Over at MyDD, Chris Bowers recently posted an analysis of the extent to which Ds and Rs in the House have voted as a bloc in the early stages of this Congress. It’s sort of interesting, in the way that studies of how baseball players perform in very limited circumstaces (say, with runners in scoring position with two outs, on the road) are sort of interesting, but it also shows the danger of blowing up small distinctions into big implications.Chris’ basic take is that Republican House members are marginally more “loyal” to their party line than Democrats, who have more, if only a handful, of true “heretics.” But even those small potatoes are fluffed up misleadingly by his selection of eight “final passage” votes as “party differentiators.” As Chris knows, “final passage” votes in the House are an unreliable indicator of ideology, since (a) they ignore committee actions and amendments (on those rare occasions GOPers allow them), and (b) they reflect only those bills the Republican leadership has decided to move, generally because they are certain to pass. And they are also not exactly reliable signs of party loyalty, either, since both parties’ leaderships on occasion treat votes as “free” and don’t mind defections among Members in vulnerable districts.Still, the study was a good contribution to the general store of political knowledge. But now Chris has done a second post focusing on House Democrats who are “members of the DLC,” and finds, well, not much of anything.First, I’d like to rise to a point of personal privilege and address this “DLC membership” business, because it’s also been a source of confusion elsewhere in the blogosphere. There is one and only one way to become a “member of the DLC,” and that’s to plunk down 40 bucks and get all our stuff–policy papers, Blueprint Magazine, etc.–in the mail. There is something on our web page called the New Dem Directory (which is apparently what Chris was looking at) which is simply contact information on elected officials–most of them at the state and local levels–who have either joined some related New Dem-identified organization or participated in DLC events. It’s basically an online phone book, and the DLC has never used its contents to market itself or take credit for anybody’s career. There ain’t no membership cards, oaths, whip operations, or litmus tests. Are we straight on that?Now, most of the House Members in this online phone book are there because they are members of the House New Democratic Coalition, a completely independent group that shares a general orientation with the DLC, but neither asks for nor takes orders from anybody at 600 Pennsylvania Avenue. They tend to be from competitive or even dangerously vulnerable districts more than the rest of the Caucus, and thus are given “free votes” more often than their peers.Still with me here? Okay. Having analyzed these 39 Members on those 8 House final passage votes, Chris concludes they are “not dramatically more disloyal” than other Dems, and by at least one measure, are actually less disloyal. In others words, says Chris, “the only pattern here is that there is no pattern.” So, is he ready to bury the myth that the DLC, on secret instructions from Corporate America or Karl Rove or somebody, is leading its (non-)members into perfidy and Republicanism? No–he concludes we don’t have any clout with our(non-) members, and thus have to reason to exist other than to criticize other Democrats!Gee, seems to me that there are a whole hell of a lot of Democratic organizations out there who have had pretty much the same impact as the DLC on the votes of House members on these eight votes, i.e., none. Are they useless, too? Should we all just go out of business, unless we can demonstrate they we either dramatically increase or dramatically decrease the bloc voting of House Democrats on these eight votes? Lord knows, no other political activity, from policy development to political strategy to fundraising to grass-roots organizing, could be worth doing, right?Okay, you see my point by now. I’m not at all hostile to Chris Bowers; he’s a smart guy who is probably trying to be objective here. But he’s like a baseball manager who likes one player and dislikes another, and can always find some marginal, triple-loaded statistic to put the former in the starting lineup and send the latter to the minors. This is not how you build a winning team in baseball, or in politics.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
Pouring over the details of the gubernatorial recall election in California, some significant patterns emerged, as I noted at New York:
The overwhelming defeat of the effort to recall California governor Gavin Newsom was a big victory for a Democratic Party that has had its troubles lately. With the margin of victory for the “no on recall” campaign roughly doubling the already-robust advantage shown in pre-election polls, the earlier scare that the recall threw into the ranks of the Golden State’s dominant party dissipated entirely. With about three-fourths of the expected vote now counted, “no” leads “yes” by a 63.8 to 36.2 margin (which could get even larger if the usual pattern of last-cast mail ballots leaning Democratic manifests itself once again).
The “no” vote was remarkably close to Joe Biden’s performance in California in 2020 (he won 63.5 percent). Given the extreme partisan polarization that underlay the recall vote (exit polls showed 89 percent of self-identified Republicans voting “yes” and 94 percent of self-identified Democrats voting “no”), that means the partisan patterns of the presidential race were reduplicated to a remarkable extent in a non-presidential special election, where Democrats often experience a “falloff,” particularly when they control the White House (and in this case, the governorship). That’s great news for California Democrats, and not a bad sign for Democrats nationally, who are bracing for the midterm losses the “White House Party” typically suffers.But in assessing the implications of the results, it’s important to look back at what happened down ballot in California in 2020, while looking ahead to the most critical 2022 battleground, the fight for control of the House. Of the 13 net House seats Republicans gained in 2020, four were in deep-blue California. There is no likely path for Democrats to hang onto House control in 2022 without flipping some or all of those lost seats in one of their strongest states.
Precisely because of the reduplication of the 2020 patterns, there’s really nothing about the recall returns that suggests Democrats are sure to claw back some House seats in California. Two of the four seats Republicans flipped in 2020 (with Asian-American women Young Kim and Michelle Steele as candidates) were centered in Orange County. While “no” won in Orange, the recall race there was closer than the Biden-Trump contest of 2020. A third battleground seat was the one Republican David Valadao won in a very competitive section of the San Joaquin Valley. The recall improved on Trump’s 2020 performance in every county in his district (e.g., Trump won 55 percent in Kings County, but “yes” on recalling Newsom won 63 percent). These results could reflect an intensifying alienation of this heavily agricultural area from Sacramento’s environmental and water-supply policies. Or it could reflect a drop-off in Latino turnout that could spell disaster for Democrats in close 2022 races. Either way the recall numbers should give pause to Democratic optimism about midterm House races.
One study of 2020 returns in California showed Latino turnout trailing non-Latino turnout by about 10 percent. One mail-ballot tracker for the recall showed the turnout gap between Latinos and non-Latino white voters swelling to 20 percent. Youth turnout for the recall was also terrible, exit polls suggest. Yes, these are constituencies that are difficult to mobilize in special elections. But that’s also true of midterm elections, which is a problem Democrats in California and elsewhere need to solve.
The bottom line is that Newsom won the Democratic and Democratic-leaning elements of the California electorate by strongly encouraging partisan polarization via his lavishly funded campaign. This was the obvious smart strategy in this heavily Democratic state. It’s less clear the same strategy will work wonders downballot for Democrats in 2022, which they probably will not have a big financial advantage and shifts in public opinion away from the presidential winner may have settled in, as they did for the last three presidents. Even if Democrats hang onto their monopoly of statewide offices and their super-majorities in the state legislature, any failure to make progress in House races could contribute to the much-dreaded moment when Californian Nancy Pelosi hands over her gavel to Californian Kevin McCarthy, and the Democratic trifecta that gives Biden a chance to implement his agenda comes to an end.