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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Daily Strategist

June 23, 2018

Political Strategy Notes – Abrams Historic Win in Georgia

Georgia Democratic gubernatorial nomineee Stacy Abrams not only beat her Democratic opponent, Stacy Evans, by a 3-1 margin; she also received more votes than the two Republican candidates, Brian Kemp and Casey Cagle, combined. Kemp and Cagle are now in a run-off that is already dividing Republicans. In his New York Times column, “In Georgia, Democrats Go With a Voter-Turnout Strategy,” David Leonhardt writes, “Last night, Stacey Abrams won the Democratic nomination in that Georgia governor’s race. She isn’t only the first black woman to be a major party nominee for governor anywhere in the country — a welcome milestone. Abrams has also made clear that she plans to win by motivating liberals more than winning over conservatives…“The approach of trying to create a coalition that is centered around converting Republicans has failed Democrats in the state of Georgia for the last 15 years,” she said recently…The Abrams approach will not be easy. The turnout of voters under 30, as well as Asian-Americans and Latinos, tends to be extremely low in midterms — each below 30 percent. By comparison, African-American voter turnout is substantially higher, almost as high as white turnout in midterms, despite years of voter suppression against African-Americans in many places.”

Vox’s P.R. Lockhart illuminates the critical role of Black political groups in Abrams’s landslide primary victory, noting that “this historic win didn’t happen by accident. It was the result of months of effort by an increasingly influential network of political groups and outreach initiatives, many of them helmed by black women, that are eager to build political power and influence in black communities.” Key groups that worked tirelessly for Abrams include, Glow Vote, Higher Heights, Democracy in Color, BlackPac, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, the Center for Popular Democracy Action, “the New Georgia Project Action Fund, a division of the New Georgia Project, a group Abrams founded to register voters of color and boost their turnout in elections. Lockhart quotes Adrianne Shropshire, executive director of BlackPAC, who explained that Abrams has  “run a campaign that is a model for candidates all across the country on how to engage and excite Black voters.”

Here’s an interview with Abrams, conducted by Frank Ski at Atlanta’s V-103:

The Abrams landslide primary win may have helped another Black woman candidate in Georgia — Lucy McBath. As Jamilah King reports in her article, “Last Night Was Huge for Black Women in Georgia—and Not Just Because of Stacey Abrams: Lucy McBath will advance to a July run-off, putting her gun-safety message to the test in GA6.” at Mother Jones: “…Another victory of sorts was playing out in nearby DeKalb County, where first-time candidate Lucy McBath earned the most votes in the Democratic primary for  Georgia’s sixth congressional district. Though it wasn’t the same kind of celebration as Abrams’—McBath didn’t top 50 percent of the vote, so she will now advance to a July run-off against businessman Kevin Abel—many in the chattering classes considered even getting to this point a real long shot. McBath is a black woman running on gun safety in Georgia, and, what’s more, she only entered the race for GA6 in April. If elected, McBath would be the only black woman in Georgia’s congressional delegation.” McBath could benefit from the intersection of two rising movements — Black women’s political empowerment and gun control.

“It’s been a long drought in statewide elections for Georgia Democrats, but the state’s shifting demographics along with President Trump’s unpopularity in Georgia — according to a Gallup poll, Mr. Trump had an approval rating of only 41 percent and a disapproval rating of 53 percent during 2017 — give Democrats some reason for optimism.” writes Alan Abramowitz in his New York Times op-ed,  “Can Stacey Abrams Change the Way Democrats Win in the South?” Abramowitz adds, “One recent poll from Survey USA had Mr. Cagle leading Ms. Abrams by only five points in a general election matchup. And in Tuesday’s primary, Democratic turnout came close to matching Republican turnout — Democratic primary voters made up 48 percent of those who turned out…In the Survey USA poll, almost all Democratic identifiers supported Ms. Abrams and almost all Republican identifiers supported Mr. Cagle, with independents splitting evenly. If those voting patterns hold true in November, the outcome of the race will hinge on which party does a better job of energizing and turning out its base voters. Since 2002, Republicans have had the advantage in that regard. In nominating Stacey Abrams, Georgia Democrats are betting that anger at President Trump and a candidate with strong appeal to the state’s growing nonwhite electorate will drive enough Democratic voters to the polls to reverse that trend and make history.”

In their Washington Post article, “Stacey Abrams, Democrats’ newest Southern hope, looks to Virginia, Alabama for path to victory in Georgia,” Michael Scherer and Vanessa Wiliams note that ““It’s possible for a Democrat to win statewide office in Georgia, but it would have to be under unusual circumstances,” said Trey Hood, a professor and pollster at the University of Georgia, who has polled the race for local news organizations. “There would have to be probably depressed Republican turnout as well, and Abrams will have to win a certain share of the white vote.”…Hood points to a back-of-the-envelope calculation of the challenge facing Abrams. Based on the 2014 midterm turnout rate, if Abrams won 95 percent of the black vote, she would need to capture about 36 percent of the white vote to win a two-person race. In a January statewide poll by Hood, only 24 percent of white Georgia voters identified as Democrats.”

At New York Magazine, Ed Kilgore’s post, “Stacey Abrams and the New Democratic Coalition in the South” puts Abram’s impressive victory in perspective: “In a Democratic electorate that is now over 60 percent African-American, it’s not surprising that Abrams won. But her better than three-to-one margin over Evans showed she had built her own biracial coalition without a white skin–or conspicuous centrism…One of the moving parts in this development was explained by Sean McElwee in a New York Times op-ed this week: white Democrats are becoming not only more progressive, but more responsive to the kinds of racial justice concerns their fellow-Democrats from minority backgrounds care about. Within the Democratic Party, racial divisions are simply less compelling than they once were, even as minority politicians are taking a more active and visible role.”

Ruy Teixeira makes the case that “Abrams must perform relatively well among white voters to win Georgia. There is a very simple reason for this. While the minority vote is large in Georgia, the white vote is much larger. It’s highly unlikely to be under 60 percent of the vote and will probably be a bit higher…Even in 2012, when Georgia black turnout was actually higher than white turnout (and way higher than white noncollege turnout), whites were still 62 percent of voters and blacks were just 32 percent…Clinton in 2016 actually did better than Obama in Georgia, losing the state by just 5 points, compared to Obama’s 8 point deficit. This improvement is entirely attributable to Clinton’s improved performance among whites, both college and noncollege. Granted, her absolute support levels were still low among these groups, but her relative improvement was enough to make the state significantly closer.”

In a state which seems to have more than its share of  GOP voter suppression incidents, the Abrams campaign should take note of Josh Meyer’s post, “Midterms are in Putin’s crosshairs, ex-spy chief says” at Politico: “Not content with installing Donald Trump in the White House in 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin is now revising his sophisticated meddling operation in order to outflank U.S. security agencies and tip the scales in the upcoming congressional midterm races, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told POLITICO on Wednesday…Clapper made that assertion as part of a wide-ranging interview timed with the release of his memoirs about his 50-plus years in the U.S. intelligence community, “Facts and Fears: Hard Truths From a Life in Intelligence,” which he wrote with Trey Brown…Clapper, 77, says he thinks the Kremlin, led personally by Putin, is already engaged in an ongoing and active influence effort that is even more elaborate than the one he believes was used during the 2016 campaign to swing the election.”

Teixeira: A Case for Concerned Optimism on Midterms

The following post by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis  is cross-posted from his facebook page:

Time to panic….or not?

Keen-eyed observers of recent polling data will have noticed that Trump’s approval rating has edged up lately achieving the exalted level of 42 percent in 538’s rolling approval average. In addition, the generic Congressional ballot has also narrowed so that Democrats now have only a comparatively weak 5 point lead over the GOP in 538’s rolling average.

These figures are both the best Trump and the GOP have achieved for almost exactly a year. So…how worried should Democrats be?

Well, here’s the thing. Even as this trend has manifested itself, the Democrats’ prospects in specific 2018 races have remained very good–if anything, they have improved (see the link to Inside Elections’ latest rating changes). And of course, the results of elections that have already been held in 2017-18 have been nothing short of spectacular for the Democrats. Nate Cohn runs it down:

“On average, Democrats have run 14 points ahead of a district’s partisanship (as measured by the last two presidential elections, compared with the national popular vote) in special elections for Republican-held districts so far this cycle. They’ve run more than 20 points ahead on three occasions — Kansas’ Fourth, Pennsylvania’s 18th and Arizona’s Eighth — and that doesn’t include Doug Jones’s victory in the Alabama Senate race.

These Democratic over-performances are a startling departure from the Obama years, when congressional election results polarized along national political lines.

Over the more than 1,000 special and general House elections in Democratic-held districts in the Obama era, there were only four elections when the Republicans ran 20 points ahead of the district’s lean in presidential elections. This cycle’s Democrats have pulled it off three times out of seven.

In a broader historical context, though, the Democratic over-performance is not quite as startling. It is still impressive, but the Democrats ran 20 points ahead of a Republican-held district’s presidential partisanship in 31 races combined in 2006 and 2008.

Over all, the Democrats’ performance in 2018 special congressional elections looks a lot like their showing in open districts in 2006, and well above the average from wave elections in 1994, 2006, 2008 and 2010. On average, Democrats ran 14 points ahead of a district’s partisanship in open races in 2006 — exactly the same as the Democratic over-performance so far this cycle. The Democrats had a similar 10-point over-performance in 2008.”

So, there you have it. Some cause for concern, some cause for optimism. Where you land may depend partly on your personality type and partly on your preferred interpretation of the GOP’s recent polling uptick. Finally getting payoff from an improving economy? Endless press coverage of Trump scandals actually benefits Trump? Democratic malpractice? Just a blip? Not enough of a swing to counteract Democratic enthusiasm?

Personally, I vote for concerned optimism. YMMV.

Greenberg and Gardner: Democrats must speak to party’s base to win in midterms

The following article by Stanley B. Greenberg, a founder of Democrracy Corps, and Page S. Gardner, president of Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund, is cross-posted from The Hill:

With approval ratings of 42 percent for President Trump and a dismal 18 percent for the Republican Congress, Democrats could be poised to win landslide victories in this year’s elections — from the U.S. House and Senate to governorships and state legislatures. But they’ll lose this opportunity if they don’t address the economic challenges confronting their strongest supporters, who are at risk of staying home on election day.

Struggling to stay even economically, and with a history of under-participating politically, the Democratic Party’s base consists largely of people of color, unmarried women and young people. Now numbering an estimated 133 million adults, these fast-growing groups constitute what we call the “Rising American Electorate,” or RAE. Since 2016, they’ve comprised a clear majority of the voting-age population.

The RAE still doesn’t register or vote in proportion to its increasing share of the population. Although they accounted for almost six in 10 people who were eligible to vote in 2016, these voters made up little more than half (52.6 percent) of the voting electorate — and, compared to past elections, that turnout was a high watermark.

Research from the Voter Participation Center shows that 40 million voters from 2016 won’t cast ballots in 2018, and two-thirds of these “drop-off “voters will be members of the RAE. In the effort to engage this emerging electoral majority, the stakes couldn’t be higher — for the Democratic Party and the democratic process. Having suffered discrimination by race, gender, ethnicity and marital status, the RAE has been overlooked, underrepresented and underserved by every level of government.

Over the last few elections, RAE members have made progress in closing the gap and are a larger share of the electorate – but there is still work to do. If their increasing representation is reversed in November, the political system will lose legitimacy and public policies will become disconnected from the fastest-growing segments of society, with disastrous consequences for our country.

While President Trump and his critics squabble, the danger of disconnection between the RAE and the political process is great — and growing. Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund and Democracy Corps just conducted groundbreaking research that concentrated on Democratic base voters and potential swing voters in 12 battleground states.

The findings should serve as a wakeup call: The Democrats’ momentum has stalled because the party isn’t focusing enough on the economic and health care challenges confronting its base supporters as well as swing voters, particularly white working-class women. (This failure is bipartisan: While some African-Americans, Latinos, unmarried women and young people are tuning out on the Democrats, they aren’t turning to the Republicans.)

In order to reconnect with the RAE, Democrats should not be distracted by the Trump administration’s boasts of a “booming economy.” Democratic base voters and white working-class women are struggling to survive in a world very different from Washington and Wall Street. Their wages aren’t keeping up with rising costs, especially the cost of health care. Some 70 percent of African-Americans and white unmarried women say they haven’t benefited from the GOP tax cut, as do about 60 percent of Hispanics and white working-class women. These voters are also concerned that tax cuts that reward the rich and add trillions of dollars to the deficit will be paid for by cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

In this research, these voters respond to an economic message that says our elected officials must do better than a short-term spending spree that endangers retirement security for older Americans, health care for families, and education. Saddened by school shootings, disgusted by the lack of progress on commonsense gun safety from politicians, and inspired by student protests, millennials also respond to appeals about gun safety, including universal background checks and ban on assault-style weapons, as well as the economic message.

These messages speak to RAE members and increase interest in the 2018 elections across the board, including among millennials. While only 37 percent of the RAE expressed great interest in voting when first asked, this jumps to 43 percent after hearing messages in touch with their daily struggles.

That’s good news for anyone who is concerned with revitalizing representative government. When a majority of Americans — unmarried women, people of color and young people — can cast their ballots, give voice to their concerns, and hold their elected officials accountable, then public policies will be more effective and we will set a powerful example to the world that American democracy is stronger than ever.

Russo: Is There Hope for a Blue Ripple (not Wave) in Ohio? Democrats need to do like Sherrod Brown and promote a progressive populism

The following article by John Russo, visiting researcher at the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University, co-author of Steeltown U.S.A.: Work and Memory in Youngstown, and co-editor with Sherry Linkon of the blog Working-Class Perspectives, is cross-posted from The American Prospect:

On the day after the Ohio primary election, President Trump tweeted about Michael DeWine’s victory in the Republican gubernatorial contest: “Congratulations to Mike DeWine on his big win in the Great State of Ohio. He will be great Governor with a heavy focus on HealthCare and Jobs. His Socialist opponent in November should not do well, a big failure in last job!” With less hyperbole (and fewer capital letters) Politico noted a “lack of enthusiasm” among Ohio Democrats, who selected Richard Cordray, the former Ohio attorney general and then the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as their gubernatorial candidate. Statewide, 147,000 fewer Democratic voted than Republicans, and DeWine received 73,000 more votes than Cordray. DeWine also received more votes than Cordray in 76 of Ohio’s 88 counties. Based on these numbers, Ohio Republicans seem to be doing just fine.

But primaries aren’t always good predictors of general elections, and Democrats have several reasons to be more optimistic than the turnout numbers suggest. As David Peppers, chair of the Ohio Democratic Party (ODP), has pointed out, uncompetitive races might have kept voter turnout low for his party’s primary. Even more important, while the raw numbers make the gap between Republican and Democratic turnout seem huge, as a percentage of primary votes cast, Democrats gained ground this year. In 2016, Republicans got 62.5 percent of the state’s 3.2 million primary votes. This year, they won 827,039 votes out a total of 1,524777, or just 54.2 percent. That is a significant drop, especially considering that Ohio Republicans significantly outspent Democrats in the primaries.

Does the drop reflect a return to the Democratic Party by voters who crossed over to vote Republican in 2016? Or did those swing voters just not turn out for the primary? Until we have more data, it’s hard to tell. But regardless of the reason, the gap between the parties seems to be narrowing—a shift that could help Democrats this fall.


Political Strategy Notes

At The New York Times, Michael Tackett and Rachel Shorey report some good news in their article, “Young People Keep Marching After Parkland, This Time to Register to Vote.” As Tackett and Shorey note “Voter data for March and April show that young registrants represented a higher portion of new voters in Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, among other states. In Florida, voters under 26 jumped from less than 20 percent of new registrants in January and February to nearly 30 percent by March, the month of the gun control rallies. That ticked down to about 25 percent in April, as the demonstrations subsided, but registration of young voters remained above the pace set before 17 students and faculty were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland…In North Carolina, voters under 25 represented around 30 percent of new registrations in January and February; in March and April, they were around 40 percent…In Pennsylvania, voter registrations across age groups increased sharply in March and April before the primary last week, but registrations of young voters increased the fastest, jumping to 45 percent in March and more than half in April, from fewer than 40 percent of voters in January and February.”

And who are these young voters supporting? Shorey and Tackett explain: “And those new registrants lean Democratic. Of the new voters ages 25 and under in the state, a third registered as Democrats; 21 percent signed up as Republicans; and 46 percent registered as either unaffiliated or with another political party. For new registrants over 25, 27 percent were Democrats; 29 percent were Republicans; and 44 percent were independent or affiliated with a different party…In addition to the registration figures, new polling of younger voters from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics found a significant jump from two years ago in those who say their involvement will make a difference. Such optimism indicates a voter is more likely to actually turn out…So far, the Harvard polling indicates that Democrats are the more likely beneficiary of the increased commitment to voting, with half of voters 18 to 29 saying they will vote Democratic. The remainder are divided between Republicans and independents.”

At New York Magazine, Ed Kilgore explains why “The Democratic Wave May Depend on Millennials Becoming Unusually Motivated to Vote.” Kilgore quotes Ronald Brownstein, who observes, “No more than about a quarter of eligible adults younger than age 30 have voted in any of the past five midterm elections. In 2010, voters under 30 represented just 12 percent of all voters, exit polls found, down from 18 percent in 2008. The share of ballots cast by voters under 30 likewise skidded from 19 percent in 2012 to 13 percent in 2014…Recent polling offers ominous signs for Democrats that this pattern of demobilization could persist in 2018… Stanley Greenberg, the veteran Democratic pollster, told me there’s a “very real risk” that Millennial turnout could lag again in 2018.” Kilgore adds, “after all, Barack Obama’s strong popularity among young voters exhibited itself as a powerful force in 2008 and 2012 — but not in the 2010 and 2014 midterms…It’s entirely possible that Democrats can overcome a recurrence of the “midterm falloff” among young voters by gains elsewhere in the electorate, most notably the college-educated suburbanites who have contributed to Democratic over-performance in off-year elections from Virginia to Arizona. But even modest improvements in millennial turnout could work wonders, given the large lean toward Democrats in that demographic (a net 27 points in the same Pew survey that showed desultory millennial interest in the election)…Democrats are almost certainly going to make gains in November, but nothing would reduce the magnitude more than unsuccessful efforts to mobilize millennials that do succeed in terrifying old white folks. They can take comfort, however, in the fact that, all in all, the most terrifying force in American politics resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. That may be just enough to rouse young people from their apolitical prejudices and get them to the polls in November.”

The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin probes a question of growing concern for Democrats: “Will the Fervor for Impeachment Start a Democratic Civil War? A push to remove Donald Trump from office may lead to disaster in the midterms.” Toobin quotes Jamie Raskin, a first-term Democrat from Maryland and vice-chair of the Judiciary Committee: “It’s hard to think of a more impeachable President in American history…By firing Comey and waging war on the special counsel, Trump has become the master of obstructing justice…I have a thick notebook of obstruction-of-justice episodes…It’s only because we’re waist-deep in the Trump era that we forget how completely radical and beyond the pale it is to have the President directly threatening the people who are involved in a criminal investigation of him.” All of Trump’s utterly impeachable offenses notwithstanding, a premature focus on impeachment could be a disaster for Democrats. But the more worrisome question is, will Trump’s reckless corruption eventually leave the Democrats no other option? I have trouble imagining that not happening. At a certain point, Democrats could look bad for dodging impeachment and shirking their constitutional responsibility. Timing is everything.

Democrats ramp up efforts to turn more red seats blue in the South in the wake of recent successes,” reports Deborah Barfield Berry at USAToday. “With midterms less than six months away, national Democrats say they are ramping up their efforts in the South working with the Congressional Black Caucus and local grassroots groups to pick up more seats, even in traditionally red districts…The DCCC and the caucus say the South is key to a Democratic takeoverof the House…The shift in focus comes in the wake of recent Democratic victories in the South, including in Alabama where Doug Jones pulled off an upset in the Senate race last December...“We’re not forfeiting the South like we used to and the party is coming down to help,” said Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “If we’re going to grow, we’re going to grow in the South. This traditional Democratic forfeiting in the South and this traditional Democratic message doesn’t work … We’re forcing them to come and they’re coming…The DCCC already has staff in some competitive districts in Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina and Texas, said Kamau Marshall, the committee’s director of African American Media and deputy national press secretary…But the South remains a difficult landscape for Democrats. In Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana, for example, only four out of 23 congressional seats are held by Democrats.”

At Daily Kos, Egberto Willies urges “No need for Democrats to fear their progressive wing: join it, instead,” and shares some thoughts on messaging: “…We must have a simple message at the tip of our tongues, ready to tell constituents what Democrats will do for them…Democrats will fix the health care issue once and for all with a single-payer Medicare for All system…Democrats will provide student loan relief…Democrats will provide need-based subsidized child care for anyone who wants to work…Democrats will decriminalize marijuana and treat drug use as the disease that it is…Democrats will make the criminal justice system live up to the “Justice is Blind” motto….Those five bullet points expressed in different terms will work in every district in America. It appeals to millennials, people of color, all working class people, parents, and every demographic in between. Most importantly these bullet points afford Americans a path to self-sufficiency It frees them from aberrations in the economy that stunts innovation, the inability to start one’s business, and the dependency and the enslavement to the corporation…Every appearance in the media should segue to these points…We need a simple message that appeals quickly, cannot be easily demagogued, and can broaden a base. Politicians who support the five issues listed in bold above are all in with most of the progressive agenda…We must dialogue from a position of strength, and use our sound economic stance and the intrinsic morality of our positions to put all who oppose the progressive tenets Americans say they want on the defensive. Open the windows so America can see exactly who opposes progressivism.”


At CNN Politics Harry Enten notes that “There’s a surprising lack of good polling in this year’s key Senate races,” and observes “Calling balls and strikes is difficult when you’re partially blind…That’s the situation Senate prognosticators are in when it comes to this year’s races. In the early going, there just isn’t a lot of good polling data out there to understand the playing field…Democrats need a net gain of two seats to pick up control of the Senate. CNN rates 11 Senate races as either competitive (i.e. leaning towards one party) or as a toss-up, including 3 Republican-held seats and 8 Democratic held seats. Most of these seats have very little non-partisan polling for them…While a number of key Senate races haven’t been polled at all this cycle, every single competitive race had at least one poll taken in it by this point in the last midterm cycle in 2014…More worrisome is the lack of high quality polling information from these Senate races. Only 2 (Florida and Tennessee) of the 11 races (18%) have gold standard polling. That is, pollsters who are non-partisan, use live interviews and call cell phones and are transparent about their data. Only one state (Florida) has had more than one gold standard poll taken in it. In 2014, 67% of competitive races at this point had been polled by gold standard pollsters.”

Kyle Kondik, Managing Editor, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, shares “The Democrats’ Drive for 25 in the House: An Update,” and notes: “Overall, the Democrats’ odds in the districts mentioned have largely but not universally gotten a little better…The California primary on June 5 looms as the most important date in the battle for the House between now and the November election…The Democrats’ odds of retaking the House majority remain about 50-50… there is still a possibility that Democrats won’t just win the House, but win it easily. The range of possible outcomes still seems wide…Some district-level indicators are a little brighter for Democrats since we first described this narrow path to a Democratic House majority…One thing that’s clear in comparing the Democrats’ current path to a House majority versus the one we sketched out in February is that the playing field is bigger. Back in February, we listed 65 GOP House seats in a competitive (non-Safe) category. We now list 86. Many of these races likely will not develop (particular in the Likely Republican column, where we list 35 GOP districts). On the other hand, some current Safe Republican races may enter the fray, too.”

Ryan Flubs the Farm Bill

A lot of media outlets reported the unexpected defeat of the Farm Bill in the House this week. But there’s quite a significant backstory, which I wrote up at New York.

Back in the day, the Farm Bills enacted every five years to reauthorize major agriculture and nutrition programs were the model of bipartisanship. Indeed, the food stamp program (now called “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program”) was first devised in part as a way to extend support for Farm Bills to include urban legislators who didn’t know a combine from a snowplow.

The defeat of the latest Farm Bill on the House floor shows how far the old formula has unraveled.

In more recent and ideologically driven Congresses, the bills have sometimes attracted heat from the right, involving both libertarian-ish objections to crop subsidies and hostility toward food stamps as “welfare” programs for those people. Indeed, in 2013 the whole enterprise nearly went down (and wasn’t finished until 2014) over SNAP funding, with House conservatives not thinking cuts went far enough and Senate Democrats thinking they went too far.

With Republicans now controlling both Houses, the big initial Farm Bill controversy has been over the GOP’s desire (lashed along by the Trump administration) to toughen SNAP’s already significant work requirements. Indeed, this became a signature cause for lame-duck Speaker Paul Ryan, and a sort of shriveled booby prize for his frustrated plans to clobber entitlement programs and “welfare” before leaving Congress.

The SNAP provisions of the current Farm Bill guaranteed united House Democratic opposition, and also cost the votes of a few GOP “moderates.” But the bigger problem emerged when conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus looked at the overall dynamics and decided to take the bill hostage to their demands for an immediate House vote on the Goodlatte immigration bill — a measure more conservative than the president’s own in that it offers no permanent succor to Dreamers in exchange for the reductions in legal immigration and border wall funding. This in turn was a response to a very different maneuver by a group of endangered Republican moderates in blue- or heavily Latino districts to join with Democrats and force a vote on a bill that is significantly friendlier to Dreamers without all the nativist filler in the Goodlatte and presidential proposals.

In the end, all these problems were too much of a lift, and the bill went down decisively by a 198–213 margin, with 30 Republicans (actually 29, plus Ryan, who voted no to preserve the right to make a later motion for reconsideration) opposing it. As the GOP defectors keep pointing out, the program authorizations covered by the Farm Bill don’t run out until the end of September, so there’s time to work something out on both immigration and SNAP in time to avoid the mess that occurred last time around. But with so little else of substance on the House agenda this year (at least the Senate has confirmations to absorb its time), it’s entirely possible the Farm Bill will continue to attract hostage-takers until the end of the session….

Meanwhile, Paul Ryan’s desire for a little trophy he can take home to Wisconsin representing his desire to liberate poor people from the government’s help in making ends meet will be delayed one more time.

TDS Strategy Memo: Modern-day “Class Consciousness” and “Class Resentment”:

The unacknowledged—but vitally important—perspective that is necessary to understand why many non-racist white working class voters voted for Trump—and might do so again if Democrats don’t figure out how to respond.

A Democratic candidate running in a district with a significant number of white working class voters quickly learns that there are three major explanations for Trump’s popularity among these Americans.

  1. Racism and bigotry
  2. Anxiety and hostility over loss of status, role and position in a changing society
  3. Legitimate and justified anger regarding difficult economic circumstances

Each of these explanations has important implications for how a Democratic candidate should run his or her campaign…

Read the Memo.


The McCaskill Template: Election Strategy for Dems in Red States

If Democrats are ever going to regain majority control of Congress, they will have to hold seats, as well as win new ones. For an instructive read about how it’s done, read Perry Bacon, Jr.’s 538 post, “Missouri’s Claire McCaskill Has Been Savvy And Lucky — Can She Do It Again?” As Bacon writes,

Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri has survived the growing Republicanismof her state by being good at politics. But she’s also been a bit lucky. And that combination may save her again this November…McCaskill is not just politically endangered because she, along with nine other Senate Democrats, is running in a red state. President Trump won Missouri by 19 percentage points.

Bacon goes on to note that Trump’s popularity since the 2016 election has tanked in Missouri, down to 2 points net favorability in one poll and 4 in another. That helps McCaskill. So does the nasty scandal centering on Missouri’s indicted Republican Governor Eric Greitens, whose refusal to resign has divided the state GOP and has likely damaged Republican credibility to provide good leadership in the eyes of some voters. McCaskill’s re-election race is very close, according to polls:

That same Emerson poll showed McCaskill tied at 45 percent with Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, who is the favorite to win the Aug. 7 GOP Senate primary in the state. Two other polls from April showed McCaskill with tiny leads (1 and 4 percentage points) over Hawley. So McCaskill is competitive, despite the conservatism of the state. But she is far from a shoo-in. This is likely to be a close race, with both parties spending heavily.

McCaskill is an emblematic centrist Democrat in the sense that “She has voted with Trump’s position on about 46 percent of legislation4 in the Senate, according to FiveThirtyEight’s Trump score tracker, enabling the senator to position herself as not adamantly opposing everything the president does like some of her more liberal colleagues. At the same time, she voted against the major initiatives that Trump and congressional Republicans pushed last year, the health policy proposals that would have gotten rid of parts of the Affordable Care Act and the tax overhaul.” McCaskill understands that many voters who self-identify as conservatives support liberal policies that are properly presented.

Credit McCaskill with agile and gutsy campaign skills, as Bacon explains:

If you’ve followed McCaskill’s career, it’s not surprising that she is well-positioned in 2018 — she seems to be good at getting elected, staying in office and anticipating where politics is going. In 1992, she was the first woman elected to be the county prosecutor in Jackson County, which includes Kansas City. She was later elected state auditor and just barely lost her 2004 gubernatorial bid. In 2006, she was the first woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate from Missouri, defeating a GOP incumbent. Early in 2008, she endorsed Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary, a move that was bold and controversial, since she was the first female senator to embrace Obama over Clinton.

In 2012, McCaskill was in trouble, running for reelection in a year when Obama was on the ballot but unpopular in Missouri. So McCaskill and her campaign ran ads ahead of the GOP primary in Missouri, trying to boost the most conservative candidate in that race, then-GOP Rep. Todd Akin…The goal was to get conservative primary voters to back Akin as a way to annoy Democrats…McCaskill felt Akin would be the weakest of the GOP candidates in the general election. It’s not clear how much that ad boosted Akin in the primary, but he won that race and McCaskill easily defeated him in the general election.

McCaskill’s luck kicked in again —  she “wasn’t on the ballot in 2010 or 2014, years when Republicans were dominant in congressional elections.” And if she wins this year, “it would be quite a feat. She would have won three straight Senate elections in Missouri, while the state went from one where Democrats lost at the presidential level by 7 percentage points (2004) to almost 20 points (2016).”

The thing about McCaskill’s ‘lucky breaks’ is that she wasn’t just a passive recipient of good luck; when ‘luck’ came near, she pounced on it with a bold response at every opportunity, learning from mistakes and tweaking her strategy and tactics to leverage advantage at pivotal political moments. In addition to being an alert campaigner, she is also very good at setting a positive tone in television interviews and uses media adroitly.

None of this is to say that McCaskill’s tactics can be replicated in every campaign. But her strategy of paying close attention to her adversaries weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and then addressing them boldly and driving wedges through the opposition is exemplary. She has also shown that a centrist political persona can be an asset in winning support for hot button progressive reforms, including Obamacare, gun safety, immigration, reproductive rights and others. Democrats running in red states and districts can benefit by studying her example.

McConnell May Keep Senate In Session to Keep Democrats From Campaigning

Often things in Washington are not at all as they seem, which is the case with a new maneuver by Senate Republicans. I explained at New York.

The election-year August recess is a sacred institution in Congress, instituted initially because of the capital city’s unbearable summer weather, and maintained in the air-conditioning era to let members of Congress go home and pound the pavement in pursuit of reelection. On rare occasions it is canceled or curtailed because accomplishing some particular legislative goal or at least looking busy is considered as valuable politically as time back home.

At first blush this might seem to be the reason 16 Republican senators are urging Mitch McConnell to cancel this year’s August recess. And indeed, that’s what they are saying in a letter to their leader, as the Washington Post reports:

“Senate Republicans note that there are just 67 working days left before the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30, although that counts Fridays, when the chamber is rarely in session.

“This leaves only 12 weeks to get 12 appropriations bills out of committee and consider them on the floor,” they wrote. “That alone is an impossible task. When combined with the crucial need to confirm more nominees, it is clear we do not have enough time.”

Appropriations, or at least some of them, are almost always rolled into omnibus measures enacted just prior to the end of the current fiscal year on September 30, if not later (after a stopgap bill is enacted to keep the government operating). So the demand for 12 spending bills is a bit specious. It is true that the president has been pounding the Senate off and on for most of his presidency for not confirming his Judicial and Executive-branch nominees at the breakneck pace he would prefer. But like appropriations, that’s something the majority of the Senate typically works out by negotiating with the minority that invariably insists on the leisurely pace the chamber’s rules allow. It’s all part of standard politics.

There’s a different reason Republicans might want, and that McConnell might strongly consider, a recess cancellation: there are ten Democratic senators up this year from states carried by Donald Trump in 2016. There is just one Republican incumbent up this year from a state carried by Hillary Clinton. Yes, there are two other highly vulnerable GOP-held Senate seats at stake this fall, in Arizona and Tennessee. But they are held by lame ducks Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, respectively.

Keeping these Democratic senators off the campaign trail in August is a bankable asset for the GOP. And even if it doesn’t happen, the threat of making it happen will have value in negotiations with Democrats over items like appropriations and confirmations. As Slate’s Jim Newell observes:

“The threat of canceling an August recess, even in a non-election year, can move mountains. Though any individual senator can slow the Senate — an institution built on consent — to a crawl if he or she so desires, the Senate can move quite quickly when the consent is there. That’s what happened after McConnell announced he would cancel the first two weeks of August recess last year. The Senate only ended up staying one additional week, and confirmed a host of additional nominees en bloc at the snap of the leader’s fingers.”

Senators facing possible defeat can discover reservoirs of sweet reason in abundance if the alternative is being stuck in Washington — particularly if they aren’t getting much visible work done — as opponents savage them back home. McConnell knows this. He will probably count on its powerful effect as he mulls the August recess.

Political Strategy Notes

A bit of temporary good news for Democrats — and for everyone who doesn’t want to pay more for internet service, as reported in Cecilia Kang’s “Senate Democrats Win Vote on Net Neutrality, a Centerpiece of 2018 Strategy” in The New York Times: “The Senate passed a resolution in a 52-47 vote to overturn a decision last December by the Federal Communications Commission to dismantle Obama-era rules that prevented broadband providers like Verizon and Comcast from blocking or speeding up streams and downloads of web content in exchange for extra fees. The commission’s repeal of net neutrality is set to take effect in a few weeks.” However, “the rare victory for Democrats is sure to be short-lived, with a similar resolution expected to die in the House, where Republicans have a larger majority. Only three Republican senators voted in support of the resolution [Collins, Murkowski and Kennedy]. However, “The effort to stop the repeal of net neutrality rules is part of a broader political strategy by Democrats to rally young voters in the November elections.” Here’s a sharable link for contacting Senators who voted to raise internet fees.

We shouldn’t be surprised that the biggest corporate advocates of destroying Net Neutrality — Verizon, Comcast and AT&T — are also deeply involved in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which provides “template” voter suppression legislation and other Republican-friendly bills for state legislatures. Could a cell phone users campaign to ditch these providers get them to back away from their big bucks opposition to net neutrality and support of voter suppression?

Hillary Clinton won the 2016 Democratic nomination. But it looks increasing like Sen. Bernie Sanders is proving more influential on the future policies of the Democratic Party, as David Weigel and Michael Scherer explain at PowerPost: “Democrats across the board are embracing the policies of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — Medicare for all, legal marijuana and free college — but primary results underscore that the 2016 presidential candidate is struggling to emerge as a kingmaker in the party…While Sanders hasn’t dominated the Democratic Party, his ideas have made huge inroads. “What Bernie’s doing now is seeding what we’re going to do in November,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), one of a handful of congressmen who endorsed Sanders for president. “Even in those districts where somebody’s going to lose, you’ve got to keep people activated. It’s a different kind of trickle-down.”…Sanders-backed candidates are 10 for 21 this election cycle, while 46 of the 134 who had the support of Our Revolution, the group Sanders started after his presidential bid, triumphed. There have been some notable losses, including Tom Perriello in Virginia’s Democratic primary for governor last year and gubernatorial hopeful Dennis Kucinich in Ohio this month, who was backed by Our Revolution but not Sanders.”

From Ed Kilgore’s “Primary Roundup: Big Victories for Women and Progressives” at New York Magazine: “The 2018 primary season ended in four more states on May 15, and, overall, it was one of many that will likely give this cycle a “Year of Women” description, particularly among Democrats. It also was a pretty good day for self-conscious Democratic progressives — and a bad day for those who fear their viability in general elections…In the next two weeks 11 states will hold primaries and another (Texas) will hold runoff elections. The relative calm of May 15 will be replaced by a lot of noise and perhaps some drama.”

In their NYT post “Half of the Women Running in House Primaries Have Won So Far,” Denise Liu and Kate Zernike write, “Record numbers of women are running for Congress. And many are winning: Ten states have had primaries so far, and in those, 60 women have won and 63 have lost…The surge in the number of candidates is mostly among Democrats, and of the 60 candidates who have won so far, 52 are Democrats…Of the 52 Democrats who have won their primaries, 34 are in districts that are considered solid or likely Republican seats in the general election in November, based on the ratings of three nonpartisan organizations.”

In a paragraph focusing on primery results in Pennsylvania, Joan Walsh noted at The Nation, “In Pennsylvania, a state with an all-male House of Representatives delegation, women won the nomination in four of the six races where Democrats are given the best chance of toppling a Republican, and in a couple more districts where victory will be tough, but still possible. In state legislative races, four women backed by the Democratic Socialists of America defeated male incumbents in their Democratic primaries. Three don’t have Republican opponents, meaning they’re almost certainly headed to Harrisburg. More than 100,000 more Democrats than Republicans turned out on primary day.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar put it well, when asked about Democratic midterm strategy focusing on Trump at the Center for American Progress Ideas Conference: “We’re not going to see [continued success] if we spend our whole time bemoaning the fact that he’s there,” Klobuchar said of Trump,” reports Chris Cillizza at CNN Politics. “He’s there. And we have to present an alternative…I promise you, if that is all we do to follow him down every rabbit hole, that is not how we change the country, that is not how we change the well-being.”” There is a strong link between the approval ratings of a sitting President and party performance in the midterms. But candidates should focus their campaigns on their positions on key issues of their constituents, draw contrasts to their opponents, and leave the Trump-bashing to the media and activists. Still, Trump’s mounting scandals may make it difficult for candidates to avoid the topic.

“Liberal anxiety about the fate of the midterms — and I would venture, the country itself — is rising,” writes NYT columnist Charles Blow in his column, “A Blue Wave of Moral Restoration.”To all this, I say: Calm down. Not relax. Not rest easy. Not coast. But stay the course and don’t panic. Work hard, message well and bring your passion — and a few neighbors and friends — to the polls in November…If voters do that, as they have already done in special elections, signs are positive for a major realignment in Washington.” Blow quotes an unamed CNN political analyst: “If past trends hold, it is possible Democrats could see a double-digit swing in the average House district in 2018 compared with past elections…The average swing across all elections has been +13 Democratic, signaling a national political environment is 13 points in the Democrats’ direction.”

Providing flexibility in places to vote  helps to increase voter turnout, as Bartholomew County, Indiana, found out on May 8th, reports local newspaper, The Republic. “The number of early voters who cast ballots this year in Bartholomew County was double the early turnout from four years ago…On Election Day, Bartholomew County could choose from 18 voting centers. Eight were located around Columbus, while others in Hope, Clifford, Taylorsville, Elizabethtown and other geographic areas of the county helped give voters plenty of options to make casting a ballot as easy as possible…Voters could cast a ballot at whichever voting center was most convenient, a much better scenario than when people were limited to a specific precinct during daytime hours when many people have employment obligations.”