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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

What is the best option for Democratic strategy regarding the sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, now that his accuser has passed an F.B.I.-administered lie detector test? Elana Schor reports that Sen. Jeff Flake, a member of the closely divided Judiciary Committee, “flashed a yellow light Sunday night on Brett Kavanaugh’s high court bid, telling POLITICO that he won’t support advancing the nomination this week if fellow senators don’t do more to hear out a woman accusing the nominee of sexual assault more than three decades ago.” Sen. Bob Corker also supports a delay in the confirmation process. The Washington Post conservative columnist Max Boot writes, “If Republicans try to muscle Kavanaugh’s nomination through now, without any further investigation, they will be guilty of gross deflection of their duty to “advise and consent.” Given their narrow 51-49 majority, it takes only a few Republicans of conscience — paging Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowksi (Alaska), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Ben Sasse (Neb.) and Bob Corker (Tenn.) — to force the majority to do the right thing. Which is to have the FBI investigate the incident, and, if as appears likely, the accusation is found to be credible, to call both Kavanaugh and Ford to testify under oath.” Democrats do need to kep the heat on, and strongly express their opposition to a quick confirmation, especially in light of the latest allegations.

Let’s have an amen for Frank Bruni’s New York Times column, “Democrats’ Top-Secret Formula for Victory: Stop obsessing over ideology. It’s about personality.” The central point of the article is well-encapsulated in the title. After all of the theories about developing a winning formula for political campaigns have been exhausted, there is no substitute for an exciting candidate. Nothing all that new here, but Bruni does provide some well-stated insights, including “…Over and over, as we rapt observers yearn for a pattern and persuade ourselves that we’ve found one only to have it vanish before our eyes…That’s because we’re staring at the wrong thing. Intent on some ideological takeaway, we miss the human moral. This year’s victorious candidates, like so many winners before them, aren’t prevailing simply or even mainly because of the labels they’re wearing or the precise points on the political spectrum to which they can be affixed.” Bruni says of good candidates, “They’re powered by their personalities, their organizations or both. They communicate effectively. They have backgrounds that make sense to voters or temperaments that feel right to them. And they’ve devised ways to reach voters that their rivals haven’t…It’s candidates’ ability to connect and make the case.” But being a good candidate is not just about endowed personal charisma; it’s also about discipline, working hard to be an effective communicator and running a smart campaign. It’s not a 100 percent foolprooof notion — charismatic candidates sometimes get beat by dullards, as Bruni notes. All other factors being equal, however, a candidate who has a really good personality is  usually a better bet than a yawner.

Bruni cites a couple of examples to help make his point: “Did Andrew Gillum, the Democratic contender for governor in Florida, win his primary because he was the most progressive of the four main candidates? That’s a less likely explanation than two others. First, his rivals, fixated on each other, competed for and split the same territory, enabling Gillum to gobble up different ground. Second, he was an impassioned, magnetic competitor with an inspiring biography, a talent for telling it and an innovative approach.” After the horrific shootings at Parkland, FL, Gillum  communicated a sense of compassion for the victims and their families with authentic warmth and sincerity that has become all too rare among current politicians. Bruni also cites Ohio’s Sen. Sherrod Brown as an example of a progressive who also communicates an aura of integrity and dedication with “rumpled authenticity” and Beto O’Rourke, who effectively leverages his personal likeability with an even more impressive work ethic in his Texas campaign for U.S. Senate.

Noam Scheiber and Astead W. Herndon have an outstanding New York Times report on Democratic midterm prospects in a key state, entitled “In Michigan, Female Candidates Target a Key Trump Bloc: Union Voters.” An excerpt: “…Michigan Democrats, like the party’s nominee for governor, Gretchen Whitmer, are determined to recapture union voters in 2018, and in so doing show national Democrats how to retake the state’s critical electoral votes in 2020. For unions, the fall election provides a test of political strength after years of decline, and of the power of economic issues to drive their members’ votes…Michigan Democrats are now on the offensive on the economy, proposing hundreds of millions in spending on infrastructure: “Fix the damn roads!” thunders Ms. Whitmer. They rail against new taxes on pensions and vow to stand up to scofflaw corporations. They insist, à la Mr. Trump, that the state can once again produce good blue-collar jobs.”

Scheiber and Herndon continue, “In 2016 I think I had two people working with me on politics,” said Lisa Canada, the political and legislative director for the state carpenters union, referring to paid staffers. “We have 20 this year.”…All four Democratic nominees for statewide office are women, as are three of the party’s five nominees in competitive congressional races, and they are showing a knack for trying to increase the return on the labor investment in their races. Many of the candidates lighten their populist overtures with an empathy that often evades Mr. Trump — and, some Democrats say, evaded Mrs. Clinton, too…She has discussed spending billions on infrastructure and pointedly contrasts her proposals — which draw inspiration from the epic Mackinac suspension bridge — with the president’s. “At a time when some people want to build walls,” she says in her Grand Rapids lilt, “we in Michigan are going to get back to building bridges.”…Recent public polls have shown Ms. Whitmer with double-digit leads over her Republican opponent, Attorney General Bill Schuette. She also led Mr. Schuette by 22 points among union households in an early September pollcommissioned by the Detroit News…“I think she’s resonated because she’s invited labor to the table,” said Jon Brown, a construction worker and member of a local laborer’s union, citing Ms. Whitmer’s infrastructure plan.”

Margot Sanger-Katz explains why the “No. 1 Aim of Democratic Campaign Ads: Protect Pre-existing Conditions” at The Upshot: “This cycle, even Democrats running in red states are unapologetically putting health care at the center of their campaign messages. There’s a reason: Republican efforts to overhaul the health care system last year were deeply unpopular…A lawsuit brought by several states imperils the health law’s protections for people with pre-existing health conditions, the law’s most popular provision. Recent polls show growing numbers of Americans rank health care as a top issue, and coverage for pre-existing conditions as an important policy…A recent analysis from the Wesleyan Media Project showed that health care was the most common subject of televised campaign advertisements by Democrats in both the House and the Senate…(Obamacare figures in only 1 percent of Republican ads, according to the Wesleyan count.)”

Sanger-Katz presents and analyzes 7 Democratic midterm video ads that effectively target the GOP’s war on protection for pre-existing conditions, including this one:

New York Times columnist David Leonhardt cuts through the fog of simplistic slogans and generalizations and makes it plain: “For the most part, though, the Democratic agenda remains decidedly center-left: Raise taxes on the rich, and use the money to help the middle class and poor. Protect civil rights. Expand educational access. Regulate Wall Street, and fight climate change. Expand health insurance using the current system. And compromise with Republicans when necessary…The radical agenda is the Republican agenda: Make climate change worse, unlike almost every other conservative party in the world. Aggravate inequality. Sabotage health-insurance markets. Run up the deficit. Steal a Supreme Court seat. Keep dark-skinned citizens from voting. Protect Trump’s lawlessness…If you consider yourself a moderate — whether you lean slightly right or slightly left — your choice in this year’s midterms is clear…And if you consider yourself a leftist, I understand you are probably frustrated that the Democrats won’t go further. But look at the big picture. The Democratic Party may not have moved nearly as much as you would like, but the party has moved. It has adjusted its agenda in response to soaring inequality and stagnant living standards…The one mistake no voter should make is pretending that the two parties are just different versions of the same thing.”

Here’s a chart spotlighting four different midterm election forecasts by political scientists, presented by James E. Campbell, author of Polarized: Making Sense of a Divided America, at Sabato’s Crystal Ball.

2 comments on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. Candace on

    “What is the best option for Democratic strategy regarding the sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh?”

    ultimately we’re talking about the treatment of teenage daughters at parties and the allegations are oddly specific to be lies.
    Couldnt their timing be described as a “speak now or forever hold your peace” kind of moment?

    More generally, Americans have to get background checks for a specific job all the time. They have interviews and have to pass those too. What kind of a job they’re trying for determines the scope of the background check. Why are DT/Republicans complaining? Are the rules different if you’re a Republican wanting to work in the United States Government?
    What about getting paid to watch Fox News, golf and tweet attack? Wouldnt most Americans get fired for doing that?
    Are there any work requirements for Republican politicians besides finding creative ways to get off on punishing people for not being wealthy?

    Reply

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