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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

PPI’s Arkedis: Five Challenges Dems Should Address

This item by J.P. Green was originally published on March 23, 2013.
At The Atlantic, Jim Arkedis, senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, has a post “Memo to Democrats: Never Mind the GOP, Here’s What *We* Need to Fix: The left is crowing over Republican disarray. But the progressive advantage isn’t as entrenched as many of them seem to believe.” Arkedis describes the upbeat mood of many Democrats in the wake of the RNC’s self-flagellating “Autopsy”:

“After notching a victory last November against weak competition, it’s tempting to be content with our advantages in organizing, data analysis, and candidate quality, and to kick back and enjoy the Republican civil war…While much of the country wishes a pox on both parties these days, President Obama’s major policy positions — on handling the economy, budget negotiations, social issues, or national security — are at least less toxic to voters than the GOP’s.

However, cautions Arkedis, “Not so fast. That attitude guarantees the next defeat will come much sooner than Republican disarray suggests. Now is the time for Democrats to engage in some serious introspection of our own.” He posits “five issues Democrats must consider to ensure the 2012 victory isn’t squandered,” including:

First, progressives need to make serious investments in intellectual firepower…The army of analysts employed by the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, and Cato Institute. According to the most recent data available at Guidestar.com, these conservative research and advocacy organizations raise over $140 million a year. Their left-leaning and much younger counterparts at the Center for American Progress, Third Way, and the Progressive Policy Institute (where I am a senior fellow) together lag behind with a meager $40 million annual haul combined.
Closing the gap is possible but requires buy-in from on high…concerted efforts to steer donors toward allied think tanks.
Second, the Democratic Party must avoid an impending woman problem — not to mention a Latino problem, a gay problem, and a youth problem…All these groups could waver if Democrats continue to exploit them as coalition building blocks and pocketbooks, rather than integrating them as full partners.
Should immigration reform fail — a high risk in any Congress, let alone this one — many Latino groups will sour on President Obama no matter where fault lies. Witness Hispanics’ disgruntlement with the administration until it backed off on forced deportations. That’s why Democrats must broaden their focus to other issues Latinos care about beyond immigration — such as small-business empowerment, leadership development, and increasing personal wealth.
Third, Democrats need to expand their coalition, particularly among faith voters and lower-income whites. As I’ve written elsewhere, polling shows that religious voters, particularly Catholics, are more open than ever to progressive faith-based messaging. And it’s maddening to watch lower-income whites vote for Republican social positions and against their own economic interests. Targeted messaging to make a distinctly progressive pitch to these two often-overlapping communities on faith and social welfare will fray the conservative coalition even further.
Fourth, the party has to push digital and organizing innovations down-ballot…State legislatures are the key to controlling redistricting, and that’s the key to controlling Congress. National Democrats’ massive digital and organizing edge will be wasted if they are not shared with and adopted by candidates running for state legislatures.
Finally, the party needs to avoid the intramural fistfight brewing over “Organizing for Action,” the president’s campaign apparatus that has morphed into a voter mobilization and advocacy organization — in other words, sort of but not exactly what the Democratic National Committee already does…OFA and the DNC need to come to an understanding of their responsibilities, and share those decisions with party operatives.

Arkedis concludes on a hopeful note, saying Dems are in a “healthier place” than their adversaries, but adds “…Remember who won that race between the tortoise and the hare — and make sure it’s not repeated with the elephant and the donkey.”

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