washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ruy Teixeira

Democrats Need to Be the Party of and for Working People—of All Races

And they can’t retake Congress unless they win over more white workers.
by Robert Griffin, John Halpin & Ruy Teixeira

Read the article…

Matt Morrison

Rebuilding a Progressive Majority by Winning Back White Working-Class Moderates

From the findings of Working America, the AFL-CIO’s outreach program to non-union working people.
by Matt Morrison

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The Daily Strategist

March 22, 2018

Senate Races Update Finds Limp GOP Field

Those who want to get more inside skinny on next year’s U.S. Senate races won’t find a better update than Senate2008guru’s link-rich MyDD Sunday post, an article which provides an excellent example of why political bloggers often have better coverage than traditional media. Senate2008guru is struck by the weakness of the GOP Senate field, lacking “a single top-tier challenger to a Democratic Senate incumbent.”
While at MyDD, also read hwc’s “Clinton Strategy: Dual Hurdles for a Woman Candidate,” not because frontrunner Clinton needs more publicity, but because the author identifies a half-dozen key “techniques” being used to “humanize the candidate” — and they make good sense for any candidate.

Latinos Turning Off to GOP’s Two Faces

In his American Prospect article “GOP Candidates Alienate Latino Voters,” Paul Waldman reports that Democrats are benefiting substantially from the Republican leadership’s immigrant-bashing and nativist attitudes, now on vivid display in the GOP presidential horse-race. Waldman notes Romney’s recent sneering reference to New York as “poster child of sanctuary cities” under Guiliani, and adds,

There is no doubt that Romney and the rest of the Republican field will find an audience for anti-immigration rhetoric in the primaries. But by indulging this particular corner of the Republican id, they could be doing monumental, long-term damage to their party….when a party says again and again that you and people like you are the biggest problem facing the country, it’s hard to muster up enthusiasm for its candidates. If the GOP keeps this up, Latino Republicans could become like gay Republicans, a tiny, beleaguered group waging a daily battle against cognitive dissonance, scapegoated by their own party and mocked by their friends for associating with people who despise them.

But Waldman predicts that the Republicans’ nativist rhetoric will suddenly disappear once their presidential candidate is nominated, due to the strength of Hispanic demographic trends in battleground states:

There will be no more talk of building walls, of freeloading immigrants sucking our health system dry, of the vital importance of declaring English our national language. Questions on immigration will be answered with dodges and vagueness, the subject quickly changed to something safer.

But Waldman says it won’t work because “Latinos certainly know which party is against them.” Latinos favored Democratic congressional candidates by a 39 point margin in 2006, and if the GOP field keeps it up, Dems could do even better in ’08.

When Small Is Big

In the 2003 New Yorker profile of Karl Rove, which Ed linked to on Monday (for obvious reasons), Nicholas Lemann made a point that really stuck out to me. Lehman was suggesting that this might have been Karl Rove’s blueprint for the Democratic party. This is what he wrote:

“The [Democratic] Party has three key funding sources: trial lawyers, Jews, and labor unions. One could systematically disable all three, by passing tort-reform legislation that would cut off the trial lawyers’ incomes, by tilting pro-Israel in Middle East policy and thus changing the loyalties of big Jewish contributors, and by trying to shrink the part of the labor force which belongs to the newer, and more Democratic, public-employee unions. And then there are three fundamental services that the Democratic Party is offering to voters: Social Security, Medicare, and public education. Each of these could be peeled away, too: Social Security and Medicare by giving people benefits in the form of individual accounts that they invested in the stock market, and public education by trumping the Democrats on the issue of standards. The Bush Administration has pursued every item on that list.”

One year later, Democrats broke every presidential fundraising record they had. Two years after that, the DSCC and the DCCC outraised their Republican counterparts in route to retaking both houses of Congress. This year, the trend continues – the presidential candidates are pulling in breathtaking amounts of money, and the DNC, DSCC, and the DCCC are all, once again, beating the GOP.
Despite a lot of GOP effort, nothing on the money front seems likely to change anytime soon. And while the big donors and constituencies that Lemann described four years ago are all still contributing, they aren’t the reason for the Dems’ newfound prowess.
But a lot has changed since 2003. Small donations solicited online changed the game. Thousands and thousands of people are making regular donations to candidates on every level, many of them giving money for the very first time. Together, they’ve carved themselves a wholly new role in Democratic politics. And that’s happened in just four years.
I think it’s important that we remember how far we’ve come in so little time.

Think Twice About Changing Your Mind

Ah, primary season. It’s the wonderful time of year when party activists get to sit down in the intimate setting of a boisterous rally and hear their candidates’ strongest values and desires–you know, the ones they forget immediately after winning the nomination. In a country with wide cultural and social differences, some strategizing on issue positions is necessary in order to win elections. But how much shifting can you get away with and still avoid the devastating label of “flip-flopper”?
This question is addressed by a recent APSR article published by Margit Tavits of Mizzou. In her article, Tavits uses a cross-national dataset of 20 democracies–including the U.S.–to test whether shifting position yields political dividends or losses (in terms of vote totals), and under what conditions. For the purposes of her study, she divides issue positions into two categories: economic or “pragmatic” issues (such as tax policy, regulation, and economic planning), and social or “principled” issues (such as traditional morality, social justice, equality, and environmentalism). A full list of the issues can be found in the original article.
Tavits finds that, on average, shifts on pragmatic issues benefit politicians politically, whereas shifts on social issues are harmful. Since it seems like there is potential for a lot of overlap between issues designated as either “pragmatic” or “principled,” the waters are muddied somewhat. But attempting to moderate or reverse one’s positions on strong, clearly principled issues like abortion, gay marriage, or religion’s place in public life appears to be one ticket to a lost election. If you’re on the record supporting liberal social policies and you’re worried about the South and Midwest, it’s probably a better bet to remain passionate on the stump, while not exactly leading with those issues.
The same could go for moderates in those ideological primary battles. Giuliani gets it on abortion. So does Clinton on the War. If Tavits knows what she’s talking about, we can only hope that the Republicans nominate Mitt Romney.

How Polls Can Help Candidates Connect

Drew Westen, current “it guy” of political attitude research, has a provocative HuffPo post about the limits — and untapped potential — of opinion polls. After conceding that current polling techniques can produce useful results, Westen argues:

But polls and focus groups can mislead as often as they inform. They can misinform the public if voters are unaware of the extent to which what you get out of them depends on what you put into them. If you ask people if they are “pro-life” or “pro-choice,” you miss all the nuances that lead two-thirds of voters to believe that we should find some “middle ground” on abortion — if you happen to ask that question. They also mislead voters in an election when the media repeatedly report national numbers, because we don’t elect our presidents in direct elections. If they can’t afford to sample enough voters in a state-by-state or region-by-region basis that can approximate likely Electoral College results, the media shouldn’t report anything, even on a slow news day, because doing so creates false impressions of how candidates would fare in the election (not in a fictitious national referendum) that create bandwagon effects and bias voters’ judgments about electability in early primary states.

It’s not just the missed nuances, Westen believes; it’s also the overreaching:

Polls and focus groups can also mislead — and cost elections — when campaigns don’t understand their limits. They led Al Gore’s campaign in 2000 to avoid talking about the earth we leave our children (notice that I didn’t say “the environment”), even though that was his most enduring passion, because his consultants couldn’t find their way from “the environment” (a term that is, in fact, emotionally and electorally deadening) to the voter. They used the polls, like Democratic pollster-strategists have used them in so many elections, to tell the candidate what issues to talk about, instead of using them the way Luntz used voters’ responses, namely to help candidates refine the words and imagery to talk about what really matters to them. Gore showed how easily he could have turned his passion about the earth into similar feelings among the electorate in “An Inconvenient Truth,” with images of glaciers falling and emotionally powerful words that conveyed — and activated in the rest of us — his passion, as he movingly told his listeners, with an intonation in his voice that transmitted just how important the issue really is, “This is our only home.”

Westen goes on to argue that the “the gut level emotional responses” in voting decisions “are generated outside our awareness.” He discusses how experiments using subliminal flash images of candidates change responses to poll questions and concludes that using such polling techniques would have helped Gore to understand the benefits of making more use of Bill Clinton in the 2000 campaign.
Westen opposes using subliminal images in political campaign ads as manipulative and unethical. But he makes a strong case that applying such technologies in opinion polls can help candidates unveil voters’ deepest feelings about issues and candidates. Pollsters and poll-watchers alike will find his article of considerable interest.

The Internet Gap

The Republican presidential candidates are all on the Web. Fine. Most of them have even taken the first, halting steps into the brave new world of social media. They have MySpace pages, load video up to YouTube, and control their Facebook profiles. That’s delightful — probably even good for democracy. But as of yet, you haven’t seen one of them (who isn’t named Ron Paul) embrace the change that the Internet has wrought.
Joe Trippi believes that is going to hurt them badly in the general election.
In a video recorded by a blogger for TechPresident (which does a terrific job chronicling the ways in which technology is transforming presidential politics) the current Edwards strategist and former Dean guru sounds off in a segment that strikes me as particularly unguarded, and interesting.

MLK DVD Shows How to Handle Heat

Senators Jim Webb and Lindsay Graham got into a fierce dust-up on Meet the Press a few weeks ago. If you had to score the thing, you would give Webb the edge, because he was right and his credibility came through. But neither Senator was particularly well-served by the acrimonious exchange. You could almost hear viewers hoping for a more enlightening discussion switching channels from coast to coast.
This sort of thing happens on interview/debate programs fairly often. Politicians spend big bucks hiring consultants to upgrade their media skills. But you have to wonder if they do much good, when you see so many elected officials losing cool under fire.
There are precious few contemporary role models for displaying genuine grace and dignity when they are getting grilled by press or critics. But there is a wonderful DVD, “King: Man of Peace in a Time of War,” which shows how it is done. In one segment, Dr. King is interviewed by Mike Douglas and Tony Martin. Despite the Mike Douglas Show’s softball format at the time, both men ask King some tough questions about his then controversial opposition to the Vietnam War. King answers calmly and deliberately with substantive answers, all the while displaying a friendly, open spirit towards his questioners. There is no bristling or anger, nary a trace of off-putting sarcasm or snark. At the end of the interview, King’s winning maturity leaves viewers and questioners alike somewhat awestruck.
MLK was rightly celebrated for his ability to turn on the heat in his speeches. But he also understood the power of cool. Few leaders have King’s remarkable gifts. But that doesn’t mean today’s public figures can’t learn from him. The DVD costs just $12.99 at Amazon — highly recommended for all Democratic candidates.

Iraq Quagmire Factoids a Dismal Litany for GOP

Democratic speechwriters and candidates have an article to plunder at The Nation, where Tom Engelhardt posts a Harper’s index-style collection of factoids shining a bright light on the out-of-control costs of the Iraq quagmire. A little taste:

Number of attacks from June 2006 through May 2007 on U.S. supply convoys guarded by private-security contractors: 869, a near tripling from the previous twelve months.
Estimated monthly cost of the Iraq (and Afghan) Wars: $12 billion–$10 billion for Iraq–a third higher than in 2006, according to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service.
Estimated number of bullets fired by U.S. troops for every insurgent killed in Iraq (or Afghanistan): 250,000, according to John Pike, director of the Washington military-research group GlobalSecurity.org. This comes out to 1.8 billion rounds of small-arms ammunition yearly. With U.S. munitions factories unable to meet the demand, 313 million rounds of such munitions were purchased from Israel last year for $10 million more than if produced domestically.
Estimated cost of deploying an American soldier to Iraq for one year: $390,000, according to the Congressional Research Service.

And this jaw-dropper:

Percentage of dollars annually appropriated by the U.S. government and spent on Iraq-related activities: More than 10%, or one dollar out of every 10, according to the CBO’s Sunshine.

Pretty much the same thing as a 10 percent surtax, and to fight an unprovoked, undeclared, unwinnable war opposed by large margins of both the American and Iraqi people.

Will Huckabee’s Faux Populism Gain Traction?

David Sirota’s HuffPo article “Dems Beware: An Economic Populist Is Rising In the GOP” about the possible elevation of Mike Huckabee to the first tier of the GOP field merits a read from Dem oppo researchers. Whether or not Huckabee gets any more traction beyond his 2nd place finish in the Iowa straw poll, his particular brand of “populist” rhetoric with no policies behind it may catch on with Republicans, on the theory that you can indeed fool some of the people some of the time.
Sirota points out that Huckabee did sign legislation raising the minimum wage and limiting public smoking in Arkansas, both unpopular with the corporate crowd. Huckabee, arguably the cleverest purveyor of one-liners among all the presidential candidates has mastered the folksy delivery that works well with his bogus populist pitch. Sirota quotes some lines from Huckabee speeches Ralph Nader could agree with, but cautions:

I think a lot of Huckabee’s rhetoric is just that: Rhetoric. I say that because while he shows courage in actually talking about these issues that many other Republicans (and some Democrats) refuse to talk about, he supported many typical regressive Republican policies in Arkansas and on the campaign trail today he reverts back to failed right-wing ideologies when he talks about “solutions,” offering up proposals that would actually make things far worse. As just one of many examples, notice that the Atlantic reports that his Iowa operation is being fueled by a group whose single goal is replacing the mildly progressive income tax with one flat national sales tax – a proposal that Huckabee supports even though experts (including top Reagan administration economic officials) admit would result in a massive tax increase on the middle-class and a massive tax cut for those CEO rip-off artists Huckabee rails against.

In his “Huckabee Who?” post at the AFL-CIO Now Blog, Seth Michaels agrees with Sirota about Huckabee’s track record:

Huckabee’s record as governor of Arkansas is far from a good fit for working families, even though he signed legislation to raise the state’s minimum wage and authorize ARKids First, a program that offers health benefits for low-income children…In fact as a presidential candidate, his primary domestic agenda item is a national sales tax that would hit poor and middle-income families the hardest, and he’s spoken favorably about privatized Social Security accounts.

At this point it may seem doubtful that Huckabee could derail Romney’s gilt-edged juggernaut. But Huckabee stands out in the GOP pack, and that’s just the sort of profile New Hampshire voters have often found appealing. Dems should not be caught unprepared by a GOP candidacy fueled by faux populism.

Electoral College Reform — The Right Way

Jennifer Steinhauer’s New York Times report “States Try to Alter How Presidents Are Elected” illuminates an interesting dilemma for Democrats. Stehhauer writes about the GOP-led effort to change California election law to to apportion the state’s electoral votes by Congressional district, instead of the existing winner-take-all system of allocating state electoral votes. Dems quite correctly see this as a thinly-veiled plot to take some of their California electoral votes, which would surely happen, should the proposal be enacted.
When a recent effort to do pretty much the same thing in North Carolina came close to passing, however, many Dems were encouraged. Why? because Dems would almost certainly pick up a few districts and therefore a few electoral votes in the tarheel state, enough to have put Al Gore in the White House in 2000, if apportionment of electoral votes by district had been in place at that time. (Chris Bowers wrestles with the N.C. reform proposal in his Open Left post here). According to Steinhauer, DNC Chair Howard Dean, on learning of the GOP’s California gambit, persuaded the N.C. Democratic leaders to table the measure until next session.
What’s wrong with apportioning of electoral votes by district? Steinhauer explains it this way:

Had the electoral votes been allocated by Congressional district nationwide in 2000, President Bush’s electoral margin of victory would have been just over 7 percent, or eight times his take that year, according to FairVote.

While it would have been nice to pick up a few electoral votes in N.C., it would have weakened Dems’ arguments against the same reform in CA.
Republicans can’t be credible in appealing for the apportionment of electoral votes by district as a “reform.” Last year, the California Assembly passed a bill to award all of the state’s electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill.
The most promising way to get rid of the electoral college is the interstate compact approach, in which a group of states with a majority of electoral votes (270) each passes legislation committing all of their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote nationwide. According to the National Popular Vote Bill website,

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee that the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in all 50 states will win the Presidency. In April 2007, Maryland became the first state to enact the bill. So far, the bill has passed 11 legislative chambers. In 2007, the bill passed the Arkansas House, California Senate, Colorado Senate, and North Carolina Senate as well as both houses in Hawaii, Illinois, and Maryland. In 2006, the bill passed the Colorado Senate and both houses in California.

The NPV website has a nifty map showing the progress of the reform on a broader scale. Rob Richie and Ryan O’Donnell of Fairvote further explain the approach in their TomPaine.com post here.
The NPV campaign does seem to be gathering momentum. This may be our best shot at preventing a replay of the 2000 debacle.