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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Democratic Strategist

Dem Prospects May Depend on ‘Invisible Primary’

Money being the ‘mother’s milk’ of politics, the pursuit of the cash cows by Presidential aspirants is already well-underway. So report Chris Cillizza and Michael A. Fletcher in their Sunday WaPo article “Candidates Woo Bush Donors for ‘Invisible Primary.” Fletcher and Cillizza explain the ‘Rangers’ and ‘Pioneers’ strategy presidential candidate Bush used in 2000, noting,

These Rangers, who raised $200,000 or more for Bush in 2004, and Pioneers, who each collected more than $100,000 as part of campaigns that redefined modern political fundraising, are being intensely courted by GOP presidential aspirants across the country, both in large gatherings…and one-on-one.

The authors are primarilly concerned with the fund-raising efforts of GOP candidates in this piece, but they have the following to say about Democrats moving into position for a presidential run:

Although Democrats do not have an equivalent for the Rangers and Pioneers, their leading candidates have already begun making the rounds of wealthy donors.
Last week, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) ventured to New York to meet with a group of potential donors assembled by liberal philanthropist George Soros.
And Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) has spent much of the past two years building a fundraising infrastructure that raised nearly $50 million for her lopsided reelection campaign. The donors who contributed to that campaign can give again, should she run for president in 2008.

The authors term aggressive early fund raising as a sort of “invisible primary,” the winners of which get a huge jump before anyone in Iowa or New Hampshire casts a ballot. All in all, it is a sobering look at the money game behind political campaigns. But the Democrats do have a fund-raising advantage, as noted by David D. Kirkpatrick in his New York Times article “G.O.P. Draws Fire on Senate Race Spending,” quoting political analyist Stuart Rothenberg on the benefits of the November 7th Democratic sweep:

People are going to be clamoring to give to the Democrats…For the Republicans, it is going to be pulling teeth, especially with a presidential race coming up

Taken together, the two aforementioned articles provide instructive insights into the ‘money game,’ as played by winners and losers.

Democratic Governors Setting Stage for ’08

Associated Press reporter Nedra Pickler’s article “Democratic Governors Plan to Use New Power” should be of interest to candidate watchers and Democratic strategists. Pickler points out that states with Democratic governors increased their electoral vote strength from 207 to 295, as a result of the November 7 election (270 needed to win). Pickler quotes Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, incoming chair of the Democratic Governors Association offering this encouraging assessment:

The framework is in place, I think, to elect a Democratic president

Governor Sebelius also points out that next year 54 percent of Americans will live in states run by Democratic governors. Interestingly Sebelius and Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer are both quoted expressing skepticism that their states electoral votes will go to the Democratic ’08 nominee, while Governor Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, who won every county in his state, is more optimistic about Dems’ chances in the south.
The article also mentions the “Denver-based New West Project, designed to deliver the region to the Democratic presidential nominee…a political network to get out the Democratic vote, which will help in 2008.” For more about The New West Project, which includes participation from members of Congress and other state officials as well as Governors, read John Aloysius Farrell’s Denver Post article “Dems forge group to milk Western gains.”

Needed: Stronger Dem Leadership for Katrina Recovery

With less than two years to go before the ’08 elections, the restoration of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast is reportedly bogging down in a bureaucratic morass, from levee repair to the clean-up to housing. You can read about it here, here and here.
The thing for Democrats to keep in mind is that, if the pace hasn’t picked up when November ’08 rolls around, we won’t have Prez heckuva-job to blame for the mess. Voters will expect a Democratic-controlled congress to provide some vigorous leadership. If by that time, we are still investing more in Iraq’s infrastructure than our own, we shouldn’t be surprised if Democrats are held responsible.
An estimated two-thirds of New Orleans residents have returned to the city, according to the Louisiana Recovery Authority. The missing third evacuees are most likely disproportionately Democratic voters. Most would come home, if they had a decent place to live, and could count on good schools for their kids and stable jobs for family breadwinners. Democrats must provide the leadership needed to make this happen, not only because Democratic office-holders in the region will be held accountable if we don’t, but because we are the party that addresses the needs of working people. The Big Easy and the Gulf Coast are the proving grounds.
Dems must hit the ground running when the new Congress convenes after the holidays. We do indeed need to pass a ‘Marshall Plan’ for the Gulf Coast, with strong prevailing wage protection. We need legislation to compell insurance companies to honor their commitments at an accelerated pace. National Guard units in Iraq should be redeployed to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, where they can help maintain order and assist with the clean-up. The list goes on and on. The point is to take decisive action, to provide a clear answer to the question ‘What would FDR do?’
For many of the swing voters of ’06, the Administration’s dismal performance in the wake of Hurricane Katrina was the turning point, the moment when they said. “OK, that’s enough for this clown show. It’s time to give the other guys a chance.” If Dems rise to the challenge, and make New Orleans and the Gulf Coast a showcase for their leadership, ’08 will be an even better year than ’06.

Dems Weigh Proposal to Discourage ‘Frontloading’ Primaries

Jeff Zeleny reports in the New York Times on an unusual proposal before the Rules and Bylaws Committee of the Democratic National Committee to discourage further “frontloading” of Presidential primaries. While Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina have nailed down early primary dates, other states are now scrambling to lock in early dates. But the proposal before the DNC would give “incentive delegates” to states that chose later primary dates. Here is the breakdown, as outlined by Zeleny:

States holding 2008 primaries between February 5 and March 31 — known as stage 1 — will get no bonus delegates.
States with contests between April 1 and April 30 — stage 2 — receive a 5 percent bonus for staying in that time period.
States with contests between May 1 and June 10 — stage 3 — will receive a 10 percent bonus for staying in that timeframe.
At the same time, if any state in stage 1 moves to stage 2, it receives a 15 percent bonus. Finally, if a stage 1 or 2 state moves into stage 3, it receives a 30 percent bonus.

The DNC will vote on the proposal in February. The argument in favor of frontloading primaries is that it allows time for Dems to unify behind a candidate. The argument against frontloading is that it gives the GOP an early target and leaves the Democrats with a boring mid and late primary season, giving the GOP a significant advantage in media coverage. Hopefully each state will consider the greater Democratic good, as well as it’s own interests. Either way, it is a strategic consideration that merits more media coverage and further discussion among Democratic rank and file.

Dems Set to Ride Hispanic Tide in ’08

John Zogby’s “The Battle for the Latino Vote” at the HuffPo has a couple of graphs that ought to command the attention of every ’08 candidate:

Just to put things in context, consider these figures: Hispanics were 5% of 95 million voters in 1996, 6% of 105 million voters in 2000, and 8.5% of 122 million voters in 2004. With a highly competitive election in 2008 and a heavy voter registration drive, we could be looking at an electorate that includes a Hispanic component amounting to 10% of 130 million voters in 2008.
Republicans took a drubbing among Hispanics this year. From George Bush’s 40% share in 2004, the Republicans managed only to garner only 30% this year. Just think what that means in the context of huge growth in the numbers Hispanic voters. For 2008 that could mean a decline of 1.3 million Hispanic Republican votes in elections that have been won and lost by mere hundreds and thousands of votes. The impact could be particularly significant in such key competitive states like Arizona, New Mexico, Florida, and Colorado, all of which include large Hispanic populations.

The Latino demographic is expanding even faster in the southeastern states. As things stand now, the explosive growth of Hispanic voters bodes well for Dems — especially those who refuse to get hustled by immigrant-bashing demagoguery.

Should Dems Whistle Past Dixie?

Thomas Schaller has gotten buckets of buzz (See TDS roundtable) with his book “Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South,” the thesis of which is well-encapsulated in the title. The consequences of the strategy he has advocated in his book and articles are far-reaching, and so it seems fair to give his critics’ post-election arguments a hearing. New Donkey Ed Kilgore adds to the fray in his Salon post “Yes, Democrats do need the South!” Rebutting Schaller’s contention that the ’06 election verifies his book’s argument, Kilgore notes:

Since Democrats did in fact gain ground in the South and did not lose a thing, Schaller is at pains to show how meager those gains were in comparison with the gains in other regions. But he largely ignores the constraints of the Southern political landscape this year. In a quirk of the electoral calendar, only five Senate seats were up in the South (accepting Schaller’s definition of “the South” as the 11 states of the old Confederacy), four held by Republicans. Democrats won two, for a net gain of one senator, which is a perfectly proportional contribution to the conquest of the Senate. Similarly, there were six gubernatorial contests in the South, five in seats held by Republicans. Democrats won two for a net gain of one, again a proportional contribution to the national results. (Democrats also won the single Southern governor’s races held in 2004 and in 2005, which means they now control five of the 11 executive offices.)

Kilgore concedes that Democratic candidates for the House did not do quite so well in the South. However, he explains:

There’s no question Democrats underperformed in Southern House races, picking up five net seats (with a sixth and a seventh possible in disputed races in North Carolina and Florida). But it should be remembered that nearly half the region’s House seats are in three super-gerrymandered states, Texas, Florida and Georgia. Schaller emphasizes two near losses by Democratic incumbents in my home state of Georgia. But in fairness, he should acknowledge that both of these districts were re-gerrymandered by the Republican Legislature last year, making Jim Marshall’s district (the 8th) significantly more Republican, and taking John Barrow’s home base out of his district (the 12th) entirely. The close Georgia outcomes also owed a lot to the decision of the national GOP to make Marshall and Barrow two of the three incumbents they spent heavily to defeat, in the end falling short.

In terms of state legislatures, the South doesn’t look all that red either. Schaller has recently noted that the South accounted for a small percentage of Democratic gains in the state legislatures. Kilgore responds:

But the national seat-gain number is distorted by big Democratic pickups in the mammoth New Hampshire House, and Democrats were already stronger in Southern legislatures than in many other parts of the country. As of today, each party controls five Southern state legislatures, with one split (Tennessee). Not too shabby.

Kilgore has more to say about the South’s larger number of electoral votes, compared to the “promised land” of the Mountain West and about recent demographic trends favoring Democrats below the Mason-Dixon line. Kilgore’s concern that Schaller’s argument will morph into an attack on southern culture appears to be less well-founded. And, to be fair, Schaller’s book is subtitled “How Democrats Can Win Without the South,” not “How Democrats Must Win Without the South” (In addition to his TDS Roundtable articles, Schaller has another post-election analysis here and he responds to some of his critics here). But if Kilgore’s rebuttal falls short of making the case for a true “50 state campaign” in ’08, he has made a pretty good case for an all regions campaign.

Freshman Districts Vulnerability Ranked

OK, it may be a little early to start worrying, since they haven’t even been sworn in yet. But DavidNYC has a nifty chart at Swing State Project ranking each of the districts of incoming House of Reps freshman according to the “partisan voting index” (PVI). The chart provides a useful tool for evaluating which districts may be most vulnerable for Dems to defend in ’08. Hopefully, the DNC, DCCC and Speaker-elect Pelosi will take note and allocate some assistance accordingly. The comments following the article offer some perceptive insights as well.

Economic Populists vs. Rubinites to Shape Dems’ Future

Louis Uchtelle’s “Here Come the Economic Populists” in The New York Times Week in Review spotlights the internal struggle within the Democratic Party between “economic populists” and “the Rubinites.” While the marquee conflict between the two groups has been globalism vs. protectionism (or ‘free trade’ vs. ‘fair trade’), there are other major issues at stake, as Uchitelle explains:

As the two groups face off, Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, contends that the populists are pushing much harder than the Rubinites for government-subsidized universal health care. They also favor expanding Social Security to offset the decline in pension coverage in the private sector.

Fortunately, there are common areas of agreement uniting the two factions:

Both would sponsor legislation that reduced college tuition, mainly through tax credits or lower interest rates on student loans. Both would expand the earned-income tax credit to subsidize the working poor. Both would have the government negotiate lower drug prices for Medicare’s prescription drug plan. And despite their relentless criticisms of President Bush’s tax cuts, neither the populists nor the Rubinite regulars would try to roll them back now, risking a veto that the Democrats lack the votes to override.

The economic populists clearly have the momentum as a result of the November 7 election, and their numbers will swell when the freshman are sworn in. But the Rubinites may still have considerable leverage in the Party. The one thing that seems certain is that the era of runaway globalism is coming to a close.

Dems’ Challenge: Recruit More Women Candidates

On one level, 2006 has been a great year for womens’ political empowerment, with Nancy Pelosi set to serve as the first woman Speaker of the House in the new congress. After that, however, women’s gains were modest, according to statistics compiled by the Center for American Women in Politics (CAWP). Women added two new U.S. Senators (both Democrats) and one governor. With two congressional races still to be decided, women increased their numbers in the House of Reps by less than one percent.
In terms of statewide elective offices, women actually lost two seats nationwide (from 78 in ’04 to 76 in ’06). Women recorded a small gain in the nation’s state legislatures, picking up 46 seats, for a new nation-wide total of 1,732. If there is any consolation in these figures, it is that Democrats did much better than Republicans, with Dems now holding 68 percent of women’s legislative seats. As CAWP Director Debbie Walsh explains:

What’s most notable for 2007 is the growing party disparity, with more than twice as many Democrats as Republican lawmakers…We’re concerned that, with state legislatures providing a vital pipeline to higher offices, we’ll see fewer Republican women positioned to move up.

When the new elected officials take office, women’s share of political offices in the U.S. will be:

Governors 18%
U.S. Senators 16%
House Members 16.3 % (pending two undecided races)
State Legislators 23%

The Dems’ strong majority of women office-holders notwithstanding, the total figures are still less than impressive. The clear challenge for all national, state and local Democratic organizations is to recruit, train and support more women candidates.

Southern Demographics and the Electoral College

Before swallowing the “skip the south” meme whole hog, Democratic presidential aspirants should take a look at R. Neal’s post “The Changing Southern Demographic” at Facing South. Neal’s summary of the trend of the South’s African American demographic is especially interesting:

…While the Black population in the South is growing in numbers, the percentage of Black population as compared to the total has declined overall, presumably because of the increase in Hispanic and other minority population. The percentage of Black population decreased in Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia, increased in Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi, and stayed the same in Louisiana and Tennessee. (The figures for Louisiana seem off, but perhaps the data was collected before Katrina.)

A key word in the above graph being “overall.” But Neal also provides this snapshot table:

Percentage of Black population (2005):
Mississippi 36.5%
Louisiana 32.5%
Georgia 29.2%
South Carolina 28.5%
Alabama 25.8%
North Carolina 21.0%
Virginia 19.1%
Tennessee 16.4%
Arkansas 15.3%
Florida 15.0%
Kentucky 7.2%
West Virginia 3.1%

Pretty much the whole south, with the exception of KY and WV (are they really southern, anyway?) has a higher percentage of the Democrats’ most loyal constituency than the nation as a whole. Five southern states have double or better the national average. Given these numbers — and a strong presidential candidate — Dems should be able to win a few southern states.