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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Editor’s Corner

The Role of the Economy in the 2006 Elections

By Celinda Lake and Daniel Gotoff

“The income gap between the rich and the rest of the U.S. population has become so wide, and is growing so fast, that it might eventually threaten the stability of democratic capitalism itself.”

Alan Greenspan, Federal Reserve Chairman, June 2005

“The way to win a presidential race against the Republicans is to develop the class warfare issue. To divide up the haves and have nots and to try to reinvigorate the New Deal coalition.”

Lee Atwater, 1988 Campaign Manager for George H. W. Bush

“It’s the economy, stupid.”

James Carville, 1992 Campaign Manager for Bill Clinton

Despite Americans’ dissatisfaction with the national economy, the issue — as a focus of political debate — is taking a backseat in the 2006 elections, as it has for the past several cycles. An outsider analyzing the “air wars” being waged on television in targeted House and Senate districts could be excused for concluding that the biggest problem with the economy is the high cost of prescription medications for seniors.
Taking the long view, this is a relatively new dynamic in American politics. But the history of recent political campaigns shows that, for well over a decade now, Democrats have failed to advance a credible vision for a prosperous 21st century economy that works for all Americans; not since Presidential candidate Bill Clinton made the economy a centerpiece of his campaign in 1992 have national Democratic leaders addressed the issue with success. At the same time, a number of Democratic governors have won — even in red states (e.g., Wyoming, Arizona, Montana, and West Virginia) — by articulating a strong economic vision. To become a majority party in 2008, Democrats must offer a strong vision for the American economy.
Since the mid-1990’s, the Democratic Party’s economic prescription for the country — a limited social democracy propelled by globalization and business-friendly deregulation — has failed to excite the public animus or, more important, produce its intended results. (It is worth remembering that this was devised as a political strategy for keeping Clinton in office; the economic message that helped to elect him in the first place was far more compelling and audacious.)
More recently, economic proposals offered by the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004 — vague pledges to stop outsourcing and create 10 million new jobs — while ostensibly popular, never constituted a persuasive economic narrative. In 2000, the Democratic economic narrative was constrained by the presidential nominee’s desire to distance himself from Bill Clinton. In 2004, exit polls showed that in the economically depressed battleground state of Ohio, voters gave Bush higher ratings on the economy than Kerry. Our own focus groups found that voters tended to blame both parties for global trade policies and the outsourcing of American jobs overseas. Today, a majority of voters have a difficult time articulating what the Democratic economic alternative is.
Republicans, for their part, offer little in the way of economic prescriptions for the nation other than additional tax cuts tilted heavily toward those at the top and continued deregulation of industry. The conservative economic narrative no longer has the purchase in public opinion that it once enjoyed; the specters of “big government” and profligate spending are now as likely to conjure up images of the Iraq war and Republican bureaucracy and incompetence as anything else. And most voters now view Republican tax cuts as neither a short-term fix for their families nor a long-term solution to the country’s economic challenges. Noticeably, this issue is used more as a political cudgel against Democrats than as a piece of Republicans’ positive agenda.
This is not to suggest that Americans are not ready for a real debate on the direction of the nation’s economy. The public is, in fact, deeply concerned about the direction in which the country is being steered, and the state of the American economy specifically. In the recent bi-partisan George Washington University Battleground 2006 Poll, 61 percent of voters said the country is headed pretty seriously off on the wrong track, with more than half (51 percent) feeling strongly this way.1 And voters overwhelmingly believe the U.S. economy is in bad shape. Sixty percent of voters say the current state of the economy is just fair or poor. Just forty percent believe the economy is in good or excellent shape, including only 5 percent who rate it as excellent.2
An ABC News poll conducted in September showed the economy on par with Iraq as the single most important issue for voters in the midterm elections (22 percent and 21 percent, respectively).3 Another 18 percent chose as their top concern health care (13 percent) or gas prices (5 percent), the rising costs of which play directly into voters’ fears over the economy. In fact, rising health care costs are the most pressing personal economic concern for Americans.
Pessimism colors Americans’ economic outlook, with fully 61 percent saying economic conditions in the country as a whole are getting worse. Just 31 percent believe the economy is getting better, and 6 percent volunteer that it is doing about the same as in the past.4 More personally, voters do not see their own economic situations improving over the coming year. A majority expects their own financial situations either to stay the same (51 percent) or worsen (8 percent) in the next 12 months. Just over one-third of Americans (36 percent) expect their personal financial situations to improve in that time.5 Most important, in a recent survey of working Americans, we found that 52 percent believe their children will be worse off than they are.6 For the first time this included a majority of both college-educated and non-college-educated Americans. This dynamic represents a fundamental violation of the promise of the American Dream, plays heavily into public pessimism about the direction of the country, and is a strong catalyst for voters’ desire for change.
Champions of the current administration point to improved employment figures, increased productivity, and economic growth as signs of a healthy economy. But the challenges facing individuals and the country as a whole are no fiction. The American middle class today finds itself caught between a rapidly increasing cost of living, a decline in real income and job security, and record levels of debt. The Republican economic program over the past 6 years, centered almost solely on deficit-financed tax cuts and dramatic deregulation of industry, has produced a host of pernicious consequences. Among them is this indisputable and devastating fact: the income gap between multimillionaires and the American middle class has widened dramatically over the past 6 years. This can no longer be easily dismissed as the hyperbolic rantings of a Marx-and-Engels-toting student movement. To the contrary, it is a development that has caught the attention of such capitalist stalwarts as the current and former Federal Reserve Chairmen under President Bush, both of whom have warned of the inherent threat to the nation of this growing disparity.
Despite the perplexity among some at the public’s reluctance to revel in news of economic growth, the simple truth — one that Americans are increasingly coming to recognize — is that the United States has not experienced a disparity in wealth on this scale in nearly a century, not since the age of the Robber Barons that preceded the Great Depression. A recent study of non-managerial American workers starkly underscores the problem. Fully 81 percent agreed (56 percent strongly) with the statement, “No matter what you hear about the economy, working families are falling behind.”7
When it comes to the economy, the irony for Democrats is not subtle. Americans afford the Democratic Party a growing advantage over Republicans on the issue, but Democrats have struggled to capitalize on that advantage. In the GWU Battleground 2006 Poll, Democrats are viewed as better equipped to improve the economy by a 9-point margin, and Democrats hold even stronger advantages on the related issues of dealing with health care (+30), making prescription drugs affordable (+35), strengthening Social Security (+26), achieving energy independence (+14), and creating jobs (+8). The only economic issue on which voters provide Republicans an advantage (+8) over Democrats is holding the line on taxes.
Yet while Democrats are viewed as better than Republicans on the economy, they have been unable to convert that advantage into political gains. Indeed, even voters who give Democrats the benefit of the doubt on the economy have a hard time articulating what Democrats would actually do if in power. Voters’ own perspectives on the economy are of a middle class in decline — if not in crisis — badly squeezed between rising costs, reduced benefits, and stagnant earnings. But without any coherent, compelling narrative, voters are short on their own solutions to the economic problems facing the country.
The vacuum of big ideas from either party on the country’s economic future, particularly in the context of a globalized economy, is increasingly leaving voters with the impression that the United States and its elected leaders are relatively powerless to determine the country’s future. The sense of possibility among the American public — that the American people, through their government, can effect a prosperous, enduring economy — is dwindling. This loss of hope not only fuels the prevalent distrust in federal government, but also encourages a politics of fear, both of which figure prominently in the Republican playbook.
In the absence of a compelling national Party platform, the political debate over the economy has once again turned to silo’ed messages related to personal, pocket-book economics. Without definition from their Party, individual Democratic Congressional candidates can hardly be blamed. Swing voters in our focus groups complain that too often Democrats offer only criticism of the economy; they observe that they could hear the same thing from their neighbors. What these voters want to know from Democratic leaders is, “What are you going to do about it?”
It has already been established that rising prescription drug prices, wildly fluctuating gas prices, the affordability of health care in America, and declining job and retirement security are pressing concerns, and concerns that feed voters’ sense that the middle class is failing to keep pace with the rising cost of living in America while an elite few are doing very well (though most voters do not understand how well). But rarely are the individual issues connected in a comprehensive narrative about the state of the nation’s economy, and even more rarely are they used to make the case for an enduring solution. And recent history tells us that the ability of silo’ed messages (e.g., on prescription drug costs; rising health care and gas prices; and decreased job and retirement security) to deliver Democrats victories at the ballot box is limited. As such, the economy takes a backseat again in 2006 to the more dominant themes of war and security.
As we look toward 2008, the stakes could not be higher. Yet the Democratic Party cannot win the Presidency until it gains the public’s confidence in its ability to create and sustain a prosperous national economy. So where do we go from here?
The terrain for Democrats is fertile; issues of energy independence and national health care offer Democrats broad, popular policy initiatives that can re-invigorate the national economy. Energy independence is the strongest economic proposal for men. Voters in general believe that investing in renewable and sustainable energy development will create good-paying jobs and exportable technology; reduce energy prices; and create a safer, more independent foreign policy. This is a big economic idea whose time has come.
As noted, Americans now see skyrocketing health care costs as directly threatening their family’s ability to stay in the middle class and achieve the American Dream. Our survey of working Americans found that affordable health care is considered one of the five pillars of the American Dream (along with being proud of your job, ensuring your children’s future, owning your own home, and having a secure retirement).8 Voters also believe that health care costs are a major impediment to starting one’s own small business, which 48 percent of Americans want to do.9 2008 could easily shape up to be the health care election.
A secure retirement is another top concern of Americans and another pillar of the American Dream. Out of a host of progressive economic initiatives tested in a June 2005 survey, the most popular focused on protecting retirement pensions from being raided or taken away by corporate CEOs.10 In the survey of working Americans, 55 percent expected they would have to retire later than they had planned.11 A solid majority of working Americans now believe Social Security is a risky source of retirement income.
Finally, Americans believe that investing in education is the best long-term investment in the nation’s economy. Ironically, Republicans talked more about education than Democrats in the 2000 and 2004 Presidential campaigns. In fact, in 2000 Bush neutralized the Democrats’ advantage on the economy. Successful Democratic governors, however, have made education a central plank of their economic platforms, with an agenda that includes investing in quality pre-kindergarten through secondary schools and expanding the affordability of college and post-high school job training.
Well-paying, secure jobs are still at the center of any economic platform. At a time when American workers are forced to compete against workers who earn 30 cents an hour and work seven days a week, sensible proposals to level the playing field for American workers by revising free trade agreements also hold promise — and not just as sound policy. To wit, 65 percent of Americans view increased trade between the United States and other countries as mostly hurting American workers.12
But Democrats must be mindful that these issues — as expansive and politically popular as they are — do not, in and of themselves, amount to a compelling economic narrative. The Party requires a political strategy around the economy that tells the story of the resurgence of the American people and the American Dream under responsible Democratic governance. Central to this story is redressing the dramatic disparity in incomes that has taken place under Republican control. This is by no means a novel strategy; but it is one that secured Democratic victories for the first two-thirds of the 20th century. Equally important, it is also a strategy recognized by Republicans as the most effective line of attack Democrats have in their arsenal (Republicans’ fierce efforts to define as “class warfare” any Democrat’s allusion to the redistribution of wealth under Republican governance from the middle class to those at the very top is as telling as Lee Atwater’s open admission of this point). In short, the issue is not only substantively important for the Democrats to tackle, but also an approach that offers the Party the promise of rich political rewards and a return to majority status.

Prior to forming Lake Research Partners, Lake was partner and vice president at Greenberg-Lake. Her earlier experience includes serving as political director of the Women’s Campaign Fund, and as the Research Director at the Institute for Social Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Policy Analyst for the Subcommittee on Select Education.
Lake, a native of Montana and one of the political world’s most avid whitewater rafters, holds a Masters degree in Political Science and Survey Research from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and a certificate in political science from the University of Geneva, in Geneva, Switzerland. Lake received her undergraduate degree from Smith College in Massachusetts, where she graduated Summa Cum Laude with honors and was recently awarded the Distinguished Alumna Medal by the College.
Celinda has recently co-authored a book with republican pollster Kellyanne Conway entitled “What Women Really Want: How Women are Quietly Erasing Political, Racial, Class and Religious Lines to Change the Way We Live”.

Daniel Gotoff was recently named the newest partner of Lake Research Partners. Daniel has designed and analyzed survey and focus group research for candidates at all levels of the electoral process as well as on a wide range of issues, including media reform, health care reform, and campaign finance reform.
His tenure at LRP has included extensive survey and focus group research for clients including the DNC, DCCC, the NAACP National Voter Fund, and numerous congressional, gubernatorial, and mayoral candidates. Gotoff also had led the firm’s consulting in overseas campaigns in Mexico and the Caribbean.
Daniel joined LRP in 1996 after working on a congressional campaign in Cincinnati, Ohio. Daniel holds a B.A. in History and Italian from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. When he finds the time and space, Daniel enjoys drawing and sculpting.

1George Washington University Battleground 2006 Poll, N= 1000 likely voters, 9/24-27/06
2ABC News/ Washington Post Poll. October 2006; surveyed 1,000 adults.
3ABC News Poll. Conducted 9/5-7/06; surveyed 1,003 adults, including 863 registered voters.
4Gallup Poll. Conducted 9/7-10/06; surveyed 1,002 adults;
5Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg Poll. Conducted 9/16-19/06; surveyed 1,517 adults.
6Change to Win Poll. N = 800 non-supervisory workers nationwide, August 14-20, 2006.
7Change to Win Poll. Ibid.
8Change to Win Poll. Ibid.
9The Polling Company and Lake Research Partner for What Women Really Want. Conducted March 2005; surveyed 1200 adults.
10Lake Research Partners Survey. Conducted June 2005; surveyed 963 likely voters.
11Change to Win Poll. Ibid.
12Gallup/USA Today. Conducted 4/7-9/06; surveyed 1,004 adults.

Winning the Third National Security Election

By Jeremy D. Rosner
This is shaping up to be the third consecutive election that will turn on national security. Yet 2006 looks very different from 2002 and 2004. President Bush and his party have succeeded in raising the salience of terrorism and Iraq; yet they appear to be in deep electoral trouble, and possibly heading for watershed losses. What gives?
To be sure, the answer goes beyond national security, which is hardly the only issue at play, and in many ways and many races, not even the dominant issue. Polling by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner for Democracy Corps shows that a 55-40 percent majority are more interested in hearing what the candidates say about the financial pressures on average voters than about security and terrorism. Moreover, recent visits to various states with key campaigns confirm the conclusion of a recent Washington Post article, that local rather than national issues are dominating the debates in a number of congressional races.1 And it appears that the Foley scandal will have a major impact in the closing weeks, further souring feelings about the Republican Congress to all-time lows.
Yet, apart from the scandals and domestic issues, there are genuinely different dynamics at work on national security this cycle, and Democrats need to get them right if they are to win back Congress and — even more important — the public’s confidence that we can be trusted to protect the country.
The GOP’s efforts to define this race around national security could not have been more forceful or blatant. The extended 9/11 commemorations. Bush’s series of high-profile speeches on terror and Iraq. Tagging Democrats as “cut and run” and “soft.” Forcing pre-election votes on partisan-styled legislation on terrorist interrogation and surveillance. And a slough of GOP ads in key races attacking Democrats on those two issues, including swift-boat-like attack ads in the Ohio Senate race from the shadowy Republican “527” group Progress for America.
Republicans aren’t wrong to pin their hopes on the national security card; as they well understand, it’s about the only card they have left to play. And it is having an impact in some races. For example, Rep. Nancy Johnson (CT-5) has run ads on the terrorist surveillance program that test strongly in our recent focus groups.
Yet mostly the Republican focus on national security seems to be falling flat. For every Nancy Johnson, there are other Republican candidates, such as her Connecticut colleague Rep. Chris Shays (CT-4) who have distanced themselves from the President on Iraq. Key GOP hawks like Rep. Curt Weldon (PA-7) and Republicans with solid security credentials like Rep. Heather Wilson (AZ-1), appear to be in real trouble. And a range of public polls show that Democrats have closed most of the gap they suffered in recent years on national security, and on some more recent measures have fully drawn even with the GOP.
Five related factors are most responsible for blunting if not wholly foiling the Republicans’ national-security-centered strategy.
First, and above all, Iraq. The Administration’s incompetence on counter-insurgency and reconstruction has moved the conflict to the brink of civil war, while its serial deceptions have emptied the reserves of public trust they once enjoyed. Iraq is now the public’s top voting concern, and those who are focused on the issue lean sharply Democratic. The leaked National Intelligence Estimate and Bob Woodward’s new book, combined with the continuing carnage on the ground, helped renew public outrage and erase the President’s post-9/11 bump. In many ways, this year’s congressional election is shaping up to be a public referendum on this deeply troubled war.
Second, the President’s effort to conflate Iraq with the war on terror backfired — in part by succeeding too well. Democracy Corps polling shows that the more the President talked about terror in September and October, the more the public became focused on Iraq, while the level citing terror as the key issue actually fell. By lumping the war on terror and Iraq together, the President actually diminished his edge on the former, rather than strengthening his position on the latter.
Third, partisanship. Voters increasingly recognized and resented that the President was trying to use a real concern, the threat of Islamic jihadists, in a phony, divisive, partisan way. That Republican tactic worked pretty well in 2002 and 2004, but voters have now tired of it and begun resenting it. An August Democracy Corps poll revealed this was the second strongest complaint about Bush and the GOP on national security, and voters respond strongly to Democratic arguments that Republicans set up their late-session bills on wiretapping and interrogation in ways that were needlessly partisan and divisive.
Fourth, Republican divisions. The Bush/Cheney/Rove plan was to use the weeks after Labor Day to frame Democrats as weak on security. Instead, those weeks became defined by Republicans divided on security. As Sen. John McCain, Colin Powell, and a parade of other Republicans and military leaders criticized the original Bush bill on detainee interrogation — for abrogating the Geneva Conventions, endangering our troops, and undermining our moral standing in the war on terror — all contrasts between Republicans and Democrats faded into the background. Although the White House finally caved to many of McCain’s demands (even as McCain also dropped his principled objections in indefensible ways) and finally got the mostly-party-line vote it wanted, it left Republican candidates hard-pressed to argue that only Democrats had reservations about the Bush direction.
Fifth, the Democrats did a better job than in past cycles of recruiting candidates with strong national security credentials. Rep. Rahm Emanuel and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee he chairs recruited dozens of candidates with strong security credentials, such as Tammy Duckworth, an Army helicopter pilot who lost both legs in Iraq, and retired Vice Admiral Joe Sestak, who has pulled even with Pennsylvania’s Weldon. The same is true on the Senate side; witness the gains by Vietnam War hero and former Navy Secretary Jim Webb in his race against incumbent Virginia Sen. George Allen. (OK, “macaca” and Allen’s string of other weird revelations played a role here, but Webb’s military credentials helped.) Not all the vets Democrats recruited made it through the primaries, and in some cases their military service has been less important than pure voter anger over Iraq, but in a few cases having veterans in the race was a major factor, and the move generally reflects a newfound Democratic confidence around associating the party with the military.
These factors create an historic opportunity for Democrats to get heard on national security issues and to transform long-standing perceptions of how the two parties compare. Yet, like all opportunities, this one contains some big dangers. If Democrats are going to win in 2006 and beyond, here are some challenges they need to confront.

  • Don’t duck national security; welcome the debate and engage it. Some Democratic consultants argue that Democrats should avoid talking about national security as much as possible. Echoing advice that some other Democratic consultants have pushed, pollster Vic Fingerhut recently argued in the Washington Post that Democratic candidates should “stay away from foreign policy in favor of domestic economic issues.”2 This is stunningly and dangerously bad advice. It is akin to saying that you shouldn’t kick the one remaining leg out from under an offending table because it’s obviously the strongest one. Think how much stronger shape Democratic challenger Chris Murphy might be in in his CT-5 race against Nancy Johnson if he had not let her sharp attack ad on the terror surveillance issue go unanswered for over a week. Moreover, recent polling shows that Democrats only gain when they engage on these issues; in the August Democracy Corp poll, after voters were led through a long and balanced national security debate, the Democrats’ lead expanded, from a 5 point margin to an 8 point lead. This year, Democrats should be welcoming the national security debate and jumping on every opportunity to engage it — not to the exclusion of domestic and economic issues, but with the confidence it can supplement their efforts on these traditional areas of Democratic strength.
    Fortunately, more and more Democrats seem to understand this, as evidenced by the strong criticisms of the Bush Administration by a range of Democratic leaders after North Korea’s claim to have conducted its first nuclear test. Our latest Democracy Corps poll shows their instincts are right: even in the 49 most competitive GOP-held districts, more voters see the North Korean claim to be a sign of problems with the Bush national security policy, rather than evidence that we need the Republicans running our national security in the face of a dangerous world.

  • Don’t just attack performance on Iraq; also show we have a better way to fight terror. Democrats gain ground when they strongly critique the administration for “mis-managing” Iraq and letting us become “bogged down” in a religious war with no plan and no end in sight. But voters really open up when Democrats combine this with a positive sense of how we offer “a better way to fight terror.” Tangible ideas like implementing 100 percent of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations resonate strongly and create a clearer sense that this is about protecting the future, not just re-litigating the past. Most powerful of all, in many ways, is a longer-sighted Democratic commitment to slash America’s dependence on foreign oil, which voters correctly see as lying at the intersection of the country’s national security, economic, and environmental problems.
  • Don’t let anti-Bush reflexes undermine Democrats’ heritage of internationalism. Over the longer term, Democrats can only retain national leadership and the public’s trust if we promote a strong, idealistic, and outward-looking vision of America’s purposes in the world. Anti-Bush passion may be enough to drive big gains in 2006. But Democrats cannot afford to let anti-Bushism morph into anti-internationalism. For example, it is troubling that, according to a poll conducted by the German Marshall Fund, a majority of Democrats — the party that helped bring down apartheid in South Africa and Pinochet in Chile — now rejects the idea of promoting democracy abroad. Similarly, there are worrisome signs that many Democrats now doubt our ability to improve the world; in the August Democracy Corps survey only a 49-46 percent plurality of Democrats agreed that “America’s power is generally a force for good in the world,” and fully 60 percent of liberal Democrats chose the alternative statement, that “America’s power generally does more harm than good when we act abroad.” As The New Republic’s Peter Beinart and others have argued, it will be important for Democratic leaders over the coming months and years to push back against such beliefs and to mobilize support within the party’s base for a serious international agenda that includes combating jihadist ideology and violence, stemming WMD proliferation, strengthening NATO and our other alliances, supporting the spread of liberal democracy and human rights, and tackling global environmental and humanitarian challenges.

If Democrats follow these steps, 2006 could well be remembered as not only the year when the Bush politicization of national security finally fell flat, but also as the year when the Democratic Party began to convince voters they offer a better path for securing America in a world full of new dangers and opportunities.

Jeremy Rosner is Senior Vice President at Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a Democratic polling and political consulting firm; he served as a senior staff member on the Clinton National Security Council, and as Special Adviser to President Clinton and Secretary of State Albright for NATO Enlargement Ratification.

1Jim VandeHei and Chris Cillizza, “In Close Races, Local Issues Still Dominate,” The Washington Post, September 29, 2006, p. A1.

The Purple-ing of the Democrats

By Thomas Riehle
The size of the Democratic majority in the 110th Congress will alter the shape of American politics for the remainder of President Bush’s term, into the 2008 Presidential contest, and beyond — and because of the demographics of the districts electing all those new Democrats to Congress, it will alter the character of the national Democratic Party as well. Majority Watch conducts polls of 1,000 or more voters (margin of error ± 3.1) in each contested House race, and if current trends continue, Democrats will hold 222 to 230 seats in the 110th Congress (218 is a majority).
Whether that new Democratic House majority extends beyond 230 seats — and more importantly, whether that majority extends beyond the 110th Congress — depends on how well Democrats adapt themselves to the new demographic realities of the party’s broadened geographic base. Democratic House members will represent constituencies and trends that will force the House Democratic Caucus and the national Democratic Party to put up a wider tent than it has housed itself in these past six years.
Democrats will win:

  • Suburban seats that are home to corporate managers, where one-third or more of the voters have a bachelor’s degree or better. In Majority Watch (MW) polls conducted by RT Strategies and Constituent Dynamics in October, the Democratic candidates had solid leads outside the margin of error, and in many cases already claimed 50% of the vote or more, in places like Ohio 15th near Columbus, where 38% of households boast adults in managerial positions, and Pennsylvania 6th and Pennsylvania 7th, where more than 40% are managers. Democrats are making competitive races in other places where managers make up 40% or more of the electorate: Washington 8th south of Seattle, and in suburban seats bracketing New York City on all sides (New Jersey 7th, New York 3rd on Long Island, and Connecticut 4th). The Chicago suburbs (Illinois 6th, 8th and 10th) have not swung as enthusiastically to the Democrats, however, and remain no better than close contests.
  • Small-town, working-class seats where half or more of the adults pursue their goals in life with, at best, a high school education. In MW polls, Democrats had leads of 7 points or more in races in both central and western North Carolina, in small-town upstate and western New York and northeastern Pennsylvania, both northern and southern Indiana, and in southeastern Ohio. Across the Ohio River, Democrats are giving Republican incumbents all they can handle in Kentucky’s northern House seats, where adults are about twice as likely (or more) to have a high-school education than a college degree; districts with similar educational patterns in northern Wisconsin, and in West Virginia, Iowa and Texas are all either easy Democratic elections in Democratic seats once deemed potentially vulnerable, or close races where Democrats are trying to take over Republican seats.

The appeal of Democratic House candidates in some places will transcend barriers that have kept Democrats locked in the House minority since 1994:

  • The marriage gap, where married people vote Republican and singles vote Democratic, cannot persist if Democrats hope to hold onto their gains. In MW polls in October, Democratic candidates were leading by 7 points or more in only one seat where 63% or more of the adults are married, but if the Democratic victory expands in the final weeks beyond the 222-seat majority MW polling projects today (with Democratic leads outside the margin of error), it will be because of victories in many places where 63% or more of adults are married (and the races are within the margin of error in MW polls today): Wisconsin 8th (Green Bay), Illinois 8th (a Democratically-held district), New York 3rd (Rep. Peter King’s Long Island district), Illinois 6th (Retiring Rep. Henry Hyde’s district), Florida 16th (Rep. Foley’s former district), Minnesota 6th (where the Democratic candidate’s background led her to focus on what the Foley scandal says about the commitment of Republican leaders in Washington to protect children from predators), and New Jersey 7th and Washington 8th, suburbs south of New York City and Seattle, respectively.
    The Democratic Party’s northeastern base will be solidified, while in-roads will be made in other places as well.

  • The blue tide is a northeastern tide, with strength all down the Ohio River and in scattered places out West as well. This blue tide rises in Connecticut, where Democrats will take at least one and maybe as many as three Republican seats, carries across New York, where Democrats will win at least three and possibly as many as six Republican seats, through far northeastern Pennsylvania (a state where Democrats will see at least two and possibly three pick-ups), then down the Ohio River where almost every contiguous seat on both sides of the river clear down past Indiana is an open seat or a vulnerable Republican-held seat and Democrats could win most of them (at least on the river’s northern bank, and very possibly on the southern bank in Kentucky, as well). It does not stop there: Democrats are competitive in northern Wisconsin, southern Minnesota, central and eastern Iowa, as well as in the suburbs of Denver and Seattle and in the New Mexico 1st House district.
    Most importantly, in Florida, North Carolina and New York, Republicans say they will cross over to vote for the Democratic House candiCATEGORY: Editor’s Corner

  • The Democratic takeover is a reaction against Bush, Bush policies, and the Republican majorities in Congress that enabled Bush. Voters in the first 74 MW House polls (a total sample of 74,448) disapprove (53%) rather than approve (39%) Bush’s job performance. Since all but 7 of those 74 polls were conducted in seats held by Republicans, the failure of Bush to score better than his weak national numbers for job performance indicates why these particular seats are the most vulnerable for Republicans.
  • In some House races, the weakness of a Republican candidate or incumbent in a Republican-held seat is in part a reaction of Republican voters against the national Republican Party. Disaffected Republican voters in those districts will send a message to the national Party by voting against the Republican candidate in their House election. Overall, across the 74 polls, 67% of Republican voters approve but 22% disapprove of Bush’s performance. Among those Republican voters who disapprove of Bush, only 41% will vote for the Republican House candidate, 53% the Democrat. The districts where disaffected Republican voters who disapprove of Bush are most likely to vote Democratic in their House election are North Carolina 8th (69% of Republicans who disapprove of Bush will vote for the Democratic House candidate), North Carolina 11th (70%), Florida 13th (85%), Florida 16th (70%), Florida 22nd (69%), New York 26th –the home of NRCC chairman Reynolds (75%), and New York 24th –the open seat of departing Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (64%). In New York, North Carolina and Florida, Republican disgust with national Republican policies or behavior will benefit the 2006 House candidate — then it will be up to that Democratic winner to retain the loyalties of some of those disaffected Republicans (and Democrats are significantly ahead in MW polls in the New York and North Carolina races).
    Politics (beyond the organization of the 110th Congress under a Democratic Speaker) will resonate to the sound of this political earthquake for years to come.

  • Politics will be altered by the ability or inability of political leaders to help themselves by helping others. Sen. Hillary Clinton in New York will get credit for an assist when a handful or more of new Democratic House Members arrive from New York (and National Republican Congressional Campaign Chairman Tom Reynolds of New York will prove, if proof was needed, that it is a bad omen for a party when the congressional campaign chairman’s own race is irretrievably lost before the trees in the mid-Atlantic forests even turn colors for the fall). Sen. Evan Bayh will be more plausible as a national Democratic candidate in 2008 if three of his state’s nine House seats change hands from Republicans to Democrats in 2006. Republican Presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain of Arizona will not be strengthened as Arizona 8th became a hopeless cause for Republicans in early October and two other Arizona seats (1st and 5th) are in play as well.

In the final three weeks of the campaign, longtime leading Democratic strategists such as Stan Greenberg and James Carville urge the party to maximize the once-in-a-generation opportunity the 2006 election offers Democrats by reaching out for every seat that is even conceivably contestable. Netroots newcomers, however, are not so ambitious, preferring to see the Democrats focus their attention on locking in their potential gains rather than reaching too far and “blowing it.”
That reflects an ironic turn of events for internal Democratic Party strategic debate. Netroots newcomers, throughout 2000, 2002 and 2004, complained bitterly about the cautiousness of Democratic campaign insiders in Washington. Now the tables are turned. Political guru Charlie Cook calls it a generation gap in perceptions of what is happening in 2006. Old-timers who lived through 1974 and 1994 have felt all year that 2006 could develop into an enormous, earthshaking Democratic sweep—they’d seen this kind of thing before, and this felt like that. Netroots activists, in contrast, have not seen that kind of sweeping election victory before — their experience has been largely a series of narrow, nail-biting elections with winners and losers determined by a handful of seats in a 50-50 political world.
Because of their different experiences, netrooters have dismissed talk of a sweep as so much old-timer mysticism. Old-timers have been unable to believe the netrooters do not see what is clearly before their eyes. As a result of their different experiences, netrooters are also more focused on carefully bringing home every victory that’s clearly in reach and leaving nothing to chance in any race, while the old-timers are wondering whether a bank would loan the DNC $5 million or $10 million against future contributions to expand their reach from 30 targeted seats to 50. Old-timers are also speculating about whether they should count as won the top ten prospective take-overs and shift resources from those seats to the Tier 3 opportunities.
Whichever direction the party takes in the final weeks — whether a cautious, button-down strategy designed to make no mistakes and lose no birds in the hand, or a more “all-in,” go-for-broke strategy that seeks every possible bird in every possible bush — one outcome is certain: A very different, more mainstream, more suburban and small-town, greatly expanded House Democratic caucus will present a new face of the Democratic Party to the country as the 2008 Presidential election gets underway on November 8.

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.

Flanking the Immigration Wedge

By Jim Kessler
In any election, the key to winning comes down to this: In the final weeks of the race, are you generating news on the subject of your choosing or of your opponent’s choosing? In Virginia in 2005, the subject in the closing weeks was on illegal immigration. That was not where Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Tim Kaine wanted it to be.
The latest sequel to America’s continuing love-hate saga with immigration kicked off, of all places, in the affluent bedroom community of Herndon, Virginia in 2005. Fueled by a massive building boom, illegal immigrants flooded northern Virginia seeking work. They gathered in front of the local 7-11’s each morning hoping to be selected by construction managers to work for a day rate. As the numbers grew, the town leaders of Herndon decided to spend taxpayer dollars to create a day-labor center where immigrants could congregate to seek work away from public view. This ignited a political firestorm as angry residents demanded to know why their tax dollars were being spent to help lawbreakers find jobs that many Americans wanted.
Republicans, predictably, framed the issue succinctly and effectively. Virginia Republican Jerry Kilgore launched an ad campaign accusing Tim Kaine of abetting the “growing illegal immigration crisis” in the state. “And Tim Kaine?” the announcer asks. “Kaine favors taxpayer-funded job centers and supports in-state tuition discounts for illegals. Taxpayer benefits for illegal immigrants? What part of illegal does Tim Kaine not understand?”
Democrats, predictably, reached for their base and played the empathy card. Kaine didn’t so much respond as demur. At a bilingual center in neighboring Falls Church, Kaine accused Kilgore of “grandstanding” and voiced tepid support to Herndon officials for “trying to solve a local problem.”
In the end, illegal immigration did not close the sale for Kilgore. But Kaine pollster Pete Brodnitz of the Benenson Strategy Group admitted that they had dodged a bullet. “We were flying a little bit blind.” Republicans took notice and so did some Democrats. “This is going to be the gay marriage of 2006,” said Nathan Daschle of the Democratic Governors’ Association.

In May 2006, we hired Brodnitz to conduct Third Way’s polling and to help us solve the impending immigration wedge. Our task was to devise a message to win over moderates while supporting progressive principles for immigration reform that included a path to citizenship. We sought to de-claw this issue and give guidance to progressive elected leaders and candidates who wanted to preserve their Hispanic base but feared alienating middle-class white voters in the process.
After analyzing our results, we came to believe that not only could this issue be neutralized, it could and should be won.
Let’s start with some demographic facts. On October 17th, the United States population hit 300 million. 37 million people — one out of every eight residents — were born in another country. 12 million people — one–third of the foreign–born population — are illegal. This is not a pretend issue.
Partial birth abortion, for example, affects at most 8 out of every 10,000 abortions. It may have symbolic meaning to quite a few Americans, but it has no practical meaning in the number of abortions that occur each year. Illegal immigration affects practically every community. Unlike the last major immigration law overhaul debate in 1986 that affected almost exclusively the border states of California, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, today’s illegal immigration population has exploded in states like Wisconsin, Georgia, Massachusetts, Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Arkansas, and even Alaska.
Progressives are playing with fire if they relegate those who express deep reservations about illegal immigration to the categories of intolerant, anti–Hispanic, or mean–spirited. People are concerned because they have a right to be.
We conducted a poll of 1,236 likely voters with an oversample of Hispanics and African-Americans. From the results of this poll, we advised progressives that there were three arguments they must win in order to command the immigration debate and two lessons that they should heed.
Lesson one is don’t confuse support with popularity. By an 83-15% margin, voters support immigration reform that provides illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. However, 60% of these same voters believe that “deporting all 12 million illegal immigrants back to their home countries would be a good goal.”
This is not a contradiction, but a complexity. Voters are torn on this issue. They believe illegal immigrants are hard working, decent people and they are willing to grant them the full rights that come with citizenship. At the same time, they believe they are a burden to the taxpayer and lawbreakers. This complexity is the key to solving the immigration wedge and winning the three arguments necessary to do so.
Lesson two is to understand that Democrats enter the debate with baggage. We read statements to voters and asked them whether they thought this was something a Democrat, Republican, neither or both parties would say. I don’t care if they broke the law, illegal immigrants deserve the same rights and privileges as American citizens. By a margin of 30-points, Independents said that’s a Democrat. We should help illegal immigrants get a job even if it costs an American citizen a job. Again, by 30-points, Independent voters said that’s a Democrat.
Understanding these preconceived notions is critical when it comes time to choose the right messages. Democrats are always inclined to stress fairness, compassion and justice to illegal immigrants — it’s simply in their nature. But voters already expect Democrats to be fair, compassionate, and just — to a fault. An effective Democratic message must, in this case, challenge voters’ preconceived notions, not reinforce them.
With these lessons in mind, here are the three arguments that must be won to control the terrain:
Argument #1: Fairness to taxpayers — Voter compassion toward illegal immigrants ends where their taxpayer interests begin. By a two to one margin, voters believe that illegal immigrants are a burden to taxpayers. Their number one goal for reform is fairness to taxpayers.
That means progressives must frame all of their positions as the fairest to taxpaying Americans. For example, citizenship must be earned by paying back taxes and a fine. Citizenship will turn illegal immigrants into taxpayers and force businesses to pay the taxes they now avoid by hiring illegal labor. Immigration reform will eliminate the shadow economy that allows workers and employers to evade taxes.
Argument #2: Why are they here — If voters believe that illegal immigrants are in their town, county, state, or country to get government benefits like in-state college tuition, drivers’ licenses, or Social Security, progressives lose. If voters believe they are here to get jobs from unscrupulous businesses that turn a blind eye to the law, progressives win.
Voters will believe that immigrants came here to get jobs, but only if they are reminded. If the other side wins the framing debate over benefits, it will be a death-by-a-thousand-cuts result for pro-reform progressives.
Argument #3: Who is to blame — Under President Bush, enforcement of illegal immigration laws at the border has declined by 31%. And under Bush a person is more likely to be eaten by an alligator than to be prosecuted for hiring illegal labor. Republicans have a fatal vulnerability on enforcement that progressives must exploit.
Their failure to enforce the law can be explained in any of three ways: sheer incompetence, linking the conservative philosophy of smaller government to failure to man the border, or a conspiracy of failure between an Administration that chooses to ignore existing laws in order to benefit the business interests that bankroll their campaigns and hires illegal labor.
We wrapped these arguments and lesson together into a simple message that we urged progressive candidates and elected officials to use to describe their position on illegal immigration: tough, fair and practical. Tough on the border, fair to taxpayers, and practical in terms of restoring the rule of law and dealing with those already here. We advised progressives to define the opposition as ineffective, expensive, and impractical.
These are not incendiary words to describe conservatives, but they are the most effective. When we asked people how they would describe the House Republican enforcement-only plan, the overwhelming word they chose was impractical. Mean-spirited and anti-Hispanic measured far behind.
Is tough, fair and practical too tough for Hispanics and immigration advocacy organizations? It’s not. First, Hispanics are not monolithic on this issue. 51% of Hispanics said that deporting all 12 million illegal immigrants back to their home countries would be a good goal.
Second, Hispanic goals for reform are the same as those of whites: fairness to taxpayers, restoring the rule of law, finding a practical solution, and securing the border were the top four for both. In fact, it is fair to say that voters overwhelmingly support the path to citizenship because Hispanics and whites both feel it is the most practical solution to a problem they view as out of control.
No message will work unless it is used and used often. Third Way was invited by congressional campaign chairs Chuck Schumer and Rahm Emanuel to brief all of their challengers. We were asked to lead a conference call to political consultants, pollsters, and campaign managers. We traveled to Charleston for the National Governors Association and spent an hour with nine Democratic governors. And the Service Employees International Union convened a meeting of all the immigration advocacy organizations to hear our presentation.
As expected, Republicans went on the offensive first on immigration, hammering Democrats for supporting “amnesty” and providing generous benefits to those who don’t deserve it. This time, however, Democrats were ready. Tennessee Senate hopeful Harold Ford, Jr. ran an ad excoriating his opponent for hiring illegal labor and for supporting a Bush policy that fails to enforce the laws on the books. Pennsylvania candidate Bob Casey turned the tables on Rick Santorum on enforcement and called his own plan tough and fair to taxpayers. Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill blamed Republican incumbent Jim Talent for America’s immigration problem and for “allowing prosecution of employers for illegal hires to drop by 99%.” Even in Arizona where 1,000 illegal immigrants enter every day, Democrat Jim Pederson has so effectively neutralized the issue that the Los Angeles Times reported that “[immigration] isn’t likely to decide the state’s closely watched Senate contest.”
A funny thing happened to the Republican strategy of turning illegal immigration into this year’s gay marriage. Democrats have outflanked them and threaten to not only repel the immigration wedge but to win it.
With the clock ticking toward November 7th, here are the races where the immigration issue has been especially hot. In most of these races, the Republican candidate has run ads attacking his opponent on illegal immigration, and the Democrat has responded with messaging based on the tough, fair and practical framework.
• Colorado Governor: Democrat Bill Ritter versus Republican Bob Beauprez
• Arkansas Governor: Democrat Don Beebe versus Republican Asa Hutchinson
• Wisconsin Governor: Democrat Incumbent Jim Doyle versus Republican Mark Green
• Pennsylvania Senate: Democrat Bob Casey versus Republican Incumbent Rick Santorum
• Missouri Senate: Democrat Claire McCaskill versus Republican Incumbent Jim Talent
• Tennessee Senate: Democrat Harold Ford, Jr. versus Republican Larry Corker
• Arizona Senate: Democrat Jim Pederson versus Republican Incumbent John Kyl
• Colorado House (7): Democrat Ed Perlmutter versus Republican Rick O’Donnell
• South Carolina House (5): Democrat Incumbent John Spratt versus Republican Ralph Norman
• Ohio House (1): Democrat John Crowley versus Republican Incumbent Steve Chabot
• North Carolina House (11): Democrat Heath Shuler versus Republican Incumbent Charles Taylor
• Indiana House (2): Democrat Joe Donnelly versus Republican Incumbent Chris Chocola
• Arizona House (8): Democrat Gabrielle Giffords versus Republican Randy Graf
• Indiana House (8): Democrat Brad Ellsworth versus Republican Incumbent Joe Hostettler
• Pennsylvania House (6): Democrat Lois Murphy versus Republican Incumbent Jim Gerlach

Jim Kessler is Vice President for Policy at Third Way

Scandal and the 2006 Election

By Andrew Claster
The Foley scandal may be only the latest in a series afflicting the Republicans, but it could have a greater impact on the 2006 election than the Abramoff, Plame and DeLay scandals that had already wounded the GOP.
Even pre-Foley, voters were angry and ready for change. Net Congressional approval (approval minus disapproval) has been negative 30 or worse in most major polls since March, and now stands at negative 42 in the latest AP/Ipsos poll.
President Bush’s approval, having recovered briefly to over 40% in September, is now back in the 30s. The primary reasons for the latest drop appear to be the National Intelligence Estimate noting that the Iraq war has made the US less safe, together with the Administration’s support for Dennis Hastert in light of the Foley scandal.
Meanwhile, the Democrats’ double-digit lead in the generic Congressional ballot is holding steady in October for the first time in several disappointing cycles. Crucially, the Democrats lead by double digits even in polls that survey only likely voters, as opposed to all registered voters.
2006 is the Democrats’ best opportunity to retake control of Congress since the Republicans put them out of power in 1994.
The nature of the Foley scandal makes it particularly difficult for the Republicans to resort to their traditional pre-election attacks on moral values to turn swing voters and mobilize their base. Congressional Republicans are seen as having placed partisan politics ahead of the welfare of the adolescents in their care.
As a result, the support of married parents, a key Republican constituency in recent elections, is now in jeopardy. And efforts to turn out Christian conservatives for the Republicans will likely be less successful in this environment.
Worse for the GOP, the timing of this scandal, on top of all the others, gives them little time to address the matter and move on to other subjects, particularly if there are new revelations between now and November 7.
Informed months ago of Foley’s inappropriate communications with an underage page, the GOP leadership chose not to open a full investigation. Apparently, based on a conversation with the boy’s parents, House leaders calculated the matter should and could be kept quiet.
They ignored the possibility, even the likelihood, that Foley presented a threat to other pages, that he might have had inappropriate communications or contact with other pages, or that this evidence might find its way into the hands of the media, which takes its duty to educate the public particularly seriously when sex is involved.
In this role, the media have not disappointed: 78% of voters are aware of the Foley scandal in the latest TIME poll. By contrast, only 57% were aware of the Abramoff scandal in a January Fox poll.
As a result, the Democrats now lead the Republicans by 6 points on moral values in the latest Newsweek poll, a remarkable reversal from the previous month, when Republicans led Democrats by 13 points on this question.
And because Republican voters are more likely to say they care most about “moral values” when casting their votes, a sex scandal involving a minor can be particularly devastating for GOP turnout. In the latest CBS/New York Times poll, 42% of Republicans said they are less enthusiastic about voting this year than usual -– up from 33% in September.
In addition to helping Democrats and hurting Republicans nationally, there are several specific races where ethics issues could affect the result, and therefore, potentially, control of Congress.
Florida 16 – Republican Mark Foley’s late resignation means that his name remains on the ballot. Foley’s votes will be awarded to his replacement, state Representative Joe Negron, but Democrat Tim Mahoney seems likely to win a seat that Democrats had little hope for just a couple weeks ago.
New York 26 – Republican Tom Reynolds’ involvement in the Foley scandal may cost him his seat in Congress. The race was already a tough one for him – he’s running against Jack Davis, a self-funded millionaire who won 44% of the vote two years ago. The remarkable weakness of this year’s statewide GOP ticket in New York could compound Reynolds’ troubles by depressing Republican turnout even further.
Texas 22 – In the seat Tom DeLay was forced to give up, Democrat Nick Lampson has a strong lead. The GOP isn’t helped by the fact that DeLay’s name is still on the ballot, forcing supporters of Republican Shelley Sekula-Gibbs to write in her name.
Montana Senate – Republican Conrad Burns’ connection to the Abramoff scandal has made this seat, in which Burns won re-election with only 51% six years ago, a top Democratic target. Democrat Jon Tester maintains a narrow but consistent lead.
When it comes to corruption, the Ohio GOP is in a class of its own. Not only did Governor Taft’s approval rating drop into single digits last year after a scandal involving investment of public funds in rare coins, but Bob Ney’s guilty plea to Abramoff-related charges has further tarnished the party’s image statewide, affecting even those Republicans who have not been directly implicated in either scandal.
Ohio 18 – Bob Ney’s involvement in the Abramoff scandal has given a leg up to Zack Space, the Democrat taking on Ney’s replacement on the ballot, state Senator Joy Padgett.
Ohio Senate – Republican incumbent Mike DeWine is doing his best to distance himself from the Bush Administration, GOP House leaders and the Ohio Republican Party, but it may not be enough. Sherrod Brown retains a narrow lead.
Ohio Governor – Democrat Ted Strickland has a double-digit lead over Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell. Many voters still harbor hard feelings towards Blackwell over his 2004 decision not to provide more polling stations in a presidential election where Ohio was crucial and high turnout was anticipated. Many blamed Blackwell’s negligence–as the most charitable might put it–for the long waiting lines, especially in urban neighborhoods dominated by minority voters.
In the current political environment, Democrats who have been touched by scandal seem likely to hold on to their seats, in part because they were easier to defend in the first place.
Louisiana 02 – William Jefferson is likely to hold this seat, even in the face of a bribery scandal. In his latest FEC filing, Jefferson reported more than $300,000 cash on hand. No word on how much of this is being stored in his freezer.
West Virginia 01 – Alan Mollohan has given up his seat on the House Ethics Committee, but seems likely to win re-election in spite of a federal investigation into allegations that he funneled money to non-profit organizations to which he was connected and thereby managed to enrich himself by several million dollars.
Voters’ appetite for change in Congress has not been this strong since 1994 when the Republicans won control of both houses and gained 52 seats in the House of Representatives alone.
This year, both houses are again in play, and Democrats stand to make major gains. But a 52-seat swing is unlikely this time. First, current district lines reflect more sophisticated and effective gerrymandering techniques than in 1994. Second, in 1994, Democrats were defending many Southern seats through incumbency advantage that had been trending Republican for decades. The 1994 election dislodged many Southern Democrats from seats that quickly became solid Republican seats. No such mismatch between districts’ partisan leaning and the party of the incumbent representative affects a large number of seats in 2006.
This time, Democrats need to win 15 seats to take control of the House and 6 seats to win control of the Senate.
If Democrats do win a majority, they will do so with a mandate from voters to address corruption. We can expect a full investigation of the Foley affair, new efforts to curb lobbyist influence, and new investigations of the relationship between lobbyist influence and some of the Bush Administration’s questionable decisions on energy, environmental protection and military procurement.
In Congressional races, ethics and corruption often have little impact beyond the affected incumbents’ races. But this cycle is different. First, because of the number of scandals and their varied nature — from sex, child endangerment and a possible cover-up to influence-peddling affecting the highest reaches of the majority party’s Congressional leadership. This suggests an endemic problem — not one which can be easily blamed on a couple of bad apples. Second, these scandals have greater impact because they come at a time of exceptionally low approval for the Administration’s policies.
In almost every cycle since 1994, Democrats have had good reason to think the next election would be the one in which they retook control of Congress. But 2006 is the first time that the numbers have looked this promising as late as mid-October. A lot can happen in just three weeks, but if current numbers hold until November 7, the Democrats will take control of Congress for the first time in a dozen years.

Andrew Claster is a Vice President with Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates working on Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s re-election campaign. Prior to joining PSB, Andrew worked for the World Bank. Andrew has a Master’s degree in Economics from the London School of Economics and a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Yale University. He studied European economic and political integration at the University of Barcelona, Spain.

A Progressive Narrative or a Hegemonic National Greatness Narrative?

By David Rieff
It is a measure of just how far to the right the country has swung that the authors of the “Progressive Battle Plan for National Security” can on the one hand insist that “we are Democrats because we are inspired by the values of the left” and on the other name their group after President Truman–a man who can be described as a leftist only if graded on a curve of mainstream American politicians of the Cold War era. Yes, President Truman was to Richard Nixon’s left, but what of it? It reminds me of the old English comedy routine in which three Englishman try to explain American politics to a fourth who is about to travel there. “You have the Republican Party,” one of them says, “which is the equivalent of our Conservative Party, and you have the Democratic Party…which is the equivalent of our Conservative Party.”
I am certainly not competent to judge what the most effective durable strategy is for Democratic Party victories, and I defer to the Truman Project writers on the matter. But what I do know is that calling Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and, of course, Harry Truman men of the left is to perpetrate a falsehood. Roosevelt, at least, instituted at least some programs that could be described as left of center (though certainly not leftist), even if at least arguably his motivation was at least in part to stave off the demands of the actual American left. In the case of Truman and Kennedy, however, the historical record is one of ‘national greatness’ Cold War Democrats whose bedrock assumptions were that the world was best served when ‘led’ by the United States of America. John Kennedy, as John Judis reminds us in his post, ran to the right of Richard Nixon on national security issues. As for President Truman, well, here I have a question: does the name Nagasaki ring a bell?
To me, it is extraordinary (well, grotesque if I am being honest) that one could name a foreign policy group after the only political leader ever to authorize the use of the atomic bomb. And the inappropriateness and moral deafness inherent in such a decision is compounded by the authors’ reference to an Iran that threatens “to destroy millions of lives in a war or a nuclear accident” should it acquire atomic bombs. All the warranted denunciations of the barbarity of the Iranian regime cannot change the fact that we are in fact the only nation ever to have used nuclear weapons.
My suspicion is that these remarks will make little sense to the authors of the paper. A world in which a group of like-minded Democratic Party foreign policy experts can call their blog ‘Democracy Arsenal’ in the apparent belief this only has echoes of FDR’s famous speech and not, precisely, of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, of the overthrow of Mossadegh and Arbenz, and the war in Vietnam that the Republican Eisenhower warned against and the (leftist?!) Kennedy embroiled us in, is one in which the sensibilities, historical memories, and opinions of much of the rest of the world–one might even say, the decent opinion of mankind–apparently count for very little.
In all candor, I cannot see what differentiates the justifications for the so-called Global War on Terrorism put forward by the authors of this ‘progressive’ [sic] battle plan from that regularly advanced by the Bush Administration. The President has himself repeatedly emphasized all the issues that supposedly would distinguish a Democratic Party approach to fighting the jihadis from the insistence that the struggle is one for hearts and minds within Islam, to the moral obligation to combat the oppression of women, to the need to champion values of “freedom, tolerance, and respect for others.” It is one thing to claim that the Bush Administration has acted incompetently; that can be justified. But it is simply false to claim that the Administration has not, from the invasion of Afghanistan forward, emphasized all these points. Again, I am not competent to speak as a political strategist, but it seems to me that commonsense would suggest that the anxieties the American public apparently feels over the Democratic Party’s national security bona fides will not be assuaged by repeating the White House’s talking points of the past six years.
Rather than accept the authors’ contention that the problem “is that Republicans have controlled the national security narrative,” surely a strong case can be made that in the American mainstream there is only one national security narrative–the national greatness narrative. To me the authors’ paper buttresses such a contention rather than dispelling it. And indeed, an objective reading of the Cold War suggests that, apart from a diminishing isolationist rump within the Republican Party, the narrative of Harry Truman was not that different from that of Dwight Eisenhower, just as the narrative of John
Kennedy was not that different from that of Richard Nixon. Were this not the case, why has it been a cliché for decades that, during the Cold War at least, partisan politics stopped at the water’s edge?
In my view, what has really happened is that the Republican Party under Ronald Reagan, and, even more successfully, under George W. Bush succeeded in writing the Democratic Party out of this bipartisan narrative–not least by appealing, just as the authors of the paper do, to Harry Truman. Republican support for Senator Lieberman is another emblem of this narrative in which Democrats have strayed from this consensus and no longer know how to protect the country.
In all candor, I do not really see all that much light between the Republican position and the position the Truman Project advocates here. That does not make the authors wrong, but it does call into question their contention that their ‘Stand Principled’ position can be the silver bullet Democrats have been searching for. An equally important practical difficulty with the paper is its persistent implication that Democrats have principles and Republicans don’t. The Islamists, the authors write, “refuse to tolerate the very diversity of opinion that makes us Democrats and Americans.” I hold no brief for the Republican Party but this is pure demagoguery. And it will convince no one, reassure no one, and do nothing to usher in a new period of Democratic Party success.

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..

What to Say versus What to Do

By John B. Judis
Let me make some brief comments on this paper from the Truman National Security Project:
1. I think the authors are absolutely right in defining the political question about foreign policy. Foreign policy only becomes an issue in national politics when Americans either feel their security threatened or when they think the government is wasting resources or lives on issues that don’t threaten our security. But to say this is implicitly to acknowledge two less pleasant facts about foreign policy and politics: first, that American voters decide foreign policy questions on what are sometimes narrow and unenlightened grounds, and second, that these choices don’t necessarily reflect what is best for them and the country. Good politics don’t always make good policy. There are two obvious examples, both from Democrats. In 1936, Franklin Roosevelt was forced by popular will to accede to isolationist sentiments that would hamper the American response to the war in Europe. In 1960, John F. Kennedy successfully ran to the right of Richard Nixon by decrying a non-existent missile gap and promising sterner action on Cuba. Kennedy’s positions in that election, while popular, would later get him and the country in a lot of trouble, and it would take him until his American University speech in 1963 to reverse course rhetorically from the framework of discourse that he established during the 1960 campaign.
2. Democrats face two different questions about foreign policy this year and in the future: first, what to do; and second, what to say we should do. They are not the same (see above). But one should have some relation to the other. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson had already pretty much decided to escalate the Vietnam War when he was telling voters he would not. That contradiction laid the basis for public disillusionment with government and hatred of Johnson himself by many voters who supported him because they thought that he (unlike Goldwater) would find a way to get the U.S. out of Vietnam.
What bothers me about this Truman statement is the absence of any discussion of what should be done. Should one assume that Democrats know what to do about Iran, or about extricating the US from Iraq, but simply face a problem of how to sell these policies to the American people? I don’t think that’s the case. If one reads, say, the Truman people’s statement about Iran in this light, it sounds particularly hollow. When candidate X is at the debate and is asked, “Well, it is clear you don’t like Iran having nuclear weapons, but what should the US actually do to prevent it?” the authors “stand principled” alternative doesn’t suggest any answer at all. Perhaps this is too harsh, but my feeling is that this is too much one of those Lakoffian exercises that reflect the policy elite’s preoccupation with marketing ideas that they don’t yet have.
3. My own feeling, too, about foreign policy questions is that Americans, and Democrats in particular, have to be careful at times not to subordinate their convictions of what the country should do to their wishes to be re-elected, be elected, or gain control of Congress. The 2002 election was a perfect example. There were a group of former Clintonites who were convinced that the nation should go to war against Iraq, but many Democrats on Capitol Hill, while thinking otherwise, hoped that the issue would go away. I was at one Democratic retreat in 2002 where I had to broach the issue myself, because the participants were utterly convinced that the election could be fought entirely on grounds of Enron and unemployment. I think in retrospect most Democrats would agree that it would have been better to go down fighting in 2002 (many lost anyway) than to have allowed the looming disaster in Iraq to be ignored. But we can’t know whether we have to make that kind of sacrificial choice until we know what we think should actually be done. I think that’s the prior question that needs to be addressed before we try to figure out how to sell our policies.

John B. Judis is a Senior Editor at The New Republic, a Visiting Scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and author of The Folly of Empire: What George W. Bush Could Learn from Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

Standing Principled for a World of Liberty under Law

By Anne-Marie Slaughter
The Truman Project is a shot in the arm for the Democratic Party: a group of super-smart, ambitious, and savvy young people challenging all of us to articulate why it is that we are Democrats, what we stand for, and how we would actually govern. Let me begin by agreeing with the basic distinction that Grinberg, Kleinfeld, and Spence make between foreign policy and national security and with the point that Americans care far more about national security — what keeps themselves and their families safe — than foreign policy more generally. This is the same message that Kurt Campbell and Michael O’Hanlon are sending in their new book HARD POWER. That said, it is equally important that we define national security broadly enough to address all the major threats we face as a nation, as opposed to seeing all national security issues through the lens of terrorism, even nuclear terrorism.
On 9/11 many in the Administration were focused on China as the next enemy; al Qaeda came out of a clear blue sky. While we have been focusing on Iraq, we neglected the threats brewing in both North Korea and Iran. Last winter avian flu suddenly hit the headlines, a threat that could kill many more millions of Americans than even the detonation of a nuclear weapon in a major city. And responding to the challenges to the international system created by the rise of China and India as major powers on the one hand, and the widening inequality between haves and have-nots fueled by globalization on the other, are both major issues for any national security strategist monitoring global trends.
In the Princeton Project on National Security final report, written by John Ikenberry and me and released on September 27th, we defined national security in George Kennan’s terms, as “the continued ability of the country to pursue the development of its internal life without serious interference, or threat of interference, from foreign powers.” We argued that presenting Islamo-Fascism as the heir to Naziism and Communism is addressing a 21st century world with a 20th century mindset — trying to return to a simpler age with one big enemy and one big response. Keeping America safe in the 21st century absolutely requires countering the threat posed by global terrorist networks — a global insurgency with a criminal core that must be countered not by a “war on terror” that dignifies terrorists as holy warriors, but rather by a sophisticated counter-insurgency strategy combining intelligence, law enforcement and special operations. But it also requires having an affirmative, proactive strategy to counter nuclear proliferation, to bring peace between Israel and Palestine and stabilize the entire Middle East, to prevent and protect against a global pandemic, and to safeguard America’s energy supplies. These are not issues of foreign policy, but of national security — of our day-to-day ability to live our lives.
The challenge of selling this vision is the challenge of countering one big idea — the war on terror — with what might first appear to be a number of smaller ideas. That is where Grinberg, Kleinfeld, and Spence’s recommendation about “Standing Principled” comes in. Americans must be reminded that focusing our national security strategy on one issue is simply not going to make us safe, but that neither can we run in every direction at once. We instead need a positive agenda, a plan for how to build an infrastructure of capacity and cooperation that will give us the ability and the partners to turn on a dime and address whatever threat is most menacing at any given point while at the same time working on long-term effective strategies to resolve outstanding conflicts, lock down nuclear weapons and provide states with incentives not to pursue nuclear capacity, offer a comprehensive peace plan for the Middle East, etc.
That agenda couples long-standing American principles with partners who share them and are willing to work with us to advance them. The Princeton Project report advocates a vision of a world of liberty under law — a world in which we would promote democracy effectively over the long term not simply as a answer to terrorism but as the realization of the universal values this country was founded on; in which we would reform old institutions and create new ones to ensure that we have rules, procedures, and capacity to address crises regionally and globally, not alone as a global policeman; and in which we would build our security together with like-minded countries who are willing to integrate their militaries with ours and rethink the international rules governing the use of force together with other nations.
Finally, standing on America’s principles, and promoting them not as our values, but as universal values, is the best long-term answer to the terrorists’ message. We will not accept a world divided along religious, geographic, or civilizational lines. We should stand tall for our principles and ensure that we live up to them at home as well as abroad. If we do that, we will find friends again to help us counter our enemies; we will be able to draw on the full spectrum of American power — hard and soft, public and private; and we will have both might and right on our side.

Anne-Marie Slaughter is the Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and co-convener, with John Ikenberry, of the Princeton Project on National Security

Seeing the Battle and the War

By Heather Hurlburt
We’re at an extraordinary moment in the political life of the Democratic Party. The Truman Project is joined by partisan and non-partisan advocacy groups as diverse as Democracy Corps, National Security Network, the Peace and Security Initiative, The White House Project, Third Way, and US in the World in offering national security messaging advice whose basic thrust is:

“The key is to both stand up for strong national security, while highlighting our values – including a core value that we must keep Americans safe.” (“A Progressive Battle Plan for National Security.”)

These groups span the spectrum from Lieberman staffers to MoveOn activists. Yes, their advice differs on many important details, and some would probably object violently to my lumping them in with others, but compared to 2004 or even 2005, the convergence is real. I can actually tell a candidate that there’s general agreement that he or she should come out strong on national security, not avoid the topic; present a specific, positive, new policy direction that draws on core American values; and then critique his or her opponent for being satisfied or complicit with the Administration’s incompetent, ineffective, unrealistic approach.
So why aren’t we hearing more hallelujahs? I’ll posit three reasons, some of which the Truman writers point out, all of which I’d like to see them – and their colleagues at other institutions – focus more on.
1. Democrats are deeply suspicious of messaging guidance.
An irate left-wing respondent on DemocracyArsenal.org, where I blog on these topics, recently compared me to a Nazi. That would be laughable if I didn’t often hear the same sort of thing, in politer terms, from my academic and activist friends who happily inhabit the left end of the Democratic base. We have a large group of core supporters who reflexively equate being thoughtful about how we frame our positions with being dishonest about our core values.
But that view is shared by the left and right wings of our party. One of the megastars of the Democratic foreign policy establishment blew up a strategy meeting earlier this year by declaring, more or less, “You can’t poll foreign policy. We just need to keep doing what we’ve always done.” I have had national security experts whom I respect deeply tell me that you simply cannot use metaphors of daily life to explain foreign policy to non-expert audiences – even as I see folks from Dick Cheney to Barack Obama do exactly that, sincerely and to great effect.
And it doesn’t seem that the campaign consultant community is convinced: even as we all churn out these great ideas for communicating effectively about security, I hear reports from the field that candidates are in fact being advised to turn away from national security and go back to an economic message.
So we have much more work ahead of us over time, to help our crack national security professionals, our base voters across the spectrum, and our political professionals understand what good journalists, novelists, artists and ad executives take for granted: that communication is only effective if your audience hears what you intended them to hear. Most of us have had the experience of an email, seemingly so straightforward in black and white, conveying the opposite nuance of what we intended. And it’s clear every day in politics that media and citizens alike often hear what they expect to hear.
That’s where research-based messaging guidance comes in – as one tool for helping candidates, national security experts and advocates do a better job of getting the message across.
On this, we could learn from each other: the actual language proposed in “A Progressive Battle Plan” would benefit from a scrub that asks smart communication questions like: do these phrases inadvertently direct listeners’ minds back to the positions of our opponents? Where there’s a wide choice of synonyms, do they use words and phrases that recent testing shows voters react to well? Does the order in which concepts are introduced help open voters’ minds to an alternative approach, or close them? In each of those areas, there’s good open source data and even more closely held data to draw on. (For some examples of what’s publicly available right now, click here or here.)
2. It’s a long-term problem.
This brings me to a point that Grinberg, Kleinfeld and Spence perceptively make: This is a long-term problem. They rightly note that their solution, offering an alternate “story line,” can’t be accomplished in one election cycle.
That’s not because Democrats aren’t good storytellers; it’s because we need to change the terms of the conversation so our story gets heard. Our target audience – independents, potential swing voters, disaffected voters and non-voters – has firmly established mental “shortcuts” about Democrats and national security. The media reinforces them because they are easy and evocative. A regular diet of local TV news and shout radio also reinforces conservative mental shortcuts: Government is ineffectual abroad as at home, the world beyond our shores is a dirty and dangerous place, the US is the only country that does anything, other countries and international institutions with a very few exceptions are fundamentally untrustworthy.
Any alternate story about the United States, our place in the world, and the safety of our citizens that stays true to our progressive values is going to bounce off those shortcuts until we start putting long-term effort into replacing them with other images, not just bombarding the ramparts with strategy after strategy.
In this longer-term arena, we need a broader strategy than the one Grinberg, Kleinfeld and Spence propose. We need to go back and pick up the foreign policy concerns – working with allies, leading with American values on issues such as poverty, genocide and the environment, building coalitions to solve problems from disease to trade – where the public agrees with Democrats but gets distracted by highly charged short-term talk of safety and threats. In between electoral cycles, Democrats and progressives can be building genuine links in the public mind between competence on the whole sweep of our involvement overseas and progress on the hard issues – instead of avoiding these issues and relying on spurious links at election time, and then wondering why they seem to favor Republicans (e.g. “draining the swamp.”)
With more time and oxygen, Democrats need to be crafting effective policies and smart messaging about the other insecurity voters feel – their place in the global economy. And there’s still more to do to back up the short-term national security machine Democrats have put in place in the past few years with a deeper bench of folks thinking equally interesting, but less politically tuned, thoughts that can be tossed around for years at a time.
The long-term challenge is to deny conservatives their monopoly on words, images and ideas surrounding national security. Democrats could do “everything right” for the next six weeks and still get beat by gas prices, terror alerts, and some quick progress in Baghdad that lets troop withdrawals be foreseen. Over the long term, we must aim to create a national environment where those Republican trump cards will be worth less, where we have more pathways into voters’ minds – a better campaign story on national security but also a better background story about how national security and international involvement fit into the lives of Americans.
3. It’s a systemic problem – voters are disillusioned with everyone.
Finally, I worry about a more fundamental problem. Voters are disillusioned with the Republican story line, no question, but there’s some evidence that they are preemptively disillusioned with the Democrats as well–that in fact the experience of watching most of our political class support a war that has gone so badly has soured Americans on the whole notion of principled US activism, whatever the principles, outside our borders. That is how I read the Pew Research Center/Council on Foreign Relations and other polls reporting American “isolationism” rising to levels previously seen at the end of Vietnam and at the end of the Cold War. Both of those times, public discontent produced a short period of policy retrenchment. But both times, the longer-term effect came when it was the forces of the right that came up with the new ideological and policy arguments that reengaged a plurality of Americans with the right’s own ambitious international projects.
While the folks whose job it is to win elections are right to worry about “standing on principle” today, we are in dire need for the best progressive minds – and the deepest-pocketed progressive funders – to start looking a decade or more down the road and talk to Americans about what our principles will look like and how they will be tested once Iraq is over, the next compromise on immigration has been reached, and the challenge of Iran and other non-status-quo powers has reached its next level. If we don’t start now to get the politics right, in the long run there simply won’t be the intellectual space to get the policy right.

Heather Hurlburt is Senior Advisor to the US in the World Initiative, consults as a political speechwriter and national security strategist, and blogs at democracyarsenal.org

Getting Down to Specifics: Core Principles and Policy Reforms

By Gary Hart
The Democratic Party has reached a stage in its evolution where it must re-identify its core principles, ideals, and beliefs. Taken from four great Democratic presidents of the 20th century, those are:

  1. We are a national community based on a commitment to social justice (Franklin Roosevelt);
  2. America’s national security must be based on democratic alliances and the security of the global commons (Harry Truman);
  3. As a republic, our citizens owe a duty of participation in the public life of our nation (John Kennedy);
  4. Our party is committed to equality and justice for all (Lyndon Johnson).

Whether liberal or not, these ideals and principles are distinctly different from those of the Republican Party which does not share them.
Democrats should base their national security policy on these and several other principles:

  1. Our government must be willing to justify its military activities and conduct its pursuit of security before the American people in the court of public opinion;
  2. We must properly understand what security means, what our objectives are, and how they are to be achieved, or all the military spending in the world will not make us more secure;
  3. Security means more than safety from attack, and each of us is more secure when all of us are more secure;
  4. To be able to finance our future security, we must fundamentally realign our lifestyles, replacing consumption with production, and invest in the elements of a strong economic base.

Our new security structures must include:

  1. An international peace-making force;
  2. An international consortium to control proliferation of weapons of mass destruction;
  3. Reorganization of our intelligence community to emphasize human collection and collaboration on intelligence sharing;
  4. Creation of a fifth military service which combines all Special Forces;
  5. Creation of a separate constabulary force and a civil affairs structure within the Pentagon to build and rebuild failed and failing nations;
  6. Reorganization of the “big Army” into smaller, lighter, swifter units;
  7. Adoption of military reform principles of unit cohesion and officer promotion;
  8. Recognition that we are now confronted with fourth generation warfare;
  9. Adoption of the policy that Democratic presidents will strike preemptively only where a threat is imminent and unavoidable;
  10. Assurance that Democrats will answer four questions before committing troops abroad: Who is going with us?, How long will we be there?, How much will it cost?, and What are the estimated casualties?

Gary Hart represented the State of Colorado in the United States Senate from 1975 to 1987. In 1984 and 1988, he was a candidate for his party’s nomination for President. During his 12 years in the Senate, he served on the Armed Services Committee, where he specialized in nuclear arms control and was an original founder of the military reform caucus. Since retiring from the United States Senate, Gary Hart has been extensively involved in international law and business, as a strategic advisor to major U.S. corporations, and as an author and lecturer.
He was co-chair of the U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century. The Commission performed the most comprehensive review of national security since 1947, predicted the terrorist attacks on America, and proposed a sweeping overhaul of U.S. national security structures and policies for the post-Cold War new century and the age of terrorism.
He is currently Senior Counsel to Coudert Brothers, a multinational law firm with offices in twenty-seven cities located in eighteen countries around the world, and is the author of fourteen books.