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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

When Even Republicans and Republican Polls Say Bush Is in Trouble, He’s Definitely in Trouble

Dana Milbank has an interesting article in The Washington Post today about Bush supporters in Florida who are starting to worry that the Iraq situation is eroding his political standing. When this fairly obvious fact is starting to penetrate the thick skulls of the folks who’ve drunk the GOP Kool-Aid, you know the issue is starting to bite.
Even Republican polls are catching the drift of things. A Winston Group/New Models poll for the Senate Republican conference has Bush’s approval rating down to 51 percent and Democrats ahead in a generic Senate ballot question by 6 points (46 percent to 40 percent). The same poll had Democrats behind Republicans by 3 points on May 15, before things really went south in Iraq.
Republicans are also starting to realize that even (especially?) a Dean candidacy won’t solve their problems. USA Today reported Tuesday on how Republican officials and Bush political advisors now admit they underestimated Howard Dean and consider him a potentially formidable political adversary. Apparently, Dean’s continued ability to mobilize political support and, especially, raise money is making Republicans think he wouldn’t be such an easy mark after all.
And Speaking of Howard Dean
Jusiper’s excellent four part series on “How Dean Can Win” the general election is now complete. The series is organized around replying to a July 22 DR post on problems with Dean’s electability and secondarily to a piece by Jonathan Chait in The New Republic that argues Dean would be a disaster for the Democrats.
DR wishes to commend Jusiper for the civilized tone in which they conducted their critique. DR doesn’t agree with all–or even most–of it, but he was mightily pleased to see political differences among Democrats, especially on the hot-button Dean issue, handled in this fashion.
So what’s wrong with what they said? On the social liberalism problem, they basically argue that, sure, Dean would have some problems here, but so would any Democrat (e.g., Kerry). They may be right about this, but DR still worries that the combination of Dean’s socially liberal/Vermonter profile with his strong antiwar stance is going to be difficult for a lot of swing voters to handle. Maybe one they could handle, but the two together is a level of liberalism that could drive a lot of voters away.
On the too antiwar, too soon problem, Jusiper accepts that Dean will not necessarily benefit from being consistent on the issue, since the public doesn’t vote on that basis. Therefore, even if opinion continues to turn against the war, Dean may still have a serious problem with his national security credentials. Jusiper acknowledges this, but believes Dean can finesse the issue by, for example, appearing with a bunch of generals who support his position. Could be, but there is considerable room for doubt here.
On the new voters are no substitute for swing voters problem, Jusiper accepts the argument completely, but argues Dean’s support is rapidly expanding from its initial hardcore and will continue to do so in the general election campaign toward just the kind of centrists and political independents you need to win the general. Maybe. Dean’s straight talk approach and nontraditional (for Democrats) views on some issues will clearly help, but the idea this will suffice to capture general election swing voters is more an assertion than a claim one can have much confidence in.
Of course, DR can’t prove the contrary either (we are all woefully short on real data at this point–though note that Kerry, not Dean, was the only declared Democratic candidate to beat Bush among independents in the most recent CNN/Time poll). So, let the debate continue and may we all adopt the civilized tone of the Jusiper discussion as it does.
September 10, 2003
posted 10:28 pm