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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

A Democratic Political Strategy for Reaching Working Class Voters That Starts from the Actual “Class Consciousness” of Modern Working Americans.

by Andrew Levison

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RUBI Report Highlights Successful Approaches for Rural Democratic Candidates

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The culturally traditional but non-extremist working class voters: who they are, how they think and what Democrats Must Understand to regain their support.

As the 2022 and 2024 elections approach Democrats have responded to their declining working class support by proposing variations on one or another of two strategies that they have advocated ever since the 1970’s.

“Peaceful Protest” vs. “Rioting” is a False Choice.

There’s a Militant, Powerful Strategy for Protesting Police Injustice

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Democrats Will Lose Elections in 2022 and 2024 if They do Not Offer a Plausible Strategy for Reducing the Surge of Immigrants at the Border.

Read on…

The Daily Strategist

March 22, 2023

Barabak: Democratic Gains In Colorado Open Up ‘New West’

For an optimistic look at the Democratic party’s future, check out Mark Z. Barabak’s column, “From red bastion to blue bulwark: What political shift in Colorado and West means for U.S.” at The Los Angeles Times. Among Barabak’s observations:

For much of its history, the West was Republican ground. Today, it’s a bastion of Democratic support, a shift that has transformed presidential politics nationwide. Mark Z. Barabak will explore the forces that remade the political map in a series of columns called “The New West.”

In the last two decades, the Republican ranks in Colorado have shrunk drastically, to just a quarter of registered voters, as the once reliably red state has turned a distinct shade of blue.

In the last two decades, the Republican ranks in Colorado have shrunk drastically, to just a quarter of registered voters, as the once reliably red state has turned a distinct shade of blue.

The transformation is part of a larger political shift across the West: along the Pacific Coast, through the deserts of Nevada and Arizona, into the Rocky Mountain states of Colorado and New Mexico. Once a Republican bulwark, the region has become Democratic bedrock. That, in turn, has reshaped presidential politics nationwide.

With a big chunk of the West — California, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington — seemingly locked up, Democrats are free to focus more heavily on the perennial battlegrounds of the Midwest and venture into once-solidly Republican states such as Georgia.

Barabak plans to visit western states for a series “to explore the forces that remade the political map.” Further,

The changes didn’t just happen, like the snow embroidering the Rockies in winter, or the runoff that swells Colorado’s icy rivers in the spring. It took money, strategy, demographic changes and, not least, a sharp rightward turn by Republicans.

The series, called “The New West,” begins in Colorado, as no state in the region has changed its partisan coloration as emphatically over the last two decades. “From a western swing state, it has become a Democratic stronghold,” said pollster Floyd Ciruli, who’s sampled public opinion in Colorado for more than 40 years.

In 2004, Democrats essentially gave up and wrote the place off; they’ve carried Colorado in every presidential contest since. In 2020, Joe Biden romped to a 13-point win over President Trump, the largest Democratic victory here in more than half a century.

Barabak explains that “Colorado has long been a magnet for twenty- and thirty-somethings, drawn by the state’s mouthwatering scenery, outdoorsy lifestyle and, more recently, its thriving tech and service industries.” Also,

What has changed are those who’ve found their home in the Democratic Party: They are younger, more affluent, better educated, and more liberal on issues such as abortion and gay rights….In short, Democrats are now much more in tune with Colorado, one of the best-educated and socially liberal states in the country, as the Republican base has gotten older, less educated, more evangelical and more Trumpy.

However, “The state is “not a playground for the fringe left,” said Chris Hughes, a former Colorado Democratic Party chairman. “It’s not a state like Maryland, where whoever the Democrat is they’ll win.”….“Coloradans tend to be very moderate,” said Democratic strategist Craig Hughes. “Anyone who puts personal ideology over solutions is going to run afoul of the Colorado electorate.”

In terms of party preference, “Unaffiliated voters are the majority at 45%, followed by Democrats at 28% and Republicans at 25%; for decades the parties were at rough parity, with about a third of the electorate each.)….Republicans were in decline in Colorado well before Trump bulled his way into the White House. The former president’s deceit and the mayhem he spawned hastened the free fall.”

Despite the grotesque underrepresentation of California in the U.S. Senate, the west may soon lead the way to a stable Democratic majority in both houses of congress and a more secure Democratic hold of the presidency. But it won’t happen automatically, and it will require that Democrats successfully ‘brand’ their party as the rational alternative to the G.O.P.’s extremist drift.

Teixeira: Dems Make Three Risky Bets

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his Washington Post column:

Democrats are making three big bets as they prepare for the 2024 election. None are certain to pay off.

First, Democrats are assuming — or hoping — that Donald Trump, Mr. MAGA himself, will be the Republican nominee. Given the solid 30 percent of GOP voters that back the former president, this calculation isn’t crazy, but it’s hardly a sure thing. Trump’s popularity with Republican voters has fallen, and influential Republican donors, operatives and politicians are turning against him. After stinging losses in 2020 and 2022, Republicans are desperate for a winner.

The uncomfortable fact for Democrats is that other Republican candidates will present a more favorable age contrast to President Biden and, by virtue of not being Trump, will be much harder to depict as unhinged extremists. Partisan Democrats, especially partisan liberals, might well believe that all GOP candidates are exactly the same and exactly as evil. But they should not mistake their own views for those of ordinary voters.

Political Strategy Notes

In “It’s long overdue we’ve corrected this injustice. Minnesotans celebrate new law restoring voting rights to felons” as kstp.com Richard Reeve writes, “On March 3, Governor Tim Walz signed the Felon Voting Rights Bill….According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Minnesota now joins 21 other states in automatically restoring voting rights after release from prison.” According to the ACLU Felony Disenfranchisement Map, in Maine and Vermont, imprisoned people can legally vote. In NY and CT, people who have served their time and who are not on parole can vote. Those who are not in prison can vote in: CA; OR; NV; UT; CO; MT; IL; MI; IN; OBH; PA; MD; NJ; MA; NH and RI.  “Some. people with felony convictions” can not vote in: WY; AZ; IA; MS; AL; TN; and FL. In all other states, “people with felony convictions can vote on completion of sentence.” In October, The Sentencing Project reported a study indicating that 4.6 million Americans, about 2 percent of the voting age population, were denied their voting rights because of a felony conviction. “According to the report, “1 in 19 African-Americans of voting age is disenfranchised, a rate 3.5 times that of non-African Americans….Among states, Florida has the highest number of disenfranchised citizens, with more than 1.1 million people currently prohibited from casting a ballot. Most of those individuals, researchers say, are disenfranchised simply because they cannot afford to pay court-ordered fees or fines….According to the Sentencing Project, state-level disenfranchisement rates range from 0.15% in Massachusetts to more than 8% in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.”  For a discussion of “Constitutional Considerations,” related to the issue, check out “Is the Disenfranchisement of People with Felony Convictions Unconstitutional?” at felonvoting.procon.org. What is needed to gauge the electoral effects off felon disenfranchisement is a study showing what percent of convicted felons vote where they are allowed to do so.

“President Joe Biden is taking a number of steps to negate potential Republican attacks and he’s telling progressives they’ll have to stomach some tough policy compromises. But the White House insists you not call it triangulation,” Jonathan Lemire and Daniella Diaz report in “Here Dems are, stuck in the middle with Biden: The president is calculating that liberals will stick with him despite decisions on oil drilling, immigration, crime bill and more” at Politico….”Over the past few weeks, the president has said he would not stop a bill overriding changes to D.C. criminal code, announced a historic new drilling initiative in Alaska, and entertained reinstating family detention to deter migration along the southern border….The White House argues that there has not been a coordinated, deliberate strategy to move to the center as a likely reelection campaign approaches. Rather, it says the series of moves were the product of inadvertent timing or simply Biden acting on long-held positions, like on crime. Aides have also pointed to his previous willingness to break with progressives, such as during his 2020 primary campaign or even his first two-plus years in office. But the president’s political advisers are also calculating that liberals in his party will have no choice but to stick with him when it’s time to hit the polls.” My hunch is that this is a fairly well-reasoned risk. What are progressives going to do, not vote and let Trump or DeSantis run the country? In America’s highly-polarized electorate, centrist votes are more malleable than those on the left or right.

On that topic, Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. argues in “First, Biden was FDR. Now he’s Clinton. (Spoiler alert: He’s neither.)” that “The evidence that Biden has veered to the center rests largely on three moves: his refusal to defend the right of the D.C. Council to rewrite the city’s criminal code and reduce penalties for some offenses; the apparent toughening of his stance on immigration (although the particulars are still under debate inside his administration); and his approval of oil drilling on certain federal lands in Alaska, which angered environmentalists….Standing up for D.C.’s democratic autonomy against carping Republicans in Congress would have been the right thing to do, and most House Democrats voted against rescinding the code….In going along with the Republican effort to scrap the reform, Biden’s defenders say he is simply being true to his history of toughness on law-breaking. But let’s face it: Most Democrats, including Biden, are adapting to an increasingly tough public mood on crime….Yet even if you stipulate that Biden is executing some tactical maneuvers to fend off Republican attacks, there is a forest-and-trees problem in using a handful of decisions to declare a wholesale change in his presidency….That’s why, despite some grumbling, there is not a revolt against him among progressives. They see Biden as closer to their view than any president in decades on core economic questions, including taxes, trade, labor, inequality and regulation.”

At The Guardian, David Smith reports , “Indivisible is targeting little-known GOP House members in swing districts for the 2024 election. Co-founder Ezra Levin says: ‘They are basically Marjorie Taylor Greenes in how they vote’…Juan Ciscomani. Tom Kean Jr. Brian Fitzpatrick. Marc Molinaro. David Schweikert. Brandon Williams … Many Americans would struggle to identify who these people are or what they do….They are all, in fact, Republican members of Congress. And progressive activists argue that their fate is more crucial to the future of American democracy than more high-profile rightwing political figures such as Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene….Indivisible, a leftwing political umbrella movement founded in response to Donald Trump’s election as president in 2016, has launched a campaign to unseat 18 Republican members of the House of Representatives from districts that Joe Biden won in the election of 2020….The “Unrepresentatives” initiative is based on the premise that these 18 districts – not the safe, deep red ones of Gaetz and Greene – will determine if Republicans maintain control of the US lower chamber next year. They are the “Achilles heel” of the Maga (Make America great again) House….Although the 18 are in swing districts, they are not really moderates. They are under pressure to raise money for their next election campaign. That means they have to make commitments to donors about how they will vote in Congress – which is in line with Greene and the Maga wing of the party about 95% of the time….These Republicans work hard to cultivate a low profile away from the bright lights of Fox News or other rightwing media, steering clear of hot button topics such as abortion or Maga circuses such as the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)….But now Levin, a former congressional staffer, intends to shine a light on them and ensure they have no hiding place….“We have a clear goal and that is: let’s make these folks famous – famous locally, specifically. Let’s make it as clear as possible to their constituents that they are in fact backing up the Maga majority.”

Nathan Gonzales: House Battleground Looks Split

From “Battleground looks evenly split in first House ratings for 2024: Biden would have won nine of 10 districts with Toss-up races” by Nathan Gonzales at Roll Call: 

While it took more than a year for the 2022 House battleground to come into focus because of redistricting, this cycle is less complicated. With district lines in place in the vast majority of states and one cycle worth of election results, it’s easier to identify most of the competitive seats where both parties will be spending their resources this cycle.

But Republicans’ narrow 222-213 majority means there’s still plenty of uncertainty about which party will control the House in 2025.

The initial House battleground comprises 66 competitive races, with each party defending 33 of the vulnerable seats. The symmetry is unintentional, and not necessary for nonpartisan analysis (remember the imbalance of the Senate battleground, where Democrats are defending eight seats and Republicans none). Rather, it’s more the result of an evenly divided Congress in an evenly divided country.

Technically, Democrats need a net gain of five seats for a majority. But that number obscures the added disadvantage Democrats will have if Republicans are able to draw new, friendlier congressional maps in Ohio and North Carolina. (Individual ratings in those two states’ 29 districts will be done after there’s more clarity on the redistricting situation and new maps.)

Joe Biden carried 11 of the 12 initial toss-up races in 2022, giving Democrats a path to the majority assuming the Democratic presidential nominee can match or exceed Biden’s 2020 performance. Democratic House candidates will likely need to replicate 2022, when they overperformed and won the vast majority of toss-up races.

It looks like Republicans have a narrow initial advantage to hold the House, but the top of the ticket will matter once again. In 2020, only 16 districts voted for a presidential candidate from one party and a House candidate from another. And just 23 of 435 seats voted for one party’s presidential nominee in 2020 and then the other party’s House nominee in 2022.

Gonzales also provides lists of district leanings for the following categories: Toss-Up; Tilt Democratic; Lean Democratic; Likely Democratic; and the same categories for the Republicans.

DeSantis/Trump Alliance on Ukraine May Create Larger GOP Divisions

Ron DeSantis’ sudden lurch into a position opposing U.S. assistance to Ukraine may unravel his own 2024 coalition and introduce splits into the entire GOP, as I explained at New York:

Cynics have wondered if Ron DeSantis’s recent emergence as a populist culture warrior is a bit of an opportunistic act meant to help him both sideline and co-opt Donald Trump’s MAGA movement in the 2024 presidential race. After all, before Trump helped lift him to the Florida governorship, DeSantis was a congressman with a conventional conservative profile. He was a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus back when its claim to fame was a favoring fiscal austerity even if that meant cutting popular retirement programs (as Trump has acidly pointed out). DeSantis’s recent antics could be seen as an attempt to attract both Trump supporters and Republicans who have had enough of the 45th president but know that some Trumpism is necessary to win the election.

If that’s his play, DeSantis may have taken it a bit too far in his recent about-face on Ukraine, which he broadcast in an interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson. As my colleague Jonathan Chait explains, the governor didn’t just hedge his strong support in Congress for U.S. aid to Ukraine or criticize Joe Biden’s handling of the conflict. Nor did he only describe Ukraine’s plight as the lesser of competing priorities — as he has done in the very recent past. No, he systematically went through the isolationist catechism on Ukraine, describing Russia’s aggression as a “territorial dispute” in which both sides are at fault while denouncing U.S. aid as “wasteful” and our whole posture as risking nuclear war.

This all sounded pretty familiar, Trump immediately noted, saying that DeSantis is “following what I am saying. It is a flip-flop. He was totally different. Whatever I want, he wants.”

Nikki Haley, another announced candidate in the 2024 Republican presidential contest, agreed. “President Trump is right when he says Governor DeSantis is copying him — first in his style, then on entitlement reform, and now on Ukraine. I have a different style than President Trump, and while I agree with him on most policies, I do not on those. Republicans deserve a choice, not an echo,” Haley said in a statement, per the Washington Examiner.

More generally, the backlash to DeSantis’s comments on Ukraine from key members of the Republican Establishment in the U.S. Senate was quite intense — with Lindsey GrahamJohn CornynMarco RubioJohn Thune, and Mitt Romney all deploring his new position with varying degrees of heat. Former governor and 2016 presidential candidate Chris Christie went furthest, saying that DeSantis “sounds like Neville Chamberlain talking about when Germany had designs on Czechoslovakia.”

One of conservatism’s major media pillars, The Wall Street Journal editorial board, blasted DeSantis for a “puzzling surrender this week to the Trumpian temptation of American retreat,” comparing his indifference to Russian aggression unfavorably to Ronald Reagan’s “peace through strength” posture toward adversaries like the Soviet Union. The editorial’s headline calls this DeSantis’s “first big mistake,” reflecting its perceived importance.

DeSantis is even getting serious guff over his Ukraine repositioning in the pages of National Review, which is often described as a “fanzine” for the Florida governor. National Review regular Noah Rothman denounced DeSantis’s statement to Carlson as “weak and convoluted” and “likely to haunt DeSantis in both the primary campaign and, should he make it that far, the general election. Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is a ‘dispute’ over territory in the same way a bank robber and depositor have a ‘dispute’ over money.” Just as telling was National Review senior political correspondent Jim Geraghty’s defensive treatment of the Ukraine flip-flop as a piece of cheap campaign demagoguery that DeSantis would likely abandon if he actually makes it to the White House.

One pertinent question is how GOP voters feel about Ukraine and U.S. support for the beleaguered country. As Charlie Sykes notes, the party’s rank and file are divided: “A Pew poll in January found that 40 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents think the United States is giving too much aid to Ukraine, a number that has been steadily rising. But 41 percent still thought that we were not giving them enough, or that the aid was ‘about right.’” That means the sweet spot for GOP candidates is probably to attack Biden for all-purpose “weakness” — saying he emboldened thugs like Vladimir Putin, then overcompensated by making commitments to Ukraine that may exceed legitimate national interest. DeSantis has clearly gone beyond that safe posture and into America First disdain for the whole “dispute.”

The risk for DeSantis is more than just stoking doubts among some GOP primary voters, who are probably more interested in his anti-woke crusade in Florida than in what sort of foreign policy he might pursue in office. And the issue isn’t that he’s “copying” Trump, though that’s not a good look either. The bigger strategic problem is that DeSantis is trying to put together a mind-bending coalition that includes some Trump supporters as well as anti-Trump Republicans. Senator Mitt Romney, for example, seemed to hint recently that it was time for other potential candidates to give DeSantis a clean shot at the reigning champ.

What DeSantis is saying about Ukraine is precisely the kind of thing that could repel many anti-Trump Republicans or drive them into the arms of other candidates. And other GOP candidates will likely be quick to exploit a joint DeSantis-Trump position on Ukraine that alienates some GOP voters and a lot of GOP elites. Mike Pence is especially likely to join Haley in speaking out on the issue, as his mantra has been that “there is no room in this party for apologists for Putin.” In seeking to co-opt Trump on this issue, DeSantis may be shrinking what looked like a very big tent of post-Trump Republicans who looked to him as ringmaster.

Political Strategy Notes

In his New York Times column, “The Era of Urban Supremacy Is Over’,” Thomas B. Edsall addresses a major demographic trend that will put increasing pressure on the Democratic Party: “Most of the nation’s major cities face a daunting future as middle-class taxpayers join an exodus to the suburbs, opting to work remotely as they exit downtowns marred by empty offices, vacant retail space and a deteriorating tax base….The most recent census data “show almost unprecedented declines or slow growth, especially in larger cities,” William Frey, a demographer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, emailed in response to my query….From July 1, 2020, to July 1, 2021, “New census data shows a huge spike in movement out of big metro areas during the pandemic,” Frey wrote in an April 2022 paper, including “an absolute decline in the aggregate size of the nation’s 56 major metropolitan areas (those with populations exceeding 1 million).”….This is the first time, Frey continued, “that the nation’s major metro areas registered an annual negative growth rate since at least 1990.”….The beneficiaries of urban population decline are the suburbs….Even more damaging to the finances of major cities is the fact that the men and women most likely to move to the suburbs are among the highest-paid key sources of income and property tax revenues: workers with six-figure salaries in technology, finance, real estate and entertainment. Those least likely to move, in turn, are paid much less, working in service industries, health care, hospitality and food sales….There is a striking interaction between the Covid-driven exodus from the cities and changing racial and ethnic urban populations. From 2020 to 2021, the nation’s 56 largest metropolitan areas saw a cumulative decline of 900,000 in their white populations, Frey reported….In an August 2022 essay titled “White and Youth Population Losses Contributed Most to the Nation’s Growth Slowdown,” Frey wrote that, among the metropolitan areas with populations in excess of one million, “43 saw absolute declines in their white populations. Sixteen saw absolute declines in their Black populations, and six saw declines in Latino or Hispanic and Asian American populations.”

“The question facing large cities, especially the older cities in the North,” Edsall continues, “is whether they can break what urban experts now call an urban doom loop. The evidence to date suggests that things are not improving much….the percentage of days employees worked from home shot up from 5 percent to 60 percent in the early months of the pandemic and then began to decline, stabilizing at just over 25 percent for the last year….At the same time, employers are finding that the opportunity to work two to three days at home is a very attractive perk to be able to offer prospective hires and to keep valued workers. [economist Nicholas] Bloom found that, on average, employees view an offer to work part of the week at home as equivalent to an 8 percent raise….If that were not enough, Bloom reported that a survey of engineers and marketing and finance professionals found that working from home reduced quit rates by 35 percent….Looking at urban population shifts from 2019 to 2021, [founding fellow at the Urban Reform Institute Wendell] Cox observed that almost all substantial gains were in Sun Belt cities: Among the top 15 metropolitan population percentage gainers, 13 were in the South, with two in the West (Phoenix and Las Vegas). Austin had the strongest population growth (3.0 percent), followed by Raleigh (2.4 percent), Phoenix (2.4 percent) and Jacksonville (2.0 percent)….Ryan Streeter, the director of domestic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, noted in an email that large cities, many in the North, “have grown too expensive (mostly because of housing but also because of taxes) and have been experiencing out-migration even before the pandemic. The pandemic accelerated that in important, and apparently lasting, ways.”

Edsall adds, “I asked Joel Kotkin, a presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University and the executive director of the Urban Reform Institute in Houston, about the economics of major cities, and he replied by email: “The era of urban supremacy is over. The party that addresses this will win. These areas need infrastructure and tax structures that encourage building houses, particularly affordable single-family ones” — “houses that a couple who work at Walmart can afford….Migration to dense cities started to decline in 2015, when large metropolitan areas began to see an exodus to smaller locales. By 2022, rural areas were also gaining population at the expense of cities. The pandemic clearly accelerated this process, with a devastating rise in crime and lawlessness ….Politically, it would be devastating for the Democratic Party, which already faces voter anger over manifestations of urban dysfunction: homeless encampments, rising homicide rates, rampant crime and a sense of disorder on city streets and in city schools….In 2022 the poverty rate in Philadelphia was 22.8 percent; in Houston, 19.5 percent; Boston, 17.6 percent; New York, 17 percent, all well above the 11.6 percent national rate. In Los Angeles, 397 residents per 100,000 are homeless; in New York, 394; in Seattle-Tacoma, 349….The challenge facing cities is that dysfunction tends to engender dysfunction; downward spirals accelerate. Covid and remote work have transformed the face of urban America, just as the nation’s cities were becoming increasingly racially and ethnically diverse. In many ways, this is a test. It would be difficult to measure the costs of failing to pass such a test.” Can Democrats lure workers and families back to the cities? Or can they figure out creative ways to build support among the new urban refugees who are sinking roots in rural and exurban communities? Can they do both? The Democratic party’s very survival likely depends on an affirmative answer to these three questions.

“There are two important off-cycle legislative elections this year— one in New Jersey and one in Virginia.,,” Howie Klein writes in “The Dems Have Ignored State Legislative Races For Too Long– And Has Paid A Price– That’s Changing” at Crooks & Liars Blue America. “New Jersey’s 80-seat Assembly currently has 46 Democrats and 34 Republicans and the 40 seat state Senate has 25 Dems and 15 Republicans. The Democrats lost 6 Assembly seats and one Senate seat in 2021. Hopefully they’ll be smarter about it this cycle— but I’m not counting on it. The state Democratic Party is so riven with corruption that it’s hopeless….Virginia has a better situation and, in fact, Blue America has already endorsed 8 candidates between the 2 Houses. The primary is June 20 for the November elections in the 2 chambers. All 40 Senate seats and all 100 House seats are up for grabs….In 2019, the Democrats netted 2 Senate seats, gaining control of both Houses and the governors’ mansion for the first time since 1993. It didn’t last long and 2 years ago, the Democrats lost the House of Delegates (and the gubernatorial race). Currently there are 22 Dems in the Senate and 18 Republicans. There are 52 Republican delegates and 48 Democrats. Post-redistricting, the Dems have a good shot at expanding their Senate majority and winning back the House of Delegates….Yesterday, reporting for CBS News, Aaron Navarro wrote that “Democrats defended every state legislative chamber in their control in 2022, the first midterm elections since 1934 in which the party in control did not lose a chamber. To replicate that record next year, they say they’ll need more money. A memo from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) sent to donors asks for an additional $10 million for 2024, as well as for Virginia’s legislative elections this fall and any special elections that may emerge in New Hampshire, where Democrats are just three seats away from flipping the state House. The memo pitches it to donors as an early investment to ‘protect the path to the presidency’ through building the party’s grassroots presence in presidential battleground states like Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania.”

Abortion Policy Could Complicate DeSantis Presidential Bid

It looks like Ron DeSantis’ efforts to enter the 2024 presidential contest as the master of his large state could be complicated by the fraught issue of abortion, as I explained at New York:

Florida governor Ron DeSantis visited Iowa as he prepares to announce he’s running for president, and his pitch to Republicans is contained in his new book’s subtitle: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival. He can boast of turning his state into a national right-wing model where lockdowns aren’t tolerated and liberals are fully “owned” by a series of audacious state laws banning “wokeness” in all its forms. So far, it appears to be working, with DeSantis building a formidable head of steam to take on Donald Trump, who calls him a phony.

So Florida’s laws pertaining to abortion should be of special concern to anyone valuing reproductive rights. DeSantis and his party’s first pass on restrictive abortion laws could have been worse: Last April, just prior to the Supreme Court reversing Roe v. Wade, he signed a new law banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy with no exceptions for rape or incest. Since well over 90 percent of abortions are performed prior to 15 weeks of pregnancy (depending on the estimate), it was inevitable that Florida’s anti-abortion lobby and the Republican Party it all but controls would not be satisfied. Indeed, more stringent bans were enacted in other southern states (notably next-door Georgia), making Florida a medical-travel destination for women seeking abortions that are illegal in their own jurisdictions.

But while DeSantis made it clear he would be happy to accommodate GOP hopes for a more draconian law if one were sent to his desk, the word around Tallahassee, according to one source plugged into Florida politics, is that he was blindsided when Republican lawmakers introduced a six-week ban amid signs that it would move rapidly toward enactment. (Republicans have legislative supermajorities that make Democratic opposition futile and a few GOP defections tolerable.) Now DeSantis must quickly calculate how this might help or hurt his presidential ambitions.

The path of least resistance for DeSantis is to sign the bill as an indication of the people’s will as reflected by the legislature without offering the new law as a national model. But anti-abortion activists no longer accept a “state’s rights” approach to abortion law now that the federal constitutional right to choose has been abolished. One major anti-abortion group, the Susan B. Anthony List, has made a 2024 litmus test out of support for a federal abortion ban at 15 weeks or fewer, preempting blue-state laws while allowing red-state laws that are even more restrictive, and other activists will likely follow. Allowing blue states to keep abortion legal as an exception to his general demands for “making America more like Florida” may enhance DeSantis’s general-election prospects, but that would be perilous in a Republican Party that has endorsed a full-on federal constitutional ban on all abortions in every national party platform since 1980. To activists who regard a fertilized ovum as a “baby” deserving full personhood rights, the kind of half a loaf DeSantis has previously championed just won’t be enough. They are especially powerful in Iowa, the first state on the Republican nomination-contest calendar, where DeSantis is polling about with Trump in terms of favorability.

The proposed Florida law does include an exception for rape or incest (though only if a court order or police report documents the cause of pregnancy), which puts Florida in sync with Trump’s otherwise incoherent position on what the law should be now that his justices have overturned Roe. DeSantis could try to nudge the law in one direction or another, but there is no position that can bridge the gap between respecting and abridging reproductive rights and no way for him to know which way Trump may weave on the subject. And DeSantis’s dilemma doesn’t just extend to the Republican primaries: An extremist position on abortion that might be helpful in wresting the nomination from the formidable Trump could be an enormous liability in the general election, where a solid majority of voters, including a sizable minority of Republicans, don’t want abortion outlawed.

A couple of factors complicate the Florida GOP’s freedom of action in this area. The state’s constitution includes an explicit right to privacy (similar to the right the Supreme Court inferred from the Constitution in Griswold v. Connecticut and Roe), which in the past has been held to confer a right to an abortion. Indeed, a state judge initially put the 15-week ban on hold on these grounds, but the hold was overturned pending a Florida Supreme Court review. It’s generally expected that DeSantis’s appointees to that court will let the law (and probably a subsequent six-week ban) take full effect.

More ominously for the forced-birth lobby is that Florida is a state with citizen-initiated ballot measures. It’s already likely that an abortion-rights ballot initiative will appear as early as 2024, and enactment of a six-week ban will make a pro-choice initiative even more likely to appear and then to overcome Florida’s 60 percent approval requirement for constitutional amendments. Pro-choice advocates have won every abortion ballot measure — including those in red states like Kansas and Kentucky — since Roe was reversed. It could be more than embarrassing to DeSantis if his state moves tangibly toward the cancellation of a GOP abortion law as he’s running for president on a pledge to make America one big Florida. It’s. not a great sign that one of Florida’s two Republican senators, the normally ultra-MAGA Rick Scott, has already come out against the six-week ban.

All in all, DeSantis’s easy acquiescence to radical abortion legislation could represent a rare political misstep, making him even more of an ogre than he already is to many swing voters while proving himself an ineffective would-be tyrant who can’t control events in his own state.

Guy Cecil on Dems’ Long-Term Strategies

Guy Cecil, who is stepping down after eight years as chairman of Democratic Super PAC Priorities USA, talks with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow about the long term strategies the Republican Party is using to change the structure of American politics in their favor, and what Democrats need to do to counter and match those strategies.

How Red States vs. Blue Cities Feeds Polarization

In “How Red States Are Fighting Their Blue Cities” at FiveThirtyEight, Monica Potts discusses a political conflict that is being played out in states across the nation. As Potts explains,

Preemption is an old, broadly used tool, and in the past decade, preemption bills have passed across the country, blocking local legislation on everything from culture-war issues to basic city governance. In Florida, a state Senate bill passed last week would prevent local governments from enacting rent control or rent stabilization. This year, other states are considering laws revoking local authority over school curriculum and punishing local district attorneys who don’t prioritize laws passed by the state legislature. Other states are threatening to take over whole chunks of city government. And there may not be much cities can do about it.

The tug of war between state and local power is an old one. Local governments, whose responsibilities are not outlined in the U.S. Constitution, have different levels of authority depending on the state, and it’s not always clear exactly what authorities localities have. “It is very much a gray zone,” said Christine Baker-Smith, a research director at the National League of Cities. “The only place where it’s clearly not a gray zone is when there is clear, clear guidance around a certain policy area.”

What has happened in the past decade is what many experts call a shift from “minimalist” preemption to “maximalist” preemption. An example of a minimalist preemption law is the minimum wage. No state can have a minimum wage that’s lower than the $7.25 set by the federal government,1 but they can go higher, and cities and counties can pass laws that set even higher minimums than their states … as long as their state hasn’t forbidden it through preemption laws.

Potts notes that the trend accelerated “during President Barack Obama’s presidency,” when Republicans organized their takeovers of many state legislatures. She notes further, that “A 2020 Economic Policy Institute analysis found the use of preemption was more prevalent in southern states.” The conflict plays out in a range of policies, including:

In the past few years, at least 25 states have prohibited local governments from raising the minimum wage. Eighteen states bar municipalities from banning plastic bags. At least 20 states have laws that prevent cities from banning gas stoves. Oklahoma is considering a bill that would prevent cities from banning combustion engines. Forty-two states preempt local legislators from passing gun regulations.2

Florida is one of 34 states that preempts many local housing laws, allowing rent stabilization only in an emergency; the bill that passed the state Senate last weekwould remove even that ability. The bill passed unanimously, but that was likely because the housing preemption was wrapped in a much larger bill, which includes measures to encourage mixed-use zoning and incentivize development of affordable housing. The bill’s proponents said it would help fix the housing shortage.

Potts adds, “This year, as of March 8, at least 493 preemption bills have been introduced into state legislatures around the country on a range of issues, according to the Local Solutions Support Center (LSSC), an organization that tracks certain preemption laws and advocates against them. Potts concludes,

For those who oppose what they call its overuse, preemption undermines the basic idea behind local governance — that communities get to set priorities that reflect their own values. Laurent said that preemption laws have a longer-term, corrosive effect on local participation. State legislatures are often influenced by special interests, she said, and preempting local action removes a tool people have to fight against that. “The entire purpose of having representatives is for folks to go up there and reflect the needs that your community has,” she said. “But unfortunately, that’s being silenced.”

Underlying this conflict is the brutal reality that the states have grossly disproportionate power in America. Thus Wyoming (population 570 thousand) has as many senators as California (population 39 million). Cities are also limited by their political boundaries. Standard Metropolitan Statistical Areas statistics are more relevant to the life of cities than tightly-drawn city boundaries, which balkanize urban political power to give state legislatures additional leverage. ‘Greater’ Atlanta, Philadelphia or Orlando are much bigger than their city limits. Los Angeles County, which includes about 140 incorporated cities, has more people than the 20 smallest states put together.

There are some fixes to help rectify this grotesque imbalance of political power, such as filibuster and Electoral College reform, urban annexation, preemption limits,  or admission of new states. But all of them require Democratic landslides to get anywhere. Plenty of Republicans are drinking Trump’s Kool-aid to help set the stage for big Democratic gains. But it’s up to Dems to get smart and close the deal.

Political Strategy Notes

There they go again. As Erin Doherty explains in “Why some in the GOP are floating upping retirement age for some Americans” at Axios: “Some Republicans say changes to entitlement programs, like upping the retirement age to prolong the initiatives, should be “on the table.” In other words, ‘Let’s keep seniors in the labor force longer, thereby reducing the employment opportunities for young people who are looking for decent entry-level jobs.” Dherty continues, “The big picture: Entitlement reform is a politically potent topic — and it’s one that could be a key part of presidential candidates’ messaging ahead of 2024….Medicare is one of the largest line items in the U.S. budget, and as the population ages, it’s expected to only get more expensive, Axios’ Caitlin Owens reports….Biden has zeroed in on Republicans’ views on health care and entitlements, saying his GOP foes want to cut Social Security and Medicare….Top Republicans, however, have insisted they are not going to propose cuts to Medicare or Social Security during debt ceiling talks….The retirement age has been raised before. In 1983, Congress voted to phase in raising full retirement age from 65 to 67, citing an increase in life expectancy and workers staying at jobs for longer periods of time….Driving the news: Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R), who is running for president in 2024, said she supports changing the retirement age for Americans who are in their 20s….”It is unrealistic to say you’re not going to touch entitlements,” Haley said on Fox News….”The thing is you don’t have to touch it for seniors and anybody near retirement. You’re talking about the new generation, like my kids coming up,” she added….Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy (R) also said Sunday that lawmakers should discuss raising the retirement age for Americans in their 20s….”Does it really make sense to allow someone who’s in their 20s today to retire at 62?” he added….Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) also said that raising the retirement age when it comes to receiving social security benefits “has to be on the table.”….”We do not want to take away those that are in retirement, or those that are heading into retirement, but if we’re talking about younger generations … then that should be on the table.”…./Go deeper… Biden sets new trap with GOP budget taunt.” If this sounds to you like a garden-variety GOP scam to screw young workers, while kissing up to senior voters, you re not alone.

For a deeper dive into GOP scams to shred Social Security, check out “Why The Right Hates Social Security (And How They Plan to Destroy It)” at Current Affairs, where Nathan Robinson interviews Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works.  Some highlights: “ROBINSON.  People do not talk enough about Social Security. Republicans want to kill Social Security but don’t like to talk about Social Security, partly because they know the conversation is a losing one for them. But that does not change the fact that every minute of every day, slowly, behind the scenes, they are working to destroy the program.” LAWSON. “Pitting the old against the young by telling the old they’re definitely not going to cut benefits and not to worry, and instead, they’re only going to cut the young people’s benefits; and telling the young Social Security is going to run out of money, they’re never going to get anything, and so they need to cut old people’s benefits—really stoking that intergenerational warfare with a divide and conquer strategy. But the main purpose of that Leninist strategy document is to say: lie to the people about what it is that we’re trying to do, because we have to destroy and gut Social Security, and the only way to do it is to lie. That has been their mantra and MO up to now.”ROBINSON. “It’s understandable why they feel hell-bent on destroying Social Security. As you point out, it’s not just to make exploitation easier—that’s part of it. But also, the success of Social Security disproves so many conservative talking points. It’s the government providing welfare or universal benefits to people, and it works. It makes people’s lives better and reduces poverty. One of the core conservative talking points is nothing government does can be done right. Everything it does to try and fix a social problem will inevitably backfire and cause disaster, misery, and bureaucracy. Social Security really undermines their case. LAWSON. “It’s a universal program of huge magnitude— there’s nothing really else like it, and it does all of that for less than 1 percent in administrative costs. Less than one penny of every dollar that you pay into the system is used to pay for the whole thing. And look at Wall Street—that’s why they hate it. They like people scrambling and not being able to have enough time and comfort to think about, “Why do these guys have all the money?” That’s true, but they’re also just straight up greedy. They look at it and think, “We should be the only ones who offer products like that, and tack on a 35 percent fee….They hate that they can’t get their greedy little hands on it. It really does disprove, backwards and forwards, the entire small “c” conservative, reactionary mindset. Yes, just like what the private health insurance industry operates on, “How can we get sick people to give us a portion of their wealth?”—which they successfully do. And that’s why they hate Medicare For All so much…”

Lawson’s comments continue, “They’re terrified of the people finding out about anything that guarantees healthcare, does a better job, works more efficiently than private insurance. They really don’t want people to find out that the VA [Veterans Affairs], which is fully socialized healthcare—different from Medicare For All, which is just one single payer—is consistently ranked higher than private insurance in terms of outcomes, quality, and what people feel about it….The New Dealers saw that there could be systemic responses, that not only mitigated the immediate effects of the Great Depression, but put in place systems that actually ameliorated all of those negative effects going forward….That’s what Social Security is. It not only took care of this desperate need in the Great Depression era, but it eliminated the poor houses going forward. The philosophical bent of Social Security is an ever-expanding system that delivers greater and greater economic security for more and more people. When FDR signed it into law, he said, “With this law, I laid the cornerstone that future generations can build upon.” And that’s what we have to recognize. For example, Medicare For All or a guaranteed national health system, is the most obvious one—you cannot pretend that you can have retirement or economic security if you can go bankrupt by getting sick or having an illness, especially now in the midst of the pandemic. And what we’ve seen, it’s more obvious than ever….You also, though, can’t have a secure retirement if you’ve been working your whole life for poverty wages. Poverty wages will follow you into poverty in retirement. So we need to increase wages. Instead of the Republican’s North Star of destroying things that work and hurting people, if you use as your North Star Frances Perkins’ vision for an America where if you played by the rules, did the things that most people want to do, and worked hard, the system would be there for you—including if it’s something that no one wants to think about, but happens to far more people than they think, like becoming disabled, ill or injured and can no longer work. Francis Perkins didn’t have that in the bill that was signed by FDR. We added disability later because we saw you can’t have economic or retirement security if you lose your wages because you become disabled….Hear the full conversation on the Current Affairs podcast.”

Sasha Abramsky reports that “The Progressive Takeover of Nevada’s Democratic Party Is Falling Apart” at The Nation, and notes that “Last weekend, the party took its vote and booted [Democratic Party Chair Judith] Whitmer from office, replacing her with Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno. The result wasn’t close: Whitmer lost by a more than three-to-one margin. Every one of the candidates for state party office backed by Monroe-Moreno’s “Unity” campaign won; every one of Whitmer’s candidates lost….The sort of posture politics practiced by Whitmer doesn’t cut it—probably not anywhere, certainly not in a complex swing state such as Nevada, with its core group of Democratic voters in Las Vegas and in Reno, and with deeply conservative hinterlands surrounding the big cities….Posturing aside, there’s a lot of good politics going on in Nevada—witness the recently introduced bill to expand postpartum Medicaid coverage for low-income mothers for the first year after they give birth; the cutting-edge water-recycling programs that are in place; the ambitious CO2 reduction strategythat has been adopted. But that good politics gets put at risk, and the likelihood of GOP election victories grow, when leaders such as Whitmer fail to live up to the expectations of those who put them in power in the first place….Last year, Oregon Democrats nearly fell apart at the seams as their gubernatorial candidate, Tina Kotek, struggled to consolidate support, following the reputational collapse of outgoing Governor Kate Brown. It wasn’t that voters didn’t like Brown’s basic political philosophy; it was more that they saw her as having failed to deliver on basic quality-of-life issues—failing to tackle the housing crisis, to respond to rising crime, and so on. In other words, she talked a good talk but ended up walking a lousy walk. Throughout 2022, she was the most unpopular governor in the country. Kotek did eventually win, but only after a massive effort to distance herself from Brown and her legacy. In California, San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin was recalled, not because he was far to the left of San Franciscans but because he was widely perceived to be incompetent at his job and unable to deliver outcomes that matched his soaring rhetoric….There are lessons in these elections: There is plenty of room for radical politics out West, and plenty of room for candidates looking to shake up the status quo. In many ways, it remains a petri dish in which new, and experimental, political ideas and alliances are cultivated. But at the end of the day, voters also want tangible results. Whitmer’s mediocre tenure, and her election defeat last week, is a wake-up call: If Democrats want to continue to hold power in places like Nevada, they need a party political machinery led by leaders who aren’t just idealistic but are also competent.”