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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Daily Strategist

July 17, 2018

New Book Teaches Kids Democratic Values

On the theory that it’s never too early for kids to become good Democrats, political writer Jeremy Zilber has written a nifty picture book for younger children, “Why Mommy Is A Democrat,” nicely illustrated by Yuliya Fursova. In the book, a mother squirrel explains why she is a Dem to her children in simple language. On one page she looks on from her tree house window and says “Democrats make sure we all share our toys just like Mommy does,” while the little squirrels play with blocks. On another she says ‘Democrats make sure we are always safe, just like Mommy does,” while she shields the little ones from a big, fat elephant walking by. The book is reasonably priced at $10, with further discounts for Democratic organizations and candidates (t-shirts, handbags and teddy bears available also). If your little ones still don’t get it after reading the book, just show them a picture of Ann Coulter, preferably not right before bedtime.


Study Ranks Dems on Left-Right Continuum

The National Journal‘s 2006 congressional vote ratings provide a tool for measuring the political leanings of House and Senate Dems. A panel of the magazine’s editors and reporters selected 84 Senate votes and 103 House votes in 2006 designating “yes” or “no” voters as “liberal” or “conservative.” The percentile rankings of the members help identify the most liberal and conservative members.
According to the rankings, the five most liberal Democratic senators, along with their respective percentile scores in the total Senate are: Dick Durbin (IL) 95.2; Barbara Boxer (CA) 95; Ted Kennedy (MA) 93.7; Leahy (VT) 92.5; and Tom Harkin (IA) 92. The five most conservative Democratic Senators are: Ben Nelson (NB) 45.3; Mary Landrieu (LA) 57.5; Mark Pryor (AR) 59.5; Bill Nelson FL) 62.3; Blanch Lincoln 62.3. Based on these scores, the numerical average for Dems would be a rating of 70.2, which only one U.S. Senator hit on the nose — Hillary Clinton (NY). However, this measure is somewhat distorted by Ben Nelson’s score — 8 Republicans ranked higher on the liberalism scale than did Nelson. Subtracting Nelson and Durbin as the highest and lowest-ranking, the new numerical average score for the ideological center of the Senate Dems is 76.25, and the closest Dem Senator is Diane Feinstein with a 76.5 liberalism rating. Independent Senator Lieberman (CT), who caucuses with Dems, scored a more liberal rating, 67.5, than 8 Dem Senators.
In the House, the five most liberal Dem members were: Diane Watson (CA) 97.7; George Miller (CA) 96.5; Raul Grijalva (AZ) 96.2; Hilda Solis (CA) 96.0; and tied for 5th with a 95.5 score were Sam Farr (CA), Barbara Lee (CA), Lynn Woolsey (CA) and Edward Markey (MA). Interestingly, seven of the top ten Dem House liberals were Californians. The five most conservative Dem House members were: Dan Boren (OK) 50.8; Jim Marshall (GA) 50; Gene Taylor (MS) 50; and tied at 49 were Collin Peterson (MN) and Henry Cuellar (TX). The numerical average for House Dems was 69.25, and the closest Dem House members to that score were Brian Higgins 69.2 and Norman Dicks (WA), Brian Baird (WA) and Joe Baca (CA) all with 69.3 “liberal” ratings.
The National Journal study also breaks down votes into economic, social and foreign policy votes with numerical ratings for members of congress based in each category. For a fuller picture of political leanings of congressional Dems, other organizations, including the Americans for Democratic Action, also provide ratings, which calculate evaluations based on some of the same and some different votes.


Watch Pair of ’07 Gov Races for Clues to ’08

While everyone’s focused on the ’08 prez and congressional races, Larry J. Sabato reminds us that there are important gubernatorial races in ’07. Sabato sees statehouse races as more significant than one would gather from inside-the-beltway msm because the states are “laboratories of democracy” and Governors play a critical role in redistricting. In addition, he sees a ‘canary in the mine” reason for paying more attention to these races:

For example, in 1993 Republican gubernatorial victories in the two states up that year, New Jersey and Virginia, presaged the GOP landslide of 1994, and in 2005 Democratic triumphs in the same states hinted at the Democratic wave of 2006.

A good point. Sabato says The key races this year are in Kentucky and Louisiana, with the Mississippi governor’s race a cake walk for the GOP’s Haley Barbour. Sabato goes into considerable detail about individual candidates’ chances in both parties and notes of the Dem’s chances in KY:

the Democrats smell blood, and voters will need a detailed program to follow all the players. There is no obvious favorite at the moment…None of the Democrats comes close to being a shoo-in, and they all have some damage to their goods…It will be a major surprise if there isn’t a run-off primary for the Democrats, and that could drain money and stir acrimony, to the party’s detriment, especially if the GOP has been able to settle on a nominee in May.

Louisiana is looking increasingly like the marquee race of ’07, and the buzz is all about Governor Blanco stepping aside to let former Dem Senator John Breaux take on the GOP’s rising star, Rep. Bobby Jindal. Sabato stops short of giving Breaux the edge, but many believe Jindal would have a very tough time beating him. Looking toward ’08, Sabato sees only one Dem Governor seriously endangered at this point, Washington’s Gregoire, and predicts Dems will retain a majority of the Governorships.
Sabato has much more to say about individual candidates, demographic changes and races, all of which is well worth a read by political strategy watchers.


Felon Disenfranchisement: Key Component of Voter Suppression

Over at TomPaine.com, Kara Gotsch, advocacy director of The Sentencing Project has an update on what is arguably the GOP’s most powerful tool for voter suppression — felon disenfranchisement. Gotsch sums up the problem succinctly:

…an estimated 5.3 million Americans. Forty-eight states (all but Maine and Vermont) and the District of Columbia prohibit inmates from voting while incarcerated for a felony offense. In 35 states, people on parole also cannot vote. And, in the dozen most regressive states, the right to vote can be permanently denied to people with felony records.

That’s right, a dozen states don’t care if you have served your time and paid your debt to society. You still can’t vote — ever.
Gotsch explains how these laws target African Americans, the most reliable constituency of the Democratic Party:

During the Jim Crow era, disenfranchisement laws in southern states were revised to silence the political voice of newly emancipated slaves. Today, racial disparities in the criminal justice system contribute to dramatic rates of felony disenfranchisement for African Americans. Thirteen percent of black men are disenfranchised and as many as 40 percent of black men are projected to lose their right to vote in states that disenfranchise after completion of sentence….

The 2006 elections have increased momentum for reforms to restore voting rights to ex-felons. Reform legislation has been introduced in 20 states. This is critically important in Florida, where Gotsch notes that one million felons have been disenfranchised for life, thanks in part to the leadership of former Governor Jeb Bush. Reformers are hopeful that the new Republican Governor Charles Crist will rise above partisan concerns and sign an executive order restoring voting rights to hundreds of thousans of Floridians who have served their time.
Democrats increased their strength substantially in the state legislatures and among the governorships in the ’06 elections, and now have an unprecedented opportunity to reinstate voting rights to ex-felons. Strengthening a mass movement to restore voting rights to those who have served their time ought to be a top priority of state Democratic parties in ’07 — a cause that serves justice, as well as their party’s future.


Early Polls Have Weak Track Record for Dems

Early horse race presidential polls have an unimpressive track record in predicting the Democratic nominee. In fact, historical experience suggests there is money to be made betting against the current front-runners. As Associated Press reporter Will Lester explains:

…Edmund Muskie in 1972, George Wallace in 1976, Ted Kennedy in 1980, Gary Hart in 1988, Mario Cuomo in 1992 and Joe Lieberman in 2004 were early front-runners among Democrats. None won the nomination.

But, as poll analyst Mark Blumenthal notes in his Pollster.com article “Pew Center on Past Presidential Trial Heats”:

…two of the four that did not win (Cuomo in 1991 and Hart in 1987) “withdrew from the race for reasons other than lagging support in the polls.” So make of that history what you will.

And further, as Blumenthal quotes Pew Research Center’s Nilanthi Samaranayake and Scott Keeter:

the increased front-loading of the primaries and the growing importance of early fundraising means that the dynamics of the nominating process are apt to be somewhat different this election cycle, making comparisons with past elections less useful.

True ’nuff. And there are two exceptions to the trend, as Lester notes:

Democrats nominated a former vice president, Walter Mondale, in 1984, and a sitting vice president, Al Gore, in 2000. For those elections, the early polls were more predictable at picking the front-runner.

Of course, we’ve never had a presidential spouse in early front-runner position before, much less the spouse of a popular President who had eight years of comparative peace and prosperity and who is a popular U.S. Senator. So don’t go betting the ranch that Hillary will tank. But the point that early presidential trial heat polls have little predictive value for Dems is nonetheless worth keeping in mind.
Interestingly, the reverse is true for the GOP, says Lester:

Republicans have picked the early front-runner in seven of the past 10 elections, according to Gallup polling. In the other three elections, Republican incumbents cruised to re-election.

Lester offers a couple of possible explanations for this phenomenon. But could it be that Dems are just more open to change?
None of this is to say that early horse race polls have no value to Dems. They do help candidates identify areas of strength and weakness and who they need to challenge at various stages of the race. The thing to keep in mind is, the early polls help the candidates shape their message, persona and strategy, not those who want to predict the Democratic nominee.
For a peek at who the early “smart money”, i.e. the gambling community, is actually betting on at this stage, check out the surprising current betting odds at Intrade’s web pages.


Getting Past Who Voted How, Said What, When and Why

It’s not hard to find lengthy discusssions about how which candidates voted and/or what they said about the decision to invade and occupy Iraq and how important it is — just throw a dart over your shoulder at your favorite bloglist. It’s just something Democrats have to go through at this early, winnowing stage of the ’08 campaign. The presidential primaries will help resolve the discussion, and in time all good Dems will unify behind the nominee. On the road to that glorious day, we suggest the following to put the discussion in perspective:
In his American Prospect article, “Their Vote Counts,” Michael Tomasky says “apology, schmapology,” those candidates who supported the war early on (Clinton and Edwards) should not get a free ride:

Readers, and voters, will decide for themselves who’s being more honest. For my part, I’ve decided: Neither is, and if only for the sake of remembering things accurately, we should look back at the infamous October 2002 vote in some detail and tell the plain truth about why most Senate Democrats voted to authorize war. It’s one of the most important and fateful votes Congress has cast in recent American history, and it’s very much worth remembering.

One of Tomasky’s American Prospect stablemates, Garance Franke-Ruta, agrees in her article “The Ethics of Apology”:

So, sure, America could use someone who’s able to admit mistakes, and, yes, apologies only count for so much. What America could really use, though, is someone who had the courage to stand up for truth-telling when it really mattered, as it did in 2002 — and who now uses his high-ranking political post to take action to end the war. Obama’s test — his trap — will be whether or not he can do more than introduce well-written and well-intentioned legislation which dies without a vote.

Yet another American Prospect writer, Ezra Klein, makes a more flexible assessment in his piece “Honest Stupidity”:

Had Democrats been thinking more clearly, they would have considered Bush’s record, his competence, his instincts, and just said no. The moment, however, was not one conducive to clear thought. And the question was never framed or explained quite like that. Rather, an array of foreign policy wisemen and self-styled Iraq experts fanned out to speak to those politicians they were closest with and convinced them to vote for the resolution as a way of voting for their personal wars.

And no doubt New Donkey Ed Kilgore speaks for legions with this take, from his “Kos, Vilsack, the War and the DLC”:

Look, I don’t personally mind antiwar Democrats pointing out again and again they were right and others, including the DLC, were wrong on the original decision to go into Iraq…If we are going to go back and examine everyone’s position at every stage of the nightmare in Iraq, it’s not unfair to point out that Howard Dean, during his presidential campaign, said repeatedly that America had a responsibility to stay in Iraq, perhaps for a long time, given our unfortunate decision to go to war.
All this endless recrimination over who said what when after the war started, and who moved as fast or faster than Murtha or Kos in the maximum antiwar direction, is IMHO a big waste of time, and far more divisive than anything emanating from the DLC, much less Tom Vilsack.

Do read the pro and con comments following these articles for more insight and join the fray. But know that first Tuesday in November ’08, nearly all of the candidates’ harshest progressive critics will cast their ballots for the Democratic nominee, regardless of their earlier positions — and that’s a good thing.


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.

And,

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.