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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

If you have any creative ideas for your Democratic congressional rep, now would be a good time to give him/her a jingle at 202-224-3121 (works for all House members) and share them. As Michael Schnell reports at The Hill: “House Democrats are gathering in Baltimore for their annual issues conference this week to chart a path back to the majority in 2024.’ Dems will be “capitalizing on the legislative achievements they secured in the first two years of President Biden’s term, when they had the upper hand in the lower chamber. But success is far from certain as Republicans hammer Democrats on issues including rising costs and the southern border, and several high-profile and high-stakes battles loom this year….“All of us share the same goal,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) said during Wednesday’s opening press conference, “and that is to safeguard the progress that we have made for the last two years, and to make sure that Democrats take the House again in 2024.”….Democrats’ dominance on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue in the last Congress — controlling each chamber and the White House — propelled the caucus toward a number of legislative accomplishments that Biden signed into law….The party claimed victory with the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 rescue package and a $740 billion tax, climate and health bill — both of which were passed along party lines — in addition to the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, $280 billion CHIPS and Science Act and gun safety bill.” Not a bad showing, given the highly-polarized political climate in America. “Democrats have to flip at least five seats next November to retake control of the chamber, an undertaking that the caucus is already gaming out. Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), the chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said on Wednesday that there are 18 Republican-held seats in districts that Biden won in 2020, calling the map “incredible opportunity.”

Every now and then I like to skewer headline writers for their myriad sins, unfairly ignoring the fact that most of them are pretty good. Occasionally, they produce gems, like “You probably won’t get any student loan relief, thanks to a GOP-controlled Supreme Court” over an article by by Ian Millhiser at Vox. It is a rare headline that allocates responsibility with such precision. Even the subtitle is good – “At the end of the day, the most important question in US law is which political party controls the Supreme Court.” The article also makes some good points, including “If you were hoping that your student loans would be forgiven under a program that President Joe Biden announced last summer, you should, unfortunately, make other plans….On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases, Biden v. Nebraska and Department of Education v. Brown, that ask the Court to strike down the student loan relief program. That program would provide $10,000 in relief to most borrowers who earned less than $125,000 a year during the pandemic, and $20,000 in relief to borrowers who received Pell Grants….The Brown case is laughably weak, and no justice appeared to believe that federal courts have jurisdiction to hear this case. But the Supreme Court only too needs to assert jurisdiction over one of these two cases to kill the loan relief program, and the Court appeared likely to split along party lines in the Nebraska case. Though there is an off chance that Justice Brett Kavanaugh or Amy Coney Barrett might break from their fellow Republican appointees, all six of the GOP-appointed justices appeared inclined to kill the program.” Millhiser addresses some of the complexities at issue, then concludes, “Meanwhile, the Court’s Republican appointees seemed more concerned that giving too much power to a presidential administration is itself inherently dangerous, and thus the Court must create some extratextual limits on the administration’s power. Under this approach to the law, the ultimate decision whether to cancel student loans rests not with any elected official, but with the Court itself….And, with six Republican appointees and only three Democrats on the Court, that means that it is likely that no one will have their loans forgiven.” Student loan debtors take notice.

Some perceptive insights from “What Are The Most Vulnerable Senate Seats In 2024?” a FiveThirtyEight chat session: “geoffrey.skelley (Geoffrey Skelley, senior elections analyst): In the grand scheme of things, Tester’s decision is one of the most important of the cycle. If he hadn’t sought reelection, Democrats would have been cooked in Montana….Tester’s ability to outrun Montana’s red partisan lean is a critical part of this. Former President Donald Trump carried Montana by 16 percentage points in 2020, placing the state roughly 21 points to the right of the country as a whole. In that same election, a relatively popular Democratic governor (Steve Bullock) still lost 55 percent to 45 percent against GOP Sen. Steve Daines. But Tester has survived a presidential cycle before, defeating a strong opponent (Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg) in 2012, even while Mitt Romney was carrying the state by 14 points. The state may be a tad redder now than it was back then, but Tester makes this election a toss-up instead of probably a “Solid Republican” race.” That’s good for Dems’ Senate prospects, but Tester might also make a first-rate presidential candidate, should the need arise. “geoffrey.skelley: As for Slotkin, she seems like a solid candidate for Democrats. Having worked for the CIA and Defense Department before entering congressional politics, she’s got a background in national security that might appeal to more centrist voters. She’s also a very strong fundraiser. To that point, her Senate campaign brought in $1.2 million on its first day….She won’t necessarily make people on the left happy, but Michigan is a purplish state and Slotkin has won on purple turf three times now in varied environments: In 2018, she beat an incumbent in a very Democratic-leaning cycle; in 2020, she held onto her seat in a more neutral presidential year; and in 2022, she won reelection by a larger margin than ever before, even though that was a more favorable year for the GOP nationwide.”

Looking at the larger picture Nathaniel Rakich and Alex Samuels note: “alex: ….candidate quality on the Democratic side is so good. The Democrats in the toughest 2024 races are arguably among the party’s strongest. Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia (assuming he runs for reelection), Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Tester have all been battle-tested in their respective red states, and they’ve all overcome their states’ Republican leans — even in presidential years…..nrakich: Yeah, Alex, as you allude to, the Senate map is really bad for Democrats this cycle. They are defending eight seats in states with FiveThirtyEight partisan leansthat are redder than the nation as a whole. And as a reminder, they currently have just a 51-49 majority in the Senate (thanks to three independents who align with them), so they can afford to lose only one seat if Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris win reelection. (And if they don’t, Democrats can’t afford to lose any!)….alex: If Manchin runs for reelection, he would easily be the most endangered Democratic incumbent given that West Virginia went to Trump by nearly 40 points in 2020. When Manchin was on the ballot last, in 2018, he was able to convince Republicans to split their ticket — but I think that’ll be really hard for him next year since it’s a presidential cycle and the top of the ticket could influence his chances down-ballot. (For what it’s worth, reader, the last time he was on the ballot in a presidential year, in 2012, Manchin won by 24 points, while Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney won the state by nearly 27. But partisan polarization has only gotten worse since then.)….geoffrey.skelley: ….Whereas Tester clearly outran the Democratic presidential ticket in 2012, Brown did about as well as President Barack Obama that year. And while Brown also won in 2018, he faced a very weak Republican opponent in then-Rep. Jim Renacci. So Brown may not be quite as much of an outperformer as some think…..alex: Brown is an interesting test case, Geoff, given that he’s the only Democrat to win a nonjudicial statewide race in Ohio since 2012. But between him, Tester and Manchin, I’d argue that Brown is in the best position given his populist street credand the fact that he’s found success working with Republicans while bucking conservative trends in his state.”….Color me skeptical, and I might regret saying this come next year, but I actually don’t think that the Democrats’ Senate outlook is that dire. If Manchin runs, their chances don’t look terrible; even without him, Democrats could hang on if Republicans struggle with candidate-quality issues again. Who knows.”

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