washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

In “Progressives: Take the fight to the states, right now. It’s the only way to win,” Gaby Goldstein writes at Salon: “For decades progressives have over-invested in federal strategies, including legislation, advocacy and litigation. While conservatives have been consistent and ruthless in their efforts to build power at different levels of government, progressives have almost entirely neglected state-level power. Now, with state power dramatically expanding, progressives are structurally and rhetorically unprepared….It’s time for progressives to challenge their thinking about state power. It’s time to reject outdated and ahistorical nostalgia for a Supreme Court that stands on the side of rights and justice — something that only briefly and intermittently existed. It’s time to embrace the fight for state power as a necessary part of the progressive project, and it’s time to commit to reallocating energy and resources downward to political and policy battles in the states….Conservatives have spent generations building an entire political apparatus designed to stack the courts with ideological judges. At the same time, they have focused on winning state legislative races, knowing that these overlooked venues of power are the key to redistricting and voting rights, and that once the judiciary had been captured by conservative ideology, it would give states more discretion to write regressive laws. Republican power in state capitals accelerated dramatically after the post-2010 gerrymandering strategy known as Project REDMAP, which resulted in Republican control of 25 state legislatures. There’s a direct line between that state-level power and this wave of Supreme Court decisions, including the fall of Roe.”

“But while the right has woven state-level strategies into the very fabric of its efforts,” Goldstein adds, “the left has been almost exclusively preoccupied with federal strategies and an aversion to state-level power. For decades, Democrats prioritized federal elections over state-level races, and left-leaning interest groups — including national abortion advocacy organizations — often focused on federal strategies and institution-building, to the near exclusion of local and state ones….Democrats routinely invest far too much money in unwinnable federal elections, while underinvesting in state and local candidates who actually have a chance. FEC filings for federal candidates show that Democrats running in noncompetitive Senate races have raised more than $119 million for their 2022 races so far. To gain some perspective on that, in 2020 Arizona Democrats fell just four seats shy of flipping the state legislature, and raised less than $10 million. This year, Arizona’s Republican trifecta — both houses of the state legislature, plus the governor — passed and enacted an abortion ban….by ceding both institutional and narrative control about the importance and value of state power to their opponents, progressives have directly aided the conservative cause. Progressives’ staunch unwillingness to recognize the interdependence between state and federal power has created a false mutual exclusion between state and federal power-building efforts. That was never a good choice, and now it’s disastrous. We have to build power, sustain it and wield it at both levels of government. We’re behind, and we’ve got to work fast….That understanding can and must fuel a massive redistribution of progressive efforts, strategy and resources toward our states — beginning immediately….Let us reimagine what our states could do for us, envision them as expansive and transformative venues of positive power, and demand that our states create the conditions in which reproductive justice, climate justice and so much more can be achieved.”

Christopher Kang argues that “Democrats Are headed for Disaster With Unfilled Judicial Vacancies” at Slate, and writes: “It’s time for Senate Democrats and the Biden White House to push beyond their current practices in order to fill all of the judicial vacancies by the end of this Congress. As someone who worked on judicial nominations in the Senate and the Obama White House, I know how hard it can be for Democrats to challenge norms, but we have seen Republicans stop at nothing in their relentless push to take and retain control of the federal judiciary to impose their extreme, partisan agenda on a majority of Americans who oppose it. Our federal courts are so far out of balance that we need the president and the Senate to do everything in their power to ensure justice and equality. That means filling every vacancy, even if it means breaking with the few remaining judicial confirmation process norms left in McConnell’s wake or standing up to Republican senators. Beginning to bring balance to our judiciary is more important than respecting Senate traditions….A more aggressive approach to judicial confirmations starts at the White House. Today, there are more than 80 judicial vacancies without nominees, out of 119 announced vacancies. One of the driving causes for this is too much White House deference to senators—both Democratic and Republican. The Biden administration needs to take a more assertive approach and show it is willing to bypass Senate tradition if senators are not proving good partners….The White House must not undermine its well-earned legacy on the courts by curbing its focus on professional diversity or accepting deals that would include conservative extremists. Instead, it must rally Democrats together—at every stage of the nomination and confirmation process—to fill every vacancy with judges dedicated to justice and equality. More than 30 national organizations already agree.”

Noting recent polls indicating a slight bump for Democrats in the wake of the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling, Amy Walter writes at The Cook Political Report: “It’s not that these surveys are necessarily wrong. It’s that they are measuring the initial reactions of voters. As we go forward, the durability of this reaction is the more important. If Democrats’ interest and enthusiasm in the election has indeed been fundamentally impacted, we should see a generic advantage for Democrats hold over the course of several polls taken over several weeks. More importantly, we would see it hold once pollsters move to a tighter “Likely Voter” screen….However, given our polarized electorate, the generic ballot test is not always the best gauge for whether the issue of abortion will have a meaningful impact on the election….Instead, watch for where Democrats decide to ‘lean in’ on the issue (and where they don’t). If you want to know where Democrats think Roe v. Wade ruling could help, look at the states and districts where Democrats and/or Democratic-aligned outside groups are already advertising on the issue. Seven of the twelve states and districts where we’ve seen ads explicitly mention the overturning of Roe v. Wade (via the ad tracking firm AdImpact), are blue states: Connecticut GOV and SEN, Illinois GOV, Washington SEN, Rhode Island GOV, Maryland GOV, MI-11 (Stevens/Levin) and Vermont SEN. The other four states where we’ve seen these ads are in three swing states and two swing congressional districts: Nevada SEN, New Hampshire SEN, Pennsylvania SEN and GOV, NV-03 (Rep. Susie Lee) and WA-08 (Rep. Kim Schrier)….In other words, this issue will play much differently in certain states and districts than in others. Or, as one Democratic strategist put it to me the other day, this is an issue that has “has power in pockets” of the country.”

One comment on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. Victor on

    Opinions on abortion in more recent surveys seem to be polarizing by party. We should also remember that 55% popularity on any given issue at the national level is irrelevant. Only past 60% is there any actual kind of consensus. And it is at the state and district level that things matter. For Republicans as a movement what really matters is their primary voters.

    If abortion doesn’t start moving in the direction of gay marriage (ie consistent growing bipartisan support), then it won’t really be a winning issue for Democrats, just like gun control barely is. It can even backfire if those intensely committed to abortion rights continue to see a party that does nothing but fundraise on the issue but doesn’t deliver on policy.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.