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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Daily Strategist

June 21, 2018

Can Dems Unify Party on Iraq in ’07?

It’s all about the Clinton-Obama-Geffen dust-up in the blogs today. But over at TomPaine.com, David Corn, Washington editor of The Nation, draws a bead on the more problematic conflict within the Democratic Party in his post “The Democrats’ Iraq Civil War”:

A civil war may be brewing in the Democratic Party over Iraq. There are Democrats who want to take immediate and concrete steps to end the war. They want to force withdrawal through legislation. And there are Democrats who essentially do not want to go first. They want to push President George W. Bush to clean up the mess he made so that he, not the Democrats, will bear responsibility for how the war ends (which could be nastily). Both sides were able to agree on a nonbinding resolution decrying Bush’s surge and declaring support for the troops. But now that such a resolution has passed in the House and died in the Senate, the issue is, what’s next?

Corn reviews the various intitiatives being proposed in the House and Senate and the positions of the Presidential candidates. It’s a dicey, high stakes game, with all parties fearful of being depicted as somehow less supportive of the troops. The latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll, for example, indicates that 63 percent of respondents oppose sending more troops to Iraq, but 60 percent oppose cutting off funds for the additional troops President Bush wants to send to Iraq. In between these two simplistically-stated options, there are a wide range of alternatives that respondents haven’t yet been asked.
It may be too much to hope that Democrats will unite behind an Iraq withdrawall/redeployment strategy after the primaries designate the presidential nominee, as early as next February. But even if they do, it could be too late to do much good. If the “surge” fails to produce positive results by the end of summer this year — and there is no reason to think it will succeed, given Bush’s track record so far and the deteriorating situation on the ground in Iraq — more voters will want to see funds cut off and troops coming home before the first primaries. How well the Dems respond in the Fall months of ’07 may well decide who wins the white house.

Bloggers Illuminate Dem Strategy in Hump Day Wrap-up

The web yields a hearty handful of articles relevant to Democratic political strategy for your hump-day reading. We’ll start with Kos, who has a brassy pair on today, with “How Democrats Can Utilize the Nine Principles of War” by a poster called The Angry Rakkasan and another by BentLiberal entitled “Dems Must Counter GOP Strategy of Bashing Bush.” Rakkasan may make antimilitarist Dems wince with his uncritical embrace of military terminology, but others may admire the economy of language. In any case Rakkasan offers some good insights, such as the following, under ‘principle 8: Strike the enemy at a time or place or in a manner for which he is unprepared.’:

See Jim Webb for this one. Do you think the Republicans were prepared for the news that a freshman Senator had just refused to shake the hand of the President? I don’t. And that’s why it made the news. By rebuffing the President less than a month after being elected, Senator Webb put both the President and the Republicans on notice—and he also solidified his base of support in the blogoshpere. The act served to galvanize Democrats.

Wondering if McCain, who just trashed Rumsfeld, is starting to run against the Bush Administration, BentLiberal’s Kos post offers this nugget of instructive advice:

We do a pretty good job of branding this as Bush’s war. But we can’t let the GOP use the same tactic to the extent that they extricate themselves from responsibility. They are going to try to shift blame on this war to Democrats after the next election. But before they can do that, they may try to couch it as Bush’s mistakes, but not the party’s. The truth is they’ve had the power to reshape it, to fix it, to stop it for 3 years now. And they haven’t. They are just as culpable as the administration….Our job is not to let the public forget it.

R. Neal’s “More prominent role for the South in presidential primaries?” at Facing South mulls over the heavy front-loading of southern presidential primaries, and offers the following numbers, which should make John Edwards smile:

The Democrats will have a total of 4370 delegates with 2186 needed to nominate, and Republicans will have 2517 delegates, with 1259 needed to nominate. If my arithmetic is right, Southern states with primaries in February plus South Carolina in January represent 44% of the delegates needed to nominate for Democrats, and 49% needed for Republicans.

Thomas Schaller points to what he believes may be the coming loss of Louisiana to the solid red state column in his Salon post, “Losing Louisiana to the GOP.” Schaller and others believe that Dems may lose the Gov and Senate races in ’08 and maybe one house of the state legislature, unless John Breaux runs for Governor. Schaller notes an interesting paradox in the south, which cries out for further explanation.

Louisiana is, at last, about to look a lot more like its Deep South neighbors politically. There has been something of an inverse relationship in recent presidential elections between the share of black voters and Republican performance. That is, the blacker the state, the bigger the Republican margins. Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina are all states with black populations close to or above a third, the highest percentage in the nation — and not a Democratic senator, governor or, since 1992, Democratic electoral vote among them.

Schaller is right about the above factoids. But will somebody — anybody — please explain why, if the south is so hopeless, Democrats currently hold majorities of both houses of the state legislatures in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina and West Virginia (and one House in TN and KY), as well as the governorships of Louisiana, Arkansas, North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee, two U.S. Senate seats in both Arkansas and West Virginia, and one each in Virginia, Florida and Louisiana.
Lastly, we encourage all Dems to check out Chris Bowers’ MyDD post “Primary Season Polling Wishlist,” which makes some excellent suggestions for pollsters conducting horse-race surveys: For example:

Stop pushing undecideds to make up their minds. I am looking in your direction, Gallup. To produce a poll that shows only 3% of the Democratic electorate as undecided at this point is obviously absurd to the point of shameful. Support for all candidates right now is extremely soft, and as such there should be no attempts whatsoever to force the people who respond to your poll to choose a candidate at this time. If you want to provide an accurate snapshot of current public opinion, you simply can’t push undecideds at this point.


Include all candidates who are running. I am looking at you, Survey USA and Siena. Leaving announced candidates out of your questions is basically an in-kind contribution to the candidates you included in the poll. Why should some candidates, and not others, receive free polling information? This also distorts public opinion, in that voters will see all names on the ballot when they go to vote, and in that it artificially inflates the results for the candidates who are included in the polls. This is really bad stuff.

It’s good to see that progressive bloggers are bringing fresh and creative analysis to important stories missed by print and TV.

Lakoff: Progressives Won Big Linguistic Battle

George Lakoff’s latest post, “Escalating Truth” at his Rockridge Institute webpage credits progressives with a significant victory in the linguistic battle for hearts and minds. Lakoff’s article, posted just before the non-binding resolution opposing the increase of U.S. troops in Iraq passed the House, focuses on the media usage of the terms “surge” vs. “escalation.” Says Lakoff:

Escalation is a more accurate description of Bush’s plan. But its use – and the diminished use of surge – did not happen without a disciplined and focused effort by progressives.

Lakoff notes a recent study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, which found that “surge” was the preferred term used by the press over “escalation” by a margin of approximately 9 to 5. However, he explains that the horse race numbers are beside the real point:

The Project for Excellence in Journalism missed the significance. Though it announced “surge” as the “winner,” the real story was being ignored.”Escalation” had 10,112 uses! “Surge” had only 18,118 — relatively small considering that it was the official White House term, the one unquestioning journalists would feel safe using. The point is that “escalation” and its meaning got out there in the press — enough to have a major effect, to blunt and offer a counterforce to the meaning of “surge,” as well as to call attention to the real Bush policy. The Democratic leadership is still using “escalation,” as it should. The idea is out there more than enough, and that is what matters.

Lakoff argues that this was more than just a linguistic skirmish, as some have argued:

People all over the country noticed the “surge” framing immediately, and quickly — and accurately — reframed the President’s proposal as an “escalation.”..The Democratic leadership has been using the word, naming the policy accurately and thus challenging the lie implicit in “surge.” In previous years, before the Democrats became savvy about the importance of accurate framing, they might have just argued against the Bush “surge.”

And he believes it’s also a victory for ‘framing’ as a central element of political strategy:

Conservative ideas and frames must be confronted and contested. Progressives cannot succeed if they treat frames as nothing more than word games, if they fail to understand that the use of a term like surge reinforces the conservative worldview. We are not playing games with words. We are fighting over ideas, and the moral world views that underlie those ideas.

Democrats have clearly learned the lesson that refusing to allow the adversary to define the terms of debate is an essential element of political victory. Lakoff deserves primary credit for promoting this awareness, and, in this battle especially, the progressive blogosphere carried the message far and wide.

‘Coattail Effect’ May Swing Senate

Democrats concerned about shoring up their U.S. Senate margin should read “Senate Races ’08: Down to the Wire Again?” at Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball. Sabato crunches the numbers and covers the big picture, along with some specific Senate races, and concludes:

At least to judge by the early line-up, it will be a surprise if the Senate doesn’t remain highly competitive after November 2008, with neither party having anywhere near the sixty reliable votes needed to run this balky, idiosyncratic institution–the saucer that cools the hot brew in the House teacup.

Sabato opines that at this admittedly early stage, it appears that Dems are slightly more likely to hold the Senate, than lose control. But he warns:

The biggest imponderable is the presidential campaign. Senators like to think they are immune from the coattail effect. They are not. Certainly, coattail has a greater impact on open seat races, such as the ’04 Southern contests mentioned earlier, where the Bush reelection margin pushed Republicans over the finish line in states such as Florida and Louisiana. Yet a large margin for one party’s White House contender can add a few Senate seats all by itself. And then there are all the usual macro forces that are unpredictable but often determinative, including scandals that may arise, or the shape of each state’s economy (if it’s good, the incumbent claims credit, and if it’s bad, the challenger makes the incumbent take some blame). Fear of the unknown keeps both parties on their toes.
This early in the game, we hesitate even to categorize Senate races for 2008. Which senators will retire? Which senators will attract trouble or commit devastating gaffes before the campaign is finished? What will the quality of the challenger turn out to be in each race? How about the comparative financial war chests of the candidates and the national party senatorial committees? (With money, as in so many other aspects of life, size matters.)

A reasonable assessment, and one that underscores the importance of financial contributions to ’08 Senate and presidential candidates, as soon as possible for the latter, given the heavily front-loaded presidential primaries.

Religious Prattle May Hurt Candidates

Kos has a thought-provoking post “Religion, Values and Politics,” offering a cogent argument that political candidates rarely gain much by talking about their religion. He nails it nicely in this nut graph:

Here’s the deal — Republicans have claimed god as their own and perverted religious texts to justify some of the most divisive and hateful policies and discourse in our politics today. And while Corporate Cons, Neocons, and Paleocons have tolerated the Theocons in order to tap into their activist network (none of those other conservative factions have significant boots to help them win elections), fact is it’s created an ugly party that is unelectable in entire regions of the country. No one likes to have their morality dictated by others. And that doesn’t just mean the Religious Right, but those on our side as well.

Kos believes Dems who think Harold Ford’s losing Senate campaign provides a model for emulation are sorely mistaken. He notes that Jim Webb and John Tester won in conservative states “without cheap pandering to the religious set.” He explains further:

They didn’t shoot commercials in churches, embrace hatred of gays, or demand school prayer (all of which Harold Ford did). They didn’t prattle on about “god” at every campaign stop. Yet somehow they were able to win.

Voters do want to know about candidates’ personal values, Kos explains. But candidates who equate values with parroting religious doctrines may be courting defeat. Kos’s article riffs on a discussion underway at Atrios, and both merit a thoughtful read. Nation-wide, there may, indeed be more voters who wish candidates would just shut up about their religion than those who want to hear about it. And just once, wouldn’t it be great to hear some leading politician say “Religion is a deeply personal matter, and I’m just not going to exploit it to jockey for votes.”

Political Ads Now a ‘Huge Revenue Opportunity’ for Bloggers

Today’s Wall St. Journal has an interesting article about the power of the blogosphere as a medium for political advertising. In the article, “Candidates Find A New Stump In the Blogosphere,” author Amy Schatz notes that internet political ads are increasing sharply

With 18 candidates vying for the most open race for the White House in 80 years and front-runners on both sides announcing plans to forgo public financing, the 2008 election promises to be a huge revenue opportunity, not just for TV broadcasters….All told, online spending by candidates, political parties and third-party special-interest “soft money” groups, like Moveon.org, could hit $80 million during the 2008 cycle compared with $29 million in 2004, according to an estimate by PQ Media LLC, a Connecticut research firm.

The boom in ads for political blogs is proving to be lucrative for high traffic political websites, although TV still rules in terms of ad revenues, explains Schatz:

Internet ad spending is small compared with spending on traditional radio, broadcast and cable advertising. The best-read blogs still charge comparably little for ads. A standard-size weekly ad purchased through Blogads costs $2,900 on the progressive site DailyKos for example, or $250 at Hotair.com, a conservative video blog site. By comparison, a 30-second broadcast television spot could set back a candidate anywhere from $90,000 to $110,000 a week in a market like Des Moines, according to Evan Tracey of the TNS Media Intelligence’s Campaign Media Analysis Group.

Campaigns know, however, that they are targeting a high number of opinion leaders and politically active net-surfers when they advertise on particular blogs.

The most popular political blogs reach a daily audience of just a few million readers, according to a study released last October by George Washington University’s Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet. But they are more likely than the general public to actively participate in the political process. The study found that about 75% of daily political-blog readers are male, about 40% are between 35 to 54 years old and 42% reported an annual income of $100,000 or more.

So far bloggers’ content has not been influenced by their advertisers, and Schatz cites examples of bloggers biting the hands that feed them. The article also discusses the internet ads of several presidential candidates, including John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and John McCain.

No Longer Missing?

by Scott Winship
Longtime readers of TDS–by which I mean those of you who read it last fall–remember the, um, spirited debate we hosted over an essay by Third Way, “Missing the Middle“. Authors Anne Kim, Adam Solomon, and Jim Kessler argued that Democrats’ economic message to the middle class failed to resonate with voters because it was unduly pessimistic and focused on security rather than opportunity. Their critics responded that economic insecurity is prevalent–often with good reason. Secondarily, discussants asked, “Where’s the Beef?”, noting the absence of a coherent policy agenda that flowed from their analysis.
Today Third Way rolled out its initial effort to respond to these criticisms–“The New Rules Economy: A Policy Framework for the 21st Century“. The report begins by debunking “myths” of neopopulism and conservatism. It then takes the next step of presenting nine “new rules” of today’s economy, as well as proposals to address the gaps between our old-rules policy framework and the new rules. You could think of it as a “third path”, no, a “middle way”, or….what’s the phrase I’m looking for?…….
Hil-larious kidding aside, progressives will recognize that there is nothing mushily centrist about Third Way’s policy agenda, though because it rejects the neopopulist critique of the new economy it is not as expansive as many progressives would like. Still, there’s no denying the progressivity of an agenda that advocates wealth-promoting and inequality-reducing “worth at birth accounts”, making college more affordable, greater funding for continuing education, training for workers in industries vulnerable to foreign competition to prepare for better employment in high-growth industries, expanded portability of fringe benefits, expanded child care funding, and having the federal government take over responsibility for some of the health care costs that businesses currently bear (among other laundry-list items). To be sure, it’s a framework viewed from 10,000 feet, but Third Way has a permanent project dedicated to fleshing out the details of these and other ideas.
Seems like an agenda even neopopulists could embrace. Give it a look-see. How does it compare with other progressive policy agendas you’ve seen?

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.

For Democrats, Whistling Past Dixie May be Whistling Past the Graveyard

by Alan Abramowitz
Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science
Emory University
The South is the most conservative and most Republican region of the country. In both the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, the Democratic presidential candidate failed to carry a single state of the old Confederacy, although Al Gore probably did win a majority of the intended votes of Floridians. And even though Democrats made modest gains in the South in the 2006 midterm elections, Republicans continue to hold the large majority of the region’s Senate and House seats.
Looking at the bleak Democratic landscape in the South, Tom Schaller argues in Whistling Past Dixie that not only should Democratic presidential candidates write off the South, they should actively campaign against southern values in order to maximize their electoral prospects in the rest of the country. What Schaller is advocating is not just a non-southern strategy for Democrats, but an anti-southern strategy.
The assumption underlying Schaller’s argument is that not only is the South more conservative than the rest of the nation, but that southern values are now so antithetical to those of voters outside of the region that trying to appeal to southerners will only reduce a candidate’s appeal outside of the region.
But is it true that a candidate who appeals to voters in the South will reduce his appeal in the rest of the country? Based on an examination of the evidence from the past six presidential elections, the answer to this question is a loud and clear no. In fact, the evidence supports the opposite conclusion: the better a presidential candidate does in the South, the better that candidate will do in the rest of the country and, especially, in the key battleground states that determine the outcomes of presidential elections.
In order to test the viability of Schaller’s anti-southern strategy, I examined the correlations among Democratic presidential candidates’ vote margins (Democratic percentage minus Republican percentage) in five states across the last six presidential elections. The five states that I chose included two southern states, Georgia from the Deep South, and North Carolina from the Rim South, and three battleground states, Pennsylvania from the Northeast, Ohio from the Midwest, and Colorado from the Mountain West. The results are displayed in Table 1.
Not only are all of the correlations positive, all of them are very strongly positive—a correlation of 1.0 indicates a perfect relationship between two variables, and most of these correlations are very close to 1.0. It is clear that over the last six presidential elections, the better the Democratic candidate did in Georgia and North Carolina, the better that candidate did in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Colorado.
There is no reason to believe that the positive relationship between a presidential candidate’s appeal in the South and that candidate’s appeal in the rest of the nation, including the key battleground states, will change in the future. The better the Democratic (or Republican) candidate does in the South in 2008, the better that candidate will do in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Colorado that are critical to winning the presidency. That is because southern voters respond in the same way to the candidates and issues as voters in the rest of the country.
No matter whom the Democrats and Republicans nominate for president in 2008, the South will almost certainly be the most difficult region for the Democratic candidate. But is also almost certain that no matter whom the Democrats and Republicans nominate for president in 2008, the better the Democratic candidate does in the South, the better that candidate will do in the rest of the country including the key battleground states and the better that candidate’s chances will be of winning the presidency.

Dither About Blither Bogs Down Senate

The blogosphere is still smokin’ with screeds covering every conceivable angle of the Edwards campaign bloggers flap (from here it looks like he struck a fairly Solomonic compromise as a presidential candidate who appreciates the importance of free speech, the netroots, reproductive rights and Catholic voters in PA.) Meanwhile, print columnist Jules Witcover reminds us that, ahem, there is a war on, and “the world’s greatest deliberative body” is being upstaged by the “lower” House in dealing with it. As Witcover rolls it out in his syndicated column:

With the Senate dithering over whether or not to debate President Bush’s latest troop buildup in Iraq, the Democratic leadership in the House is going ahead next week with debate of its own, thumbing its nose at tradition and protocol.
As the legislative body responsible for such key matters of foreign relations as approving treaties and confirming ambassadors, the Senate customarily leads the way on issues of international consequence. Its 100 members elected statewide revel in its reputation as “the world’s greatest deliberative body,” compared with the House, whose 435 members are often painted as more focused on the needs of their districts.

Witcover goes into considerable detail about the pathos of the spectacle of Senators droning on about procedure to a mostly empty chamber, while the House is about to be set afire with impassioned debate about how to actually disengage from Iraq. He doesn’t give due weight to the narrowness of the Dems’ Senate majority as a causal factor of all this inaction, which underscores the importance of Dems increasing their Senate edge in ’08. Helvidius, over at Taegan Goddard’s Political Insider notes in his post “Kerry’s Cash” that ex-candidate John Kerry has $7.4 mill left over from his ’04 campaign and another $5 mill in his campaign’s legal war chest, and to his credit, Kerry “has pledged to donate a considerable amount” to a new campaign to bring the troops home from Iraq. After reading Witcover’s article, one wonders if maybe the best investment might be the DSCC, so Dems could win a real working majority in the upper chamber in ’08.