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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Bowers: Lose the Base, Lose the Election

The following commentary by Chris Bowers, originally published on Open Left on 10/21, is an important contribution to the ongoing discussion of Democratic strategy:
New polling on the 2009 Virginia Governor’s election is horrendous for Democratic nominee Creigh Deeds. Of the five polls where the majority of interviews were conducted over the last ten days (that is, since October 11th), Deeds trails by an average of 12.0%. The margin is the same whether you are looking at the median or the simple mean. With only 13 days until the election, it is highly unlikely that Deeds is going to make up such a large deficit.
Perhaps the most important factor in Deeds’ impending defeat will be the lack of turnout among Obama voters. In 2008, President Obama won Virginia by a margin of 52.6%-46.3%. However, two recent polls, Survey USA (by 1%) and PPP (by 6%), show McCain voters outnumbering Obama voters within the 2009 Virginia electorate.
In both the Survey USA and PPP polls, Deeds scores 80% of Virginians who voted for Obama in 2008, and 5% of Virginians who voted for McCain. McConnell has 12% of Obama voters in PPP, and 19% in Survey USA. The Republican nominee also has the support of 88% of McCain voters in PPP, and 95% according to Survey USA.
As such, if the 2009 Virginia electorate had the same 52.6%–46.3% proportion of Obama and McCain voters as it did last year, Creigh Deeds would be 9% closer in both the Survey USA and PPP polls:
Survey USA (2008 turnout model in parenthesis)
McDonnell (R): 59% (54%)
Deeds (D): 40% (44%)
PPP (2008 turnout model in parenthesis)
McDonnell (R): 52% (47%)
Deeds (D): 40% (44%)
If the Obama-voting Democratic base was an excited in 2009 as it was a year ago, Deeds would still be losing, but he would be within striking distance. Instead, he is about to get wiped out, and decided to rev up the base with statements like this from last night :

At the final debate of race last night, Virginia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Creigh Deeds said he “shared the broad goals” of health care reform, but would “certainly consider opting out” of a public option “if that were available to Virginia.”
“I’m not afraid of going against my fellow Democrats when they’re wrong,” Deeds said. “A public option isn’t required in my view.”

Deeds has since backpedaled from this statement, but a campaign clarification at a press gaggle doesn’t cancel out a televised debate. The damage is done: Deeds isn’t afraid to go against Democrats when they are wrong. Fine. If that is the way he thinks, then I hope enjoys getting wiped out at the polls because Democrats don’t turn out for him. At least, as the Democratic nominee, he ran on a campaign he could believe in: attacking Democrats.
Many Democrats still take it as obvious that moving to the right is the best way to win elections, because the Democratic and liberal vote is static and doesn’t change. Deeds’ predicament is a perfect example of why that thinking is stupid and self-defeating. Currently, he trails by 12%, but he would be 9% closer if Democrats in Virginia were as excited about his candidacy as they were about Obama’s.
The liberal and Democratic vote is not static. It can vary both as a percentage of the total electorate, and in its support for Democratic nominees. For example, in the 2008 election, liberals were actually a slightly larger swing vote for President Obama than either moderates or conservatives. Also, in 2006, Democrats improved their share of the national House vote more from self-identified Democrats than from Republicans and Independents combined.
I am not arguing here that exciting the liberal and Democratic base is the most important aspect of a campaign for Democratic nominees. Rather, I simply wish to point something out that should be obvious to Democratic politicians and campaign operatives: both turnout levels and partisan preference for self-identified liberals and self-identified Democrats vary from election to election. Those variations will have an impact on the outcome of any given election, and are largely determined by the behavior of the Democratic nominee. As such, ignore–or even actively distance yourself from–the liberal and Democratic base at your own peril.

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