsourcing? Up. Savings? Down.
I can do this all day.
These trends simply can’t continue — political correction will kick in before total disintegration. And so it’s time to invoke Stein’s Law: “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” Such will be the fate of poor, rural support for policies that rip apart the very safety net they depend on, and hasten the very trends that they fear. For these voters, the trends in question cannot go on, and so they will stop — because these voters will stop accepting them.
For that reason, I find Tom’s demographic analysis only moderately helpful from a prescriptive standpoint. It’s obviously correct in the very near-term. As he suggests, we shouldn’t be spending much national money trying to guarantee Al Gore Alabama in 2008. The Republicans don’t contest New York; we needn’t toss good money after stupid by vying for Mississippi. But that’s not something we do now, anyway. There’s an excess of soul-searching over how a party can survive when a particular region keeps picking them last for dodgeball, and, as Paul Waldman aptly points out, it’s time to get over that. But that requires psychology rather than strategy.
That said, I do think the Southernization of the Republican Party is momentous. But because it will push the country left, not right. Evidence for this came with the release of the 2005 Pew Typology Survey, a comprehensive polling project conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Their political typology studies, conducted in 1987, 1994, 1999, and 2005, attempt to provide detailed snapshots of the various electoral coalitions by sorting the electorate into homogenous groups based on values, political beliefs, and party affiliation.
The trends are telling: In 1987 and 1994, the Republican Party relied on two groups, Moralists and Enterprisers, the former emphasizing social conservatism, the latter small government conservatism. But the 1999 study noticed the emergence of a third group: Populist Republicans, low-income and economically insecure Republicans who favor strong government regulation, entitlement liberalism, and traditional morality, are largely centered in the South, and attend church — no pun intended — religiously. By 2005, this group — now called pro-government conservatives — comprised a third of the Republican base and had carved out a critical space of the political landscape.
58 percent of Pro-Government Conservatives identify as Republican. But nearly 90 percent vote Republican. Only two percent identify as Democrats. Almost 40 percent had seen someone in their household unemployed in the last year, only 10 percent had a union member in the house. They go to church, love their guns, hate their gays, and believe in the military. They are, in other words, Southerners. But poor ones: Only 29 percent report that “paying the bills is not generally a problem,” as opposed to 88 percent of the Social Conservatives and Enterprisers.
As a result, their economic opinions verge on the radical. 80 percent of Pro-Government Conservatives believe the government must do more to help the needy, even if it means going into debt. Over 60 percent believe that environmental regulations are worth the cost (tree huggers!), 83 percent fear the power corporations have amassed, and 66 percent believe government regulation is necessary to protect the public interest. 71 percent support “programs to help blacks, women, and other minorities get better jobs and education.” They’re critical of free trade, ready to repeal the tax cuts, and less overwhelmingly pro-Iraq than their fellow Republican subgroups. They are, in sum, obviously unsuitable for the GOP.
As the Republican Party becomes ever more reliant on downwardly mobile whites, the principles, problems, and priorities of that demographic will begin to flow upward, changing the party’s ideology from the bottom-up. For quite some time, the GOP’s base was geographically diverse enough to insulate them from their new constituencies. But, as Tom pointedly notes, that’s no longer the case: Now the party is a Southern Party that elects Southern candidates. The old GOP, a mixture of Northern managerialism, Western individualism, and cosmopolitan corporatism won’t survive the shift.
And, arguably, it’s already in retreat. George W. Bush is the first Southern Republican elected since James Knox Polk. And he displayed some distinct differences from the Republicans who preceded him. Bush’s domestic appeal was “compassionate conservatism.” It was conservatism without the cruelty or, more specifically, the capitalism. There were tax cuts, to be sure. But his two major domestic initiatives were definitionally pro government: No Child Left Behind, the largest expansion of federal control over schools in a generation, and the Medicare prescription drug benefit, a longtime progressive priority. The policies have their trap doors, Trojan horses, and corporate giveaways, but they were carefully constructed to appear indistinguishable from progressive solutions. Political junkies can give you chapter and verse on the failings of the bills, but as Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson explained in Off Center, these sorts of misdirection work well on the median voters, who have better — or at least more pressing — things to do than read the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities’ legislative analyses.
So it’s no surprise this group voted overwhelmingly Republican: Republicans are putting overwhelming effort into tricking this group. But trickery is a short-term strategy, particularly when real social ills underlie the deception, and will refuse to disappear in order to better accommodate the GOP’s image manipulation. Sooner or later, the right will either have to deliver the goods or sacrifice the votes, and they simply can’t do the latter.
That’s why I’m skeptical that Tom’s demographic slicing is really the most useful approach to the Democratic Party’s problems. Today’s electoral reality may not be tomorrow’s, and a party that, as he proposes, runs against the South, will not only lose the opportunity to convert these voters when they come online, but may lose many others besides. Meanwhile, macroeconomic forces and trends are enhancing the salience of so-called pocketbook issues and accelerating the public’s abandonment of small-government conservatism. The GOP, with its reliance on corporate funds and roots in libertarian thought, will find it hard, if not impossible, to adapt to this reality. The Democratic Party, which retains its labor-liberal wing, will not.
That’s why, at the end of the day, the arguments over how the Democrats should handle the South are only partially convincing. What the South will look like in a few years, when wage stagnation and a recession and unchecked inequality and increasing corporate power and the transformation to a service sector have all advanced further, is unclear. But if you take seriously the emergence of Pro-Government Conservatives in the typology studies, and the apparent reaction to them in the Republican Party, you see the impact will be momentous. For that reason, I fear running against today’s South will mean abandoning tomorrow’s. And I’m not confident the two will be equally hostile to the Democratic Party. So while I’m with Tom’s near-term spending strategy, and agree that the Interior West is rich with opportunity, I’m less interested in where our party should compete than what it should say.
Ezra Klein is the writing fellow at The American Prospect. His blog is at www.EzraKlein.com.


Democrats Should Listen To Schaller — But They’ll Have to Get Past the Media First

By Paul Waldman
After the 2004 election, CNN correspondent Candy Crowley gave a speech in which she related a meal she had with John Kerry in an Iowa restaurant in the campaign’s early days. Kerry asked the waitress if they served green tea; she responded that they had only Lipton’s. “I advised the senator that he would need to carry his own green tea in Iowa and probably several other states, as well,” she said to knowing chuckles, going on to say that the incident stuck in her memory because it showed how out of touch Kerry was with regular folks and the regular places where they live.
But when Media Matters for America looked into it, they found not only that green tea makes up 20% of Lipton’s sales in the U.S., but that if you’re in Dubuque and you want some, you can get it at that snooty elitist foodery called K-Mart.
The point of this story is that if Democrats are smart enough to take Tom Schaller’s advice, they are going to catch hell from the elite Washington press corps. So it will take a bit of fortitude to stand up to that criticism and make the changes in outlook necessary to build a lasting majority.
Journalists like Candy Crowley operate from simplistic, stereotypical ideas of what the “heartland” is and how distant Democrats are from it. Those stereotypes inform everything they write about the two parties and where they get their votes. While the incident she talked about in her speech happened in Iowa, nowhere do those media stereotypes come more to the fore than when journalists are thinking about the South. As far as journalists are concerned, people who live in the South (and other areas where there are lots of Republicans, like the lower Midwest) are “real” Americans, while people who live in the Northeast or West are something else. In fact, Southern-ness itself has become for the media the mark of “authenticity,” the sign that a politician understands regular folks and their lives and is fundamentally “real.”
Consider George W. Bush, who is about as inauthentic and removed from the struggles ordinary people face as a politician could possibly be. Bush once responded to a single mother who told him that she was working three jobs by saying, “Uniquely American, isn’t it? I mean, that is fantastic that you’re doing that,” as though she were not a victim of economic desperation but just a real go-getter. Yet as far as journalists are concerned, Bush is just the kind of regular guy most folks would love to have a beer with, unlike those fancy-pants phonies whom he defeated in his two presidential campaigns. Sure, his father was president and his grandfather was a senator, and he went to Andover, Yale and Harvard — but just listen to that drawl!
The fact that members of the news media (most of whom are themselves Northeasterners who went to good schools) consider the South to be the “real” America where people have “values” hampers Democrats in a dozen ways. For instance, Tom points to the importance of religion. In both 2000 and 2004, Bush won every state with a proportion of evangelical Christians higher than the national average — and the highest are in the South. The fact that Republicans do very well among people who go to church at least once a week is always defined as a “problem” for Democrats, while the fact that Democrats are equally dominant among those who rarely attend religious services — a group just as large — is never called a “problem” for Republicans.
This is just one example, but as Tom lays out in detail in his book, in area after area, whether in demographics or opinion, it is the South that is the outlier, the exception to the American norm. Political scientists have long understood this, which is why in most multivariate analyses of national data, they include a “South/non-South” variable to account for these differences.
What Tom is recommending is nothing that Republicans haven’t already done themselves, though they have been strangely immune to criticism over it. Their majority is built on the South, the Midwest, and the interior West; just like the Democrats, they are not a national party. The fact that both parties narrowed their focus to around eighteen battleground states in 2004 was somehow seen as a failure only on the Democrats’ part, as they were “writing off” large swaths of the country, particularly the South. For some reason Republicans were not criticized for doing exactly the same thing. It was supposed to be problematic that Democrats were not putting money into a futile attempt to win Texas’ electoral votes, yet the GOP’s failure to do the same in New York or California was not worthy of comment, much less condemnation.
Democrats are poised to win the House, due mostly to likely sweeps of competitive seats in states like New York and Pennsylvania. After Tuesday, the GOP in the Northeast will be a frayed husk of a party, with the once-numerous Rockefeller Republicans nothing but a fading memory. Yet this is not the story the media are likely to tell. We have already seen signals that however many seats Democrats win elsewhere, the media will focus their attention on those few conservative Democrats in the South and places like Indiana, the exceptions rather than the rule. If he wins, Heath Shuler of North Carolina — a pro-gun, pro-life candidate — will probably become the most famous member of the freshman class of 2006 (Shuler was already profiled in a long New York Times article last week). The cable networks will tell us that Shuler and others like him are the face of the Democratic victory, and this just shows how the party is beset by internal tensions, with candidates like Shuler who represent real Americans the only hope to save their party from those liberal Northeasterners who alienate Democrats from the rest of the country.
But the presence of a few conservative Democrats in the South doesn’t mean that Democrats need that region to win, any more than the presence of an Olympia Snowe or a Christopher Shays means Republicans can’t win without the Northeast. So the most important thing for Democrats to do is to stop feeling bad about not winning the South. In the months after the 2004 election, you couldn’t walk into a think tank conference room without stumbling on a forum on how Democrats can show Southerners they like and respect them. Yet there was no such breast-beating on the other side, no Republicans worrying about how they’re going to start winning again in New England or the Far West. But their problems in those regions are even more acute; in the last four presidential elections, the GOP has won a grand total of one state in New England and the West, when George W. Bush squeaked out a win in New Hampshire in 2000 by 7,000 votes.
The worst thing about all that Democratic angst is that it validates the arguments Republicans make. Yes, Democrats say, your voters are the kind of people we want to appeal to, while our voters — well, we’ll take their votes if we have to, but we don’t feel good about it. Then in election after election, they come before Southerners on bended knee in a humiliating ritual of self-flagellation. Please, oh please, they cry, don’t hate us. We love NASCAR! We love grits! We respect your unique culture! Let us stroke the anvil-sized chip on your shoulder! At the end of the day, the pandering doesn’t work, and voters around the country look at Democrats and think they’re a bunch of weaklings who won’t stand up for what they believe.
Tom Schaller is a good friend, and he and I have been discussing these issues since we both started working on our respective books offering advice to Democrats. I noticed that as he began to discuss his thesis publicly, and the copious evidence with which he supports it, the reactions he got were often highly emotional, even angry. But those who disagree with Tom have seldom been able to marshal much in the way of facts and evidence to refute him. At Yearly Kos, where they were both speaking on a panel about Democrats and the South, Mudcat Saunders shouted that Tom should “Kiss my rebel ass!” — and that was about the most sophisticated argument he offered. (Tom was too much of a gentleman to respond in kind)
Democrats need to get beyond emotion and take a good hard look at the facts if they want to build a lasting majority. The fact is that working to hold on to whatever scraps they can get from the South not only wastes money and energy they could better use elsewhere, it keeps them stuck in the mindset that there is some magic trick with which they can be true to what they believe, serve their real constituencies, and yet also win over the voters who are the most hostile to them.
The Republicans spend no mental energy on such a project. They do not worry about being a “national party.” They’re not concerned about how they can increase their votes in Berkeley and Cambridge. They don’t fret about whether writing off large swaths of the country means there’s something un-American about them. They want to win, and they’ll assemble whatever regional and ideological coalition is necessary to do so. It’s about time the Democrats did the same thing.

Paul Waldman is a Senior Fellow at Media Matters for America and the author of Being Right Is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success. He is also a regular columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News and TomPaine.com.


Other Narratives

by Heather Hurlburt
Over the period that this debate has been up, we’ve seen a new mini-trend of progressive manifestoes on national security popping up, here, there and everywhere. My colleague Shadi Hamid did a nice job of summarizing them over at democracyarsenal.org.
But there’s also the emerging “narrative” mini-trend, with projects in the works at the Truman Project, Third Way, National Security Network and probably others I haven’t heard about yet.
I agree with much of the substantive critique that earlier commenters made of the Truman Project document’s central policy propositions and messaging language.
And I even agree with David Rieff that some of the progressive community can be awfully quick to embrace a cleaned-up version of “our” past heroes — the sort of thing that, first, we like to chide the Republicans for doing and second can lead us to repeat their mistakes (see under: hubris).
Bruce Jentleson has some thoughtful comments on one of the political class’s new favorite national security clichés — how good we had it under containment.
What I don’t ever get from Rieff’s critique is a sense of how we are supposed to move forward. Yes, I’d like to see the national security community pause and ask ourselves whether we’re really sure we wouldn’t let another Rwanda happen again, especially since it looks as if we are in slow-motion in Darfur. We could have a productive discussion about the right lessons to learn from how Kennedy got embroiled in Vietnam, and how those are relevant to the mistakes in judgment that well-intentioned progressives made on Iraq. And we should be thinking about how Roosevelt’s treatment of Japanese-Americans has echoes in the present day.
That’s something that Rieff and writers like him are particularly well-placed to do — and it behooves the rest of us to pay attention.
But that’s not the only thing progressives need. They need a playbook for candidates, elected officials, and talking heads to follow — and that is the sort of thing that the Truman Project and others are trying to develop. Such efforts use the language of politics — as they should.
But there’s a third thing progressives need, where I think both the Truman effort as outlined and the Rieff critique are missing the mark. The compelling American narratives are not now being written inside the Beltway by smart foreign policy professionals. They are being “written” by soldiers with cameras in Iraq; by viewers picking videos on YouTube; by country musicians and comedians and film directors and everyone who is trying to make sense of our world at a human level, not a policy one. The party that next gains the upper hand will not be the one whose young staffers write the most eloquent narrative, but the one that best understands the narrative that the public is telling itself and that the entertainment industry chooses to tell. In 2006, Democrats had a relatively easy job of aligning ourselves with a public mood still best captured by TV news coverage of Katrina: “How could they do this to us?”
That narrative wasn’t written in Washington, and the next one won’t be either. Soul-searching about the past and paradigm development for the present are both important. In national security, professional Democrats have seldom done enough of either. But they won’t be sufficient; and in fact, if we focus too much on the “technology” and ignore what’s happening beyond our office windows, we’ll be scooped again.


Winning in the Emerging Suburbs

By Robert Griendling
The frozen smiles can sear the brain. They belong to Democratic officials, lobbyists and activists when you tell them you are running against a four-term incumbent Republican state house member who has decimated each of his opponents. His last Democratic opponent had garnered only 36% of the vote. In 2004, the state had gone for George W. Bush by 54-45%, the county by 56%-44%. The 2005 battle for the 32nd House district seat in the world’s oldest deliberative democratic body, the Virginia General Assembly, was taking place in an emerging suburb that was reliably GOP country.
Behind the smiles were words of encouragement. But not much more. If this race was to be won, it would be based not on the advice of consultants and party leaders, but on the efforts of the people who lived in the 32nd and campaign planners’ best instincts about what would work. David Poisson decided nine months before the election what his issues would be, how he would work the district and what it would take to win. Polls and pros could not and would not drive this campaign.
An Entrenched Incumbent
Delegate Dick Black was thought to be biding his time before running for at least state Attorney General. He had the credentials: a career military lawyer, solid conservative positions and a GOTV effort that was legendary. Not only was nearby Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, a few miles west of the 32nd district, a source for committed young conservatives being trained specifically for government activism, but local churches straddled — and some say crossed — the line by advocating Black’s reelection year after year. His own church would help distribute flyers in the church parking lot and priests there had preached for his candidacy from the pulpit.
Black began the campaign in early 2005 with more than $100,000 in campaign funds for a race that was expected to cost just over $300,000. By June, he had $216,000. By Labor Day, he had raised more than $313,000; the Poisson campaign reported $75,000 on hand.
Most of the professionals were still giving the campaign the “Go Get ‘Em” speech with the same smile intact.
But for all his fundraising prowess, the GOTV machine and a record of landslides, it didn’t seem that a man who would go so far as to publicly criticize a high school student for writing a play that called for tolerance of gays, and who once spoke from Thomas Jefferson’s House floor with a plastic fetus in hand to rail against abortion, fairly represented a community where young families were coming in droves to buy a piece of the American dream.
And Black’s strident anti-tax positions meant that the investments a growing community needs would be hard to fund.
The Emerging Suburb
Loudoun County, Virginia had been atop the list of fastest-growing counties in America for years. From 2002 to 2003 alone, it grew 14%. Two areas in the 32nd district, Dulles and Ashburn, saw growth rates of 66.5% and 47.4%, respectively from 2000 to 2003.
The growth was also evident in the registered voter statistics. For example, in the 10 months from November 2003, an election year for the House of Delegates, the district’s voter rolls increased 6.3%. Registered voter rolls grew 12.6% in one precinct, 13.2% in another, and a whopping 24% in a precinct where homes were being built rapidly during the two years before the ’05 election.
Loudoun was also a young county. A third of its residents were under age 18, compared to 25% nationally. The working population, those aged 25-54, was 6% larger than the national average. The county is also affluent. The average household income was $126,102 in the first half of this decade. It didn’t seem that a radical social conservative could really represent this type of constituency.
Meanwhile, a look at Black’s numbers provided hope for those who don’t simply look at “performance” numbers.
Drilling Down the Numbers
In the 2001 election, Mark Warner, who positioned himself as a moderate businessman, polled better in the gubernatorial race than the Democratic candidate for the 32nd district, a woman who engaged Black on his issues, most notably abortion. Her strategy backfired and energized Black’s base. Warner outpolled her in every precinct in the 32nd save one, in which he was down by only eight votes. His race also garnered 1,100 votes more than the 32nd House race, suggesting many voters did not vote for either Black or the Democratic candidate either because they didn’t know them or were turned off by both. In that election, the combination of votes for the Democrat and a moderate Republican who made it a three-way race was within 602 votes of Black’s total. Also in 2003, two Democratic supervisor candidates each won a precinct. Other local Democrats had carried a few of the 32nd’s precincts.
In all, the 2003 vote indicated that eight of the district’s 18 precincts were clearly willing to support a more moderate candidate.
Issues That Matter
While the campaign held focus groups with grassroots supporters about what was on their minds, the candidate clearly had some pet issues, chief among them education. David Poisson has a PhD in higher education, along with a law degree. Getting an education was stressed from his early years growing up in a declining mill town in southeastern Massachusetts. It seemed that many constituents in the 32nd had similar upbringings. And admission to a Virginia college was becoming more difficult. Meanwhile, traffic was choking Northern Virginia, stealing time from families. And the local school board was desperately trying to keep up with demand, building five new schools a year.
With those types of issues on the minds of constituents, it didn’t seem who married whom really mattered. This idea was to be the nexus of the campaign. From Poisson’s announcement of his candidacy:

As a businessman, I’ve always focused on results that affect the important issues. What you and I want is a safe, secure environment for our families, a promising future for our children, and a plan to make eastern Loudoun County an even greater place to live. We can achieve those goals because I believe you share with me two core qualities: confidence in ourselves, and the knowledge that nothing of value is ever achieved without hard work.

Our current representative in the Virginia House of Delegates has ignored our real concerns. More importantly, he’s made it abundantly clear he doesn’t trust you to make the right moral decisions for your family.

I trust you to raise your family and teach your children right from wrong. I trust you to know when we must invest — and when we must tighten the purse strings. And I trust you to know the difference between someone who represents your interests and someone who places his own interests ahead of yours.

I plan to focus on what really matters to your families.

Here in the 32nd district, we need to fight for the funding necessary to improve our roads so we don’t spend half our lives in traffic. Because that matters to our families.

We need to ensure we have great teachers in our public schools. Because that matters to our families.

We need to create the jobs necessary to keep Loudoun’s economic engine running. Because that matters to our families.

And we need to ensure that when our children are ready for college, we have a state college system that is ready for them. Because that matters to our families.

And because these issues matter so much, and because I believe the people of the 32nd district deserve someone willing to fight for those issues, I’m here tonight to announce my candidacy for the Virginia House of Delegates.

“Issues that matter” became the overriding communication point of the campaign. It not only drove what was talked about in the campaign but how the campaign addressed Dick Black’s attacks and his previously successful strategy of making the election about his issues. The campaign rejected the standard advice: To beat an incumbent, you must trash him for months. The theory is that unless people feel a need for change, even a perfect challenger has little chance. There may be some truth to this rule, but instead of focusing initially on what was perceived as Black’s weaknesses, the campaign talked about Poisson’s vision: funding local schools, getting kids into Virginia’s colleges, transportation and attracting good jobs to Loudoun County.
With the tremendous growth in Loudoun County, there were many new voters. They never heard of Dick Black, much less David Poisson. As mentioned earlier, one precinct had grown 24% in two years. We walked it, as well as every other new community. Depending where the best opportunities were, we walked those communities, too. Poisson introduced himself, and when given the opportunity, he introduced his opponent as well. But more than anything, we wanted to let these new residents know that we welcomed them and understood the pressures they felt.
Targeting the Middle Class
Even in a relatively affluent area such as Loudoun County, the middle class is feeling pressed. It’s not the candidate’s job to judge whether those who are relatively comfortable may be expecting too much, or that they should consider themselves lucky they are not poor. A nice home with a chance to make it big, being able to send their kids to college, and not just a secure but a comfortable retirement are the dreams of the middle class. The homes in the 32nd district start at around $350,000. We weren’t going to deny that. This campaign was designed to address the issues these families cared about and position a Democrat as a friend of the middle class.
No doubt the 32nd was and remains a socially conservative area. Many, if not most, people in the district oppose gay marriage and “abortion on demand.” But even so, there was little evidence that such issues would drive the election, given the other problems we faced. But surely our opponent would demand the press and the public know where the Democrat stood on these issues. The candidate’s stances were made clear but brief: Support for a woman’s right to choose but also support for parental notice. (Strike NARAL from the list of endorsements, let alone donors.) Marriage was the province of the church, but gays had a right to civil unions. And with thousands of children in foster care, gay adoption was a better alternative than the life of an itinerant child. The candidate’s personal story, having a mother who grew up an orphan, was also powerful.
The strategy was not to deny constituents’ firmly held views. Nor was it to criticize those who disagreed. It doesn’t serve to disrespect those who disagree with your views. Once you’ve told voters that they’re bigots or intolerant because they disagree with you, they’ll never listen to your other messages. We simply stated our views and moved on to our issues, whether it was in the debate with Black, or in articles or letters to the editors of the five local newspapers.
Competence
We also made the campaign about competence. From the traditional kick-off at back-to-school nights, we emphasized what Black didn’t do about the issues that really matter. He served on both education and transportation committees in the House, yet never introduced a major education or transportation bill. We focused not on painting him as a right-wing ideologue but as an ineffective advocate for the things that matter most to his constituents.
Many observers felt the turning point came in our only major debate. Our opponent set all the ground rules. For example, although the League of Women Voters hosted the debate, we had to allow a former Republican Party county chairman to serve as moderator. Three local reporters asked the questions, and we were given two minutes for opening and closing remarks. During the debate, Black constantly tried to tie our campaign to the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Tim Kaine, ironically himself a moderate. His well known moral opposition to the death penalty was brought up several times. When asked, Poisson stated his support for the death penalty, which clearly frustrated Black. He several times said he was exactly aligned with the Republican gubernatorial candidate and said Poisson was running away from his. Poisson responded simply, “The great thing about being a Democrat is that we get to think for ourselves.” The crowd roared its approval. We made sure the volume of the roar was loud by turning out our supporters for the debate. We estimated at least 70 percent of the crowd supported our candidacy.
Our opponent made a crucial mistake in his closing remarks by repeatedly mispronouncing Poisson’s last name as “poison.” The crowd heckled him. Reporters were clearly shocked. Poisson’s response was simply, “The last time someone mispronounced my name like that was in the 7th-grade race for class president. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now, Mr. Black.” We then made sure his childish antics were chronicled in the last articles to appear in the press before the election.
Shortly thereafter, the only poll that mattered was taken. Our first poll, in mid-July, was demanded by Virginia Democrats as a prelude to any party funding. It had us 12 points down. We had to conduct a follow-up before Labor Day. It had slightly better results. But only this last poll had real impact. Far behind in fundraising six weeks before the election, we pulled even as voters went to the polls. Why? Because that last poll had us within three points of victory. When you’re viable, you’re also flush.
On Election Day, Poisson won all but two of the 18 precincts and an overall victory of 53-47%. Even more impressive, he not only outperformed Tim Kaine, who garnered 52% of the vote in the district, he received 700 more votes.
Every race is different. Every community has its own needs. But by campaigning on issues that affect the everyday lives of our constituents, acknowledging but minimizing divisive social issues, recognizing that taxes are only a means to an end and having faith in our core principles, we were able to win in the emerging suburbs against a supposedly invincible incumbent.

Robert Griendling is the principal of Griendling Communications, a communications consulting firm founded in 1989. He was the communication strategist for David Poisson’s 2005 successful campaign for the Virginia House of Delegates. He is also editor of the Commonwealth Commonsense blog.


The Demographic Case for Whistling Past Dixie

By Thomas Schaller
Before the 2000 recount had even finished, George W. Bush’s pollster Matthew Dowd approached Bush adviser Karl Rove with some surprising news. As recounted in Tom Edsall’s compelling new book, Building Red America, Dowd informed Rove that the center of the electorate had essentially collapsed. Moving forward, Rove concluded, the fight between the two major parties would be a struggle to mobilize and expand their respective bases. Faster than you can say, “I’m a uniter, not a divider,” Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” was shelved in favor of divide-and-conquer politics because, in the polarized America of the early twentieth century, that approach at least offers “conquer” as a possible outcome.
How should Democrats respond to these emergent realities? In kind. As the more progressive of the two major parties, that means starting to rebuild toward a national majority by focusing on the nation’s more liberal and progressive elements, moving toward the moderate voters next, and leaving the most conservative elements in the most conservative states in the nation’s most conservative region–the South–for last. As I argue in my book, Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South, there is a Democratic majority to be created by maximizing the Democrats’ control in the existing blue states of the Northeast and Pacific Coast, converting the purple states of the Midwest to blue, and purpling the increasingly competitive red states of the Interior West. Put another way, to regain national majority power on the presidential, congressional and state-level, Democrats should figure out how to win Arizona or even Alaska, before thinking about Alabama.
A common criticism I receive about the feasibility of Democrats winning with a non-southern strategy is that the South is not a homogeneous monolith–that there are many pockets of the South that are quite progressive or at least not ardently conservative in their religious-cultural sensibilities and, additionally, that there are many non-southerners who share those conservative sensibilities.
This is undeniably true, in part because regional distinctions are blurring with each passing day as Americans in our mobile society move into and out of the South and other regions, and as immigrants from various parts of the world populate a wide range of states in every region. The permeability of American culture in the media age; the propensity of Americans to change jobs and careers (and thus geographic location); and a general homogenization of society–all of these trends suggest that the South (or any other region) will be less distinct two generations from now, just as it is less distinct today than it was two generations ago.
All that said, there is both a weak and a strong case to be made for why Democrats are, based on differences in regional demography, far better served by focusing last on the South. The distinction between the weak and strong cases is temporal: The weak case is that, right now, the South is demographically less amenable to Democratic success; the strong case is that, moving forward into the foreseeable future and based on demographic projections, the South will remain least amenable and on some counts become even less so.
The weak case is easy to make, and the strong case is not much harder to defend. Let’s look at some of the differences in regional demography, with the implications for ideological tendencies and partisan behavior. I cannot distill in this post all or even part of the data contained in the book’s fifth chapter, and so the explanations here will lack specifics and details. But the underlying data, along with charts and figures and sources, is available in the book.
Gender: Democrats do better among women than men, a fact that is true among all voters, and even when African Americans are held aside. But in the South, especially among white voters, the “gender gap” is close to nil. There were five states in 2004 where Kerry did not enjoy a gender gap, either because he broke even or did worse among women than men; three of those five were in the South. Kerry won white women nationally by three points, but lost white women by 11 points in the South. The fact is that a gender chasm would have to open up in the South for the Democrats’ advantages among women to make much difference, because women–and specifically white women–vote very similarly to their fathers and brothers, husbands and sons. This is far less true outside the South, which accounts for and produces the gender gap nationally. Women, who are already a majority of college graduates and law school students, continue to further feminize the American electorate with each passing election cycle. This trend generally bodes well for Democrats in the near and medium term, and especially outside the South where the gender gap is real and demonstrable.
Race: Democrats win among every major non-European ethnic minority in America, save Cuban-Americans. The Democrats’ share of support is particularly high among African Americans (about 90%), Native Americans (80-90%), and Latinos (60%, but a growing worry in the Bush era). Even Asian Americans, who favored Bush41 over Clinton by 24 points in 1992, went for Kerry over Bush by 17 points in 2004. Holding aside African Americans for a moment, notice that the most of the geographic concentration for these groups is non-southern—almost exclusively for Native Americans and Asian Americans and, but for Florida and Texas, Latinos as well. Half of African Americans live in the South, but the sad irony is that some of the blackest states vote Republican by overwhelming rates. (Note the statewide officials who represent Mississippi, the blackest state in the Republic.) As for whites, Al Gore carried the white vote outside the South in 2000, and Kerry came close to doing so in 2004. George W. Bush (70%) and Ronald Reagan (71%) got basically the same share of the southern white vote, but Bush won narrowly whereas Reagan won in a landslide. Why? Because there are fewer white voters overall, and Kerry did far better among non-southern whites than Walter Mondale did. Democrats do not have a white voter problem generally; what they specifically have is a southern white voter problem. As Native Americans are mobilized, Latinos achieve citizenship and voting-age eligibility, the strong case for a non-southern majority grows stronger. In the South, however, the African American share of the southern population has been shrinking: Nine of the 11 southern states had higher shares of African Americans in 1950 than they do today–and a tenth, Louisiana, just witnessed a major displacement of its largest African-American community in the wake of Katrina.
Age: Democrats got a real boost in 2004 from young voters, not only because they voted strongly Democratic (as they often do) but because turnout among voters 18-25 (or 18-30) increased dramatically over 2000 rates. Kerry won the youth vote nationally by nine points, despite losing it by one point in the South. On the other end of the life cycle, Democrats have traditionally done well among seniors (Gore won them, but Kerry lost them). What’s more, the next generation of seniors includes the post-Baby Boomers who are more socially liberal than their parents, as authors like Leonard Steinhorn have shown. There are plenty of Snow Belt retirees in the warm southern climates, sure. But get this: Moving forward, the projected growth rate for 65+ populations will be faster in the eight Interior West states than the South between now and 2020. The Midwest will lag behind the South’s aging population growth, however, and so the hope for turning this purple region blue will be hard to actualize on the strength of senior votes.
Religion: The media talks incessantly about the political power of the evangelicals, who constitute roughly 24% of the country. Yet they rarely mention that the share of people who are self-described agnostics/atheists/non-denominational has doubled from eight percent in 1990 to 14% in 2001 and, based on that trend, surely has reached 15% or 16% today. This transformation is the result of the steady replacement of older, more religious voters with younger, more secular voters. Yet the South remains, as ever, the most religious region of America. Perhaps the inter-regional variances in religiosity and church attendance will diminish somewhat over time, but not much. That said, the more libertarian and less religiously conservative West is far less amenable to Republicans’ religious-based appeals, and in fact the growing dominance by evangelicals of western Republican parties is pulling them far too far to the right, providing a huge opportunity for Democrats that is already being exploited in places like Colorado. (But I recommend Ryan Sager’s analyses in Elephant in the Room for more about the self-destruction of western Republican parties.)
Family/marital status: Half of all women and almost half of men in America are unmarried. Because married voters turn out at higher rates, the unmarried are still a minority of voters nationally. Despite the emphasis on the importance of family values, the regional situation here is murkier because the divorce rates and share of unmarried persons are unusually high in the South, a fact that is true even when African Americans are subtracted out. But the key point is that “women on their own” (which means as-yet unmarried, divorced, separated, widowed and lesbian women) cast almost one in four votes nationally, and soon will be above that 25% threshold. And Democrats do well–Kerry won unmarried women by 25 points–among this growing bloc of key voters. As with age, the regional effects on marital status are not particularly pronounced, with one notable exception related to race: the rates of interracial marriage, which I submit indicate a potential for Democrats’ multi-racial coalition calculus. And, not surprisingly, given the shares of statewide non-white populations, the relative rate of interracial marriage rates is lowest in the South. As 2000 Census data make very clear, mixed-race marriages are more prevalent between Asians and whites, and Latinos and whites, than blacks and whites.
Occupation and socioeconomic class: The South has long been, and remains today, the least unionized region of the country. In the past half-century, the southern state with the highest share of union members/families was Alabama, which peaked at twenty-eighth; most southern states have been ranked and continue to rank in the forties, with the two Carolinas battling for a half-century for the inauspicious title of least-unionized state. The reason this matters is that the one exception to the Republican tendencies of non-college white males today is when they are union members or from union families. As the much-cited study by Andrew Gelman and his colleagues at Columbia show, in blue states the rich do not vote as Republican as red-state rich persons do. In the South, however, once African Americans are removed, that relationship between class and partisanship is mitigated—not because richer southern whites vote less Republican, but because poorer whites vote more Republican. Whether voting pocketbooks or prayer books, the result is millions of Republican white votes. This phenomenon is fading and should continue to as “new South” economic changes equalize income and wealth, and as non-native southerners move into the region for those “new South” opportunities. But profound wealth disparities in the South that might otherwise produce more Democratic votes in the nation’s poorest region are muted by cultural conservatism that results in Republican support among poorer whites that approaches the support among richer whites.
Community of residence: Turning to rural-urban-suburban-exurban trends, there is significant suburban growth in certain pockets of the South, the nation’s most rural region. But the key growth in “progressive-centrist” and inner suburban communities, as rigorously chronicled by the Strategist co-editor Ruy Teixeira, is occurring in and around cities west of the Mississippi River. (See Chapter 3 of Teixeira and John Judis’s book, The Emerging Democratic Majority.) There are emerging suburbs in the South that hold great promise for Democrats in the medium and longer term, however. Here is one criterion on which the weak (present) case is more compelling than the strong, long-term case. Still, places like Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, Northern Virginia and Austin remain rare, and the locals do not always take kindly to the changes occurring around them. Native North Carolinians have created their own acronym for Cary, the bedroom community filled with transplants who came to work in the hospitals, universities and research parks in this “progressive-centrist” mecca–Contaminated Area: Relocated Yankees. That tells us a lot about the meaning of progressive-centrist growth in the South and its implications for a Democratic majority.
A final comment about the combined effects of these overlapping criteria: The near- and long-term changes that are both occurring now and should continue to accelerate in the future are happening faster in “Rim South” states like Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and Texas. Thus, partisan opportunities in the South will generally arise first in the Rim South before the Deep South. As I’ve written elsewhere, the Mark Warner-Tim Kaine elections in Virginia prove the point. Despite the attempt by self-interested consultants to depict Warner’s win as a testament to a Democratic revival among rural voters, the truth is that both Warner and especially Kaine won because of changes occurring in the urban-suburban corridor that connects the Washington suburbs, Richmond and Norfolk.
Overall, then, in a country that is becoming less white, more feminized, less traditional in its family structures, more secular and more suburbanized, how does it make sense to prioritize the targeting of what are often referred to as the “NASCAR men”: white, non-college-educated, rural, married, Christian men from the South? If a marketing executive explained the prevailing national trends and concluded that the company ought to target the consumers least likely to be interested in the company’s product–and worse, that their size within the market was shrinking with each passing day–he’d be instructed to clean out his desk by day’s end.
Following his candidate’s popular vote defeat in 2000, Karl Rove promptly announced that the GOP would find and cultivate the four million evangelicals who failed to turn out. The politics that has followed–epitomized by the anti-gay-marriage ballot measures and Supreme Court appointments–confirms the effectiveness of the Rovian approach. So how is it that Democrats, upon losing the popular vote in 2004, must turn their opponents’ base by focusing on southern white men and women? This is absurd advice, and strategically myopic.
The truth is that the Pollyannaish predictions of centrist consultants have not served the Party well. In 2004, Democrats gained outside the South while losing ground inside the South, and at every level: relatively in presidential returns, and absolutely in terms of seats won in both chambers of Congress and in the state legislatures. That same pattern is already prevailing in the 2006 midterms, too, where the vast majority of expected gains for Democrats in gubernatorial and congressional races will come from outside the South.
There’s an underlying reason why: The demographic situation is different inside and outside the South. The split is neither perfect nor uniform, of course, but it is what it is, and denying it only risks losing the non-southern majority that awaits a party gutsy enough to build it. As regional demographic differences both present and future show, there’s a non-southern Democratic majority right in front of our noses, if the party will show the guts to see and seize it.

Dr. Thomas F. Schaller is associate professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), and a board member of the Democratic Strategist. A political columnist for the Washington Examiner, Schaller has published commentaries in The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The Baltimore Sun, Salon.com, and The American Prospect, and has appeared on ABC News, MSNBC, National Public Radio, and C-SPAN.


Messaging, Policies, and Principles

By Marc Grinberg, Rachel Kleinfeld, and Matthew Spence
It’s an honor to have critiques that are as compelling as those offered by our interlocutors here. In reading these over, and in considering other comments from the blogosphere about the piece, we’ve determined three main points we should address. The first is that our argument lacks policy substance. The second is that our messaging examples could be used to justify policy positions similar to those of the Bush Administration. The third is the need to define the values of the left. We will address each of these in turn.
John B. Judis (and Matt Yglesias, in a blog posting) both made the excellent point that messaging is not policy–and we certainly agree. Since this is a political journal, we chose to focus this particular article on messaging. And, with the wealth of serious thinking about policy in our party, we do think that focusing on national security messaging is worthy of its own space.
However: one cannot (or at least should not) develop a message without an underlying policy, and we don’t wish to give any other impression. In the short space we had, we chose three examples to illustrate our basic idea that any Democratic national security message should both acknowledge security threats, and ground our response in Democratic values.
On immigration and terrorism, our policy ideas, articulated in existing Truman Papers on our website, made their way into the message–but John was quite right that our Iran example was incomplete. A policy for Iran is a substantial project, and must be the subject of another forum, but let us briefly address the policy that underlines our message–while responding to the second major critique of our argument–that our Iran messaging seemed to justify a Bush Administration war with Iran.
We at the Truman Project, (like most of America, and the majority of world opinion, according to Pew polling) fear a nuclear Iran. But we, like most of America, think that airstrikes–and the inevitable war that would follow–is an inane option–unwinnable, given the nature of Iran’s nuclear preparations, unsustainable given the state of our military, and perfectly calibrated to turn one of the most pro-American populations against our country.1
War with Iran would be entirely counterproductive. But nuclear weapons in Iran would be a real threat to our national security. So our policy turns on finding ways to use covert action to disrupt the nuclear program, building solidarity with Europe to force Iran to change course through economic sanctions (Europe’s economic power in Iran is crucial to that effort), and mounting a public relations campaign aimed at the Iranian people to convince them that their energy needs can be met without a nuclear weapon–and that their leaders are gambling their economic futures in pursuit of nuclear arms. As Senator Hart rightly notes, if all these fail, any use of American military force should entail honest and open public debate–precisely what our country failed to ask for in the lead up to Iraq.
The Truman Project, in its policy stances, is in absolute agreement with Anne-Marie Slaughter’s powerful argument that national security should be broadened to consider issues far beyond terrorism, from China to nuclear proliferation to epidemic disease. We will continue to fight terrorists for the next fifty years. Yet during this time, new threats, from diseases to the rise of states with opposing value systems, may pose challenges of even greater magnitude–and we cannot have a myopic foreign policy system that ignores these threats. The Princeton Project on National Security makes a broad, bipartisan effort to offer the best policy thinking in America to our policy makers–and succeeds.
Unfortunately, today’s dominant Republican narrative of national security may make the Princeton’s Project’s tagline “liberty under law” a difficult message for voters to capture the multi-faceted national security strategy we need. As the Truman Project found in its cross-country listening tour last year, unfortunately, too many American voters–particularly in red states–believe law and national security are opposed. And too many believe that the Democrats have chosen law, while most Americans prefer security. Slaughter has spearheaded the serious and important thinking about how law and security are not opposing values–a belief we wholeheartedly endorse. Our collective challenge now is how to take that message to the American people.
Here we come to some thoughts on messaging strategy. A number of interlocutors felt that, in voicing a message against a nuclear armed Iran, we were echoing Bush’s misguided policy. The conflation of a tough message with a pro-war policy highlights the precise problem with Democratic messaging. Democrats who believe war with Iran is not the best policy option today need to think about how to talk about our position, if we are to convince Americans that we should be trusted to keep them safe. Americans agree with us on policy–as usual.2 But they need to know that we share their fears–that we are not dismissive of their worries. Too often, we of the left jump directly to policy, and do not understand why America does not follow us. The cause is as old as Hume–reason is but the slave of passion, and messages that hit the head can be overwhelmed by messages that aim at the heart.3 Even if people agree with our Iran policy, we must diffuse the threat of an emotionally targeted, fear-laden Republican message–by acknowledging that the fear is real, but the answer is wrong.
Our Iran message–like our terrorist message, or any other national security message–needs to convey two things: First, that Iran gaining nuclear weapons is a security threat that Democrats take very, very seriously. Second, that we do not believe that war is an effective response to this threat. If we skip the first step, we undermine our credibility to argue for the second. Americans need to believe that Democrats share their hopes, fears, and values–only then, after that emotional connection is established, can we discuss policy.
Finally, Senator Hart, Heather Hurlburt, and David Rieff all point to a much deeper issue than foreign policy or political strategy: what beliefs define what it means to be a progressive? What are our basic values and beliefs, and how do we draw from them to craft a progressive policy? Only then can we provide a frame, and then a message.
This is precisely where the Truman Project started, two years ago. In our first paper, we called for the need to craft a deep progressive understanding of our own principles that would reframe the national security issue on progressive terms.
But we take issue with Rieff’s claim that Democrats like Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, and FDR, were somehow not real progressives. Not only do we respectfully disagree that Rieff is somehow carrying the mantle of the real Left, but his argument is based on the flawed assumption that there is only one true vision of the left. We could not disagree more. History shows that the values of the left have long inspired multiple foreign policy traditions–and that one of these has been, since the era of Woodrow Wilson, a proud tradition of liberal internationalism. All the traditions of the left begin in a similar set of core principles–which we articulate below. Policy prescriptions veer in multiple directions after that point. It is the Truman Project’s hope that we of the left can recapture our principles and agree upon that shared platform–and from there respectfully disagree, if we must, about policy prescriptions.
What are those first principles? This space is not enough to do them justice, but to highlight a few areas of our thinking: progressives start from the principle that our society is judged by what we do for the least among us–an idea Hubert Humphrey articulated. That idea has profound implications for national security–both for how we protect Americans at home, and our responsibilities to societies abroad as our world becomes smaller. The American left also defined itself with Jeffersonians and against Hamiltonians in its basic belief that American democracy required building opportunity and creating real equality of opportunity across classes within America. When broadened for the age of globalization, the idea that the creation of opportunity diffuses threats to democracy leads us to broaden national security from solutions that only involve the military, to solutions that also involve aid, trade, education, and hope as instruments of global stability. This is just some of liberal intellectual thought that we have drawn upon. We are also looking at etymology. “Liberty” is the root of the word liberal–and reflects the fact that we believe in freedom and liberty for individuals, a principle at the root of Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points and FDR’s “Four Freedoms,” and which underlies the progressive human rights agenda. We believe, most of all, that America is not a finished product, but a country that must always move forward as a work in progress–the basis of the word “progressive”.
Rieff challenges the American national greatness narrative. We think that is an intellectual dead end. Americans, like all individuals, wish to think of themselves as good, and perhaps more than many others, wish to think of their country as great. The left’s fight against this desire has been our own death knell.
But we can draw on our progressive heritage–on, for instance, the philosopher Reinhold Neibuhr–to question America’s purity, while remaining electable. To do so, we should admit that the deepest belief of progressivism is that we are a work in progress, and we challenge America to live up to its greatness. As Truman Fellow Peter Beinart has persuasively argued, we should accept the need to doubt America’s good intentions, to admit that there is nothing inherent in Americans that make us good. But there is something to the ideals on which our country is based–minority tolerance, openness to immigrants, freedom, personal initiative, the basic equality of humankind–that could make us great–if, and only if, we uphold those ideals. The difference between the right and the left on this issue could not be clearer. The right thinks America is inherently right and great, and therefore can act with impunity. The left believes America has the opportunity to strive towards its own ideals, and when it does so, it acts with greatness.
The Truman National Security Project is working to address the needs cited by many interlocutors but highlighted by Heather Hurlburt to test messages and train political consultants to make national security a winning issue for Democrats. The Truman Project does not poll-test our beliefs, but we must test our messages, and we are now commissioning targeted polling to make sure our messages communicate what we wish them to convey. We are also offering a series of national security boot camps to political consultants and press secretaries–first in Washington, then throughout the country–to help them learn ways to use national security on campaigns. Messaging is no substitute for sound policy–it must illuminate and clarify policy, while communicating our emotional commitment. But neither can policy alone stand up without an effective communication strategy. As we learned in the last presidential election, having better policy is not enough. We need to do more.
These are some of the building blocks on which a new framework for the left can be built on national security. We are honored to have such companions to build it with us.

Marc Grinberg is a graduate student in political theory at Oxford University. He previously served as Congressional Fellow for the Truman National Security Project, leading its efforts on Capitol Hill and coordinating the activities of the Democratic Study Group on National Security.
Rachel Kleinfeld is the founder and co-director of the Truman Project. Rachel previously served as a Senior Consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton, where she worked on information-sharing across the military, intelligence, and law enforcement communities, homeland security, and trade and security issues. She has also been a consultant to the Center for Security and International Studies on biosecurity and bioterrorism response issues.
Matt Spence is the co-director of the Truman National Security Project. He is currently writing a book on lessons learned from American democracy promotion in the former Soviet Union. Matt has been a Lecturer in International Relations at Oxford University, a Visiting Fellow at the Stanford Center on Democratization, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL), and an elections monitor in Kosovo.

1According to the Pew Survey “Public Worried about Iran bit Wary of Military Action,” Americans believe that Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons, but overwhelmingly reject military action in favor of having the UN to take the lead in diffusing the situation largely through economic sanctions. Even among Republicans, only 46% favor air strikes — the majority again favors sanctions and UN action. America is not alone in its fear of Iranian nuclear ambitions: according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project survey, released June 13, 2006, “Overwhelming majorities in Germany (91%), Japan (87%) and France (85%) say non-nuclear countries should be prevented from developing nuclear weapons.” Large majorities in France (78%), Germany (71%) Great Britain (64%), Spain (62%), and the US (80%) believe that if Iran develops nuclear weapons, it is likely to give weapons to terrorists.
2See the Rockefeller Brothers’ Foundation/Aspen Institute project “U.S. in the World: Talking Global Issues with Americans,” for American policy preferences, how they often agree with those of the left, but how our messaging works against us.
3In 1935, social science researcher George Hartman conducted a powerful experiment to determine voting behavior based on emotional and rational appeals–while both appeals had some effect, the emotional outweighed the rational. See “A Synoptic History and Typology of Experimental Research in Political Science,” David A. Bositis, Douglas Steinel Political Behavior, Vol. 9, No. 3 (1987), pp. 263-284. For the philosophy, see David Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature, 1739.


The Role of the Economy in the 2006 Elections

By Celinda Lake and Daniel Gotoff

“The income gap between the rich and the rest of the U.S. population has become so wide, and is growing so fast, that it might eventually threaten the stability of democratic capitalism itself.”

Alan Greenspan, Federal Reserve Chairman, June 2005

“The way to win a presidential race against the Republicans is to develop the class warfare issue. To divide up the haves and have nots and to try to reinvigorate the New Deal coalition.”

Lee Atwater, 1988 Campaign Manager for George H. W. Bush

“It’s the economy, stupid.”

James Carville, 1992 Campaign Manager for Bill Clinton

Despite Americans’ dissatisfaction with the national economy, the issue — as a focus of political debate — is taking a backseat in the 2006 elections, as it has for the past several cycles. An outsider analyzing the “air wars” being waged on television in targeted House and Senate districts could be excused for concluding that the biggest problem with the economy is the high cost of prescription medications for seniors.
Taking the long view, this is a relatively new dynamic in American politics. But the history of recent political campaigns shows that, for well over a decade now, Democrats have failed to advance a credible vision for a prosperous 21st century economy that works for all Americans; not since Presidential candidate Bill Clinton made the economy a centerpiece of his campaign in 1992 have national Democratic leaders addressed the issue with success. At the same time, a number of Democratic governors have won — even in red states (e.g., Wyoming, Arizona, Montana, and West Virginia) — by articulating a strong economic vision. To become a majority party in 2008, Democrats must offer a strong vision for the American economy.
Since the mid-1990’s, the Democratic Party’s economic prescription for the country — a limited social democracy propelled by globalization and business-friendly deregulation — has failed to excite the public animus or, more important, produce its intended results. (It is worth remembering that this was devised as a political strategy for keeping Clinton in office; the economic message that helped to elect him in the first place was far more compelling and audacious.)
More recently, economic proposals offered by the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004 — vague pledges to stop outsourcing and create 10 million new jobs — while ostensibly popular, never constituted a persuasive economic narrative. In 2000, the Democratic economic narrative was constrained by the presidential nominee’s desire to distance himself from Bill Clinton. In 2004, exit polls showed that in the economically depressed battleground state of Ohio, voters gave Bush higher ratings on the economy than Kerry. Our own focus groups found that voters tended to blame both parties for global trade policies and the outsourcing of American jobs overseas. Today, a majority of voters have a difficult time articulating what the Democratic economic alternative is.
Republicans, for their part, offer little in the way of economic prescriptions for the nation other than additional tax cuts tilted heavily toward those at the top and continued deregulation of industry. The conservative economic narrative no longer has the purchase in public opinion that it once enjoyed; the specters of “big government” and profligate spending are now as likely to conjure up images of the Iraq war and Republican bureaucracy and incompetence as anything else. And most voters now view Republican tax cuts as neither a short-term fix for their families nor a long-term solution to the country’s economic challenges. Noticeably, this issue is used more as a political cudgel against Democrats than as a piece of Republicans’ positive agenda.
This is not to suggest that Americans are not ready for a real debate on the direction of the nation’s economy. The public is, in fact, deeply concerned about the direction in which the country is being steered, and the state of the American economy specifically. In the recent bi-partisan George Washington University Battleground 2006 Poll, 61 percent of voters said the country is headed pretty seriously off on the wrong track, with more than half (51 percent) feeling strongly this way.1 And voters overwhelmingly believe the U.S. economy is in bad shape. Sixty percent of voters say the current state of the economy is just fair or poor. Just forty percent believe the economy is in good or excellent shape, including only 5 percent who rate it as excellent.2
An ABC News poll conducted in September showed the economy on par with Iraq as the single most important issue for voters in the midterm elections (22 percent and 21 percent, respectively).3 Another 18 percent chose as their top concern health care (13 percent) or gas prices (5 percent), the rising costs of which play directly into voters’ fears over the economy. In fact, rising health care costs are the most pressing personal economic concern for Americans.
Pessimism colors Americans’ economic outlook, with fully 61 percent saying economic conditions in the country as a whole are getting worse. Just 31 percent believe the economy is getting better, and 6 percent volunteer that it is doing about the same as in the past.4 More personally, voters do not see their own economic situations improving over the coming year. A majority expects their own financial situations either to stay the same (51 percent) or worsen (8 percent) in the next 12 months. Just over one-third of Americans (36 percent) expect their personal financial situations to improve in that time.5 Most important, in a recent survey of working Americans, we found that 52 percent believe their children will be worse off than they are.6 For the first time this included a majority of both college-educated and non-college-educated Americans. This dynamic represents a fundamental violation of the promise of the American Dream, plays heavily into public pessimism about the direction of the country, and is a strong catalyst for voters’ desire for change.
Champions of the current administration point to improved employment figures, increased productivity, and economic growth as signs of a healthy economy. But the challenges facing individuals and the country as a whole are no fiction. The American middle class today finds itself caught between a rapidly increasing cost of living, a decline in real income and job security, and record levels of debt. The Republican economic program over the past 6 years, centered almost solely on deficit-financed tax cuts and dramatic deregulation of industry, has produced a host of pernicious consequences. Among them is this indisputable and devastating fact: the income gap between multimillionaires and the American middle class has widened dramatically over the past 6 years. This can no longer be easily dismissed as the hyperbolic rantings of a Marx-and-Engels-toting student movement. To the contrary, it is a development that has caught the attention of such capitalist stalwarts as the current and former Federal Reserve Chairmen under President Bush, both of whom have warned of the inherent threat to the nation of this growing disparity.
Despite the perplexity among some at the public’s reluctance to revel in news of economic growth, the simple truth — one that Americans are increasingly coming to recognize — is that the United States has not experienced a disparity in wealth on this scale in nearly a century, not since the age of the Robber Barons that preceded the Great Depression. A recent study of non-managerial American workers starkly underscores the problem. Fully 81 percent agreed (56 percent strongly) with the statement, “No matter what you hear about the economy, working families are falling behind.”7
When it comes to the economy, the irony for Democrats is not subtle. Americans afford the Democratic Party a growing advantage over Republicans on the issue, but Democrats have struggled to capitalize on that advantage. In the GWU Battleground 2006 Poll, Democrats are viewed as better equipped to improve the economy by a 9-point margin, and Democrats hold even stronger advantages on the related issues of dealing with health care (+30), making prescription drugs affordable (+35), strengthening Social Security (+26), achieving energy independence (+14), and creating jobs (+8). The only economic issue on which voters provide Republicans an advantage (+8) over Democrats is holding the line on taxes.
Yet while Democrats are viewed as better than Republicans on the economy, they have been unable to convert that advantage into political gains. Indeed, even voters who give Democrats the benefit of the doubt on the economy have a hard time articulating what Democrats would actually do if in power. Voters’ own perspectives on the economy are of a middle class in decline — if not in crisis — badly squeezed between rising costs, reduced benefits, and stagnant earnings. But without any coherent, compelling narrative, voters are short on their own solutions to the economic problems facing the country.
The vacuum of big ideas from either party on the country’s economic future, particularly in the context of a globalized economy, is increasingly leaving voters with the impression that the United States and its elected leaders are relatively powerless to determine the country’s future. The sense of possibility among the American public — that the American people, through their government, can effect a prosperous, enduring economy — is dwindling. This loss of hope not only fuels the prevalent distrust in federal government, but also encourages a politics of fear, both of which figure prominently in the Republican playbook.
In the absence of a compelling national Party platform, the political debate over the economy has once again turned to silo’ed messages related to personal, pocket-book economics. Without definition from their Party, individual Democratic Congressional candidates can hardly be blamed. Swing voters in our focus groups complain that too often Democrats offer only criticism of the economy; they observe that they could hear the same thing from their neighbors. What these voters want to know from Democratic leaders is, “What are you going to do about it?”
It has already been established that rising prescription drug prices, wildly fluctuating gas prices, the affordability of health care in America, and declining job and retirement security are pressing concerns, and concerns that feed voters’ sense that the middle class is failing to keep pace with the rising cost of living in America while an elite few are doing very well (though most voters do not understand how well). But rarely are the individual issues connected in a comprehensive narrative about the state of the nation’s economy, and even more rarely are they used to make the case for an enduring solution. And recent history tells us that the ability of silo’ed messages (e.g., on prescription drug costs; rising health care and gas prices; and decreased job and retirement security) to deliver Democrats victories at the ballot box is limited. As such, the economy takes a backseat again in 2006 to the more dominant themes of war and security.
As we look toward 2008, the stakes could not be higher. Yet the Democratic Party cannot win the Presidency until it gains the public’s confidence in its ability to create and sustain a prosperous national economy. So where do we go from here?
The terrain for Democrats is fertile; issues of energy independence and national health care offer Democrats broad, popular policy initiatives that can re-invigorate the national economy. Energy independence is the strongest economic proposal for men. Voters in general believe that investing in renewable and sustainable energy development will create good-paying jobs and exportable technology; reduce energy prices; and create a safer, more independent foreign policy. This is a big economic idea whose time has come.
As noted, Americans now see skyrocketing health care costs as directly threatening their family’s ability to stay in the middle class and achieve the American Dream. Our survey of working Americans found that affordable health care is considered one of the five pillars of the American Dream (along with being proud of your job, ensuring your children’s future, owning your own home, and having a secure retirement).8 Voters also believe that health care costs are a major impediment to starting one’s own small business, which 48 percent of Americans want to do.9 2008 could easily shape up to be the health care election.
A secure retirement is another top concern of Americans and another pillar of the American Dream. Out of a host of progressive economic initiatives tested in a June 2005 survey, the most popular focused on protecting retirement pensions from being raided or taken away by corporate CEOs.10 In the survey of working Americans, 55 percent expected they would have to retire later than they had planned.11 A solid majority of working Americans now believe Social Security is a risky source of retirement income.
Finally, Americans believe that investing in education is the best long-term investment in the nation’s economy. Ironically, Republicans talked more about education than Democrats in the 2000 and 2004 Presidential campaigns. In fact, in 2000 Bush neutralized the Democrats’ advantage on the economy. Successful Democratic governors, however, have made education a central plank of their economic platforms, with an agenda that includes investing in quality pre-kindergarten through secondary schools and expanding the affordability of college and post-high school job training.
Well-paying, secure jobs are still at the center of any economic platform. At a time when American workers are forced to compete against workers who earn 30 cents an hour and work seven days a week, sensible proposals to level the playing field for American workers by revising free trade agreements also hold promise — and not just as sound policy. To wit, 65 percent of Americans view increased trade between the United States and other countries as mostly hurting American workers.12
But Democrats must be mindful that these issues — as expansive and politically popular as they are — do not, in and of themselves, amount to a compelling economic narrative. The Party requires a political strategy around the economy that tells the story of the resurgence of the American people and the American Dream under responsible Democratic governance. Central to this story is redressing the dramatic disparity in incomes that has taken place under Republican control. This is by no means a novel strategy; but it is one that secured Democratic victories for the first two-thirds of the 20th century. Equally important, it is also a strategy recognized by Republicans as the most effective line of attack Democrats have in their arsenal (Republicans’ fierce efforts to define as “class warfare” any Democrat’s allusion to the redistribution of wealth under Republican governance from the middle class to those at the very top is as telling as Lee Atwater’s open admission of this point). In short, the issue is not only substantively important for the Democrats to tackle, but also an approach that offers the Party the promise of rich political rewards and a return to majority status.

Prior to forming Lake Research Partners, Lake was partner and vice president at Greenberg-Lake. Her earlier experience includes serving as political director of the Women’s Campaign Fund, and as the Research Director at the Institute for Social Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Policy Analyst for the Subcommittee on Select Education.
Lake, a native of Montana and one of the political world’s most avid whitewater rafters, holds a Masters degree in Political Science and Survey Research from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and a certificate in political science from the University of Geneva, in Geneva, Switzerland. Lake received her undergraduate degree from Smith College in Massachusetts, where she graduated Summa Cum Laude with honors and was recently awarded the Distinguished Alumna Medal by the College.
Celinda has recently co-authored a book with republican pollster Kellyanne Conway entitled “What Women Really Want: How Women are Quietly Erasing Political, Racial, Class and Religious Lines to Change the Way We Live”.

Daniel Gotoff was recently named the newest partner of Lake Research Partners. Daniel has designed and analyzed survey and focus group research for candidates at all levels of the electoral process as well as on a wide range of issues, including media reform, health care reform, and campaign finance reform.
His tenure at LRP has included extensive survey and focus group research for clients including the DNC, DCCC, the NAACP National Voter Fund, and numerous congressional, gubernatorial, and mayoral candidates. Gotoff also had led the firm’s consulting in overseas campaigns in Mexico and the Caribbean.
Daniel joined LRP in 1996 after working on a congressional campaign in Cincinnati, Ohio. Daniel holds a B.A. in History and Italian from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. When he finds the time and space, Daniel enjoys drawing and sculpting.

1George Washington University Battleground 2006 Poll, N= 1000 likely voters, 9/24-27/06
2ABC News/ Washington Post Poll. October 2006; surveyed 1,000 adults.
3ABC News Poll. Conducted 9/5-7/06; surveyed 1,003 adults, including 863 registered voters.
4Gallup Poll. Conducted 9/7-10/06; surveyed 1,002 adults;
5Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg Poll. Conducted 9/16-19/06; surveyed 1,517 adults.
6Change to Win Poll. N = 800 non-supervisory workers nationwide, August 14-20, 2006.
7Change to Win Poll. Ibid.
8Change to Win Poll. Ibid.
9The Polling Company and Lake Research Partner for What Women Really Want. Conducted March 2005; surveyed 1200 adults.
10Lake Research Partners Survey. Conducted June 2005; surveyed 963 likely voters.
11Change to Win Poll. Ibid.
12Gallup/USA Today. Conducted 4/7-9/06; surveyed 1,004 adults.


Winning the Third National Security Election

By Jeremy D. Rosner
This is shaping up to be the third consecutive election that will turn on national security. Yet 2006 looks very different from 2002 and 2004. President Bush and his party have succeeded in raising the salience of terrorism and Iraq; yet they appear to be in deep electoral trouble, and possibly heading for watershed losses. What gives?
To be sure, the answer goes beyond national security, which is hardly the only issue at play, and in many ways and many races, not even the dominant issue. Polling by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner for Democracy Corps shows that a 55-40 percent majority are more interested in hearing what the candidates say about the financial pressures on average voters than about security and terrorism. Moreover, recent visits to various states with key campaigns confirm the conclusion of a recent Washington Post article, that local rather than national issues are dominating the debates in a number of congressional races.1 And it appears that the Foley scandal will have a major impact in the closing weeks, further souring feelings about the Republican Congress to all-time lows.
Yet, apart from the scandals and domestic issues, there are genuinely different dynamics at work on national security this cycle, and Democrats need to get them right if they are to win back Congress and — even more important — the public’s confidence that we can be trusted to protect the country.
The GOP’s efforts to define this race around national security could not have been more forceful or blatant. The extended 9/11 commemorations. Bush’s series of high-profile speeches on terror and Iraq. Tagging Democrats as “cut and run” and “soft.” Forcing pre-election votes on partisan-styled legislation on terrorist interrogation and surveillance. And a slough of GOP ads in key races attacking Democrats on those two issues, including swift-boat-like attack ads in the Ohio Senate race from the shadowy Republican “527” group Progress for America.
Republicans aren’t wrong to pin their hopes on the national security card; as they well understand, it’s about the only card they have left to play. And it is having an impact in some races. For example, Rep. Nancy Johnson (CT-5) has run ads on the terrorist surveillance program that test strongly in our recent focus groups.
Yet mostly the Republican focus on national security seems to be falling flat. For every Nancy Johnson, there are other Republican candidates, such as her Connecticut colleague Rep. Chris Shays (CT-4) who have distanced themselves from the President on Iraq. Key GOP hawks like Rep. Curt Weldon (PA-7) and Republicans with solid security credentials like Rep. Heather Wilson (AZ-1), appear to be in real trouble. And a range of public polls show that Democrats have closed most of the gap they suffered in recent years on national security, and on some more recent measures have fully drawn even with the GOP.
Five related factors are most responsible for blunting if not wholly foiling the Republicans’ national-security-centered strategy.
First, and above all, Iraq. The Administration’s incompetence on counter-insurgency and reconstruction has moved the conflict to the brink of civil war, while its serial deceptions have emptied the reserves of public trust they once enjoyed. Iraq is now the public’s top voting concern, and those who are focused on the issue lean sharply Democratic. The leaked National Intelligence Estimate and Bob Woodward’s new book, combined with the continuing carnage on the ground, helped renew public outrage and erase the President’s post-9/11 bump. In many ways, this year’s congressional election is shaping up to be a public referendum on this deeply troubled war.
Second, the President’s effort to conflate Iraq with the war on terror backfired — in part by succeeding too well. Democracy Corps polling shows that the more the President talked about terror in September and October, the more the public became focused on Iraq, while the level citing terror as the key issue actually fell. By lumping the war on terror and Iraq together, the President actually diminished his edge on the former, rather than strengthening his position on the latter.
Third, partisanship. Voters increasingly recognized and resented that the President was trying to use a real concern, the threat of Islamic jihadists, in a phony, divisive, partisan way. That Republican tactic worked pretty well in 2002 and 2004, but voters have now tired of it and begun resenting it. An August Democracy Corps poll revealed this was the second strongest complaint about Bush and the GOP on national security, and voters respond strongly to Democratic arguments that Republicans set up their late-session bills on wiretapping and interrogation in ways that were needlessly partisan and divisive.
Fourth, Republican divisions. The Bush/Cheney/Rove plan was to use the weeks after Labor Day to frame Democrats as weak on security. Instead, those weeks became defined by Republicans divided on security. As Sen. John McCain, Colin Powell, and a parade of other Republicans and military leaders criticized the original Bush bill on detainee interrogation — for abrogating the Geneva Conventions, endangering our troops, and undermining our moral standing in the war on terror — all contrasts between Republicans and Democrats faded into the background. Although the White House finally caved to many of McCain’s demands (even as McCain also dropped his principled objections in indefensible ways) and finally got the mostly-party-line vote it wanted, it left Republican candidates hard-pressed to argue that only Democrats had reservations about the Bush direction.
Fifth, the Democrats did a better job than in past cycles of recruiting candidates with strong national security credentials. Rep. Rahm Emanuel and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee he chairs recruited dozens of candidates with strong security credentials, such as Tammy Duckworth, an Army helicopter pilot who lost both legs in Iraq, and retired Vice Admiral Joe Sestak, who has pulled even with Pennsylvania’s Weldon. The same is true on the Senate side; witness the gains by Vietnam War hero and former Navy Secretary Jim Webb in his race against incumbent Virginia Sen. George Allen. (OK, “macaca” and Allen’s string of other weird revelations played a role here, but Webb’s military credentials helped.) Not all the vets Democrats recruited made it through the primaries, and in some cases their military service has been less important than pure voter anger over Iraq, but in a few cases having veterans in the race was a major factor, and the move generally reflects a newfound Democratic confidence around associating the party with the military.
These factors create an historic opportunity for Democrats to get heard on national security issues and to transform long-standing perceptions of how the two parties compare. Yet, like all opportunities, this one contains some big dangers. If Democrats are going to win in 2006 and beyond, here are some challenges they need to confront.

  • Don’t duck national security; welcome the debate and engage it. Some Democratic consultants argue that Democrats should avoid talking about national security as much as possible. Echoing advice that some other Democratic consultants have pushed, pollster Vic Fingerhut recently argued in the Washington Post that Democratic candidates should “stay away from foreign policy in favor of domestic economic issues.”2 This is stunningly and dangerously bad advice. It is akin to saying that you shouldn’t kick the one remaining leg out from under an offending table because it’s obviously the strongest one. Think how much stronger shape Democratic challenger Chris Murphy might be in in his CT-5 race against Nancy Johnson if he had not let her sharp attack ad on the terror surveillance issue go unanswered for over a week. Moreover, recent polling shows that Democrats only gain when they engage on these issues; in the August Democracy Corp poll, after voters were led through a long and balanced national security debate, the Democrats’ lead expanded, from a 5 point margin to an 8 point lead. This year, Democrats should be welcoming the national security debate and jumping on every opportunity to engage it — not to the exclusion of domestic and economic issues, but with the confidence it can supplement their efforts on these traditional areas of Democratic strength.
    Fortunately, more and more Democrats seem to understand this, as evidenced by the strong criticisms of the Bush Administration by a range of Democratic leaders after North Korea’s claim to have conducted its first nuclear test. Our latest Democracy Corps poll shows their instincts are right: even in the 49 most competitive GOP-held districts, more voters see the North Korean claim to be a sign of problems with the Bush national security policy, rather than evidence that we need the Republicans running our national security in the face of a dangerous world.

  • Don’t just attack performance on Iraq; also show we have a better way to fight terror. Democrats gain ground when they strongly critique the administration for “mis-managing” Iraq and letting us become “bogged down” in a religious war with no plan and no end in sight. But voters really open up when Democrats combine this with a positive sense of how we offer “a better way to fight terror.” Tangible ideas like implementing 100 percent of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations resonate strongly and create a clearer sense that this is about protecting the future, not just re-litigating the past. Most powerful of all, in many ways, is a longer-sighted Democratic commitment to slash America’s dependence on foreign oil, which voters correctly see as lying at the intersection of the country’s national security, economic, and environmental problems.
  • Don’t let anti-Bush reflexes undermine Democrats’ heritage of internationalism. Over the longer term, Democrats can only retain national leadership and the public’s trust if we promote a strong, idealistic, and outward-looking vision of America’s purposes in the world. Anti-Bush passion may be enough to drive big gains in 2006. But Democrats cannot afford to let anti-Bushism morph into anti-internationalism. For example, it is troubling that, according to a poll conducted by the German Marshall Fund, a majority of Democrats — the party that helped bring down apartheid in South Africa and Pinochet in Chile — now rejects the idea of promoting democracy abroad. Similarly, there are worrisome signs that many Democrats now doubt our ability to improve the world; in the August Democracy Corps survey only a 49-46 percent plurality of Democrats agreed that “America’s power is generally a force for good in the world,” and fully 60 percent of liberal Democrats chose the alternative statement, that “America’s power generally does more harm than good when we act abroad.” As The New Republic’s Peter Beinart and others have argued, it will be important for Democratic leaders over the coming months and years to push back against such beliefs and to mobilize support within the party’s base for a serious international agenda that includes combating jihadist ideology and violence, stemming WMD proliferation, strengthening NATO and our other alliances, supporting the spread of liberal democracy and human rights, and tackling global environmental and humanitarian challenges.

If Democrats follow these steps, 2006 could well be remembered as not only the year when the Bush politicization of national security finally fell flat, but also as the year when the Democratic Party began to convince voters they offer a better path for securing America in a world full of new dangers and opportunities.

Jeremy Rosner is Senior Vice President at Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a Democratic polling and political consulting firm; he served as a senior staff member on the Clinton National Security Council, and as Special Adviser to President Clinton and Secretary of State Albright for NATO Enlargement Ratification.

1Jim VandeHei and Chris Cillizza, “In Close Races, Local Issues Still Dominate,” The Washington Post, September 29, 2006, p. A1.


The Purple-ing of the Democrats

By Thomas Riehle
The size of the Democratic majority in the 110th Congress will alter the shape of American politics for the remainder of President Bush’s term, into the 2008 Presidential contest, and beyond — and because of the demographics of the districts electing all those new Democrats to Congress, it will alter the character of the national Democratic Party as well. Majority Watch conducts polls of 1,000 or more voters (margin of error ± 3.1) in each contested House race, and if current trends continue, Democrats will hold 222 to 230 seats in the 110th Congress (218 is a majority).
Whether that new Democratic House majority extends beyond 230 seats — and more importantly, whether that majority extends beyond the 110th Congress — depends on how well Democrats adapt themselves to the new demographic realities of the party’s broadened geographic base. Democratic House members will represent constituencies and trends that will force the House Democratic Caucus and the national Democratic Party to put up a wider tent than it has housed itself in these past six years.
Democrats will win:

  • Suburban seats that are home to corporate managers, where one-third or more of the voters have a bachelor’s degree or better. In Majority Watch (MW) polls conducted by RT Strategies and Constituent Dynamics in October, the Democratic candidates had solid leads outside the margin of error, and in many cases already claimed 50% of the vote or more, in places like Ohio 15th near Columbus, where 38% of households boast adults in managerial positions, and Pennsylvania 6th and Pennsylvania 7th, where more than 40% are managers. Democrats are making competitive races in other places where managers make up 40% or more of the electorate: Washington 8th south of Seattle, and in suburban seats bracketing New York City on all sides (New Jersey 7th, New York 3rd on Long Island, and Connecticut 4th). The Chicago suburbs (Illinois 6th, 8th and 10th) have not swung as enthusiastically to the Democrats, however, and remain no better than close contests.
  • Small-town, working-class seats where half or more of the adults pursue their goals in life with, at best, a high school education. In MW polls, Democrats had leads of 7 points or more in races in both central and western North Carolina, in small-town upstate and western New York and northeastern Pennsylvania, both northern and southern Indiana, and in southeastern Ohio. Across the Ohio River, Democrats are giving Republican incumbents all they can handle in Kentucky’s northern House seats, where adults are about twice as likely (or more) to have a high-school education than a college degree; districts with similar educational patterns in northern Wisconsin, and in West Virginia, Iowa and Texas are all either easy Democratic elections in Democratic seats once deemed potentially vulnerable, or close races where Democrats are trying to take over Republican seats.

The appeal of Democratic House candidates in some places will transcend barriers that have kept Democrats locked in the House minority since 1994:

  • The marriage gap, where married people vote Republican and singles vote Democratic, cannot persist if Democrats hope to hold onto their gains. In MW polls in October, Democratic candidates were leading by 7 points or more in only one seat where 63% or more of the adults are married, but if the Democratic victory expands in the final weeks beyond the 222-seat majority MW polling projects today (with Democratic leads outside the margin of error), it will be because of victories in many places where 63% or more of adults are married (and the races are within the margin of error in MW polls today): Wisconsin 8th (Green Bay), Illinois 8th (a Democratically-held district), New York 3rd (Rep. Peter King’s Long Island district), Illinois 6th (Retiring Rep. Henry Hyde’s district), Florida 16th (Rep. Foley’s former district), Minnesota 6th (where the Democratic candidate’s background led her to focus on what the Foley scandal says about the commitment of Republican leaders in Washington to protect children from predators), and New Jersey 7th and Washington 8th, suburbs south of New York City and Seattle, respectively.
    The Democratic Party’s northeastern base will be solidified, while in-roads will be made in other places as well.

  • The blue tide is a northeastern tide, with strength all down the Ohio River and in scattered places out West as well. This blue tide rises in Connecticut, where Democrats will take at least one and maybe as many as three Republican seats, carries across New York, where Democrats will win at least three and possibly as many as six Republican seats, through far northeastern Pennsylvania (a state where Democrats will see at least two and possibly three pick-ups), then down the Ohio River where almost every contiguous seat on both sides of the river clear down past Indiana is an open seat or a vulnerable Republican-held seat and Democrats could win most of them (at least on the river’s northern bank, and very possibly on the southern bank in Kentucky, as well). It does not stop there: Democrats are competitive in northern Wisconsin, southern Minnesota, central and eastern Iowa, as well as in the suburbs of Denver and Seattle and in the New Mexico 1st House district.
    Most importantly, in Florida, North Carolina and New York, Republicans say they will cross over to vote for the Democratic House candiCATEGORY: Editor’s Corner

  • The Democratic takeover is a reaction against Bush, Bush policies, and the Republican majorities in Congress that enabled Bush. Voters in the first 74 MW House polls (a total sample of 74,448) disapprove (53%) rather than approve (39%) Bush’s job performance. Since all but 7 of those 74 polls were conducted in seats held by Republicans, the failure of Bush to score better than his weak national numbers for job performance indicates why these particular seats are the most vulnerable for Republicans.
  • In some House races, the weakness of a Republican candidate or incumbent in a Republican-held seat is in part a reaction of Republican voters against the national Republican Party. Disaffected Republican voters in those districts will send a message to the national Party by voting against the Republican candidate in their House election. Overall, across the 74 polls, 67% of Republican voters approve but 22% disapprove of Bush’s performance. Among those Republican voters who disapprove of Bush, only 41% will vote for the Republican House candidate, 53% the Democrat. The districts where disaffected Republican voters who disapprove of Bush are most likely to vote Democratic in their House election are North Carolina 8th (69% of Republicans who disapprove of Bush will vote for the Democratic House candidate), North Carolina 11th (70%), Florida 13th (85%), Florida 16th (70%), Florida 22nd (69%), New York 26th –the home of NRCC chairman Reynolds (75%), and New York 24th –the open seat of departing Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (64%). In New York, North Carolina and Florida, Republican disgust with national Republican policies or behavior will benefit the 2006 House candidate — then it will be up to that Democratic winner to retain the loyalties of some of those disaffected Republicans (and Democrats are significantly ahead in MW polls in the New York and North Carolina races).
    Politics (beyond the organization of the 110th Congress under a Democratic Speaker) will resonate to the sound of this political earthquake for years to come.

  • Politics will be altered by the ability or inability of political leaders to help themselves by helping others. Sen. Hillary Clinton in New York will get credit for an assist when a handful or more of new Democratic House Members arrive from New York (and National Republican Congressional Campaign Chairman Tom Reynolds of New York will prove, if proof was needed, that it is a bad omen for a party when the congressional campaign chairman’s own race is irretrievably lost before the trees in the mid-Atlantic forests even turn colors for the fall). Sen. Evan Bayh will be more plausible as a national Democratic candidate in 2008 if three of his state’s nine House seats change hands from Republicans to Democrats in 2006. Republican Presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain of Arizona will not be strengthened as Arizona 8th became a hopeless cause for Republicans in early October and two other Arizona seats (1st and 5th) are in play as well.

In the final three weeks of the campaign, longtime leading Democratic strategists such as Stan Greenberg and James Carville urge the party to maximize the once-in-a-generation opportunity the 2006 election offers Democrats by reaching out for every seat that is even conceivably contestable. Netroots newcomers, however, are not so ambitious, preferring to see the Democrats focus their attention on locking in their potential gains rather than reaching too far and “blowing it.”
That reflects an ironic turn of events for internal Democratic Party strategic debate. Netroots newcomers, throughout 2000, 2002 and 2004, complained bitterly about the cautiousness of Democratic campaign insiders in Washington. Now the tables are turned. Political guru Charlie Cook calls it a generation gap in perceptions of what is happening in 2006. Old-timers who lived through 1974 and 1994 have felt all year that 2006 could develop into an enormous, earthshaking Democratic sweep—they’d seen this kind of thing before, and this felt like that. Netroots activists, in contrast, have not seen that kind of sweeping election victory before — their experience has been largely a series of narrow, nail-biting elections with winners and losers determined by a handful of seats in a 50-50 political world.
Because of their different experiences, netrooters have dismissed talk of a sweep as so much old-timer mysticism. Old-timers have been unable to believe the netrooters do not see what is clearly before their eyes. As a result of their different experiences, netrooters are also more focused on carefully bringing home every victory that’s clearly in reach and leaving nothing to chance in any race, while the old-timers are wondering whether a bank would loan the DNC $5 million or $10 million against future contributions to expand their reach from 30 targeted seats to 50. Old-timers are also speculating about whether they should count as won the top ten prospective take-overs and shift resources from those seats to the Tier 3 opportunities.
Whichever direction the party takes in the final weeks — whether a cautious, button-down strategy designed to make no mistakes and lose no birds in the hand, or a more “all-in,” go-for-broke strategy that seeks every possible bird in every possible bush — one outcome is certain: A very different, more mainstream, more suburban and small-town, greatly expanded House Democratic caucus will present a new face of the Democratic Party to the country as the 2008 Presidential election gets underway on November 8.

Thomas Riehle is the co-founder of RT Strategies, a bipartisan polling firm in Washington D.C. Majority Watch is a joint project of RT Strategies and Constituent Dynamics, a non-partisan automated recorded-voice polling firm in Seattle Washington. Majority Watch is designed to track trends in the fight for control of the U.S. House of Representatives by means of polls of 1000 or more likely voters in each contested House race.


Flanking the Immigration Wedge

By Jim Kessler
In any election, the key to winning comes down to this: In the final weeks of the race, are you generating news on the subject of your choosing or of your opponent’s choosing? In Virginia in 2005, the subject in the closing weeks was on illegal immigration. That was not where Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Tim Kaine wanted it to be.
The latest sequel to America’s continuing love-hate saga with immigration kicked off, of all places, in the affluent bedroom community of Herndon, Virginia in 2005. Fueled by a massive building boom, illegal immigrants flooded northern Virginia seeking work. They gathered in front of the local 7-11’s each morning hoping to be selected by construction managers to work for a day rate. As the numbers grew, the town leaders of Herndon decided to spend taxpayer dollars to create a day-labor center where immigrants could congregate to seek work away from public view. This ignited a political firestorm as angry residents demanded to know why their tax dollars were being spent to help lawbreakers find jobs that many Americans wanted.
Republicans, predictably, framed the issue succinctly and effectively. Virginia Republican Jerry Kilgore launched an ad campaign accusing Tim Kaine of abetting the “growing illegal immigration crisis” in the state. “And Tim Kaine?” the announcer asks. “Kaine favors taxpayer-funded job centers and supports in-state tuition discounts for illegals. Taxpayer benefits for illegal immigrants? What part of illegal does Tim Kaine not understand?”
Democrats, predictably, reached for their base and played the empathy card. Kaine didn’t so much respond as demur. At a bilingual center in neighboring Falls Church, Kaine accused Kilgore of “grandstanding” and voiced tepid support to Herndon officials for “trying to solve a local problem.”
In the end, illegal immigration did not close the sale for Kilgore. But Kaine pollster Pete Brodnitz of the Benenson Strategy Group admitted that they had dodged a bullet. “We were flying a little bit blind.” Republicans took notice and so did some Democrats. “This is going to be the gay marriage of 2006,” said Nathan Daschle of the Democratic Governors’ Association.

In May 2006, we hired Brodnitz to conduct Third Way’s polling and to help us solve the impending immigration wedge. Our task was to devise a message to win over moderates while supporting progressive principles for immigration reform that included a path to citizenship. We sought to de-claw this issue and give guidance to progressive elected leaders and candidates who wanted to preserve their Hispanic base but feared alienating middle-class white voters in the process.
After analyzing our results, we came to believe that not only could this issue be neutralized, it could and should be won.
Let’s start with some demographic facts. On October 17th, the United States population hit 300 million. 37 million people — one out of every eight residents — were born in another country. 12 million people — one–third of the foreign–born population — are illegal. This is not a pretend issue.
Partial birth abortion, for example, affects at most 8 out of every 10,000 abortions. It may have symbolic meaning to quite a few Americans, but it has no practical meaning in the number of abortions that occur each year. Illegal immigration affects practically every community. Unlike the last major immigration law overhaul debate in 1986 that affected almost exclusively the border states of California, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, today’s illegal immigration population has exploded in states like Wisconsin, Georgia, Massachusetts, Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Arkansas, and even Alaska.
Progressives are playing with fire if they relegate those who express deep reservations about illegal immigration to the categories of intolerant, anti–Hispanic, or mean–spirited. People are concerned because they have a right to be.
We conducted a poll of 1,236 likely voters with an oversample of Hispanics and African-Americans. From the results of this poll, we advised progressives that there were three arguments they must win in order to command the immigration debate and two lessons that they should heed.
Lesson one is don’t confuse support with popularity. By an 83-15% margin, voters support immigration reform that provides illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. However, 60% of these same voters believe that “deporting all 12 million illegal immigrants back to their home countries would be a good goal.”
This is not a contradiction, but a complexity. Voters are torn on this issue. They believe illegal immigrants are hard working, decent people and they are willing to grant them the full rights that come with citizenship. At the same time, they believe they are a burden to the taxpayer and lawbreakers. This complexity is the key to solving the immigration wedge and winning the three arguments necessary to do so.
Lesson two is to understand that Democrats enter the debate with baggage. We read statements to voters and asked them whether they thought this was something a Democrat, Republican, neither or both parties would say. I don’t care if they broke the law, illegal immigrants deserve the same rights and privileges as American citizens. By a margin of 30-points, Independents said that’s a Democrat. We should help illegal immigrants get a job even if it costs an American citizen a job. Again, by 30-points, Independent voters said that’s a Democrat.
Understanding these preconceived notions is critical when it comes time to choose the right messages. Democrats are always inclined to stress fairness, compassion and justice to illegal immigrants — it’s simply in their nature. But voters already expect Democrats to be fair, compassionate, and just — to a fault. An effective Democratic message must, in this case, challenge voters’ preconceived notions, not reinforce them.
With these lessons in mind, here are the three arguments that must be won to control the terrain:
Argument #1: Fairness to taxpayers — Voter compassion toward illegal immigrants ends where their taxpayer interests begin. By a two to one margin, voters believe that illegal immigrants are a burden to taxpayers. Their number one goal for reform is fairness to taxpayers.
That means progressives must frame all of their positions as the fairest to taxpaying Americans. For example, citizenship must be earned by paying back taxes and a fine. Citizenship will turn illegal immigrants into taxpayers and force businesses to pay the taxes they now avoid by hiring illegal labor. Immigration reform will eliminate the shadow economy that allows workers and employers to evade taxes.
Argument #2: Why are they here — If voters believe that illegal immigrants are in their town, county, state, or country to get government benefits like in-state college tuition, drivers’ licenses, or Social Security, progressives lose. If voters believe they are here to get jobs from unscrupulous businesses that turn a blind eye to the law, progressives win.
Voters will believe that immigrants came here to get jobs, but only if they are reminded. If the other side wins the framing debate over benefits, it will be a death-by-a-thousand-cuts result for pro-reform progressives.
Argument #3: Who is to blame — Under President Bush, enforcement of illegal immigration laws at the border has declined by 31%. And under Bush a person is more likely to be eaten by an alligator than to be prosecuted for hiring illegal labor. Republicans have a fatal vulnerability on enforcement that progressives must exploit.
Their failure to enforce the law can be explained in any of three ways: sheer incompetence, linking the conservative philosophy of smaller government to failure to man the border, or a conspiracy of failure between an Administration that chooses to ignore existing laws in order to benefit the business interests that bankroll their campaigns and hires illegal labor.
We wrapped these arguments and lesson together into a simple message that we urged progressive candidates and elected officials to use to describe their position on illegal immigration: tough, fair and practical. Tough on the border, fair to taxpayers, and practical in terms of restoring the rule of law and dealing with those already here. We advised progressives to define the opposition as ineffective, expensive, and impractical.
These are not incendiary words to describe conservatives, but they are the most effective. When we asked people how they would describe the House Republican enforcement-only plan, the overwhelming word they chose was impractical. Mean-spirited and anti-Hispanic measured far behind.
Is tough, fair and practical too tough for Hispanics and immigration advocacy organizations? It’s not. First, Hispanics are not monolithic on this issue. 51% of Hispanics said that deporting all 12 million illegal immigrants back to their home countries would be a good goal.
Second, Hispanic goals for reform are the same as those of whites: fairness to taxpayers, restoring the rule of law, finding a practical solution, and securing the border were the top four for both. In fact, it is fair to say that voters overwhelmingly support the path to citizenship because Hispanics and whites both feel it is the most practical solution to a problem they view as out of control.
No message will work unless it is used and used often. Third Way was invited by congressional campaign chairs Chuck Schumer and Rahm Emanuel to brief all of their challengers. We were asked to lead a conference call to political consultants, pollsters, and campaign managers. We traveled to Charleston for the National Governors Association and spent an hour with nine Democratic governors. And the Service Employees International Union convened a meeting of all the immigration advocacy organizations to hear our presentation.
As expected, Republicans went on the offensive first on immigration, hammering Democrats for supporting “amnesty” and providing generous benefits to those who don’t deserve it. This time, however, Democrats were ready. Tennessee Senate hopeful Harold Ford, Jr. ran an ad excoriating his opponent for hiring illegal labor and for supporting a Bush policy that fails to enforce the laws on the books. Pennsylvania candidate Bob Casey turned the tables on Rick Santorum on enforcement and called his own plan tough and fair to taxpayers. Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill blamed Republican incumbent Jim Talent for America’s immigration problem and for “allowing prosecution of employers for illegal hires to drop by 99%.” Even in Arizona where 1,000 illegal immigrants enter every day, Democrat Jim Pederson has so effectively neutralized the issue that the Los Angeles Times reported that “[immigration] isn’t likely to decide the state’s closely watched Senate contest.”
A funny thing happened to the Republican strategy of turning illegal immigration into this year’s gay marriage. Democrats have outflanked them and threaten to not only repel the immigration wedge but to win it.
With the clock ticking toward November 7th, here are the races where the immigration issue has been especially hot. In most of these races, the Republican candidate has run ads attacking his opponent on illegal immigration, and the Democrat has responded with messaging based on the tough, fair and practical framework.
• Colorado Governor: Democrat Bill Ritter versus Republican Bob Beauprez
• Arkansas Governor: Democrat Don Beebe versus Republican Asa Hutchinson
• Wisconsin Governor: Democrat Incumbent Jim Doyle versus Republican Mark Green
• Pennsylvania Senate: Democrat Bob Casey versus Republican Incumbent Rick Santorum
• Missouri Senate: Democrat Claire McCaskill versus Republican Incumbent Jim Talent
• Tennessee Senate: Democrat Harold Ford, Jr. versus Republican Larry Corker
• Arizona Senate: Democrat Jim Pederson versus Republican Incumbent John Kyl
• Colorado House (7): Democrat Ed Perlmutter versus Republican Rick O’Donnell
• South Carolina House (5): Democrat Incumbent John Spratt versus Republican Ralph Norman
• Ohio House (1): Democrat John Crowley versus Republican Incumbent Steve Chabot
• North Carolina House (11): Democrat Heath Shuler versus Republican Incumbent Charles Taylor
• Indiana House (2): Democrat Joe Donnelly versus Republican Incumbent Chris Chocola
• Arizona House (8): Democrat Gabrielle Giffords versus Republican Randy Graf
• Indiana House (8): Democrat Brad Ellsworth versus Republican Incumbent Joe Hostettler
• Pennsylvania House (6): Democrat Lois Murphy versus Republican Incumbent Jim Gerlach

Jim Kessler is Vice President for Policy at Third Way