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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Democratic Strategist

Dems Gaining Ground in State Legislative Battles

From Louis Jacobson’s update, “Democrats Poised to Eat Into GOP’s Lead in State Legislatures” at Governing:

According to our first handicapping of state legislatures this cycle, Republicans currently have more chambers at risk, 10, than the Democrats’ seven. Connecticut’s tied Senate is also at risk of a party switch…That adds up to 18 competitive chambers at this point — identical to the number of competitive chambers in 2014, which was the most recent election cycle to feature a strong partisan wave. It was the Democrats who were on the run back then, with 11 Democratic-held chambers rated competitive compared to just seven for the Republicans.

During past wave elections, we’ve tended to see additional chambers become vulnerable to a party switch as time goes on, almost always for the party facing the wave. So unless the political environment changes significantly, expect the number of competitive Republican chambers to rise as November approaches.

However, Jacobson also notes,

Currently, the GOP holds more than two-thirds of the nation’s legislative chambers — 66 in all, compared to 31 for the Democrats. For housekeeping’s sake, this tally counts New York’s Senate as Republican and Alaska’s House as Democratic; both states are led by bipartisan coalitions. Meanwhile, Nebraska’s unicameral legislature, which is nonpartisan, isn’t included in our count.

A mere wave election won’t do it for Democrats. It will take a blue tsunami to flip, or even level those numbers.

Governing’s “assessment is based on interviews with dozens of state and national political sources.” As Jacobson observes,

All told, we rate five Republican-held chambers as tossups: the Colorado Senate, the Maine Senate, the New Hampshire Senate and House, and the New York Senate.

We rate an additional five GOP-held chambers as lean Republican — not yet as vulnerable as the tossup chambers, but worrisome for the GOP nonetheless. Those chambers are the Arizona Senate, the Florida Senate, the Iowa House, the Michigan House and the Wisconsin Senate.

We don’t rate any Democratic-held chambers as tossups for now, but we do consider seven of them to be in the lean Democratic category: the Alaska House, the Colorado House, the Connecticut House, the Delaware Senate, the Maine House, and the Washington Senate and House.

Further,

We see seven chambers currently rated likely Republican that are worth watching for possible movement toward the Democrats. They are: the Arizona House, the Iowa Senate, the Michigan Senate, the Minnesota House, the North Carolina Senate, and the Pennsylvania Senate and House.

All in all, Democrats have reason to feel optimistic about gains at this point. Still, it’s worth injecting a note of caution. Even a net switch of 14 chambers toward the Democrats — the absolute maximum shift we can envision at this stage of the campaign — would still leave Republicans with a national edge in chambers of 52-46. So don’t expect the Democrats to seize a majority of state legislative chambers in 2018 alone.

Jacobson gets down to state by state cases with some relevant details. But Democrats can take some encouragement from recent state legislative special elections. In his Politico post, “‘Let the blue wave continue’: Democrats notch 4th Florida bellwether win,” Marc Caputo writes,

On Tuesday, in Florida’s 114th House District in Miami, Javier Fernandez beat Republican Andrew Vargas by about 4.1 percentage points, despite being outspent by at least 2-1 in a swing seat where voters split their tickets between both parties in the 2016 elections.

…Fernandez’s win follows a shocking February victory by Democrat Margaret Good in Florida’s 72nd House District, which voted for President Donald Trump. Democrats also won Florida’s 40th Senate District in Miami-Dade and St. Petersburg’s mayoral race. Those last two elections had Democratic-leaning electorates with significant minority populations, unlike the 72nd in Sarasota and, to a lesser degree, the 114th District.

The win was also big for Florida Democrats because they finally started to build a bench by electing their second Cuban-American Democrat from Miami-Dade County to the Florida Legislature, where the 42-year-old Fernandez will join state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez.

“While the Florida House is likely to stay Republican for years,” Caputo writes, “Fernandez’s win bolstered hopes that Democrats could be closer to taking back the Florida Senate if they can flip five seats in the 40-member chamber.”

Florida’s state legislative races may well provide an instructive test of just how fed up Florida parents are with gun violence in their state, and who they want to hold accountable. At The Monitor, Patrick Jonsson notes that 91 percent of Florida’s Republican lawmakers have an “A” rating from the NRA.

Florida did enact a statewide measure that raised the minimum age for buying guns from 18 to 21, set a three-day waiting period, and banned bump stocks. However, opinion polls show strong nation-wide support for a ban on sale of assault-style weapons, and the Florida election will see if the modest reforms are enough in a state that has experienced two massacres in recent years.


White Working-Class Voters Not So Elusive — With Inclusive Economic Policies

Ronald A. Klain’s Washington Post column, “Democrats can’t give up on white working-class voters,” sheds some fresh light on Democratic prospects for winning a pivotal portion of this large constituency. Klain, a senior White House aide to Presidents Obama and Clinton and also a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, writes that, “pragmatically, Democrats need to capture a larger share of white working-class voters. Yes, the party can win the national popular vote without them — and thanks to demographic trends, the Democratic base will continue to grow. But the electoral college remains a reality in presidential politics, and as 2000 and 2016 proved, winning the popular vote alone is not sufficient.”

Credit Klain with using an important phrase that even many seasoned pundits have missed, rendering their “either/or” analyses less than useful. The phrase is “a larger share of white working-class voters.” Not “all white working-class voters,” not “white working-class voters in general” or even “most white working-class voters.” No false choices about strategizing to win all or none. It’s about getting a larger share, and it doesn’t have to be all that much. A gain of 10 percent of white working-class voters for Democrats could be a major game changer, insuring a progressive future for America for decades to come.

And the best part of this modest objective is that it does not sell out any other Democratic constituency. It requires no pandering to racism or nativism, and no squandering of money, time and effort needed to mobilize turnout of the base. What it does require is inclusive policies and rhetoric that speak to working-class voters of all races, policies that brand the Democrats as the only party that offers hope for a better life for working people and their families — black, white, red, brown, yellow and all shades in between.

Klain underscores another good point: “Moreover, for Democrats, it is not enough to win elections: To legislate, you need control of the Senate, where power is concentrated in less populous states, and a solid majority in the gerrymandered House. Thus, to achieve real change, progressives need majorities in a wide swath of the country.” From now on, and forever going forward, Democrats must more strongly emphasize the critical importance of midterm elections to their base, the rising American electorate and all working-class voters. It’s not enough to win the presidency alone. Democrats must also have congressional majorities to move reforms forward. Otherwise, it’s gridlock and polarizing frustration.

“From a policy perspective,” writes Kain, “if Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama could build inclusive coalitions to advance progressive aims, than surely future Democratic leaders can, too. FDR’s Social Security, Clinton’s earned-income tax credits for poor workers and Obama’s health-care reform were all examples of policy ideas that crossed “tribal lines” behind progressive goals.” More such bread and butter reforms are needed to brand Democrats as the party of working people and their families.

Klain points out that “One concept central to these successes was linking progressive aims to the widely shared value of work: tightening the bond between hard work and decent pay, health security and a safe retirement.’ But he cautions that “This may explain why some ideas that Democrats advocated in 2016 — such as “free college” — did not resonate with white working-class voters: Even if such policies were in their economic interest, these voters rejected “free anything” as “handouts.” More to the point, “free college” can be twisted by Republicans to sound like “you’re going to pay for somebody else’s kid’s education.” The better term, the easier sell, is “affordable education.” That implies fair cost-sharing from all families.

Klain endorses a revitalized movement for full employment, including “new proposals from Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif).; Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.); and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — to provide a job for any American willing to work,” which “could be on target. This idea would unite voters who want to help people left behind with those who share former vice president Joe Biden’s view that an earned paycheck is central to Americans’ dignity. And it would provide a powerful rebuttal to cruel new GOP plans to take away health-care coverage and other benefits with “work requirements” that would punish the disadvantaged for not having jobs that don’t exist.”

This sounds a lot like putting some teeth into the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act of 1978, a law which got badly watered down into a grandiose statement of principles and intentions by the time it reached the President’s desk. There is nothing wrong with the idea of a “guaranteed job for any American willing to work.” But an enormous amount of time, money and energy went into securing passage of Humphrey-Hawkins, which said essentially the same thing. Instead of another comprehensive, multifaceted job guarantee bill, might all those resources be better utilized in building a movement for an infrastructure bill that would put millions of Americans to work in good jobs?

In a sense, such an infrastructure bill is already pre-sold: Polling shows that Americans overwhelmingly agree that our infrastructure needs major repair and rebuild, coast to coast. A Harvard-Harris poll conducted in September found that 84 percent of the public wants to invest more in infrastructure, which is about as close to a slam-dunk as you can get in a poll. In an AmericaThinks survey conducted last July, 70 percent agreed that “improved infrastructure is worth possible tax and toll increases.” According to the Ipsos 2017 Global Infrastructure Index, “nearly two thirds of Americans (62%) believe that the U.S. is not doing enough to meet its infrastructure needs” and “roughly three quarters of Americans think investing in infrastructure is vital to America’s future economic growth (73%).”

Powerpost’s Mike Debonis reports that Democratic leaders are already moving forward in developing an ambitious infrastructure proposal to create 15 million jobs at a living wage, far more substantial than anything on the GOP docket. “As the White House struggles to finance an ambitious infrastructure plan, Senate Democrats are proposing one alternative — albeit one unlikely to pass muster with President Trump: rolling back the recently passed Republican tax overhaul…The proposal unveiled by Democratic leaders Wednesday would plow just over $1 trillion into a wide range of infrastructure needs, including $140 billion for roads and bridges, $115 billion for water and sewer infrastructure and $50 billion to rebuild schools.”…The spending would be offset by clawing back two-thirds of the revenue lost in the Republican tax bill by reinstating a top income tax rate of 39.6 percent, restoring the individual alternative minimum tax, reversing cuts to the estate tax, and raising the corporate income tax from 21 percent to 25 percent.”

Democrats are in very good shape to win majority control of the House of Representatives and the speakership, which will force Trump to negotiate, if he wants to get anything done. Whatever hopes the GOP had for making a credible infrastructure program all their own are shot — if there ever was any possibility. Any such bill is going to have the Democratic stamp on it in a big way, and that would be very good thing for branding the Democrats as the party of working people and their families.


Political Strategy Notes

Some factual antidotes to Republican spin that voters want cuts in social and earned benefits from “Trump Is Using “Welfare” Dog Whistles to Come After the Entire Working Class” by Rebecca Vallas at In These Times: “Trump and his colleagues in Congress learned the hard way last year how popular Medicaid is when they tried to cut it as part of their quest to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And it’s not just Medicaid that Americans don’t want to see cut. Americans overwhelmingly oppose cuts to SNAP, housing assistance, Social Security disability benefits, home heating assistance, and a whole slew of programs that help families get by—particularly if these cuts are to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. What’s more, as polling by the Center for American Progress shows, Americans are less likely to vote for a candidate who backs cuts…By contrast, vast majorities of Americans across party lines want to see their policymakers raise the minimum wage; ensure affordable, high-quality child care; and even enact a job guarantee to ensure everyone who is able and wants to work can find a job with decent wages. These sentiments extend far beyond the Democratic base to include majorities of Independents, Republicans, and even Trump’s own voters.”

At New York Magazine, Ed Kilgore reports that “Another PA GOP Congressman Resigns, Triggering Another Special Election Democrats Likely to Win.” As Kilgore notes, [Republican Rep. Pat] “Meehan’s Seventh Congressional District — the most blatantly gerrymandered of all the Pennsylvania districts — had been atomized in the new map drawn by the state Supreme Court. But his resignation now means Republicans will have to defend it one more time in a special election that is quite likely to produce some more bad vibes and bad headlines for the GOP. The Seventh as currently constitutedwas carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016 and was only narrowly won by Mitt Romney in 2012…Now Meehan, who has been under the cloud of a sexual-harassment scandal, has just resigned as well, after announcing he would pay back $39,000 his office disbursed to a Meehan staffer as part of a settlement he reached with her to head off accusations of improper advances…Democrats think they can pick up as many as six U.S. House seats in November under the new maps.”

There’s not much Democrats can do in planning responses to Trump’s chaotic midterm “strategy,” such as it is, except pay attention and seize opportunities as they arise. Jonathan Martin, Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times sketch Trump’s messy approach to the midterm elections as best they can in their article, “Trump’s Role in Midterm Elections Roils Republicans.” As the authors explain, “Mr. Trump is as impulsive as ever, fixated on personal loyalty, cultivating a winner’s image and privately prodding Republican candidates to demonstrate their affection for him — while complaining bitterly when he campaigns for those who lose. His preoccupation with the ongoing Russia investigation adds to the unpredictability, spurring Mr. Trump to fume aloud in ways that divide the G.O.P. and raising the prospect of legal confrontations amid the campaign…In battleground states like Arizona, Florida and Nevada, Mr. Trump’s proclivity to be a loose cannon could endanger the Republican incumbents and challengers who are already facing ferocious Democratic headwinds.”

In his Washington Post op-ed, “Be progressive, Democrats, not merely liberal,” Rep. Raúl Grijalva, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, writes, “Where conservatives, broadly speaking, consider most forms of government activity excessive, and where the non-progressive left is often content to sand down the rough edges of the status quo, progressives often seek deep systemic reforms. Waiting for a broken power structure to right itself is a recipe for failure. Our recent focus on economic fairness, an approach dismissed as “populism” by conservatives uncomfortable with questions about capitalism’s imperfections, is a case in point…It’s no accident that progressives today are at the forefront of campaigns for a higher minimum wage, for stiffer bank regulations and government anti-monopoly crackdowns, and for single-payer health care, an idea now supported by more than half of Americans after facing years of condescension even from many liberals. If Democrats take nothing else from our moment of self-reflection, we should remember that on issue after issue, what was once pigeonholed as the “progressive” position has since become the popular position, or become law, or both.”

In her article, “Democrats must be strategic, realistic in order for blue wave to reach governor’s office,” Emiliana Almanza Lopez makes the case in The Badger Herald that Wisconsin’s Republican Governor can be beaten in November — If Democrats nominate a centrist. “If Walker wants to win this next election, he must have to appeal to the moderates of the Republican party that he pushed so far away in his time as governor so far. Due to this attempt, it is vital for the Democratic party to elect a candidate in the primaries who can appeal to this voting population…The candidates range in their political stances, but most of the Democratic candidates are running on platforms of fair wages, education and environmental issues. Some of the candidates focus on bridging the political gap between our polarized parties. These are the people to focus on in the upcoming months…By building bridges these candidates draw in the moderates while appealing to those who vote along party lines.”

In Ohio, however, two progressives, former head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Richard Cordray and former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, are contending in the race for the Democratic nomination for Governor. As Dylan Scott writes at Vox, “The Buckeye State is one of the most important governor’s races in the country, a test of whether any Democrat not named Sherrod Brown can still win statewide here, and it might also be the most wide open…The Democratic contest could end up being equally eventful and represents something of a family feud within the left: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has taken one side [Cordray], and a Bernie Sanders-aligned group is on the other [Kucinich].”

Can a Tennessee Democrat Pull a Doug Jones?,” asks Steve Cavendish in his NYT op-ed about the TN U.S. Senate race. Cavendish elaborates: “Ms. [Marsha] Blackburn is a Tea Party and Trump stalwart, as are many Tennessee voters. She also represents a type of conservatism that may be peaking in some parts of the South: combative, inflexible and more interested in picking fights than actually governing. An aggregate of recent polls have Mr. Bredesen leading her by 5 percent…Mr. Bredesen spent two terms as governor, from 2003 to 2011, with a pro-business reputation…Even in Middle Tennessee there are some ominous signs for Republicans. In a special election for a State Senate seat in December, a Democrat lost by just 307 votes, in a district Trump carried by more than 50 percentage points.” Retiring Republican U.S. Senator Bob Corker has annaounced that he p[lans to vote for Democrat Bredesen.”

The Upshot’s Nate Cohn puts the midterms in updated perspective in his post, “What to Keep in Mind When Thinking About the Midterms: The generic ballot, the president’s approval rating, recent special elections and a seat-by-seat look all point to a modest edge for Democrats.” As Cohn observes, “Over all, the Democrats’ performance in 2018 special congressional elections looks a lot like their showing in open districts in 2006, and well above the average from wave elections in 1994, 2006, 2008 and 2010…The House Republican majority doesn’t look safe in today’s national political environment. As recently as late last year, you could credibly argue that Republicans would be solid favorites if the Democrats led on the generic ballot by seven points. The Republicans have managed to narrow the Democratic advantage to exactly that figure…But after so many retirements and a redrawn map in Pennsylvania,Republicans would seem to be clear underdogs if Democrats won the popular vote by seven points.”

Eric Boehlert reports at Shareblue Media that “In the latest sign of trouble for Republicans, the Cook Political Report officially swapped the status of the Ohio 12th District special election set for August from “lean Republican” to “toss up.” Republicans have controlled the district for more than three decades…Many Democratic officials are viewing “toss up” races this year as being extremely vulnerable for the GOP, since there’s so much electoral momentum on the side of Democrats…“All of the sudden, districts you didn’t think you could win in, you can win in,” Ohio Democratic Party chair David Pepper told CNN this week, while a GOP consultant in the Buckeye state conceded that race will be expensive, and competitive…The special election is being called to fill the vacancy created by Rep. Patrick Tiberi, who resigned suddenly last winter. Tiberi is part of the large wave of GOP resignations and retirements ahead of the 2018 elections.”


Explaining the Gap Between Special Election Results and the Generic Congressional Ballot

After yet another big overperformance by a Democratic candidate in another special election, this time in Arizona, I looked at a question that a lot of observers are asking, and wrote it up at New York:

There have been two story lines this year that offer contrasting impressions about what’s likely to happen in the November battle for control of the U.S. House: One is a seemingly unending string of big-time performances by Democrats in special elections (including the one earlier this week in Arizona). The other is a Democratic advantage in the generic congressional ballot (a polling question about party preferences in House elections), which is a shadow of what it was at certain points last year.

Nate Silver posed the problem directly after the Arizona results:

“The bigger question is what to make of the disparity between the overwhelming swing toward Democrats so far in special election results — which would imply a Democratic wave on par with the historic Republican years of 1994 and 2010 — and the considerably more modest one suggested by the generic congressional ballot, which shows Democrats ahead by only 7 points and implies that the battle for House control is roughly a toss-up.”

After musing that maybe the generic ballot was a lagging indicator that might change as November approached, Silver essentially concluded that both special elections and generic ballots were data points that should both be considered, instead of choosing one exclusively.

Cook Political Report’s Amy Walters is looking at the same question:

“If a so-called “blue wave” is about to hit in 2018, why isn’t the generic ballot showing a bigger margin for Democrats? The latest Real Clear Politics average shows Democrats with a 6.5 percent lead. The FiveThirtyEight.com average has Democrats with a 6.9 percent lead. If Democrats are cruising to victory in the fall, why does the generic not look more like it did over the summer when it showed Democrats with a double-digit lead?”

Like Silver, Walters figures the numbers may turn bluer later this year. But she has a specific theory for why that could happen: the bulk of the “undecided” generic vote is among self-identified independents, and “here’s what we know about them: they don’t like Trump.”

“In the latest Marist/NPR/PBS poll (April 10-13), for example, Trump’s job approval rating among independents is 38 percent. On the generic ballot question in that same poll, the congressional Republican gets 32 percent of the independent vote. A late April Quinnipiac poll showed Trump with a 33 percent job approval among independents, and 36 percent of independents say they will vote for a Republican in the fall.”

As more independents begin to make up their minds about their midterm choices, their anti-Trump leanings will probably push up Democratic margins — an anti–White House dynamic that tends to happen during midterms anyway.

Both Walters and Silver also think the superior Democratic enthusiasm so evident in special elections hasn’t fully manifested itself in generic polls at this point. As Nate puts it:

“One plausible answer is that the generic ballot will shift further toward Democrats once voters become more engaged with the campaign in their respective districts and pollsters switch over to likely voter models.”

Now that’s certainly a switcheroo from the 2010 and 2014 midterms, when the shift to likely voter screens usually boosted GOP margins. But that does raise one point of caution about assuming Democrats will benefit from the same dynamics this November: the kinds of people who currently tend to vote Republican — older and whiter voters — have eternally been more likely to show up for non-presidential elections than the kinds of people who currently tend to vote Democratic — younger and minority voters. It’s so familiar a phenomenon that there’s a name for it: the Democratic “midterm fall-off” problem, which has been exacerbated by this decade’s exceptional polarization of the electorate by race and age.

It’s pretty clear by now that Democrats have found at least a temporary solution to the “midterm falloff” problem, and his name is Donald J. Trump. But there remain two questions: will the enthusiasm among Democrats he has created totally erase the traditional disparities in non-presidential turnout? And does the evidence that it has in so many special elections since Trump became president mean we can assume it will carry over to a regular midterm election, when Republican turnout will likely return to its “normal” levels?

Keep these questions in mind as November approaches.


The Shifting Anti-Abortion Base and Why It Matters

I’ve been immersed in the politics of abortion policy for so long that I felt the need to take a step back and analyze how the demographics of the RTL rank-and-file have changed over time. I wrote it all up at New York:

Looking at an article in the Washington Post about the frenetic activity in many states since 2010 aimed at enacting abortion restrictions, some in order to set up a legal challenge to Roe v. Wade, the American Prospect’s Harold Meyerson noticed a pattern, which he discussed in a subscription email to readers that I happen to receive.

“Thirty-three states have enacted abortion restrictions since [2010], while just 17, plus the District of Columbia, have not.

“What interested me about those two lists was the degree to which they didn’t align with the share of Roman Catholics in the states. The eight most heavily Catholic states—in order, Rhode Island (42 percent Catholic), Massachusetts (34 percent), New Jersey (34 percent), New Mexico (34 percent), Connecticut (33 percent), New York (31 percent), California (28 percent) and Illinois (28 percent)—were among the 17 that had not passed legislation curtailing abortion rights. Conversely, the 13 states with the lowest percentage of Catholics—in order, Mississippi (4 percent), Utah (5 percent), West Virginia (6 percent), Tennessee (6 percent), Alabama (7 percent), North Carolina (9 percent), Georgia (9 percent), South Carolina (10 percent), Kentucky (10 percent), Idaho (10 percent) and Virginia (12 percent)—were among the 33 states that have curtailed access to abortions since 2010.

“In sum, the relationship between the number of Catholics in a state and the intensity of the state’s anti-abortion policies is completely inverse.”

This fact might come as a surprise to people who still think of Catholics as the bedrock core of the right-to-life movement, as they undoubtedly were in the days immediately following Roe.

In fact, Catholic public opinion on abortion policy (as on most political topics) is pretty close to that of the country as a whole, which means marginally pro-choice. Here’s how the Public Religion Research Institute put it in a 2015 survey:

“On the issue of abortion, Catholic attitudes generally mirror Americans overall. A majority (53%) of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 43% say it should be illegal. Among Catholics, a slim majority (51%) says abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared to 45% who say it should be illegal.”

A more recent survey from Pew showed Catholics favoring the “legal in all or most cases” position by a slightly slimmer 48/47 margin. Both surveys showed that white Catholics — i.e., those significantly more likely to identify with the anti-abortion Republican Party — were more likely to be pro-choice than overwhelmingly Democratic Latino Catholics.

This is not — repeat, not — to say that there aren’t a lot of passionately active RTL adherents in the U.S. Catholic ranks, who can rely on the consistent support of the hierarchy and the Vatican (and yes, despite some RTL angst about his recent statement that defending the poor was as important as defending the “unborn,” Pope Francis hasn’t given much aid and comfort to pro-choice Catholics).

But there’s no question the religious community that is far more solidly in the anti-abortion camp is white Evangelical Protestants. In a 2017 survey that broke out this particular segment of the population, Pew found that 70 percent of white Evangelicals thought that all or most abortions should be illegal. Less than half of Catholics (44 percent), black Protestants (41 percent), white mainline Protestants (30 percent), and the unaffiliated (17 percent) agreed with this position.

This is remarkable in no small part because unlike Catholics, white Evangelicals have little traditional investment in the anti-abortion cause. They have no formal hierarchy, no teaching tradition, no papal encyclicals, and no “natural law” philosophy leading them in the direction of regarding abortion as grievously sinful. They purport to follow only the Bible, which never mentions abortion and only obliquely refers to fetal life. Evangelicals, moreover, were not as a group actively engaged in state efforts to keep abortion illegal prior to Roe; many (particularly among Southern Baptists, the largest white Evangelical denomination) favored “liberalized” abortion laws back then.

However you choose to explain the white Evangelical shift toward strongly anti-abortion views — as a moral “awakening” after Roe; a general rejection of liberalism and feminism; a nostalgic embrace of cultural conservatism in all its elements (including patriarchy); or a byproduct of a growing alliance with conservative politics — it’s unmistakable, and it has offset the gradual drift toward pro-choice views among Catholics.

Getting back to Meyerson’s observation, most of the states he notes as having small Catholic populations along with virulently anti-abortion policies also have large white Evangelical populations (there’s also Utah, with an LDS majority that is culturally conservative and also has a strong church hierarchy doctrinally opposed to abortion). And not coincidentally, they all (with the partial exception of Virginia) are currently Republican-run states.

The polarization of the two parties on abortion policy stems from multiple sources, but none is so powerful as the shift in the anti-abortion “base” from a Catholic population that is more or less split down the middle between the two parties (and if anything leans Democratic) to a white evangelical population that has become aligned with Republicans on a broad range of issues from civil rights to taxes to “size of government” to the cultural issues like abortion and LGBTQ rights that we associate with the Christian right.

So the archaic view of abortion as primarily a “Catholic issue” needs updating for those who want to understand why some places are so hospitable to anti-abortion politics.


Minority and White Workers Need the Same Help

Editor’s note: this is a guest post from Harry J. Holzer, the John LaFarge SJ Professor of Public Policy at Georgetown University. Holzer is a former Chief Economist at the US Department of Labor.

Last month’s victory by Conor Lamb in the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district shows that Democrats can win in heavily Republican districts, especially when they emphasize pocketbook issues affecting the working and middle classes, rather than divisive social ones like abortion or gun control.

Yet Democrats still face headwinds in trying to appeal to white working-class voters, especially men in small towns and rural areas. The view that Democrats care a great deal about minorities and the poor, but less about the plight of white workers without college degrees, is quite widely held there.

At the same time, there is no reason why Democrats cannot generate policies to help both white and minority workers without college degrees. Indeed, both groups–and especially the men among them–have suffered declining employment and earnings in recent decades. Both have withdrawn from the labor market in large numbers. Too many from both groups are concentrated in declining towns and rural areas from which economic growth and opportunity have essentially vanished. And both suffer from the scourge of drug dependencies and criminal records.

A sensible Democratic agenda to address such working class problems could benefit the party politically, and–much more importantly–begin to reverse the traumas that have so badly reduced the earnings and incomes of many millions of Americans.

Causes of Low Worker Earnings

What has caused the fortunes of so many non-college education men to deteriorate? As is widely known, the combination of new technologies and globalization have eliminated millions of the jobs, in manufacturing and elsewhere, in which less-educated men traditionally earned strong wages and benefits. And the jobs that remain and pay well–in sectors like health care, construction, transportation and logistics, and even manufacturing–often require the postsecondary education or job training that too many workers lack.

But other forces have also lead to stagnant or declining wages. Weakening unions and outdated minimum wage laws have undercut the pressure on employers to raise wages in a wide range of jobs. To reduce their labor costs, many employers now turn their workers into independent contractors, further reducing any need to invest in their skills or pay them well. And many also force workers to sign “non-compete” agreements, forbidding them to bid up their wages by considering offers from nearby competing firms. Such anti-competitive behavior not only hurts millions of workers with good skills and job performance but also makes labor markets less efficient.

Compounding these problems, as manufacturing jobs have disappeared from states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, few others have taken their place. Though many new jobs have been created in large metropolitan areas that had earlier lost manufacturing jobs–like Chicago, Pittsburgh and Cleveland–often driven by growth in world-renowned hospitals and universities, no such drivers of economic development have appeared in smaller cities like Allentown, Youngstown and Flint, or surrounding rural areas. And, while college graduates typically move to booming regions in the country, non-college grads are more likely to remain in depressed regions because of strong family and social ties.

As good jobs have disappeared from these markets, with those remaining often being low-wage service jobs, millions of workers have turned to other sources of income, such as disability programs or informal and sporadic work, paid for in cash. Substance dependency (whether on alcohol, opioids, or other illegal drugs) has soared. And, particularly among black men, sales of drugs have raised incarceration rates dramatically, creating permanent barriers to their employability, even after they leave prison. But many white and Latino men have also been ensnared in the trap of incarceration. Indeed, recent evidence suggests that as many as one-third of all nonworking men at age 30 are or have been incarcerated in the recent past.

At the same time, there is some reason for hope. In the currently tight labor markets of most states, employers have some difficulty filling good-paying jobs in many sectors with skilled workers, and retaining these workers when they are hired. As a result, some are now more willing to invest in worker training than before, and many seem more open to hiring workers–including the long-term jobless or those with criminal records–whom they would normally consider too stigmatized and risky. And wages are finally beginning to rise, though not quickly enough to help most of those who need it.

So Democrats should seize the opportunity now to develop a strong agenda to improve employment and earnings of less-educated workers, both white and minority. Of course, no single policy approach will address all of the problems causing low employment and earnings in these populations. But a strong and coherent package of policies could make a real difference for these workers, and Democrats should now be developing such an agenda.

A Democratic Policy Agenda

Any policy package proposed by Democrats should contain the following elements: 1) Improving worker skills and also the number of good-paying jobs where such skills are rewarded; 2) Rebuilding job markets in distressed towns and rural areas; 3) Addressing barriers to employment, such as opioid dependencies and criminal records, that now limit work for many non-college-educated men; and 4) Making work pay for those who remain unable to improve skill and get better jobs.

Policies to improve worker skills below the BA level have some broad support, though Republicans do not usually want to fund them at the federal level (without offsets from other important priorities). These policies would involve more supports for lower-income (or first-generation) community college students, including adult students who need to work full-time to support families; more aid to the colleges themselves for reforms that raise student completion rates and earnings; and greater affordability, which could be enhanced by expanding loans with income-based repayment, aside from the usual but very expensive calls for free college. Both financial rewards and technical assistance for employers expanding apprenticeships make sense too.

But Democrats should also embrace a broader “good jobs” agenda. Employers who provide “high-road” compensation, with investments in worker skills and productivity, should be publicly favored over those who simply reduce costs by turning workers into contractors, outsourcing their work, and scheduling them erratically. Career pathways, profit-sharing and other ways to enhance worker earnings should be explicit policy goals, with support from “bully pulpits” and a range of policies such as government procurement preferences, tax credits and grants, technical assistance and the like. Support for workers’ right to organize and collectively bargaining would, of course, be part of any such effort. And sensible regulations to limit volatile scheduling, “non-compete” agreements and wage theft are important as well.

Rebuilding distressed areas should be a high priority for Democrats. Grants to support economic development in regions with high pockets of unemployment should provide substantial funding for subsidized jobs and infrastructure projects, including roads and broadband, to link these regions to others nearby that are prospering.

Opioid treatment should be heavily funded and cover both prevention and amelioration. Efforts to reduce the scourge of criminal records in the labor market should include special assistance to link former offenders to employers, provide needed documentation of positive participation in training efforts, and expunge old records for those who have avoided further criminal activity after initial non-violent convictions for drug possession.

Finally, the “make work pay” agenda should include higher minimum wages and an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit. The “Fight for 15” should not, however, be a litmus test, as lower-cost states and cities might find it more practical to have somewhat lower floors that do not burden small businesses or reduce their competitiveness.

Indeed, such flexibility for states and localities should apply broadly to the framing of the entire agenda and whatever specific policies are proposed. Broad policy themes are more important to emphasize than the policy details, though some of the latter should be available to back up the former, if and when needed. And the resources needed to fund these priorities could be obtained from rescinding the worst of the tax cuts passed last year, particularly those benefiting only the rich. In more conservative districts or states, the consistency of these recommendations with fiscal modesty and responsibility should be highlighted.

Overall, Democrats can have broad political appeal with sensible policy proposals to improve earnings for a wide swath of Americans left behind by prosperity. There is no reason why the Conor Lamb experience could not be replicated in many other states and congressional districts.


Political Strategy Notes – Democrats and Full Employment

At The American Prospect, Harold Meyerson explains why “Why the Cause of Full Employment Is Back from the Dead,” despite a relatively low official unemployment rate, 4.1 percent (which incudes jobs that don’t pay a living wage). “The rise of precarious and poorly paid work, chiefly in but not confined to the service sector; the wage stagnation affecting most of the workforce (which Jared Bernstein documented in a piece for the Prospect earlier this week; the declining level of labor force participation in those parts of the country where work, particularly remunerative work, has largely disappeared; the chronic economic insecurity of millennials, and the political left turn they’ve executed in response; the opening to more radical economic reforms unleashed by Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign—all these have led to a new economic radicalism bleeding its way into the Democratic mainstream.”

Full employment still polls well for Democrats. As Sean McElwee, Colin McAuliffe and Jon Green recently write in their article, “Why Democrats Should Embrace a Federal Jobs Guarantee” in The Nation: “To explore the possibility of Democrats’ running on a guaranteed-job plan, we asked the respected data analytics firm Civis Analytics to not only poll guaranteed jobs, but poll it in the way that would be most likely to gain opposition from voters. They asked respondents: “Democrats in congress are proposing a bill which would guarantee a job to every American adult, with the government providing jobs for people who can’t find employment in the private sector. This would be paid for by a 5 percent income tax increase on those making over $200,000 per year. Would you be for or against this policy?”…We expected that in a generic scenario, people would support guaranteed jobs, but before urging Democrats to embrace it, we wanted to see if the policy might take a hit when Republicans made the issue partisan and talked about tax hikes…The results of the Civis polling were nothing short of stunning, showing large net support for a job guarantee: 52 percent in support, 29 percent opposed, and the rest don’t know. “Even with explicit partisan framing and the inclusion of revenue in the wording, this is one of the most popular issues we’ve ever polled,” said David Shor, a senior data scientist at Civis Analytics.”

Another finding revealed from The Nation article: “…Our think tank Data for Progress modeled state-level support for guaranteed jobs using data provided to us by the Center for American Progress, with the help of Senior Adviser Austin Rochford. We find that the job guarantee polls stunningly well in all 50 states. Even in the state with the lowest modeled support, Utah, support is still 57 percent. Deep-red states like West Virginia (62 percent support), Indiana (61 percent), and Kansas (67 percent) all boast strong support for a job guarantee. Indeed, the places where the job guarantee is most popular might be surprising: DC (84 percent), Mississippi (72 percent), North Carolina (72 percent), Hawaii (72 percent), and Georgia (71 percent) have the highest estimates, though support is also high in solid-blue states like California and New York (both 71 percent)…“The results of this research were just staggering. Americans not only overwhelmingly oppose cuts to programs like Medicaid and nutrition assistance. They also support really bold progressive alternatives—including a jobs guarantee,” said Jeremy Slevin, the director of advocacy for the Poverty team at CAP. “If there was any doubt as to whether progressives should champion far-reaching proposals to help people find good-paying jobs, I hope this erases it,” he said.

Meyerson notes that Sen. Bernie Sanders has introduced a comprehensive “guaranteed full employment bill” and “the [Democratic] party now embraces the $15 minimum wage; the cause of single-payer is taken up by a surprising number of elected officials. In addition to the Sanders bill, “New Jersey Senator Cory Booker has proposed setting up pilot full employment programs in 15 urban and rural areas with persistently high levels of unemployment…And Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin—up for re-election in a state where working class whites forsook their Democratic allegiances to vote for Donald Trump in 2016—has authored a bill that requires corporations to have their workers elect one-third of their corporation’s board of directors—a feature, somewhat modified, of German social democracy, and one reason why Germany’s workers are, on the whole, doing better than ours.”

The Sanders jobs bill would require the “federal government to guarantee a job paying $15 an hour and health-care benefits to every American worker “who wants or needs one,” embracing the kind of large-scale government works project that Democrats have shied away from in recent decades,” reports Jeff Stein at The Washington Post. Sanders’s public sector jobs program “would fund hundreds of projects throughout the United States aimed at addressing priorities such as infrastructure, care giving, the environment, education and other goals…”A dozen regional centers would develop proposals for needed public works projects. Current jobs proposals trend away from President Obama’s “public-private partnerships or government incentives to reshape private markets and toward an unambiguous embrace of direct government intervention, adds Stein. “The goal is to eliminate working poverty and involuntary unemployment altogether,” said Darrick Hamilton, an economist at the New School who has advocated for a jobs guarantee program along with Stony Brook University’s Stephanie Kelton and a group of left-leaning economists at the Levy Economics Institute at Bard College. “This is an opportunity for something transformative, beyond the tinkering we’ve been doing for the last 40 years, where all the productivity gains have gone to the elite of society.”

Jane Sanders interviews Stephanie Kelton, former senior economist on the Senate Budget Committee and economic advisor to Sen. Sanders, on the need for a natinal jobs guarantee:

In their Article, “The Full Employment Solution,” also in The American Prospect, Professors Mark Paul, William Darity Jr. and Darrick Hamilton, make a case that the time is right for Democrats to make full employment a priority: “These conditions warrant the resurrection of a bold idea, an Economic Bill of Rights for all Americans, tailored to the conditions of the 21st century.” The authors cite “the first article of a new Economic Bill of Rights—a federal job guarantee…First, we invariably have major economic crises that drive people out of work; the most recent episode is the Great Recession. Second, even in “good” economic times, the United States has more people seeking employment than the private sector is willing to employ. And third, not only do we generally have an inadequate number of jobs, but we have a tier of jobs that feature low pay, uncertain hours, and few or no benefits…What the nation needs is federal legislation that would guarantee employment to every American at non-poverty wages.”

In early March, Democratic leaders shared the broad strokes of an ambitious infrastructure upgrade program, which would provide millions of new jobs at a living wage As Mike Debonis reported at Powerpost, “As the White House struggles to finance an ambitious infrastructure plan, Senate Democrats are proposing one alternative — albeit one unlikely to pass muster with President Trump: rolling back the recently passed Republican tax overhaul…The proposal unveiled by Democratic leaders Wednesday would plow just over $1 trillion into a wide range of infrastructure needs, including $140 billion for roads and bridges, $115 billion for water and sewer infrastructure and $50 billion to rebuild schools.”…The spending would be offset by clawing back two-thirds of the revenue lost in the Republican tax bill by reinstating a top income tax rate of 39.6 percent, restoring the individual alternative minimum tax, reversing cuts to the estate tax, and raising the corporate income tax from 21 percent to 25 percent…Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in an interview Tuesday that the plan sets up a stark contrast for voters ahead of the midterm elections.”’…“We believe overwhelmingly the American people will prefer building infrastructure and creating close to 15 million middle-class jobs than giving tax breaks for the wealthy,” he said.” Although much of the Democratic plan would send money to traditional infrastructure priorities like highways, transit and waterways, Schumer highlighted less conventional spending priorities, including $40 billion to build high-speed Internet connections in rural areas and $80 billion to upgrade the country’s energy grid.”

Will centrist and more conservative Democrats also support a party agenda that puts full employment as a unifying priority? In their article, “Get to Work, Democrats: Become the Jobs Party,” about findings of their focus groups on jobs at thirdway.org, Lanae Erickson Hatalsky and Ryan Pougiales conclude, “The lesson that stands out from this research is clear: the Party needs to actively and impassionedly seek out the title of “the jobs party.” In House and Senate Democrats’ new Better Deal agenda , the focus on and promise of Better Jobs is essential. Hopefully, this shows that Democrats are coming to grips with the jobs tension that they have failed to reconcile in recent years. Even as the economy approaches full employment, there remains real economic anxiety, and people will always aspire to new and better job opportunities. Trump spoke to this—and voters responded. To rebuild the Party and regain the power to enact their priorities, Democrats need to craft a broad path that’s inclusive of a diverse coalition and sustainable across election cycles. Reclaiming its status as the party of jobs is a unifying way to do just that.”


Narrow GOP Win in AZ-8 Tainted by Voter Suppression Concerns

Republicans are making the most out of GOP candidate Debbie Lesko’s 5+ point victory over Democrat Hiral Tipirneni in the special election to represent Arizona’s 8th district. But it was the reddest district in Arizona, one that Trump won by 21 percent. That Tiperneni got 47 percent of the vote is a scary statistic for Republicans, all the more so considering Republicans have a 17 percent voter registration edge in the district. Arizona Republicans are reportedly very worried about holding the governorship and a U.S. Senate seat in November.

A win is a win. But a narrow win tainted by voter suppression is even less for Republicans to crow about. As Kira Lerner writes at ThinkProgress, “As residents of Arizona’s eighth congressional district cast ballots in a special election to replace former Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) in Congress, roughly 140,000 of them may be unaware they are eligible to vote because they did not receive the ID card the county is required to send them after they register.” Further,

According to the Arizona Republic, Maricopa County officials have not sent all voters the cards they can use to cast a ballot under Arizona’s voter ID law because of an issue with the company used to print the materials. The paper reports that just 60,000 ID cards have been mailed to people who recently registered or changed their registration, while about 140,000 have not been sent.

Adrian Fontes, the county recorder who oversees elections in Maricopa County, told ThinkProgress on Monday that he’s not concerned with what he sees as a “little hiccup in printing.”

Failing to provide 140,000 eligible voters their registration card in a race won by  about 9 thousand votes can not be accurately described as “a little hiccup.” Lerner elaborates,

Arizona was one of the first states in the country to enact a non-photo voter ID law when a ballot measure was approved by voters in November 2004. Under the law, the state must take steps to ensure that all eligible voters have an acceptable form of ID. According to the secretary of state’s office, “a county recorder must issue a voter ID card to any new registrant or an existing registrant who updates his or her name, address or political party preference.”

But because of an error by the company used to print the ID cards, they have not been mailed out since December.

We’ll never know what might have happened if Maricopa County had done it’s job. Yet, even as it is, the special election results don’t bode well for the Republicans across the nation, as well as the Arizona GOP’s fading hopes for holding the governorship and the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Senator Jeff Flake.


States of Change conference held last week in Washington D.C.

Excerpt from the remarks of Matt Morrison, Executive Director of Working America, at the States of Change conference held last week in Washington D.C.

The changing demography of the country over the next 14 years that is revealed by the States of Change report shows us both how determinative the emerging populations of non-white voters are becoming in the electoral college, and how non-college white voters are still central to the electoral fortunes in a gerrymandered House and key US Senate and presidential battlegrounds.

But as the saying goes, demography is not destiny. Indeed, when Working America asked African American voters in Ohio why they thought there was such a steep drop in turnout from 2012 to 2016, the resounding response was “does it even matter.” In an era without a historic figure like Barack Obama on the ballot, Democrats should not expect the same level of participation and vote share from this bedrock constituency when neither party is making changes in the big concerns in their lives- education, affordable healthcare and quality employment opportunities.

But the GOP should also be sobered. There is no meaningful path to electoral success for the Republican Party without substantially over performing with non-college educated White voters. For Democrats, the irony, and opportunity, is that the very issues that concern people of color are also central to the future of these voters as well.

To see the video of Matt Morrison’s full presentation, Click HERE.


Wasserman: Dems Can Leverage GOP House Candidates ‘Risk Factors’

The Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman identifies 7 key “risk factors” for Republican House candidates in the Midterm elections, including:

  1. Sits in a district with a Cook PVI score of R+5 or less Republican.
  2. Sits in a district that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016.
  3. Received 55 percent of the vote or less in the 2016 election (or a 2017 special election).
  4. Voted in favor of the American Health Care Act in the May 4 roll call vote.
  5. Voted in favor of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in the December 19 roll call vote.
  6. Raised less money than at least one Democratic opponent in the first quarter of 2018.
  7. Has a Democratic opponent with at least $200,000 in cash on hand as of March 31.

Wasserman notes, further, “Only one incumbent, Rep. Steve Knight (CA-25), has all seven risk factors. Eight incumbents have six risk factors, 23 incumbents have five, 23 incumbents have four and 32 have three. This is not a hard and fast list, and over the next quarter, many incumbents will add or subtract factors based on their own and their opponents’ progress. ”

In addition, Wasserman adds that “Democrats have a donor enthusiasm edge: in the first quarter of 2018, at least 43 sitting Republicans were out-raised by at least one Democratic opponent.”

According to Wasserman, “Our latest ratings point to 56 vulnerable GOP-held seats, versus six vulnerable Democratic seats,” along with 18 Republicans in “toss-up” territory.

One of the interesting things about the “risk factors” is that they aren’t linked to opinion polling, which may appeal to (ahem) armchair analysts. The names with the risk factors will change somewhat over the next six months, and it would be instructive to compare predictive value of this template to the opinion polls, and also how well it performs together with polls, compared to polls alone.