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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

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It’s the Fed, Stupid

It’s sometimes said that the Chairman of the Federal Reserve has more power over the economy than the President. Agree or disargee, there’s an interesting discussion going on at Angry Bear, lead by ‘Cactus,’ about whether/how much the Fed Chairman influences or tries to influence election outcomes. The debate about the “political businesss cycle” has been going on for decades, and Cactus weighs the evidence, brings readers up to speed and in the latest installment notes:

…for whatever reason, in the four consecutive close elections during the Greenspan era, there were unusually large changes in the levers that the Fed controls. One might call it coincidence, or one might note that these movements seemed designed to benefit the Republican candidate…Enough people were incensed that the 2000 elections were, in effect, decided by the Supreme Court. Do we want the 2008 elections decided by Ben Bernanke?

In terms of political strategy, the salient point for Dems may be to assume that, when Republicans control the Fed and the white house, there will be a hefty cash infusion into the economy in the months leading up to an election — and plan accordingly.

Are Gamblers More Reliable Than Polls?

Far be it from us to (gasp) encourage gambling. But Slate has just launched a fun feature of interest to political junkies, which provides:

…a comprehensive guide to all the big political prediction markets. From now until Election Day 2008, we’ll publish regular updates of the key data from Iowa Electronic Markets, Intrade.com, Newsfutures.com, and Casualobserver.net. (Casualobserver has not yet launched its 2008 political prediction market, but we will add it as soon as it goes up.) In these early days of the campaign, we are tracking four markets: 1) Democratic nominee for president, 2) Republican nominee for president, 3) presidential victor, and 4) party control of the presidency. We’ll add Senate and House races as they heat up next year.

This is not just a greed game for bread-heads. As Slate notes:

The thrill of prediction markets for political junkies is that they harness “the wisdom of crowds.” A single person’s bet on an election outcome isn’t very good, but thousands of bets, with real stakes, are more likely to predict the correct result than even the best pundit. The Iowa Electronic Markets, the big daddy of the political prediction markets, is consistently better at forecasting winners than pre-election polls.

University of Iowa Biz School scholars offer some verification for the claim here. There may be a few pollsters out there who beg to differ. Might be fun for pollsters and gamblers to make a little group wager.

Rove’s ’08 House Targets Revealed

Eric Kleefield has posted Karl Rove’s House of Reps top 20 “targets” and “Priority Defense” lists at TPM Cafe. We won’t list them all here, other than to offer a regional breakdown. Rove’s vulnerable Republicans include: 3 southerners; 7 northeasterners (Ohio included here); 2 midwesterners; and 5 westerners. Rove’s Dem targets include: 6 southerners; 7 northeasterners; 6 midwesterners; and only 1 westerner. Doesn’t seem to be any striking regional angle here, other than Rove sees the west as pretty shaky. On the other hand, Given Rove’s ’06 W-L record, maybe the best way for Dems to use this list is for fish-wrap.
Rove’s list was reportedly revealed in a Power Point presentation shown at the General Services Administration to promote “team building.” Yet another use of federal government resources to promote GOP political ends, as Paul Kiel notes at TPM Muckraker:

The GSA, remember, is the government’s procurement agency, in charge of almost $60 billion each year. All of this seems like a clear violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits using federal resources to aid political parties.

Is there any public trust this Administration won’t violate?

Dems’ ’08 Senate Prospects Brighten

Political Wire‘s Taegan Goodard notes an encouraging Washington Times interview with Nevada GOP Senator John Ensign regarding Dems ’08 Senate prospects. As Goddard sums it up,

In a “wide-ranging” interview, Ensign “acknowledged that his party faces a steep, uphill climb in next year’s Senate elections when 21 Republican seats will be up for grabs, compared with 12 for the Democrats.”
Ensign “singled out five Republican seats that are in danger in Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Oregon and New Hampshire, compared with two vulnerable Democratic incumbents in South Dakota and Louisiana and long-shot possibilities in Iowa and Montana.”
Meanwhile, the New York Times notes the challenge the Iraq war presents to Republican senators seeking re-election in 2008, including Sen. John Sununu (R-NH), Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN).

MyDD‘s Jonathan Singer has more to say about Dems’ Senate propects here.
Also check out DavidNYC’s post at Swing State, noting that fired federal prosecutors tend to be residents of 2004 swing states.

VA State Legislature ‘Normandy Beach’ for Dems

Lowell Feld has a MyDD post “Why Turning Virginia ‘Blue’ Matters to All of Us,” which should be of interest to everyone concerned about building a stronger Democratic Party. Feld, who writes the “Raising Kaine” blog, offers a half-dozen reasons why the 2007 Virginia state legislative elections are important, including:

It matters because Virginia, with the election of Tim Kaine and Jim Webb, plus gains in the General Assembly, has moved from “solid red” to “purple,” and because we need to keep moving the state in the “blue” direction politically. Needless to say, the implications of Virginia, with its 13 electoral votes, becoming competitive once again in national politics (Virginia last went for a Democrat in 1964) would be enormous. Don’t think this is possible? Well, I’d refer once again to the fact that the last two governors – Mark Warner and Tim Kaine – have been Democrats, and the last Senate election saw Jim Webb replace George Allen. Also, I would point out that increasingly, Northern Virginia is becoming an extension of the solidly “blue” Northeast corridor. And Northern Virginia is becoming increasingly more politically powerful within Virginia as a whole. Frankly, it’s only a matter of time until the growth in NOVA turns Virginia “blue.” Our job, if we choose to accept it, is to ensure that this change occurs as rapidly as possible.

Republicans currently hold majorities in both houses of the Virginia legislature, but Dems need a net pick-up of only 4 seats in the state Senate to win a majority (Dems lag in the VA House of Delegates 50-47-3). Demographic trends and issues are both breaking the Dems way, and a little extra investment by Dem contributors could go a long way toward securing a beachhead for Dems in the south.
There’s been a lot of ink poured in the debate over whether Dem Presidential candidates should or should not skip the south, but not enough serious discussion about how to begin winning back the South, or at least a significant chunk of it. Virginia is clearly critical to any such effort. One commenter on Feld’s article (Pitin) calls Virginia “the Normandy Beach of taking back the South.”
For Dems, neglecting the state legislatures, which control redistricting, in party-building is like putting crappy retreads on a top-seed in the Indy 500. It’s time for Democratic fund-raisers and Party leaders who want win a working majority to invest in winning more seats in the state legislatures. ActBlue is now accepting contributions for the 2007 VA legislative races here.

Progressive Evangelicals May Give Dems Leverage

Zack Exley’s Alternet article “What Lessons Can Progressives Learn from Evangelicals?” (also posted at In These Times) provides an interesting update on the growth of the progressive evangelicals and insights about how they may influence evangelical Christians as a whole. Exley notes, for example:

…this movement is still barely aware of its own existence, and has not chosen a label for itself. George Barna, who studies trends among Christians for clients such as the Billy Graham Evangelical Association and Focus on the Family, calls it simply “The Revolution” and its adherents “Revolutionaries.”
“The media are oblivious to it,” Barna wrote in his 2006 book Revolution: Finding Vibrant Faith Beyond the Walls of the Sanctuary. “Scholars are clueless about it. The government caught a glimpse of it in the 2004 presidential election but has mostly misinterpreted its nature and motivations.” According to his research, there are more than 20 million Revolutionaries in America, differentiated from mainstream evangelicals by a greater likelihood of serving their community and the poor and oppressed within it…

Credible statistics are scarce. Generally evangelical progressives agree more with Democrats about most economic and social justice issues, but a sizeable portion may prefer the GOP’s positions on abortion and gay rights. And there is also a struggle going on for the soul of the evangelical movement between “prosperity Gospel” advocates and “Social Gospel” adherents. The article suggests that the trendline may be in the Dems’ favor.
But the real benefit of evangelical progressives to Dems may be less how they vote as a sub-group and more about how they influence the much larger constituency of evangelical Christians. If, for example, they generate more discussion about the economics of Jesus among mainstream evangelicals, it could lead to substantial party-switching among evangelicals favoring Dems. In any event, there is more of interest in Exley’s article, and it is recommended to Dems interested in building support among religious communities.

Does Demonizing Adversaries Hurt Dems?

A writer with the handle ‘its simple IF you ignore the complexity’ has a thought-provoking post over at the Daily Kos, addressing one of the lessons of MLK’s example for conducting political discourse. ‘It’s simple..’ explains it this way in one part of the essay:

I don’t think anyone could seriously make the argument that Dr. King was a sellout…Nay, he stood strong – continuously willing to speak out and when necessary suffer for his beliefs. Expecting not exceptions, but real change in the laws and attitudes he challenged, realizing that neither would come lightly.
Yet, significantly Dr. King managed to do something that we too often overlook. He disagreed – strongly. He challenged injustice – but he did not divide.
He drew lines not to exclude others but to demand change. Recognizing change would not come instantly, he still refused to fall into the trap of hating and demeaning his adversaries.

This should not be considered a call to kumbaya for political writers. Their job is to illuminate truth, and tough analysis of personal character is fair game, provided it’s honest and well-measured.
But the way MLK derived credibilty from criticising policies, while refusing to demonize his adversaries is something campaign workers and candidates should ponder. They have a lot to lose by falling into the trap of ad hominem attacks. Name-calling and personal insults, for example, diminish the dignity of the perp more than the target. Voters want their leaders to be articulate enough to sharply criticize policies, and yet be above what Rev. Jesse Jackson called the “rat-a-tat-tat” of snarky political discourse.
There is a lovely moment in an occasionaly re-televised clip of MLK on the Mike Douglas Show back in the sixties. Douglas is interviewing MLK, and another guest chimes in, questioning one of King’s positions. King calmly, respectfully and eloquently answers the question without the barest hint of hostility. The lovely moment comes at the end of the clip as King sits there with luminous dignity, Douglas and his other guest, not only persuaded, but clearly awestruck by King’s spirit.
We can’t expect our politicians to measure up to MLK, but they have a lot to gain by emulating his way of winning hearts and minds.

Fed Prosecutors Purge Driven by Voter Suppression?

Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall reports that GOP suppression of Democratic votes may be a leading motive behind the white house/Gonzales purge of federal prosecutors:

The story emerging is that at least some of these US Attorneys were fired because they weren’t aggressive enough in investigating Democratic ‘voter fraud’. Like I said last night, I’ve been reporting on this stuff for years. And this is a horse that shouldn’t even be let out of the gate. It’s become standard operating procedure for Republican operatives to whip up charges of ‘voter fraud’. And some of them even believe it. But the claims are almost universally bogus. And the real intent in most cases is to stymie get out the vote efforts or shut down voter registration drives — mainly, though not exclusively, in minority voting precincts.

Marshall provides a gateway link to his extensive reportage on the topic here.
Perhaps the Republicans were hoping that trumped up voter fraud charges against Dems would strengthen the case for the voter identification bills being hyped by the GOP in the states. As Christopher Drew reported in Feb 21 New York Times on the findings of a recent study by the federal Election Assistance Administration:

States that imposed identification requirements on voters reduced turnout at the polls in the 2004 presidential election by about 3 percent, and by two to three times as much for minorities…

In the unlikely event that the Republicans want to open up an honest dialogue about voter fraud and suppression, Dems will have more than enough to talk about given the GOP’s long, embarrassing history. For a pretty good introduction to voter fraud issues, click here. Note also that a Yahoo search of “GOP voter suppression” and “Republican Voter Suppression” each brings up more than 1,000 hits, compared to 78 for “Democratic voter suppression.”

Perception of Dems Depends on Iraq Message

Amid all of the congressional maneuvering on Iraq legislation, Bill Scher of Liberal Oasis takes a step back to consider the big picture. In his article “Almost There,” Scher cites four things Dems must convey to win public support:

1. They have a plan to stabilize Iraq by disengaging militarily, and re-engaging diplomatically and economically.
2. They are doing all they can to implement that plan.
3. If the plan is blocked, it’s because Dubya and his Republican backers never want to leave.
4. A new Oval Office occupant is needed to change course.

Scher sees both the House and Senate initiatives as significant steps toward making credible arguments for the above perceptions. And the perception is what’s important here because,

The public is seeing Dems unifying around an exit strategy, and GOPers not wanting to exit. And that’s what is most important. Because these bills are never becoming law. Bush will veto, or the Senate GOP minority will filibuster. (Or Bush could sign it into law, then ignore the law.)Yet either way, Dems have the ability to show they did what they constitutionally could to end the war, but Bush keep it going and therefore, is the sole problem.

A sobering assessment. And if he is right, winning Dem candidates should create a high profile as vocal, active opponents of deepening U.S. involvement in Iraq and supporters of disengagement. When ’08 rolls around the public should have a clear, strong impression that the Democrats are the party that tried to end the quagmire, while the GOP advocated open-ended, ever-deepening entanglement. So far, the GOP is cooperating nicely.
Scher sees “message coordination” as the key:

It’s not enough to unify on the bill. You have to unify on the argument. And unify in a manner that helps voters understand what the Dem foreign policy vision is, increasing the comfort level in their ability to manage world affairs.

As the big tent party, Dems will never completely unified on specifics of disengagement/withdrawall from Iraq. But there should be enough common ground developing in the months ahead to create a message that meets this challenge.

Blue Dogs Have Key Role in Forging Dem Consensus

Keeping track of the various factions in the Democratic Party’s Big Tent can be a full-time job, and sorting out their different positions on the issues can lead to brain-lock in short order. To add a little clarity, R. Neal has an informative riff, “Will That Blue Dog Hunt in the South?” at Facing South. Neal quotes Julie Hirschfield Davis’s Associated Press article on the role the Blue Dogs are playing in the latest efforts to forge a Dem consensus on Iraq:

With Democrats in charge again, the Blue Dogs have played a key role in halting an emerging plan to place strict conditions on war funding. Their revolt helped beat back that proposal, by Pelosi ally John Murtha, D-Pa. Leaders are now considering a watered-down version.

And Neal provides this explanation from the Blue Dogs website:

The Coalition was formed in the 104th Congress as a policy-oriented group to give moderate and conservative Democrats in the House of Representatives a common sense, bridge-building voice within the institution. Most agree that, since then, the Blue Dogs have successfully injected a moderate viewpoint into the Democratic Caucus, where group members now find greater receptiveness to their opinions.

Blue Dogs are not all southern, as Neal explains:

They come from all over, and as you might expect the South is well represented among their membership with Representatives from Alabama, Arkansas (2), Florida (2), Georgia (4), Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina (2), and Tennessee (3). (They’re not all from Red States, though. California and New York are represented as well.)

Wikipedia‘s entry on the Blue Dogs cautions readers not to assume that the Blue Dogs embrace the same agenda as the Democratic Leadership Council, particulalry on issues of trade, although there is considerable overlap in their membership rolls and on many policy positions:

Blue Dog Democrats tend to differ ideologically from another coalition of moderate Democrats, the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). The DLC describes itself as new Democrat and positions itself as centrist while taking moderate or liberal positions on social issues and moderate positions on economic issues and trade. Democrats who identify with the Blue Dogs, on the other hand, tend to be social conservatives, but have differing positions on economic issues ranging from fiscal conservatism to economic populism…On economic issues, Blue Dogs span the spectrum from fiscal conservatives to supporters of labor unions, protectionism, and other populist measures, while the DLC tends to favor free trade.

Neal offers a balanced view of the role of the Blue Dogs in the southern states:

So are the Blue Dogs a good thing for progressive politics in the South? It’s hard to say. Some might say they more faithfully represent their constituency and that it’s the constituency — not the politicians — in need of enlightenment to overcome generations of “conventional wisdom” that keeps the South last in education and first in poverty. Others may take a more pragmatic approach and say that the moderate centrist approach is the only way a Democrat can get elected in the South.

The Wikipedia entry offers an up-to-date list identifying current Blue Dogs, which should be accompanied by the usual warnings about Wikipedia’s limitations as a source. All of the articles linked in this post are recommended for a better understanding of the role and positions of the Blue Dogs.