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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

An excerpt from E. J. Dionne, Jr.’s column “What House Democrats need to do” in the Washington Post: “Expanding health coverage, reforming our democracy, restoring upward mobility with well-paying jobs, curbing gun violence and moving to repair our immigration system. Oh, yes, and protecting our constitutional republic from President Trump while rooting out corruption…This should be the agenda of Democrats in the House of Representatives. Already, some pundits are warning that the new majority will “overreach.” But overreach is not the problem for a party that controls only one chamber of Congress…The bigger threat is underachievement. Democrats will squander their victory — their largest gain in House seats since 1974 — if they fail to use their power to show what the alternative to Trumpism looks like…Democrats are also being counseled against becoming the all-investigations-all-the-time party…Committee chairmen should carefully time the inquiries so that scandals don’t push each other aside and thereby fail to penetrate the public consciousness.” The rest of the column merits a thoughtful read by all Democrats.

So how does an African American woman advocate of gun control, Medicaid expansion and other liberal causes get elected in a deep south suburban congressional district that is more than two-thirds white? Daniel Marans and Sarah Ruiz-Grossman explore some answers in their article, “How Lucy McBath Won The Same Georgia District That Jon Ossoff Lost” at HuffPo. Among their observations: “Ossoff’s defeat was not a total loss for area Democrats. His candidacy prompted the creation of a sophisticated Democratic voter turnout operation driven by a base of enthusiastic volunteers that did not go away…The infrastructure was there for McBath, a 58-year-old African-American woman and former Delta Airlines flight attendant, to take advantage of a year later.“…She ran on a platform of tougher gun safety regulations, affordable health care, ensuring women’s reproductive rights and preserving middle-class tax cuts…McBath could point to an ongoing, deep presence in the community. McBath had a compelling personal story…She was first thrust into the national spotlight in 2012 when her teen son, Jordan Davis, was shot dead by a white man at a Florida gas station angry about the volume of the music Davis was playing in his car. Her tragic loss spurred her into activism, as a spokesperson for gun safety group Moms Demand Action, and now into political office…McBath is also a two-time survivor of breast cancer. She invoked her experience when making the case for defending the Affordable Care Act’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions…Notwithstanding Georgia’s pro-gun conservatism, the proliferation of mass shootings has nudged many suburban women with conservative fiscal tendencies to embrace stricter gun laws.” McBath, the daughter of Lucien Holman, a former president of the NAACP’s Illinois state chapter, put together an exceptionally diverse and energetic campaign, more like a social change movement than the average election team.

For a revealing look at the activist army that powered the progressive victories of the 2018 midterm elections, read Micah L. Sifry’s “The Outsider Democrats Who Built the Blue Wave: Grassroots activists have organized a movement stronger than Obama’s, and the midterm elections were just the beginning” at The New Republic. Sifry decribes the ‘wave’ of volunteers, who knocked on 115,000 doors to help first-time Democratic candidate Antonio Delgado secure an upset win against Republican incumbent in NY-19 and adds, “The wave crested in formerly Republican-leaning House districts all over the country, lifting first-time candidates like Abigail Spanberger in Virginia, Mikie Sherrill in New Jersey, and Kendra Horn in Oklahoma, and ultimately delivering the House to Democrats for the first time since 2010…There will be many explanations for these victories, but the sheer size of the volunteerism was clearly a deciding factor. The mobilization was not merely unprecedented for a midterm; it reached levels typically seen only in a presidential year. More important, activists developed new and different approaches to mobilizing the volunteers who were phone banking and knocking on doors this fall…liberal organizing has now spread out to dozens of independent national groups and thousands of local ones, most of them completely new and not directly connected to the party.”

Sifry notes that the Obama campaign’s higly-effective Organizing for America was absorbed into the DNC, which Safry calls “a choice that sapped grassroots energy” and “contributed to its losing 968 state legislative seats over the next eight years” and the 2016 disaster. However, “Into that vacuum came a new cohort of activists. To begin with, older women and younger but more experienced Democratic campaign staffers launched Indivisible. From a Google Doc started by a group of young congressional aides, it spawned 6,000 local chapters (at least two in everycongressional district). The Women’s March prompted the launch of thousands of local huddles. And soon, a long list of new groups emerged to direct campaign knowledge, data, and resources wherever they were most needed…The most notable aspect of Democratic midterm organizing in 2018 was that it operated without any central command. It was more like a swarm than an army, surging to places that traditional Democratic consultants never bothered to go.” Sifry also notes the role of grass-roots fund-raising groups, including ActBlue, Data for Progress and the Movement Voter Project, which multiplied contributions to progressive candidates over previous levels. He cites the work of Mobilize America and the Action Network, which helped produce 2 million pro-Democratic volunteers over the last 18 months of the midterm campaign. Sifry concludess that “That most of these new groups stand outside the main party structures is significant. No politician or campaign operative can control or dismantle them.” With maintenance and care, these groups can thrive and “That can only bode well for 2020.”

In his article, “Tuesday Showed the Drawbacks of Trump’s Electoral Bargain: Important segments of his coalition stood by him, but Democrats made inroads with urban and suburban white voters uncomfortable with his style and values” at The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein notes that “the defining trend of the night—as throughout the Trump presidency—was the substantial gap between white voters with and without a four-year college education. That gap helps explain both the Democratic suburban gains in the House and the strong GOP performance in the Senate…In both the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections under Obama, House Democrats won only about one-third of non-college whites and about two-fifths of whites with a college degree. In 2010, Democrats ran six points better among college whites than non-college whites; in 2014, the gap was seven points. But in 2016, with Trump on the ballot, the gap roughly doubled to 13 percentage points, as House Republicans improved further with non-college whites and lost ground among college-educated whites…”

Brownstein continues, “On Tuesday, the gap between the two groups expanded further. Democrats carried only 37 percent of white voters without a college education (compared with 61 percent for Republicans). But Democrats won a 53 percent majority of college-educated white voters (compared with 45 percent for Republicans). Tuesday’s Democratic performance among white voters without a college degree improved just slightly from their weak showings in the 2010 and 2014midterms, when they carried only about one-third of them each time. But their showing with college-educated whites on Tuesday represented a big improvement from those two previous midterms, when they carried about two-fifths of them in each election, according to exit polls. This week, Democrats not only carried 59 percent of college-educated white women, an unprecedented number, but reached 47 percent among college-educated white men; they hadn’t reached even 40 percent among those men nationally in any House election since 2008.

Regarding the Texas, Georgia and Florida elections, Brownstein writes, “Conversely, the Democratic performance among college-educated whites in the South—who tend toward more conservative positions than their counterparts elsewhere, particularly on social issues—continued to lag. O’Rourke did capture just over two in five college-educated whites, which was a notable improvement over earlier Democrats in Texas (who have often struggled to win more than 30 percent of those voters), but it wasn’t enough to overcome Cruz’s distinct advantage among non-college whites, who gave him about three-fourths of their votes, according to the exit poll. Abrams, even more strikingly, lost over four-fifths of whites without a college degree, while attracting just a little over one-third of those with one. That was also better than Georgia Democrats had done in the past, but—pending the final ballot counting—not enough to win. The key to Gillum’s loss, a big letdown for Democrats, may have been his inability to win more than about one-third of college-educated white men (even as he won nearly three-fifths of white women with a college degree).

Liz Mair writes In her Daily Beast article, “Don’t Look Now, but the Mountain West Is Turning Blue,” that “Republicans have a problem…on Tuesday they got hammered in the Mountain West…It’s the continuation of a trend that’s been going on for more than a decade…In the next Congress, Arizona will have more Democratic representatives than Republican ones…President Trump flying into Montana to whip up his base didn’t work; Democratic Sen. Jon Tester hung onto his Senate seat (Montana still has a Democratic governor, too, by the way)…Democrats again won the Colorado gubernatorial race (they’ve now had three governorships back-to-back-to-back). Republican Rep. Mike Coffman lost his race so Colorado, too, will have more Democratic congressmen than Republicans as of January 2019…In Nevada, voters will in January have a Democratic governor for the first time in 20 years, and two Democratic senators to boot. Nevada also elected a Democratic Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General. Three out of four of the state’s congressmen next year will be Democrats…New Mexico’s governorship moved back into Democratic hands…In the next Congress, New Mexico will have an entirely Democratic congressional delegation…In Utah, it looks like the Democrat won in the 4th district.”

“There will be at least 42 Latinos in Congress next year, a record,” notes James Hohman at The Daily 202, and “exit polling showed that 11 percent of the electorate nationally this year was Latino — the same percentage as African Americans. That was up from 8 percent in the 2006, 2010 and 2014 midterms…“About 64 percent of Latinos voted for Democratic congressional candidates and 33 percent voted for Republicans.”…Lisa Garcia Bedolla, a political scientist at University of California at Berkeley, estimates that there was a nearly 120 percent increase in absentee and early ballots cast by Latinos in 2018 compared with 2014, based on her analysis of data from the research firm Catalist. Of those, 76 percent came from “strong” Democrats: “In Texas, Latinos requested 365 percent more early and absentee ballots than in 2014,” Bedolla writes. “Florida saw a 129 percent increase. In contrast, in California — which this year had a handful of highly competitive congressional races but no competitive statewide races — early and absentee ballots requested by Latinos still were up almost 50 percent over 2014.”

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