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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

ACORN Smear Shows GOP Hypocrisy

You have to give the Republicans credit for having a lot of raw nerve. How does a political leader who professes to have enough integrity to ask for public support get in front of national TV cameras and rail against a non-profit organization for turning in some fraudulent voter registration forms, when his/her political party is the worst purveyer of vote theft in the history of democracy?
At the 3rd presidential debate at Hofstra on Wednesday night John McCain said that ACORN was “on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.” In Westchester Ohio, GOP VP nominee Sarah Palin told a rally “In this election, especially here in Ohio, you’re going to be asked to choose between a candidate who will not disavow a group committing voter fraud and a leader who will not tolerate it.”
This from the standard-bearers of the party that gave us the Brooks Brothers Riot and other electoral atrocities in the 2000 and 2004 elections. For a good history of Republican “ballot security” campaigns going back several decades, click here.
Since the smear ACORN campaign began, ACORN workers have experienced death threats, racist insults and their offices have been vandalized in at least two cities, according to this report by Greg Gordon of McCatchy Newspapers.
How accurate are the McCain-Palin attacks on ACORN? According to an October 16th New York Times editorial,

The group concedes that some of its hired canvassers have turned in tainted forms, although they say the ones with phony names constitute no more than 1 percent of the total turned in. The group also says it reviews all of the registration forms that come in. Before delivering the forms to elections offices, its supervisors flag any that appear to have problems.

In his ABC News web page article, “McCain Acorn Fears Overblown: Charges of Voter Fraud Are Out of Proportion to Reality, They Say,” Justin Rood explained:

But McCain’s voter fraud worries – about Acorn or anyone else – are unsupported by the facts, said experts on election fraud, who recall similar concerns being raised in several previous elections, despite a near-total absence of cases.
“There’s no evidence that any of these invalid registrations lead to any invalid votes,” said David Becker, project director of the “Make Voting Work” initiative for the Pew Charitable Trusts…Becker should know: he was a lawyer for the Bush administration until 2005, in the Justice Department’s voting rights section, which was part of the administration’s aggressive anti-vote-fraud effort.

There have been a few phony voter registration applications submitted by ACORN canvassers. But there has only been one documented case of actual voter fraud attributed to ACORN. Vote suppression, however, is a far more common form of vote theft, and it has been practiced on a massive scale by Republicans. As M.S. Bellows, Jr. put it in his HuffPo article on the topic:

…When I and other reporters pressed RNC communications director Danny Diaz and RNC chief counsel Sean Cairncross to name specific instances of ACORN-registered voters who had actually cast fraudulent ballots, they could name just one: a single Ohio man who was caught yesterday trying, unsuccessfully, to cast a fraudulent ballot. Even Florida’s Republican governor says that his fellow Republicans may be exaggerating the problem.
…Voter suppression practices are the flip side of such efforts. Suppression efforts can appear innocuous, such as requiring voters to show photo I.D.s – a requirement that excludes a surprising number of poor, minority, very young and very old voters and kept several elderly nuns from voting in Indiana’s Democratic primary this year. Suppression can pose as false righteousness, such as Fox News’s 342 negative mentions of a single voter-registration group in just four days (casting the group’s efforts to register underrepresented demographics as a threat to democracy, and frightening voters registered by that group into thinking that their registrations might be unlawful), or the past Republican practice of stationing armed, uniformed “Ballot Integrity” personnel in minority polling places (again, tamping down turnout). And there is no lack of flatly illegal suppression schemes, such as vote “caging” (in which voter resident status is challenged merely because their house is in foreclosure or because a piece of direct mail was returned by the post office), robo-calls falsely telling voters their polling places have changed, and deceptive flyers (like the ones posted in Pennsylvania’s inner-city and college neighborhoods, warning of police plans to arrest voters for unpaid child support or parking tickets).
The parties argue every year over whether vote suppression or vote fraud is the greater threat to democracy, but the numbers suggest that it’s no contest: about six people are convicted each year of actually casting ballots fraudulently, while hundreds of thousands of people who are entitled to vote fail to do so because of misinformation, intimidation, deception, or bureaucratic hurdles.

Bellows also links to an illuminating interview with with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Greg Palast on the sordid history of massive vote suppression by the GOP.

Ayers Distraction Not Likely to Sway Final Debate

There may well be some discussion about Senator Obama’s relationship with former domestic terrorist William Ayers in tonight’s presidential debate. McCain has said as much, although he would be smart not to bring it up, contrary to the sage advice of Rudy Giuliani, whose political judgment earned him a poor showing in the primary season early on. Better for McCain if debate moderator Bob Schieffer brings it up, if it must come up at all.
No doubt, McCain’s prep team is hard at work on creating an Ayers zinger or a ‘Have you stopped beating your wife?’ type question for Obama. Senator Obama’s prep team is undoubtedly working on possible responses. But it shouldn’t be too hard. Their candidate has handled the Ayers distraction exceptionally well thus far, pointing out that he was eight years old when Ayers committed his crimes and quickly adding that the Ayers fuss is just another irrelevant distraction to get voters off the economy, health care Iraq and other issues that actually affect their lives.
I agree with TNR‘s Christopher Orr that it’s hard to envision a scenario in which McCain gets much leverage out of talking about Ayers. It’s already been discussed ad nauseum, and the shrinking pool of swing voters left — at least the thoughtful ones — could not be blamed for going to the bathroom during that part of the debate. If McCain goes on too long about it, he will look trifling, stuck in the past and even more desperate.
McCain might even pass on it altogether, on the theory that he will get some respect from fence-sitters for sticking to the important issues and getting back on the high road. Recent polls have shown that his attacks on Obama have been counter-productive. Letting the ads do the dirty work might be his preferred strategy going forward. It’s likely that the sort of voters who think Ayers is still relevant are already supporting McCain anyway.
Schieffer may also pass on asking an Ayers-related question. He has expressed an eagerness to make this debate the most substantial one yet held, with more detail on policy. That would leave very little time for distractions, especially given the complexity of issues like the economy, Iraq and health care, which voters care more about. The more interesting question is whether Schieffer will be even-handed enough, if Ayers comes up, to ask McCain to account for his close relationship with G. Gordon Liddy, who has reportedly urged political violence. McCain is said to have received funds raised by Liddy on several occasions and he has complimented Liddy lavishly.
The Ayers “issue” is most likely a wash-out, helping and hurting both candidates in equal measure. Neither candidate will gain or lose much because of it. But the public will be a big winner if the time is more productively spent exploring solutions to improving health care, getting out of Iraq, restoring economic stability and creating prosperity for all citizens.
My one unsolicited bit of advice for Obama in tonight’s debate: I’ve noticed that he tends to tilt his head at a 45 degree angle in sit-down interviews, like Meet the Press. Tonight is also a sit-down format, so maybe make an effort to keep his head more vertical to help convey confidence.

Endgame More About Turnout Than Undecideds

Ezra Klein’s L.A. Times op-ed provides a sobering assessment of the importance of ‘undecided’ voters two dozen days before the election. Klein, an associate editor of The American Prospect, begins by noting the media attention now being lavished on undecided voters:

It was the Undecided Voter whom Gallup asked to submit the questions. It was the Undecided Voter who filled the audience. It was the Undecided Voter who turned the dials controlling CBS’ squiggly reaction lines and recorded his (or her) responses for CBS’ postelection survey…Undecided voters are believed to be the decisive slice of the American electorate, so they get the debates and the ads and the focus groups (assuming, that is, that they live in a battleground state).

But if Klein is right, the smarter strategists of both campaigns are going along for the ride, but not taking the undecideds too seriously, because

…There are no solid numbers on undecided voters — in part because the numbers change with every election and, within every election, with every successive month and event and every poll…Worse, many of those who claim to be undecided are not. Some don’t want to admit their preference. In their paper, “Swing Voters? Hah!” political scientists Adam Clymer and Ken Winneg amassed substantial data suggesting that very few undecided voters are truly indecisive. Examining the 2004 election, Clymer and Winneg found that even the most hard-core of undecided voters were fairly predictable.
They asked the 4% of their sample that claimed to be undecided to rate the two candidates in early October. When they went back to the same people after the election, more than 80% had in fact voted for whichever candidate they’d rated most highly a month earlier.

Klein also cites a study of nine presidential elections by SUNY Buffalo political scientist James Campbell, who concluded “In only one of the nine elections, the 1976 race between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, did the swing vote majority override an opposite majority among non-swing voters.” To which Klein adds, “in other words, in eight of the last nine elections, the winner could have lost swing voters but won the race.”
Klein also notes that between 5 and 12 percent of voters fit into the ‘undecided’ category in Gallup, Hotline and Rasmussen tracking polls. So just doing a ballpark extrapolation, maybe 2 percent of voters are genuinely undecided. With the stark choice between candidates and the economy going seriously south, there is every reason to expect that they will break more for Obama than McCain.
With 24 days to go, it appears that the battle for hearts and minds is pretty much over. For Dems, it’s all about turnout. McCain and Palin will continue with the fear-mongering and coded hate-messaging politics of distraction, having no credible answers to the economic crisis. But it probably won’t do them much good. The Republican Campaign and Party machinery, as usual, will divide their energies between turnout of their base and suppression of the votes of pro-democratic constituencies.
By all accounts the Obama campaign and progressive groups have done an amazing job of registering new voters. The rest of the campaign should be about energizing Obama supporters, keeping the excitement at a high level and getting all those new registrants to the polls on election day. It’s also critically-important that the Obama campaign and Democratic party groups be better prepared than were the Gore and Kerry campaigns to prevent voter intimidation and vote theft.

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Planetariums

Does anyone else out there find it a little odd that Senator McCain is so obsessed with trashing planetariums? I understand that a hefty portion of his base harbors a medieval suspicion of science education in general. But you would think that a Senator, a former pilot at that, who prides himself in being a strong champion of our national security would at least get it that teaching young people about the cosmos is a good way to get them interested in physics, rocket science and the like. Here’s what McCain said at the debate:

He [Obama] voted for nearly a billion dollars in pork barrel earmark projects, including, by the way, $3 million for an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Illinois. My friends, do we need to spend that kind of money?

It wasn’t just the words. it was the contemptuous tone, as well as the monumental hypocrisy behind it. It’s OK to squander $300 U.S. taxpayer dollars per month on each of thousands of Iraqi government employees, with no end in sight. But a couple of million dollars on America’s oldest planetarium? How outrageous. Then there’s the duplicity of calling it an “overhead projector” to make it sound like a grade school slide machine, when he knew better.
it wasn’t the first time McCain trashed planetariums in attacking Senator Obama. Back in September McCain was quoted as saying “And when you look at some of the planetariums and other foolishness that he asked for, he shouldn’t be saying anything about Governor Palin.”
To which theoretical physicist JoAnne Hewett responded:

Quite frankly, I am left speechless at the phrase: ‘planetariums and other foolishness…Sorry, but replacing 40 year old equipment at one of the leading science education facilities in this country (the Adler Planetarium is located in downtown Chicago and is the oldest planetarium in existence today) is one of the best investments in the future that I can think of. I’ve always equated planetariums with science education – an area where the US seems to be lacking.

What is even more worrisome is the subtext behind McCain’s contempt for planetariums. It’s not just a reactionary attitude toward science. He has never placed much value on education in general and sees federal investment in education as a waste. If elected, he and Palin could do serious damage to America’s ability to compete in the years ahead with other nations which are making major investments in upgrading their educational systems. It would be hard to devise a quicker way to turn America into a second-rate power than electing the pair of them. One more reason to write another check for Obama.

King of Bluegrass Endorses Obama

My one gripe about our otherwise great Democratic convention is that the soundtrack was a little short on country music for a party that aspires to make some inroads into working-class America. Well, Kathy G over at The G Spot has a post that more than makes up for it — a video/radio clip of Ralph Stanley’s endorsement of Barack Obama. Yes, THE Ralph Stanley, the King of Bluegrass, who practically owns ‘the high lonesome sound’. And just for kicks, Kathy throws in four of Stanley’s best videos. Here’s hoping the Obama campaign shows Stanley’s endorsement all over rural America, not just VA. Way Cool.

Erratic McCain Vs. ‘No Drama Obama’

Todd Beeton has a MyDD post on Senator McCain’s three plane crashes as emblematic of the GOP nominee’s erratic behavior going back more than four decades. But the best part of Beeton’s post is the quote from Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) on Fox News Sunday. Here’s Beeton’s set-up of Senator McCaskill’s quote:

The media has been clutching its pearls over the Obama campaign’s use of the word “erratic” when describing McCain presumably because of an ageism subtext, but these tales make clear that in the case of John MCCain, erratic behavior is not a function of his advanced years, rather it’s simply a quality of his character. From the young McCain’s cockpit antics to the last 2 weeks of wacky behavior on the campaign trail, as Claire McCaskill eloquently documented on Fox News Sunday yesterday.

And the McCaskill quote:

Now, on the other hand, if you look at what Barack Obama’s ad says, it’s just talking about what John McCain did the last two weeks. He was erratic. One day, no bailout. The next day, a bailout. One day, “I’m suspending my campaign.” The next day, “I’m not.”
One day, “I’m going to debate.” The next day, “I’m not going to debate.” The next day, I go ahead and debate. One day, “I’m not going to leave Washington until we have a deal,” and then he’s on a plane out of Washington after the deal’s kind of blown up. So it really — there has been a lot of erratic behavior.

It appears that the ‘erratic’ meme is sticking to Senator McCain. A mirror image meme seems to be settling on McCain’s opponent. On another Sunday yak show, ABC News This Week, conservative George Will observed almost admiringly that Senator Obama has earned the nickname ‘No Drama Obama,’ which is more suggestive of the solid, steady and prudent leadership needed to end the war and navigate America through the current economic and energy crises.

Is Palin Chicken of ‘Meet the Press’?

Governor Sarah Palin did better in the veep debate than many expected, but all the polls and serious commentators agree that Biden won it by any reasonable set of measures. Now it seems fair to ask, is Sarah Palin going to do Meet the Press and other more in-depth interview shows, as has Biden and every other veep candidate since the early days of television? Or are the pundits just going to shrugg it off? Biden, one of the most frequent MTP guests in the progam’s history, raised the issue when he last appeared on the program, explains HuffPo‘s Sam Stein:

On NBC’s Meet the Press, Biden told Tom Brokaw, “Eventually, she’s going to have to sit in front of you like I’m doing and have done. Eventually, she’s going to have to answer questions and not be sequestered. Eventually, she’s going to have to answer on the record.” Later, Brokaw told viewers he had reached out to the Delaware Democrat’s Republican counterpart to no avail.l

We’re still waiting. A couple of interviews with anchors doesn’t get it. The debate was good, as far as it went. But the format didn’t allow much time for for tough follow-up questions. Are the better news interview shows (Meet the Press, This Week, Face the Nation etc.) now going to roll over and give her a free pass? The pundits — not just two network anchors — should have a chance to interview her in depth, if the McCain-Palin campaign is serious about her capabilities and if they care about serving the public interest.

Will Voters Tire of McCain’s Theatrics ?

Will he or won’t he? As I write, John ‘Hamlet on the Potomac’ McCain is still dithering over whether or not to honor his commitment to debate Senator Obama tonight, rudely leaving many McCain supporters as well as his adversaries, in the lurch. Voters are supposed to believe that he can’t take a few hours to fly to Mississippi and proceed with the debate as he agreed because his physical presence in D.C. is so urgently needed.
Hard to say what McCain will do at this point. MS Governor Barbour reportedly expects him to show. GOP strategist Ed Rollins doesn’t think so. Who could blame Obama — and level-headed voters — for saying “Oh, whatever.”
No telling how McCain’s latest stunt will play with voters on Nov. 4. As our staff report indicated yesterday, most voters want the debate to proceed, albeit with some discusssion about the economic crisis. Yet, on election day McCain’s debate vacillations could be old news.
Meanwhile Katie Couric’s interview with Governor Palin yesterday did nothing to dismiss the argument that McCain picked a lightweight or that her selection was “gimmicky,” as GOP strategist Mike Murphy termed it. McCain may survive waffling about the first debate. But my guess is that one more such stunt would be “strike three” with many, if not most undecideds.

McCain’s Fishy Debate Postponement Proposal

Much of the speculation about McCain’s debate postponement proposal around the blogs settles on grandstanding as The Noble Bipartisan (Digby and The Fix), putting Obama on the spot and inadequate debate preparation (Tapped) as his real motives, all of which are plausible explanations.
I suspect another motive is that he would like to push the foreign policy debate closer to the election to give it a little more shelf-life in voters’ minds. The tip-off would be if his campaign fights hard to make the last debate about foreign policy. McCain and others believe foreign policy and national security are his strong cards, and that debate affords his best opportunity to shine in comparison to Obama. He may be wrong about that for a number of reasons, but it’s never stopped him before.
I’m not sure it helps him. His postponement proposal may well add to the image of McCain as erratic, mercurial, and distracted, in addition to the obvious grandstanding meme. McCain clearly has an inordinate fondness for the ‘wow factor’ and the ‘Hail Mary.’ He’s the player most likely to bet the ranch on an inside straight as the situation deteriorates. You couldn’t blame voters for thinking ‘I don’t know what this guy is going to do next.’
Here’s hoping Obama doesn’t fall for rescheduling the foreign policy debate. If McCain simply refuses to debate, then nothing happens on Friday. But Obama should hang tough as the solid, steady guy who shows up on time and keeps his agreements. Let McCain, who has missed 412 of 643 Senate votes this session, be viewed as the one who didn’t show for the debate, either.

So Where’s the Fiorina Ad ?

Meredith Viera’s deer-in-the -headlights interview with John McCain ought to be a training video for TV reporters who want to see how the hardball political interview is conducted. Viera makes the GOP nominee squirm, sweat and jabber, as he struggles to reconcile Carly Fiorina’s leading role in his campaign, her 45 million dollar golden parachute and his hypocritical put down of “greed on Wall St.” and execs’ “huge severance packages.” Almost a ready-made ad for the Obama campaign.
On the same topic, see Elizabeth Bumiller’s New York Times article “McCain Stands By Fiorina,” in which McCain blasts two Fannie Mae execs for their golden parachutes, each about half the size of Fiorina’s package.

In a McCain-Palin administration, there will be no seat for these people at the policy-making table…They won’t even get past the front gate at the White House

I guess he would let Fiorina in the back door.