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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

David Bromwich makes the case that “Democrats Dodged a Bullet in the Midterms, But the Culture War is Far From Won” at The Nation. But I think his article’s subtitle, “A Functioning Democracy Requires the Consent, If Not the Votes, of a Good Deal More Than Half the Country” captures the big picture Democrats ought to be thinking about. As Bromwich writes that “Democrats have gotten American culture wrong for several years now; and….their lucky escape in November was owing mainly to the choice of untenable candidates by the rival party—a party still cowed by Donald Trump, who never had much interest in politics and who carried his repulsive election-denial program into Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, and Arizona. Democrats ought to look again at the warnings they received in 2018 and 2020, since the likely effect of persisting in their errors could be read (even in 2022) in Ohio and Florida, and in the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Congressional Districts of Long Island. The final tally of the 2022 congressional races yielded the Democrats 47.8 percent of the popular vote, while the Republicans took 50.7 percent…. the national majority the Democrats can now command adds up to 55 percent on a good day. They have no plan for dealing with the remaining 45 percent—only a small proportion of whom can be dismissed as conspiracy theorists, election deniers, and incurable cranks. A functioning democracy requires the consent, if not the votes, of a good deal more than half the country. How, then, will the 55 percent cope with disagreement on the following issues?” Bromwich notes “the paternalist ethic that judges people by tribe or ancestral group rather than personal qualities; the North Carolina and Harvard college admissions cases, now before the Supreme Court, brought out the indignation that identity politics cannot help provoking in a society that values merit. Merit: the necessary qualification for the job you undertake—not to be confused with meritocracy, the bugbear of the cultural left. The shorter word denotes a recognition of demonstrated competence that is assigned to an individual and not an ascriptive group.”

“Taken as a whole, the midterms have provided a ringing endorsement of the approach to politics favored by President Joe Biden,” Andrew Gawthorpe writes in “The Georgia runoff shows that Democrats have figured out a winning strategy” at The Guardian. “From the first moment it looked like he would enter the 2020 Democratic primary, Biden was maligned and mocked for suggesting that the path to a Democratic victory lay through gains with independent and suburban voters. Critics argued that the country was so deeply polarized that swing voters no longer existed, and that appeals for bipartisanship would fall on deaf ears. In their view, the only viable strategy was to mobilize the Democratic base with leftwing appeals, even at the cost of losing voters in the center….Over two election cycles, however, Joe Biden has proven to have a much firmer grasp on American politics than some of his critics. His victory in 2020 was driven by flipping suburban and independent voters, as well as staunching Democratic losses among the non-college-educated white voters who make up Trump’s base. And even though commentators worried that this coalition was “precariously thin” and lacked durability, a broadly similar coalition came together in key midterm races to produce one of the best results for an incumbent president in modern American politics….As they look forward to 2024, Democrats should stick with Biden’s approach. One of the president’s key insights into today’s politics is that the flagrant extremism of the Republican party creates the space for precisely this sort of centrist approach to work. In 2020, naysayers charged that Biden hadn’t really created a durable new coalition, but merely capitalized on opposition to Trump. But with Trump still defining the Republican party, it will remain important for Democrats to continue to give right-leaning voters an excuse to defect….For their part, the main question Democrats face is whether or not Biden continues to be the best person to put at the top of their ticket. This highlights a paradox, which is that Bidenism is more popular than Biden himself. Despite the key role that independents have played in Biden’s victories, three-quarters of them do not want Biden to run again in 2024, and the group as a whole views Biden only somewhat more favorably than Trump. This is a red flag for many Democrats, who worry that questions about Biden’s age and verbal gaffes could drag them down in 2024….Biden’s coalition is not held together by a charismatic individual who will eventually pass from the scene, but by the structural forces shaping American politics today.”

Interviewed on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), addressed a critical problem for Democrats as they look toward the 2024 elections. As Summer Conception writes at nbcnews.com: “Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said Sunday that he believes his party’s “very bad” messaging cost Democrats support in rural America in the midterm elections in November….In an interview on NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” Tester said Democrats need to focus their messaging “more on the things we’re doing for rural America.”….He also said he doesn’t believe Democrats talk about their accomplishments in a way that appeals to rural voters “nearly enough,” citing the bipartisan infrastructure law that passed Congress last year….“It’s going to help rural America big time, when it comes to broadband and electrical distribution and roads and bridges. We didn’t talk about it,” he said. “We didn’t talk about it from a rural perspective.”….President Joe Biden is still struggling to gain strong support in rural areas almost two years into his presidential term. In a final NBC News poll before the Nov. 8 midterm elections, 44% of registered voters approved of the president’s performance. Biden earned his lowest lower numbers among rural voters (29%) and independents (28%).” In “Democrats show signs of life in rural America” however, Josh Krushaar writes at Axios, “A new analysis of the midterms by centrist Democratic think tank Third Way finds that most Democratic candidates improved on President Biden’s 2020 performance in rural America — with some notable exceptions….Third Way’s data dive labeled counties as rural, suburban/exurban or urban and aggregated the countywide results. The analysis covered 10 states (Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) and 16 races….Pennsylvania Sen.-elect John Fetterman was one of the party’s top rural success stories. He outdistanced Biden by seven points in the state’s rural counties — overperforming Democrats more in the state’s rural counties than in the suburban and urban centers….Among Senate candidates, the party’s top overperformer in the suburbs was Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly, who ran 4.7% ahead of Biden….Only 33% of rural voters backed Biden in the last presidential election, according to a Pew Research Center analysis, a worse showing than Hillary Clinton in 2016.”

In “The Future Is … Doorknocking?,” Alexander Sammon writes at Slate: “Of all the election night surprises of this year’s midterms, none was bigger for Democrats than Marie Gluesenkamp Perez’s shock victory over the Republican Joe Kent in Washington state’s third congressional district. Five Thirty Eight’s modeling had Kent winning in 98 out of 100 scenarios. But Perez, a 34-year-old mother and auto shop owner with now-famous bangs, eked it out—by just under a percentage point….The result, Democrats’ biggest upset in the House, came in a largely rural district outside Portland, Oregon, the sort of place where Democrats have fared particularly poorly of late and were polling dreadfully. But while post-election autopsies have credited the victory to voters’ rejection of Kent’s ties to MAGA extremist groups and Gluesenkamp Perez’s tactful embrace of pro-choice and pro-gun positions, it’s not the whole story. One big reason the Gluesenkamp Perez campaign triumphed has to do with a pretty retro strategy: a big volunteer army of doorknockers….Over the course of the campaign, over 500 people knocked on a total of 40,000 doors spread across Vancouver, Washington, and its rural surrounds. The victory, called officially on November 12, came despite a complete absence of cash support from the Democrats’ official campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which deemed the race a “reach,” and directed its ad budget elsewhere….Much of that money went to those same online and digital tactics: television spots, digital ads, phone calls, texts, and mailers. Making actual contact with voters, meanwhile, got even more difficult. Hardly anyone even picks up the phone anymore: As numerous pollsters reported, the deluge of paid messaging, combined with the demise of the landline, has made getting people to pick up calls to answer polling queries nearly impossible; phonebanking has also become exceedingly difficult….Rather than spend time on a futile effort to contact and cajole potential voters, the Gluesenkamp Perez campaign decided to prioritize calling known supporters, convincing them not to pledge their vote but to volunteer their time. A dedicated group of ten volunteers, called the “Call Squad,” focused their energy on encouraging likely voters to show up and knock on doors, and then to come back and do it again. That helped swell the number of doorknockers to nearly 500. Among them: young moms, alienated Republican voters, and political newcomers who had never volunteered before. Many of them made it a habit. “We prioritized getting people to come out again and again,” said Gowan….Recruiting and training unpaid volunteers, especially in smaller House races and communities where those union operations don’t exist, can still clearly make a difference.” I’m wondering if it is less the raw number of doorknockers and more the number of doorknockers with engaging personalities who can energize an upset victory in a district. If so, Democratic campaigns would be wise to identify, court and pamper such individuals as soon as possible.

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