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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

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Dems Senate Majority Shaky, But Poised to Increase

Dems will be cheered to read Eric Kleefield’s TPM Cafe synopsis of Stuart Rothernberg’s Roll Call article, pointing out that Dems have a good chance to win a fillibuster-proof 60 Senate seats by 2010. Kleefield cites Blumenthal’s argument that Dems only have to defend 27 seats over the next two cycles, while the GOP must defend 40 seats. In addition, in 2008, Blumenthal says the GOP has “tough seats to defend” in CO, NH and ME, along with possible Republican retirements in VA, NM, NE, MS and NC. Further, most Dem seats being defended are in blue states.
All well and good in the longer run. But on Sunday on The Chris Matthews Show, killjoy Joe Klein predicted that, in the shorter run, Senator Lieberman may switch to the GOP “pretty soon,” causing Dems to lose control of the Senate. Here’s hoping Sens. Schumer and Reid are working hard on persuading a GOP Senator to join the Dems.

Schumer: Netroots Can Help Dems Hold Senate

MyDD‘s Jonathan Singer scores a revealing interview with Sen. Chuck Schumer, uber-strategist behind the Democratic takeover of the U.S. Senate. Singer gets more interesting insights about the ’08 Senate campaign out of Schumer than any print reporter thus far. A teaser:

I think what the blogosphere did in 2006 was incredibly great, particularly with Webb and Tester. We intend to work really closely with the blogosphere in this cycle…We have 12 Democrats and 21 Republicans and we’re feeling good about the 12 Democrats who are incumbents. But the 21 Republicans by and large come from very tough states. You have very few deeply blue states. Last time we had Pennsylvania, which was a pretty blue state, and Rhode Island, which was a very blue state. We don’t have many of those this time. New Hampshire is slightly blue, Maine is a little more blue, Oregon is slightly blue, Minnesota is slightly blue. But none of them you’d call more than 52 percent Democratic states.
So we’ve got to find candidates all over. And this is where the blogosphere excels. There may be somebody, a state Rep. or even not, in Alabama who might be a very good candidate. So we intend to have a good, close relationship and work together the way we did, sort of, towards the end last time…Webb, Tester would be the two classics. But I think it’s going to be more close – I know it’s going to be more close this year.

Schumer also lets loose on Dem prospects in specific states, including Oregon and Colorado, as well as inside Democratic stategy against sending more troops to Iraq. All in all, a must-read for everyone who wants to see a stable, thriving Democratic majority in Congress. There are also some interesting reader comments (see David Kowalski’s take). And this is only the first installment of a four-parter.
It may seem early for horse race analysis, but it’s good to know Schumer is already focused on candidate identification and development. Even better, he envisions a critical role for the netroots in helping Dems to improve on their one-vote Senate majority amid the quickening pace of the presidential sweepstakes.

Dems Tread Carefully in Advancing Agenda

The National Journal‘s Charlie Cook pulls the plug on the party lights in his post “Reality check for the Democrats: Fragile majority seems to be acknowledging its limitations” at MSNBC‘s Politics page. Cook says GOP pundits who expected the Dems under Speaker Pelosi to press a full-speed-ahead leftist agenda are disappointed by the House Dems'”moderate and measured” leadership. Noting that approval ratings of congress in opinion polls have improved only slightly, Cook explains:

Public antipathy toward Congress is deeply engrained; trying to turn it around is akin to changing the direction of an aircraft carrier — it only happens very slowly. Democrats had the luxury of attacking a much-maligned institution in 2006; in 2008 they must defend it and justify its performance.
…As tempting as it must be for Democrats to embark on a bold and ambitious policy agenda, particularly after having been mired in the minority for a dozen years, the simple truth is that between the reality of narrow majorities and their decision to abide by pay-as-you-go spending and tax rules, their options are few and limited to relatively small-ticket items.

According to Cook, the average post-election approval rating for Congress in the most recent polls is 34.4 percent, which is an improvement over pre-election figures averaging about 27 percent. With just over a third of respondents holding a favorable impression of Congress, however, it may be that the public wants bolder action on leading priorities such as disengaging from Iraq and better health care security.
Cook describes the House Dems’ 15-seat majority as “narrow,” but it’s extravagant compared to the 1-seat margin that allows Dems to run the Senate. A 15-seat lead should be enough to hold the House in ’08, barring any major disasters. Winning some breathing space in the Senate is the more urgent challenge — and the key to bolder Democratic leadership in Congress.

New PSI Study Paints South Purple

MyDD’s Chris Bowers takes the latest Gallup Poll figures for “partisan self-identification” (PSI) for a spin, and it’s a sweet ride for Dems. Bowers quotes from a Gallup News Service article by Jeffrey M. Jones:

An average of all national Gallup polling in 2006, consisting of interviews with more than 30,000 adult Americans, finds 34% of Americans identifying as Democrats, 30% as Republicans, and 34% as independents…In 2006, 50% of Americans identified as Democrats or were independents who said they leaned toward the Democratic Party. Forty percent identified as Republicans or leaned to the Republican Party…This is the first time since 1991 that a party’s support reached the 50% level.

Bowers explains further:

…the rate of change in favor of Democrats appears to be increasing…The percentage of Democratic self-identifiers, not including Democratic-leaning independents, rose by 2-2.5% during the final nine months of 2006. This might suggest that Democrats are in fact on the verge of a very real realignment….Over the past three years, Republicans have lost their advantage in 14 states, and Democrats have gained a statistically significant advantage in 19 states.

Bowers stops short of a regional analysis, but a look at PSI in the southern states suggests that advocates of the ‘skip ‘n diss the south’ strategy may have some ‘splainin’ to do. Here’s how Gallup rates ’06 PSI in a dozen southern states (competitive = within m.o.e.):

AL competitive; ARK Dem; FL Dem; GA competitive; LA competitive; MS competitive; NC Dem; SC Rep; TN competitive; TX Rep; VA Dem; WVA Dem.

Of course the ’06 PSI figures are connected more to the way respondents felt about the mid-terms, than how they might vote in a presidential election. However, five Dem, Two GOP and five competitive doesn’t look all that red. Dem PSI increased over ’05 in FL, VA and NC and declined only in LA, probably as a result of Dem Katrina evacuees leaving the state. Purple, with blue tint rising would be more like it.

Political Internet Use Doubles Since ’02

Internet use for political information has doubled since 2002, according to a new Pew Research study (PDF here) conducted 11/8 to 12/4. As Lynn Rainey and John Horrigran report in their article “The Internet Is Creating a New Class of Web-Savvy Political Activists“:

The number of Americans who got most of their information about the 2006 campaign on the internet doubled from the most recent mid-term election in 2002 and rivaled the number from the 2004 presidential election…15% of all American adults say the internet was their primary source for campaign news during the election, up from 7% in the mid-term election of 2002 and close to the 18% of Americans who said they relied on the internet during the presidential campaign cycle in 2004.

In addition, 31 percent of respondents — representing 60 million people — said they used the internet to get political information in 2006. The study also identifies the type of websites being most frequently visited by political internet users, reporting, for example, that 20 percent read political blogs. Interestingly, the survey of 2,562 adults included 200 respondents who had cell phones only.
For more on political internet users, see EDM’s January 20 post below.

CQ Posts Early Peek at 2008 Senate Races

Congressional Quarterly has a round-up of ratings for 08 Senate races — their earliest ever. Of the 33 U.S. Senate seats up in the ’08 cycle, 21 are held by Republicans, compared to 12 seats for Dems. The article rates each seat as “safe” Republican/Democrat” (8/6), Democrat/Republican “favored,” (4/7) “leans” Democrat/Republican (1/5) and “no clear favorite” (1 each). In other words, the early money says the Senate will remain very close, with a possible net-pick up of 1 for the Dems. Some of those submitting comments to the article disagree, but not by much. The delicate balance that gives Dems their majority remains a continuing concern.

Targeting State Houses in ’08

Sillylittletwit’s article “2008 and State Legislatures” at the Daily Kos has a useful list for targeting state legislative houses Dems can win. The list ranks 23 legislatures according to “percentage gain required for outright Democratic majority”:

1 Montana House: 2.0
2 Oklahoma Senate: 2.1
3= Tennessee Senate: 3.0
3= Wisconsin House: 3.0
5 Ohio House: 4.0
6 Texas House: 4.7
7 Nevada Senate: 4.8
8 North Dakota Senate: 6.4
9 New York Senate: 6.5
10= Arizona House: 6.7
10= Missouri House: 6.7
12 Oklahoma House: 6.9
13 Delaware House: 7.3
14 Michigan Senate: 7.9
15 Kentucky Senate: 8.0
16 South Dakota Senate: 8.6
17 South Carolina Senate: 8.7
18 Georgia House: 9.4
19 South Carolina House: 9.7
20= Alaska House: 10.0
20= Alaska Senate: 10.0
20= Pennsylvania Senate: 10.0
20= Virginia Senate: 10.0

An extra investment in candidates who can help to win some of these state houses could give Dems decisive leverage, not only in the legislatures, but also in upcomming congressional redistricting battles.

Nurturing the Netroots on the Road to 2008

Dems are riding high on the wake of raves for Sen. Jim Webb’s response on behalf of the Dems to The Lame Duck’s lamest ever SOTU address. Lest we get too high, however, on the heady wine of the political moment, MyDD‘s Matt Stoller takes away the punch bowl for a minute in his post “The State of the Progressive Movement.” Reflect for a moment on his sobering assessment:

On the eve of the State of the Union, I figured it was time to broach a little something about the state of the progressive movement. The state is fun, but honestly, it’s pretty unhealthy.
Here’s why.
Though the internet left has raised many millions for candidates, the dirty little secret of progressive activism is that there is literally no support for any of the people who make internet politics work. Many effective activists don’t have health care, and scrap along with whatever they can. The right has a well-developed infrastructure, and that’s why they tend to win. They take care of their people. We don’t, and so our people quit, or leave, or become consultants, etc…We think that supporting the local bloggers that deliver us better and higher quality information than the traditional media and operative class is critical to gaining and holding progressive power.

Amen to that, and plaudits to Stoller and Chris Bowers, who are actually doing something about it through their organization, Blogpac, which is helping activists in financial need, like Lane Hudson, who recently lost his job, reportedly for publicizing the Mark Foley scandal. Blogpac is also credited with pioneering creative internet projects like “Use it or Lose it” and Googlebombing to get coverage for important but neglected election stories. Show ’em some love by clicking here and doing the right thing.

Luntz: GOP Tanks Off Message

How to Speak Republican,” Katharine Mieszkowski’s Salon interview with Frank Luntz, offers a revealing look at how the GOP’s top wordsmith sees their midterm debacle. Asked what he thought were the GOP’s “linguistic mistakes” in the ’06 campaign, Luntz says:

Earmarks became a public issue and they were silent on it. The bridge to nowhere was a complete disaster for the GOP. Not articulating the sense of accountability with Mark Foley and Duke Cunningham and [Bob] Ney. I think that the language that was tied to the policies of 1994 represented politics at its best, and language tied to the politics of 2006 represented politics at its worst.

Asked for some examples of failed language, Luntz responds:

You tell me. What was the Republican message for 2006? I’ve asked congressmen, senators. I even asked the people responsible for creating the message for 2006. What was the message for the Republican Party in 2006? Not a single person can give me an answer. None of them. No one at the Republican National Committee, no Republican senator, no Republican House member, no operative, none of the Democrats, can answer it either. Nobody knows. That’s the failure. So when you say to me, “Give me an example,” I can’t. There’s no message to criticize because there was no message. It was nothing.

Luntz credits Gingrich for giving the Dems their winning slogan “Had enough?” but says they won more because they got a free ride, thanks to GOP ineptitude. He takes predictable pot shots at the netroots, but sees Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as generally effective communicators. A stickler for oppo research, Luntz says he reads all of George Lakoff’s books and spends “half my time” reading Democratic blogs and studying congress in action on the floor. Luntz also has a new book “Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear,” which probably merits a read by political language junkies of both parties.
Yet, after giving Luntz credit for identifying some key GOP failures in the midterms, absent here is any sense that maybe voters rightly concluded that the occupation of Iraq was a bad idea, based on lies and poorly executed. It’s all about communication. Instead of “surge,” Luntz believes President Bush would have done better using the euphemisms “reassessment” or “realignment.” Thoughtful political communication is important. But at a certain point, using evasive language to describe bad policy is putting lipstick on a pig.

So Who Reads Political Blogs?

Just to add a little factual background perspective to the interesting fray on the Netroots and progressives underway at TPM Cafe (featuring TDS’s Scott Winship), we recommend The Audience for Political Blogs” New Research on Blog Readership a study published by Joseph Graf at the web pages of The Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet. Among the factoids Graf serves up:

The Regular, daily audience for political blogs is fairly small. We estimate in the millions of readers, not tens of millions.
Nine percent of the survey sample looked at political blogs “almost every day”
Nearly two-thirds, 66 percent, of daily readers of political blogs get most of their national and international news from the internet.
The audience for political blogs is highly concentrated among “dozens of blogs, not thousands.”
One-third of those who read political blogs every day consider themselves “strong liberals.”
The higher traffic political blogs are disproportionately liberal.

Interesting, but no shockers here. The survey had its limitations — respondents in the sample were 7,683 California registered voters who chose to take an online survey, and it didn’t include any insights about developing trends. It would appear that television is still the medium of choice for political information for the time being, given the declining levels of print readership. With the expected merging of television and internet access in millions of homes, it could be a very different picture before too long.
There is mounting evidence that political blogs are finding a more avid audience among opinion leaders and those employed in political work. Henry Copeland reports on recent studies indicating that about 90 percent of “congressional offices” read blogs, and 64 percent of congressional staff readers believe “blogs are more useful than mainstream media for identifying future national political problems and debates.” He notes also that “52% of journalists believe blogs have ‘some to a great deal’ of influence on the way media covers stories.”