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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

Super Delegates: How Elitist?

Perhaps the best thing that can be said about the ‘superdelegates,’ who will cast more than 19 percent of the votes for President at the Democratic National Convention this summer, is that nearly all of them have been elected to something at some point. The general categories include: 28 Democratic governors; Every Democratic member of congress; 23 Democratic Party ‘elders’ (former Presidents, vice presidents, speakers of the House etc.); 411 DNC members elected by Party activists in the 50 states. After that the case for having superdelgates in the next convention gets very weak.
In his Sunday L.A. Times article “Who Are These Superdelegates?,” Peter Nichols quotes Craig Holman, a lobbyist for the watchdog group Public Citizen:

This is a device to try to reduce the influence of one-person, one-vote…It’s anti-democratic. It’s specifically designed for the purpose of having the insiders . . . have some sort of final decision over who the nominee is going to be, regardless of what the voters want.

And Chris Bowers, who has launched a ‘Superdelgates Transparency Project,‘ has this to say about the danger of the superdelegate system in his Sunday Open Left post:

The Democratic Party is a living institution that changes through time, and it must change to adapt to the changing nature of its membership. This is a progressive era of mass engagement in politics, and for superdelegates to defy the popular will would deal a generational body blow to huge sections of its new activist corps, not to mention give it a black eye nationally for years, and would also simply violate progressive principles of democracy.

The demographic profile of the superdelegates is not impressive. In Josephine Hearne’s Politico article “White men hold superdelegate power balance,” for example, the author notes:

The exact percentage of white males varies slightly depending on whether the penalized Michigan and Florida delegation superdelegates are counted, but the overall percentage is at least 46 percent. Overall, men of all races represent 64 percent of the party’s superdelegates…The percentage of white male superdelegates is disproportionate to the share of white males who make up the overall Democratic electorate. According to a January 2008 national poll by Zogby International, 28 percent of Democratic voters are white men. Women account for 55 percent of Democratic voters.
…Among the superdelegates, including Michigan’s and Florida’s, there are 28 governors (21 white men), 49 senators (33 white men) and 228 representatives (137 white men). Members of the Democratic National Committee are also superdelegates, and among this group, there is more diversity.

One group. 2008 Democratic Convention Watch, keeps a running tally of the superdelgates who are committed and uncommitted. For their list of names of some 439+/- superdelegates who have endorsed a presidential candidate, click here. For their list of the 356+/- superdelegates who have not endorsed a candidate, click here. As of this writing 76 have yet to be chosen by their state conventions.
As Ed’s post below pointed out, the Clinton-Obama latest snapshot breakdown estimates vary somewhat, with a range of 210-242 for Clinton to 142-163 for Obama.

Managing Political Photo-Ops

This little item at WaPo by Al Kamen got me thinking about political photo-ops, and more particularly the value of composing them carefully when possible. Political ad agencies test images for campaign lit and videos regularly, but I know of no studies that provide statistical verification of the relative importance of photo-ops in a campaign. Nonetheless, visual images have consequences in politics, one of the most oft-cited cases being Nixon’s beard stubble in his televised debate with JFK, which many believe was a significant factor in Kennedy’s 1960 victory.
The appearance of candidates gets a lot of attention, as Edwards’s famous haircut indicates. But I wonder how much attention campaigns are paying to the background in photo-ops, debates and candidate appearances. No doubt the sheer chaos of campaigns limits opportunities for composing photo-op backgrounds. But there are some occasions, such as debates when it becomes possible and potentially important.
In the July 23rd “YouTube” Democratic debate, Senator Clinton was centrally positioned among the podiums, wearing a bright peach-hued jacket among the dark suits (photo here). CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin cracked that the field looks “like Gladys Knight and the Pips.’ She also brought her ‘A game’, which added to the effect of making the others look like also-rans, in stark contrast to her Iowa concession speech, when she was flanked by Clinton Administration elders, a drab tableau, to put it charitably. I gather that her positioning at the YouTube debate was random, but it showed that a favorable set-up can have a beneficial effect.
I remember also watching a televised debate between Senator Max Cleland and GOP challenger Rep. Saxby Chambliss in ’02, and being struck by how downright “senatorial” Chambliss looked — straight out of central casting. He was all gussied up in an elegantly-tailored dark suit and crowned by a shock of perfectly-coiffed white hair (I think they pretty much all shell out big bucks for their doos, not just Edwards). But more interesting, Chambliss was positioned in such a way that the American flag was behind him, not the incumbent Cleland, who was a little off his game that day and looked tired. I’d like to think that Georgians would not be swayed by such superficial considerations as candidate appearance or a flag in the background, but Chambliss did win, so who knows? I strongly suspect, however, that somebody in the Chambliss campaign paid a lot of attention to the setting for that debate, and Cleland’s campaign probably didn’t give it enough thought. The same guy who managed the Chambliss upset is now running McCain’s campaign, as noted yesterday. So don’t be surprised by American flags in the backdrop becoming a staple of McCain image management going forward.
I’m sure it’s possible to over-do it, and photo-ops can look too ‘stagey.’ The Colbert Report certainly gooses a lot of grins out of the set’s flags and eagles slo-mo background, a goof on the networks. Flags or otherwise, it might be a good idea for Democratic campaigns to try and get some more inspiring backdrops for candidate photo-ops than their fading stars of yesteryear.

Unmasking McCain, Deuce

MyDD‘s Jonathan Singer flags Laura Vozzella’s Baltimore Sun article about John McCain’s recent visit to Baltimore. Vozzella’s piece included this nugget shedding new light on McCain’s much-noted ‘character.’:

McCain’s visit brought Bo Harmon back to town. Ehrlich’s former campaign manager is McCain’s national political director.
Ehrlich created a bit of a stir by hiring Harmon, who in 2002 had run Saxby Chambliss’ upset campaign against then-Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia. The Chambliss campaign ran a TV ad questioning the courage of the Vietnam vet and triple amputee.
Among those who objected to the ad: a certain senator from Arizona. “Worse than disgraceful,” McCain called it.

Singer adds:

The evidence of this unscrupulous side of McCain does not begin with his hiring of someone whose pièce de résistance he previously called “worse than disgraceful.” From the beginning of his career through today, McCain has shown that he stands for little other than advancing his own career for ambition’s sake. For instance, in 2001 McCain was apparently nearly willing to give up on everything he ever believed in, including his vaunted Ronald Reagan, in order to switch parties to give the Democrats control over the United States Senate. Three years later, McCain’s campaign approached John Kerry about forming a bipartisan ticket, which would have thoroughly undermined everything he had purported to fight for over the course of his career in Washington. Just in the last few months McCain has given up on his long-standing position on immigration. The list goes on.

It will be interesting to see if any other msm reporters call on McCain to account for his record in the months ahead.

Unmasking the Bogus Maverick

I know we’re all juiced about the Clinton-Obama race. But whoever wins the Dem nod, McCain’s nom is a done deal, and there is a need for some serious oppo-focus if Dems want to shut him down. Toward that end, Arianna gets things off to a good start with her perceptive HuffPo via Alternet post on the McCain of today vs. his saner persona of a few years back. Here’s a taste, with a richly-deserved b-slap for the msm:

So, please, stop pretending that McCain is still the dashing rebel that made knees buckle back in the day — and stop referring to him, as the New York Times did this weekend, as “moderate” and a “centrist.”
What is it going to take for you guys to face reality? McCain verbally stroking Rove should be the equivalent of that great scene at the end of The Godfather where Diane Keaton’s Kay watches in horror as Al Pacino transforms, in the kiss of a ring, from her loving husband Michael into the next Don Corleone. This ain’t the same man you married.
…The Thousand Year War Express is careening along the road to the White House, and the new John McCain is gunning the engine. And he has to be stopped.

Now take it on over to The Nation, where David Roberts picks up on one of Arianna’s themes in “John McCain and Climate Change.” As Roberts explains:

The media touts McCain’s stance on climate as evidence of his straight talkin’ maverickosity. Conservative stalwarts assail McCain for his heresy (Romney attacked McCain’s climate bill in Michigan and Florida). The public hails him for reaching across the aisle. Even Democrats and greens seem inclined to give him a grade of Good Enough on climate.
This is a classic case of what our president calls the soft bigotry of low expectations. Judged against his fellow Republicans, McCain is a paragon of atmospheric wisdom. Judged against the climate and energy legislation afoot in Congress, he falls short. Judged against the two leading Democratic presidential candidates, he is a pale shadow. Judged against the imperatives of climate science — that is to say, judged against brute physical reality — he isn’t even in the ballpark.
It’s time to stop grading McCain on a curve.

Roberts has plenty more, enough to put a permanent end to the oft-cited McCain-as-green-gipper myth. But Paul Waldman’s American Prospect article “The Maverick Myth” is the capper for today.

A Lexis-Nexis search reveals that in the month of January alone, McCain was referred to in the media as a “maverick” more than 800 times. Pick up today’s newspaper or turn on cable news, and you won’t have to wait long before a reporter or pundit calls McCain a maverick.
According to Congressional Quarterly’s party unity scores, which track how often members of Congress side with their party on key votes, over the course of his career McCain has voted with his party 84 percent of the time—not the highest score in the Senate but hardly evidence of a great deal of independence. Similarly, the American Conservative Union gives McCain a lifetime rating of 82.3, making him a solid friend of the right’s. And according to the widely respected Poole-Rosenthal rankings, McCain was the eighth-most conservative senator in the 110th Senate.
…Reporters decided long ago that John McCain’s character is of a higher order than ordinary mortals. In their telling, his motives are pure, his every word and deed speaks of unrivaled courage, and his fierce independence makes him a “maverick.” Everything McCain does is either highlighted or ignored based on whether it fits this pre-existing portrait. So when McCain lards his campaign with lobbyists and GOP insiders, as he did in its initial formation, or when he genuflects before religious radicals like Jerry Falwell and John Hagee, reporters dismiss it as a momentary aberration not representing the real John McCain.

No matter who wins the Democratic nomination, a prerequisite for winning in November is putting an end to McCain’s free ride with the media, and the progressive blogosphere will have to lead the charge. The aformentioned articles are a good beginning for unmasking McCain as the GOP’s flip-flopping, pseudo-maverick errand boy for the fat cats.

Friday Fact Fest

Scout Finch reports at Daily Kos that Clinton raised an impressive $5 million in 48 hours, Obama raised $7.2 million in the same period, a little more than McCain raised — during all of January.
The title of Monica Davey’s New York Times article on the Great Bellweather State’s phat Tuesday vote,”Razor-Thin Margins in Missouri Reflect Nationwide Split,” somewhat contradicts it’s most interesting statistic: Dems 823,754; Reps 589,173.
Also at The Grey Lady, David Brook’s op-ed has some interesting stats amid the faux interview snarkage: “The next states on the primary calendar have tons of college-educated Obamaphile voters. Maryland is 5th among the 50 states, Virginia is 6th. But later on, we get the Hillary-friendly states. Ohio is 40th in college education. Pennsylvania is 32nd.”
Chris Kromm notes a disturbing pair of Tsunami Tuesday exit poll figures in his Facing South post, that 9.5 percent of Democratic voters admit that race was a factor in voting against Obama, while 8 percent of Dem voters said gender was a factor in voting against Clinton. Imagine what the numbers would be on the GOP side.
Elections bird-dog Steven Rosenfeld reports at Alternet.org that 13 percent of New Mexico voters found they were not on precinct voter rolls when they showed up at the polls on 2/5. Some 17 thousand provisional ballots may determine the ultimate outcome.
In his “Digesting the Numbers” post at NDNblog, Andres Ramirez has a statistic that should get Democratic strategists thinking: The number of Latino primary voters increased by nearly a million from ’04 to ’08 in four states alone: NY; CA; AZ; and FL.
In CA also, the Latino turnout exceeded expectations, according to Josh Patashnik’s post at TNR’s The Plank — 29 percent of the CA vote, in stark contrast to the Field Poll’s prediction of 20 percent. Patashnick reports that Field also predicted an Obama win and a 12 percent (of the total vote) Af-Am turnout, compared to the 6 percent who actually voted.

Clinton-Obama Ad Wars Heat Up in 22 States

With Clinton and Obama together budgeting $19 million for Tsunami Tuesday-focused spots, American politics hits a new milestone — “the most ambitious and geographically expansive television effort in a presidential primary,” according to New York Times political reporter Adam Nagourney.
As Nagourney notes, the ads are mostly positive, avoiding attacks on the opponent. He cites the example of Obama’s ads in Minneapolis and Albuquerque, where anti-war sentiment runs high, emphasizing his early opposition to the Iraq War. In Hartford and Fargo his ads focus on economic fears. Senator Clinton’s California ads address environmental concerns, energy and foreign oil dependence and she is running ads stressing “economic anxiety” across the nation.
Chris Bowers has an Obama-Clinton poll averaging chart that ad-buyers will find of interest. Clinton supporters will be encouraged by Bowers’ chart, which shows Obama leading in 3 of 22 states. But the chart averages snapshot polls, and some recent polls show Obama gaining rapidly. In another recent Open Left post, “Super Tuesday Ad Buys,” Bowers riffs on Nagourney’s article and notes that Clinton has apparently decided not to advertise in three states, Illinois, Kansas and Georgia.
The larger ad agencies are reaping most of the benefit of the Obama-Clinton ad blitz. But one of the most powerful ads being deployed — via internet — the pro-Obama “Yes We Can” spot, was produced by Will.I.Am, a member of the uber-hip “Black Eyed Peas” and directed by Bob Dylan’s oldest son, Jesse Dylan. The ad is a dazzler, featuring inter-cut shots of an attractive cast of young celebrities singing the words of Obama’s inspiring “Yes We Can” speech. No doubt it will be emulated in many future political ads. Both opponents and supporters of Obama will find it instructive regarding the art of political ad-making on the internet. The Clinton campaign has a bank of three dozen ads, including endorsements from RFK, Jr. and the grandson of Cesar Chavez, at this gateway link.

Grassroots Questions Challenge Dems

The Nation has a trio of insightful articles meriting a read from Democrats interested in political strategy. Matt Stoller’s “Dems Get New Tools, New Talent” in The Nation reviews the latest developments in “field” — new ways to increase person-to-person contact of voters. Stoller describes the new software and technological landscape for field organizers and provides a revealing account of the ’04 Dem presidential campaign’s failure to efficiently deploy the latest tools and techniques of voter contact. Stoller lets political consultant Zack Exley ask a key question for Dems in ’08:

Democrats have enjoyed bumper crops of field organizers for two presidential cycles. The next big question is this: Will the nominee succeed in harvesting these crops and making the very best use of these organizers? Or will she or he put blockages and bureaucracy in the way of these young organizers, as happened in the 2004 general election?

Stoller argues that a competent, state-of-the-art field operation can be worth 3-5 points in a general election. Much depends on Dems meeting this challenge.
In her equally-provocative Nation article, “Grassroots Reseeded: Suites vs. Streets,” Laura Flanders asks a similar question:

Now is when the talk meets the walk. The Deaniacs have come into their own–men and women who were trained in Dean’s 2004 campaign are plotting the strategies of all the Democratic front-runners. Dean of the scream is coaching the state parties, and something like the infectious grassroots glee that Dean’s supporters felt years ago appears to be animating (especially) Barack Obama’s volunteers. Forty years after the coming apart of 1968, could this be the year that Democrats finally permit regular people to play a real role in party politics? Or is a whole new cohort of eager-beaver change-makers signing up for heartbreak?

Flanders notes the success of the Obama campaign’s preference for organizing over canvassing. “Canvassers assess voter preferences. Organizers inspire commitment,” says Marshall Ganz, a Harvard proff/’Camp Obama’ trainer quoted by Flanders.
The last Nation article, John Nichols’s “Progressive Democratic Challengers,” makes the case for ’08 as a very good year to weed out DINO’s and other congressional Dems who have supported the Bush-corporate agenda — and replace them with a new generation of authentic progressive Democrats. Nichols discusses the congressional candidacies of progressive Maryland Democrat Donna Edwards and others, and asks:

But what will Democrats in power do in 2009? Will they be as disappointingly cautious and unfocused as the Democrats of the 2007 Congress, who frustrated not just the party’s base but a broader electorate that gives the Democratic Congress lower ratings than the Republican White House? Or will they develop the progressive agenda and display the strategic sense needed to give meaning to all this year’s talk of “change”?…These local primaries have national importance, as they could answer an essential question: will a Democratic Party that muddled its message after gaining control of Congress in 2006 advance a progressive brief in the post-Bush era?

Nichols is encouraged by the energized candidacies of Edwards and other strong progressives. No doubt, their success will depend on their campaigns’ ability to tap the grass roots strategy, tools and commitment cited by Stoller and Flanders.

Florida’s Hispanic Voters Could be Key in November

Regardless of what happens concerning Florida’s delegation to the Democratic convention, Florida is likely to be a key swing state in the general election. Florida ranks fourth among the states in electoral college votes, and Democrats have shown they are highly competitive there. To better understand Florida’s demographics Warren Bull’s BBC News article “Florida’s Hispanics weigh their vote” is a good place to begin. Bull notes:

About 20% of the Sunshine State’s population is Hispanic (rising to more than 60% in Miami Dade County) and it has long played an influential and sometimes decisive role in American politics…George W Bush would never have become the 43rd US president without the backing of more than half of Florida’s Latino voters.

Bull’s article also has a sidebar chart on Florida demographics with the following Census factoids:

Population: 18m
White, not Hispanic: 61.3%
Hispanic: 20.2%
Black: 15.8%
Home ownership rate: 70.1%
Median household income 2004: $40,900
US median: $44,334

Bull quotes Florida political analyst Dr. Paul Pozo on the diversity of Florida’s Hispanic community and its regional strongholds:

In the central part of Florida, the majority of the Latins are Puerto Rican. Some Central Americans are there also, and Mexicans in the north of Florida. South of Florida is basically the Cuban-American community.

Bull’s article doesn’t have the percentages for each Hispanic subgroup. But Adam C. Smith’s 2004 article in the St. Petersburg Times, “Parties court the ultimate swing vote: Florida’s Hispanics,” has a sidebar chart that indicates 31.1 percent of Florida Hispanics are Cuban, 18 percent Puerto Rican, 13.6 Mexican and 37.4 “other Hispanic and Latino.”
Adds Smith:

Hispanics account for about 12 percent of Florida’s electorate. The share made up of faithfully Republican Cuban-Americans has dropped from at least 80 percent a decade ago to 60 percent today. In 2000, Bush won 80 percent of the Cuban vote in Florida, while Gore won 60 percent of the non-Cuban Hispanic vote.

Victor Manuel Ramos notes in his Orlando Sentinel article, published by HispanicBusiness.com:

There are more than 1.1 million Hispanic voters statewide, including 207,000 in Central Florida. And they are the only major voter group that has grown — by 8,300 — since 2006. Statewide, a majority are Republicans.
By contrast, 42 percent of Central Florida’s Hispanics are registered Democrats, compared with 22 percent Republicans. That party alignment may explain why candidates haven’t invested much here.

Pozo has this to say about the ideologial breakdown:

The difference is in ideology. The Cuban-American community is more conservative and likes the Republican Party more than the Democrats. The Hispanic people in Central Florida are more inclined to the Democratic Party, and of course they feel different in so far as foreign relations.

Bull discusses the play of key issues of concern to Florida Hispanics, including: immigration; a high rate of foreclosures; health care reform; high drop-out rates; a depressed construction industry and the economy in general. Bull’s article links to a BBC demographic profile of Florida, which notes that seniors are 18 percent of the state population — the highest percentage in the nation.
Winning votes of Florida’s complex Hispanic demographic is a tricky challenge for Democrats. But with 27 electoral votes at stake, it’s not one Dems can afford to overlook.

Obama’s Wide Net Vexes Pundits

Just an amen addendum to the conclusion of Ed’s article below that “Obama’s “ghetto” may be bigger than the pundits realize.” If any presidential candidate can be said to be appealing to the broadest possible demographic cross-section, it has to be Senator Obama. Conversely, I can’t think of any constituency he has pandered to as aggresively as, say Senator Clinton’s outreach to women voters of a certain age, or Edwards’ targeting of unions and blue collar workers.
Obama’s grand strategy seems to be casting the widest possible net, while his opponents are focused on snagging key demographics they see as critical for their respective campaigns. Sure, Obama wants the highest possible percentage of the African American vote. But if memory serves, he has been criticized by Jesse Jackson and other Black leaders for not being focused enough on the Black demographic. And yes, Obama is no doubt grateful for his huge edge with younger voters. But it’s not like he’s out there spending a lot more time on college campuses at the expense of other groups. He doesn’t have to spend a lot of time working young voters. They just like him. The young, white voters in my family talk about him like he is the hope of their generation.
I had to chuckle at the title and subtitle of Mickey Kaus’s Slate article flagged in Ed’s post: “How Obama Can Win: He can escape his electoral ghetto by playing the race-blind card.” Well, that train left the station some time ago, regardless of what happens in SC. Also the thought of any pundit giving Obama advice beyond maybe some really good ads targeting California Hispanics and seniors may be a smidge presumptuous. This guy was a state senator less than four years ago, and he’s got a good shot at becoming the leader of the free world by this time next year. There’s not a lot any journalists can teach him about taking advantage of political opportunity. Like him or not, Obama is running one hell of a smart campaign.

Obama, Clinton and MLK’s Lengthening Shadow

It appears that the grown-ups in both campaigns may prevail after all in the dust-up about the Clintons’ remarks concerning Martin Luther King, LBJ and Obama’s Iraq position, according to Jeff Zeleny’s New York Times article “Obama Tries to Stop the ‘Silliness’.” Zeleny quotes Obama:

I don’t want the campaign at this stage to degenerate into so much tit-for-tat, back-and-forth, that we lose sight of why all of us are doing this…We’ve got too much at stake at this time in our history to be engaging in this kind of silliness. I expect that other campaigns feel the same way….I think that I may disagree with Senator Clinton or Senator Edwards on how to get there, but we share the same goals. We’re all Democrats…We all believe in civil rights. We all believe in equal rights. We all believe that regardless of race or gender that people should have equal opportunities.

Bravo. And then he shows how generosity of spirit can win hearts and minds:

They are good people, they are patriots. They are running because they think that they can move this country to a better place…I think that Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton have historically and consistently been on the right side of civil rights issues. I think they care about the African-American community and that they care about all Americans and they want to see equal rights and justice in this country.

After giving Obama due credit for taking the high road, it seems fair to acknowledge that the Clinton’s remarks were stretched by the media to imply more than they intended. Might be wise for all Dem campaigns to eschew the circular firing squad approach going forward and save the more splenetic denunciations for the real adversaries. They would be the GOP guys chortling on the sidelines.
Perhaps we should cap the whole thing with an appropriate quote from the mature, prophetic voice of one who was born on this day 79 years ago, but who never saw his 40th birthday. “Our enemies will adequately deflate our accomplishments. We need not serve them as eager volunteers.”