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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Editor’s Corner

Lessons Learned From the State of the Art in Local Polling

By Thomas Riehle
Majority Watch made history in 2006. Before this, no one has ever set out to track district-by-contested-district the race for control of the U.S. House. It was never done before on such a systematic basis because the cost was prohibitive. Constituent Dynamics (a Seattle-based recorded-voice interviewing firm) and RT Strategies (a bipartisan polling firm in Washington, D.C.) developed a methodology using

  1. Long-time analysts (Charlie Cook, Stuart Rothenberg, Chuck Todd and Congressional Quarterly), the insights from a newer generation of analysts (MyDD.com, Real Clear Politics and others) and evidence of DCCC/NRCC investments in select races to determine which races were in play,
  2. Census data (compiled by Polidata) to model likely voters in each district,
  3. Voter lists (much improved and standardized nationwide since passage of the Help America Vote Act of 2002), and
  4. Recorded interviews (taking advantage of rapid developments in recorded calling software, as well as the years of training American consumers have endured as they grow accustomed to a recording asking them to punch 1 for one thing and punch 9 for another).

MW tracked the race in 60 districts. Final MW polls predicted a 49%-46% Democratic victory of 3 percentage points in these 60 districts. The actual vote was 50.2% – 48.5%, a Democratic victory margin of 1.7 points, just 1.3 points lower than MW’s prediction.
The MW performance was all the more remarkable in that all MW polling ended October 26, when MW conducted final polls in 41 races a week and a half before Election Day. MW final polls in the other 19 districts were conducted in early October, and in some cases in August. The difference between MW polling and actual election returns: persuadable and undecided voters who trended toward Republicans in the final 10 days of the campaign, according to national polls conducted after the final MW polling was completed.
MW polling offers a number of broad lessons for the Democratic Party, but before getting to that, consider how MW did on a state-by-state basis.
A few of the insights Majority Watch delivered:
Arizona. In AZ-08, MW generic polling identified this district as favorable for a Democratic take-over in August. MW did not need to go back to get the result right. AZ-01 was trickier: Incumbent Rick Renzi (R) was behind in an early October MW poll in the wake of the Mark Foley scandal and subsequent related disclosures about Jim Kolbe… but MW found Renzi marginally ahead in its final poll, and Renzi won.
California. MW polls showed in CA-04 Republican incumbent John Doolittle ahead by a significant margin in early October, then almost exactly predicted the final result in a late-October follow-up poll. But in CA-11 MW showed Republican Richard Pombo failing to win re-election, at 46 percent (he wound up with 47 percent and lost).
Colorado. In CO-07, three MW tracking polls starting in August showed successful Democratic challenger Ed Perlmutter move from marginally behind to significantly ahead. Final vote, a week and a half after our last survey: Perlmutter won, 55%-42%. In CO-04, MW showed Republican incumbent Marilyn Musgrave ahead in August, but a late October follow-up showed Democratic challenger Angie Paccione with a statistically insignificant lead. The actual vote favored Musgrave, 46%-43%.
Connecticut: MW polled the races of three Republican incumbents, predicting that Nancy Johnson was in the most trouble, Chris Shays was likely to win re-election, and Rob Simmons would lose a close race. Exactly right.
Illinois. In the race where the DCCC spent more money than anywhere else, IL-06, MW polls in August and twice in October showed a very close race, with Democrat Tammy Duckworth ahead by one, then Republican Peter Roskam ahead by one, then Duckworth ahead by one. Roskam won, 51%-49%. In IL-08, MW polls in August and then twice in October accurately tracked a growing lead for successful Democratic incumbent Melissa Bean. But in IL-10, two October MW polls overstated the vote of the Democratic challenger and understated the vote of the Republican incumbent. Finally, MW polls in mid-October, in the immediate wake of the Foley scandal, demonstrated that in IL-14 and IL-19 neither Speaker Dennis Hastert nor Page Board Chairman John Shimkus were in any trouble as a result of the scandal. Both Republicans were easily re-elected.
Indiana. September MW polls determined that Republican incumbents in IN-02, IN-08 and IN-09 were in serious trouble, and subsequent October MW polling confirmed that. All three lost.
Iowa. MW polls in IA-02 in early October showed incumbent Republican Jim Leach in serious trouble, with a late October follow-up confirming this race as a statistical dead heat. When Leach lost, 49%-51%, on Election Night many political commentators said that was a shocker. Not to those who followed MW! Elsewhere in Iowa, in IA-01 and IA-03, an August MW poll suggested Democratic candidate Bruce Braley was en route to a relatively easy victory, and incumbent Democrat Leonard Boswell was far ahead, and both breezed to victory.
Florida. On October 1 (two days after the resignation of Republican Congressman Mark Foley in FL-16), MW conducted two parallel surveys in his district of 1,000 voters each–one poll that informed respondents that a vote for Foley would be counted as a vote for a still-to-be-determined Republican nominee, and one that simply confronted voters with Foley’s name on the ballot and no other information. In fact, voters were informed at the polling place that a vote for Foley was vote for Republican Joe Negron, and the “informed voter” MW poll predicted that would lead to a narrow 3-point Democratic victory. Successful Democratic candidate Tim Mahoney won 50%-48%, as MW predicted would happen under those ground rules. Before the MW polls were conducted, almost all analysts had jumped to the conclusion that the Democrat would easily romp to victory because Foley’s name was still on the ballot, after his disgraced resignation from Congress. But the closeness of the race was no shocker to MW poll watchers! Elsewhere in Florida, in FL-13, the MW poll in August showed this district to be generically favorable to Republicans, but a very marginal race once the nominees were known (tested in two follow-up MW surveys). MW showed the race to be within the margin of error and as of November 20, a winner had still not been declared. In FL-22, an August MW poll showed incumbent Clay Shaw (R) significantly ahead, but a late October tracking poll put Democratic challenger Ron Klein ahead. Klein won 51%-47%.
Minnesota. In another race that seemed close to a foregone conclusion prior to MW polling, in MN-01, two October MW polls showed incumbent Republican Gil Gutknecht struggling in a close contest, with statistically insignificant leads of between one and three points. Prior to that, only true believers in the Democratic camp believed Gutknecht could lose. A week and a half after the last MW poll, Gutknecht lost 47%-53%. Meanwhile, in MN-06, a generic August MW poll demonstrated that the district favored Republican candidate Michele Bachmann. At the height of the Foley scandal, the Democratic candidate moved into a lead in a MW poll, but the Democrat’s lead disappeared in the final MW October poll. On Election Day, Bachmann won.
New Hampshire. In NH-02, a late October poll showed Democratic challenger Paul Hodes ahead with at least 50 percent of the vote. Hodes won, 53%-46%. If only MW had thought to poll in NH-01 as well! We might have predicted what came to pass on Election Day–namely, the need to move all meetings of the New England House Republican Caucus into the offices of Chris Shays for the foreseeable future.
North Carolina. In NC-11, MW polls showed Democratic challenger Heath Shuler winning decisively. The actual vote favored Shuler, 54%-46%. In NC-08, MW polling showed incumbent Republican Robin Hayes in trouble in early October, then showed a statistically insignificant Democratic lead in late October tracking. As of November 20, Hayes leads challenger Larry Kissell by fewer than 400 votes in a race headed for a recount.
Pennsylvania. Two very different, but solidly Republican districts, PA-07 and PA-10, were shown in MW polling to be easy Democratic victories over entrenched Republican incumbents. When the August MW poll showed incumbent Republican Don Sherwood behind his Democratic challenger, few believed the poll’s prediction! In fact, Democrats won both races easily. In PA-04, PA-06 and PA-08, MW polling predicted close races with mixed results. That’s what occurred on Election Night.
…and WI-08: Three MW polls showed a small but steady advantage for Democrat Steve Kagen. The final survey estimated Kagen’s support at 51 percent. Kagen received 51.19 percent of the actual vote.
For a complete rundown on the performance of MW polling, go here. For a rundown on House race polling by another active pollster using recorded-interviewer technology to accomplish large sample-size polls at a fraction of the cost of live interviewers, go here.
What was learned from this exercise?

  1. More research could better inform the conventional wisdom and lead to better targeting decisions. Any organization, whether an official party organization, a 527, or a netroots coalition of private individuals with a budget for research should be evaluating new technologies that could add greater breadth and efficiency to a sound research plan using traditional focus groups, dial sessions, mall intercepts and RDD live-interviewer polling. Recorded-voice interviewing works (and for the latest breakthrough in true Internet representative sample polling, go to http://www.polimetrix.com/news_20061106.html).
  2. The Republican “72-hour plan” doesn’t work everywhere, but where it has been tested three times or where the Republican Party chooses to focus on building it up quickly, it remains formidable. MW obviously did not get them all right, and we try to be cautious before we reach for rationalizations to explain away our clunkers. Our clunkers, however, were so geographically concentrated that we hypothesize our poll predictions may have been defeated by the “72-hour plan.” Other MW polls in New York State and Ohio were very much on target (as were MW polls in every other state), but not in western New York or in the Columbus and Cincinnati areas of Ohio (the most Republican urban areas in the state). With no way to prove it, we can only surmise that in western New York, early warnings caused NRCC Chairman Tom Reynolds to bring the best of the RNC’s turnout and grassroots efforts to bear on his district, possibly with positive effects for endangered Republicans in nearby western New York districts. As for Ohio, there is no state (with the possible exception of Florida) where the “72-hour plan” is so battle-tested as Ohio, and that may explain how Deborah Pryce, the number-4-ranking member of the House Republican caucus, came back to win a race she was in danger of losing.
  3. There is nothing wrong with the Democratic Party that a 10-percentage-point increase in Democratic vote from Independents won’t cure. In race after race MW polled in 2006, we found intense partisan loyalty on both sides, among Democratic voters and Republican voters. What changed since 2000 and especially since 2002, is the increasing willingness of Independent voters to support Democratic candidates. In national exit polls, Democrats lost Independents in five of the last six House elections from 1994-2004 (winning them only in 2004) after having won Independents in five of six House elections from 1982-1992 (losing only in 1984). This time, the margin was enormous–Democrats won Independents by 59%-41% nationwide.
  4. The monolithic Republican vote may be cracking, but so far only in the East. With 41,000 interviews conducted a week and a half before Election Day, we were able to find plenty of Republican voters who disapproved of the performance of President Bush. What we found was that the willingness of those disgruntled Republicans to vote Democratic was locally determined, not nationally uniform. In particular, in New York, North Carolina and Florida, majorities of the roughly 20% of Republicans dissatisfied with Bush were ready to vote Democratic in our final polls, while only about one-third of those similarly dissatisfied Republicans in other districts were willing to let national dissatisfactions affect their choices in local politics. Were that same crack-up in the Republican monolith developed in the Midwest, Rocky Mountain States and the West, there might be more Republican incumbents in danger in the 2008 House elections.
  5. The marriage gap may still be retarding Democratic advances in some suburban and small-town/rural districts where the marriage rate is very high. In the pre-election edition, MW polls were pointing at eight districts (Florida 16th, Illinois 6th, Illinois 8th, Minnesota 6th, New Jersey 7th New York 3rd, Washington 8th , and Wisconsin 8th) that were in play, but had marriage rates in excess of 63% which was a concern unless Democrats did better among married people than they have since 1992. Democrats converted only 2 of those Republican seats and held onto the contested Democratically-held seat in the group. In the national exit poll, evidence is that married men and married women both voted Republican in House races this time. In six House election exit polls from 1982-1992, married women supported Democrats, and Democrats even fought to a standstill for the votes of married men in half those elections. Since 1994, Republicans have benefited from a marriage gap in their favor. Married people represent one challenge where Democrats made little progress in 2006.

The purpose of the Majority Watch project of RT Strategies and Constituent Dynamics was to determine whether a wave election like 2006 could be accurately tracked through a comprehensive polling project. The capability of new, tested technology in tracking the horse races across all contested House elections is the bigger revelation.

Thomas Riehle is the co-founder of RT Strategies, a bipartisan polling firm in Washington D.C. Majority Watch is a joint project of RT Strategies and Constituent Dynamics, a non-partisan automated recorded-voice polling firm in Seattle Washington. Majority Watch is designed to track trends in the fight for control of the U.S. House of Representatives by means of polls of 1000 or more likely voters in each contested House race.


Don’t Ignore the Moderates!

by Scott Winship
Let me first thank the managing editor for inviting me into this forum. No, in all seriousness, I’m injecting myself into this discussion both because I want to evaluate Schaller’s thesis in light of the election results and in order to offer a bit of criticism that — if we’re lucky — might provoke a fight among the roundtable discussants. This has been far too much of a love fest to this point. Ezra, did you hear what Schaller said about your mother?
Seriously though, the absence here of a stronger critic of Tom isn’t for lack of trying. Not one, but two critics of the “forget the South” strategy initially agreed to participate, only to fail to produce in the end. For those wanting more balance, criticism of Tom’s thesis may be found here, here, and here. Tom replies to them here and here. With that said, let’s see where things stand after the election.
Senate. Two-thirds of the Democrats’ new majority is built on the 18 states with two Democratic senators (counting Lieberman and Sanders as Democrats for convenience). Just one of these states is in the South (Arkansas). The remaining Democrats come from 15 states with one senator from each party, and two of those states are from the South. In sum, the South contributes 4 senators to the Democrats’ majority, and of the six seats we picked up on Tuesday, only Webb was a southerner. Finally, among the 2008 seats that are clearly winnable, at most two are from the South (those of John Warner and Lamar Alexander). So while it remains the case that Democrats would not have won the Senate without their four southern senators, in 2008 there is a strong possibility that seats in non-southern states will give us a majority even before counting the southern ones.
House. Of the 16 states where Democrats made up more than half the delegation prior to Tuesday, just two were southern. In contrast, of the 30 states where they made up less than half the delegation, eight were southern. Out of the 30 Democratic pick-ups that had been called as of this writing, just 3 were southern. Fifty-three out of the 231 Democratic seats are now from the South. If the Democratic Party were equally competitive in the South as outside the region, that figure would be 69 seats. Without our southern representatives, the Party would not have the majority it won on Tuesday, but obviously we can reach a majority even with our currently poor performance in the South.
Governorships. There are now 28 Democratic governors, just two of whom are southern (Bredesen in Tennessee, and now Beebe in Arkansas). Five of the six pick-ups were outside the South. So we’d have just over half the governorships without the South.
State Houses. Going into the elections, the Republicans controlled both houses of 20 state legislatures, while Democrats controlled both houses of 19. But now 24 state legislatures are fully under Democratic control (five of them southern), compared with just 16 for the GOP. None of the houses that changed hands were in the South. The National Conference of State Legislatures estimates that Democrats increased their 21-seat advantage to… 647 seats! And only 7 percent of this gain came from the South.
In sum, I think the mathematics of Tom’s argument is unimpeachable. So there’s strike three for fight-provoking responses.
But let me shift tacks. As a New Democrat, I was initially nervous about Tom’s thesis because I thought he was saying Democrats don’t have to appeal to moderates. I then realized that he wasn’t so much arguing that we not appeal to moderates as he was arguing that we not justify such a strategy by citing the need to win in the South. I wouldn’t disagree with this advice, but it’s a much more subtle message than “We don’t have to appeal to moderates.” In practice, I worry that many liberals will miss the subtlety and draw the conclusion that is most convenient for their ideological views.
But of course, the biggest improvement Democrats saw this year was among moderates and Independents. My boss, Bill Galston, and Elaine Kamarck have persuasively shown that Democrats have to win a supermajority of moderates in order to win presidential elections, given the number of liberals and conservatives in the electorate. In future elections, when the GOP hasn’t driven down its favorability numbers through corruption and an unpopular war, it will be considerably more difficult to maintain congressional majorities or win the presidency. I worry that dissing the South will translate into ignoring rural and religious voters in general.
Put another way, one could argue that running a New Democrat for president might win all the states that a more liberal candidate would win, plus southern states (plus Ohio!). Bill Clinton won Arkansas, Louisiana, and Tennessee twice, and he won Florida and Georgia once each. It’s unlikely that Clinton put much energy into developing a southern strategy, and his own southern roots surely accounted for part of his success, but his overall New Democrat platform was also appealing to enough swing voters that he was able to win a majority of voters in some pretty red states.
So I guess my question for Tom is: Would you object to the alternate slogan, “Ignore the South, but Don’t Ignore Moderates or the Possibility of Winning the South.” Aside from the fact that it’s the most unwieldy phrase I’ve ever written.

Scott Winship is the managing editor of The Democratic Strategist.


It’s The Economy, Schaller!

by Ezra Klein
Participating in these forums often puts me in mind of the Richard Hofstadter’s impish nickname for the New York Review of Books: He liked to call it The New York Review of Each Other’s Books. Tom is a friend of mine. I think his book is great. You should buy it. Democrats should pay attention to it. I’m fairly convinced by it. But saying so makes for a staggeringly uninteresting 1,500 words. So let’s try the opposite on for size.
Tom’s basic thesis is that demography is destiny. Leaf through the census data, the exit polls, the surveyed preferences, and the historical trends of the South and squint: Like one of those magic eye pictures, a region decidedly hostile to Democratic resurgence will come into focus.
Problem is, I could never get the damn things to work. In fact, I just spent five minutes straining my eyes on this one, and failed yet again. So let me suggest an alternate maxim: Economics is destiny. But Tom, alas, predicts my critique, and notes that poorer whites in the South vote heavily Republican. Explanations abound: Their cultural conservatism, low levels of unionization, racism, tribalism, foreign policy preferences, etc. For Tom, however, those preferences simply exist; a puzzling feature of the political landscape that Democrats must detour around en route to any eventual majority. Better to focus elsewhere. Their mutability lies basically unexplored.
The economic trends of the present moment aren’t pretty though. The corporate welfare state is in sharp decline. Between 2000 and 2006, health premiums shot up 81% for the average family. Wages did not. In fact, since 2000, they’ve slipped. As Jon Chait explained (subscr.) in a recent New Republic article, the old link between productivity increases and wage increases has been severed, puzzling economists and harming family incomes. And the new quarterly numbers suggested productivity increases have stopped altogether, effectively ending the hopes of wage growth in the near future. Housing, gas, energy, and college costs — all up. Inequality? Up. Poverty? Up. Risk? Up. Outsourcing? Up. Savings? Down.
I can do this all day.
These trends simply can’t continue — political correction will kick in before total disintegration. And so it’s time to invoke Stein’s Law: “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” Such will be the fate of poor, rural support for policies that rip apart the very safety net they depend on, and hasten the very trends that they fear. For these voters, the trends in question cannot go on, and so they will stop — because these voters will stop accepting them.
For that reason, I find Tom’s demographic analysis only moderately helpful from a prescriptive standpoint. It’s obviously correct in the very near-term. As he suggests, we shouldn’t be spending much national money trying to guarantee Al Gore Alabama in 2008. The Republicans don’t contest New York; we needn’t toss good money after stupid by vying for Mississippi. But that’s not something we do now, anyway. There’s an excess of soul-searching over how a party can survive when a particular region keeps picking them last for dodgeball, and, as Paul Waldman aptly points out, it’s time to get over that. But that requires psychology rather than strategy.
That said, I do think the Southernization of the Republican Party is momentous. But because it will push the country left, not right. Evidence for this came with the release of the 2005 Pew Typology Survey, a comprehensive polling project conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Their political typology studies, conducted in 1987, 1994, 1999, and 2005, attempt to provide detailed snapshots of the various electoral coalitions by sorting the electorate into homogenous groups based on values, political beliefs, and party affiliation.
The trends are telling: In 1987 and 1994, the Republican Party relied on two groups, Moralists and Enterprisers, the former emphasizing social conservatism, the latter small government conservatism. But the 1999 study noticed the emergence of a third group: Populist Republicans, low-income and economically insecure Republicans who favor strong government regulation, entitlement liberalism, and traditional morality, are largely centered in the South, and attend church — no pun intended — religiously. By 2005, this group — now called pro-government conservatives — comprised a third of the Republican base and had carved out a critical space of the political landscape.
58 percent of Pro-Government Conservatives identify as Republican. But nearly 90 percent vote Republican. Only two percent identify as Democrats. Almost 40 percent had seen someone in their household unemployed in the last year, only 10 percent had a union member in the house. They go to church, love their guns, hate their gays, and believe in the military. They are, in other words, Southerners. But poor ones: Only 29 percent report that “paying the bills is not generally a problem,” as opposed to 88 percent of the Social Conservatives and Enterprisers.
As a result, their economic opinions verge on the radical. 80 percent of Pro-Government Conservatives believe the government must do more to help the needy, even if it means going into debt. Over 60 percent believe that environmental regulations are worth the cost (tree huggers!), 83 percent fear the power corporations have amassed, and 66 percent believe government regulation is necessary to protect the public interest. 71 percent support “programs to help blacks, women, and other minorities get better jobs and education.” They’re critical of free trade, ready to repeal the tax cuts, and less overwhelmingly pro-Iraq than their fellow Republican subgroups. They are, in sum, obviously unsuitable for the GOP.
As the Republican Party becomes ever more reliant on downwardly mobile whites, the principles, problems, and priorities of that demographic will begin to flow upward, changing the party’s ideology from the bottom-up. For quite some time, the GOP’s base was geographically diverse enough to insulate them from their new constituencies. But, as Tom pointedly notes, that’s no longer the case: Now the party is a Southern Party that elects Southern candidates. The old GOP, a mixture of Northern managerialism, Western individualism, and cosmopolitan corporatism won’t survive the shift.
And, arguably, it’s already in retreat. George W. Bush is the first Southern Republican elected since James Knox Polk. And he displayed some distinct differences from the Republicans who preceded him. Bush’s domestic appeal was “compassionate conservatism.” It was conservatism without the cruelty or, more specifically, the capitalism. There were tax cuts, to be sure. But his two major domestic initiatives were definitionally pro government: No Child Left Behind, the largest expansion of federal control over schools in a generation, and the Medicare prescription drug benefit, a longtime progressive priority. The policies have their trap doors, Trojan horses, and corporate giveaways, but they were carefully constructed to appear indistinguishable from progressive solutions. Political junkies can give you chapter and verse on the failings of the bills, but as Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson explained in Off Center, these sorts of misdirection work well on the median voters, who have better — or at least more pressing — things to do than read the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities’ legislative analyses.
So it’s no surprise this group voted overwhelmingly Republican: Republicans are putting overwhelming effort into tricking this group. But trickery is a short-term strategy, particularly when real social ills underlie the deception, and will refuse to disappear in order to better accommodate the GOP’s image manipulation. Sooner or later, the right will either have to deliver the goods or sacrifice the votes, and they simply can’t do the latter.
That’s why I’m skeptical that Tom’s demographic slicing is really the most useful approach to the Democratic Party’s problems. Today’s electoral reality may not be tomorrow’s, and a party that, as he proposes, runs against the South, will not only lose the opportunity to convert these voters when they come online, but may lose many others besides. Meanwhile, macroeconomic forces and trends are enhancing the salience of so-called pocketbook issues and accelerating the public’s abandonment of small-government conservatism. The GOP, with its reliance on corporate funds and roots in libertarian thought, will find it hard, if not impossible, to adapt to this reality. The Democratic Party, which retains its labor-liberal wing, will not.
That’s why, at the end of the day, the arguments over how the Democrats should handle the South are only partially convincing. What the South will look like in a few years, when wage stagnation and a recession and unchecked inequality and increasing corporate power and the transformation to a service sector have all advanced further, is unclear. But if you take seriously the emergence of Pro-Government Conservatives in the typology studies, and the apparent reaction to them in the Republican Party, you see the impact will be momentous. For that reason, I fear running against today’s South will mean abandoning tomorrow’s. And I’m not confident the two will be equally hostile to the Democratic Party. So while I’m with Tom’s near-term spending strategy, and agree that the Interior West is rich with opportunity, I’m less interested in where our party should compete than what it should say.
Ezra Klein is the writing fellow at The American Prospect. His blog is at www.EzraKlein.com.


Democrats Should Listen To Schaller — But They’ll Have to Get Past the Media First

By Paul Waldman
After the 2004 election, CNN correspondent Candy Crowley gave a speech in which she related a meal she had with John Kerry in an Iowa restaurant in the campaign’s early days. Kerry asked the waitress if they served green tea; she responded that they had only Lipton’s. “I advised the senator that he would need to carry his own green tea in Iowa and probably several other states, as well,” she said to knowing chuckles, going on to say that the incident stuck in her memory because it showed how out of touch Kerry was with regular folks and the regular places where they live.
But when Media Matters for America looked into it, they found not only that green tea makes up 20% of Lipton’s sales in the U.S., but that if you’re in Dubuque and you want some, you can get it at that snooty elitist foodery called K-Mart.
The point of this story is that if Democrats are smart enough to take Tom Schaller’s advice, they are going to catch hell from the elite Washington press corps. So it will take a bit of fortitude to stand up to that criticism and make the changes in outlook necessary to build a lasting majority.
Journalists like Candy Crowley operate from simplistic, stereotypical ideas of what the “heartland” is and how distant Democrats are from it. Those stereotypes inform everything they write about the two parties and where they get their votes. While the incident she talked about in her speech happened in Iowa, nowhere do those media stereotypes come more to the fore than when journalists are thinking about the South. As far as journalists are concerned, people who live in the South (and other areas where there are lots of Republicans, like the lower Midwest) are “real” Americans, while people who live in the Northeast or West are something else. In fact, Southern-ness itself has become for the media the mark of “authenticity,” the sign that a politician understands regular folks and their lives and is fundamentally “real.”
Consider George W. Bush, who is about as inauthentic and removed from the struggles ordinary people face as a politician could possibly be. Bush once responded to a single mother who told him that she was working three jobs by saying, “Uniquely American, isn’t it? I mean, that is fantastic that you’re doing that,” as though she were not a victim of economic desperation but just a real go-getter. Yet as far as journalists are concerned, Bush is just the kind of regular guy most folks would love to have a beer with, unlike those fancy-pants phonies whom he defeated in his two presidential campaigns. Sure, his father was president and his grandfather was a senator, and he went to Andover, Yale and Harvard — but just listen to that drawl!
The fact that members of the news media (most of whom are themselves Northeasterners who went to good schools) consider the South to be the “real” America where people have “values” hampers Democrats in a dozen ways. For instance, Tom points to the importance of religion. In both 2000 and 2004, Bush won every state with a proportion of evangelical Christians higher than the national average — and the highest are in the South. The fact that Republicans do very well among people who go to church at least once a week is always defined as a “problem” for Democrats, while the fact that Democrats are equally dominant among those who rarely attend religious services — a group just as large — is never called a “problem” for Republicans.
This is just one example, but as Tom lays out in detail in his book, in area after area, whether in demographics or opinion, it is the South that is the outlier, the exception to the American norm. Political scientists have long understood this, which is why in most multivariate analyses of national data, they include a “South/non-South” variable to account for these differences.
What Tom is recommending is nothing that Republicans haven’t already done themselves, though they have been strangely immune to criticism over it. Their majority is built on the South, the Midwest, and the interior West; just like the Democrats, they are not a national party. The fact that both parties narrowed their focus to around eighteen battleground states in 2004 was somehow seen as a failure only on the Democrats’ part, as they were “writing off” large swaths of the country, particularly the South. For some reason Republicans were not criticized for doing exactly the same thing. It was supposed to be problematic that Democrats were not putting money into a futile attempt to win Texas’ electoral votes, yet the GOP’s failure to do the same in New York or California was not worthy of comment, much less condemnation.
Democrats are poised to win the House, due mostly to likely sweeps of competitive seats in states like New York and Pennsylvania. After Tuesday, the GOP in the Northeast will be a frayed husk of a party, with the once-numerous Rockefeller Republicans nothing but a fading memory. Yet this is not the story the media are likely to tell. We have already seen signals that however many seats Democrats win elsewhere, the media will focus their attention on those few conservative Democrats in the South and places like Indiana, the exceptions rather than the rule. If he wins, Heath Shuler of North Carolina — a pro-gun, pro-life candidate — will probably become the most famous member of the freshman class of 2006 (Shuler was already profiled in a long New York Times article last week). The cable networks will tell us that Shuler and others like him are the face of the Democratic victory, and this just shows how the party is beset by internal tensions, with candidates like Shuler who represent real Americans the only hope to save their party from those liberal Northeasterners who alienate Democrats from the rest of the country.
But the presence of a few conservative Democrats in the South doesn’t mean that Democrats need that region to win, any more than the presence of an Olympia Snowe or a Christopher Shays means Republicans can’t win without the Northeast. So the most important thing for Democrats to do is to stop feeling bad about not winning the South. In the months after the 2004 election, you couldn’t walk into a think tank conference room without stumbling on a forum on how Democrats can show Southerners they like and respect them. Yet there was no such breast-beating on the other side, no Republicans worrying about how they’re going to start winning again in New England or the Far West. But their problems in those regions are even more acute; in the last four presidential elections, the GOP has won a grand total of one state in New England and the West, when George W. Bush squeaked out a win in New Hampshire in 2000 by 7,000 votes.
The worst thing about all that Democratic angst is that it validates the arguments Republicans make. Yes, Democrats say, your voters are the kind of people we want to appeal to, while our voters — well, we’ll take their votes if we have to, but we don’t feel good about it. Then in election after election, they come before Southerners on bended knee in a humiliating ritual of self-flagellation. Please, oh please, they cry, don’t hate us. We love NASCAR! We love grits! We respect your unique culture! Let us stroke the anvil-sized chip on your shoulder! At the end of the day, the pandering doesn’t work, and voters around the country look at Democrats and think they’re a bunch of weaklings who won’t stand up for what they believe.
Tom Schaller is a good friend, and he and I have been discussing these issues since we both started working on our respective books offering advice to Democrats. I noticed that as he began to discuss his thesis publicly, and the copious evidence with which he supports it, the reactions he got were often highly emotional, even angry. But those who disagree with Tom have seldom been able to marshal much in the way of facts and evidence to refute him. At Yearly Kos, where they were both speaking on a panel about Democrats and the South, Mudcat Saunders shouted that Tom should “Kiss my rebel ass!” — and that was about the most sophisticated argument he offered. (Tom was too much of a gentleman to respond in kind)
Democrats need to get beyond emotion and take a good hard look at the facts if they want to build a lasting majority. The fact is that working to hold on to whatever scraps they can get from the South not only wastes money and energy they could better use elsewhere, it keeps them stuck in the mindset that there is some magic trick with which they can be true to what they believe, serve their real constituencies, and yet also win over the voters who are the most hostile to them.
The Republicans spend no mental energy on such a project. They do not worry about being a “national party.” They’re not concerned about how they can increase their votes in Berkeley and Cambridge. They don’t fret about whether writing off large swaths of the country means there’s something un-American about them. They want to win, and they’ll assemble whatever regional and ideological coalition is necessary to do so. It’s about time the Democrats did the same thing.

Paul Waldman is a Senior Fellow at Media Matters for America and the author of Being Right Is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success. He is also a regular columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News and TomPaine.com.


Other Narratives

by Heather Hurlburt
Over the period that this debate has been up, we’ve seen a new mini-trend of progressive manifestoes on national security popping up, here, there and everywhere. My colleague Shadi Hamid did a nice job of summarizing them over at democracyarsenal.org.
But there’s also the emerging “narrative” mini-trend, with projects in the works at the Truman Project, Third Way, National Security Network and probably others I haven’t heard about yet.
I agree with much of the substantive critique that earlier commenters made of the Truman Project document’s central policy propositions and messaging language.
And I even agree with David Rieff that some of the progressive community can be awfully quick to embrace a cleaned-up version of “our” past heroes — the sort of thing that, first, we like to chide the Republicans for doing and second can lead us to repeat their mistakes (see under: hubris).
Bruce Jentleson has some thoughtful comments on one of the political class’s new favorite national security clichés — how good we had it under containment.
What I don’t ever get from Rieff’s critique is a sense of how we are supposed to move forward. Yes, I’d like to see the national security community pause and ask ourselves whether we’re really sure we wouldn’t let another Rwanda happen again, especially since it looks as if we are in slow-motion in Darfur. We could have a productive discussion about the right lessons to learn from how Kennedy got embroiled in Vietnam, and how those are relevant to the mistakes in judgment that well-intentioned progressives made on Iraq. And we should be thinking about how Roosevelt’s treatment of Japanese-Americans has echoes in the present day.
That’s something that Rieff and writers like him are particularly well-placed to do — and it behooves the rest of us to pay attention.
But that’s not the only thing progressives need. They need a playbook for candidates, elected officials, and talking heads to follow — and that is the sort of thing that the Truman Project and others are trying to develop. Such efforts use the language of politics — as they should.
But there’s a third thing progressives need, where I think both the Truman effort as outlined and the Rieff critique are missing the mark. The compelling American narratives are not now being written inside the Beltway by smart foreign policy professionals. They are being “written” by soldiers with cameras in Iraq; by viewers picking videos on YouTube; by country musicians and comedians and film directors and everyone who is trying to make sense of our world at a human level, not a policy one. The party that next gains the upper hand will not be the one whose young staffers write the most eloquent narrative, but the one that best understands the narrative that the public is telling itself and that the entertainment industry chooses to tell. In 2006, Democrats had a relatively easy job of aligning ourselves with a public mood still best captured by TV news coverage of Katrina: “How could they do this to us?”
That narrative wasn’t written in Washington, and the next one won’t be either. Soul-searching about the past and paradigm development for the present are both important. In national security, professional Democrats have seldom done enough of either. But they won’t be sufficient; and in fact, if we focus too much on the “technology” and ignore what’s happening beyond our office windows, we’ll be scooped again.


Winning in the Emerging Suburbs

By Robert Griendling
The frozen smiles can sear the brain. They belong to Democratic officials, lobbyists and activists when you tell them you are running against a four-term incumbent Republican state house member who has decimated each of his opponents. His last Democratic opponent had garnered only 36% of the vote. In 2004, the state had gone for George W. Bush by 54-45%, the county by 56%-44%. The 2005 battle for the 32nd House district seat in the world’s oldest deliberative democratic body, the Virginia General Assembly, was taking place in an emerging suburb that was reliably GOP country.
Behind the smiles were words of encouragement. But not much more. If this race was to be won, it would be based not on the advice of consultants and party leaders, but on the efforts of the people who lived in the 32nd and campaign planners’ best instincts about what would work. David Poisson decided nine months before the election what his issues would be, how he would work the district and what it would take to win. Polls and pros could not and would not drive this campaign.
An Entrenched Incumbent
Delegate Dick Black was thought to be biding his time before running for at least state Attorney General. He had the credentials: a career military lawyer, solid conservative positions and a GOTV effort that was legendary. Not only was nearby Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, a few miles west of the 32nd district, a source for committed young conservatives being trained specifically for government activism, but local churches straddled — and some say crossed — the line by advocating Black’s reelection year after year. His own church would help distribute flyers in the church parking lot and priests there had preached for his candidacy from the pulpit.
Black began the campaign in early 2005 with more than $100,000 in campaign funds for a race that was expected to cost just over $300,000. By June, he had $216,000. By Labor Day, he had raised more than $313,000; the Poisson campaign reported $75,000 on hand.
Most of the professionals were still giving the campaign the “Go Get ‘Em” speech with the same smile intact.
But for all his fundraising prowess, the GOTV machine and a record of landslides, it didn’t seem that a man who would go so far as to publicly criticize a high school student for writing a play that called for tolerance of gays, and who once spoke from Thomas Jefferson’s House floor with a plastic fetus in hand to rail against abortion, fairly represented a community where young families were coming in droves to buy a piece of the American dream.
And Black’s strident anti-tax positions meant that the investments a growing community needs would be hard to fund.
The Emerging Suburb
Loudoun County, Virginia had been atop the list of fastest-growing counties in America for years. From 2002 to 2003 alone, it grew 14%. Two areas in the 32nd district, Dulles and Ashburn, saw growth rates of 66.5% and 47.4%, respectively from 2000 to 2003.
The growth was also evident in the registered voter statistics. For example, in the 10 months from November 2003, an election year for the House of Delegates, the district’s voter rolls increased 6.3%. Registered voter rolls grew 12.6% in one precinct, 13.2% in another, and a whopping 24% in a precinct where homes were being built rapidly during the two years before the ’05 election.
Loudoun was also a young county. A third of its residents were under age 18, compared to 25% nationally. The working population, those aged 25-54, was 6% larger than the national average. The county is also affluent. The average household income was $126,102 in the first half of this decade. It didn’t seem that a radical social conservative could really represent this type of constituency.
Meanwhile, a look at Black’s numbers provided hope for those who don’t simply look at “performance” numbers.
Drilling Down the Numbers
In the 2001 election, Mark Warner, who positioned himself as a moderate businessman, polled better in the gubernatorial race than the Democratic candidate for the 32nd district, a woman who engaged Black on his issues, most notably abortion. Her strategy backfired and energized Black’s base. Warner outpolled her in every precinct in the 32nd save one, in which he was down by only eight votes. His race also garnered 1,100 votes more than the 32nd House race, suggesting many voters did not vote for either Black or the Democratic candidate either because they didn’t know them or were turned off by both. In that election, the combination of votes for the Democrat and a moderate Republican who made it a three-way race was within 602 votes of Black’s total. Also in 2003, two Democratic supervisor candidates each won a precinct. Other local Democrats had carried a few of the 32nd’s precincts.
In all, the 2003 vote indicated that eight of the district’s 18 precincts were clearly willing to support a more moderate candidate.
Issues That Matter
While the campaign held focus groups with grassroots supporters about what was on their minds, the candidate clearly had some pet issues, chief among them education. David Poisson has a PhD in higher education, along with a law degree. Getting an education was stressed from his early years growing up in a declining mill town in southeastern Massachusetts. It seemed that many constituents in the 32nd had similar upbringings. And admission to a Virginia college was becoming more difficult. Meanwhile, traffic was choking Northern Virginia, stealing time from families. And the local school board was desperately trying to keep up with demand, building five new schools a year.
With those types of issues on the minds of constituents, it didn’t seem who married whom really mattered. This idea was to be the nexus of the campaign. From Poisson’s announcement of his candidacy:

As a businessman, I’ve always focused on results that affect the important issues. What you and I want is a safe, secure environment for our families, a promising future for our children, and a plan to make eastern Loudoun County an even greater place to live. We can achieve those goals because I believe you share with me two core qualities: confidence in ourselves, and the knowledge that nothing of value is ever achieved without hard work.

Our current representative in the Virginia House of Delegates has ignored our real concerns. More importantly, he’s made it abundantly clear he doesn’t trust you to make the right moral decisions for your family.

I trust you to raise your family and teach your children right from wrong. I trust you to know when we must invest — and when we must tighten the purse strings. And I trust you to know the difference between someone who represents your interests and someone who places his own interests ahead of yours.

I plan to focus on what really matters to your families.

Here in the 32nd district, we need to fight for the funding necessary to improve our roads so we don’t spend half our lives in traffic. Because that matters to our families.

We need to ensure we have great teachers in our public schools. Because that matters to our families.

We need to create the jobs necessary to keep Loudoun’s economic engine running. Because that matters to our families.

And we need to ensure that when our children are ready for college, we have a state college system that is ready for them. Because that matters to our families.

And because these issues matter so much, and because I believe the people of the 32nd district deserve someone willing to fight for those issues, I’m here tonight to announce my candidacy for the Virginia House of Delegates.

“Issues that matter” became the overriding communication point of the campaign. It not only drove what was talked about in the campaign but how the campaign addressed Dick Black’s attacks and his previously successful strategy of making the election about his issues. The campaign rejected the standard advice: To beat an incumbent, you must trash him for months. The theory is that unless people feel a need for change, even a perfect challenger has little chance. There may be some truth to this rule, but instead of focusing initially on what was perceived as Black’s weaknesses, the campaign talked about Poisson’s vision: funding local schools, getting kids into Virginia’s colleges, transportation and attracting good jobs to Loudoun County.
With the tremendous growth in Loudoun County, there were many new voters. They never heard of Dick Black, much less David Poisson. As mentioned earlier, one precinct had grown 24% in two years. We walked it, as well as every other new community. Depending where the best opportunities were, we walked those communities, too. Poisson introduced himself, and when given the opportunity, he introduced his opponent as well. But more than anything, we wanted to let these new residents know that we welcomed them and understood the pressures they felt.
Targeting the Middle Class
Even in a relatively affluent area such as Loudoun County, the middle class is feeling pressed. It’s not the candidate’s job to judge whether those who are relatively comfortable may be expecting too much, or that they should consider themselves lucky they are not poor. A nice home with a chance to make it big, being able to send their kids to college, and not just a secure but a comfortable retirement are the dreams of the middle class. The homes in the 32nd district start at around $350,000. We weren’t going to deny that. This campaign was designed to address the issues these families cared about and position a Democrat as a friend of the middle class.
No doubt the 32nd was and remains a socially conservative area. Many, if not most, people in the district oppose gay marriage and “abortion on demand.” But even so, there was little evidence that such issues would drive the election, given the other problems we faced. But surely our opponent would demand the press and the public know where the Democrat stood on these issues. The candidate’s stances were made clear but brief: Support for a woman’s right to choose but also support for parental notice. (Strike NARAL from the list of endorsements, let alone donors.) Marriage was the province of the church, but gays had a right to civil unions. And with thousands of children in foster care, gay adoption was a better alternative than the life of an itinerant child. The candidate’s personal story, having a mother who grew up an orphan, was also powerful.
The strategy was not to deny constituents’ firmly held views. Nor was it to criticize those who disagreed. It doesn’t serve to disrespect those who disagree with your views. Once you’ve told voters that they’re bigots or intolerant because they disagree with you, they’ll never listen to your other messages. We simply stated our views and moved on to our issues, whether it was in the debate with Black, or in articles or letters to the editors of the five local newspapers.
Competence
We also made the campaign about competence. From the traditional kick-off at back-to-school nights, we emphasized what Black didn’t do about the issues that really matter. He served on both education and transportation committees in the House, yet never introduced a major education or transportation bill. We focused not on painting him as a right-wing ideologue but as an ineffective advocate for the things that matter most to his constituents.
Many observers felt the turning point came in our only major debate. Our opponent set all the ground rules. For example, although the League of Women Voters hosted the debate, we had to allow a former Republican Party county chairman to serve as moderator. Three local reporters asked the questions, and we were given two minutes for opening and closing remarks. During the debate, Black constantly tried to tie our campaign to the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Tim Kaine, ironically himself a moderate. His well known moral opposition to the death penalty was brought up several times. When asked, Poisson stated his support for the death penalty, which clearly frustrated Black. He several times said he was exactly aligned with the Republican gubernatorial candidate and said Poisson was running away from his. Poisson responded simply, “The great thing about being a Democrat is that we get to think for ourselves.” The crowd roared its approval. We made sure the volume of the roar was loud by turning out our supporters for the debate. We estimated at least 70 percent of the crowd supported our candidacy.
Our opponent made a crucial mistake in his closing remarks by repeatedly mispronouncing Poisson’s last name as “poison.” The crowd heckled him. Reporters were clearly shocked. Poisson’s response was simply, “The last time someone mispronounced my name like that was in the 7th-grade race for class president. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now, Mr. Black.” We then made sure his childish antics were chronicled in the last articles to appear in the press before the election.
Shortly thereafter, the only poll that mattered was taken. Our first poll, in mid-July, was demanded by Virginia Democrats as a prelude to any party funding. It had us 12 points down. We had to conduct a follow-up before Labor Day. It had slightly better results. But only this last poll had real impact. Far behind in fundraising six weeks before the election, we pulled even as voters went to the polls. Why? Because that last poll had us within three points of victory. When you’re viable, you’re also flush.
On Election Day, Poisson won all but two of the 18 precincts and an overall victory of 53-47%. Even more impressive, he not only outperformed Tim Kaine, who garnered 52% of the vote in the district, he received 700 more votes.
Every race is different. Every community has its own needs. But by campaigning on issues that affect the everyday lives of our constituents, acknowledging but minimizing divisive social issues, recognizing that taxes are only a means to an end and having faith in our core principles, we were able to win in the emerging suburbs against a supposedly invincible incumbent.

Robert Griendling is the principal of Griendling Communications, a communications consulting firm founded in 1989. He was the communication strategist for David Poisson’s 2005 successful campaign for the Virginia House of Delegates. He is also editor of the Commonwealth Commonsense blog.


What’s Left?

by David Rieff
Having proudly identified themselves as the heirs to Cold War liberalism, the authors of the Truman Project paper nonetheless wish to claim to be leftists. This is preposterous. The point is not, as they claim, that I am trying to propound “one vision of the left,” as they put it, let alone that I am carrying its mantle. Not that this will be of great interest to the readers of this blog, but in European terms I rather think I would be on the right of center of any mainstream social democratic party. A ‘hardline leftist?’ Not bloody likely.
But the authors’ ad hominem attacks aside, the point here is that only in the fundamentally right-wing context of the United States can Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, and F.D.R. be considered figures of the left…unless, that is, the Truman Project paper’s authors have defined down the left so much that it includes people who a) supported all existing economic arrangements, even if they wanted to reform them slightly, b) were avid Cold Warriors, and c) were committed to American hegemony in the world. If that’s left, then what are all those tendencies (no, not just one) to the left of that?
It continues to fascinate me that the authors of the paper are so indifferent to, let me put it charitably, the non-left aspects of their heroes. To FDR, Truman and JFK, they now add Woodrow Wilson to their pantheon. Woodrow Wilson! One of the most virulently anti-black presidents in American history, the man who ordered US forces to invade Mexico, not once but several times. Now there’s a left/progressive role model for you!
Lastly, the authors of the Truman Project paper observe that I “challenge the American greatness narrative.” In that, of course, they are correct. But they go on to say that “we think this is an intellectual dead end. Americans, like all individuals, like to think of themselves as good, and perhaps more than many others, wish to think of their country as great.” This may be true. But that does not make what I said an intellectual dead end, it makes it a political dead end. Even in Washington, surely at least some people remember that is not the same thing. On an intellectual level, the issue is whether the American national greatness narrative is true or false, not whether, as the authors put it, “the left’s fight against [Americans’] desire [for such a narrative] has been its death knell.”
Actually, the reverse is the case. The intellectual dead end is when political activists pander to the public and reject the intellectually licit and the historically accurate in the name of political expediency. That, in my view, is what the authors of the paper are up to. And between the Republican original and this Democratic photocopy, I’m by no means sure the Republicans don’t come out the winners.

David Rieff is a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine. He is the author of seven books including, most recently, At the Point of a Gun: Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention.


Winning in the Emerging Suburbs

By Robert Griendling
The frozen smiles can sear the brain. They belong to Democratic officials, lobbyists and activists when you tell them you are running against a four-term incumbent Republican state house member who has decimated each of his opponents. His last Democratic opponent had garnered only 36% of the vote. In 2004, the state had gone for George W. Bush by 54-45%, the county by 56%-44%. The 2005 battle for the 32nd House district seat in the world’s oldest deliberative democratic body, the Virginia General Assembly, was taking place in an emerging suburb that was reliably GOP country.
Behind the smiles were words of encouragement. But not much more. If this race was to be won, it would be based not on the advice of consultants and party leaders, but on the efforts of the people who lived in the 32nd and campaign planners’ best instincts about what would work. David Poisson decided nine months before the election what his issues would be, how he would work the district and what it would take to win. Polls and pros could not and would not drive this campaign.
An Entrenched Incumbent
Delegate Dick Black was thought to be biding his time before running for at least state Attorney General. He had the credentials: a career military lawyer, solid conservative positions and a GOTV effort that was legendary. Not only was nearby Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, a few miles west of the 32nd district, a source for committed young conservatives being trained specifically for government activism, but local churches straddled — and some say crossed — the line by advocating Black’s reelection year after year. His own church would help distribute flyers in the church parking lot and priests there had preached for his candidacy from the pulpit.
Black began the campaign in early 2005 with more than $100,000 in campaign funds for a race that was expected to cost just over $300,000. By June, he had $216,000. By Labor Day, he had raised more than $313,000; the Poisson campaign reported $75,000 on hand.
Most of the professionals were still giving the campaign the “Go Get ‘Em” speech with the same smile intact.
But for all his fundraising prowess, the GOTV machine and a record of landslides, it didn’t seem that a man who would go so far as to publicly criticize a high school student for writing a play that called for tolerance of gays, and who once spoke from Thomas Jefferson’s House floor with a plastic fetus in hand to rail against abortion, fairly represented a community where young families were coming in droves to buy a piece of the American dream.
And Black’s strident anti-tax positions meant that the investments a growing community needs would be hard to fund.
The Emerging Suburb
Loudoun County, Virginia had been atop the list of fastest-growing counties in America for years. From 2002 to 2003 alone, it grew 14%. Two areas in the 32nd district, Dulles and Ashburn, saw growth rates of 66.5% and 47.4%, respectively from 2000 to 2003.
The growth was also evident in the registered voter statistics. For example, in the 10 months from November 2003, an election year for the House of Delegates, the district’s voter rolls increased 6.3%. Registered voter rolls grew 12.6% in one precinct, 13.2% in another, and a whopping 24% in a precinct where homes were being built rapidly during the two years before the ’05 election.
Loudoun was also a young county. A third of its residents were under age 18, compared to 25% nationally. The working population, those age 25-54, was 6% larger than the national average. The county is also affluent. The average household income was $126,102 in the first half of this decade. It didn’t seem that a radical social conservative could really represent this type of constituency.
Meanwhile, a look at Black’s numbers provided hope for those who don’t simply look at “performance” numbers.
Drilling Down the Numbers
In the 2001 election, Mark Warner, who positioned himself as a moderate businessman, polled better in the gubernatorial race than the Democratic candidate for the 32nd district, a woman who engaged Black on his issues, most notably abortion. Her strategy backfired and energized Black’s base. Warner outpolled her in every precinct in the 32nd save one, in which he was down by only eight votes. His race also garnered 1,100 votes more than the 32nd House race, suggesting many voters did not vote for either Black or the Democratic candidate either because they didn’t know them or were turned off by both. In that election, the combination of votes for the Democrat and a moderate Republican who made it a three-way race was within 602 votes of Black’s total. Also in 2003, two Democratic supervisor candidates each won a precinct. Other local Democrats had carried a few of the 32nd‘s precincts.
In all, the 2003 vote indicated that eight of the district’s 18 precincts were clearly willing to support a more moderate candidate.
Issues That Matter
While the campaign held focus groups with grassroots supporters about what was on their minds, the candidate clearly had some pet issues, chief among them education. David Poisson has a PhD in higher education, along with a law degree. Getting an education was stressed from his early years growing up in a declining mill town in southeastern Massachusetts. It seemed that many constituents in the 32nd had similar upbringings. And admission to a Virginia college was becoming more difficult. Meanwhile, traffic was choking Northern Virginia, stealing time from families. And the local school board was desperately trying to keep up with demand, building five new schools a year.
With those types of issues on the minds of constituents, it didn’t seem who married whom really mattered. This idea was to be the nexus of the campaign. From Poisson’s announcement of his candidacy:

As a businessman, I’ve always focused on results that affect the important issues. What you and I want is a safe, secure environment for our families, a promising future for our children, and a plan to make eastern Loudoun County an even greater place to live. We can achieve those goals because I believe you share with me two core qualities: confidence in ourselves, and the knowledge that nothing of value is ever achieved without hard work.
Our current representative in the Virginia House of Delegates has ignored our real concerns. More importantly, he’s made it abundantly clear he doesn’t trust you to make the right moral decisions for your family.
I trust you to raise your family and teach your children right from wrong. I trust you to know when we must invest – and when we must tighten the purse strings. And I trust you to know the difference between someone who represents your interests and someone who places his own interests ahead of yours.
I plan to focus on what really matters to your families.
Here in the 32nd district, we need to fight for the funding necessary to improve our roads so we don’t spend half our lives in traffic. Because that matters to our families.
We need to ensure we have great teachers in our public schools. Because that matters to our families.
We need to create the jobs necessary to keep Loudoun’s economic engine running. Because that matters to our families.
And we need to ensure that when our children are ready for college, we have a state college system that is ready for them. Because that matters to our families.
And because these issues matter so much, and because I believe the people of the 32nd district deserve someone willing to fight for those issues, I’m here tonight to announce my candidacy for the Virginia House of Delegates.

“Issues that matter” became the overriding communication point of the campaign. It not only drove what was talked about in the campaign but how the campaign addressed Dick Black’s attacks and his previously successful strategy of making the election about his issues. The campaign rejected the standard advice: To beat an incumbent, you must trash him for months. The theory is that unless people feel a need for change, even a perfect challenger has little chance. There may be some truth to this rule, but instead of focusing initially on what was perceived as Black’s weaknesses, the campaign talked about Poisson’s vision: funding local schools, getting kids into Virginia’s colleges, transportation and attracting good jobs to Loudoun County.
With the tremendous growth in Loudoun County, there were many new voters. They never heard of Dick Black, much less David Poisson. As mentioned earlier, one precinct had grown 24% in two years. We walked it, as well as every other new community. Depending where the best opportunities were, we walked those communities, too. Poisson introduced himself, and when given the opportunity, he introduced his opponent as well. But more than anything, we wanted to let these new residents know that we welcomed them and understood the pressures they felt.
Targeting the Middle Class
Even in a relatively affluent area such as Loudoun County, the middle class is feeling pressed. It’s not the candidate’s job to judge whether those who are relatively comfortable may be expecting too much, or that they should consider themselves lucky they are not poor. A nice home with a chance to make it big, being able to send their kids to college, and not just a secure but a comfortable retirement are the dreams of the middle class. The homes in the 32nd district start at around $350,000. We weren’t going to deny that. This campaign was designed to address the issues these families cared about and position a Democrat as a friend of the middle class.
No doubt the 32nd was and remains a socially conservative area. Many, if not most, people in the district oppose gay marriage and “abortion on demand.” But even so, there was little evidence that such issues would drive the election, given the other problems we faced. But surely our opponent would demand the press and the public know where the Democrat stood on these issues. The candidate’s stances were made clear but brief: Support for a woman’s right to choose but also support for parental notice. (Strike NARAL from the list of endorsements, let alone donors.) Marriage was the province of the church, but gays had a right to civil unions. And with thousands of children in foster care, gay adoption was a better alternative than the life of an itinerant child. The candidate’s personal story, having a mother who grew up an orphan, was also powerful.
The strategy was not to deny constituents’ firmly held views. Nor was it to criticize those who disagreed. It doesn’t serve to disrespect those who disagree with your views. Once you’ve told voters that they’re bigots or intolerant because they disagree with you, they’ll never listen to your other messages. We simply stated our views and moved on to our issues, whether it was in the debate with Black, or in articles or letters to the editors of the five local newspapers.
Competence
We also made the campaign about competence. From the traditional kick-off at back-to-school nights, we emphasized what Black didn’t do about the issues that really matter. He served on both education and transportation committees in the House, yet never introduced a major education or transportation bill. We focused not on painting him as a right-wing ideologue but as an ineffective advocate for the things that matter most to his constituents.
Many observers felt the turning point came in our only major debate. Our opponent set all the ground rules. For example, although the League of Women Voters hosted the debate, we had to allow a former Republican Party county chairman to serve as moderator. Three local reporters asked the questions, and we were given two minutes for opening and closing remarks. During the debate, Black constantly tried to tie our campaign to the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Tim Kaine, ironically himself a moderate. His well known moral opposition to the death penalty was brought up several times. When asked, Poisson stated his support for the death penalty, which clearly frustrated Black. He several times said he was exactly aligned with the Republican gubernatorial candidate and said Poisson was running away from his. Poisson responded simply, “The great thing about being a Democrat is that we get to think for ourselves.” The crowd roared its approval. We made sure the volume of the roar was loud by turning out our supporters for the debate. We estimated at least 70 percent of the crowd supported our candidacy.
Our opponent made a crucial mistake in his closing remarks by repeatedly mispronouncing Poisson’s last name as “poison.” The crowd heckled him. Reporters were clearly shocked. Poisson’s response was simply, “The last time someone mispronounced my name like that was in the 7th-grade race for class president. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now, Mr. Black.” We then made sure his childish antics were chronicled in the last articles to appear in the press before the election.
Shortly thereafter, the only poll that mattered was taken. Our first poll, in mid-July, was demanded by Virginia Democrats as a prelude to any party funding. It had us 12 points down. We had to conduct a follow-up before Labor Day. It had slightly better results. But only this last poll had real impact. Far behind in fundraising six weeks before the election, we pulled even as voters went to the polls. Why? Because that last poll had us within three points of victory. When you’re viable, you’re also flush.
On Election Day, Poisson won all but two of the 18 precincts and an overall victory of 53-47%. Even more impressive, he not only outperformed Tim Kaine, who garnered 52% of the vote in the district, he received 700 more votes.
Every race is different. Every community has its own needs. But by campaigning on issues that affect the everyday lives of our constituents, acknowledging but minimizing divisive social issues, recognizing that taxes are only a means to an end and having faith in our core principles, we were able to win in the emerging suburbs against a supposedly invincible incumbent.

Robert Griendling is the principal of Griendling Communications, a communications consulting firm founded in 1989. He was the communication strategist for David Poisson’s 2005 successful campaign for the Virginia House of Delegates. He is also editor of the Commonwealth Commonsense blog.


The Demographic Case for Whistling Past Dixie

By Thomas Schaller
Before the 2000 recount had even finished, George W. Bush’s pollster Matthew Dowd approached Bush adviser Karl Rove with some surprising news. As recounted in Tom Edsall’s compelling new book, Building Red America, Dowd informed Rove that the center of the electorate had essentially collapsed. Moving forward, Rove concluded, the fight between the two major parties would be a struggle to mobilize and expand their respective bases. Faster than you can say, “I’m a uniter, not a divider,” Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” was shelved in favor of divide-and-conquer politics because, in the polarized America of the early twentieth century, that approach at least offers “conquer” as a possible outcome.
How should Democrats respond to these emergent realities? In kind. As the more progressive of the two major parties, that means starting to rebuild toward a national majority by focusing on the nation’s more liberal and progressive elements, moving toward the moderate voters next, and leaving the most conservative elements in the most conservative states in the nation’s most conservative region–the South–for last. As I argue in my book, Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South, there is a Democratic majority to be created by maximizing the Democrats’ control in the existing blue states of the Northeast and Pacific Coast, converting the purple states of the Midwest to blue, and purpling the increasingly competitive red states of the Interior West. Put another way, to regain national majority power on the presidential, congressional and state-level, Democrats should figure out how to win Arizona or even Alaska, before thinking about Alabama.
A common criticism I receive about the feasibility of Democrats winning with a non-southern strategy is that the South is not a homogeneous monolith–that there are many pockets of the South that are quite progressive or at least not ardently conservative in their religious-cultural sensibilities and, additionally, that there are many non-southerners who share those conservative sensibilities.
This is undeniably true, in part because regional distinctions are blurring with each passing day as Americans in our mobile society move into and out of the South and other regions, and as immigrants from various parts of the world populate a wide range of states in every region. The permeability of American culture in the media age; the propensity of Americans to change jobs and careers (and thus geographic location); and a general homogenization of society–all of these trends suggest that the South (or any other region) will be less distinct two generations from now, just as it is less distinct today than it was two generations ago.
All that said, there is both a weak and a strong case to be made for why Democrats are, based on differences in regional demography, far better served by focusing last on the South. The distinction between the weak and strong cases is temporal: The weak case is that, right now, the South is demographically less amenable to Democratic success; the strong case is that, moving forward into the foreseeable future and based on demographic projections, the South will remain least amenable and on some counts become even less so.
The weak case is easy to make, and the strong case is not much harder to defend. Let’s look at some of the differences in regional demography, with the implications for ideological tendencies and partisan behavior. I cannot distill in this post all or even part of the data contained in the book’s fifth chapter, and so the explanations here will lack specifics and details. But the underlying data, along with charts and figures and sources, is available in the book.
Gender: Democrats do better among women than men, a fact that is true among all voters, and even when African Americans are held aside. But in the South, especially among white voters, the “gender gap” is close to nil. There were five states in 2004 where Kerry did not enjoy a gender gap, either because he broke even or did worse among women than men; three of those five were in the South. Kerry won white women nationally by three points, but lost white women by 11 points in the South. The fact is that a gender chasm would have to open up in the South for the Democrats’ advantages among women to make much difference, because women–and specifically white women–vote very similarly to their fathers and brothers, husbands and sons. This is far less true outside the South, which accounts for and produces the gender gap nationally. Women, who are already a majority of college graduates and law school students, continue to further feminize the American electorate with each passing election cycle. This trend generally bodes well for Democrats in the near and medium term, and especially outside the South where the gender gap is real and demonstrable.
Race: Democrats win among every major non-European ethnic minority in America, save Cuban-Americans. The Democrats’ share of support is particularly high among African Americans (about 90%), Native Americans (80-90%), and Latinos (60%, but a growing worry in the Bush era). Even Asian Americans, who favored Bush41 over Clinton by 24 points in 1992, went for Kerry over Bush by 17 points in 2004. Holding aside African Americans for a moment, notice that the most of the geographic concentration for these groups is non-southern—almost exclusively for Native Americans and Asian Americans and, but for Florida and Texas, Latinos as well. Half of African Americans live in the South, but the sad irony is that some of the blackest states vote Republican by overwhelming rates. (Note the statewide officials who represent Mississippi, the blackest state in the Republic.) As for whites, Al Gore carried the white vote outside the South in 2000, and Kerry came close to doing so in 2004. George W. Bush (70%) and Ronald Reagan (71%) got basically the same share of the southern white vote, but Bush won narrowly whereas Reagan won in a landslide. Why? Because there are fewer white voters overall, and Kerry did far better among non-southern whites than Walter Mondale did. Democrats do not have a white voter problem generally; what they specifically have is a southern white voter problem. As Native Americans are mobilized, Latinos achieve citizenship and voting-age eligibility, the strong case for a non-southern majority grows stronger. In the South, however, the African American share of the southern population has been shrinking: Nine of the 11 southern states had higher shares of African Americans in 1950 than they do today–and a tenth, Louisiana, just witnessed a major displacement of its largest African-American community in the wake of Katrina.
Age: Democrats got a real boost in 2004 from young voters, not only because they voted strongly Democratic (as they often do) but because turnout among voters 18-25 (or 18-30) increased dramatically over 2000 rates. Kerry won the youth vote nationally by nine points, despite losing it by one point in the South. On the other end of the life cycle, Democrats have traditionally done well among seniors (Gore won them, but Kerry lost them). What’s more, the next generation of seniors includes the post-Baby Boomers who are more socially liberal than their parents, as authors like Leonard Steinhorn have shown. There are plenty of Snow Belt retirees in the warm southern climates, sure. But get this: Moving forward, the projected growth rate for 65+ populations will be faster in the eight Interior West states than the South between now and 2020. The Midwest will lag behind the South’s aging population growth, however, and so the hope for turning this purple region blue will be hard to actualize on the strength of senior votes.
Religion: The media talks incessantly about the political power of the evangelicals, who constitute roughly 24% of the country. Yet they rarely mention that the share of people who are self-described agnostics/atheists/non-denominational has doubled from eight percent in 1990 to 14% in 2001 and, based on that trend, surely has reached 15% or 16% today. This transformation is the result of the steady replacement of older, more religious voters with younger, more secular voters. Yet the South remains, as ever, the most religious region of America. Perhaps the inter-regional variances in religiosity and church attendance will diminish somewhat over time, but not much. That said, the more libertarian and less religiously conservative West is far less amenable to Republicans’ religious-based appeals, and in fact the growing dominance by evangelicals of western Republican parties is pulling them far too far to the right, providing a huge opportunity for Democrats that is already being exploited in places like Colorado. (But I recommend Ryan Sager’s analyses in Elephant in the Room for more about the self-destruction of western Republican parties.)
Family/marital status: Half of all women and almost half of men in America are unmarried. Because married voters turn out at higher rates, the unmarried are still a minority of voters nationally. Despite the emphasis on the importance of family values, the regional situation here is murkier because the divorce rates and share of unmarried persons are unusually high in the South, a fact that is true even when African Americans are subtracted out. But the key point is that “women on their own” (which means as-yet unmarried, divorced, separated, widowed and lesbian women) cast almost one in four votes nationally, and soon will be above that 25% threshold. And Democrats do well–Kerry won unmarried women by 25 points–among this growing bloc of key voters. As with age, the regional effects on marital status are not particularly pronounced, with one notable exception related to race: the rates of interracial marriage, which I submit indicate a potential for Democrats’ multi-racial coalition calculus. And, not surprisingly, given the shares of statewide non-white populations, the relative rate of interracial marriage rates is lowest in the South. As 2000 Census data make very clear, mixed-race marriages are more prevalent between Asians and whites, and Latinos and whites, than blacks and whites.
Occupation and socioeconomic class: The South has long been, and remains today, the least unionized region of the country. In the past half-century, the southern state with the highest share of union members/families was Alabama, which peaked at twenty-eighth; most southern states have been ranked and continue to rank in the forties, with the two Carolinas battling for a half-century for the inauspicious title of least-unionized state. The reason this matters is that the one exception to the Republican tendencies of non-college white males today is when they are union members or from union families. As the much-cited study by Andrew Gelman and his colleagues at Columbia show, in blue states the rich do not vote as Republican as red-state rich persons do. In the South, however, once African Americans are removed, that relationship between class and partisanship is mitigated—not because richer southern whites vote less Republican, but because poorer whites vote more Republican. Whether voting pocketbooks or prayer books, the result is millions of Republican white votes. This phenomenon is fading and should continue to as “new South” economic changes equalize income and wealth, and as non-native southerners move into the region for those “new South” opportunities. But profound wealth disparities in the South that might otherwise produce more Democratic votes in the nation’s poorest region are muted by cultural conservatism that results in Republican support among poorer whites that approaches the support among richer whites.
Community of residence: Turning to rural-urban-suburban-exurban trends, there is significant suburban growth in certain pockets of the South, the nation’s most rural region. But the key growth in “progressive-centrist” and inner suburban communities, as rigorously chronicled by the Strategist co-editor Ruy Teixeira, is occurring in and around cities west of the Mississippi River. (See Chapter 3 of Teixeira and John Judis’s book, The Emerging Democratic Majority.) There are emerging suburbs in the South that hold great promise for Democrats in the medium and longer term, however. Here is one criterion on which the weak (present) case is more compelling than the strong, long-term case. Still, places like Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, Northern Virginia and Austin remain rare, and the locals do not always take kindly to the changes occurring around them. Native North Carolinians have created their own acronym for Cary, the bedroom community filled with transplants who came to work in the hospitals, universities and research parks in this “progressive-centrist” mecca–Contaminated Area: Relocated Yankees. That tells us a lot about the meaning of progressive-centrist growth in the South and its implications for a Democratic majority.
A final comment about the combined effects of these overlapping criteria: The near- and long-term changes that are both occurring now and should continue to accelerate in the future are happening faster in “Rim South” states like Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and Texas. Thus, partisan opportunities in the South will generally arise first in the Rim South before the Deep South. As I’ve written elsewhere, the Mark Warner-Tim Kaine elections in Virginia prove the point. Despite the attempt by self-interested consultants to depict Warner’s win as a testament to a Democratic revival among rural voters, the truth is that both Warner and especially Kaine won because of changes occurring in the urban-suburban corridor that connects the Washington suburbs, Richmond and Norfolk.
Overall, then, in a country that is becoming less white, more feminized, less traditional in its family structures, more secular and more suburbanized, how does it make sense to prioritize the targeting of what are often referred to as the “NASCAR men”: white, non-college-educated, rural, married, Christian men from the South? If a marketing executive explained the prevailing national trends and concluded that the company ought to target the consumers least likely to be interested in the company’s product–and worse, that their size within the market was shrinking with each passing day–he’d be instructed to clean out his desk by day’s end.
Following his candidate’s popular vote defeat in 2000, Karl Rove promptly announced that the GOP would find and cultivate the four million evangelicals who failed to turn out. The politics that has followed–epitomized by the anti-gay-marriage ballot measures and Supreme Court appointments–confirms the effectiveness of the Rovian approach. So how is it that Democrats, upon losing the popular vote in 2004, must turn their opponents’ base by focusing on southern white men and women? This is absurd advice, and strategically myopic.
The truth is that the Pollyannaish predictions of centrist consultants have not served the Party well. In 2004, Democrats gained outside the South while losing ground inside the South, and at every level: relatively in presidential returns, and absolutely in terms of seats won in both chambers of Congress and in the state legislatures. That same pattern is already prevailing in the 2006 midterms, too, where the vast majority of expected gains for Democrats in gubernatorial and congressional races will come from outside the South.
There’s an underlying reason why: The demographic situation is different inside and outside the South. The split is neither perfect nor uniform, of course, but it is what it is, and denying it only risks losing the non-southern majority that awaits a party gutsy enough to build it. As regional demographic differences both present and future show, there’s a non-southern Democratic majority right in front of our noses, if the party will show the guts to see and seize it.

Dr. Thomas F. Schaller is associate professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), and a board member of the Democratic Strategist. A political columnist for the Washington Examiner, Schaller has published commentaries in The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The Baltimore Sun, Salon.com, and The American Prospect, and has appeared on ABC News, MSNBC, National Public Radio, and C-SPAN.


Messaging, Policies, and Principles

By Marc Grinberg, Rachel Kleinfeld, and Matthew Spence
It’s an honor to have critiques that are as compelling as those offered by our interlocutors here. In reading these over, and in considering other comments from the blogosphere about the piece, we’ve determined three main points we should address. The first is that our argument lacks policy substance. The second is that our messaging examples could be used to justify policy positions similar to those of the Bush Administration. The third is the need to define the values of the left. We will address each of these in turn.
John B. Judis (and Matt Yglesias, in a blog posting) both made the excellent point that messaging is not policy–and we certainly agree. Since this is a political journal, we chose to focus this particular article on messaging. And, with the wealth of serious thinking about policy in our party, we do think that focusing on national security messaging is worthy of its own space.
However: one cannot (or at least should not) develop a message without an underlying policy, and we don’t wish to give any other impression. In the short space we had, we chose three examples to illustrate our basic idea that any Democratic national security message should both acknowledge security threats, and ground our response in Democratic values.
On immigration and terrorism, our policy ideas, articulated in existing Truman Papers on our website, made their way into the message–but John was quite right that our Iran example was incomplete. A policy for Iran is a substantial project, and must be the subject of another forum, but let us briefly address the policy that underlines our message–while responding to the second major critique of our argument–that our Iran messaging seemed to justify a Bush Administration war with Iran.
We at the Truman Project, (like most of America, and the majority of world opinion, according to Pew polling) fear a nuclear Iran. But we, like most of America, think that airstrikes–and the inevitable war that would follow–is an inane option–unwinnable, given the nature of Iran’s nuclear preparations, unsustainable given the state of our military, and perfectly calibrated to turn one of the most pro-American populations against our country.1
War with Iran would be entirely counterproductive. But nuclear weapons in Iran would be a real threat to our national security. So our policy turns on finding ways to use covert action to disrupt the nuclear program, building solidarity with Europe to force Iran to change course through economic sanctions (Europe’s economic power in Iran is crucial to that effort), and mounting a public relations campaign aimed at the Iranian people to convince them that their energy needs can be met without a nuclear weapon–and that their leaders are gambling their economic futures in pursuit of nuclear arms. As Senator Hart rightly notes, if all these fail, any use of American military force should entail honest and open public debate–precisely what our country failed to ask for in the lead up to Iraq.
The Truman Project, in its policy stances, is in absolute agreement with Anne-Marie Slaughter’s powerful argument that national security should be broadened to consider issues far beyond terrorism, from China to nuclear proliferation to epidemic disease. We will continue to fight terrorists for the next fifty years. Yet during this time, new threats, from diseases to the rise of states with opposing value systems, may pose challenges of even greater magnitude–and we cannot have a myopic foreign policy system that ignores these threats. The Princeton Project on National Security makes a broad, bipartisan effort to offer the best policy thinking in America to our policy makers–and succeeds.
Unfortunately, today’s dominant Republican narrative of national security may make the Princeton’s Project’s tagline “liberty under law” a difficult message for voters to capture the multi-faceted national security strategy we need. As the Truman Project found in its cross-country listening tour last year, unfortunately, too many American voters–particularly in red states–believe law and national security are opposed. And too many believe that the Democrats have chosen law, while most Americans prefer security. Slaughter has spearheaded the serious and important thinking about how law and security are not opposing values–a belief we wholeheartedly endorse. Our collective challenge now is how to take that message to the American people.
Here we come to some thoughts on messaging strategy. A number of interlocutors felt that, in voicing a message against a nuclear armed Iran, we were echoing Bush’s misguided policy. The conflation of a tough message with a pro-war policy highlights the precise problem with Democratic messaging. Democrats who believe war with Iran is not the best policy option today need to think about how to talk about our position, if we are to convince Americans that we should be trusted to keep them safe. Americans agree with us on policy–as usual.2 But they need to know that we share their fears–that we are not dismissive of their worries. Too often, we of the left jump directly to policy, and do not understand why America does not follow us. The cause is as old as Hume–reason is but the slave of passion, and messages that hit the head can be overwhelmed by messages that aim at the heart.3 Even if people agree with our Iran policy, we must diffuse the threat of an emotionally targeted, fear-laden Republican message–by acknowledging that the fear is real, but the answer is wrong.
Our Iran message–like our terrorist message, or any other national security message–needs to convey two things: First, that Iran gaining nuclear weapons is a security threat that Democrats take very, very seriously. Second, that we do not believe that war is an effective response to this threat. If we skip the first step, we undermine our credibility to argue for the second. Americans need to believe that Democrats share their hopes, fears, and values–only then, after that emotional connection is established, can we discuss policy.
Finally, Senator Hart, Heather Hurlburt, and David Rieff all point to a much deeper issue than foreign policy or political strategy: what beliefs define what it means to be a progressive? What are our basic values and beliefs, and how do we draw from them to craft a progressive policy? Only then can we provide a frame, and then a message.
This is precisely where the Truman Project started, two years ago. In our first paper, we called for the need to craft a deep progressive understanding of our own principles that would reframe the national security issue on progressive terms.
But we take issue with Rieff’s claim that Democrats like Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, and FDR, were somehow not real progressives. Not only do we respectfully disagree that Rieff is somehow carrying the mantle of the real Left, but his argument is based on the flawed assumption that there is only one true vision of the left. We could not disagree more. History shows that the values of the left have long inspired multiple foreign policy traditions–and that one of these has been, since the era of Woodrow Wilson, a proud tradition of liberal internationalism. All the traditions of the left begin in a similar set of core principles–which we articulate below. Policy prescriptions veer in multiple directions after that point. It is the Truman Project’s hope that we of the left can recapture our principles and agree upon that shared platform–and from there respectfully disagree, if we must, about policy prescriptions.
What are those first principles? This space is not enough to do them justice, but to highlight a few areas of our thinking: progressives start from the principle that our society is judged by what we do for the least among us–an idea Hubert Humphrey articulated. That idea has profound implications for national security–both for how we protect Americans at home, and our responsibilities to societies abroad as our world becomes smaller. The American left also defined itself with Jeffersonians and against Hamiltonians in its basic belief that American democracy required building opportunity and creating real equality of opportunity across classes within America. When broadened for the age of globalization, the idea that the creation of opportunity diffuses threats to democracy leads us to broaden national security from solutions that only involve the military, to solutions that also involve aid, trade, education, and hope as instruments of global stability. This is just some of liberal intellectual thought that we have drawn upon. We are also looking at etymology. “Liberty” is the root of the word liberal–and reflects the fact that we believe in freedom and liberty for individuals, a principle at the root of Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points and FDR’s “Four Freedoms,” and which underlies the progressive human rights agenda. We believe, most of all, that America is not a finished product, but a country that must always move forward as a work in progress–the basis of the word “progressive”.
Rieff challenges the American national greatness narrative. We think that is an intellectual dead end. Americans, like all individuals, wish to think of themselves as good, and perhaps more than many others, wish to think of their country as great. The left’s fight against this desire has been our own death knell.
But we can draw on our progressive heritage–on, for instance, the philosopher Reinhold Neibuhr–to question America’s purity, while remaining electable. To do so, we should admit that the deepest belief of progressivism is that we are a work in progress, and we challenge America to live up to its greatness. As Truman Fellow Peter Beinart has persuasively argued, we should accept the need to doubt America’s good intentions, to admit that there is nothing inherent in Americans that make us good. But there is something to the ideals on which our country is based–minority tolerance, openness to immigrants, freedom, personal initiative, the basic equality of humankind–that could make us great–if, and only if, we uphold those ideals. The difference between the right and the left on this issue could not be clearer. The right thinks America is inherently right and great, and therefore can act with impunity. The left believes America has the opportunity to strive towards its own ideals, and when it does so, it acts with greatness.
The Truman National Security Project is working to address the needs cited by many interlocutors but highlighted by Heather Hurlburt to test messages and train political consultants to make national security a winning issue for Democrats. The Truman Project does not poll-test our beliefs, but we must test our messages, and we are now commissioning targeted polling to make sure our messages communicate what we wish them to convey. We are also offering a series of national security boot camps to political consultants and press secretaries–first in Washington, then throughout the country–to help them learn ways to use national security on campaigns. Messaging is no substitute for sound policy–it must illuminate and clarify policy, while communicating our emotional commitment. But neither can policy alone stand up without an effective communication strategy. As we learned in the last presidential election, having better policy is not enough. We need to do more.
These are some of the building blocks on which a new framework for the left can be built on national security. We are honored to have such companions to build it with us.

Marc Grinberg is a graduate student in political theory at Oxford University. He previously served as Congressional Fellow for the Truman National Security Project, leading its efforts on Capitol Hill and coordinating the activities of the Democratic Study Group on National Security.
Rachel Kleinfeld is the founder and co-director of the Truman Project. Rachel previously served as a Senior Consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton, where she worked on information-sharing across the military, intelligence, and law enforcement communities, homeland security, and trade and security issues. She has also been a consultant to the Center for Security and International Studies on biosecurity and bioterrorism response issues.
Matt Spence is the co-director of the Truman National Security Project. He is currently writing a book on lessons learned from American democracy promotion in the former Soviet Union. Matt has been a Lecturer in International Relations at Oxford University, a Visiting Fellow at the Stanford Center on Democratization, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL), and an elections monitor in Kosovo.

1According to the Pew Survey “Public Worried about Iran bit Wary of Military Action,” Americans believe that Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons, but overwhelmingly reject military action in favor of having the UN to take the lead in diffusing the situation largely through economic sanctions. Even among Republicans, only 46% favor air strikes — the majority again favors sanctions and UN action. America is not alone in its fear of Iranian nuclear ambitions: according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project survey, released June 13, 2006, “Overwhelming majorities in Germany (91%), Japan (87%) and France (85%) say non-nuclear countries should be prevented from developing nuclear weapons.” Large majorities in France (78%), Germany (71%) Great Britain (64%), Spain (62%), and the US (80%) believe that if Iran develops nuclear weapons, it is likely to give weapons to terrorists.
2See the Rockefeller Brothers’ Foundation/Aspen Institute project “U.S. in the World: Talking Global Issues with Americans,” for American policy preferences, how they often agree with those of the left, but how our messaging works against us.
3In 1935, social science researcher George Hartman conducted a powerful experiment to determine voting behavior based on emotional and rational appeals–while both appeals had some effect, the emotional outweighed the rational. See “A Synoptic History and Typology of Experimental Research in Political Science,” David A. Bositis, Douglas Steinel Political Behavior, Vol. 9, No. 3 (1987), pp. 263-284. For the philosophy, see David Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature, 1739.