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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

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Dems Sobering Up for ’06 House Races

by EDM Staff
New York Times reporter Robin Toner has some strong black coffee for Dems still buzzed on the sweet wine of last Tuesday’s election results. In her post-mortem “An Opening for Democrats, However Slim,” Toner offers some sobering numbers outlining the challenge we face next November in winning a net pick-up of 15 seats needed for a House of Reps majority:

In the last three Congressional elections, the incumbent re-election rate has hovered from 96 to 98 percent, among the highest since World War II. In 2004, only seven incumbents were defeated in the general election, four of them Texas Democrats pushed into new districts engineered by Republicans.
…political analysts can identify only two or three dozen House seats that are, at the moment, competitive. Gaining 15 seats out of that small a group would be like threading a needle. In contrast, 15 months before the 1994 election, the Cook Political Report, an independent handicapper of House races, rated 89 seats as competitive – based on fund-raising, the strength of the incumbent and the challenger, and the political demographics of the district.
…by many measures, the Republicans had more targets of opportunity a decade ago than Democrats do today. In 1992, 56 Democrats won with 55 percent of the vote or less, an indicator of their vulnerability in 1994, according to Cook. Only 19 Republicans won with 55 percent or less in 2004.
Or consider this: 103 Congressional districts in 1992 voted for one party’s candidate for president and another party’s candidate for the House, a marker of a potential swing district. In 2004, there were only 59 such districts…
But perhaps the most striking advantage the Republicans had in 1994 was the number of Democratic retirements: there were 52 open seats that year, 31 of them that had been held by Democrats, according to Cook. So far in this cycle, Republicans have 13 open seats, Democrats 7. Open seats are much easier for the other party to capture.
Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster, noted that even in the toughest, throw-the-bums-out political season, like 1982 or 1994, only about 10 percent of incumbents are defeated.

Yet, as Toner notes, Dems have some promising advantages that could translate into upset victories, such as growing GOP ethics problems. Republicans will also be more wedded to failed Iraq policy, high gas prices and bungled hurricane relief 11 months from now. In addition, Linda Feldman’s article “Election ’05 Gives Democrats Hope” in The Christian Science Monitor spotlights Tim Kaine’s Virginia win as an indication that Dems may be able to turn growing public concerns about fiscal responsibility to their advantage. Feldman quotes Bob Holsworth, a political scientist at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond on the powerful precedent set for Dems by former Governor Warner:

What Mark Warner helped to do is transform the political culture of a red state and make it far more amenable to Democratic perspectives. Clearly, in Virginia and in the South, Democrats have found it successful to run as the fiscally responsible party. Given all the current spending by the Bush administration, there’s an opportunity for that message to resonate nationally.

Despite the daunting numbers cited by Toner, University of California redistricting expert Bruce Caine points out in her article, “The annals of redistricting are replete with stories of parties that thought they drew themselves into safety but got blown away.” And U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sees as many as 50 competitive House races. With good candidates, credible alternative policies and hard work, a net pick-up of 15 of those House seats should be possible.


Some Lessons from ’05 Elections

by Pete Ross
The Donkey romped yesterday, and the results suggest some lessons for political strategists:
1. Dems can win in the South.

Virginia has two Republican Senators, but it is officially purple, having now elected two consecutive Democratic Governors. Tim Kaine’s win is all the more impressive, considering Virginia’s large evangelical community. It may have helped that he spoke sincerely about his faith (Catholic), and perhaps southern Dem candidates ought to study his balanced handling of religion as a possible template.

2. Tip was right…sort of

O’Neill’s dictum “All politics is local” held up nicely, as meddlesome W discovered. However Bush’s support for loser Kilgore in Virginia indicates that national leaders interfering in local races can have a negative impact. In St. Paul, Democratic Mayor Randy Kelly, a Bush supporter also went down.

3. Don’t even mention your opponent’s family.

Republican Forrester’s disgusting attempt to use Corzine’s divorce against him backfired big time, although Corzine may have won NJ anyway.

4. Arrogance doesn’t sell.

Arnold’s powerplay to reshape California politics flunked in a huge (zero for four) way. Voters also rejected reapportionment reform in Ohio, another indication that the public may prefer to leave the issue to the state Legs.

All in all, a great day for Dems, and the scope of Dem victories bodes well for ’06 elections — less than a year from today.


Dems Up Double Digits in Congressional Races

by EDM Staff
The latest ABC News/Washington Post Poll should keep the National Republican Congressional Committee spin doctors busy. The poll found that 52 percent of registered voters say they would vote for the Democrat in their congressional district if the election “were being held today,” compared to 37 percent for Republican candidates. The poll, which was conducted 10/30-11/2, also reported that 55 percent of Americans said they would like to see Democrats “in control of Congress after the congressional elections a year from now,” compared to 37 percent for Republicans.
In their Sunday WaPo article “Voter Anger Might Mean an Electoral Shift in ’06,” writers Dan Balz, Shailagh Murray and Peter Slevin ventured “many strategists say that if the public mood further darkens, Republican majorities in the House and Senate could be at risk…A Democratic takeover of either the House or Senate is not out of the question.
Reviewing the poll data, the authors see signs of a political reallighnment:

None of these results can be used to predict the future, but together they explain why many GOP strategists privately are in such an anxious mood. One claimed that this is the most sour environment for the party in power since 1994, when Democrats lost 53 House and seven Senate seats and surrendered their majority. Another said Republicans have not faced such potential backlash since 1982, when the party lost 26 House seats in the midst of a recession.

With less than a year to go before the ’06 elections, Dems have good reasons to be optimistic. But the poll did offer a cautionary clue for Dems looking toward ’08. Asked which party had “stronger” leaders, respondents picked the GOP with 51 percent, compared to 35 percent for Dems. Between now and the next presidential primary season, Dem candidates should work harder on projecting elements of perceived strength, such as clarity and consistency.


Dems’ Best Focus: Alito’s Anti-worker Record

by Pete Ross
Nathan Newman, director of Agenda for Justice, has a good read at TPM Cafe,”Scalito on Workers Rights,” alerting Dems to Judge Alito’s long history of undermining laws that protect working people from abuses on the job. While there is a lot in Alito’s record for Dems to be concerned about, particularly with respect to women’s reproductive rights, Dems will be missing an opportunity if they don’t give strong emphasis to opposing Alito because of his rubber stamping corporate arguments against worker rights. As Newman notes:

What is striking about Alito is that he is so hostile even to the basic right of workers to have a day in court, much less interpreting the law in their favor…

Newman cites cases in which Alito opposed majority decisions on worker’s rights with respect to minimum wage, discrimination, pensions, public employee rights and union protection. He points out that Alito wrote “anti-worker majority decisions” on exempting employers from the Family and Medical Leave Act, “putting him to the right of William Rehnquist.”

His opposition to the Family Medical Leave Act will be highly unpopular with middle class voters and should be the focus of any fight against Alito. Family Medical Leave is sacred ground for working people with children–republican, democratic, and independent. Paint the republicans as anti-family leave and you have a huge political victory.

Molly Selvin’s article “Court Nominee Has Free-Market Bent: Bush’s choice to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has a pro-business record” in today’s LA Times also cites cases in which Alito revealed his strong anti-worker bias. Selvin quotes Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School:

Alito gives every indication that he will be a strong ally for business interests on the court…He will be swimming in the deep right of the court’s pool on business questions

Newman is skeptical about Dems’ rising to the challenge of making concern for worker rights the centerpiece of their oppostion to Alito. But, if the Dems are going to go all out against Alito, focusing their arguments as champions of worker rights has the greatest potential for building a broad groundswell for defeating the Alito nomination — and for strengthening the Dems’ credibility with working people in November, ’06.


WSJ/Harris Poll: Majority Now Feel Iraq War Was Wrong

by EDM Staff
For the first time, a majority of Americans now say that “military action in Iraq was the wrong thing to do,” according to a new interactive Harris Poll. The poll found that 53 percent of Americans feel military action in Iraq was wrong, with 34 percent saying it was the right thing to do.
In addition, the Wall St. Journal reported that:

Sixty-one percent of Americans say they aren’t confident U.S. policies in Iraq will be successful, slightly higher than 59% who lacked confidence in September. Additionally, only 19% of Americans surveyed believe the situation for U.S. troops in Iraq is improving, while 44% believe it is getting worse.

The poll also found that 66 percent of respondents gave a negative rating of “the job President Bush has done in handling the issue of Iraq over the last several months.” The poll was conducted 10/11-17, before the milestone of 2,000 American soldiers killed in Iraq was reached last week.


Health Care Poll: Americans Want Change

by EDM Staff
A just-released Harris Interactive Poll should strongly encourage Democratic candidates to support a broad range of health care reforms. The poll, conducted 9/6-12, measured attitudes of Americans of different faiths on a dozen health and health care-related issues, and found scant support for conservative or status quo health care policies, except among ‘born-again Christians’ and evangelicals. According to the poll:

Medicare (health insurance for the elderly and disabled). Fully 96 percent of adults support Medicare, including 92 percent or more of all religious categories.
Birth control/contraception is supported by 93 percent of all adults, including 90 percent of Catholics and 88 percent of born-again Christians, the “very religious” and Evangelicals.
Condom use to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases is supported by 92 percent of adults, including 93 percent of Catholics, 82 percent of born-again Christians, 83 percent of the “very religious” and 81 percent of Evangelicals.
Medicaid (health insurance for people with very low incomes) is supported by 91 percent of all adults, including 88 percent of all religious categories.
Sex education in high schools is supported by 87 percent of the public, but only by 76 percent of born-again Christians, 77 percent of the “very religious” and 72 percent of Evangelicals.
Funding of international HIV prevention and treatment programs is supported by 87 percent of the public, including not less than 82 percent of all religious categories.
Universal health insurance is favored by 75 percent of all adults, including 63 percent or more of all religious groups.
Embryonic stem cell research is favored by 70 percent of all adults, including 70 percent of Catholics. However, it is supported by only 45 percent of born-again Christians, 38 percent of Evangelicals and 51 percent of the “very religious.”
Funding of international birth control programs is supported by 70 percent of the public, including 66 percent of Catholics, but only 53 percent of born-again Christians and 48 percent of Evangelicals.
Withdrawal of life support systems/food for those in a vegetative state is supported by 68 percent of the public, but by only 47 percent of born-again Christians and 45 percent of Evangelicals.
Abortion rights (which were not defined) are supported by 63 percent of the public, including 56 percent of Catholics, but by only 30 percent of born-again Christians, 39 percent of the “very religious” and 28 percent of Evangelicals.
Abstinence from sex before marriage is supported by 63 percent of the public, but by fully 85 percent of born-again Christians, 85 percent of the “very religious” and 91 percent of Evangelicals.

Interestingly, the views of Catholics were not significantly dissimilar from other groups:

…the attitudes of Catholics are generally very similar to those of all adults and, on some issues, very unlike the official position of the Pope and the Church. For example, overwhelming majorities of Catholics favor contraception (90%), condom use to prevent HIV and STD infections (93%), the funding of international birth control programs (66%), embryonic stem cell research (70%) and the withdrawal of life support for those in a vegetative state (68%). A majority (56%) also supports abortion rights.

The poll did not measure the opinions of Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists. And the report was unclear as to whether “universal health insurance” was defined for respondents as covering all illnesses and all expenses. Taken together with recent polls discussed in EDM posts by Ruy Teixeira on September 10th and 16th, it is clear that Democratic candidates have little to lose by supporting bold health care reforms — and a lot to win.


Bush’s Net Job Approval Tumbles in State Polls

by EDM Staff
President Bush’s net job approval fell to minus 21 in October, down from minus 16 in September, according to 50 separate but concurrent SurveyUSA statewide polls conducted 10/14-16. The President had a positive net job approval rating in just 7 states (UT, ID, WY, AK, NB, OK and ND), and a negative rating in 41 states — including 21 “red” states he won in 2004.
When all of the state polls are combined and proportionately averaged, 59 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Bush is doing, while 38 percent approve. SurveyUSA reports that Bush’s net job approval fell by double digits in TX, SC, MS, TN, MI, IL and NC.


Dem Theme for ’06: GOP’s ‘Culture of Corruption and Incompetence’

Janet Hook’s “Storm Clouds Hanging Over Republicans” in today’s LA Times reveals more GOP-nail biting overt the effect of their corruption problems in next year’s congressional elections. Hook quotes several Republican insiders:

“This vague issue of corruption hanging over Republicans is not good, because it is the one thing on which Democrats don’t have to have an alternative policy . . .I don’t want that cloud over us going into [next year’s] elections…Of all the things hanging out there, the one that Republicans are most concerned about is Abramoff, because nobody knows where it’s going to lead” – former Rep. Vin Weber
“You have Frist, DeLay, the Plame case, and you have Democrats with a theme: the culture of corruption and incompetence. [Republicans] are concerned that next year could be a bad year.” – a GOP lobbyist who requested anonymity
“This is not the environment we want to have come next year” – Republican pollster David Winston

Hook and others have reported that the tarnishing of the GOP’s image has helped to ignite a prairie fire of appealing Dem ‘outsider’ candidates for congress. But Republicans have always been particularly good at floating distractions from their internal problems and from some of their less popular policies. For an insightful discussion about the GOP’s ‘wicked genius’ for evasive action, see Christopher Hayes’ “No Right Turn ; If Americans haven’t gotten more conservative, why is the GOP in charge?” in the current issue of the Washington Monthly.
Bottom line is that the GOP’s ethics problems offer fresh hope to Dem challengers in the months ahead. But it doesn’t relieve Dem candidates of their obligation to provide credible alternatives.


Dem Hopes Rise Amid Limp GOP ’06 Campaign

by EDM Staff
Ezra Klein has a post in TAPPED on the recent NRCC memo to the House GOP conference, trumpeting unbridled bravado about their ability to retain their congressional majorities in next year’s elections. Natch, the memo lists all of the Republicans assets, such as cash, incumbency and limited playing field. The memo was undoubtedly a response to recent comments by twitchy Republicans expressing concern about Bush’s approval ratings, the Iraq quagmire and the strong possibility of perp walks by GOP leaders in the months ahead. For a more realistic assessment, check out Charles Babington and Chris Cillizza’s piece in today’s WaPo, “For GOP, Election Anxiety Mounts.” Among other factors, the authors cite:

…Republican operatives, including some who work closely with the White House, privately point to what they regard as a lackluster performance by Sen. Elizabeth Dole (N.C.) as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the group that heads fundraising and candidate recruitment for GOP senators.
But some strategists more sympathetic to Dole point the finger right back. With an unpopular war in Iraq, ethical controversies shadowing top Republicans in the House and Senate, and President Bush suffering the lowest approval ratings of his presidency, the waters look less inviting to politicians deciding whether to plunge into an election bid. Additionally, some Capitol Hill operatives complain that preoccupied senior White House officials have been less engaged in candidate recruitment than they were for the 2002 and 2004 elections

Cillizza and Babington provide some interesting thumbnail sketches of GOP candidate recruitment problems in various states. They could have also cited recent polls asking respondents which party they would vote for in their congressional districts if the election were held today. Polling Report has the results of polls taken during the last month that show Dem leads on this question at 5,8,9, 8 and 12 percent in polls by Newsweek, Fox News, Democracy Corps, The Winston Group and Pew Research Center respectively.


R.I.P. ‘Contract with America’

Decembrist Mark Schmitt has a post scolding the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for its “monumentally stupid” unearthing of the long-dead ‘Contract with America.’ Schmitt says:

Eleven years is a long time. Yes, to Washington Dems the Contract with America is still a living, breathing monster. Many of us lost our jobs because of it. (I didn’t, but I would have been in line for a very cool job if Democrats had retained the Senate.) But does the Contract have any meaning for ordinary people after 11 years, three presidential elections, an impeachment, Sept. 11, a war, etc.? I’m open to hearing about poll numbers that indicate otherwise, but I suspect the answer is no.

Schmitt takes the DCCC to task for embracing a custom-tailored GOP “frame” and notes further:

The whole breach-of-contract argument is internal and process-oriented. It’s an insiders’ argument to insiders. What does it have to do with war, economic security, global challenges, hurricanes and floods, etc. Yes, reform is a key theme and Democrats must embrace it, but not in a bloodless good-government way. It’s got to be integrally connected to the things people care about in life, and in the non-political aspects of their life.

And then, the nut graph:

If Democrats expect to capitalize on the emerging scandals, indictments, chaos, and the President’s unpopularity to nationalize a congressional election for the first time since 1994, they have to find one or two clear points, substantive points, that are our own and that would matter: universal health care, preparedness for future crises, economic security, bring the war in Iraq to an end — something serious that people can grab onto. Talking about someone else’s 11-year-old Contract is no substitute.

The bottom line is that the Republicans are doing a wonderful job of destroying themselves, and we don’t have to go back more than a decade to highlight their failures. What’s missing is a projection of the Democratic Party as the credible alternative. The sooner the DCCC meets that challenge head on and full-strength, the better our chances in November ’06.