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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Dems Strike Gold in Cultural Issues

Jonathan Martin’s “Democrats Put Cultural Issues in Their Quiver” at The New York Times pegs the political moment exceptionally-well. Martin focuses on the senate campaigns in bellwether Virginia, Colorado and North Carolina, with drive-by references to Louisiana, Florida and Arkansas, to illuminate why Dems are getting their better-than-expected performances across the nation. As Martin observes:

After a generation of campaigns in which Republicans exploited wedge issues to win close elections, Democrats are now on the offensive in the culture wars.
Democrats see social issues as potent for the same reasons Republicans once did, using them as a tool to both stoke concerns among moderate voters, especially women, and motivate their base.

Virginia is the poster state for Martin’s argument. Moderate Democrat Mark Warner, who can be fairly described as one of the more cautious U.S. Senators, has morphed into an all-out progressive cultural warrior, confidently hammering his adversary, GOP veteran Ed Gillespie about his positions on abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage.
Martin shares that Republican candidates in FL, AR and LA are reluctant to even talk about such cultural issues, for fear of alienating moderate women voters, in stark contrast to 2004, when the GOP fronted state referendums supporting restrictive laws addressing same-sex marriage. Further, adds Martin, “On issues like gun control, drugs, the environment, race and even national security, this demographic shift has substantially weakened the right’s ability to portray Democrats as out of the social mainstream.” In addition,

“The Republican Party from 1968 up to 2008 lived by the wedge, and now they are politically dying by the wedge,” said Chris Lehane, a Democratic consultant who has used the “super PAC” of the billionaire Tom Steyer to inject climate change, same-sex marriage, abortion and contraception into a series of recent campaigns.

In Virginia, Warner is following the successful template of fellow Dems, Senator Tim Kaine in 2012, and Gov. Terry McAuliffe in 2013, as well as Michael Bennet in Colorado in 2010, all of whom leveraged cultural issues adroitly in their victories. This year in CO Democratic Sen Mark Udall “has pounded his Republican challenger, Representative Cory Gardner, on abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage.” At the first Senate debate in NC, Democrat Kay Hagan boldly asked her Republican opponent,”Speaker Tillis, it’s 2014 — why did you work to make birth control so inaccessible?”
Martin concludes with a quote from Stephanie Schriock, the head of Emily’s List, that the women’s vote is “absolutely now deciding elections…And they will decide this year by going or not going to the polls.”
The stakes couldn’t be much higher. If women do improve their showing at the polls, and African American voters also turnout in higher percentages than in previous midterm elections, Democrats will have a new formula for winning state-wide races — and the stage will be set for taking back the House majority in 2016.

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