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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes that “it would be a shame if Warren’s failure obscured what her candidacy actually achieved. When she was riding high, her popularity reflected something important: a widespread appreciation for her as a solutionist. She was willing to build a candidacy on detailed initiatives aimed at solving problems voters care about.Her political reform proposals were state-of-the-art and dovetailed well with H.R. 1, the big voting rights and campaign finance bill passed by the Democratic House. Her plan for universal access to child care was practical and answered an enormous need. Her bill of rights for gig economy workers spoke to radical changes in the nature of employment. Her emphasis on the dangers of monopoly and the need for new approaches to antitrust were part of a much larger trend toward challenging economic concentration…And while her wealth tax aroused controversy, it changed the direction of the tax debate. In one form or another, higher levies on the very wealthy will now be part of any debate over how to raise government revenue that will be needed to pay for new programs and narrow Trump’s deficits…Yes, sexism hurt Warren, and so did her own mistakes. She proffered “big structural change” to a party that mostly just wants to beat an abominable incumbent. But her agenda is not going away. And neither is she.”

In his article, “To Beat Trump, Democrats May Need to Break Out of the ‘Whole Foods’ Bubble” at The Cook Political Report, David Wasserman notes, “Last summer, Senator Elizabeth Warren electrified huge crowds at rallies in Seattle, Austin and New York. The events had one thing in common besides her populist pitch for “big structural change.” At each stop, her trademark selfie lines were less than a mile from a Whole Foods Market, a Lululemon Athletica and an Urban Outfitters…These high-end retailers and brands, popular with urban millennials and affluent suburbanites alike, are increasingly correlated with which neighborhoods are trending blue. The drawback for Democrats? Just 34 percent of U.S. voters — and only 29 percent of battleground state voters — live within five miles of at least one such upmarket retailer, and the Democrats’ brand is stagnant or in decline everywhere else…Once dominant in labor halls, Democrats are more ascendant than ever near galleria malls. But the reality for Democrats is if they aren’t able to stop their slide in less elite locales, President Trump’s advantage in the Electoral College could further widen relative to the popular vote…In fairness, Ms. Warren and the other top 2020 contenders are spending more of their time and energy seeking to woo voters in less cosmopolitan settings. They have no choice: Sixty-nine percent of U.S. voters live closer to a Cracker Barrel, Tractor Supply Company, Hobby Lobby or Bass Pro Shops location than to one of those high-end brands.”

Wasserman adds, “But it wasn’t always this hard for Democrats. In the 1990s, millions of less religious middle-class heartland voters opted for Democrats, in part because they viewed Republicans as the party of rich people and “Bible thumpers” who wanted to impose their moral values on the country. Today, many of those same voters might feel they have even less in common with liberal arts graduates in trendy ZIP codes willing to pay $14 for a half liter of avocado oil, $59 for a recycled tie-dye sweatshirt, $158 for yoga tights or $1,449 for a smartphone.”

“It’s cultural arrogance,” said the veteran Democratic strategist James Carville, who now teaches at Louisiana State University,” Wasserman notes. “On taxing the rich, health care, Roe v. Wade,” he added, “we’re in the majority on all these issues. But in this country, culture trumps policy. The urbanists — voters think they’re too cool for school. And voters pick it up.”…His advice to today’s Democrats: “If you want to win back loggers in northern Wisconsin, stop talking about pronouns and start talking more about corruption in Big Pharma…But the challenge for Democrats is that relatively few voters, especially in Electoral College battleground states, live in these upmarket bubbles…Consider that in the most recent presidential election, 53 percent of all California voters and 57 percent of all Massachusetts voters lived within five miles of a current Whole Foods, Lululemon, Urban Outfitters or Apple Store location. But in electoral battlegrounds, just 33 percent of voters in Florida, 32 percent in Pennsylvania, 24 percent in North Carolina, 20 percent in Wisconsin and 19 percent in Michigan did.”

Wasserman concludes, “Many Democrats who succeeded in 2018 — such as the Marine veteran Conor Lamb in a Pennsylvania House race, the water rights lawyer Xochitl Torres Small in a New Mexico House race and Senator Sherrod Brown, a longtime opponent of job outsourcing, in his re-election in Ohio — had profiles that appealed across this chasm. But it remains to be seen whether the Democratic presidential nominee will be someone whose background and message can bridge the gap…Most Americans have already chosen sides for the November election, and it’s easy to believe there isn’t all that much sorting left to do. It’s also easy to view the divide as purely urban versus rural. But something all eight of the retailers in this article have in common is a growing presence in the suburbs. That should serve as a reminder that when it comes to elections, not all suburbs look or behave alike …To beat Mr. Trump, Democrats will probably need a nominee who can relate to people in the modest suburbs of Harrisburg, Pa.; Eau Claire, Wis.; and Fayetteville, N.C. — not just the chic suburbs of San Francisco, Dallas and Washington, D.C.”

At The Daily Beast, Max Sawicky takes on the prevailing pundit consensus to explain “Why the Democratic Race Isn’t Close to Over,” and notes, “First, Joe Biden’s personal appeal is still in doubt. At this stage, more of it derives from who he isn’t—Donald Trump—than who he is. His strongest support has been from a demographic—African-Americans—for whom his actual record is uninspiring, to say the least. He can’t draw a crowd on a sunny day, while Bernie is still packing them in like nobody’s business. ..Second, Biden’s strength so far rests substantially on delegates from states that Democrats are not likely to win in November: Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, Alabama, South Carolina, and Oklahoma. Democrats in those states certainly have a right to a voice in the nominee. As the weeks pass, those wins will seem less impressive…The states that matter are the ones we all know: Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida. The Sunshine State is probably lost to Sanders, but it’s premature to write him off in the other four. If he wins two of them, we’re back to a horse race. ..Third, while Super Tuesday voters certainly pulled the lever for Joe, they seem to have liked Bernie’s ideas. Exit polls in Maine, Tennessee, North Carolina, Texas and California, for instance, found significant support for, and in some cases strong majorities of Democratic voters evincing a favorable view of, socialism. The rising socialist tendency is also reflected in polling on Medicare For All, Sanders’s signature platform proposal.”

Sawicky continues, “Fourth, the general strength of left-leaning sentiment may foretell a deficit of enthusiasm in November for a Biden-led ticket. Doubts as to Biden’s claim of superior electability will almost surely build once more as additional states run primaries. Even where Biden wins, a narrow victory accentuates doubts as to his electability, and consequently his progress in subsequent primaries. He has to win decisively in blue states to demonstrate his ability to lead the party. So far, he has done that in only three blue states – Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Virginia…Another potential pitfall for Biden is the aura of inevitability that is settling around his campaign, one that can give rise to complacency and tactical blunders. It is worth noting that Biden’s South Carolina victory was had without benefit of any surfeit of organization, funding, or beneficent external intervention. Immediately after Nevada, Biden was perceived as a spent bullet.”

Nate Silver isn’t having any of that in his article, “After Super Tuesday, Joe Biden Is A Clear Favorite To Win The NominationSanders has a window, but it’s small” at FiveThirtyEight. As Silver explains, “As mentioned, Biden will probably get a bounce in the polls as a result of his Super Tuesday wins. The model’s guess (accounting for its projected Super Tuesday bounce for Biden and the effects of Bloomberg and Warren dropping out) is that he’s currently ahead by the equivalent of 6 or 7 points in national polls. So although momentum could shift back toward Sanders later on, it may get worse for him in the short run…There aren’t that many delegates left after March. Some 38 percent of delegates have already been selected. And by the time Georgia votes in two-and-a-half weeks, 61 percent of delegates will already have been chosen. So even if Sanders did get a big, massive momentum swing late in the race, it might not be enough to allow him to come back, with only about a third of delegates still to be chosen.”

In addition, Silver writes, “Some of Sanders’s best states (California, Nevada) have already voted, and the upcoming states generally either aren’t good for him or have relatively few delegates. In fact, given how broadly Sanders lost on Super Tuesday — including in northern states such as Minnesota, Massachusetts and Maine — it’s hard to know where his strengths lie, other than among young progressives and Hispanics, who are not large enough groups to constitute a winning coalition in most states. Conversely, it’s easy to identify places where Sanders will likely lose badly to Biden. Our model has Biden winning a net of about 85 delegates over Sanders in Florida on March 17, where Sanders’s polling has been terrible, and a net of about 35 delegates in Georgia, which votes on March 24…..Finally, even if Sanders does come back, it might merely be enough to win a plurality rather than a majority of delegates. We project that roughly 150 delegates — or about 4 percent of the total of 3,979 pledged delegates available — belong to candidates who have since dropped out or to Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, even after accounting for the fact that statewide delegates are reallocated to other candidates once a candidate drops out.2 That creates an additional buffer that will make it harder for Sanders to win a majority.”

One comment on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. Victor on

    Warren most important mistake was thinking she was competing with Sanders for left wing voters when she should have placed herself in between Sanders and Biden rhetorically, specially on the healthcare issue. Voters care less about plans than self-described ideological positioning.


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