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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


Teixeira: A Plug for the White Working Class Roundtable Website

by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis (cross-posted from his facebook page): 

Since we’ve been talking about the white working class and its importance to the Democratic party, allow me to point you toward a new website dedicated to that very proposition. Published by the good folks at The Democratic Strategist (a site I co-founded many moons ago) the site allows you to access the entire contents of the recent book, Democrats and the White Working Class, which has twelve–count ’em, 12!–great essays on this topic. The site also contains a variety of other useful materials on the issue.

I particularly recommend Andrew Levison’s summary essay, “Five Fundamental Challenges Democratic Candidates Must Get Right If They Want to Win the Support of Non-Racist White Working Class Americans”.

The White Working Class Roundtables

(Read More here)

SCOTUS Ruling Improves Dem 2018 Prospects, May Block ‘Extreme Partisan Gerrymandering’

At CNN Politics ‘The Point,’ Chis Cillizza reports some very good news for Democrats:

On Monday afternoon, the Supreme Court handed Democrats a major victory in the party’s attempt to retake the House this November, turning aside an appeal by Pennsylvania Republicans that would have kept the state’s new congressional map from being in effect for the coming primary and general elections in the Keystone State.

“For Democrats, it means a likely pickup of additional 4-5 seats,” said Marc Elias, a noted Democratic elections lawyer. “Democrats only need 23 to retake the majority in the House, so this is one big chunk.”…The new map, which now almost certainly will be the lines under which candidates will run in 2018, also handed Democrats a series of opportunities including at least three seats in southeastern Pennsylvania and several more improved opportunities in places like Allentown and southwestern Pennsylvania.

Cillizza adds that “Democrats could raise that to five seats, then more than 20% of all the seats they need to pick up to retake the majority might come from Pennsylvania alone.” In addition, “there is the broader import of the Supreme Court declining to hear the redistricting appeal by Pennsylvania Republicans. Pennsylvania is one of a handful of states with ongoing battles over how much partisanship and politics is too much partisanship and politics when it comes to redistricting.”

Further, “If the Court ultimately decides that extreme partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional, it will have a profound effect on how maps gets drawn — and who controls the House majority — in 2021 and beyond.”

Adam Liptak notes in The New York Times that “The latest application was denied by the full Supreme Court without comment or noted dissents.” Also, he ads,

Hours before the Supreme Court issued its order, a panel of three federal judges rejected a third and quite similar challenge to the State Supreme Court’s map from Republicans in Pennsylvania’s State Senate. The panel of two United States district judges and one federal court of appeals judge said the Republican senators did not have standing to sue…While further court challenges are possible, Monday’s decisions make it very likely that this year’s congressional elections in Pennsylvania will be conducted using the new map, which will help Democrats.

The ruling caps a great week for Democrats, particularly Pennsylvania Democrats. And if the SCOTUS trend against partisan gerrymandering continues, it will be great for American democracy, as well

Chait: ‘Conor Lamb Strategy’ Can Work Again

In his New York Magazine post, “Democrats Can Run the Conor Lamb Strategy Over and Over,” Jonathan Chait makes a case that Democrats can replicate the ‘Conor Lamb strategy’ to good efect in the 2018 midterm elections:

…There are a lot of Conor Lambs out there. Very early in the election cycle, Democrats recruited candidates with nontraditional backgrounds, especially in the military, who would appeal to voters in red districts. “A rough profile of [Democrats’] ideal candidate has started to emerge: veterans, preferably with small business experience too,” reported Politico last April. “They’d like as many of them to be women or people who’ve never run for office before — and having young children helps.” The next month, Axios reported that Republicans were already worried about “Democrats recruiting unusually high-quality House candidates for the 2018 midterms.” It listed several:

— Jason Crow to challenge GOP Rep. Mike Coffman for Colorado’s 6th District. Crow’s bio: “[Led] a platoon of paratroopers during the invasion of Iraq and earned the Bronze Star for his combat actions during the invasion …”

— Chrissy Houlahan to challenge GOP Rep. Ryan Costello for Pennsylvania’s 6th District. Houlahan’s bio: Engineering degree from Stanford, Captain in the Air Force Reserve, chief operating office of an apparel company and of nonprofits.

— Josh Butner to challenge GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter for California’s 50th District. Butner’s bio: Navy SEAL, serves as trustee on a school board, and currently works for the dive equipment company, Aqua Lung.

“The unusual success Lamb showed in running a competitive race in Trump country,” concludes Chait, “is not a total fluke, but rather proof of concept for a strategy that could replicate itself across the country.”

In replicating the ‘Conor Lamb strategy,’ Democratic candidates should also emulate Lamb’s ability to avoid gaffes and blunders, his calibrated messaging strategy and, where possible, his outreach to labor unions, which can provide needed manpower for a winning ground game. Lamb was an excellent  candidate, in terms of both background and exceptionally-good judgement. As Chait points out, Dems have much to gain by studying his example.

Lamb Claims Victory With Small Lead, Dems Win Either Way

The official tally from the Pennsylvania Department of State indicates that, with 100 percent of precincts reporting in the PA-13 special election, Democrat Conor Lamb has 113,111 votes, while his Republican opponent, Richard Saccone has 112.532 and Libertarian Drew Gray Miller has 1,372. In percentage terms, Lamb has 49.83 percent of the vote, compared to Saccone’s 49.57 and Miller’s 0.6 percent.

Lamb claimed victory, telling his supporters that “we did it.” But Saccone has not yet conceded.

The official count for provisional and absentee ballots could take a couple more days. But Lamb appeared to be holding his own in terms of absentee ballots. Chris Potter reports at The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, that “as of 5:30 a.m. Wednesday: The unofficial total for absentee ballots in Washington County, shows Democrat Conor Lamb with 609 votes and Republican Rick Saccone, 547.” Washington County is one of four  counties in this district, and has a similar demographic profile as the district as a whole. Both the county and the district have 95 percent white residents.

A recount is possible, but not automatic. A recount can be requested, but it requires three voters in each requesting precinct to attest that error or fraud was committed. Recounts usually don’t change the result. In his post, “Recounts Rarely Reverse Election Results” at FiveThirtyEight, Carl Bialik notes,

Recounts typically don’t swing enough votes to change the winner. Out of 4,687 statewide general elections between 2000 and 2015, just 27 were followed by recounts, according to data compiled by FairVote, a nonpartisan group that researches elections and promotes electoral reform. Just three of those 27 recounts resulted in a change in the outcome, all leading to wins for Democrats: Al Franken’s win in Minnesota’s 2008 U.S. Senate race, Thomas M. Salmon’s win in Vermont’s 2006 auditor election and Christine Gregoire’s win in Washington’s 2004 gubernatorial race.

Lamb did not campaign directly against Trump, who came to the district to campaign for Saccone. Instead, Lamb focused on issues of specific concern to voters in the district, though sending Trump a message was likely a motivating factor for many Lamb voters. As Peter Baker and Michael D. Shear wrote in The New York Times,

Whether Mr. Lamb holds on to win the House seat matters less than the fact that he was so competitive in the first place. The rebuke of Mr. Trump came from deep inside Trump Nation, a part of western Pennsylvania that overwhelmingly supported him in 2016 and that typically would not seem likely to turn to a Democrat. The district is seen as so strongly Republican that the Democrats did not even field a candidate in recent years…..The tally was also a blunt rejection of the president’s political calculation that tax cuts and steel tariffs would persuade voters in a region once dominated by the steel industry to embrace the Trump agenda on behalf of Mr. Saccone. “Steel is back,” he repeatedly said at the rally, apparently to little effect.

Regardless of the outcome of any possible recount, credit Conor Lamb with a great campaign, with no significant blunders. His victory is instructive for all Democrats running in districts with a large percentage of white working-class voters.

UPDATE: MSNBC declares Conor Lamb the “apparent winner,” after further analysis of absentee and provisional ballots.

Teixeira: Conor Lamb’s Campaign Formula in PA-18 May Help Other Dems

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his facebook page

The PA-18 model for 2018?

Tuesday’s the big day in Pennsylvania’s 18th CD. Will Democrat Conor Lamb pull off the big upset of absurdly reactionary Trumpian Republican Rick Saccone?

To be honest, this one could go either way. But the very fact that the race is so tight and that Lamb could easily pull off the upset is amazing in and of itself.. This is a district that Trump carried by almost 20 points and it is about 60 percent white noncollege. According to Ron Brownstein, there are only six (!) districts that are more white than PA-18.

So how is Lamb making this election such a contest? The just-released Monmouth Poll tells the story. He is cleaning up among college-educated voters–winning them by 22 points–while being very competitive among noncollege voters–a modest 6 point deficit. (Given how white this district is, we can take these figures as close approximations of preferences among white college and white noncollege voters.)

This is a great formula and the key to a Democratic wave election that pushes into areas–and there are many–where minority voter concentrations are relatively small and white noncollege voters dominate.

If this election is a win for Lamb or even a very close loss, there is much to be learned here for a successful Democratic 2018.

Lamb Campaign Shows Democrats Can Win…If They Run

From The New York Times editorial, “Democrats Can’t Win if They Don’t Run“:

Regardless of who wins the special House election in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, the Democratic candidate, Conor Lamb, has already accomplished something impressive by showing that his party ought to contest every election — no matter how daunting the odds.

“You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take,” goes the line often attributed to the hockey great Wayne Gretzky and quoted in school gymnasiums ever since. It’s a lesson that bears repeating to Democratic Party leaders, who in recent years effectively surrendered many seats to Republicans under the mistaken belief that Democrats had no chance. For example, the party did not bother fielding candidates during the 2016 and 2014 elections for Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District seat, which recent polls show Mr. Lamb could narrowly win on Tuesday. While Donald Trump won the district by 20 percentage points, it has a large population of union members and more registered Democrats than Republicans.

“Even if Mr. Lamb loses on Tuesday,” the editorial continues, “analysts say he could easily win in November, when Pennsylvanians will vote under a new congressional map ordered by the State Supreme Court in an important gerrymandering lawsuit. Further,

It would be foolish to conclude that Mr. Lamb is doing well only because Mr. Saccone is not a good fund-raiser or that he has backed anti-union policies — two of the many criticisms leveled at him. Mr. Lamb has done what many Democrats have been unwilling or unable to do: speak directly and plainly to voters about their concerns. Smartly, he has not turned this race into a referendum on Mr. Trump’s popularity, which has been a losing proposition in other races, including in the 2016 presidential election. In this, he appears to have learned from the examples set by Mr. Jones and Democratic candidates who have won state legislative races in Virginia and elsewhere since the 2016 election.

In a sense, Lamb has already won by showing that Democrats can be competitive in historically-red districts, with good candidates, a well-organized campaign, a clear message and strong union support. Lamb has provided a potentially-powerful victory template for Dems, and they should make good use of it.

Vanden Heuval: Why the Democratic Party Must Make More Room for Progressives

In her Washington Post column, “Democratic Party establishment, it’s time to respect insurgent progressives,” Katrina vanden Heuval makes a persuasive case that “when insurgent forces are mobilized and a new progressive infrastructure is beginning to rise, Democrats should not revive a doomed strategy of excessive caution and deference to the permanent consultant class.”

Citing “genuine reasons for optimism” even in Texas, including “a huge enthusiasm gap in favor of Democrats,” a doubling of the 2014 turnout rate and “a new state record for early voting in a non-presidential election,” vanden Heuval notes that polls indicate that Democrats now have a realisic chance to pick up three House seats, as well as electing progressive Beto O’Rourke to the Senate. Further,

These chances for flipping seats aren’t unique to Texas. Across the country, including states and districts that Democrats have written off in prior elections, sustained grass-roots energy is boosting the party’s prospects. Yet there is also serious cause for concern, as some Democrats seem intent on sapping that energy in an attempt to reassert control of the party.

In late February, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), House Democrats’ official campaign arm, infuriated progressives by clumsily inserting itself in the primary in Texas’s 7th Congressional District. Although it’s not unusual for party committees to pick sides in primaries, the DCCC took the extraordinary step of publishing opposition research against Laura Moser, a progressive, pro-choice woman who has been a leader in the resistance to Trump. In 2017, Moser drew national attention when she created Daily Action, which enables subscribers to receive a text message every morning with a political action to take that day. But the DCCC disingenuously condemned Moser as a “Washington insider,” a particularly rich attack considering the source.

The cheap hit revealed how actual Washington insiders often work in the shadows to undermine progressives. The Intercept recently highlighted a number of primary races in which the DCCC and allied groups have taken sides based on wrongheaded views of candidates’ viability that largely come down to their ability to raise money. Also disheartening is that there are several cases of Democratic women attempting to thwart strong female candidates whose opponents are less progressive but more connected to donors. There is evidence suggesting that Emily’s List, which works to elect pro-choice women, has endorsed candidates (including one of Moser’s primary rivals) on the strength not of their progressive values but of their fundraising potential.

Tensions between the party and the progressive movement are threatening to bleed beyond this year’s midterms into the 2020 presidential race. Democratic National Committee members met last week to discuss proposed changes recommended by the Unity Reform Commission that was formed in the wake of the 2016 primary to make the nomination process more open, fair and inclusive of insurgent campaigns and their supporters. A vote on the proposals could come as early as this week, but there is a sense among those close to the debate that the party is unlikely to embrace the sweeping reforms that progressives are pushing for.

Vanden Heuval concludes with a warning that Democrats “may well never win in Texas or other similar places by quashing the passion of those who have been roused in this past year.”

Considering the divisive fallout in the wake of the DNC’s bias favoring Clinton over Sanders in 2016, the DCCC’s meddling in the Texas Democratic primary could prove costly in November if the Republicans hold these districts and Cruz’s senate seat by close margins. The same goes for other states.

There are compelling reasons why the  DNC, DSCC and the DCCC and other party institutions at the national and local levels would be wise to avoid taking sides in the primaries. There are plenty of other vehicles for supporting specific candidates for those who feel strongly about taking sides. But tainting the integrity of Democratic Party institutions by favoring candidates over other Democrats in primaries is a bad practice that is poised to backfire, perhaps in a big way. Neutrality in primaries is the safest bet for the DNC, DSCC and DCCC.

Biden Turns It On for Conor Lamb, Shows How to Reach Rust Belt Working-Class

Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigned for Democrat Conor Lamb in his race to represent PA-18, amped up the buzz for Biden’s possible 2020 campaign, and provided Democrats with an eloquent, heartfelt rhetorical template for appealing to white working-class voters across the Rust Belt.

Speaking at Robert Morris University Yorktown Hall in Moon Township, PA, Biden showed how Dems that there is a way to reach both blue collar workers and college students with the same appeal. As J.D. Prose writes at the Beaver County Times:

After rallying union workers at the Carpenters Training Center in Collier Township, Biden and Lamb, a Mount Lebanon resident, joined about 750 people packed into a banquet room inside Robert Morris University’s Yorktown Hall residence building on University Boulevard.

“My name is Joe Biden and I’m from Scranton, Pennsylvania … and I work for Conor Lamb,” Biden told the crowd shortly after taking the stage just past 7 p.m.

With a week to go before the March 13 special election, Biden hammered home that Lamb, a former federal prosecutor and Marine veteran, understands western Pennsylvania, middle-class values and would fight to protect the social safety net that Republicans have chipped away at under President Donald Trump.

Saying that Lamb reminds him of his late son Beau, Biden said it is because both served in the military and care about helping people. “It’s always been about the other guy with Conor,” Biden said.

Pointing out that Lamb’s Republican opponent was primed to cut Social Security and Medicare in line with GOP speaker Paul Ryan’s agenda, Biden said Lamb would “throw himself in front of a train before he allows that to happen.”

Calling Lamb a candidate “with real character” and a leader who brings “selfless integrity to public service,” Biden said Lamb reminded him of his late son, “He reminds me of my Beau because with Beau and with Conor, it’s about the other guy,” Biden said,” notes Daniel Uria in his report for U.P.I.  “He believes in hard work, he believes in labor. He’s not afraid to say the word ‘union.”

Lamb also connected with Biden, hailing the former V.P. and native of Scanton, PA as “a leader that everybody likes…who “knows in his bones the struggles” of workers.”

“Biden commended Lamb for withstanding “one of the biggest barrages of negative campaign advertising,” notes Uria. “Why are they so afraid of him?,” asked Biden. “Do you think they’re spending all this money … because they’re fearful he’s going to hurt the middle class? Do you think they give a damn about that?”

Biden also noted a critically-important benefit of a Conor Lamb victory on March 13th:

He also said a win for Lamb –the first Democrat to run in the district since 2012– could cause multiple Republicans to retire….”The impact would be profound. I promise if you if he wins you’re going to see probably another half a dozen Republicans say they’re not running again.”

Republicans who hope to hold Rust Belt seats in the House and Senate have a lot to worry about when Joe Biden shows up for Democrats. The former Veep not only helps individual Democratic campaigns; he shows his party how to connect effectively with working-class voters with heartfelt appeals to their sense of fairness, as well as self-interest. Democratic candidates should pay close attention.

Russo: Have Ohio Democrats Learned Anything About the Working Class?

The following article by John Russo, visiting researcher at the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University, co-author of Steeltown U.S.A.: Work and Memory in Youngstown, and co-editor with Sherry Linkon of the blog Working-Class Perspectives, is cross-posted from The American Prospect:

In presidential elections, Ohio has long been a swing state. Its voters supported Obama in 2008 and 2012, then swung right in 2016 to support Donald Trump. On the state level, however, Republicans have dominated for the past two decades. Only partly due to gerrymandering, they have a 12-to-4 advantage in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Democrats hold only nine of the 33 seats in the Ohio Senate and only a third of the 99 seats in the Ohio House. Republicans have also held the governorship for all but four years since 1990. Progressive U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, now seeking his third term, remains the only Democratic candidate to consistently win statewide elections.

Why has the Democratic Party lost so much ground in Ohio? To a large extent, it’s because they have lost the support of white working-class voters.

As in other Rust Belt states, a majority of Ohio voters are white people without college degrees. Fully 55 percent of the state’s voters belong to this demographic, while only 31 percent are white and college educated. In the polling booth, the gap between those with and without higher education has steadily increased, according to pollster Ruy Texiera. To win in Ohio, he argues, Democrats must “find a way to reach hearts and minds among white non-college voters.”

After two decades of losses, you might think that the Ohio Democratic Party would have figured that out. But for the most part, it has not. Instead, the current crop of Democratic candidates has focused on critiques of Trump, Kasich, and the Ohio legislature. They’ve raised concerns about gerrymandering and voter suppression, the opioid crisis, Ohio’s pitiful record on women’s issues, and the almost uniformly bad performance of for-profit charter schools. Valid concerns all, but the Democrats running for office in 2018 have offered almost nothing in the way of concrete economic platforms.


Lamb Campaign in PA-18 Special Election Tests Democratic Rust Belt Strategy

In her vox.com article “A Democrat getting outspent 17-1 is now neck and neck in deep-red Pennsylvania: “It’s enthusiasm I haven’t seen for a Democratic candidate for a long time” Ella Nilsen provides an update on Conor Lamb’s campaign. As Nilsen explains,

For the first time in nearly 15 years, Republicans in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District are starting to get nervous…On its face, the March 13 special congressional election in the southwest corner of Pennsylvania should be a breeze for the GOP. The Cook Political Report rates the district R+11 (due in part to partisan gerrymandering that the state Supreme Court recently ruled unconstitutional).

…Focused on recapturing blue-collar workers, Lamb’s campaign represents one school of thought — going back to labor-liberal economic values and working with unions to retake territory in Midwest and Rust Belt states that voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Others say the party must look to its future: voters of color and young people who represent its energized base, like it did to pull out a win for Doug Jones in Alabama’s December special election for US Senate.

Yet, “Republican and Democratic operatives in Pennsylvania agree on two things,” writes Nilsen. “Lamb is still very much the underdog in this race, but by getting support from unions that used to back Murphy and capitalizing on national Democratic enthusiasm, he has a fighting chance.” Also,

A recent Monmouth poll shows the Republican with a slight lead, hovering around 49 percent to 46 percent (models with lower turnout give Saccone a slightly larger lead). Given the steep odds, these numbers are extremely good for Lamb,” who is getting high marks for generating voter enthusiasm, while worried Republicans afre pouring money into defeating Lamb.

As for Lamb’s focus on key issues, Nilsen writes that Lamb’s platform addresses “jobs, protecting entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, organized labor, and helping end the heroin crisis currently ravaging the state…A practicing Catholic, he says that while he personally opposes abortion, he supports Roe v. Wade as the law of the land. As a veteran, he is also pro-Second Amendment.”

If Lamb has an edge going forward, it is likely from his strong support from labor unions. PA-18 includes 87,000 union members, including “energy workers,” building trades and teachers. Also, “Steelworkers are active, and although the district’s last coal mine recently closed down, tens of thousands of retired union coal workers and their spouses remain in the area.” According estimates, they could make up 20 to 30 percent of the electorate.

Lamb’s campaign is doing well in fund-raising. But so far Republicans have spent an estimated $4.7 on TV and radio ads, compared to the Lamb campaign’s $300K. Those who want to help the Democrat level the playing field can contribute to his campaign here.