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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

Edwards: The Road Back

No one has explained the lessons of NH and IA for the Edwards campaign better than Mike Lux in his Open Left Post “Anger and Progressive Populism.” I think it is a must-read for Edwards campaign strategists. The nut graph:

Edwards’ message was one of pure, undistilled anger at the big corporations who are dominating our country’s politics: he was angry at those corporations, and he was going to “fight them,” “beat them and beat them and beat them some more,” and “stand up to them.” That message certainly resonates with me, and probably does with most of the OpenLeft.com community. And there is no doubt that Democratic primary voters, and voters in general, are angry at the special interest elites. But it didn’t lift Edwards past 19% among first choices. I think the problem has been that the anger is the only thing that voters were hearing. The lesson of the Edwards failure to me is that anger alone is not enough: that we have to combine the righteous anger we feel with telling people about the new ideas we have. Edwards had produced a bunch of great policy papers earlier in the campaign, but his core message in debates and advertising felt like it was all about the anger. If we can give people a sense of how we are going to change things and solve problems, and combine it with our anger at injustice, then we can win elections.

It’s getting late in the game. But If Edwards can restore more balance between the attack and solutions parts of his messaging over the next three weeks, and either Clinton or Obama stumbles, he may do well enough to survive Tsunami Tuesday and become competitive on the home stretch.

Yet More NH Outcome Theories

I know we need to move on regarding NH, but a couple more notions about HRC’s big win merit a mention. Karl Rove has some intriguing insights about NH in his Wall St. Journal article, “Why Hillary Won.” I thought these two were instructive:

Sen. Hillary Clinton won working-class neighborhoods and less-affluent rural areas. Sen. Barack Obama won the college towns and the gentrified neighborhoods of more affluent communities. Put another way, Mrs. Clinton won the beer drinkers, Mr. Obama the white wine crowd. And there are more beer drinkers than wine swillers in the Democratic Party.
The dirty secret is it is hard to accurately poll a primary…Our media culture endows polls — especially exit polls — with scientific precision they simply don’t have.

Rove sees HRC’s ‘Muskie moment’ as a big, humanizing net plus. He gives Obama’s track record a scalding critique, which may well become the GOP meme should he win the nomination. Obama’s long-term strategists might be wise to begin working on the rebuttal right now. Come to think of it, Obama is a very appealing candidate, but he could use a little warming-up too.
Rove clearly places a lot of value in the “likability” thing turning the tide for HRC. He does seem to want her to win the Democratic nomination, probably on the theory that her relatively high negatives make her vulnerable, as some netroots writers and a few msm’ers have charged. But that doesn’t mean Rove is right (see elections, 2006 for proof of his fallibility). IA and NH together have convinced me that any of our candidates can beat any of theirs on a good day. It’s up to Democratic activists, campaign workers and rank and file to make it a good day.
Another WSJ article, “Polls Missed Late Voter Shift, Key Absence” by June Kronholz has a couple of insights – one in particular – worth mulling over before we refocus on near and long-term campaign concerns. Kronholz explains:

Pollsters also overestimated the turnout of young voters, who overwhelmingly favored Mr. Obama in exit polls but didn’t surge to vote as they had in Iowa. Although Mr. Obama won the biggest share of independent voters and “walk-ups” (those registering to vote that day), neither was enough to offset the tide of women shifting to Mrs. Clinton.

In other words the youth vote returned to normal in NH. If she is right, somebody deserves a huge pat on the back for mobilizing the youth turnout in IA.
The last thought I have about NH: With 38 percent of NH voters making up their minds on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday, is it so unlikely that a pivotal number of basically undecided voters said to themselves in effect. “Jeez, who died and made Iowa queen? I’m not 100 percent settled on any one candidate — they’re all pretty good — and I’m not quite ready to let a small fraction of Iowa’s eligible voters decide who runs the world. I guess the only way to slow things down for now is to vote for Hillary.”

Theories of Clinton’s Upset in NH

As Ed said yesterday, there is still scant factual evidence for various theories of why the polls were so wrong about the Obama and Clinton votes in New Hampshire. There are, however, plenty of different explanations being discussed in various blogs and traditional news sources. Mark Blumenthal, for example, examines the statistical underpinnings of eight theories of Clinton’s upset victory at Pollster.com.
Ken Dilanian’s USA Today article “Pollsters struggle to explain Clinton win,” takes an interesting look at three of the more frequently-cited explanations. Of HRC’s ‘Muskie moment,’ Dilanian quotes Gallup’s Editor-in-chief Frank Newport, pointing out “a lot of last-minute movement in this hothouse environment” and “the intriguing potential impact of the ‘verge of tears’ video,” also noted by Senator Diane Feinstein, GOP strategist Karl Rove and Clinton herself.
Dilanian notes that exit polls indicate that 17 percent of NH voters made up their minds on election day and quotes Zogby on the “havoc” such late-deciders can cause for pollsters. But ABC News Polling Director Gary Langer counters that Clinton had a 2 percent advantage among those who made their decision before election day, according to Dilanian.
Dilanian cites the argument that “the record-shattering turnout” resulted in “a different electorate” than the one used in polling samples. But Newport points out that his sample’s demographics, including the percentage of older women believed to lean strongly toward Clinton, were “very close to those of the actual voters.”
In his Open Left article, “Obama Lost Because Of The Angry With Bush Vote,” Chris Bowers notes that Clinton had a 39 to 34 percent edge over Obama with the 62 percent of voters describing themselves as “angry” with the Bush Administration. Bowers believes that Obama’s “message of conciliatory unity” hurt him and helped Clinton. But if NH voters wanted more anger, I have to wonder why Edwards didn’t do better, especially since he was the guy who tagged Obama for being overly-conciliatory.
In addition to the gender gap favoring Clinton, the AP‘s Charles Babington notes an even more dramatic gap — exit poll data showing that Clinton outpolled Obama and Edwards 14-1 among voters who identified “experience” as the top qualification, possibly offsetting Obama’s 2-1 advantage among voters citing “change” as their top concern.
Ed wonders whether absentee ballots cast before Iowa may account in substantial part for HRC’s win. Seniors do cast a disproportionately large chunk of absentee ballots, and seniors are mostly women. Charles Franklin is skeptical because NH is one of the states that restricts absentee ballots. Still, it would be interesting to see if there is a substantial difference between NH voters before vs. after the IA caucuses.
Absentee ballots are an increasingly-important strategic consideration in many states. The ‘absentee’ (early) voter campaign is certainly huge in California, where almost half of ballots are expected to be cast by voters well before election day, and where the Clinton campaign is already heavily engaged in reaching them.

Looking Ahead: The Road After NH

NH polls are pouring in at a fast clip, and a good place to crunch the numbers and keep up is Pollster.com, where Eric Dienstfrey and Mark Blumenthal are on the case. For those who want to look ahead, Chris Kromm has an interesting take at Facing South on the January 19th Primary in South Carolina. And, John Harwood’s New York Times post “After New Hampshire, a Rapidly Changing Race” is a good place to begin thinking ahead. Likening the campaign that begins tomorrow to the TV series “Survivor,” Harwood has some insights about the candidates’ efforts to connect with complex constituencies after IA and NH :

After courting mostly white electorates in Iowa and New Hampshire, Democratic candidates will compete for Latinos in Nevada and blacks in South Carolina and the rest of the South. That heralds an increased focus on bread-and-butter economics and decreased attention to more esoteric discussions of political reform.
“More church visits, more plant visits,” says Donna Brazile, an African-American strategist who managed Al Gore’s 2000 campaign.
The black vote represents an appreciating asset for Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, so long as his campaign appears robust. A question facing Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, in Nevada and in the Western states that vote Feb. 5, is whether she can hold the formidable Hispanic support that she has marshaled so far. In California, Asian-Americans represent another wild card.
The Republican primary electorate grows more variegated as well, with the Irish, Italian and Polish “Reagan Democrats” of major cities like Detroit; Arab-Americans in Dearborn, Mich.; and Cuban immigrants in Miami.
More than the campaign’s opening chapter, this phase rewards nimble candidates and magnifies mistakes.

The scope of the campaign ahead is also vastly enhanced, as Harwood explains:

The scale of the new battlefield represents an immense logistical, financial and management challenge. Not even the best-financed campaign has the time or the money to visit or advertise in the scores of media markets involved in the contest through Feb. 5; there are 35 markets alone in California, Florida and Michigan.

Another major factor coming post-NH is an increasing possibility of a recession, and almost certainly a “troubled economy,” according to Paul Krugman’s op-ed column in today’s Times.
Although much of the media buzz is centered around the Obama-Clinton poll numbers, remember that Edwards came in 2nd in Iowa and he has made it clear that he is in it for the long haul. In that regard, Seema Mehta and James Rainey have an L.A. Times update on the Edwards campaign strategy in light of recent polling and primary numbers.

Obama Vs. McCain?

Kate Gibson has a Marketwatch report on a pair of NH polls that have pundits buzzing about an Obama Vs. McCain race:

Iowa caucus winner Obama and Clinton are backed by 33% of Democratic primary voters in the poll conducted by CNN and WMUR by the University of New Hampshire. A separate survey conducted for the Concord Monitor by Research 2000 had 34% of likely Democratic primary voters opting for Sen. Obama, D-IL, and 33% favoring Sen. Clinton, D-N.Y. Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards netted 20% in the CNN/WMUR poll, while the Concord Monitor poll had Edwards garnering 23% of likely Democratic voters.
On the GOP side, Sen. McCain was backed by 35% of likely Republican voters, while Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, was backed by 29% in the Concord Monitor survey, with Iowa caucus winner Mike Huckabee selected by 13%, and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani at 8%. The CNN/WMUR survey offered similar results, with 33% backing Sen. McCain of Arizona, and 27% supporting Romney. Huckabee was backed by 11%, with the former Arkansas governor trailing former mayor Giuliani, who garnered 14%.

Even though Obama and Clinton are in a statistical tie in both polls, such “polling numbers are like a snapshot of a moving train” as GOP pundit/consultant Michael Murphy ventured on Meet the Press. Open Left‘s Chris Bowers has post-Iowa poll averages for NH showing Obama with a 4.2 percent lead over Clinton. Says Bowers:

Obama is clearly ahead in New Hampshire right now. With only two days left and the momentum overwhelmingly on his side in the state, it is very, very hard to see how he doesn’t win New Hampshire.

In more good news for Obama, The Chris Matthews Show panel of a dozen pundits “Matthews Meter” is unanimous that Obama will be the nominee (as were Murphy and Democratic consultant Steve McMahon on MTP). So we have 14 pundits predicting Obama wins the Democratic nomination, and the two who ventured an opinion agree that McCain wins the GOP nomination. Not a bad Sunday before NH for Obama and McCain, who also got the MTP interview (as did Obama and Huckabee the Sunday before their Iowa victories).
Bowers cautions, however, that Clinton could still be ahead in delegate counts after Super Tuesday if she wins both Florida and California. Bowers explains:

Collectively, Clinton’s advantage in Super Delegates, Michigan, and February 5th home states provides her with roughly a 500 delegate advantage on Obama. If she were to also win Florida and California, which combine for 555 pledged delegates, it would be impossible for Obama to be ahead on delegates after February 5th. He could win every other state between now and February 6th, and never make up that sort of delegate deficit.

Get ready for a fierce month of Democratic politics.
UPDATE: A new CNN-WMUR poll, conducted Saturday and Sunday, has Obama leading Clinton by 10 points (m.o.e. 5).

Couch Tater Impressions of Iowa Caucuses

Courtesy of C-SPAN, I did get a little hint of what the Iowa caucuses were like. I certainly appreciate the argument that the Iowa caucuses are no way to run a Democracy, advanced by Larry J. Sabato and others. Yet, I felt a twinge of envy towards Ed for being there. It just looked like a fun night out, if somewhat exhausting — hanging out with fellow supporters of your candidate and others, making new friends, hashing out issues with all the media attention and knowing that your little vote probably means a hell of a lot more than that of the average citizen in any other state. I imagine the Obama afterglow party was a blast. His victory speech was excellent. No wonder Iowans love their crazy process.
I clicked on over to C-SPAN2 for a little while, where a GOP caucus was being spotlighted, and watched a young girl singing a slightly off-key version of that “I’m proud to be an American” song, while Republicans who could have been lifted out of a Norman Rockwell tableaux looked on. The GOP caucus process appeared to be a good deal more orderly and a lot less fun. I tried to imagine the Huckabee victory party. Back to C-SPAN1.
I get the critique of the Iowa caucuses not providing a representative reflection of the states’ voters as a whole, with such a small percentage turning out and no secret ballot etc. But there is something to be said for the human interaction you get with the Iowa caucuses — citizens coming together, boldly declaring their preferences and arguing and negotiating their way to a fair ballot count. It gets at the spirit of democracy from another angle. Still, after the elections the Democratic Party should move towards allowing all states to take turns as the first primary/caucus. No one state should have a hammerlock on first-in-the-nation.
For addressing the lessons learned and questions raised by the Iowa caucuses, the CNN entrance poll findings referenced by Ed are a great place to start.

Huck’s Stunt, Limp Ground Game

The AP‘s Ron Fournier has an enjoyable account of the latest act in the Mike Huckabee circus. Fournier, one of the few msm reporters who has not been snowed under by the Arkansas Governor’s much-noted wit, charm and bogus populism, nails Huckabee for a press conference he called to show reporters an ad he was withdrawing because it was too negative in attacking Romney.
Presumably, Iowans were supposed to respond, “Ah, how humble, how decent. But gee whiz, Huck’s ad had a point.” A dubious tactic at best. As Fournier says:

Iowans have a reputation for punishing politicians who go negative. The question is whether voters, particularly evangelicals who make up his political base, will believe Huckabee had the political equivalent of a deathbed conversion.
Or will they think he’s treating them like rubes — appealing to their sense of fair play while being foul?

Fournier wasn’t having any of it. Conceding that Huckabee is “an immensely talented communicator,” Fournier calls him a “flawed candidate,” “mistake-prone” and “thin-skined and rash.”
Towards the end of his article, Fournier notes something unique about Huckabee’s campaign:

He has a paltry political organization in a state that values the ground game, according to an informal survey of GOP county chairs and co-chairs. “I haven’t seen much of a sign of him or his people,” said Jim Conklin, chairman of the Linn County GOP.

What is interesting here is that Huckabee is leading in the latest polls and may just win the Iowa caucuses with a comparatively limp ground game, a highly counter-intuitive strategy. If he pulls it off, however, it doesn’t mean anybody can do it. As Ed noted in his 12/28 post “Somehow or other, Huckabee’s managed to come up with the jack for a respectable TV campaign of his own.” And not every candidate has Huckabee’s talent and grit for guerrilla politics. But if he wins, it will prove that Iowa can indeed be had without much of a ground game — at least on the Republican side.

527s Hit Hard in IA, Key Poll Expected Tonight

Jane Norman of the Des Moines Register Washington, D.C. bureau reports on the growing controversy about nonprofit issue ads being run in Iowa in the closing days of the presidential campaign. There’s no real shockers here — the article spotlights accusations against the Edwards, Clinton and Huckabee campaigns for abusing federal election law prohibiting issue-focused groups and candidate campaigns from coordinating activities. Norman notes that the Federal Election Commission found “widespread illegal conduct” by 527s in ’04 and quotes Fred Wertheimer, head of the Democracy 21 reform group: “it appears that 527 groups are blatantly and arrogantly at it again in the current presidential race.”
Don’t hold your breath expecting fines or penalties. Allegations of law-breaking are usually difficult to prove, and it would be hard to find a campaign that didn’t get a little too cozy with a 527 at some point. The hunch here is that the ads in question have been targeted for criticism because they are effective. You can see the pro-Edwards ad here and the pro-Huckabee ad here. A host of Iowa campaign ads can be viewed here.
In a close race — and it looks close for both Dems and Republicans in Iowa, any small or large factor can be credited with making the difference between a win or a loss. Among the most recent polls, the MSNBC-McClatchy/Mason Dixon poll conducted 12/26-28 has Romney and Huckabee in a stat tie in the GOP race. Ditto for Edwards, Obama and Clinton in the Democratic contest, echoing the results of other recent the polls cited by TDS yesterday.
The much-anticipated Des Moines Register poll, regarded by many as the ‘mother of Iowa polls’ just before the caucuses, will be reported in tomorrow’s edition of The Register, but the results will be circulating on the internet later this evening. Among others, The Baltimore Sun‘s political blog “The Swamp” plans to post results tonight.

Poll Taken – Poll Reported Gap A Problem

The latest L.A. Times – Bloomberg Poll, taken 12/20-23 and the 26th, shows a statistical dead heat between Democrats Obama, Edwards and Clinton in Iowa and between Obama and Clinton In New Hampshire. On the GOP side the poll has Huckabee ahead in Iowa and McCain challenging Romney in New Hampshire, according to Janet Hook’s L.A. Times report.
The horse race polls are increasingly valuable for predictions in the closing days of the last week before primary season begins. However, supporters of these candidates would be wise to hold the high fives for a bit, because the 12/27 Bhutto assassination and the fallout in Pakistan could influence the choices of IA and NH voters. Here we have a classic example of how a late-breaking event can make the horse race numbers suddenly seem kind of dicey.
It’s not hard to imagine a host of questions about the impact of the Bhutto assassination on the IA and NH primaries: In the event of the possible ‘meltdown’ in Pakistan noted by Ed yesterday, will voters now look for more foreign policy experience, since Pakistan is a nuclear power? If so, what will that do to the Obama and Huckabee surges? Or Romney’s lead? Will Clinton benefit? As a veteran U.S. Senator, Will McCain be helped, as the Republican “best at fighting terrorism and protecting national security” in the poll, or hurt as a gung ho Iraq hawk? How much will it help Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Biden, who held a press conference yesterday showcasing his expertise on Pakistan? Will Huckabee’s gaffe — his inaccurate statement about Pakistan being under marshall law, which was lifted two weeks ago, clip the wings off his surge. (For a good round-up of the Democratic presidential candidates’ comments on the Bhutto assassination, see here and here.)
The Bhutto assassination may have no real effect on the early primaries. However, all of the aforementioned questions cast a measure of doubt about the shelf-life of the poll’s findings. One or more of the candidates in both fields could get a little bump or clip, which might provide a margin of victory or defeat, translating into bold headlines coast to coast. Small world.

Mitt vs. Dad

In his Tapped post “The English Major Defense,” Mark Schmitt hones in on the most salient point about Mitt Romney’s claim that “I saw my father march with Martin Luther King.” It’s not so much that Mitt, well, stretched the truth about what he actually saw, to put it charitably. Looking at the larger picture, his father really was an extraordinarily-progressive Republican, as Schmitt points out, along with a few others of his era, including Senators Jacob Javits and Lowell Weicker. Schmitt asks a more relevant question:

Is there the slightest reason to believe that in the same position as his father, as it was becoming clear that the Republicans’ path to the presidency ran through the South (Goldwater secured the nomination in 1964 in part by opposing the Civil Rights Act, and Strom Thurmond switched parties that year), he would have shown similar courage?

Schmitt cites Romney the younger’s “shape-shifting adaptation to whatever the Republican prejudice of the moment is (anti-immigration rhetoric, or denouncing the kind of health plan he enacted as “socialized medicine”),” in stark contrast to his father’s principled stand for racial justice. The strategy of drawing broad distinctions between the GOP of an earlier era — when a few of its leaders actually demonstrated a concern for social justice — and the Republican Party of today is more rewarding than simply pointing a finger and saying a particular candidate lied.