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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes in his syndicated column that “it was only in Joe Biden’s closing comments that the gravity of our situation was truly brought home. “We can overcome four years of Donald Trump,” he said, “but eight years of Donald Trump will be an absolute disaster and fundamentally change this nation.” That’s a good message for all progressives going forward to November 3rd. Dionne, also notes of the Iowa Democratic presidential debate, “This debate likely leaves Iowa’s poor caucus-goers more uncertain than ever as they decide under the cloud of a national political crisis. But it made one thing obvious: The outcome on a cold Monday night in February will hang on whether most of them are thinking about the urgency of dispatching Trump, or are pondering instead the kind of country they want to build after he is gone.”

At The Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky flags a ‘sleeper’ issue, which may bear on the Iowa caucuses outcome: “In 2015 and 2016, when Trump and Sanders were gaining steam, support for free trade sank (though it never, to my knowledge, went below 50 percent). But that has changed. And last August, an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll found that support for free trade was at an all-time high: By 64-27 percent, Americans said free trade brought more benefit than harm. Majorities of Republicans and Democrats agreed with the statement that “free trade is good for America, because it opens up new markets, and the country can’t avoid the fact of a global economy.”…And that brings us to last December’s House vote on USMCA, which passed by a whopping 385 to 41. All three of Iowa’s House Democrats voted for it: Cynthia Axne, Abby Finkenauer, and David Loebsack all said yes. The AFL-CIO, which is important in the state, said yes. In addition to that, naturally, Iowa’s farmers and leading business associations are all for it. Environmental groups are strongly opposed…The Senate hasn’t voted on it yet. It will do so soon—maybe before the Feb. 3 caucuses. Sanders will vote no, but Warren (and Klobuchar) will vote yes. It’s not likely to generate a ton of media interest, but it could shift a lot more votes here than most people realize, and the exchange may have been this debate’s sleeper moment.”

From Ronald Brownstein’s analysis of the debate in The Atlantic: “Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, the two senators jostling for the support of the Democrats’ most progressive voters, both delivered confident, aggressive performances in which they underlined their commitment to an array of liberal causes, from withdrawing all American forces from the Middle East to raising taxes on the rich and opposing most free-trade agreements…None of the more centrist candidates on the slimmed-down debate stage was nearly as vivid. And overall, the debate lacked the intensity that many expected for the final confrontation before the first votes are cast in Iowa, on February 3—especially since recent polls have shown the top four candidates all closely bunched together. The evening’s most anticipated moment largely fizzled, too. Sanders flatly denied that he told Warren, during a private meeting in 2018, that he believed a woman could not win the presidency, as initially reported by CNN. And when asked about Sanders’s denial, Warren chose not to challenge him—detouring instead into a forceful argument for why women can win elections. Without a genuine confrontation between the two, the real fulcrum of the debate was the division between the two of them and former Vice President Joe Biden, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.”

Brownstein continues, “But none of them delivered that case with as much conviction and energy as the two leading liberals on the stage. Biden, in particular, vanished for much of the debate; until his closing statement—which featured a strong appeal to reclaim the American character from Trump—it seemed unlikely that viewers would remember much of what he said. (While the Los Angeles debate last month dampened concerns among many Democrats about Biden’s capacity to build a case against Trump in the general election, last night’s performance seems destined to rekindle them.) Klobuchar and Buttigieg were better at making the case against the ideas from the left, particularly single-payer, though neither was as effective as they had been in earlier encounters.”

Aaron Bycoffe, Saah Frostenson and Julia Wolfe report on the findings of a poll by FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos following the debate  “we asked respondents to estimate each Democrat’s chances of defeating Trump, from 0 percent (no chance) to 100 percent (certain to win). Going into the debate, as in other general-election polls, Biden was the candidate voters thought was most likely to beat Trump, on average. He still leads on that question after Tuesday’s debate, with Sanders in second. But, as you can see below, Biden’s average stayed essentially unchanged while all the other candidates gained ground.”

At CNN Politics, Grace Sparks reports on the findings of a new CNN/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll, conducted Jan. 2-8: “Majorities of likely Democratic caucusgoers say they’re optimistic, fired up, feminists and … exhausted by politics. A new poll from CNN/Des Moines Register/Mediacom finds fewer soon-to-be caucus attendees consider themselves socialists than capitalists, and almost a quarter are regular Twitter users…Three-in-five likely Iowa Democratic caucusgoers say they’re fired up, especially those who are very liberal (76%), extremely enthusiastic about their first choice candidate (76%), and have locked in who they’ll caucus for (71%). Likely caucus attendees who say they’ll “definitely attend” rather than “probably attend” the caucus are more likely to describe themselves as “fired up” (66%)…But just as caucusgoers are fired up, they’re also pretty tired. Over half (54%) say they’re “exhausted by politics.” Lynn Richards, a retired social worker in Iowa, says she can’t turn on the TV without being bombarded by political ads.”

There is no substitute for personal, press-the-flesh contact, but I doubt that the impeachment trial is going to hurt any Democratic presidential candidates who can’t campaign in Iowa because they have to stay in Washington, D.C. As Ella Nilson and Li Zhou note at Vox, “Campaign spokespeople for three of the four senators told Vox they’re planning to fill in with a range of tactics such as having high-profile surrogates and candidates’ families hit the trail in the early states this week. And with social media, senators can hold events remotely or send messages out to their supporters. For the events they do conduct in person, at least one plans to focus on evening appearances in New Hampshire, which is logistically more accessible from Washington…For about a week, voters in Iowa and New Hampshire should expect to see a lot of the candidates’ spouses and family, as well as high-profile surrogates who have endorsed them…Warren and Sanders, in particular, have a number of celebrity endorsers who could hit the trail to draw crowds. A Warren campaign spokesperson pointed Vox to a previous statement made by communications director Kristen Orthman to the Washington Post.”

In their article, “Ratings Changes: Senate, House, and Governor,” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Kyle Kondik and J. Miles Coleman write that “The Kansas Senate race is getting a lot of national buzz, but we still see the GOP as clearly favored to hold the seat…The chances of Republicans springing Senate upsets in New Hampshire and Virginia appear to be growing dimmer…Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D-CA) decision not to hold a special election for CA-50 makes it likelier for Republicans to hold the seat…Vermont is a sleeper Democratic gubernatorial target.”

“Even if the Democratic nominee manages to hold all the states Hillary Clinton won,” Amy Walter writes at The Cook Political Report, “and win back Pennsylvania and Michigan, they can’t get to 270 without adding Wisconsin (or picking up Arizona, a state Clinton lost by almost four points). Trump can’t afford to lose Wisconsin either — unless he’s able to pick up neighboring Minnesota — a state where he came within 44,000 votes back in 2016…The most recent Marquette University Law School poll found a similar level of stability in opinions of President Trump that we see in national polling. His job approval in the state was 48 percent approve to 49 percent disapprove — not much different from his December showing of 47 percent approve to 50 percent disapprove. But, Charles Franklin, the Marquette pollster, notes that it “is the first time Trump’s disapproval has fallen below 50 percent in the Marquette Law School Poll since March 2017 when 47 percent disapproved.”

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