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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Democratic Strategist

2017 Has Been One Long Argument for a 2018 Democratic Wave

After sorting through the Alabama results and comparing them to other 2017 special elections, I figured it was time to look ahead, so I did just that at New York.

[T]he [Alabama] results were entirely consistent with the pro-Democratic trend that has persisted throughout 2017’s special and off-year elections. That would have been the case even if Roy Moore had eked out a narrow win. Republicans can, as Donald Trump has done, rationalize this or that 2017 defeat as being an anomaly. But it is impossible to take an honest look at the overall pattern of 2017 contests without hearing the not-so-distant rumbling of a likely 2018 wave for Democrats.

Harry Enten conducted a comprehensive analysis of 2017 special elections — all 70 of them — taking into account the established partisan “lean” of the jurisdiction being contested.

“The Democratic margin has been 12 percentage points better, on average, than the partisan lean in each race. Sometimes this has resulted in a seat flipping from Republican to Democratic (e.g. in the Alabama Senate face-off on Tuesday or Oklahoma’s 37th state Senate District contest last month). Sometimes it has meant the Democrat barely lost a race you wouldn’t think a Democrat would be competitive in (e.g. in South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District in June). Sometimes it’s merely been the case that the Democrat won a district by an even wider margin than you’d expect (e.g. in Pennsylvania’s 133 House District last week).

“The point is that Democrats are doing better in all types of districts with all types of candidates. You don’t see this type of consistent outperformance unless there’s an overriding pro-Democratic national factor.”

The best elections to examine in order to figure out whether Democrats can win back the U.S. House in 2018 are the seven congressional special elections of 2017. Republicans won five and Democrats two (a winning percentage that’s not surprising since all but one of these elections were triggered by members of Congress joining the Trump administration). But as Enten notes, the average vote-percentage swing to Democrats from prior established partisan levels was 16 points. In a polarized electorate, that’s a large swing indeed.

In thinking about this pattern, keep in mind that the demographic groups most likely to vote Democratic typically don’t proportionately turn out for non-presidential elections, and particularly for special elections. There is a powerful trend under way.

While any single special congressional election is not necessarily predictive of future election results, in larger batches they are highly correlated to the next election coming down the pike. Enten looks at special elections prior to the last six midterms and finds that on average the partisan swing in the former is within three percentage points of the partisan swing in the latter. That would suggest a double-digit Democratic swing (or something close to it) in 2018.

If that seems extravagant, look at the congressional generic ballot (a simple polling question about which party the respondents would like to control the U.S. House), itself highly correlated with the national House popular vote. According to the RealClearPolitics polling average, Democrats currently have an 11-point advantage, the highest they’ve enjoyed since last year’s elections.

The question of exactly how big a margin in the national House popular vote Democrats would need to gain the 24 net seats required for control of the House is a difficult one. Political scientist Alan Abramowitz has just published an analysis of House elections dating back to 1946, which also takes into account the impact of GOP-controlled redistricting after 2010, and concludes that a Democratic win as small as four points could do the trick. David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report thinks a seven- or eight-point win would be necessary.

Despite the clear trends, there remain a lot of unknown variables as we head toward the midterms, most notably presidential approval ratings and retirements. But the current occupant of the White House has a highly polarizing approach to politics that almost certainly caps his approval ratings (which have never been above 46 percent in any event). And Republican retirements are definitely outpacing those of Democrats; 26 House Republicans are either calling it a day or running for other offices. There’s no telling where the much-rumored investigations of sexual misconduct by large numbers of congressmen will lead. But as Jonathan Chait points out, there are 219 Republican men in Congress as opposed to just 132 Democratic men, so the odds of net damage to the GOP (and to a GOP-controlled institution) are high.

There is more at stake next year, obviously, than control of the U.S. House. Thirty-six states will hold gubernatorial elections, and all but a few will hold state legislative elections. Partisan performance at the state level could have a crucial effect not just on the public policies of the jurisdictions involved, but on positioning for the next redistricting cycle, which will begin between 2020 and 2022. And even in Washington, Democrats now see an opportunity to win back the U.S. Senate, which would have seemed laughably impossible a year ago.

All in all, we will probably look back a year from now and see 2017 as a harbinger of a strong Democratic performance in the midterms. Its precise strength will determine whether Donald Trump enters the second half of his presidential term merely embattled or fully caged and cornered.


Resistance to Net Neutrality Repeal Will Provide a Hot Mess for GOP

The timing of net neutrality repeal may well be a deliberate effort to distract voters from the brutal Republican tax bill. But net neutrality repeal may nonetheless make the GOP and its corporate supporters rue the day that they linked their images to this ill-considered measure. As John Nichols writes in his article, “Gutting Net Neutrality Is the Trump Administration’s Most Brutal Blow to Democracy Yet: This cannot be the end of a free and open Internet. Activists must fight on in the courts, in Congress, and in the streets” in The Nation:

…Despite overwhelming public support for a free and open Internet, the CFC’s Trump-aligned majority engineered a 3-2 vote to overturn net-neutrality rules that have required Internet service providers to treat all online communications equally—and, in a related move, the commission majority rejected the authority of the FCC to protect a free and open Internet.

Commission chair Ajit Pai, the telecommunications-industry lawyer who has done Donald Trump’s bidding in debates on a host of media and democracy issues, has cleared the way for service providers to establish information superhighways for political and corporate elites, while consigning communications from grassroots activists to digital dirt roads…Pai and his associates have moved to create what former FCC commissioner Michael Copps refers to as “a gatekeeper’s paradise,” where “our civic dialogue—the news and information upon which a successful self-governing society depends upon—would be further eroded.”

…Much of the debate about overturning net neutrality has been focused on the damage the move will do to consumers, and there can be no question that clearing the way for unprecedented profiteering by telecommunications corporations barters off our digital future to the same grifters who have turned broadcast- and cable-media platforms into vast wastelands of commercial excess. “ISPs want to turn the internet into cable,” says Congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA). “[They] want people to pay for every application.”

Nichols adds that “Net neutrality’s defenders will fight on in Congress, in the courts and at the ballot box to overturn this wrongheaded decision. Groups associated with the Voices for Internet Freedom Coalition—led by the Center for Media Justice, Color Of Change, Free Press Action Fund, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, and 18 Million Rising—intend to fight on for net neutrality with legislative and legal strategies…State attorneys general will also be suing. California, New York and Washington have all announced plans to sue — and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says he expects to that many more states will join the initiative.”

It’s hard to imagine any other initiative that would do more to piss off young voters. David Shepardson and Ginger Gibson of Reuters explain how “Net neutrality repeal gives U.S. Democrats fresh way to reach millennials,” and observe that “Democrats are hoping to paint the repeal of the rules by the FCC, which is now chaired by President Donald Trump appointee Ajit Pai, as evidence Republicans are uninterested in young people and consumer concerns at large.” Further,

Studies show young people disproportionately use the internet compared with older Americans and polls have shown they feel passionately about fair and open internet access. Democrats believe the issue may resonate with younger voters who may not be politically active on other issues like taxes or foreign policy…Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist, said polls have found young people are favouring Democrats in the most recent elections and that the net neutrality issue could be used to gather support in the 2018 midterm congressional elections.

He said while older voters tend to care about Medicare, polls are finding that younger voters are motivated by net neutrality…”Net neutrality is the latest data point for voters that the administration is more interested in doing what big companies want them to do, than what people think is in their interest,“ Ferguson said. ”That’s a narrative that is politically toxic for Republicans.”

Gibson and Shepardson note that “Democrats facing difficult election battles next year are already weighing in strongly in favour of net neutrality rules…Senator Bill Nelson likely will face a difficult battle in Florida and sent a letter earlier in the week opposing the change in net neutrality rules. Several Democratic candidates are sending campaign fundraising appeals citing net neutrality…The changes could also become issues in a number of House races across the country, where Democrats will need to win more than 25 seats to control the chamber.”

Harper Neidig writes at The Hill that “More than 80 percent of voters oppose the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) plan to repeal its net neutrality rules, according to a new poll from the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation…The survey presented respondents with detailed arguments from both supporters and opponents of the repeal plan, before asking them where they stood on the rules. It found that 83 percent overall favored keeping the FCC rules, including 75 percent of Republicans, 89 percent of Democrats and 86 percent of independents.”

Regarding congressional action to challenge net neutrality repeal, Don Seifert writes in the Boston Business Journal that, “Just minutes after the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal rules intended to bar internet service providers from blocking or slowing down specific websites, Sen. Edward Markey said he’s filing a bill to put it back in place…Markey authored a resolution, which was signed on by 14 other Democratic senators and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, that would rescind FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s vote to repeal the 2015 net neutrality rules.” Expect that Markey’s bill is going to get a lot more Democratic sponsors in short order.

As for protest against coporations behind the repeal of net neutrality, it’s clear that three companies more than any others, are spear-heading repeal. As Lee Drutman and Zander Furnas note at the Dot,  “Going back to 2005 (when the phrase “net neutrality” first shows up in lobbying disclosure reports), the principle’s biggest opponents (Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and their allies) have lobbied against net neutrality about three times as hard as the biggest proponents of neutrality…” These three companies are highly vulnerable to boycotts and stockholders campaigns.


Alabama Senate Election Reinforces Smart Strategy For Southern Democrats

After watching the astonishing results from Alabama this week, I refreshed an old argument I’ve been making for decades about the need for a new strategy among southern Democrats, and wrote it up for New York:

If I heard it once, I heard it a hundred times leading up to yesterday’s special Senate election in Alabama: If only Democrats had nominated a more conservative candidate than Doug Jones, they might have a chance to win an unlikely Senate seat. This argument was generally combined with an attack on the alleged ideological rigidity of Democrats, and specifically focused on abortion policy. Doug Jones, you see, held the standard pro-choice position of Democrats nationally, which meant support for abortion rights as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court more than 40 years ago, including the right to a (rare) late-term abortion in certain limited circumstances.

That doomed him, said a lot of people on both sides of the partisan aisle….

It turns out that Jones’s position on abortion was no impediment to victory. According to exit polls, Jones won 34 percent of the votes of the one-fourth of Alabamians who thought abortion “should be illegal in most cases,” and even 18 percent of those who want to ban abortion “in all cases.” Given the partisan dynamics of the abortion issue, it’s unlikely he would have done better with those voters even if he had been a solid opponent of abortion rights.

Now, some would argue that Roy Moore’s status as an alleged sexual predator made everything else irrelevant, including everything to do with Doug Jones. But exit polls also showed that most votes for or against either candidate did not turn on the Moore allegations alone, or even principally. And lest we forget, polls were showing Jones to be a viable candidate long before the allegations broke — and indeed, a viable candidate against the more conventional conservative Luther Strange.

Jones seems to have defied the old formula for Democratic victory in the Deep South, which meant choosing a partisan differentiator or two and displaying resolute conservatism on everything else. That made sense when a lot of white conservative voters were up for grabs. But after a generation of ideological and partisan polarization, many of the white folks who might have voted for moderate-to-conservative Democrats like Sam Nunn or Zell Miller (two former bosses of mine) in Georgia or Howell Heflin or Fob James in Alabama are now straight-ticket Republican voters. And it’s no accident that Miller and James ended their political careers by becoming Republicans themselves.

As Jones showed, however, there is an increasingly viable route to the age-old southern Democratic formula of securing nearly all of the African-American vote and just enough white voters to get across the line. Instead of appealing to rural conservatives, Democrats can, in many cases, successfully appeal to just enough urban and suburban moderates to reach parity. The exit polls showed Jones winning 30 percent of the white vote and well-above 90 percent of the African-American vote — close to the age-old criteria for winning in a southern state with a sizable black electorate (a bit larger than Virginia’s, a bit smaller than Georgia’s, Mississippi’s, or Louisiana’s). As New York’s Eric Levitz noted today, Jones’s biggest area of improvement over Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance was in suburban areas. If this can work in Alabama, whose economy and culture remain very traditional, it can work in other parts of the South as well under the right circumstances, even without a sitting duck like Roy Moore on the ballot.

The best thing about being able to deploy a relatively progressive Democrat like Doug Jones rather than a conservative like Fob James isn’t just that Jones won’t be a functional Republican in Congress (though that’s a large bonus). It’s that Democrats can stop asking African-American voters to loyally support the Donkey ticket despite it featuring so many white pols who take them entirely for granted. The robust African-American turnout in Alabama on December 12 was attributable to many factors, including heroic local organizers, nationally prominent black politicians and celebrities, and the powerful antipathy both Trump and Moore aroused among nonwhite voters. But it didn’t hurt that Alabama’s black voters were turning out for a candidate who had performed a significant service to their community by successfully prosecuting the murderers who perpetrated the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, and who gave every indication that he would vote with left-of-center Democrats in the Senate.

In time, you can envision southern white Democrats returning the favor by running and supporting African-American politicians with views similar to those of Doug Jones and attracting the same kind of biracial coalition. (There’s some precedent for this, particularly in Georgia, where two moderate African-American Democrats held statewide office from 1998 until 2010). That will be both morally and politically essential as white voters represent a significantly smaller percentage of the Democratic electorate. But in any event, the days of southern Democrats being hard to distinguish from Republicans other than by an absence of overt bigotry should be over.


Political Strategy Notes

From “Democrats see road map for 2018 in huge turnout among black voters in Alabama” by David Weigel and Eugene Scott at PowerPost: “The Alabama race, like last month’s elections in Virginia, saw Democrats outperform expectations and polling thanks to a surge of nonwhite voters. A year that began with hand-wringing over President Trump’s victory ended with routs and upsets powered by the party’s most loyal supporters. Democrats in Alabama and elsewhere spent Wednesday thanking black voters — and studying what had been so successful in getting them to the polls….“Let me be clear: We won in Alabama and Virginia because black women led us to victory,” said Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez. “Black women are the backbone of the Democratic Party, and we can’t take that for granted. Period…Perez highlighted the DNC’s quiet strategy in Alabama, a $1 million investment in millennial and black voter turnout that was not advertised until the election was won. That was just one of the efforts that paid off for Democrats in Alabama, where new third-party groups including Woke Vote and BlackPAC engaged in weeks of voter persuasion and targeted messages…“They are underneath the radar, and that’s why they work so beautifully,” said Cornell Belcher, a pollster for Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns who has warned Democrats that younger black voters feel taken for granted. “They didn’t just come in at the end and treat black voters like get-out-the-vote targets. They treated them like persuadable voters. They actually engaged on the top issue for African American voters, which is criminal justice reform. And they didn’t dance around the issue of police brutality.”

“Election Day defied the narrative and challenged traditional thinking about racial turnout in off-year and special elections,” writes Vann R. Newkirk II at The Atlantic. “Precincts in the state’s Black Belt, the swathe of dark, fertile soil where the African American population is concentrated, long lines were reported throughout the day, and as the night waned and red counties dominated by rural white voters continued to report disappointing results for Moore, votes surged in from urban areas and the Black Belt. By all accounts, black turnout exceeded expectations, perhaps even passing previous off-year results. Energy was not a problem…As the Cook Political Report editor Dave Wasserman noted on Twitter, turnout was particularly high in the counties with the largest black populations. In Greene County, a small area that is 80 percent black and that Martin Luther King Jr. frequented in his Poor People’s Campaign, the turnout reached 78 percent of that of 2016, an incredible mark given that special elections and midterms usually fall far short of general-election marks. Perry County, also an important mostly black site of voting-rights battles of old, turned out at 75 percent of 2016 levels. Dallas County, whose seat is the city of Selma, hit the 74 percent mark.”

In her HuffPo article, “Democrats Quietly Pumped Resources Into Alabama To Boost Doug Jones,” Amanda Terkel credits the Jones campaign with effe3ctive management of media coverage of their strategy. “For months, Democrats have stayed quiet about what, if anything, they were doing in Alabama to help Doug Jones in the state’s special Senate election. They’d insist they were helping, but they wouldn’t say how…“The Democrats have been doing a lot, but focused on the fact that Doug Jones has put together a really good campaign,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who is leading the Democratic Party’s campaign efforts in Senate races this cycle, told HuffPost last month…This reticence was strategic. They didn’t want Jones, who was running in a state that is heavily Republican, to be burdened by his association with the national Democratic Party. The focus was supposed to stay on him and his Alabama message. So there were no TV ads paid for by party committees and no high-profile transfers of funds to the campaign. ”

At CNN Politics, Eric Bradner explains how “How 2017’s elections gave Democrats a recipe for big midterm wins“: Bradener writes, “The party is turning out minority voters in huge numbers. It’s also winning big with millennials and — in a turnaround from 2016 — has closed its gap with college-educated white voters, particularly women, who are turning out in droves in the suburbs…That Democratic base is also much more energized than Trump’s coalition of older, blue-collar, white supporters in rural America. One especially stark figure that shows the enthusiasm gap: Jones got 93% of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 raw vote total in Alabama on Tuesday, while Moore got just 50% of Trump’s raw vote total. That gulf made up for Jones only getting 8% of Republican voters to cross over and support him…More evidence that points to a blue wave that’s about to crash into 2018: Monmouth University released a new poll Wednesday that showed 51% of registered voters preferring a Democratic candidate for House and just 36% favoring a Republican…That 15-point gap in what’s known as the generic congressional ballot is a full-blown disaster for the GOP.”

Niall Stanage of the Hill notes that “Even Stephen Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist and a fervent Moore backer, paid tribute to the capacity of Democrats to get their voters to the polls. “One thing you’ve got to give a hats-off to: The [Democratic National Committee] came in here, slipped in here underneath the radar, and did an amazing job of organizing. What’s my favorite word? Ground game. Nice ground game,” Bannon told Breitbart’s editor-in-chief, Alex Marlow, on SiriusXM’s “Breitbart News Daily” on Wednesday.”

Charles Pierce has an eloquent summation of the significance of Jones’s victory in Alabama in hsitorical context at Esquire: “I choose to believe that Selma put Doug Jones over the top because I believe that the country owes that particular place a debt that it only has begun to repay, a debt on which it reneged for decades. His entire campaign was based on getting repayment of that debt back on schedule. Indeed, his entire public career has been dedicated to that. He’s smart enough to recognize what a small miracle his victory actually was for the disenfranchised people on whose behalf he fought and won, and decent enough not to turn his back on them.”

Looking toward the future, McKay Coppins writes in “The Republican Nightmare is Just Beginning: In 2018, party strategists fret, they’ll face a tough electoral landscape—and a bumper crop of fringe candidates” at the Atlantic: “Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon has already pledged to field challengers for every incumbent Republican senator up for reelection next year (with the exception of Ted Cruz). And even if Bannon fails to deliver on his threat, many in the GOP worry that experienced, fully-vetted candidates are going to struggle to beat back a wave of rough-edged Trump imitators who lean into the white identity politics that the president ran on in 2016.”

Republicans arer already scrambling to figure out how to minimize the effects of Jones’s election. As Ali Rogin reports at ABC News, “While his election has powerful political repercussions, Jones’ becoming the 47th Senate Democrat (two independents caucus with the Democrats) will likely have only a modest impact on Republicans’ ability to accomplish their legislative goals, although his joining the Senate will be a strong catalyst for Republicans to finish their major agenda items before he is sworn in…The biggest difference that Jones can make, in terms of Senate votes, is on bills and nominations requiring only a simple majority of 51 votes, like budget-related measures and judicial nominees…On taxes, Jones’ victory could vex Republicans’ count if he is sworn in before Congress sends its bill to Trump’s desk. Jones is expected to be sworn no sooner than Dec. 27, and GOP leaders insist they will have the bill done by Christmas…But if they fail to advance the bill before Jones is seated, Republicans can afford to lose only one of their 51 votes in the Senate and still pass the bill on a party-line vote, with Vice President Mike Pence acting as a tie breaker.”

Alan Abramowitz has some good news for Democrats in his Sabato’s Crystal Ball update on their 2018 prospects in the House of Reps: “…We can estimate the share of the national vote and, therefore, the number of House seats Democrats would be expected to win depending on the Democratic margin on the generic ballot in early September of 2018…According to the data in this table, Democrats will need a margin of at least four points on the generic ballot in order to win a majority of seats in the House in the 2018 midterm election. In recent weeks, Democrats have been averaging a lead of between eight and 10 points according to RealClearPolitics…That large a lead on the generic ballot would predict a popular vote margin of around five points and a gain of between 30 and 33 seats in the House — enough to give Democrats a modest but clear majority.”


From Kingmaker to “The Cooler,” Bannon’s Stock as GOP Strategist Plummets

Just a few days ago Steve Bannon was a GOP kingmaker who had the President’s ear in his hip pocket. Today his cred as a Republican strategist lies squandered in the fading wake of Roy Moore’s humiliating defeat. As Paul Farhi explains in his article, “Alabama was supposed to turn Steve Bannon and Breitbart into kingmakers. Now what?” at The Washingon Post:

The election of Democrat Doug Jones was a stunning rejection of Bannon and the right-wing news-and-commentary website that pushed Moore’s candidacy despite questions about his moral character — he is accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls while in his 30s — let alone his ability to win an election long assumed to be a slam dunk for any conventional Republican candidate.

The Alabama results suggest that a reckoning is due for both Bannon and Breitbart, whose influence and audience grew exponentially during Trump’s presidential campaign. Since then, as support for Trump has declined, so has Breitbart’s traffic, settling back to the 15 million people a month it drew before a spike around the election last year.

Farhi quotes former Breitbart editor and frequent Bannon critic Ben Shapiro, who says,

“Steve Bannon lost an unloseable race…He thought [Moore] was the best pick of his life. His ego is so wild and his incompetence so large that he brought about the Kama Sutra of political debauchery. Every wrong move in the book was on full display here.”

Bannon stuck with Moore even when a more prudent strategist would have assessed the candidate as fatally wounded and urged a replacement like Jeff Sessions, who gave up the seat in January to become Trump’s attorney general, Shapiro said.

Instead, he said, Bannon doubled down, persuading Trump to throw his support behind Moore, which reluctantly drew the Republican National Committee back into supporting him. Shapiro, excoriating his old boss, said Bannon “grabs onto power with both hands, and he doesn’t let go. But he has so little to show for it and has earned so little of it himself.”

If Trump still feels he owes his election to Bannon, he may now refocus and see Bannon as a reckless ideologue. Trump likes to divide humanity into two camps, winners and losers, and all of a sudden Bannon is looking more like the political equivalent of “The Cooler.” Republican candidates who want to win would now be wise to pay attention to what Bannon advocates — and do the opposite.

Despite President Trump’s proclaimations about how he prizes loyalty, his record is more one of dumping associates in trouble, usually right around the moment that they have become a liability. Now for example, it’s “Roy who?,” instead of “Roy Moore will always vote with us. VOTE ROY MOORE!” The pattern is a few nice words about the associate about to be dumped, followed by acrid denunciations within a few weeks.

Callum Borchers writes, also at The Post,

“Trump’s direct involvement in the race was almost certainly orchestrated by Bannon, and you would expect Trump, who cares more about winning and losing than anyone, to place the blame at Bannon’s feet,” added Kurt Bardella, president of Endeavor Strategies and a former Breitbart spokesman…

Nevertheless, Bannon could find a way to keep the president’s ear, Bardella said…“Bannon will spin to Trump that last night is the result of a biased media and that Moore is the victim of the ‘fake news,’ the same way Trump is,” Bardella said. “He will try to play to Trump’s worst instincts to preserve his influence. Trump is susceptible to this, as we have seen repeatedly.”

Breitbart and Bannon will still have their die-hard supporters, and gullible primary challengers may seek their counsel now and again. Bannon is already involved in supporting Catherine Templeton in her Republican renegade run for Governor of South Carolina — against Trump’s favored candidate, Governor Henry McMaster, “which could mirror the GOP contest in Alabama that led to Moore’s nomination and ultimate defeat,” notes Meg Kinnard in her AP post, “How Does Alabama Loss Affect Bannon’s S. Carolina Gov Role?

Jonathan Allen writes at NBC news that Bannon’s latest ploy is to blame Moore’s defeat on Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell. Despite McConnell’s tanking approval ratings, that’s going to be a tough sell outside Bannon’s shrinking circle of supporters.

No matter what Bannon undertakes in the near future, however, the very last thing most competitive Republican candidates want to see is Steve Bannon getting off a plane in their states. “I think we got this, but thanks anyway.” As far as Democratic strategy is concerned, the prudent thing to do is just get out of the way, and enjoy the GOP’s demolition derby.


Teixeira: What the Exit Polls Tell Us about How Doug Jones Won

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

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Senator-elect Doug Jones with wife and partner Louise New Jones

Well, quite a night. How’d it happen–what got Doug Jones over the finish line ahead? The exit polls, interestingly, tell a story that was prefigured by an earlier poll that I posted about back on December 3:

The Washington Post/Schar School poll, a poll that gives Jones a 3 point lead among likely voters, shows how [a Jones victory] will happen, if it does happen. First, overwhelming support from blacks, combined with solid turnout (this poll has blacks at about a quarter of likely voters, which is good but not unreasonably high). Then mega-swings in the white vote relative to 2016. Trump carried the white vote by 70 points in Alabama in 2016. In this poll, Moore carries the white vote by a mere 30 points (63-33).

This scenario more or less came to pass, according to the exit polls. Black voters made up 28 percent of the electorate–beating their share in the Post poll– and supported Jones by 96-4. And Jones lost white voters by 36 points (31-67), pretty close to the deficit in the Post poll (especially when one keeps in mind that exit polls have a chronic tendency to overestimate Democratic deficits among whites). This 36 point deficit is about half the 70 point deficit Clinton ran up among white voters in the state in 2016.

Breaking down white voters between college and noncollege, noncollege whites supported Moore by 54 points–strong, but not as strong as the 77 point margin they gave Trump in 2016. White college graduates supported Moore by a mere 16 points (57-41), a mega-swing away from the GOP compared to the 55 point margin these voters gave Trump in 2016.

While I don’t have information on the gender breakdown of these voters in 2016, it’s worth noting that Jones had a mere 5 point deficit among white college women, according to this year’s exit poll. This suggests an unusually large swing by these voters toward Jones. A harbinger of what we’ll see in 2018?


Teixeira: Whoa! Jones Up by 10 Over Moore in New Fox News Poll

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

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Does this mean Jones is probably going to win? Nah. The RCP polling average still has Moore up by 2.5 points, so I guess I’d still make him the favorite. But you’ve gotta classify this latest poll–and the Fox News poll is typically a high-quality poll and therefore better than the a lot of the lower shelf pollsters who’ve worked this race–as good news. It ain’t over ’til it’s over.

The internals of the Fox poll look very good for Jones, hitting support benchmarks that should produce a victory for Jones if they happen in the real world: a 20 point deficit among whites, a near tie among white college graduates and a mere 33 point deficit among white noncollege voters (trust me, that’s good). But which voters will really show up?: not just the relative numbers of white and black voters but which type of voters within a given demographic; perhaps the likely white voters in the Fox News poll aren’t actually a good representation of the white voters who who will show up on Tuesday. Just how much things can move around depending on how you capture and weight that likely voter sample is shown very clearly here by SurveyMonkey’s Mark Blumenthal.

So hold on to your popcorn! It could be a wild ride.


Political Strategy Notes

On CNN’s ‘State of the Union’ Democrat Doug Jones got a break in his quest to win a U.S. Senate seat, when Republican Senator Richard C. Shelby “said repeatedly Sunday  that the state’s fellow Republicans can “do better” than Roy Moore, the conservative judge accused of sexual misconduct‘ who faces Democrat Doug Jones in Tuesday’s special election for the U.S. Senate,” report Rosalind S. Helderman and David Weigel at Post Politics. “Shelby has previously said he was not supporting Moore, but his words on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday offered a fresh denunciation of his party’s nominee just days before Alabamians go to the polls in an election to replace former senator Jeff Sessions, who now serves as attorney general…“I didn’t vote for Roy Moore,” Shelby said. “I wouldn’t vote for Roy Moore. I think the Republican Party can do better.” This may up the ‘shame ante’ surrounding Moore for Alabama voters a notch. Apparently the GOP establishment is too thru with the Steve Bannon as king-maker thing.

Edward-Isaac Dovere’s Politico post, “Why Democrats win even if they lose in Alabama: The party will either pick up a seat in the Deep South — or have Roy Moore to campaign against in the midterms,” explains:  “If Roy Moore wins, they’ll spend the next year yoking every Republican they can to the accused child predator and a president who welcomed him into the GOP fold. They’ll be quick to remind everyone of all the other comments Moore has made against Muslims and gays and in favor of Vladimir Putin’s view of America as evil, as well as his rosy view of slave-era America…Supporting Moore “already effects the [Republican National Committee] now trying to go out and raise money. A lot of people are saying, ‘Why in the world would I contribute to an organization that’s pushing an alleged pedophile and child molester?’ It’s a big problem,” Republican Sen. Jeff] Flake said. “He’ll be the gift that keeps on giving for Democrats. If you’re running in 2018, Roy Moore’s going to be your new best friend. As a Republican, to think that you can win without the baggage of Roy Moore is pretty naïve,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).”

To get a better understanding of the obstacles Democratic candidate Doug Jones still faces, howecver, read “What’s Missing From Reports on Alabama’s Black Turnout” by Vann R. Newkirk II at The Atlantic. Newkirk writes, “As the cornerstone of the movement for the franchise, Alabama has also played the part of headquarters of resistance, a long legal and legislative guerrilla war against voting rights that culminated in 2013’s Shelby County v. Holder case, one where officials in the Alabama county successfully sued for all of the former dominion of Jim Crow to be released from federal VRA oversight. That victory, and the structural barriers to voting erected in its aftermath, are a serious—and largely unacknowledged—impediment to Democrat Doug Jones’s chances in the special election for the state’s open Senate seat on Tuesday…Early voting, which has been a key factor for other states in increasing black turnout, is not permitted in Alabama. The state also doesn’t have no-fault absentee voting, preregistration for teens, or same-day registration.* In all, it’s harder to vote in Alabama than just about anywhere else, a dynamic that should tend towards cooling the turnout of people who’ve only been allowed to vote in the state for 50 years…Perhaps Jones will do enough canvassing in the black belt to eke out a victory this year, but the structural barriers to voting will likely remain, or worsen.”

In his New York Times column, “The Republican War on Children,” Paul Krugman writes about the GOP tax bill and the Republican’s failure to refund the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, which provided health care for 8.9 million kids: “Let me ask you a question; take your time in answering it. Would you be willing to take health care away from a thousand children with the bad luck to have been born into low-income families so that you could give millions of extra dollars to just one wealthy heir?…You might think that this question is silly, hypothetical and has an obvious answer. But it’s not at all hypothetical, and the answer apparently isn’t obvious. For it’s a literal description of the choice Republicans in Congress seem to be making as you read this.

The Republican tax bill, when finally enacted, may set a record of sorts. As Taegan Goddard reports at Political Wire, “A new USA Today/Suffolk University Poll finds just 32% support the GOP tax plan while 48% oppose it…Key finding: “That’s the lowest level of public support for any major piece of legislation enacted in the past three decades, including the Affordable Care Act in 2009.”…“Americans are skeptical of the fundamental arguments Republicans have made in selling the bill: A 53% majority of those surveyed predict their own families won’t pay lower taxes as a result of the measure, and an equal 53% say it won’t help the economy in a major way.”

From Ruy Teixeira’s post, “Can We Please Stop Saying Trump’s Base Is Immovable?” at The Optimistic Leftist:”Sure, Trump’s approval rating is still pretty high among Republicans and people who voted for him in 2016, but for chrissake what do people expect? This is a  polarized country; he’s not going to suddenly have a 30 percent approval rating among partisans of his own party…But he is losing ground. He is losing support among the very kind of voters you would describe as his base and that’s very important. He (and the GOP) need every vote they can get and when solid supporters start drifting off that’s very bad for them…Data from a recent Pew release show this drift very clearly. Since February, he’s lost 8 points in approval among Republican identifiers/leaners (from 84 to 76 percent), 17 points among white evangelical Protestants (from 78 to 61 percent) and 10 points among white noncollege voters (from 56 to 46 percent)…He’s a weak president and getting weaker, including among his own supporters.”

Minnesota’s Lt. Governor Tina Smith is aparently the front-runner to fiull Sen. Franken’s seat, reports Ella Nilsen at Vox. But there is a problem, as Nilsen explains: “Minnesota law says that if the lieutenant governor leaves office, the position will automatically be assumed by the president of the state Senate…Right now, the Minnesota state Senate president is Republican Michelle Fischbach, and the possibility she could become Dayton’s second-in-command is sure to be a huge consideration for the governor as he makes his choice. Fischbach’s possible ascendance, combined with Dayton’s own health problems (the governor revealed he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer earlier this year), are two reasons Minnesota Democrats have to be nervous about the possibility of Smith going to Washington.” Further, adds Nilsen, “She [Smith] is seen as a placeholder – someone who has no interest in running for Franken’s seat in 2018, clearing the field for an open race in November.” Nilsen writes that other contenders for Franken’s seat may include MN Reps. Tim Walz and Keith Ellison.

“Ultimately, we’ll need to see which candidates both Democrats and Republicans run in Minnesota to fully grasp each side’s chances,” Harry Enten writes at fivethirtyeifght.com. “Candidate quality still matters in Senate elections (see Alabama 2017). If Democrats can select a candidate who is able to separate her- or himself from Franken’s brand, she or he will probably have a better shot than a generic Democrat. On the other hand, if the Republicans choose a strong candidate, she or he may be able to capitalize on residual anger against Franken, whose approval rating plummeted following the allegations made against him…For now, the most we can say is that the 2018 Minnesota Senate race leans Democratic, but Republicans have a real shot.”

Politico’s David Sider writes that “Democrats scour map for sleeper races: To expand House playing field, party officials bet on long-shot districts,” and notes, “The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee quickly added 11 more Republican-held districts — long-shot seats that aren’t typically in play — to its existing list of 80 targeted races. Candidates in those newly added seats got a sudden dose of fundraising and organizational assistance, in addition to help with budgeting and media operations…The incumbent Republicans in those seats, some of them unaccustomed to vigorous challenges, are already feeling the squeeze.”


Polls Indicate Dem Pick-up of Senate Seat in Alabama Still Possible

No matter what the doomsayers say, progresssives should not allow themselves to get unduly pessimistic about Democratic prospects for defeating Roy Moore in Alabama and picking up a U.S. Senate seat. According to Harry Enten’s fivethirtyeight.com post, “Doug Jones Is Just A Normal Polling Error Away From A Win In Alabama,”

A look at all U.S. Senate election polls since 19982 shows that their average error — how far off the polls were from the actual election result — is more than a percentage point higher than the average error in presidential polling. Also, Alabama polls have been volatile, this is an off-cycle special election with difficult-to-predict turnout, and there haven’t been many top-quality pollsters surveying the Alabama race. So even though Moore is a favorite, Democrat Doug Jones is just a normal polling error away from winning. (Or, by the same token, Moore could win comfortably.)

The polls in Alabama have swung back and forth between Moore and Jones over the past month. The Washington Post first reported on allegations against Moore on Nov. 9, and after that, surveys indicated that the race was moving in Jones’s direction. He held an average advantage of 5 percentage points in polls that were taken six or seven days following the story. Since then, polls have Moore ahead by 3 points, on average, although Jones led by 3 points in a Washington Post poll. (That’s the only recent survey that meets FiveThirtyEight’s gold standard.3)

Fair enough. There is not a lot of data to be bullish about there. But certainly it could be worse. Enten adds, “Simply put, Senate polling has not been especially predictive over the past 10 cycles. Among the 2,075 Senate polls in the FiveThirtyEight database that were taken within 21 days of an election, the average error has been 5.1 percentage points. And that has been fairly consistent across cycles. The 2016 Senate polls featured an average error of 5.2 percentage points.”

However, adds Enten, “the chance of a big error may be unusually high in Alabama. Because of the unusual timing of the election, pollsters may have a difficult time determining who is going to turn out to vote.”

Poll analyst Ruy Teixeira notes that, in the Washington Post poll, Jones pulled about 33 percent suppport from Alabama white voters, which is the same percentage another poll analyst Geoffrey Skelley says Jones must receive to win — provided there is a strong African American turnout favoring Jones at least 9-1.

In addition, Moore’s late-breaking gaffe,“I think it [America] was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery — they cared for one another…. Our families were strong, our country had a direction.” is the sort of comment that could energize African American voters, and possibly serve as a ‘last straw’ for other voters who may prefer to stay home, vote for the write-in candidate, or even vote for Democrat Doug Jones rather than cast a ballot for Moore. And there is always the possibility that write-in candidate Col. Lee “Hold My Beer” Busby will take a healthier than expected bite from Moore’s tally, energized by a crritical mass of upright conservatives who are embarrassed by Moore’s sleazy record.

That’s a lot of “ifs,” granted. But, overall Dems have done a little better than expected in 2017 special elections. We’re not expecting a blue wave here. But it’s just possible that a majority of Alabama voters on Tuesday will be ready to bring their state into the 21st century.


Political Strategy Notes

Could Al Franken’s resignation from the senate help to defeat Roy Moore? Don’t get trapped in a false equivalency snare here, because the magnitude and context of the allegations against Sen. Franken and Judge Moore are not the same. In fact, the difference in severity of the accusations may boost the vote  against Moore in the December 12th election. We can hope, at least, that some Alabama voters who have been on the fence about voting against Moore may now decide that Franken’s resignation signals an opportunity to set a higher standard of decency and dignity in the behavior of members of  ‘the world’s greatest deliberative body.’ Whatever happens in December 12th election, it will provide a symbolic metric for Alabama values in the minds of many. Kira Lerner reports at ThinkProgress that “The GOP for Doug Jones movement is real: Alabama Republicans are doing something they never thought possible: Voting for a Democrat.” Lerner notes that there is a “Republicans for Doug Jones” Facebook page with 2000 members. Those who want to support a higher standard of decency in the U.S. Senate can contribute to the Doug Jones campaign right here.

“Jones will also need solid turnout among African-American voters to have any chance of winning,” writes Geoffrey Skelley at Sabato’s Crystal Ball. “If black voters make up about 25% of the electorate and Jones wins at least 90% of them, that would mean that Jones would probably have to win at least one-third of the white vote to have a chance of winning, assuming a small portion of the white vote goes for a write-in choice and accounting for a small percentage of other nonwhite voters who are Democratic-leaning. The most recent available exit poll in Alabama is from 2012, which found that Barack Obama won just 15% of the white vote. In 2008, the exit poll found Obama just won 10%, and in 2004, it found John Kerry won about 20%. Even when accounting for the potential error in such findings, it’s clear that it’s been a while since a Democrat won anywhere near one-third of the white vote in Alabama.”

Dahlia Lithwick has a thought-provoking column on the wisdom of Democrats “going high, when they go low” at slate.com. Read her whole article for context, but give some thought to this section: “My own larger concern is that becoming the party of high morality will allow Democrats to live with themselves but that the party is also self-neutering in the face of unprecedented threats, in part to do the right thing and in part to take ammunition away from the right—a maneuver that never seems to work out these days. When Al Franken, who has been a champion for women’s rights in his tenure in the Senate, leaves, what rushes in to fill the space may well be a true feminist. But it may also be another Roy Moore. And there is something deeply naïve, in a game of asymmetrical warfare, and in a moment of unparalleled public misogyny, in assuming that the feminist gets the seat before it happens…This isn’t a call to become tolerant of awful behavior. It is a call for understanding that Democrats honored the blue slip, and Republicans didn’t. Democrats had hearings over the Affordable Care Act; Republicans had none over the tax bill. Democrats decry predators in the media; Republicans give them their own networks. And what do Democrats have to show for it? There is something almost eerily self-regarding in the notion that the only thing that matters is what Democrats do, without considering what the systemic consequences are for everyone.”

Don’t worry too much about Franken’s seat going to a Republican any time soon. “Democrats Will Likely Hold Franken’s Seat, But Minnesota’s Not As Blue As It Seems,” reports Harry Enten at fivethirtyeight.com. Enten adds, “Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton will appoint a replacement (possibly Lt. Gov. Tina Smith) who will hold the seat through the 2018 midterm elections. In 2018, a special election will take place to determine who will hold the seat until the regularly scheduled election in 2020. Whether Dayton’s pick runs in 2018 or not,1 the eventual Democratic candidate will likely be favored to win that race — though it’s not a sure thing….The good news for Minnesota Democrats is that the political environment is, at this point, heavily in their favor. They hold an 8 percentage point lead on the generic congressional ballot.2 If that holds through 2018 — not a bad bet…”

In any case, it looks like the issue of sexual harrassment by members of congress is not likely to fade away anytime soon. As Jake Novak reports at cncb.com, “Remember, this harassment storm is far from over. There are a total of 264 harassment settlements made by the House’s Office of Compliance just since 1997. Many more Democrats and Republicans in Congress seem likely to be forced out as the pressure mounts to reveal the details of those agreements and the names behind them. There’s a potential thinning out of the incumbent ranks that could spell doom for Pelosi even if people like Rice weren’t challenging her.

It appears that Trump has handed his Democratic adversaries a shiny new cudgel in his decision to return public lands, including beautiful natural treasures, to the states. As Christopher Barron, an ardent Trump supporter, writes at The Hill, “President Trump announced that he will dramatically reduce the Bears Ears National Monument and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Trump made the announcement in Utah, where both of these national monuments are located…During the Republican primaries, Trump…said, “we have to be great stewards of this land. This land is magnificent land. And we have to be great stewards of this land.”…Unlike the rest of the GOP field, who parroted the establishment talking points, Trump made it clear he would oppose efforts to return public lands to the states, saying, “I don’t like the idea because I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do with it…Now, despite these promises, Trump is choosing the Republican establishment over working-class Americans.”

Joining the fray, The Washington Post Editorial Board writes, “This single move constituted the largest ever reduction in protected federal lands. Then on Tuesday it emerged that Ryan Zinke, Mr. Trump’s fox-in-henhouse interior secretary, will recommend paring back or loosening restrictions on 10 more national monuments around the country…The federal government owns some lands that are simply too precious to permanently sully in pursuit of temporary economic gains. Bears Ears, with its spectacular canyons, buttes and unspoiled archaeological sites, is one such place. Grand Staircase, a natural wonderland of ancient topology and fossilized prehistory, is another. When administering such unique places, the government must err on the side of conservation.”

I think Tory Newmyer’s The Finance 202 post, “Democratic split on Wall Street threatens party’s economic message” may overstate divisions within the Democratic Party in calling out a “profound problem confronting the party as it struggles to refashion its message ahead of the 2018 midterms.” But Newmyer is more on target in saying that “Most Democrats think they have a potent case to make that Trump’s GOP pulled a bait-and-switch on voters by promising populism and delivering a cascade of breaks to financiers (read my colleagues John Wagner and Juliet Eilperin on how Trump is governing like a traditional conservative).”

Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson have a disturbing read at Vox, “The GOP is trying to pass a super-unpopular agenda — and that’s a bad sign for democracy: Political science (and common sense) says they ought to pay a price at the polls. They might not.” There’s a lot to worry about in this post, including, “They’ve gotten very good at distracting voters. Research on public opinion suggests that voters have relatively short memories and that voter attention is critical to vote choice. What voters are focusing on when they head to the polls may matter more than their more considered thoughts about the issues…Given Republican leaders’ control of Congress, as well as Republican voters’ fierce attachment to right-leaning media, Republicans now have much greater capacity than Democrats to shape the short-term political agenda. (The attention-grabbing capacity of the tweeter-in-chief surely doesn’t hurt.) This isn’t always a good thing for Republicans, but in the run-up to a fiercely contested election, the ability to direct attention away from unpopular policies and towards whatever stokes tribal loyalty could make the difference.”