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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


Teixeira: Wide Net Key to Democrats Midterm Hopes

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

More evidence that Democrats should not confine their efforts to affluent suburbia.

One common view on the struggle to reach white working class voters is that it’s just too damn hard. Democrats are making big progress with educated suburbanites, the argument goes, so it makes sense to clean up among these voters and not worry about those other voters who are so much harder to move.

Wrong. That’s what Nathaniel Rakich shows on 538 by digging into the actual data on 2017-18 special elections.

“It hasn’t quite reached the level of accepted conventional wisdom, but a narrative is starting to take hold that Democrats’ best path to a majority in the U.S. House is through the suburbs. We think the jury is still out, and you should be skeptical of these claims. Yes, Democrats have overperformed in the suburbs, but that’s because they’ve overperformed everywhere. If they’ve outperformed expectations among certain demographics more than others — and the picture is far too fuzzy to say for sure if they have — it’s probably been among working-class voters without college degrees.”

It would thus be foolish to concentrate on only certain kinds of districts and ignore others. In reality, the Democrats have reasonable chances in districts with a wide range of demographics. The only real mistake they can make is not to cast their net widely enough to take advantage of these openings.

Why Dem Ad-Buyers Should Check Out ABC’s Tuesday Night Shows

From Bill Keveny’s “Blue-collar TV: ‘Roseanne,’ ‘The Middle’ show working-class muscle in ABC’s Tuesday combo” at USA Today:

ABC has assembled a blue-collar comedy hour that’s likely to become a high-end ratings district, at least for its short duration.

Starting Tuesday, the network will pair Roseanne (8 ET/PT), which made shabby chic with a huge return last week (25 million viewers and counting) and a quick 11th-season renewal, with ninth-season Midwestern neighbor The Middle (8:30 ET/PT), presenting the first of its final six episodes.

The Conners of Roseanne and the Hecks of The Middle have different sensibilities, as evidenced by the lightning-rod reaction to Roseanne star Roseanne Barr. However, both represent a demographic — families surviving paycheck to paycheck, heartland division — that traditionally gets little representation on TV. (But maybe don’t call them proletarians, unless you’re talking to The Middle‘s Brick Heck.)

Keveny also cites ABC’s “Speechless,” NBC’s “Superstore” and Netflix’s “One Day at a Time” as other examples of network shows that are part of  “an uptick in TV characters living paycheck to paycheck” — shows that appeal to working-class families.

The ‘Roseanne’ reboot is getting lots of buzz, owing to the star, Roseanne Barr’s support of Trump. And yes, liberals are often the target of the jokes. But that doesn’t mean well-crafted ads for Democratic candidates won’t be effective, since many voters — and viewers — are conservative on some issues, liberal on others.

While most of these shows have white working-class characters in lead roles, “One Day at a Time” features a Cuban-American family. FX’s  drama, “Atlanta” often spotlights Black working-class characters and families. ‘Paycheck to Paycheck’ families of all races likely cross over in significant numbers to watch these shows.

Despite the increasing role of social media in presenting affordable political ads, television still rules when it comes to reaching massive numbers of voters quickly. In terms of internet political advertising, the Cook Political Report projects “a spend total of $600 million driven mostly by advertising done on Facebook,” compared to “$2.4 billion for local broadcast and $850 million for local cable for 2018.”

Creamer: Why Pelosi Is a Midterm Asset for Democrats

This was the chorus among the pundit class in the wake of Lamb’s upset victory in the special election earlier this month to represent Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District.

According to them, the fact that Rep. Nancy Pelosi is the face of House Democrats diminishes Democratic chances of winning many swing districts and regaining control of the House this fall. Or so many Democrats would have to publicly disavow Pelosi over the course of the campaign that she’d have to step aside after the midterm elections.

Some fret that the House minority leader does not present the right “face” for the Democratic Party, or that she’s too old, or that the GOP has made her toxic to many white working-class voters. A small group of Democratic lawmakers, some of whom have their own ambitions for House leadership, agree.

But these critics seem completely unaware of the actual dynamics of midterm congressional elections. And Lamb’s win in Pennsylvania helps demonstrate why they’re wrong.

The bottom line is simple: The fact that Nancy Pelosi is their House leader is a huge net positive for Democratic candidates this fall.

Unpopular House Leaders Don’t Matter

Of course, all congressional leaders have positives and negatives. Even though she was brought up in an ethnic Italian family from Baltimore, Republican attacks have managed to convince some white working-class voters that Pelosi is a “San Francisco liberal” who doesn’t share their culture or values.

Nationally, voters with negative opinions of Pelosi outstrip the number with positive opinions ― as in true for all the other current congressional leaders. But this isn’t surprising. Fewer than 20 percent of voters have a positive opinion of Congress as an institution. And Republican Speaker Paul Ryan has virtually the same net negative rating nationally as Pelosi.

More importantly, when CNN looked at the relationship between the popularity of congressional leaders and the outcomes of midterm elections, it found no correlation whatsoever.

In 1994, Rep. Newt Gingrich had net negatives of 8 percent. In other words, voters with an unfavorable opinion of him dominated those with a favorable opinion by a margin of 8 percentage points. He was considerably less popular at the time than Democratic Speaker Tom Foley. But the GOP picked up 54 seats that fall and won control of the House for the first time in 40 years, and Gingrich became the speaker.

By 1998, Gingrich’s popularity had plummeted further, but the GOP retained control of the House. While it did lose some seats that November, the biggest factor was not Gingrich’s lack of popularity. It was President Bill Clinton’s soaring approval ratings based on the strength of his economic successes.

In 2006, led by the relatively popular Nancy Pelosi, Democrats won back control of the House – this time because President George W. Bush’s approval ratings had cratered as a result of the Iraq War and his unsuccessful attempt to privatize Social Security.

In 2010, Republicans roared back into control, winning 63 new seats. But their leader, Rep. John Boehner, had a pre-election approval rating of -7 percent. Pelosi’s net negatives were also high. The GOP wave had nothing to do with the leaders’ relative popularity. It was driven by the unpopularity of President Barack Obama and the newly passed Affordable Care Act.

In 2014, both Boehner and Pelosi again had net negative ratings in the polls. But Obama’s continued unpopularity was the overriding factor and Democrats lost a dozen seats.

In short, while midterm outcomes have no correlation with congressional leaders’ approval ratings, they do correlate with the president’s popularity. In 2018, President Donald Trump’s numbers are the worst in a generation.

How Democrats Win In 2018

Two groups of voters affect the outcomes of elections.

First, there are the persuadable voters. These are people who generally vote, but sometimes they pick Republicans and sometimes they choose Democrats.

Second, there are a party’s mobilizable voters. These are people who would tend to vote for a particular party, but are unlikely to make the effort unless they are especially energized by the campaign or overall political situation. For Democrats this year, they include the many voters who were “woke” by Trump’s victory in 2016. Remember, if everyone in America always voted, Democrats would almost always win, since Americans broadly support the progressive Democratic agenda.

Also included among these persuadables and mobilizables are the 10 percent of the voters who actually switched their presidential choice from one party to another (or nothing) between 2012 and 2016. One analysis found that 4.3 percent of voters changed from Obama to a third party or did not vote. Some 3.6 percent switched from Obama to Trump. Finally, 1.9 percent moved their votes from Mitt Romney to Hillary Clinton.

The analysis found that most voters in all three subgroups lean left economically and respond well to a strong progressive economic message. It found that moving to the right on economics does not help Democrats with any of these groups ― while it risks losing some voters and demoralizing the energized base, especially among young adults.

It also found that most Obama-Trump voters who currently plan to stay with the GOP are more conservative on cultural issues ― but progressive on economics.

Even if they tried, Democrats couldn’t convince these voters that Democrats are more “nativist” and conservative on cultural issues than Trump and the GOP. What’s more, the Romney-Clinton voters are disgusted by conservative cultural appeals. And whatever Democrats say, Republicans will charge Democrats with being too “liberal” on these issues anyway.

Any attempt to down play cultural issues like immigration, LGBTQ rights, civil rights, women’s rights and gun violence would also demobilize the Obama-third party/no vote group.

The conclusion is clear: Democrats win by projecting a strong, populist economic message, including a heavy emphasis on health care. And they win by refusing to hedge on immigration, women’s rights, civil rights, etc. ― and by framing the debate in terms of values.

That is exactly the strategy that Nancy Pelosi has charted for the Democrats in the House.

She is also a powerful inspiration for persuading and mobilizing voters. Pelosi is especially energizing to women – probably the most critical element in the massive resistance to Trump. Her commitment to a progressive message is also key to holding onto the progressive core of the party and attracting young people.

Pelosi Is The Organizer Democrats Need

Since the popularity of congressional leaders isn’t a critical factor in which party wins elections, what qualities does a congressional leader need to increase the odds of victory?

It turns out that the chief role of congressional leaders is not to be the “face” of their respective party. It is to be a strategist, organizer, fundraiser and, above all, unifier of their forces, leading them into battle.

On that front, Pelosi has excelled.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has now recruited solid candidates to run in 100 of the 101 districts that it targets as in play this year. All but a handful of Republican incumbents ― even in very red districts ― have Democratic challengers. And Democratic fundraising during this electoral cycle is setting all manner of records, with no signs of letting up.

Pelosi herself is a prodigious fundraiser, bringing in $50 million personally for Democrats in 2017 alone. Since entering the Democratic leadership in 2002, according to DCCC records, she has personally raised an unprecedented $643.5 million for Democrats.

Pelosi meets regularly with scores of progressive organizations to seek their advice and unite the progressive movement.

And she does the hard work necessary to create a populist-progressive message for the fall. Recently she has undertaken a tour of a dozen cities to partner with progressive allies and raise awareness of the actual impact of the GOP tax law ― that over 83 percent of its benefits go to the top 1 percent and are paid for by stealing from Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and a tax increase on many middle-class families.

She has also helped sharpen that narrative with her brilliance as a legislative leader. She is better than any other congressional leader in modern history at holding together her caucus, because she understands the interests of every member ― and knows how to aggregate those interests into a common progressive agenda.

The now very popular Affordable Care Act was largely passed as a result of that legislative skill, and she held 100 percent of the caucus to defend it last year. As speaker, she passed legislation to rein in Wall Street after the financial collapse of 2008 and pushed through the $787 billion Recovery Act of 2009 that saved or created millions of jobs ― not to mention dozens of other major initiatives. In 2005, she led the then-minority party’s successful fight to stop President Bush’s attempt to privatize Social Security.

Pelosi again made headlines in February 2018 after smashing a 109-year-old record for her eight-hour speech on the House floor in support of Dreamers.

In the Pennsylvania special election, Republicans tried desperately to tar Lamb with the “liberal” Pelosi. They sought to use her to advance their broader negative narrative about the Democratic Party, and they promoted the GOP tax law. Their strategy failed on all points.

At the same time, the DCCC invested dollars. Progressive organizations and especially the labor movement mobilized on the ground. Lamb delivered a populist-progressive economic message. He talked about values. He projected the qualities of leadership that are decisive for swing voters.

Lamb won the district, even though Trump had taken it in 2016 by 20 percentage points.

The attacks on Pelosi didn’t move persuadable voters. Neither did they stoke the Republican base to generate more turnout. Republican candidate Rick Saccone’s vote was only 52 percent of Trump’s total. Lamb got 79 percent of Clinton’s vote.

This fall there are 114 GOP-held seats that are more competitive for Democrats than Pennsylvania’s 18th District.

If Democrats are successful in catching the anti-Trump wave and channeling it into victory on Nov. 6, it will not be in spite of Nancy Pelosi. It will be because Democrats in the House chose one of the most effective message strategists, organizers, fundraisers and political generals in modern American history to be their leader.

Teixeira: Why Dems Must Prioritize Education

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

How important should the issue of education be to the left? I’d say very important indeed: the provision of more and more widely-distributed educational opportunity is absolutely central to the life-chances and economic mobility of the working and middle classes, for whom the left presumably stands. Making early childhood education available for all is part of this, as is more effective elementary and secondary education and much easier access to a college education.

Raising the quality and quantity of educational attainment helps individual workers but it does much more. Broad diffusion of knowledge and skills is a powerful countervailing force on rising inequality, as Thomas Piketty has noted. And the role of rising societal skill levels in promoting economic growth is well-documented.

So what’s not to like? Oddly, there is considerable reticence on this issue, with many arguing that education is over-rated, doesn’t pay off for too many students and anyway doesn’t solve the “real” problems that the honest workers and peasants of America face. Of course, these arguments are typically made by highly educated people who would move heaven and earth to get their kids into good school systems and colleges.

I was therefore pleased to see this excellent piece by David Leonhardt. As he notes:

“Given the passions of the Trump era, this isn’t the moment to settle for the modest, technocratic education proposals that Democrats often favor. It’s a time for big, ambitious ideas.

In education, that means universal preschool, which would address both inequality and child-care needs, and universal tuition-free community college. A century ago, the United States led the world toward universal high school, and today’s economy demands more than a high-school diploma. Community colleges are part of the answer, and are also a common pathway to four-year degrees. Importantly, free tuition there isn’t a huge subsidy for the upper middle class and the affluent, who typically start at four-year colleges.”

Conor Lamb’s Victory in PA and White Working Class Voters

The following article by Andrew Levison and TDS Managing Editor Ed Kilgore, co-directors of The White Working Class Roundtable, is cross-posted from a Democratic Strategist e-blast:

Conor Lamb’s victory in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district required winning strong majorities among college educated whites in the suburbs around Pittsburgh but it could not have been achieved without also sharply reducing the margin of victory that Trump achieved in 2016 among whites without a college degree. The district includes many union members and other white working class voters who comprise around 60% of the population, many living in small towns. In 2016, Trump carried the two counties that have few college graduates by over 60%.

Last week Lamb held his opponent’s margin to 57% in one of these two counties and 53% in the other — providing the critical margin for his victory.

This TDS Strategy Memo discusses five key strategies behind Lamb’s victory in detail and explains how Democratic candidates can apply them to regain support among white working class Americans.

Most of the analyses of Lamb’s strategy in this election focused on his carefully calibrated “moderate-to-liberal” policy stances on specific issues ranging from abortion and gun control to economics and social security and union rights. But in seeking lessons for other candidates running in areas with substantial numbers of white working class voters there are five other important strategic lessons that can be learned.

  1. Lamb did not pander to racial prejudice or the demonization of immigrants. He won by seeking votes among white working class Trump voters who were not motivated by racial and ethnic bias and intolerance.
  2. Lamb’s campaign placed partisan conflict in the broader framework of the widespread cynicism and disgust that exists regarding corruption and “big money” domination of the political system as a whole. His refusal to be defined as a “Nancy Pelosi Democrat” was designed as a signal that he was seeking to move beyond “business as usual” in the political system.
  3. Lamb’s campaign was based on promising authentic and sincere representation rather than support for any broad Democratic agenda. He emphasized local issues and his identification with the actual needs of his constituents rather than adherence to any formal national agenda.
  4. Lamb had deep personal roots in the district. His father and grandfather were well-known political figures and Lamb himself grew up in the district. After military service, he returned to the state to work as a federal prosecutor.
  5. Lamb did not strictly follow either of the two main Democratic political strategies — Bernie Sanders’ progressive populism or “third way” centrism. He shaped his campaign platform to the specific contours of his district rather than allying himself with either broad strategic approach.

Visit The White Working Class Roundtable wesbsite.

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.