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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Jennifer Agiesta reports on a CNN/ORC poll conducted by telephone April 22-25: “Taking an early look at next year’s congressional elections, a generic ballot yields a Democratic advantage, with 50% saying they’d vote for the Democratic candidate in their district and 41% the Republican candidate if the election were held today. A lead that large, this far out, is not necessarily predictive, however — although it approaches the edge Democrats held early on in the 2006 election cycle when they won control of the House, it is also similar to their advantage early on in the 2010 cycle, which ended with a Republican takeover of the chamber.”

In their Washington Post article, “Public pans Republicans’ latest approach to replacing Affordable Care Act,” Amy Goldstein and Scott Clement report that, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, “Large majorities oppose the ideas at the heart of the most recent GOP negotiations to forge a plan that could pass in the House. These would allow states to choose whether to keep the ACA’s insurance protection for people with preexisting medical problems and its guarantee of specific health benefits…Public sentiment is particularly lopsided in favor of an aspect of the current health-care law that blocks insurers from charging more or denying coverage to customers with medical conditions. About 8 in 10 Democrats, 7 in 10 independents and even a slight majority of Republicans say that should continue to be a national mandate, rather than an option for states to retain or drop…The Post-ABC poll shows that, beyond the criticism of GOP proposals for devolving health policy to the states, many Americans appear leery in general about a major overhaul to the health-care law often called Obamacare, with 61 percent preferring to “keep and try to improve” it, compared with 37 percent who say they want to “repeal and replace” it. About three-quarters of Republicans prefer repealing and replacing the ACA, but more than 6 in 10 independents and nearly 9 in 10 Democrats favor working within its framework.” Ironically, Republicans are actually lucky that this bill appears doomed, because if they enacted it, public reaction would position Democrats for a landslide midterm victory.

To give you an idea of the challenging course Democrat Jon Ossoff has to navigate in his campaign to defeat Republican Karen Handel in the GA-6 run-off election, Elise Viebeck and David Weigel note in their article “GOP candidate now embracing Trump in Georgia’s 6th District runoff” at PowerPost that “The last pre-primary poll conducted by Opinion Savvy suggested that Handel would trail Ossoff by two points in a runoff. At the same time, Trump’s approval rating in the district was 53.7 percent, evidence that Handel’s decision to align herself with him might be a good move.” Despite all of the pre-jungle primary buzz about Ossoff’s formidable fund-raising, the Republicans may have the spending edge in the race. As Viebeck and Weigel note, “The National Republican Congressional Committee is already spending $3.65 million ahead of the runoff, bringing its total spending close to $6 million…The Congressional Leadership Fund, a political action committee aligned with House GOP leaders, announced $3.5 million in new spending — bringing its total to $6.5 million” and ‘Americans for Prosperity, the conservative advocacy group backed by the Koch brothers, has kept up its own ground campaign, and Ending Spending, a PAC that has supported Handel in multiple elections, has charged back in to Georgia.”

NYT columnist Frank Bruni provides an apt description of one of Trump’s most shameful “accomplishments”: “…Who among the presidents of the last half-century has been so publicly cavalier about conflicts of interest, so blithe about getting away with whatever grifts he could, so lavishly meanspirited and so proudly rude? Who among those presidents made so little concession to decorum?…Who stooped so low, on the campaign trail or in office, as to ridicule a disabled journalist and make light of a prisoner of war’s ordeal? Who talked incessantly about how heroic his election was, summoning more energy for self-congratulation than he ever exhibited for the praise of others?…Who taunted his adversaries with such abandon? Who made such a spectacle of his grievances that he invented a phenomenon: sore winning?”

In his interview with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, Michael Tomasky observes at The Daily Beast, “Trump got 36 percent of his members’ votes against Hillary Clinton. That’s only three points more than Mitt Romney, but three points isn’t nothing in a close election. And as Trumka emphasized to me, it wasn’t only or even chiefly that Trump did better than Romney. Clinton, he wanted me to know, did worse than Obama—10 points worse, snaring just 55 percent of his rank-and-file’s vote. The rest went third party or sat it out.  Tomasky quotes Trumka: “The Democratic Party quite frankly had no coherent economic message,” he said. “Workers have been facing stagnant wages, dropping benefits, and economic security being taken away from them over a 40-year period. Trump said a lot of stuff—hasn’t followed through on it, but said it, and they were willing to take a chance.”…“Look, you can’t beat something with nothing,” he says. “If you don’t have an economic message that resonates with working people you’re not gonna win. That’s why people like Sherrod Brown and a number of other people running in the same difficult environment that presidential candidates run in succeed. They have a consistent economic message that people know they can believe.”

At The Plum Line, however, Paul Waldman shares a critique of the Democratic party’s message, or lack therof, by Democratic pollsters Allan and Sheri Rivlin, who are also warning that Republicans have an edge in midterms. “Democrats do poorly in midterms,” Rivlin argues. “Republicans are rarely on the losing side of this.” It’s partly because Republican voters — older, whiter, more affluent — are more likely to turn out in any election while many Democrats don’t bother showing up in midterms. But Rivlin is especially concerned with Democrats’ lack of a core economic message, since the economy is usually voters’ most important issue. “We think we have an economic message,” he says, “but we don’t…What Democrats lack is a message on economics that can pass what he calls “the Listerine test.” Listerine had what Rivlin describes as a nearly perfect message: “Listerine kills the germs that cause bad breath.” Eight words that describe the problem, the solution and how it works…The Republican message on the economy passes this test. It’s simple, easy to understand, and explains both every economic problem you could think of and what their solution is: Government is the problem, so if we cut taxes and cut regulations, the economy will blossom.” The Rivlins don’t have a Democratic message that passes ‘the Listerine test,’ but they advocate creating a focus group to develop one.

David Weigel boils the Democratic message problem even more at The Fix: “To progressives, it doesn’t feel like Republicans share this despondence. They compete in the suburbs; they compete in the cities where they can (Omaha, Indianapolis, San Diego). They let the party’s brand shift from race to race, and are nimble about it. But running through each race, they let it generally be known that a Republican is going to be easier on your wallet than a Democrat. There’s an existential argument here that Democrats have not really engaged in for years.”

But it’s not only about message content, argues Paul Kane at PowerPost. “Presence is important,” [Sen. Tim]Kaine (Va.) said in a brief interview. “You’ve got to go to these places.” That adage about presence is one of the increasingly accepted lessons Democrats are heeding from the debacle of last year’s White House and congressional elections…Last year, however, the party’s smart set — including Kaine’s running mate, Hillary Clinton — became so fixated on cranking up the Democratic base that it did not do enough tending to potential supporters in exurban and rural counties. That led to a cratering of support in those regions and opened a path for President Trump’s victory — and helped Republicans keep control of the Senate…Despite the myth of low turnout last year among minorities and liberal activists, Clinton performed better than Obama did in 2012 in Philadelphia, the four large suburban counties around that city and Allegheny County, home to Pittsburgh. She lost the state’s rural parts. The same thing happened in Florida, which also had better turnout than in 2012. Clinton got the necessary votes in urban centers but then got swamped by Trump in inland counties…For now, though, Democrats from the left to the center agree that the first step is Kaine’s “presence” theory — to at least show up in these small towns where some of them went missing in 2016…“You won’t be able to have an organization of any kind in those counties until you actually put some effort into it and some resources,” [Ruy] Teixeira said, calling the “fundamental problem” for Democrats their almost -complete neglect of rural towns. “I think that’s got to change.”

To conclude on an optimistic note, from John Judis’s “Why The Left Will (Eventually) Triumph: An Interview With Ruy Teixeira” at Talking Points Memo, quoting Teixeira: “I favor what economists are calling  a model of equitable growth. It would mean substantial government investment in creating new opportunities for the middle and aspirational classes. It could include a dramatic expansion of the educational system and a Manhattan-style investment in bringing down the price of clean energy and building the infrastructure to match. Granted, these kind of proposals would not get through Congress now, but it is the kind of agenda that I am optimistic that the Democrats will endorse and that the country will eventually embrace…Democrats are the ones who are going to put us there and I think they are going to be rewarded for it…[White working-class] Voters were fed up with stagnation and with the Democrats and they turned to someone who thought could blow up the system. The way the Democrats and the left could mitigate that problem is to show these voters that they take their problems seriously and have their interests in mind, and could improve their lives. I don’t think there is any way of doing that without a new model of economic growth.”

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