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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore’s New Donkey

Grass Turning Blue

In a bit of a surprise, former Lt. Gov. Steve Beshear won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Kentucky today, winning just over the 40% of the vote necessary to avoid a runoff. He enters the general election contest as a heavy favorite over scandal-plagued Republican incumbent Ernie Fletcher, who easily beat former U.S. Rep. Anne Northrup for the GOP nomination.Until very recently, Beshear trailed self-funded businessman Bruce Lunsford in most polls, and even after pulling ahead in the stretch run, was expected to face a runoff. The Louisville Courier-Journal credited Beshear’s late momentum to his endorsement by State Treasurer Jonathan Miller, who withdrew from the race two weeks ago. (Miller happens to be a friend of mine and a long-time DLC activist. If he couldn’t win, I’m glad he made a decisive difference in the race by withdrawing. He’s still under 40, and will be heard from in the future, I’m sure). If you’ve been following the race, you may know that Lunsford’s early lead in the polls gave a lot of Democrats heartburn, in no small part because of his endorsement of Fletcher in 2003 after he ended his own campaign that year. Tonight Lunsford endorsed Beshear relatively early in the evening, and said he’d withdraw if Beshear missed the 40% threshold. Beshear’s running-mate is Dr. Dan Mongiardo, who nearly upset Republican Sen. Jim Bunning in 2004. Fletcher also won his primary on a burst of late momentum, having trailed Northrup–who was endorsed by Bunning and by Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell–in most early polls. But few observers think he can win the general election, after compiling an ethics record that would embarrass Jack Abramoff. So it’s looking good for Kentucky to turn blue this November.

Immigration Deal: One Step Forward Onto a Garden Rake

The new immigration deal, which has barely been revealed in its details, survived a simple vote to proceed in the Senate, but amidst signs that it will be buffeted from almost every direction.39 Democrats and 30 Republicans voted for cloture on the motion to proceed on the deal; 5 Democrats and 18 Republicans voted against it. But all over the chamber, senators who voted both yea and nay vowed to change the deal in incompatible ways, as the Washington Post explained:

One of the first Republican amendments, by Sen. James M. Inhofe (Okla.), would seek to make English the official language of the United States.An amendment by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) would impose a hefty surcharge on illegal immigrants granted legal status to help states pay for the medical and educational services such immigrants would claim. Another from Cornyn would allow federal law enforcement agents to use information from visa applications to investigate allegations of fraud in the legalization process.Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) said she wants any immigration legislation to require illegal immigrants to return to their home country to apply for legal status.On the other side of the aisle, the biggest threats revolve around a temporary-worker program that would grant two-year work visas, renewable up to three times, as long as foreign workers leave the country between each two-year stint. Labor unions contend that the program would depress U.S. wages and create an underclass of abused foreign workers. Business groups say the structure of the program is unrealistic, since it guarantees instability in the labor supply.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), with the backing of Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), will move as soon as today to slash in half the number of temporary work visas, to 200,000 a year. Sens. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) will try to strike the program from the bill altogether, and they are likely to pick up support from the Senate’s most liberal and most conservative members.

Senate managers of the bill have already given up on earlier plans to race the bill through the chamber before the Memorial Day recess. All hell is likely to break loose during the ensuing debate. And it looks less and less likely that the bill will survive the amendment battles with the 60 votes necessary to break a certain filibuster. And even if all that happens, Speaker Pelosi has made it clear the House is likely to pass a bill that doesn’t much resemble the Senate deal.I think we’re looking at 2009 for any genuine immigration reform effort.

Model Retraction

A couple of days ago, I did an unhappy post lengthily taking issue with something Ezra Klein had to say at TAPPED about polls and Democratic “centrists,” and wanted to report that Ezra subsequently apologized for the whole thing, in terms that went far beyond anything necessary to satisfy me or anyone else. I hope that next time I say something that might unintentionally cause offense, I have half the decency and good grace Ezra’s showing here.

Times Turns Thumbs Down On Immigration Deal

As a useful summary over at RealClearPolitics shows, initial response to last week’s immigration deal in the nation’s editorial pages has been relatively positive. But today, the New York Times came out with guns blazing and urged that the deal be rejected if it’s not significantly improved, with the vast “guest-worker” program contemplated in the proposal being the major flashpoint. Given the incredibly hostile reaction to the deal among so many Republicans, it won’t take many Democratic defections to bring it down in Congress, if not in the Senate, then in the House. So the Times’ position could wind up being pretty influential, particularly given the widespread if muted Democratic sentiment that a big Democratic year in 2008 could produce a better deal.

The Romney Surge

It’s increasingly obvious that Mitt Romney’s “second interview” to become the Conservative Alternative to McCain and Giuliani in the GOP presidential contest is working out a lot better than his first. Having jumped into a lead or strong second place in several recent polls in NH, the Mittster is now moving up fast in Iowa as well. Via TPMCafe’s Election Central, we learn that Romney’s opened up a surprisingly big lead in the latest Iowa Poll by the Des Moines Register. Among likely caucus-goers, he’s at 30%, with McCain at 18%, Giuliani at 17%, and nobody else in double digits (the poll does not include Fred Thompson or Newt Gingrich).In both IA and NH, Romney seems to be benefitting from his recent ad blitz, and from the troubles of his top-tier rivals.On the Democratic side, the Register poll has John Edwards maintaining his lead at 29%, with Obama (23%) edging ahead of Clinton (21%) for second place, and Bill Richardson hitting double digits at 10%. In general, recent polls in Iowa and NH show a relatively stable three-way race among Edwards, Clinton and Obama, with Richardson (whose own recent ads have been well-received) overcoming his questionable debate performances to occupy the second tier by himself.UPCATEGORY: Ed Kilgore’s New Donkey

Immigration and the GOP: Kaboom!

The immigration deal cut last week by the White House and key Senate leaders will probably have the votes to get through the Senate, unless there’s a full-scale Democratic revolt against the size of the obnoxious “guest worker” program. But I tell you what is absolutely clear: this deal is rapidly becoming a toxic, divisive problem for Republicans, potentially as large as divisions over the Iraq War among Democrats in the not-so-distant past. If you don’t believe me, go spend some time over at the National Review site, where the deal and its Republican supporters are being savaged in increasingly intemperate terms. Aside from a very angry editorial and several columns, over at The Corner, NR’s internal blog, they’ve been discussing little else from the moment the deal was announced. There we learn that over this weekend, pro-deal Republican senators Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and Saxby Chambliss of GA were lustily booed at Republican Conventions in their states. We read comparisons of pro-deal GOPers to the leaders of Vichy France. And over and over, we’re told that the deal will decimate Senate Republican prospects in 2008, and perhaps bring down the whole ticket. NR’s not alone in this extreme assessment. In his broadcast yesterday, Rush Limbaugh called the deal the “Comprehensive Destroy the Republican Party Act.”In terms of the presidential nominating contest, all this angst is mainly bad news for John McCain, whose support for this deal compounds conservative heartburn over his cosponsorship of the earlier deal that passed the Senate. The only good thing for McCain is that the latest bill is being referred to as “Kennedy-Bush,” not “Kennedy-McCain II,” though that may be temporary. But the immediate and certain-to-grow exploitation of this issue by McCain’s rivals will make immigration front-and-center in Republican politics in a way that the Arizonan probably won’t be able to survive. Already, Mitt Romney’s running anti-immigration-deal ads. Fred Thompson’s done a radio commentary calling for it to be scrapped. The candidate in the most delicate position is probably Rudy Guiliani, who’s been trying to reposition himself on immigration by saying he wouldn’t support any deal that didn’t include a national database of illegal immigrants, but whose long record of pro-immigration comments in New York, arguably to the left of most Democrats, will not go away. Given the fact that even those Democrats who may grudgingly support the immigration deal don’t particularly like it, it’s almost certain that the growing furor will even further depress Bush’s approval ratings, perhaps dramatically. And at the risk of beating a dead horse, that means John McCain will be strongly identified with Bush’s two most controversial policies: the Iraq surge, and this immigration deal. If he’s not toast at this point, he’s surely getting a bit crispy.

On Immigration, What He Said

In case anybody is under the misapprehension that my last post reflected disrespect towards Ezra Klein (which wasn’t my intention, though I do think he showed some disrepect to “centrists” in the subject of my unhappy response), let me say his three (so far) TAPPED posts on the immigration “deal” are the best immediate reactions I’ve seen: a good analysis of the pros and cons of the deal itself, and some real information on where it all might go next. Check them all out.

About Those Poll-Driven Centrists

In his contribution to the TAPPED/Third Way colloquoy on the 2006 elections (see my last post), Ezra Klein goes off into a digression about the alleged “obsession” of centrist groups with polling, adding this unhelpful “hunch” about its origins:

My hunch is that both liberals and conservative intuitively understand that their philosophies have a certain instinctual resonance with the broader public, while the DLC-types are similarly aware that nobody-but-nobody wakes up in the morning yearning for a ruling class of reflexively cautious technocrats, and so they spend endless time trying to prove their support among voter’s heads because they know they’re not in sync with their guts.

This being a broadly-held and (to me) maddening stereotype of “centrist” Democrats, I’m going to try to go through this real calm-like.First of all, there’s a big difference in importance and reliability between “polls” and “exit polls,” since the former are subject to all sorts of hidden agendas, differential methodologies, questioning techniques, and timing issues, while the latter, while hardly flawless, provide a common factual base for discussion about how and why people have actually voted. The Third Way report is based on exit polls, and whatever you think of it, ought to be debated and critiqued, not dismissed as representing some sort of invidious attempt to cook the books and justify the unjustifiable.Second of all, Ezra’s impressions notwithstanding, it’s just not true that “DLC-types,” as he calls them, spend “endless time” conducting and analyzing polls while those good, principled liberals wouldn’t descend to such pedantry. Looking around the blogosphere, I see endless discussion of polls and endless assertions about electoral trends; there’s a reason so many progressive bloggers can claim to be far more interested in winning elections than in any liberal ideology. Meanwhile, the DLC has conducted exactly one poll in the last four years. It was on attitudes towards globalization and it produced results that didn’t nicely reinforce any “centrist” point of view. And third of all, the whole invidious head/gut distinction Ezra cites is, well, rather obviously anti-intellectual. It reminds me a lot of the debates back in the 1980s over the relevance of the statistical analysis of baseball, with baseball “traditionalists,” especially in MLB itself, endlessly dismissing the geeks who hadn’t played the game themselves and thus needed their silly statistics to claim a place at the table with the professionals who knew the game in their “gut.”As pioneering baseball analyst Bill James often observed at the time, everyone connected to baseball carried around certain assumptions about what mattered in measuring success and failure; the difference was that “traditionalists” valued less-reliable stats like batting averages and RBI, because they knew them to be right in their “gut,” while others actually wanted to find other measurements that told a larger and more accurate story, based on empirical evidence.And so it also goes in political analysis. I don’t know about Ezra, but in the run-up to the 2006 elections, I must have read fifteen newspaper columns, thirty magazine articles, and maybe 100 blog posts asserting that there were no longer any such thing as “swing voters,” and that this would be a “base mobilization” election in which differential turnout patterns, not persuasion, would be critical. With the frequent and honorable exception of MyDD’s Chris Bowers, few of these “analysts” bothered to offer much in the way of empirical data for this claim, before or after the election. They apparently knew it in their “gut.” I see no reason to assume there’s some sort of conflict between having ideological principles and being interested in public opinion research. As for the suggestion that “centrists” are so out of touch with the hearts and values of Democrats that they have to rely on sophistry in an effort to get them to betray their principles–well, it must be nice to just know, in your gut, that you are the values-bearer of the progressive tradition and that others aren’t, without having to look at any contrary evidence (e.g., that a sizable majority of Democratic voters, for some perverse reason, persistently identify themselves as “moderate” or “conservative,” not “liberal,” or that “DLC-type” Bill Clinton is adored by the Democratic base). As it happens, I’m never been happy with the “centrist” label, and don’t consider myself squarely in any intra-Democratic “camp.” But when anyone in the party comes forward with a fact-based case for a point of view about policy or politics, I’m willing to look at it without immediately deriding their credibility or doubting their motives.

Crunching 2006 Numbers

An extended and rather heated exchange has broken out over at TAPPED regarding Third Way’s recent analysis of electoral trends between 2004 and 2006, which, to make a long story short, suggests that Democrats main vote gains last year were in “red” elements of the electorate, especially white men and high earners. The report drew criticism from Tom Schaller, Mark Schmitt and Ezra Klein. Then TAPPED let the Third Way folks respond in a guest blog, and Schaller came back at them once again.For all the fire in these posts, I have to say both sides of the argument have important, legitimate points to make. In particular, Schmitt is right, generally, about the different nature of the electorate in midterm versus general elections (though I don’t know that there’s much to gain from staring at comparisons of 2006 with 2002, given the anomylous nature of the latter). But Third Way’s right that there’s something significant about the ability of Democrats to do so well in a less congenial electorate. Schaller’s right that looking at percentage performances among different subelements of the electorate shows a different picture than Third Way’s, and avoids some of the pitfalls of the “normalization” methodology Third Way used to create its raw vote comparisons. But Third Way’s right that comparing percentages is misleading as well, since small gains in large segments of the electorate often produce more votes than large gains in small segments.I do have a couple of observations to add based on my own unpublished, unscientific analysis of 2004 and 2006 House exit polls a few months back. First of all, trends in some of the subgroups of the electorate partially undermine the assumption that Democratic gains among whites, men, marrieds, upscale voters and self-identified independents (all of which definitely occurred) can be interpreted as gains in “red” or “red-leaning” voters. In particular, when you break the electorate down into self-identified liberals, moderates and conservatives, Democrats gained roughly the same percentages across the board, without any significant change in the ideological composition of the electorate.Second of all, and more importantly, the national exit poll trends disguised some very striking regional variations. In the Northeast, Democratic gains strongly reflected the trends Third Way talks about, concentrated among white upscale suburbanites. But ideologically, Democrats gained an amazing 10 points among self-identified liberals, more than twice the gain among moderates. The West, Democrats’ second-best region, was like a different country, with gains heavily concentrated among less-educated white men, and in rural areas. In the Midwest, Democrats made no gains among suburbanites, and made surprisingly strong gains among African-Americans. And in the South, Democrats actually lost ground with suburbanites and gained nothing from moderates, while the African-American percentage of the electorate dropped significantly.Topping off all these confusing variations is the fact that the 2006 exit polls showed double-digit Democratic gains among Latinos. But virtually everyone thinks the 2004 exit polls significantly understated the Democratic Latino vote, so it’s hard to know how seriously to take that “trend.”All in all, probably the safest thing to say is that Democrats’ fine year in 2006 owed itself to a variety of national, regional and local factors; that Dems did pretty well in categories of the electorate where they’ve been struggling recently; and that the single most important trend was the strong showing Democrats made among self-identified independents, who may be “swing” voters but aren’t necessarily “moderates.” It was neither the base-mobilization election so many people predicted; nor the classic Clintonian seize-the-center election others suggested after the fact.

The Immigration Deal

The big news in Washington today is that the White House and Senate leaders have agreed on another version of immigration reform legislation that would supersede the stalled Kennedy-McCain bill, and maybe stand an outside chance of enactment in the House. I’m not inclined to immediately follow Nathan Newman in labeling this a “crappy deal.” But there are clearly some problems with it. Personally, I have no inherent objection to a modification of “family unification” as the main principle in immigration preferences; this and every other country should be able to consider its own economic needs in immigration policy, so long as immediate families are able to stay together, and so long as we acknowledge that there’s obviously a need for unskilled as well as skilled labor in our workforce. More problematic is the idea, much expanded from Kennedy-McCain, of a vast “guest worker” program that would encourage immigration without any path to citizenship. It’s a prescription for officially creating the kind of alienated class of “non-persons” evident in some European countries. And the silly requirement that those obtaining “guest worker” visas have to leave the country and return periodically will simply guarantee noncompliance on an extraordinary scale.Maybe such bad provisions are necessary to get something through Congress that’s not simply punitive, but my guess is that the “deal” probably won’t fly.