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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Gregory S. Schneider’s Washington Post article, “‘Malevolent neglect’: Are Virginia Democrats letting rural areas slip away?” provides a worrisome critique of Democratic strategy in the Old Dominion, focusing on the November 7th gubernatorial election. Despite Democratic candidate for Governor Ralph Northam’s lead in recent polling, Schneider writes, “Some in rural districts across Virginia complain that the state Democratic machinery continues to be more interested in populous urban areas that are reliably blue on Election Day than rebuilding relationships in the countryside. One county chairman briefly resigned two weeks ago, accusing the state party of “malevolent neglect…“We didn’t lose rural voters overnight, and we know we’re not going to win them back overnight, but I think it’s very important that we show up and compete everywhere,” [state Democratic party Chairwoman Susan] Swecker said.” Schneider notes that “Republicans have a comfortable 66-to-34 majority in the House of Delegates,” but in Virginia, as in many otyher states, “Democrats pumped up by anti-Trump fervor have fielded a historic number of candidates to try to slice into that GOP advantage.” Hower, “when it comes to active campaigning, Northam is more often found in Northern Virginia, Richmond or Hampton Roads…“The plain fact is that for Democrats the votes are in Northern Virginia, Richmond, Tidewater, Virginia Beach — and it’s probably enough to win an election if a Democrat racks up very large margins in the urban corridor,”…said Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.”

At The Daily Beast, David Daley explains “How the GOP Made Your Vote Useless,” and notes that Republican candidate for Governor of Virginia, Ed Gilespie “masterminded the devastating 2010 GOP strategy to retake Washington by winning crucial state and local elections that brought the power to redistrict the U.S. House…His plan, aptly dubbed REDMAP, worked so well that Republicans captured almost 700 state legislature seats in an epic rebuke of Barack Obama and Democrats nationwide. The true spoils of that victory came the following year. New GOP majorities in Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania reinvented the gerrymander as a blunt-force partisan weapon…Democrats have realized that the future of their party will be determined down-ballot. Gillespie, the godfather of the GOP gerrymander and the Republican nominee for governor of Virginia, is their most crucial target…A Gillespie win, combined with well-cemented Republican majorities in the state assembly and senate, would lock in GOP control when new legislative districts for statewide and congressional races are drawn in 2021…A victory by Democratic lieutenant governor Ralph Northam, meanwhile, would give Democrats a seat at the table when the new lines are drawn—something the party lacked in those blue and purple states nationwide in 2011, thanks to REDMAP.” For Dems, Daley writes, “Any comeback must begin in Virginia, then pivot to governor’s races in Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida. This will not be easy. Republicans have a deeper bench (another gerrymandered advantage) and may begin as the favorites everywhere.”

“Entrenched Democratic groups are facing growing questions about the return on the hundreds of millions of dollars they have spent over the years,” writes Kenneth P. Vogel in “The ‘Resistance,’ Raising Big Money, Upends Liberal Politics” in The New York Times. “Groups affiliated with Mrs. Clinton “spent so much money based on a bad strategy in this last cycle that they should step aside and let others lead in this moment,” said Quentin James, a founder of a political committee called the Collective PAC that supports African-American candidates…Mr. James’s committee is among more than three dozen outfits that have started or reconfigured themselves since the election to try to harness the surge in anti-Trump activism. In addition to political committees, grass-roots mobilization nonprofits and legal watchdog groups, there are for-profit companies providing technological help to the new groups — essentially forming a new liberal ecosystem outside the confines of the Democratic Party.” Vogel also notes, “The tug of war — more than the lingering squabbles between supporters of Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont — foreshadows a once-in-a-generation reorganization of the American left that could dictate the tactics and ideology of the Democratic Party for years to come.”

The Fix’s Amber Phillips interviews Carolyn Fiddler, former Democratic statehouse operative and current political editor for Daily Kos, who comments on Democrats flipping eight statehouse seats across the U.S. since President Trump got elected — all in districts Trump won last fall. Fiddler explains, “Those eight Democratic pickups are a significant percentage of the 27 total state and congressional special elections held in Republican seats this cycle — almost 30 percent, actually. If Democrats were to flip 30 percent of Republican-held congressional seats in 2018, the House GOP caucus would lose 72 of its members. Republicans haven’t picked up a single seat in a contested Democrat-vs.-Republican special election this year…Yet even in the seats Democrats aren’t picking up, there’s good news for team blue. Analysis of these special elections reveals that Democrats are consistently outperforming the presidential elections results from both 2016 and 2012. Democrats have beaten Hillary Clinton’s numbers in 30 of the 39 contested special elections this cycle, and they improved on Obama’s 2012 numbers in 27 of them. Compared to Clinton’s numbers, Democrats are performing an average of 12 percent better, and they’re even performing 9 percent better than Obama did in these same seats…Democratic voters are energized and Republican voters seem to be unenthused. Also, recruitment for these seats — like in Virginia’s races this fall and even at the congressional level for 2018 — is going incredibly well for Democrats, producing strong candidates who are well-positioned to take advantage of voter enthusiasm.”

In “Shifting attitudes among Democrats have big implications for 2020” Dan Balz observes, also at The Washington Post, “The pressure to embrace single-payer plans grows out of shifts in attitudes among Democrats. The Pew Research Center found in June that 52 percent of self-identified Democrats now support a government-run health-care system. That is up nine points since the beginning of the year and 19 points since 2014. Among liberal Democrats, 64 percent support such a plan (up 13 points just this year) and among younger Democrats, 66 percent say they support it…Health care isn’t the only area in which Democratic attitudes are shifting significantly. Others include such issues as the role of government and the social safety net; the role of race and racial discrimination in society; and immigration and the value of diversity.” Citing a recent Pew Center poll, Balz addds”Three in 4 Democrats say that “poor people have hard lives because government benefits don’t go far enough to help them live decently,” up a dozen points in the past few years…Eight in 10 Democrats say the country needs to continue to make changes to give blacks equal rights with whites, up 18 points since 2014. And more than 6 in 10 say “racial discrimination is the main reason many black people can’t get ahead these days,” up from 4 in 10 three years ago.”

In his Daily Kos post, “Progressive activists must reach out to everyone—including Trump voters who seem to be a lost cause,” Egberto Willies writes, “Many respected Democrats and progressives put all Trump voters in one basket. They suggest that we give up on the white working class, saying they are permanent Republicans who are nativists, racists, anti-immigrant, and much worse. And that is true for many—but not all…Others say that it is time to recognize that the Democratic Party is the party of people of color, and there is no need to keep trying to win over the white working-class voter. That is just as dangerous a statement as the instantiation of the Republican Party as a white party…The Democratic Party must be the inclusive party, one where absolutely everyone feels welcome. It is true that for too long the Democratic Party suffered from the same racial animosities people of color have long faced, but with a facade of progressivism. Democrats would do well to clean up their own house before being too self-righteous…Let’s not allow Trump or anyone else to play us against each other. When we allow that, both sides are left holding the bag while they, those running the plutocracy, eat the caviar.”

Sue Sturgis, who writes facing South’s ‘Institute Index,’ has some data reflecting “The NRA’s death grip on Southern politics,” including: “The unprecedented amount of outside spending the NRA invested in the 2016 election: $52 millionOf that total, percent that went to support just six Republican Senate candidates and Donald Trump: 96Amount the NRA spent on re-electing North Carolina’s incumbent Republican Sen. Richard Burr: $6.2 millionRank of that investment among the largest the NRA has ever made in a down-ballot race: 1Percentage points by which Burr won: about 6…Amount the NRA invested in supporting U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the group’s second-biggest congressional recipient: $3.2 million…”

NYT columnist Charles M. Blow describes one facet of Trump’s politics of distraction thusly: “…Trump is abusing his power by trying to squash dissent through defamation of individual journalists, individual shows and individual networks or newspapers….This battle that Trump insists on maintaining also serves a wider goal for him: distraction. As long as we focus on the latest outrage he publishes on Twitter attacking one person or another, the less time we have to focus on the fact that his presidency thus far is a colossal legislative failure, his cabinet is an unending game of cloak and daggers meets musical chairs, his Justice Department is systematically and unrelentingly expressing its hostilities to equal rights, and Trump’s reckless, emotionally triggered language and actions are making us less safe by denigrating diplomacy and advocating military aggression.” A friend describes Trump’s media strategy this way in a recent email: “(1) take some initiative that appears to promise to deliver on his campaign promises (e.g. abrogate the Iran deal, destroy Obamacare) (2) back off from fully following through with the initiative which would have drastic negative consequences (3) obscure the failure with a flurry of red-meat tweets blaming others for the  apparent setback (4) make a vague overture to Democrats, generating a news cycle or two of simpering MSM approval (5) obscure this overture with a flamboyant attack on some group (Blacks, Latinos etc.) that easily inflames his base. Rinse, cycle, repeat.” The question arises, can he continue to get away with this routine indefinitely? Rachel Maddow, alone among television media, has stated that her show will focus on what Trump does, rather than what he says. That may be the best way for serious reporters to avoid getting suckered by white house media maipulation.

A “polling nugget” from FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten: “CNN viewers are similar to MSNBC’s — MSNBC has ridden Trump bashing to all-time record ratings. According to a new report from the Pew Research Center, however, CNN (which cultivates a down-the-middle image) and MSNBC (generally considered more liberal) have similar audiences in terms of ideological makeup. They have a similar percentage of viewers who identify as liberal Democrats — 26 percent at CNN and 30 percent at MSNBC — and conservative Republicans — 19 percent and 17 percent, respectively. The Fox News audience, meanwhile, may as well represent a different planet: Just 10 percent of Fox viewers call themselves liberal Democrats, while 43 percent call themselves conservative Republicans.”

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