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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Dems 2014 Message Strategy Coming Into Focus

in their post, “Why Democrats should listen to Joe Biden,” at The Fix, Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake share a quote from a recent speech by Vice President Biden, which they believe could serve as a boilerplate spiel for Democratic Senate candidates in particular:

“This is not your father’s Republican Party. It really is a fundamentally different party. There’s never been as much distance — at least since I’ve been alive — distance between where the mainstream of the Republican congressional party is and the Democratic Party is. It’s a chasm. It’s a gigantic chasm. … But the last thing in the world we need now is someone who will go down to the United States Senate and support Ted Cruz, support the new senator from Kentucky (Rand Paul) — or the old senator from Kentucky (Mitch McConnell). … Think about this: Have you ever seen a time when two freshman senators are able to cower the bulk of the Republican Party in the Senate? That is not hyperbole.”

As Blake and Cillizza intepret it,

The picture Biden is trying to paint is this: The Republican party is beholden to absolutists like Cruz and Paul who view any compromise as a concession, that a vote for any Republican for Senate — even one like Gabriel Gomez who has worked hard to avoid any connections to the national GOP during his campaign against Markey — is a vote for that sort of my-way-or-the-highway approach that subjugates getting things done to philosophical principles. (Tougher gun background checks, which national polling suggested had widespread support among the American public, is Exhibit A for Biden in making that argument.)
And poll after poll has shown the GOP remains in poorer stead with the American people than the Democratic Party. A recent Post-ABC News poll showed Americans thought Republicans in Congress were more focused on issues that aren’t pertinent to them than those that are by a 60-33 margin. For Democrats, the split was 50 percent non-pertinent and 43 percent pertinent.
…The potency of the “just too extreme” message among independents is demonstrated by the success of Democratic Senate candidates in conservative-leaning states like Indiana and Missouri in 2012. There’s no way that Claire McCaskill wins re-election or Joe Donnelly gets elected without winning a large majority of those voters who identify themselves as independents.

It seems like a sound strategy, if a little overstated in places. As Cillizza and Blake conclude, “…Biden is counseling his party to make 2014 a referendum on Republicans, not Democrats. It’s not an easy sell, but it may well be Democrats’ best bet in what, on paper, should be a very difficult election.”
But CNN.com’s Julian Zelizer brings the Republicans’ 2014 campaign problems into sharper focus:

The rebellion taking place within the GOP has been growing more intense. Many senior leaders are warning that their party is on a destructive path that will only lead to more rounds of defeat. Many Republicans privately agreed when former Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole said the GOP ought to be “closed for repairs” until next year, and in the meantime, “spend that time going over ideas and positive agenda.”
Since 2010, Republicans invested almost everything in the issue of deficit reduction and saying no to everything that came out of the White House. The bet hasn’t been paying off. At a certain point, voters seem to have lost interest in the message and, now that the long-term budget picture is doing much better while the economics of austerity has come under fire, the issue is gaining even less voter traction.

However, Zelizer sees a more positive message strategy for Democrats going forward:

Voters want to hear what Democrats have to say about federal investments in the nation’s economic future, about how to handle climate change and how to build on Obama’s promise to restore the balance between law and civil liberties and homeland security. If Democrats can start developing ideas for the next candidate to run on, they could not only bolster their numbers on the Hill but strengthen the platform for the next crop of candidates to win over voters.

Democrats should deploy a combination attack for 2014, tapping into Biden’s critique of the GOP, while offering a positive path forward to draw a stark contrast with the GOP’s obstructionist fixation. No matter how effective the Democrats’ GOTV effort or how impressive our candidates will be, a strong, clear messaging strategy will be essential to bust historical precedent and make election day 2014 the beginning of a new era of hope for progressives.

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