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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Daily Strategist

June 19, 2018

Dems’ Future on Line As New Congress Convenes

The Democratic majority takes control of Congress this week for the first time in 12 years, and Lyndsey Layton and Juliet Eilperin have an insightful preview in their WaPo article “Democrats To Start Without GOP Input.” Those who favor a strong “take charge” strategy for Dems over a more bipartisan approach will be encouraged. As Eilperin and Layton note:

Democrats are planning to largely sideline Republicans from the first burst of lawmaking…instead of allowing Republicans to fully participate in deliberations, as promised after the Democratic victory in the Nov. 7 midterm elections, Democrats now say they will use House rules to prevent the opposition from offering alternative measures, assuring speedy passage of the bills and allowing their party to trumpet early victories.

But Speaker Pelosi’s spokesman Brendan Daly indicated that the take charge strategy applies primarily to the much publicized “plan for first 100 hours” when the House convenes on Thursday:

Daly said Democrats are still committed to sharing power with the minority down the line. “The test is not the first 100 hours,” he said. “The test is the first six months or the first year. We will do what we promised to do….We’ve talked about these things for more than a year,” he said. “The members and the public know what we’re voting on. So in the first 100 hours, we’re going to pass these bills”

The authors point out that Senate Democrats will implement a more conciliatory strategy, owing to their slender majority.
WaPo has another article of interest regarding the Dems’ congressional strategy, E. J. Dionne’s “The New Crowd’s First Test,” in which he makes the case that Dems must pass strong ethics legislation. Noting that the November election was the first time since 1954 that Dems have taken back both houses of Congress, Dionne warns:

This allows the new Democratic majority, in principle at least, to come in with no commitments to doing business as it was done in the immediate past…If Democrats don’t seize this rare opportunity, their party will pay for a long time. Not only will they disillusion their own supporters, but, more important, the angry centrists of the Ross Perot stripe who voted the Republicans out last year will either go back to the GOP or seek other options.

More specifically and with respect to ethics reform, Dionne notes:

…any Democrats who think this anti-corruption talk is just a fad should consult a memo written two weeks after November’s elections by Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the incoming chairman of the Democratic caucus and the House’s shrewdest electoral tactician.
Emanuel counted eight districts the Democrats won largely because of corruption issues. The Democrats, he said, need to be the reformers they said they’d be. “Failing to deliver on this promise,” he added, “would be devastating to our standing with the public, and certainly jeopardize some of our marginal seats.”

Dems have an unprecedented opportunity to solidify public support, and ethics reform is clearly Job 1.

Focus: Swing States and Electoral Votes

In long range terms, true blue Dems should be all about the 50 State Strategy, though we may differ on shorter range strategy options. With this in mind, we kick off the New Year — and campaign ’08 — with a look at margins of victory in key swing states in ’04. Swing State Project’s, DavidNYC has a post listing states that voted for Kerry or Bush in ’04 by a margin of less than 10 percentage points. The list includes 21 swing states, here broken down into subcategories (- denotes voting margins for Bush):
Squeekers (0 to 1% margin): WI (0.38); IA (-0.67); and NM (-0.79)
Nail-biters (1 to 3% margin): NH (1.37); OH (-2.10); PA (2.50); and NV (-2.59)
Swingers (3 to 5% margin): MI (3.42); MN (3.48); OR (4.16); and CO (4.67)
Winnables (5 to 8% margin): FL (-5.01); NJ (6.68); WA (7.8); MO (-7.2); DE (7.6)
Do-ables (8 to 10% margin): VA (-8.20); HI (8.75); ME (8.99); AR (-9.76;) and CA (9.95);
Any of these 21 states could provide the pivot in a close election. Nail-biters OH and PA merit heightened concern because they rank 6th and tied for 5th, respectively in electoral votes among all states. Winnables FL and NJ also rank among the top ten of all states in electoral votes. The good news is Dems did extremely-well in ’06 state-wide races in top ten electoral vote states, and demographic trends generally favor Dems in all of them.
Democratic candidates and campaigners will have to navigate the complex demographics, political geography, polls and candidate profiles of the swing states, with an eye focused on building support among swing constituencies and independent voters. Meanwhile, Dem strategists should read the Swing State article and comment thread, which contains some interesting tips for different states.

Dem Seers Chart Course for New Year

The political year-ender articles are appearing in blogs and rags everywhere. Most of them are straight-forward wrap-ups, but a few have some interesting things to say about the Democrats’ future.
Todd Gitlin’s Mother Jones piece “Big Tent. Big Plans?” charts a course for the Democrats’ future. As Gitlin suggests:

Democrats have to contain the tensions already evident under the big tent: netroots vs. apparatchiks, free traders vs. fair traders, red-staters vs. blue-staters, Hillaryites vs. anyone-buts…Don’t bet that the cracks are fated to deepen into fault lines either. Political pros and amateurs alike know that a widening base requires more than “enough is enough.” To build such an alliance, a majority that doesn’t have to rely on winning by margins so skimpy they invite vote fraud, Democrats need to take care of both the immediate no-brainers—minimum wage up, drug prices and college costs down—and the common-good programs that will endure for more than one season.My own middle-term wish list is fourfold: a rapid exit from Iraq along with real Middle East diplomacy; universal health insurance; a return of progressive taxation; and real R&D on energy alternatives, a twofer that creates jobs while addressing global warming. All of these embody liberal principles and skirt what’s left of the culture-war morass.

You know that stuff about Dems making nice and extending a spirit of bipartisan collegiality to the Repubs? Progressive populist Jim Hightower isn’t having any of it. As he puts it in his Alternet year-ender, “Throw the Bums Out and Change Direction”:

…there are still too many go-slow, don’t-rock-theboat, weak-kneed, money-grubbing, corporatized Democrats who won’t break their habits of bedding down with the lobbyists and even the Bushites. They will push hard from inside the Democratic Caucus (while the White House, the money interests and the establishment media pushes from outside) for the majority to “be nice,” move to the corporate right, and agree from the start to surrender half of what they want (and then compromise down from there).
Now is the time for progressives to be more vigilant than ever — focus on what the Democrats are doing and not doing, make loud and clear demands that they do more, and keep organizing at the grassroots level. Just a few months ago, George W. declared, “I’m the decider.” No, he’s not. Neither are the Democrats. You are.

Hightower makes another good point in his article — Dems need to start paying more attention to winning Secretary of State posts in the states to prevent further election theft, the “key to getting a grip on our democracy.”
And Salon‘s Joe Conason warns

…the opportunity to rebuild a governing majority of the center-left could evaporate without being realized…the new Democratic congressional leaders must quickly deliver real government accountability as well as substantial reorganization of their own institutions. While voters may understand that major changes in healthcare, education and environmental stewardship will be difficult to enact under this administration, they will not have much patience for any evasion on reform of Congress.

If there is a common thread in these three posts, it is that Dems don’t have a lot of time to produce and need to get busy to get in optimum position for the ’08 elections.

Dems Expected to Produce Health Care Reform

Few domestic priorities facing congressional Democrats generate more concern among voters than health care reform, and the challenge is aptly encapsulated in the title of Ezra Klein’s op-ed in today’s LA Times“Going universal: The American healthcare system is, simply put, a mess, but we may finally be ready to fix it.” Klein succinctly delineates the dimensions of the health care crisis and discusses some of the current reforms being debated. He believes the time is ripe for health care reform to gain some political traction:

Across the country there are unmistakable signs that the gridlock and confusion sustaining our sadly outdated system are coming to an end and that real reform may finally emerge…Nationally, the Democratic resurgence has returned universal healthcare to the agenda and its advocates to power. In the House, Rep. Pete Stark (D-Fremont), a staunch Medicare-for-all advocate, is expected to be chairman of the health subcommittee.

Dems who want to get up to speed on public opinion on health care reform will find no better place to go than Ruy Teixeira’s article “What the Public Really Wants on health Care” at The Century Foundation. As Teixera notes:

The public desire for change in the health care arena is so strong that policy-makers would be well-advised to start concentrating on the issue now, rather than face the wrath of a frustrated public in the next election cycle.

Teixeira cites opinion data showing that nearly twice as many Americans are more worried about health care costs than unemployment and nearly three in ten say someone in their household has not had needed medical care or medicine during the last year because of cost. Teixeira also shows overwhelming majorities in favor of universal coverage and concludes that “The public is ready for change and the next election cycle is likely to punish those who stand in the way.”
Democrats in congress will have to decide whether “big package” health care reform is now tactically as feasable as a step-by-step approach. But when November ’08 rolls around, it is critical for Dems that a significantly higher percentage of Americans feel their health security has improved.

West, South May Define Political Future

All arguments about party preferences aside, the west and south will likely have a powerful influence on America’s political future as the fastest-growing regions in the nation. So notes Facing South’s Chris Kromm in his article “The Fast-Growing South.” Kromm tales a look at just-released Census data and shows that five of the top ten fastest-growing states in percentage terms are southern states: GA (4th), TX (5th), NC (7th), FL (9th) and SC (10th). Kromm elaborates:

The Northern states hailed as the future of the Democratic Party by some pundits are nowhere to be found on the list. Indeed, as if to answer those who claim the Midwest and Northeast should be the centerpiece of progressive strategy, the Census Bureau observes:
* The Northeast region grew by only 62,000 people. In contrast, the South grew by 1.5 million and the West by 1 million.

Ranking the fastest-growing states in terms of raw numbers, the South looks even more significant, TX (1st), Fl (2nd), GA (4th), NC (6th) and TN (10th).

How Unions and the Democratic Party Can Grow Together

Jim Grossfeld and Celinda Lake illuminate a key challenge facing Democrats and Unions in their American Prospect article “A Union Hearing.” Although the article focuses on new approaches for organizing white collar workers, it includes some fresh insights about how Dems and Labor can help each other grow together. First they outline the problem:

Among Washington’s political cognoscenti it is considered a no brainer that idle chatter about unionism will brand a candidate as a hopelessly unreconstructed “old” Democrat. At the very least, they warn, it would be “off message,” given that voters have about as much interest in labor issues as they do in, say, the Law of the Sea. The upshot of this conventional wisdom is that, today, not many Democrats are willing to step forward to promote unionism. What’s more, few labor leaders even ask them to.

For Dems, this timidity has a price, as Lake and Grossfeld note:

That’s too bad, because by speaking out for unions Democrats could not only help to mobilize public support for one of their most effective and most embattled allies, but also speak to the growing economic insecurity of one of their least reliable constituencies: young, educated, white collar workers, particularly younger women struggling with low wages and high prices.

The authors argue that Democrats must talk more about unions, but in different ways. And targeting millions of white collar workers who are experiencing a growing sense of economic insecurity is critical for prospects for both unions and the Democratic party. As they conclude:

There’s no question that it would be in the labor movement’s interest if more Americans knew about this kind of unionism. But it could also help Democrats, if they embraced it as part of their commitment to helping Americans navigate their way through the new economy. It could be one way that Democrats help workers gain the training, health care, and pensions they need, and create more balance between work and family. Democrats ought to speak out for new unions because they believe partnerships between employers and employees are fundamental to keeping American businesses strong and competitive.
Recently, AFL-CIO Legislative Director Bill Samuel said that it would “take a movement” to pass the Employee Free Choice Act and strengthen the right to organize. With new majorities in the House and Senate, Democrats can help build that movement. And they should. But to do that they need to talk less about unions as they are and more about what they can become. It is not enough to persuade young, college educated Americans that unions are a good things for janitors and poultry workers. They need to understand that this is about their future, too.

If sinking deeper roots in the middle class is a priority for long-range Democratic strategy, reading Grossfeld’s and Lake’s article is a good place to begin.

New Tiger at Helm of DCCC

Speaker-elect Pelosi has had her share of controversial appointments during the last month. But her choice for the new head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (MD), is drawing plaudits from donkeys of all shades. Naturally, WaPo has the best story on the Van Hollen appointment, since his congressional district borders on the capitol. As Ann E. Marimow reports:

Emanuel, who will chair the Democratic Caucus, praised his successor yesterday as a “political strategist and thinker of the first order” and said Van Hollen’s recruitment of House candidates helped create the first Democratic majority elected in 12 years.
“Throughout this election, I sought his advice and counsel in every critical decision I had to make,” Emanuel said in a statement.

Van Hollen knows something about how to beat popular Republican incumbents, having defeated well-liked Rep. Connie Morella to win his seat in Montgomery County. More importantly, Van Hollen is reputed to be a tireless and shrewd workhorse, as Marimow reports:

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) called Van Hollen a hard-working go-getter who should never be underestimated. “He doesn’t take no for an answer. He pursues his goals tenaciously…”
In the past year, Van Hollen worked closely with Emanuel as a leader of the campaign committee’s effort to pick up seats in Republican strongholds. He spent months traveling from Pennsylvania to Ohio and Indiana to identify and mentor candidates, then helped build fledgling campaign and fundraising operations.

It would be hard to top outgoing DCCC Chair Rahm Emanuel’s run-of-the-table on November 7th. But Dems can rest assured that their ’08 House campaign will be at full strength in a few weeks.

NPR/GQR Poll Outlines Dem Mandate

Some broad outlines of the mandate voters gave incoming congressional Democrats are delineated in a new NPR survey conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner 12/7-10. Perhaps the most significant finding, in terms of policies voters would like to see implemented with respect to Iraq, is described thusly in the GQR Executive Summary:

Iraq continues to be the leading concern for voters and our survey finds the public skeptical about achieving stability in Iraq. While a sizable plurality of 44 percent say Iraq will be less stable if the US begins to withdraw troops during the first half of 2007, nearly two-thirds favor withdrawing from Iraq during the first half of 2007 regardless.

Another interesting finding of the poll indicates that voters are not “over” their dissatisfaction with the GOP a month after the mid-term elections, according to the Executive Summary:

Opinion of the Republican party has worsened. Currently 46 percent have an unfavorable opinion of the party.

And even better for the Democrats:

The November election helped Democrats improve their standing as this poll records the highest percentage of favorable feelings toward the Democratic party in the past two years.

The poll also found an 18-point advantage for Dems with respect to generic presidential preferences and only one out of four voters saying the country is “heading in the right direction.” The poll also found that 71 percent of voters wanted congressional Democrats “to work together in a bipartisan way with Republicans and encourage more cooperation and compromising to get things done,” although the poll did not indicate how far voters wanted Dems to compromise on specific issues. For more details see the PDF here and the NPR report here.

Time for Redistricting Hardball?

Democrats now control both houses of 24 state legislatures (20 before the election) and have added 6 governors for a new total of 28. In light of this substantial increase of strength at the state level, should Dems now press the case for redistricting before the next census where we can?
The Democratic Strategist discussed various aspects of “the redistricting myth” in our July roundtable and posts here and here. But things have changed for the better since November 7th, and the new political reality cries out for a reconsideration. Now Jonathan Singer at MyDD kicks off a new debate about redistricting with his post “House 2008: Mid-Census Redistricting in New Mexico?.” Singer is wary of early redistricting in NM in particular, and of redistricting before the census in general:

Voters went to the polls looking for change on November 7 and as a result will have scant patience if Democrats start using the type of strong-arm tactics implemented by Republicans to maintain power over the last dozen years. Secondly, redrawing lines to create more theoretically Democratic districts has the potential to make Democratic support in the remaining districts so thin that the Republicans can come in and challenge previously safe seats, potentially negating any benefits of redistricting.

Singer’s points are well-made, but there may be some cases where pre-census redistricting makes strategic sense, and/or serves fairness. Additionally, the population is so fluid and mobile nowadays that the ten year census provides a flawed reflection of demographic reality. Further, some states conduct their state-wide census counts mid-point between the federal census, so the demographic updates are available. It’s an important strategic choice, which merits a thorough discussion.

Lone Star Donkeys Deliver Sweet #30

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any sweeter, along comes Ciro Rodriguez with an upset run-off victory over 7-term GOP congressman Henry Bonilla in TX-23. This gives the Dems a net 30 pick-up in the House and will leave Republicans without a single Mexican-American member of Congress. So much for the GOP’s pipedreams about winning the support of Hispanic voters. Rodriguez undoubtedly benefitted from the court-ordered redrawing of TX-23. But he also used his party affiliation to good effect. As CQPolitics.com‘s Greg Giroux notes in his New York Times article:

…one of Rodriguez’ biggest added advantages in the runoff campaign was that he could boast of being a member of the House majority if he were to be elected — something he could not definitively claim before the primary, which coincided with the national Election Day.

And don’t let anyone get away with chalking this one up to a Democrat moving to the right. As Giroux notes:

Rodriguez’s win probably will be brandished by political liberals as evidence that they can prevail in partisan battleground districts. Rodriguez voted against authorizing military operations in Iraq; in favor of a minimum wage increase; and against proposed bans of same-sex marriage and “partial birth” abortion.

Yep, that’s right. Deep in the heart of Texas.