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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Expect plenty of articles in early June marking the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. But Eric Alterman’s “What Can Democrats Learn From Robert F. Kennedy’s Presidential Campaign? Liberals need to find a way to appeal to white working-class voters without betraying their principles” at The Nation is of particular interest now, as Democratic midterm campaigns hit high gear. As Altman writes in the lede, “Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, inspired an important debate with his recent report “The Inclusive Populism of Robert F. Kennedy.” In The New York Times, he argues that Kennedy’s 82-day 1968 presidential campaign provides a model for liberals who seek to recapture the allegiance of white, working-class voters and “forge a powerful coalition” based on a “liberalism without elitism and a populism without racism.” It really is a good time for Dems to understand the elements of RFK’s unique appeal, and Altman’s article illuminates the power of ‘inclusive populism.”

In his cnbc.com article, “Democrats bet on moderates, military veterans to win in GOP House districts, but the strategy faces big tests as the left pushes more liberal stances,” Jacob Pramuk spotlights two promising Democrats running in potential red-to-blue congressional districts, Brendan Kelley (IL-12) and Gina Ortiz Jones (TX-23) as prime examples of candidates well-matched for the unique features of their districts. Pramuk adds that “Of the 33 challengers getting the DCCC’s organizational and fundraising support as part of its “red to blue” effort, at least a dozen have some military or national security experience…Democrats often try to run candidates with military or national security backgrounds to counter a GOP narrative that the party is weak on defense or crime, said Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a Democratic National Committee member. That experience is “particularly valuable” in swing districts where Democrats will need voters to cross ideological lines, she said.”

Other insights from Pramuk’s post: “”No side has ever lost an election because of too much energy, and it’s clear that Democrats have all the energy,” said Tyler Law, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or DCCC. “Ultimately, robust primaries can be very helpful for candidates, especially those who haven’t run for office before…House Republicans won’t say it publicly but they woke up after the special election terrified by the fact that we have a huge amount of Democratic candidates who uniquely fit their districts and have deep records of service,” said the DCCC’s Law. “But that’s not all that keeps them up at night – Republicans know that their stale playbook backfired, particularly on taxes, and now they’re stuck without a single popular accomplishment to campaign on.”

Megan Bernan and Lydia Saad report the latest findings from the Gallup Poll concerning global warming and partisanship, including: “While 82% of Democrats think global warming has already begun to happen, only 34% of Republicans agree. Rather, 57% of Republicans think it will not happen in their lifetime (25%) or will “never happen” (32%)…About seven in 10 Republicans (69%) think the seriousness of global warming is exaggerated in the news, 15% think it is generally correct and 15% say it is generally underestimated. Democrats, however, are much more likely to think the seriousness of global warming is underestimated (64%) or correct (32%), and just 4% say it is exaggerated…Four in five Republicans do not think global warming will pose a serious threat to them in their lifetime; two-thirds of Democrats think it will.”

According to a new CNBC All-America Economic survey, “the data show that the tax cuts have not been felt, at least not yet,” reports Steve Liesman. “The poll was conducted March 17-20, which should be well enough into the year for Americans to notice a change in their withholding taxes. But that’s not the case…Just 32 percent of the public reports having more take home pay because of the tax cuts, including only 48 percent of Trump supporters and 35 percent of the middle class. More than half say they see no change in their paychecks and 16 percent are unsure. It could be that more time is needed for people to notice the change. It could also be that the tax cut provided too small a break to be meaningful to many Americans.”

Regarding the controversy about adding a question about a respondent’s citizenship status in the 2020 census, E. J. Dionne, Jr. explains the problem succinctly: “There’s a reason why the formal census has not asked about citizenship since 1950, and why it is an especially bad idea to reintroduce it now….Response rates to the census in lower-income neighborhoods have long been a challenge, and immigrants in the country illegally have worried that answering the questionnaire could endanger their status, despite legal guarantees of confidentiality. Even legal immigrants have shared these worries….The undercounting of immigrants would create a twofold injustice,” explains E. J. Dionne, Jr. in his syndicated column. “It would tilt representation at all levels of government away from places with large populations of Latinos and other immigrants (often Metropolitan and Democratic-leaning) and overrepresent white, rural regions and states. And it would short-change undercounted areas when it comes to federal funds, since many programs operate on formulas based on the census…In the Trump era, there is an irony here since one legitimate concern in locales with high levels of recent immigration is that their public services are often strained. Cutting money from such jurisdictions only increases the burdens on local taxpayers, native born and immigrant.”

At The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein writes, “All the elections held since 2016 have signaled that Republicans are facing elevated turnout among Democratic partisans eager to hobble Trump. The refusal to challenge Trump—particularly as he rages against the Russia investigation—enhances that risk for Republicans. Their approach threatens to persuade less partisan voters that they need a Democratic House (and perhaps Senate) to impose any limits on a president who daily redefines the words “mercurial,” “belligerent,” and “volatile…One group has emerged as especially alienated from the president: college-educated white women. The group ordinarily leans Democrat, but only slightly: Since 1992, Democrats have never carried more than 52 percent of their votes in House elections, and Hillary Clinton won 51 percent of them in 2016. However, this week’s NBC/WSJ poll found that 63 percent of them now disapprove of Trump and 62 percent intend to vote Democratic in November.”

Lachlan Markay and Sam Stein of CNN report on Tom Steyer’s “impeachment crusade,” the activities of his “foremost political vehicle, NextGen Climate Action,” and how his involvement might impact the midterm elections. Markay and Stein note that NextGen “has raised more than $16 million during the 2018 election cycle. And more than half of those funds have been passed along to other groups or spent on political activity in support of specific candidates…The group has donated millions more to leading left-wing political organizations, including prominent Democratic groups such as opposition research group American Bridge 21st Century, labor union-backed super PAC for Our Future, and, most recently, a $1.5 million contribution to a new state-level political outfit called State Victory Action…NextGen Rising, the youth turnout entity housed in one of Steyer’s nonprofit groups, has been highly active in 10 states, including the crucial battlegrounds of Florida, Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Virginia.” While many Democrats worry that the impeachment initiative could backfire, as it did with President Clinton, others argue that calling attention to Trump’s impeachable offenses has helped position Democrats as a clear alternative for the midterms.

The pivotal role labor unions played in helping to elect Conor Lamb brings a reminder that unions are one of the most important elements of a winning Democratic coalition, and a healthy labor movement is critical for Democratic prospects. “Today, both the Gallup and the Pew polls show public support for unions at its highest level in years: 61 percent at Gallup; 60 percent at Pew, a good 20 to 35 percentage points higher than the approval ratings of President Trump and the Republican Congress,” Harold Meyerson writes in The American Prospect.  “Among Americans under 30, unions’ approval rating is a stratospheric 76 percent. As was the case in the 1930s, pro-union sentiment has grown only after the recovery was well under way…Unions’ new members are not merely younger; they also are increasingly either professional or technical workers. In 2003, 34 percent of all union members were professionals or techs; today, that figure has risen to 42 percent…Should the Democrats recapture the federal government after the 2020 elections, they will need to do something that no Democratic Congress has mustered the will to do in the last 70 years: Change labor law to bolster workers’ right to organize—and, if the Democrats can figure out how to do so, do the same for workers who are independent contractors and temps. They will have strong public backing to make such changes. The anti-plutocratic, pro-democratic politics of the young in particular apply not just to the polity, but to the workplace as well.”

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