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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

Some Lessons from the GA Run-Off

Absent exit polling data, any broad-brush lessons of the Georgia run-off are a little dicey. But here are a few conclusions which merit some discussion:
1. Money helps. Yes, maybe Chambliss would have won, even if he and his supporters didn’t grossly outspend Martin. But, clearly you can’t have too much money.
2. GA Dems have not figured out how to maximize African American turnout without Black candidates.
As Perry Bacon, Jr. noted in his WaPo post-mortem on the Georgia run-off,

Fewer than a quarter of people who cast ballots early in the runoff were black, compared with more than a third in the November vote. Black voters overwhelmingly favored Obama and Martin.

Nate Silver echos and amplifies the point in his fivethirtyeight.com post on the run-off:

Unfortunately, nobody conducted an exit poll of this race, which makes the postmortem a little bit more difficult to conduct. From early voting statistics, it appears that African-American turnout was substantially lower, which no doubt was a significant factor in Martin’s defeat, as roughly 55 percent of his vote on November 4 came from black voters. If black turnout was closer to the 25 percent of the electorate that it was in 2004 rather than the 28 percent of the electorate that it was on November 4, that would cost Martin a net of about 4 points, implying a loss of about 7 points. If it was closer to the 22 percent of the electorate that turned out to vote early, that would have cost Martin a net of 8-9 points, implying a loss of 11-12 points

3. Conservatives can push the limits of negative campaigning in GA and get away with it.
This one did get ugly with some shameless sliming of Martin as ‘soft on child molesters’ and other unsubstantiated ‘soft on crime’ allegations. Not quite as outrageous as Liddy Dole’s “Godless’ slam of Kay Hagan, her opponent in NC, but getting pretty close.
4. Saxby Chambliss is a shrewd campaigner.
You have to give it to Chambliss. He used all of his advantages to the max. Brought in the heavy hitters of his party and, despite being morally challenged, he displayed an impressive command of facts and arguments in his debates with Martin. Even trotted out warm and fuzzy ads in the closing days to create the impression that he was jiust a nice grandfatherly guy, after all.
Chambliss at least matched Martin’s out of state support, thanks no doubt to the RSCC and other conservative groups. Atlanta Journal-Constitution ‘Political Insider’ Jim Galloway reports that, in his victory statement, Chambliss revealed that “volunteers” from 43 states came to Georgia to work on his campaign.
5. GA has not arrived as a purple state yet. (For a good county map of the GA Senate run-off vote, click here, and then click on GA) With Repubicans holding the governorship, both houses of the state legislature, two US Senators and McCain taking the EV’s, GA has a ways to go before Dems are competitive in state-wide races
On that topic, the last word in this post-mortem collage goes to Dr. Alan Abramowitz, Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science at Emory University and one of Georgia’s most astute political observers. As Abramowitz said in an email (See also here) to TDS:

Before the Obama campaign moved into Georgia this was not a race that Democrats were hopeful about winning. Not only is Georgia a difficult state for Democrats but the party was unable to recruit a top-tier candidate to run against Saxby Chambliss. Jim Martin was recruited by the state party at the last minute to prevent DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones, a highly controversial figure who had bragged about voting twice for George Bush, from winning the nomination by default. By registering and turning out huge numbers of African-American voters, the Obama campaign turned the senate race from a yawner into a nail-biter. In the runoff election, though, without the pull of Obama at the top of the ticket, there was a dramatic fall-off in turnout especially among African-American voters.

But Abramowitz, who came closer than any pundit to predicting the electoral vote totals before the November presidential election, also makes the case that the future for GA Dems is not as bleak as some say:

Despite the disappointing results on Tuesday, however, the long-term demographic trends in the state favor Democrats. The nonwhite share of the electorate should continue to increase for the forseeable future and metro Atlanta continues to grow rapidly. In the presidential election, Barack Obama won 57 percent of the vote in the 10-county Atlanta metro area, a huge improvement over John Kerry’s 48 percent in 2004. Moreover, the state’s feuding Republicans are likely to have a contentioius gubernatorial primary in two years. If Georgia Democrats can unite behind a strong candidate for governor and mobilize the state’s growing Democratic base, the party should have a good chance of retaking the statehouse in 2010. And don’t be surprised to see Georgia in the blue column in the 2012 presidential election.

Georgia Senate Run-Off Tests Voters’ Tolerance for Sleaze

Tomorrow’s Senate run-off election in Georgia is getting national attention because of the implications for the Democrats’ quest for a filibuster-proof Senate majority. All bets are off, since polls for run-off elections are notoriously unreliable. There is a temptation to say that this one is all about African American turnout — if the percentage of eligible Black voters casting ballots exceeds the percentage of eligible white voters who do so, then Martin has a chance.
It’s as plausible a supposition as any. As a Georgia resident, however, I have to add that this election also provides an instructive lesson about negative campaigning. I don’t believe I’m being overly partisan in observing that the quantity of nasty, even vicious television ads being aired on Chambliss’s behalf has probably set a record for state-wide campaigns, perhaps nation-wide. One after the other, making outrageous charges, one even suggesting that Martin is soft on child molesters. Martin’s attack ads are quite tame in comparison.
Tomorrow’s vote in Georgia will also be an instructive test of how much character assassination fair-minded Republican voters can stomach. If decency prevails, many of them will vote for Martin or stay home. And, If Martin wins, I suspect some of the credit should go to Chambliss’s ad-makers, who have set a new standard for sleazy attack ads. If Chambliss wins, on the other hand, it will be a disturbing affirmation of the power of relentless, mean-spirited attack ads.

How Should Obama Confront Terror?

Between the economic meltdown and the uplifting election, Americans have had something of a respite for a few months from dispiriting headlines concerning wars and terrorism. But now the horrific atrocities in Mumbai bring a sobering reminder that the Obama administration will face a continuing, if not growing, threat of global terror, much of it directed against Americans.
As a presidential candidate, Senator Obama had to talk tough about confronting terrorists with military force. He wasn’t just overcompensating because of his opponent’s impressive military record. The cold, hard reality is that we do need enhanced military and intelligence capabilities to deal with the threat of terrorism. But our policy must be a lot smarter, with more precision in targeting military action when it’s really necessary and much stronger on-the-ground intelligence. It will require a major reformulation of our strategic goals at DOD, State, and intelligence agencies.
But the greatest challenge facing the Obama administration in confronting the threat of global terror is creating a more effective strategy for winning the struggle for hearts and minds.

An Ad for Jim Martin

Media critic Leslie Savan’s post “GOP Plays a Mean Saxby” at The Nation spotlights a half-dozen of the recent political ads of the Martin-Chambliss race in Georgia. Chamblis’s central theme this time around is taxes, along with predictable name-calling about Martin being a liberal. Savan believes Chambliss’s ads are tame compared to his ’02 race against Cleland:

What Chambliss wants to do is bring out his base without provoking anyone on the other side. While both camps may spend as much or more on TV advertising in this four-week period before the run-off than they did in the months-long general election, the odds that Chambliss would walk on the wild side with another cut-throat ad are long.

As Savan notes, Chambliss is counting on a weak turnout. One obvious way for Martin to win is with a surprisingly large African American turnout in GA, although there are reports that early African American voting for the Senate run-off is lagging. African American turnout should get a boost from a reported influx of union volunteers. President-elect Obama has cut a radio ad for Martin, as Ed Kilgore noted yesterday. And yes, it would be good for Obama to come to GA for Martin in the closing days of the race. Obama’s rep as a ‘stand-up guy’ is one of his strongest political assets, and he is the leader of his party now, so I’m hoping he shows.
Another way to cut into Chambliss’s lead might be through creating more buzz among vets and supporters of the military about Chambliss’s numerous votes against vets’ interests. Martin has run a few ads on this theme, but he needs something more dramatic to generate some heat. I thought this powerful feature of the Democratic National Convention removed a lot of doubts viewers may have had about Obama’s national security creds. Why not get a few of the retired generals and admirals to do an ad for Jim Martin? Chambliss’s weak record on veterans benefits provides a lot of material for scripts, and I’ll bet a few of them wouldn’t mind coming out against Chambliss in return for his shameful ads questioning Cleland’s patriotism in ’02. Running such an ad in heavy rotation near GA’s military installations, as well as state-wide, just might sway enough voters who are slightly leaning toward Chambliss to vote for Martin. If this race is as close as recent polls indicate, such an ad just might make a difference.

Obama’s Tough Choice: Clinton or Richardson for State

Of all the tough choices President-elect Obama will face between now and the inauguration, none are likely to have more far-reaching political consequences than his pick for Secretary of State. The two front-runners, Senator Clinton and Governor Richardson also happen to be the most prominent female and Hispanic leaders, respectively, in the Democratic Party, and it looks like both may want the post. Jonathan Weisman reports on Obama’s dilemma in the Wall Street Journal

Sen. Clinton, of New York, could be a crowd pleaser in that role, and she has staunch advocates in Rahm Emanuel, the new chief of staff, and transition director John Podesta, according to Democrats familiar with the transition process…But Mr. Obama risks alienating Latino supporters if he passes over New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, currently the favorite of a lobbying campaign by Hispanic activists, for the State Department job.

It’s hard to imagine either Richardson or Clinton being satisfied with any post south of State as a consolation prize. Richardson’s bio practically screams “future Secretary of State,” and, as a 2-time Clinton administration appointee, he went out on a long limb endorsing Obama. But picking Richardson would almost certainly crank up ire among Clinton’s supporters as a double-diss, since she wasn’t picked for veep. While Richardson’s formidable diplomatic experience may give him an edge, Clinton is clearly one of the most capable leaders in the Democratic Party, and her experience as an actively-involved First Lady for 8 years who traveled the world on diplomatic missions merits consideration.
In picking Richardson, it’s possible Obama could offset criticism from feminists by making sure the “more than 300 cabinet secretaries, deputies and assistant secretaries and more than 2,500 political appointees” cited in Weisman’s article includes a record number of women. Conversely, making sure Latinos get a record number of those appointments might offset negative buzz in the Latino community if he picks Clinton for State. Either way there will be much grumbling in the short run.
WaPo‘s Chris Cillizza weighs the pros and cons of chosing Clinton:

Making Clinton the Secretary of State would ensure buy-in from the former first couple…While the chances of Clinton free-lancing are far less if she is a member of the Obama cabinet, there is absolutely no way of ensuring that her own views on matters of foreign policy would be subsumed in favor of those of the administration…it would be impossible to put the toothpaste back into the tube.

Cillizza may be overstating the likelihood of Clinton being a rogue Secretary of State, and Obama and Clinton do share many foreign policy positions in common. However, Cillizza doesn’t weigh the negative impact that passing over Richardson would have with many Latinos.
Of course, Obama could dodge the dilemma by selecting Senator Kerry for State. In that event, he could tick off both many Hispanics and Clinton supporters. Anyway you slice and dice, it is a very tough choice. The upside is that the country would be well-served with any of these three.

Peach State Showdown Draws McCain

Bit of a donnybrook shaping up in the Peach State today, as John McCain rolls in to campaign for Saxby Chambliss and against Jim Martin in the Senate run-off. Much of the fun will be in seeing how McCain, who will be appearing at a rally at 4:30 with most of the top GA Republicans, renounces his 2002 blast of Chambliss’s shameful attack against Sen. Max Cleland:

“I’d never seen anything like Saxby’s political ad. Putting pictures of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden next to the picture of a man who left three limbs on the battlefield — it’s worse than disgraceful. It’s reprehensible.”

But that was the straight-talking McCain of yesteryear, before he made his faustian bargain with the knee-jerk reactionaries for his ’08 run. The DSCC has a 50-second web-only ad to welcome McCain and remind internet-active voters of McCain’s earlier views on Chambliss, and a DSCC 5-day TV ad buy is expected to begin in GA today. But, as Atlanta Journal Constitution “political insider” columnist Jim Galloway reminds his readers, McCain owes Chambliss for his endorsement of McCain’s run for President, when polls showed GA Republicans preferred Huckabee.
It’s basically a three point-race that will be determined by turnout in the December 2nd run-off. CNN has an interesting map of the counties that went for Martin and Chambliss, indicating that Martin’s hopes are pegged to GOTV in four GA metro areas, Atlanta, Savannah, Columbus and Augusta. CNN‘s exit poll demographic breakdown of the voters for Martin and Chambliss shows Martin has a huge advantage among Black voters, a 12 point edge with women (and an 11-point shortfall with men), a 10-point edge with younger voters and breaks even with Chambliss among seniors. Chambliss lead among GA’s white voters “with no college” is 70-26 percent.
Issue-wise, it looks like Martin’s biggest weakness is among those who identify the economy as the “most important issue,” who give him only a 2-point lead over Chambliss. He needs to hit harder on Chambliss’s support of Bush economic policies, not just rat-a-tat-tat about taxes. No surprise that the fat cats are digging deep for Chambliss, as the Wall St. Journal reports today. Chambliss has been Bush’s bellhop on economic issues, as well as an errand boy for big oil. Martin needs such punchy memes to generate more heat.
There’s also a stronger case to be made about Chambliss’s awful record on veterans’ issues and low ratings from several vets’ groups. So far, Martin’s ads have been pretty tame on this topic. Instead of the “failed our veterans” rhetoric, the ads of Martin and the DSCC should call it a “betrayal,” for some much-needed water-cooler buzz.
Chambliss’s secret weapon in the run-off may be Republican Secretary of State Karen Handel, who AJC columnist Cynthia Tucker has called “the Katherine Harris of this campaign” and a “partisan martinet.” who “did every thing she could to try to keep as many new voters as possible from casting a ballot.” More on Handel’s games here and GA’s disturbingly large “undervote” here.
Dems should pull out all the stops and mobilize a monster turnout in the four aforementioned GA cities. It would also be good if Sam Nunn and the Carters would make some appearances and/or do an ad for Martin to help take a little bite out of Chambliss’s edge with white voters. Martin could also use some more dough, to match Saxby’s ad avalanche on GA TV. This one is winnable, and you can help right here.

GOP Fear-Mongers Twist Obama Proposal

It happens every time I pop off about “the new south.” Within days, a southern politician will say something so astoundingly lame that the ‘Tobacco Road’ image of the south will be re-confirmed in the minds of millions. The latest comes from Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA10), or “R-Crazy” as Jay Bookman’s blog on Broun in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution puts it.
Here’s what Senator Obama said in a speech he delivered in Colorado on July 2nd:

We cannot continue to rely only on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we’ve set. We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded.

The problem is that Senator Obama didn’t flesh out the proposal in the speech, and the paranoid wingnuts got the audio clip and are now circulating it far and wide as indicative of the President-Elect’s “Marxist” agenda, highlighting the scary phrase “civilian national security force.” As Broun said, according to the Associated Press

…That’s exactly what Hitler did in Nazi Germany and it’s exactly what the Soviet Union did…When he’s proposing to have a national security force that’s answering to him, that is as strong as the U.S. military, he’s showing me signs of being Marxist.

So what did Obama really mean? According to the AP report:

…Spokesman Tommy Vietor said Obama was referring in the speech to a proposal for a civilian reserve corps that could handle postwar reconstruction efforts such as rebuilding infrastructure — an idea endorsed by the Bush administration.

I’m satisfied. But I did get a call from a highly-intelligent friend who was genuinely concerned about what the statement meant. The Obama-team should explain the proposal a little better, perhaps in an article or written statement. I doubt it will just go away without corrective action. The wingnut buzz is threatening to go viral, even with less extreme conservatives. This is the kind of thing that James Vega warned about in his November 5 TDS post.
Oh well, at least the southeast isn’t the only region to elect scare-mongering knuckleheads to congress, as suggested by another Republican, Michelle Bachman’s win in MN-6.

Demography +Events +Candidate quality +$ = Victory

Just to add a couple thoughts to Ed’s interesting post yesterday on “The Limits of Demographic Determinism:”
You take away the economic meltdown and Sarah Palin, and it’s not entirely implausible that we lose a few percentage points in key states and get President-Elect McCain. In other words, two anomalous events may have clinched Obama’s win.
Chris Bowers makes a pretty good case for demographic determinism. In my view, however, a demographic and/or an event-driven outcome get a little wobbly when you imagine a less impressive Democratic nominee than Obama. Let’s not pick on Dukakis. Substitute any of the poorly-performing Democratic presidential nominees of the post-war period for Obama, and the victory scenario turns to jello. High or low candidate quality has to be worth at least a few points, which can swing a close election.
On the other hand, a data-driven study of all 36 presidential elections (8 presidents died in office and were replaced by their veeps) might conclude that demography is indeed destiny — in a plurality/majority of the cases. As with polls, it’s hard to look at any single election and make an informed call that applies broadly. The electoral college makes an educated guess even harder, with 50 mini-elections, each with its own demographic mix. To evaluate the role of demographics as the dominant factor, you almost need direct popular election which, by the way, is something Dems should get serious about in the upcoming cycle.
I think Bowers is quite right, however, that certain reforms can help maximize untapped demographic advantages, including universal same day voter registration. felon enfranchisement and weekend voting to name just a few. More Black, Hispanic and women candidates would also help Dems leverage their demographic potential.
Instead of just one pivotal factor, it may be possible to devise and test a formula (more complex than the title of this post) weighing the major factors that determine election victories and assigning them numerical values. Bowers’ ‘internet rising’ factor might even be quantifiable in the percentage of voters who get most of their information from the net or the number of “high information voters.” And things went so amazingly well this cycle — consider the odds against getting all the breaks — you could make a case for divine intervention, although it might be a little hard to quantify. Hey, where’s Nate Silver?

Behind the NC Wins

Democrats who want to better understand President-elect Obama’s impressive victories in the southeast should spend some time at Facing South, where Chris Kromm provides an insightful discussion of the role of demographic change and strategy in the NC victory. Facing South was first to claim an Obama victory in NC, and provides much of the best reporting on southern politics found anywhere. Kromm will write an expanded analysis in the near future, so I’ll just clip some of his key points in this article:

How did Obama turn North Carolina blue? A number of factors gave him this victory:
*…Obama mobilized his core base in North Carolina in record numbers. At the forefront were African-American voters, who added over 300,000 registrations in 2008 and went to Obama by 95%. Obama also won over young voters by large numbers: 74% of those under 30 went Obama.
* …Obama won 66% of voters in the state’s growing urban areas — 64% in the Raleigh-Durham area alone). According to Public Policy Polling, urban areas made up 303,000 of the 436,000 votes Obama needed to gain relative to John Kerry’s performance in 2004.
*…Similar to national trends, 54% of those who were “very worried” about the economy in N.C. voted Obama; he also won 57% of those making less than $50,000 a year. The more the percentage of people worried about the economy went up, so did Obama’s numbers.
* De-mobilized Republicans:…The lack of excitement is reflected in the GOP’s lackluster registration numbers in 2008. Of the 629,000 new voters registered in North Carolina between January and November, 54% were Democrats, 34% Independents — and just 12% Republicans.
* Election Reforms:…Advocates successfully pushed for same-day voter registration and voting at early voting sites — and more than 185,000 North Carolinians took advantage of the law, especially newly-engaged voters who broke to Obama. Through aggressive publicity and education, the state also lowered the number of presidential votes “lost” due to the state’s confusing straight-ticket ballot, adding thousands of presidential votes.
* Obama Fought For It: Last but not least, Democrats won North Carolina because they fought for it. The Obama campaign was smart enough to realize that the above factors and others had made N.C. a battleground opportunity…Obama had more than 50 field offices fanned throughout the state, deploying an army of 21,000 some staff and volunteers that knocked on doors, made calls and mobilized massive chunks of the electorate. Obama had spent $5 million on TV ads in N.C. by early October. Obama and his surrogates made dozens of campaign stops in the state, including Obama himself coming to Charlotte on the last day before November 4. By the time McCain fought back to defend the state for Republicans, it was too late…Obama ignored the pundits and invested the time, resources and energy needed to clinch the deal — ensuring not only his own victory, but wins for Democrats all the way down the ballot and a chance to make history in North Carolina.

There you have it — an outline for the Dems’ southern playbook. Granted candidates with the skillset of Obama don’t come along very often. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from his campaign.
Kromm takes a poke at Thomas Schaller, who wrote in The New York Times On July 1 that “Obama can write off Georgia and North Carolina.” To be fair, I believe Schaller did change his position later on to include the possibility of an NC upset. But Obama’s success in NC, VA and FL pretty much lays to rest the blanket assumption that the southeast is arid territory for Democratic presidential candidates.
In another Facing South post, Sue Sturgis points out that Dems success in the NC Senate race was not about money:

In North Carolina’s U.S. Senate contest, Democratic challenger Kay Hagan spent just over $6 million to defeat incumbent Republican Elizabeth Dole, who spent more than $15.7 million. Dole was hurt by the strong turnout for presidential candidate Barack Obama and by a decision to run a controversial ad late in the campaign implying that Hagan — a former Sunday school teacher — is an atheist. Hagan has filed a defamation lawsuit over the ad, which Dole refused to pull despite widespread criticism.

If anyone ever puts together a “Hall of Shame” for stupid, self-defeating political ads, I nominate Dole’s “Godless” ad for exhibit “A.”
Dems also had a particularly sweet pick-up in NC-8. As Sturgis explains,

In North Carolina’s 8th Congressional District east of Charlotte, incumbent Republican Robin Hayes spent more than $2.5 million only to lose to challenger Larry Kissell, who spent just shy of $1.1 million. A former textile plant manager turned social studies teacher, Kissell focused on trade issues in a district that’s been hit hard by textile job losses, hammering multimillionaire textile heir Hayes for reversing stated positions to cast key votes in favor of the Central American Free Trade Agreement and the Trade Act of 2002. Hayes also created trouble for himself by declaring at a heated McCain rally that “liberals hate real Americans that work and achieve and believe in God.”

It appears that religious McCarthyism is all the rage in some NC GOP circles.
And the capper: NC also elected its first female governor, Beverly Perdue — a Democrat.

New South Trumps Dixie

Now that NBC has called NC for Obama, as well as the New York Times, we can say that three of the four largest southeastern states, FL, VA and NC voted for an African American presidential candidate, and he only lost by five points in GA, where reports of vote suppression may account for much of the margin.
Please don’t tell me that FL, VA and NC are not really southern states because of their fancy suburbs, snowbird refugees and high tech blah blah. That’s part of the new south. Get used to it. Yes, Dixie still thrives in parts of the southeast, as evidenced by Obama’s much weaker showing in MS, AL, AR, TN and SC. But even in the most conservative areas Dems are often competitive in the state legislatures and even statewide races, as indicated by the impressive numbers of Democratic office holders. Southern states are contributing two of the U.S. Senate pick-ups and four House of Reps. seats to the Dems’ net gain.
The “skip the south” strategy had merit in 2000 and 2004, in part because the Dem presidential nominees weren’t well-suited for the southeast. But now the demographic transformation has reached the point where the largest southeastern states are highly competitive for even liberal Democrats who know how to campaign. Smart Democratic candidates will find the southeast even more hospitable in 2012.