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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

Can Dems Win Libertarian Votes?

The March issue of Campaign & Elections ezine, Politics has a freebie cover story by Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch. “Tuned Out: Cultural Libertarians Are A Growing Force in America. But Just How Can you Reach Them?”
Much of the article is a plug for Republican/Libertarian Ron Paul as a prototype presidential candidate of the future, without even a mention of Paul’s disturbing flirtation with white supremacist groups/ideology. But the authors do shed some light on Paul’s popularity with Libertarians, if not racist groups.
There’s also a fair amount of dubious speculation about “long-tail marketing” being the wave of the future in politics, as well as the economy. The authors cite a study of public opinion polls indicating that “15 percent of the electorate can more or less be described as Libertarian,” which doesn’t tell us much about what they actually do at the ballot box.
The merit of the article, in terms of Democratic strategy, is that it illuminates a significant ideological minority that divides its voters between Democrats, Republicans and the Libertarian Party and sheds light on what they think about a host of issues in current context. The sidebar, “7 Ways to Win Our Vote” limns current Libertarian preferences regarding online gambling; internet tax proposals; eminent domain; Iraq; immigration; medical marijuana; and health insurance. Democrats have an edge with Libertarians on most of these issues and other issues concerning personal and lifestyle freedom. Republicans will do better with Libertarians who are more focused on taxes, shrinking government and expanding unfettered trade.
It’s unclear whether the Libertarian percentage of American voters will grow in the years ahead. No doubt, Democrats can bite off a healthy chunk of the Libertarian-leaning constituency with the right kind of candidates. My guess is Obama would have a better chance than Clinton to win Libertarian votes in this cycle, although neither one satisfies the inflexible standards of free-trade ideologues. One suspects that many, if not most self-described Libertarians are not all that rigid on all their issues, so there is likely not much benefit in tailoring a strategy to win their votes.

A Last Word on Spitzer

It’s nearly all been said about the Spitzer affair. But I vote we give the last word to Robert Scheer, who puts it this way in his aptly titled Alternet post “Spitzer’s Shame Is Wall Street’s Gain“:

Tell me again: Why should we get all worked up over the revelation that the New York governor paid for sex? Will it bring back to life the eight U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq that same day in a war that makes no sense and has cost this nation trillions in future debt?

On the GOP/Wall St. demonization of Spitzer, Scheer notes:

Will it save those millions of homes that hardworking folks all over the country are losing because of financial industry shenanigans that Eliot Spitzer, as much as anyone, attempted to halt?…It was Spitzer, as much as anyone, who sounded the alarm on the subprime mortgage crisis, the obscene payouts to CEOs who defrauded their shareholders and the other financial scandals that have brought the U.S. economy to its knees…..he best rule of thumb these days is that ordinary Americans should be mightily depressed over any news that Wall Street hustlers cheer.

And Scheer’s overarching point:

…George W. Bush and Dick Cheney remain in office despite having violated enormously more serious laws.

Keeping Blue Collars Blue

The L.A. Times has an insightful article, “Democrats Seek to Strengthen Grip on Blue-Collar Workers” by Janet Hook and Tom Hamburger. The article addresses the relative strengths and weaknesses of both Senators Obama and Clinton in campaigning for blue collar votes in the context of McCain’s candidacy, and reports on new Labor and Democratic’ initiatives to solidify working class votes. The concern, in a nutshell:

The AFL-CIO became concerned after polls and focus groups found considerable willingness among union members to consider supporting McCain, regardless of which Democrat won the nomination…Looking toward the general election, labor strategists were alarmed by polls and focus groups of undecided union members that showed McCain doing well in match-ups with either Democratic candidate, said Karen Ackerman, political director of the AFL-CIO. But those focus groups also found that union members knew very little about McCain’s economic positions, including those the labor federation opposes.

The authors also quote John Edwards’s former campaign head David Bonior on the problem of white working class political drift in November:

“That vote is up for grabs,” said David Bonior, campaign manager for John Edwards’ failed Democratic presidential bid. “We will have to work incredibly hard,” he said, to blunt McCain’s potential appeal to working-class voters, which is based on his status as a war hero and his reputation as a political moderate….Bonior argued that Obama has had trouble winning that constituency — a problem he shares with past Democratic candidates John F. Kerry, Al Gore and Michael S. Dukakis

The Oregon AFL-CIO web page has three good companion pieces to the LA Times article, featuring some useful information for addressing the McCain problem. For example:

First elected to the Senate in 1986, McCain has a lifetime AFL-CIO rating of 17 percent through 2006. During the first session of the 110th congress, McCain voted with the AFL-CIO only 3 times out of 34 votes taken…He’s voted with the President 88 percent of the time.

The web page also points out that McCain voted against: extending temporary unemployment benefits; raising the minimum wage; overtime rights protection; the Federal Childrens’ Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). He’s voted for legislation that exports American jobs, promotes privatization and would provide permanent tax cuts for the wealthy. There is more than enough in McCain’s track record to stop him from winning support from working families — if the Dems and unions do a good enough job in publicizing it in blue collar America.

Spitzer and Political Fallout

That chortling you hear off in the distance is the sound of Republicans gloating that a prominent Democratic Governor, who was a dogged fighter against corporate corruption, has been tainted by a sexual scandal. The GOP will trumpet their outrage until everyone is sick of hearing about it, demanding Spitzer’s resignation, while shrugging off the sexual scandals of Senators Craig and Vitter. Their strategy is clear — to prolong the controversy and hope the ill will generated will be extended to other Democratic candidates.
According to the latest New York Times coverage, it is still unclear what Governor Spitzer intends to do and when he intends to do it. In the best case scenarios, Governor Spitzer’s problems won’t have much effect on the ’08 elections. If he resigns with a minimum of fanfare, no Democratic candidate, from president to school board, will lose many votes because of it. There is some concern among NY Dems that it could have an adverse effect on their hopes to reverse the GOP’s one-vote majority in the NY state senate. Lt. Governor David Patterson, a strong Democrat, is ready to assume the governorship if Spitzer resigns. In terms of presidential politics, Spitzer’s problems will likely have more effect on ’12, or ’16, when he might have tested the presidential primaries.
If Spitzer does resign, the more alert members of the msm may ask the GOP why Vitter and Craig are still in office, pointing out the double standard in their highly selective outrage — Vitter, who was also implicated in a scandal with prostitutes, reportedly received a “loud standing ovation” from some of his GOP colleagues at a luncheon following his admission that he “sinned.”

Team McCain’s Inner Circle

Democratic oppo researchers should clip Maeve Reston’s La Times article “McCain’s team forged loyalty in collapse,” a revealing profile of the inner circle of Team McCain. Reston’s article focuses on “The Sedona Five,” key McCain insiders Rick Davis, Mark Salter, Charles Black, Steve Schmidt and Mark McKinnon, who shaped and implemented McCain’s nomination-winning strategy at a time when most pundits believed he was toast. Reston provides this succinct description of the group:

Davis, a calm and efficient lobbyist who impressed everyone with his budgeting skills, manned the northern Virginia headquarters. Salter, 53, who in his younger days spent four years as an Iowa spiker laying railroad tracks before becoming McCain’s speechwriter, was most often at McCain’s side.
Black, a lobbyist who initially signed on as debate coach, was drafted onto the Straight Talk Express bus by McCain as his tactician and, at 60, as the “wise elder of the group.” Schmidt, 37, a strategist who ran the 2004 Bush campaign war room, and McKinnon, a one-time songwriter who served as media strategist for President Bush’s White House campaigns, parachuted in from their respective bases in California and Austin.

Reston rolls out an illuminating account of McCain’s comeback and image-tweaking, as told from the inside. Her article also has some interesting detail about the McCain campaign’s ad-buying strategy and McCain’s trust of the ‘Sedonas,’ apparently well-placed.

GOP’s ‘Cybersquatter’ Edge

Lest anyone entertain delusions about the GOP taking more of a high road in campaign ’08, The New York Times has an instructive article by Kitty Bennett, “R.N.C. Snaps Up Domain Names“. Bennett explains:

At least 25 domain names related to Hillary Rodham Clinton have links to the Republican National Committee: the names were either registered by the R.N.C. last year or showed up on servers the committee uses…The party has also begun preemptively registering domains that could be used to attack John McCain, like mccainamigos.com, voteagainstmccain.com, flipflopmccain.com and hatemccain.com.

Bennett notes the GOP’s edge in ‘cybersquatter’ warfare:

The Democratic Party and the campaigns have shown little of the verve and creativity of the R.N.C. …The party has been focused more on the national convention, registering variations of denverdemconvention08.com in February, but so far apparently no domains related to Mr. McCain.
The election has “triggered an avalanche of cybersquatter activity,” according to NetNames, a domain name management service. Speculators have registered nearly 2,000 domain names related to presidential candidates as of last week. Names related to Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy made up over half of the registrations, followed by Mr. Obama with 635 and Mr. McCain with 269.

It would be a mistake to overstate the importance of hogging domain names as a political tactic, and it’s hard to see how it will affect many votes. But it does show that there is not much the Republicans won’t fund to help muzzle Dems’ messaging resources.
Although it’s a stretch to attribute all of the tactical lag to the Democrats superior moral ground, no one should be surprised that the GOP has a stronger proclivity for purely obstructionist tactics (some history here) and an edge in deploying them. The DNC might benefit by setting up an internet-savvy task force to anticipate such shenanigans and respond accordingly.

Good for the Party?

Even if Obama is your candidate, Hillary Clinton’s Texas and Ohio victories may be a good thing. Sure, he would have preferred to put it away yesterday. But a closer race keeps interest and turnout high. The fact that our two candidates who are locked in a high turnout race are an African American and a woman underscores the Democratic Party’s creds as the Party of hope for the disempowered and gives campaign ’08 an aura of heightened historical significance.
The narrowing race also keeps both candidates sharp and forces McCain to split his attacks, while getting hammered by both Dems. When we get to the convention, Clinton and Obama will be more seasoned and better prepared to rumble with the Republicans’ toughest front-man. Because of the extended campaigns, Obama, Clinton and their troops will have learned more about the political arts of self-defense, ad-making and buying, media interviews, speechmaking, targeting demographics, GOTV, leveraging issues, strategy and tactics etc.
That’s the good news.
There are, however, a couple of ways the aforementioned scenario could sour. Badly. Despite the media emphasis on delegate-counting, the popular vote is the key to claiming the moral high ground. If Super-D’s give the nomination to the loser of the popular vote, it won’t be worth having, and most of them, one hopes, are smart enough to know that and to do the right thing. But what if the popular vote totals going into Denver are so razor-close that neither candidate can convincingly claim the moral high ground? Imagine the deal-making and bitterness of the loser’s supporters. Imagine the field day McCain could have in mocking the Democrats’ commitment to “democracy.” A near-tie in popular vote totals would be less of a problem if ALL delegates were allocated by popular votes in their districts.
I get it that the super-delegate idea was conceived to check convention delegates on occasions when they don’t reflect the popular vote. But the potential for abuse is just too high. May the genius who cooked up the super-delegate scheme go join the GOP and let them benefit from his sage advice.
The other booby trap now looming larger is the Michigan-Florida mess. After last night, Obama still leads in the popular vote tally of all the primaries except MI and FL thus far by 582,718, while Clinton leads by 40,363 when MI and FL are included in the count (Obama wasn’t on the ballot in MI). It’s a little more difficult to assign blame here. But changing the rules without an agreement from both Clinton and Obama would be an equally-disastrous response. If they are not both on board with whatever is decided, expect mayhem.
Both of these obstacles can be overcome — the first by either candidate getting a clear majority of the popular vote and the second by Clinton and Obama reaching agreement on what should be done about FL and MI, sooner, better than later.
Looking toward the future, Democrats have a big job ahead in adopting reforms to insure that the popular vote total always prevails. The focus should be on dismantling the super-delegates and other vestiges of Party elitism, and moving in the direction of direct popular election of our nominee, so it becomes clear to all that we are the party that champions the will of the people.

Learning from Nader

Ralph Nader’s announcement of his presidential candidacy on ‘Meet the Press’ yesterday included an insightful critique of the Democratic Party, but clouded by a kind of big-picture myopia Nader-watchers may find familiar. There were several Nader nuggets worth quoting in the MTP interview. Asked by Tim Russert how he would feel if his candidacy handed the presidency to the GOP this year, Nader responded:

Not a chance. If the Democrats can’t landslide the Republicans this year, they ought to just wrap up, close down, emerge in a different form. You think the American people are going to vote for a pro-war John McCain who almost gives an indication that he’s the candidate of perpetual war, perpetual intervention overseas? You think they’re going to vote for a Republican like McCain, who allies himself with the criminal, recidivistic regime of George Bush and Dick Cheney, the most multipliable impeachable presidency in American history? Many leading members of the bar, including the former head of the American Bar Association, Michael Greco, absolutely dismayed over the violations of the Constitution, our federal laws, the criminal, illegal war in Iraq and the occupation? There’s no way. That’s why we have to take this opportunity to have a much broader debate on the issues that relate to the American people…

I doubt Nader will make a difference in the ’08 outcome this year, given the ’04 vote. What I find exasperating is that he could have made a difference for the better as a presidential candidate — if he would have campaigned within the Democratic Party. Certainly he would have gotten more media coverage for the causes he cares about. But it will never happen, since Nader harbors an almost splenetic contempt for the Democratic Party and the two-party duopoly in general. Also, he may figure that if Edwards and Kucinich couldn’t get much traction with an anti-corporate message as Dems, he wouldn’t either. Still, Nader’s speechmaking and debating skills are a match for any Democratic candidate and are instructive for our future candidates. For better or worse, he could do more to push the party leftward from the inside.
There’s a lot more Dems can learn from Nader, including the paramount importance of doing the homework and the way he marshalls his arguments and commands facts. There’s also his integrity, energy — still remarkable at age 74 — and his work ethic that sparked critical reforms like OSHA, EPA, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Safe Drinking Water Act.. Few Dems can match his record as a reformer. Yet today he choses to be a fringe figure, rather than an influential force in defining the national debate in one of the leading parties.
Ralph Nader has earned respect and admiration for his numerous accomplishments as a ‘public citizen.’ But he hasn’t made the case that a large number of votes for him wouldn’t help the Republicans. He ignores the fact that the aforementioned reforms were enacted by Democratic leadership. Given the choice of voting for a candidate for President who can actually win and provide some real world change, I think I’ll hang with the donkeys.

The Big Orange

Do read AFL-CIO Director of Organizing Stewart Acuff’s remembrance of Reverend James Orange at Campaign for America’s Future ‘Blog for Our Future.” James Orange was MLK’s street guy, the one he called on to get young people and even gang members involved in King’s historic campaigns against racial injustice, and he also served as MLK’s March mobilizer and was with King when he was assassinated. Acuff recalls:

During the 1960s and 1970s, Rev. Orange was a key field organizer for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. More than that, he was a member of Dr. Martin Luther King’s inner circle. He joined Dr. King during the Birmingham movement where he organized the demonstrations of school children who were firehosed and attacked by police dogs. Those images broadcast across the nation helped turn public opinion to support the civil rights movement.
Rev. Orange also played key roles in civil rights actions in Selma, Memphis and Chicago—and in Dr. King’s last campaign, the Poor People’s Movement. In both Memphis and Chicago Rev. Orange was assigned to deal with the street gangs attracted to the movement but not committed to King’s nonviolent civil disobedience. He never stopped teaching activists and organizers the principles and basic tactics and strategies of nonviolent civil disobedience.
In 1977 Rev. Orange became a union organizer. He personified the link between the civil rights movement and the union movement. He understood at his core what Dr. King taught – that civil rights without economic rights or justice was insufficient.
Reverend and I began working together in 1985 when I went to Atlanta as an organizer for SEIU to start the Georgia State Employees Union (GSEU/SEIU Local 1985). Reverend knew activists and political leaders all over Georgia and he opened doors for me and our staff wherever we went. He marched with us in Milledgeville and Savannah, helped with a 72 hour, round the clock, vigil and picket line in Augusta, and when budget cuts threatened staffing levels at state hospitals and prisons, Reverend Orange helped us take over state department heads’ offices and went to jail with us.

Acuff has more to say about Orange’s amazing spirit and uncompromising integrity, which I also witnessed when I worked with Orange on a number of projects. He was the best of a great generation of young men and women who answered the call of history and never lost faith or courage, even after MLK was assassinated. Orange continued the fight for social justice until his last breath.
Orange was a gifted labor organizer and after King was assassinated, he led some 300 union organizing campaigns across the southeast. He was once well-described in Southern Exposure magazine as a “big black mountain of a man,” standing about 6’3″ and hitting the scales just south of 300 lbs. Other writers knick-named him “the gentle giant,” partly in tribute to the open-hearted way he embraced ostracized minorities in organizing the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. March in Atlanta. Orange was sort of a ‘pied piper’ as well, commanding an army of political activists who conducted voter registration drives for every Atlanta election and organizing a group called “the blue crew” that turned out the black vote to elect Atlanta’s Black mayors and African American members of congress. He and his activist wife, Cleo raised a house full of great kids, who also became activists.
James Orange was the most widely-loved of King’s lieutenants, and his memorial service at Morehouse College’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Chapel on Saturday will be SRO. Both Senators Obama and Clinton sent messages of tribute praising Orange’s contributions. Indeed, neither candidate would be contending for the Democratic nomination without the groundwork laid by James Orange and his followers.

The Conservative Delusion

Fareen Zakaria’s Newsweek article “The End of Conservatism” makes the short case that GOP leaders are marinating in self-delusion by arguing that their party’s shrinking support is a result of abandonment of conservative principles. Zakaria counters that a combination of events, demographic change and the transformation of public opinion have rendered Reagan-Thatcher hard-line conservatism obsolete, creating a world in which “conservative slogans sound weirdly anachronistic.” Zakaria’s read on the Democrats’ prospects is also on target, and he quotes TDS co-editor Ruy Teixeira and his co-author John Judis:

“The Emerging Democratic Majority,” written in 2002, makes the case that perhaps for these broad reasons, the conservative tilt in U.S. politics is fast diminishing. It gained a brief respite after 9/11, when raised fears and heightened nationalism played to Republican advantages. But the trends are clear. Authors John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira note that several large groups have begun to vote Democratic consistently—women, college-educated professionals, youth and minorities. With the recent furor over immigration, the battle for Latinos and Asian-Americans is probably lost for the Republicans. Both groups voted solidly Democratic in 2006.

While many hard line conservatives have problems with John McCain’s policies on issues like torture and immigration reform, Zakaria is overstating the case in saying of McCain that “He seems to understand that a new world requires new thinking.” McCain’s advocacy of open-ended occupation of Iraq and his support of escalating US military presence in Iraq is anything but new thinking. Ditto for a broad range of McCain’s polices on such issues as the environment, women’s rights, health care and education. Republican voters who want some leaders capable of ‘new thinking’ can best send their party the message by voting Democratic in November, as many have already done in the primaries.