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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

As the nation celebrates the 2024 Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, Democrats would do well to emulate the broad, bipartisan coalition that Dr. King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, mobilized to pass the legislation. It may be that such bipartisan coalitions created by Democrats can help to enact future reforms now languishing on the party’s legislative agenda. After Dr. King was assassinated, some public figures called for establishing a national holiday in his honor. The legislation stalled for more than a decade, as right wing members of the House and Senate were able to block the legislation. In the late 1970s, however, a petition campaign launched with the support of Atlanta-based The King Center headed by Mrs. King began to pick up steam – and millions of signatures. Mrs. King and superstar Stevie Wonder, whose song “Happy Birthday” helped galvanize grass roots support for the holiday, personally delivered petitions bearing six million signatures in two truckloads to Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill, who was impressed enough to prioritize the holiday legislation. Drawing on lessons she learned from serving as Chair of the National Committee for Full Employment and the Full Employment Action Council in the 1970s, Mrs. King organized a large coalition to urge congress to pass the holiday bill. The King holiday bill began to clear committees and by 1983 made it to a floor vote. 1983 was also the 20th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, and Mrs. King mobilized a coalition of more than 800 diverse human rights organizations which gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to mark the occasion. The coalition adopted a legislative agenda with the MLK holiday at the top of the list, and the gathering exceeded the turnout for the original March on Washington. The 20th Anniversary March took place after the House approved the bill, but  before the Senate vote, and the event’s high turnout and group lobbying helped win the votes needed for approval. Indeed, the bipartisan coalition she led secured the votes of quite a few Republicans, including Rep. Jack Kemp (NY-31), who was instrumental in winning support from his fellow Republicans. Even Sen. Strom Thurmond, once an arch-segregationist, supported the bill and Republican President Reagan signed it into law. Although far fewer of today’s Republican members of congress support bipartisan initiatives, Democrats could benefit from the coalition-building strategy Mrs. King leveraged so effectively.

The consequences of today’s Iowa caucuses vote are not likely to have much impact on Democratic campaign strategy. Trump is expected to win big, and the only suspense is whether former SC Gov. Nikki Haley will finish ahead of FL Gov. Ron DeSantis and by how much. Then it’s on to New Hampshire for the GOP, and Iowa will become a fading memory. Democrats should probably expect that former Gov. Haley will be Trump’s running mate, because of GOP hopes that she will draw some added women votes. If Florida presidential polls get closer near the GOP convention in the summer, Trump may pick DeSantis instead. There are not a lot of strategic implications for Democrats in Trump’s choice of a running mate, since his outsize media persona and legal problems will likely render his veep choice of even less consequential than usual. Most women voters who are paying attention and care about their reproductive rights will likely vote Democratic, no matter who Trump choses. As for democratic chances to win Iowa’s electoral votes in November, it’s doubtful, but not impossible. Trump won the state’s electoral votes in 2020 by 53.1 to 44.9, a margin of 8.2 percent. That’s a bit better for Dems than 2016, when Trump’s margin of victory was 9.5 percent. Before that, President Obama won the state’s electoral votes in both 2008 and 2012. Barring a major upset, the Iowa vote tallies today won’t influence President Biden’s campaign strategy.

In “Did Trump or Biden deliver more for farmers? The answer may surprise you. The former president is using his ag record to appeal to Iowa voters. Farm income, however, rose under Biden,” Garrett Downs writes at Politico: “….Net farm income has actually gone up since the Democrat entered the White House. On average, net farm income has totaled $165 billion between 2021 and 2023, compared to $94 billion between 2017 and 2019. Farm income reached a record high of nearly $189 billion in 2022. And while it is projected to drop off in 2023 (USDA is still tallying receipts from December 2023), it remains above the 20-year average for receipts….The challenge for Biden is convincing farmers, who lean heavily Republican, that he’s been just as good if not better for their bottom lines than Trump, should the two face a rematch in 2024. For Democrats, chipping away at Republicans’ margins of victory in rural areas is critical to their 2024 hopes of maintaining the White House and Senate — and winning back the House….The administration has leaned heavily on Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and USDA to try and change voters’ minds in agriculture-heavy areas. In the past several months, the former Iowa governor has visited Minnesota, Maine, Washington and the early primary state of New Hampshire to tell farmers about the gravy train Biden has brought to town — and how his administration is working to distribute the recent surge in ag profits to farmers across the spectrum, not just the largest ag conglomerates….“Beyond providing over $56 billion in specific direct federal assistance programs to support American farmers who feed our country and the world, the President has taken unprecedented executive action to level the playing field so small and mid-sized farmers can get a fair price for their products, while making billions of dollars in transformative investments through the American Rescue Plan and Inflation Reduction Act,” White House spokesperson Jeremy Edwards said in a statement to POLITICO….”the Trump years were pretty low in terms of income,” said [Joe] Glauber, who now serves as a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute. “That would have taken it down to probably one of the lowest levels that we’ve had in several years.”….But the former president’s proposals on trade are rattling some in the agriculture industry, which is fearful of another prolonged trade war….Glauber, for one, warned that should Trump be reelected, the former president’s plan to aggressively expand tariffs risks triggering another trade war that would “really hurt U.S. agriculture.”…“If I were a presidential candidate, I certainly would be pounding on that point,” Glauber added.”

From “Why older voters have stuck with Biden more than younger generations” by Ronald Brownstein at CNN Politics: “Many of these same polls have found Biden running at least even with Trump among seniors, or slightly ahead, as a CNN survey in early November did; recent national polls by NBC and Quinnipiac University have even shown double-digit advantages for Biden among voters 65 and older. (A project that attempts to average the crosstabs of all major surveys, including some that CNN does not consider methodologically sound, found Biden slightly trailing Trump among seniors but improving on his 2020 showing with them.) In several of these surveys, seniors are now Biden’s best group against Trump; in others they are tied with young people as the most supportive. But the two generations are moving in opposite directions, with Biden gaining or holding steady with seniors in most polls compared with 2020, while his vote among young people is often around 15 points lower than his performance last time….Older Americans are hardly immune to all the crosswinds that have battered Biden’s standing. But they have proven somewhat more resistant than younger voters to those trends. In the latest CNN national survey, for instance, most seniors describe the economy as fair or poor, but the share that describe it in positive terms (43%) is at least 15 percentage points higher than among any other age group. LeaMond noted that while inflation obviously pinches seniors living on fixed incomes, they are benefiting from a significant Social Security cost-of-living increase and higher interest rates on savings. “The way we look at it is, seniors seem to feel, in general, more comfortable economically than other groups,” she said….Seniors also appear somewhat more resistant to the idea that Biden should step aside because of his age. In the New York Times/Siena poll, most swing-state seniors agreed that Biden is too old to serve effectively as president, but fewer of them said so than younger generations. In that same survey, seniors were far more likely than younger generations to say that Biden has the mental sharpness to serve effectively (though only about half of them agreed with that sentiment)….A bigger problem for Biden is that KFF polling in November found that only about one-fourth of Americans know about his major initiatives to constrain drug prices, with awareness among seniors only slightly better. (More seniors know about Medicare’s new authority to negotiate lower prices, but just 44% of them are aware even of that, KFF found.)….Whatever happens with seniors, Biden’s weakness with younger Americans remains a huge source of concern for Democrats. Younger voters born after 1980 (millennials and Generation Z) are growing a share of the electorate, while older voters born before 1964 (the baby boomers and Silent Generation) are shrinking: The nonpartisan States of Change Project forecasts that for the first time, the younger group will equal the older as a share of all voters in 2024.”

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