washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

Pride in President

Frank Rich has a gem of a column in the Sunday New York Times, “How Obama Became Acting President.” Rich shows why he is one of the better hires the ‘newspaper of record’ has yet made. He explains the politics of the moment with perceptive observations, among them:

The growing Obama clout derives not from national polls, where his lead is modest. Nor is it a gift from the press, which still gives free passes to its old bus mate John McCain. It was laughable to watch journalists stamp their feet last week to try to push Mr. Obama into saying he was “wrong” about the surge. More than five years and 4,100 American fatalities later, they’re still not demanding that Mr. McCain admit he was wrong when he assured us that our adventure in Iraq would be fast, produce little American “bloodletting” and “be paid for by the Iraqis.”

After watching a replay of Senator Obama’s Berlin speech (See it here), I wondered “what’s this, an American politician being cheered in Europe? Haven’t seen that for a few decades” Rich nailed the historical meaning more succinctly:

What was most striking about the Obama speech in Berlin was not anything he said so much as the alternative reality it fostered: many American children have never before seen huge crowds turn out abroad to wave American flags instead of burn them.

In stark contrast, Rich illuminates McCain’s ill-fated plan to visit an offshore oil-rig:

The week’s most revealing incident occurred on Wednesday when the new, supposedly improved McCain campaign management finalized its grand plan to counter Mr. Obama’s Berlin speech with a “Mission Accomplished”-like helicopter landing on an oil rig off Louisiana’s coast. The announcement was posted on politico.com even as any American with a television could see that Hurricane Dolly was imminent. Needless to say, this bit of theater was almost immediately “postponed” but not before raising the question of whether a McCain administration would be just as hapless in anticipating the next Katrina as the Bush-Brownie storm watch.

Rich’s column goes on to evoke a palpable sense of dread about what a McCain presidency would feel like, and a tantalizing taste of the alternative. Real pride in our President? What a radical concept.

Radio Key for Motivating New Voters

Excited as all Dems should be by recent reports of dramatic increases in voter registration benefitting our party, it’s time to give serious thought to GOTV strategies to maximize turnout of these new voters on November 4th. Registration percentage is the most reliable predictor of voter turnout — the more voters registered, the higher the turnout. So we have already gained a significant edge, assuming the Republicans don’t produce an equivalent uptick in registering their base in the months ahead. But that doesn’t mean we can’t gain an additional edge with a concerted effort to get more of these new voters to the polls.
We don’t know precisely who these new voters are. But many of the registration campaigns in different states have targeted young voters, particularly college students. Other registration campaigns have targeted African and Latino Americans. The motivated voters in all demographic groups are going to get to the polls without much encouragement. But if previous patterns prevail, as many as 40 percent of the newly-registered voters won’t vote — if nothing is done. In 2004, for example, nearly 60 percent of registered voters went to the polls, according to the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate. If we can increase their turnout/rv ratio up to 70-75 percent, it just might make the difference in a close race.
Many newly registered voters who may not vote on election day have transportation problems. The polls may be too far away and/or they don’t have a car. or they don’t know where the poll is located. Others may be time-challenged — having to pick-up the kids, fix dinner, work late etc. Some may be energy-challenged, just too dog-tired to make the effort.
Early voting can help get around such ‘convenience’ issues, provided the voters are informed about how they can do it with a minimum of hassle. There should be a major push — make that an unprecedented effort — to inform new voters in the 28 states that permit no-excuse absentee voting by mail about early voting opportunities.
The internet is a great medium for reaching many of these voters, especially college students. In a recent Pew poll, 42 percent of young people said they learn about political campaigns from the internet, up from 20 percent in 2004. Internet ad revenues are expected to surpass radio ad revenues for the first time this year, reports Rudy Ruitenberg of Bloomberg.com. Yet, television still rules as a source for political information, and 60 percent of respondents in the Pew poll said they get “most of their election news from TV,” although it’s down from 68 percent in ’04 and ’00.
But television time is expensive, and not all young people or low-income voters have daily access to the internet. Radio may be the most cost-effective medium for reaching newly-registered voters, not only for informing them about early voting opportunities in their communities, but also to motivate them to get to the polls on election day. Radio reaches more than 210 million voting age listeners every week, according to Jeff Haley, president of the Radio Advertising Bureau, and, more so than TV, it reaches voters at useful times — the wake-up alarm, driving to work, at work, at lunch and driving home — pretty much all day, until the polls close.
High as we all are on the power of the internet as a tool for transmitting political information and motivation, a more substantial investment in radio ads could hold the key to victory in November.

Economic Meltdown Boosts Dems

Gerald F. Seib’s column in today’s Wall St. Journal addresses the effects of the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac collapse and the deteriorating economy in general on the upcoming election, and he sees increased chances for a Democratic sweep. As Seib succinctly puts it,

Voters think the country is in a mess, and they are more inclined to trust Democrats to clean things up.

One reason says Seib, is that the traditional GOP panacea/meme, “Let the markets work things out” won’t play so well in the current climate:

…the Bush administration, resistant to intervene in markets, and reluctant to ride to the rescue of investors in the specific case of the housing mess, stepped up over the weekend to offer a virtual government guarantee that Fannie and Freddie would stay solvent.
It grows ever harder for Republicans to campaign against government intrusion in the marketplace the more Republicans themselves appear to be losing faith in letting markets work. And if voters want intervention in the economy, why not get the real deal with Democrats? In sum, it is hard to imagine new economic scares represent anything but more bad news for Republicans, who tend to get the blame for things that go wrong simply because they have controlled the White House for the past seven years.

And, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds even one-third of Republicans now disapprove of Bush’s job performance, includng 20 percent who “strongly disapporve” — and all-time high. In addition, 52 percent of Independents now “disapprove strongly” of his job performance. The poll also found that “a broad majority finds their finances to be a cause of stress in their life.”
All of which is making John McCain sweat more than a little. Seib explains,

…the mortgage crisis also has left Sen. McCain trapped between this instinct to act and his party’s inclination to let markets work out solutions. Maneuvering in that middle ground has left him uncomfortable at times, caught between a desire to help homeowners and distaste for bailing out investors and speculators who made bad bets.

Regardless of the presidential contest, Seib believes Democratic Senate candidates could be the major beneficiaries of the growing economic insecurity:

when the Journal/NBC News poll asked voters last month whether they preferred a Democratic or Republican controlled Congress to emerge from the election, voters responded by a whopping 52% to 33% margin that they wanted Democratic control…Increasingly, the question is how many innocent Republicans will be sucked under by these currents, and whether there is even a chance that there will be enough of them to give Democrats the magic 60 seats they need to create a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate….A fresh examination of the roster of Senate seats up for election this fall shows that Democrats have legitimate shots of taking over 10 seats now held by Republicans — and are in real danger of losing only one, that of Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.

Seib is not alone in that asessment. At a press breakfast held last Saturday, Nevada Sen. John Ensign , chairman of National Republican Senatorial Committee gave a list of the ten “most competitive” U.S. Senate seats up on November 4, and only one is currently held by a Democrat. Bob Benenson of CQ Politics lists the ten Senate seats most likely to flip to the opposing party as VA, NM, NH, CO, MS, NM, AK, OR, ME and LA — all but LA currently held by Republicans. The only difference in the two lists is that Ensign had NC instead of MS.

Is Obama’s Southern Strategy Sound ?

Thomas F. Schaller’s July 1 New York Times article “The South Will Fall Again” makes a strong case that the Obama campaign would be wise not to invest much time and resources into winning electoral votes in “the 11 states of the former Confederacy.” Schaller admits that Virginia and Florida are exceptional cases that Obama can hope to win on November 4th. But he pretty much disses the idea that the electoral votes of other southern states are in play.
Schaller relies on ’04 election data to prove his point. Only in 3 of the 11 southern states , FL, AR and VA, did Kerry cut Bush’s margin of victory below 10 percent. And only in FL did Kerry come within 5 percent of winning. Demographics have changed somewhat during the last 4 years, with a large Hispanic influx into the region and northern job-seekers emigrating south. But it’s unclear how much this would benefit Democrats.
Schaller cites aggregate statistics indicating the Black voter turnout in the 11 southern states is proportional to the population, “17.9 percent of the age-eligible population and 17.9 percent of actual voters in 2004.” He offers the example of Mississippi to illustrate that “the more blacks there are in a Southern state, the more likely the white voters are to vote Republican.”
In their May 16 NYT article “In the South, a Force to Challenge the G.O.P.,” Adam Nossitor and Janny Scott point out:

In one black precinct in the town of Amory, Miss., the number of voters nearly doubled, to 413, from the Congressional election in 2006, and this for a special election with nothing else on the ballot. Meanwhile, in a nearby white precinct, the number of voters dropped by nearly half.
A similar increase has been evident in Southern states with presidential primaries this year. In South Carolina, the black vote in the primary more than doubled from 2004, to 295,000, according to exit poll estimates. In Georgia, it rose to 536,000 from 289,000.
One expert on African-American politics, David A. Bositis of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, called those numbers “almost astounding.” Black turnout also shot up in states like Maryland, Virginia and Louisiana, even after Hurricane Katrina had driven many Louisianians out of state.

Schaller argues that even the most optimistic projections of Black turnout will not be enough to overcome the GOP advantage in the south. However, Schaller’s analysis doesn’t take recent polling trends into account. According to recent poll averages cited by Pollster.com, Obama is behind McCain 3.2 percent in FL, 5.3 percent in GA and 2.9 percent in NC, and Obama leads McCain by 1.4 percent in VA. Granted, early horse race polls are lousy predictors of what will happen in November, but they do give candidates some idea of how they are running. In light of these numbers, it doesn’t make much sense for Obama to “write off” NC or GA just yet, especially if he choses Sam Nunn as a running mate. It appears that his investment in those two states is good strategy at this stage.
Obama is not Kerry, who may have been the ideal candidate from the point of view of southern Republicans. Another consideration is that Republicans have a lot more to answer for this time around. And how well does Obama’s demonstrated ability to connect with young white voters play in the south? These are just a few of the issues Obama must consider in tweaking his southern strategy in the months ahead.

Patriotism — the Day After

Colbert I. King, one of WaPo‘s Pulitzer Prize winners (2003), has an article commenting on the difference between Senator Obama’s speech this week at the Truman Memorial Building in Independence, MO and Frederick Douglass’s “4th of July Oration,” which was actually delivered on July 5th 1852 to Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society. King is interested in the difference between the two speeches as a measure of America’s progress in race relations and the meaning of patriotism in this context.
Douglass’s speech, delivered 156 years ago today, is one of the masterpieces of American oratory and one of the most eloquent speeches ever delivered in the English language. Indeed, there is nothing Winston Churchill, Henry Clay or Martin Luther King, Jr. could have taught Douglass about tapping the power of the mother tongue. It is routinely included in ‘Great Speeches’ collections, usually in the ‘social criticism’ category, and it really has no peer as an educational tool for teaching people what slavery was like and how it corrupted America’s nobler ideals. You can read the whole dazzling thing right here.
King’s article cites interesting similarities between Senator Obama and Douglass:

Although generations apart, Douglass and Obama have common characteristics. Both are of mixed race. Like Douglass, Obama grew up without the steadying hand of a father…Both men sought life’s fortunes far from their places of birth.

King explains the similarities — and differences — between Obama’s speech and Douglass’s oration, among them:

And in their speeches on independence and patriotism, both cited the courage and wisdom of the men who sought total separation of the colonies from the crown…Obama’s speech, “The America We Love,” lauded the men of Lexington and Concord who launched the American Revolution. Obama also agreed with Douglass on the significance of the founding documents and the idea of liberty as a God-given right worth dying for.
But while Douglass noted his estrangement from America’s experiment with democracy, Obama claimed America as his own and the Fourth of July as a time to rejoice.

To be fair, Douglass concluded his remarkable speech on a stirring note of hope, and there is a sense in which Senator Obama’s nomination represents a giant step forward toward the fulfillment of Douglass’s hope and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream. All Americans should be proud that one of our major political parties has advanced to this patriotic milestone, and Democrats can take special pride that our Party has taken the lead. We can also be proud that our nominee apparent has the speech-making skills to illuminate the historic moment. The patriotic challenge before us now is to bring it home on November 4th.

Will ‘Obamacons’ Help Dems?

Do read Robert Novak’s column in today’s WaPo which riffs interestingly on Bruce Bartlett’s article “The Rise of the Obamacons” in The New Republic. Novak, Like Bartlett, is mostly concerned about conservatives in leadership positions who have either endorsed Obama or have expressed disappointment with McCain. Novak believes that,

Reports listing additional Obamacons do not add up to tides of conservative Republicans leaving their party… Nevertheless, Obamacons — little and big — are reason for concern by McCain. They also should cause soul-searching at the Bush White House about who made the Republican Party so difficult a place for Republicans to stay.

Novak shares Bartlett’s funny quote from inside-the-beltway supply-sider Larry Hunter:

The Republican Party is a dead rotting carcass with a few decrepit old leaders stumbling around like zombies in a horror version of ‘Weekend With Bernie,’ handcuffed to a corpse.

They said it. We didn’t.
Both writers touch obliquely on a couple of things I have noticed in conversations with conservative acquaintances who have expressed admiration for Obama. First, Obama projects a sense of prudence. He just seems more thoughtful than McCain, who has some of that knee-jerk ideologue quality that defines Bush. Obama’s opposition to the Iraq war is based more on a sense of prudence about military entanglements, than pacifist/ideological beliefs, while McCain is more of an ideologue. True conservatives are not big on the notion of elective war, nor on open-ended occupations that cost taxpayers more than a billion dollars a week and overextend our military resources to the point where it imperils our military options in crises elsewhere. It’s easier to envision Obama engaging in productive diplomacy than McCain.
The other thing that makes Obama appealing to true conservatives is his flexibility. Obama’s switch in favor of telecom immunity, for example, may anger some of his progressive supporters. But to a conservative, it may show that he is not anti-business and he is open to changing his mind to adapt to new realities. Ditto for his reversed policy on receiving public funds. Yes, Obama has a strong liberal record. But he is not a rigid ideologue. It’s not so easy to say the same for McCain. His flip-flops seem more driven by rank political opportunism than thoughtful ruminations about policy.
I’m not so sure Obamacon opinion leaders are having all that much of an impact. More likely they are a reflection of what is going on in the minds of many conservatives who are troubled by the Bush mess and McCain’s inability to separate himself from it. At the same time, many conservatives are impressed with Obama’s work ethic, management skills, flexibility and refusal to dwell on racial injustice as a central issue. I would expect that Obama will get some of their votes, while others will vote third party or stay at home on election day.

Winning the Energy Security Debate

Republicans believe they can now make the issue of energy security a winner for them by attacking Obama and Democrats for opposing drilling in environmentally-sensitive areas. In the New York Times political blog The Caucus, Michael Falcone writes about the new GOP meme launched by McCain, labeling Obama the “Dr. No” of energy policy and blasting him for opposing McCain’s proposals for expanded oil exploration, a summer gas tax holiday, more investment in nuclear energy and a $300 million prize to whoever creates a better car battery.
The GOP knows energy security is a potentially lethal issue for them, with gas prices so high and because they have done so little to promote energy independence. So they are following the Karl Rove playbook, which calls for full scale assault on the adversary’s strongest positions. They know that there is a well-documented link between low presidential approval scores and rising gas prices. But the Republicans have also noted a public opinion trend in favor of more oil exploration. An L.A. Times/Bloomberg poll conducted 6/20-23, for example, indicates 55 percent of respondents say drilling for oil in environmentally-important areas should be “allowed with proper controls,” compared to 24 percent opposed.
McCain’s comment that “exploiting those reserves would have psychological impact that I think is beneficial” provoked an incisive response from Senator Obama:

Psychological impact’?” In case you’re wondering, that’s Washington-speak for ‘It polls well.’ It’s an example of how Washington politicians try to convince you that they did something to make your life better when they really didn’t.

As for McCain’s proposal to have a $300 miliion prize for a scientist who builds a better battery, Obama said:

When John F. Kennedy decided that we were going to put a man on the Moon, he didn’t put a bounty out for some rocket scientist to win. He put the full resources of the United States government behind the project.

Of course the cheerleader-in-chief joined the fray in support of McCain, blaming Democrats for high gas prices and calling for more drilling anywhere that even smells like oil. NYT columnist Thomas Friedman nailed him eloquently:

It is hard for me to find the words to express what a massive, fraudulent, pathetic excuse for an energy policy this is…This from a president who for six years resisted any pressure on Detroit to seriously improve mileage standards on its gas guzzlers; this from a president who’s done nothing to encourage conservation; this from a president who has so neutered the Environmental Protection Agency that the head of the E.P.A. today seems to be in a witness-protection program…But, most of all, this deadline is from a president who hasn’t lifted a finger to broker passage of legislation that has been stuck in Congress for a year, which could actually impact America’s energy profile right now — unlike offshore oil that would take years to flow — and create good tech jobs to boot.

Friedman cites the GOP’s obstruction of the renewable erergy reforms as exhibit ‘A’:

People forget, wind and solar power are here, they work, they can go on your roof tomorrow. What they need now is a big U.S. market where lots of manufacturers have an incentive to install solar panels and wind turbines — because the more they do, the more these technologies would move down the learning curve, become cheaper and be able to compete directly with coal, oil and nuclear, without subsidies.
That seems to be exactly what the Republican Party is trying to block, since the Senate Republicans — sorry to say, with the help of John McCain — have now managed to defeat the renewal of these tax credits six different times….That is so lame. That is an energy policy so unworthy of our Independence Day.

The Republicans’ scam to exploit discontent about rising gas prices to undermine the Obama campaign will work only if Dems fail to educate the public about McCain’s and the GOP’s long history of obstructing conservation and renewable energy reforms. Obama is responding well to the latest attacks. What’s needed from now until November is a barrage of Democratic ads that make it clear that (1.) energy independence is a cornerstone of our national security; (2.) that Republicans have failed repeatedly to defend our national interest on this critical issue; and (3.) Obama has the more credible reforms for lasting energy security.

‘Regular Guyness’ Era Finally Over ?

There was an interesting exchange on ‘Hardball Sunday when host Chris Matthews gave WaPo writer Kathleen Parker a chance to plug her new book, “Save the Males.’ Matthews quoted a couple of lines from Parker’s book to provoke comment:

Bush won the presidency against Al Gore and John Kerry in part because enough Americans considered him to be more manly than his effete opponents. How did a college cheerleader beat two Vietnam vets? Bush oozed regular guyness

Parker, quick to point out that this political insight was a tiny part of her book, added “…I would say that George Bush has probably retired regular guyness in politics for all time.” She then related a discussion she had about the Bobby Jindal phenomenon in Louisiana to illustrate her point, observing of Jindal :

He’s kind of physically slight. He’s of Indian descent. He’s always the smartest guy in the room. And I was interviewing this guy Jack Stephens, he’s the sheriff of St. Bernard’s Parish, very big, 6’5″. All the sheriffs in New Orleans–I mean, in Louisiana, except for seven, are Democrats and yet they shifted to Bobby Jindal. So I said, `How do you explain that? What’s –how do you explain this devotion to this guy?’ And he said, `Well, Katrina taught us that brains matter.’…So I think the new model of masculinity and manliness is going to be the intellectual. And surely that’s going to benefit Obama.

The conversation went downhill from there, with jabber about what constitutes manliness or the perception thereof. Putting the stereotype aside, Jindal may prove to have less to offer in the way of solutions than Parker suggests. But what resonated was the idea that a large number of voters may be sobering up to the need for increased brainpower in the white house. I know, that will happen regardless of who wins, since the bar has been set so low. But, if enough voters are saying to themselves, “Well, the regular guy thing hasn’t worked so well. It’s time to let the better thinkers run the show,” then Parker is right that Obama will have an edge. McCain is no dummy, but his policies are full of holes, and Obama should be able to win the minds, if not hearts, of voters seeking more credible answers than failed neo-con approaches.
As for ‘regular guy-ness,” I think it may be more about class than the manly man thing. Indeed, there are plenty of women who project the quality. The one political gift Bush had, other than a rolodex full of oil barons willing to subsidize his political ambitions, was an ability to mimic regular guy conversation, a skill largely unknown to his two opponents. It’s not about chugging brewskis, munching brats and wearing NASCAR hats on the campaign trail. It’s more about the way they talk. Bush, Gore and Kerry were all preppies from the upper class. Bush was arguably the preppiest of all. But somehow Bush had a better ear for parroting regular guy talk. I don’t know how many votes this is worth. But it doesn’t take many in a close election.
McCain has a preppy background too. But he also has a good ear for regular guy speak. Outside of the military and politics, however, his real-world work experience is very thin, compared to the much younger Obama. Ironically, Obama, who has genuine working-class roots is frequently characterized by pundits as having an aloof Harvardesque demeanor. He could probably warm it up a little, but he seems friendly and real enough. JFK and FDR, both aristocrats, projected both warmth and intellect as well as anyone. It came natural to Bill Clinton, who was raised by a working mom.
The whole ‘regular guy’ notion has always been based more on image or bogus persona, than reality. Blogger mikeplugh said it well in concluding his Kos post “The Myth of the Regular Guy” a couple of months ago:

…there is no such thing as a “regular guy.” The myth of the regular guy sells all of us short. It counts on us all being zombies. It counts on men favoring their more base selves and women favoring their submissive side. Humanity is best for its complexity and we demean our American culture by boiling it down to false choices. Reinforcing these choices by framing our national political discourse as a battle between the regular guy and the elitist intellectual class is a distortion of the truth and robs us all of a deeper vision of who we are and what problems face us as a people. Next time you hear someone playing this “regular guy” game, ask yourself what the truth is. Ask yourself what’s missing in their portrayal of the issues and the culture itself. I’m sure you’ll find it lacking.

If Parker is right, increasing numbers of voters are starting to ask versions of that question, and it should translate into Democratic advantage.

Maximizing Black Turnout

Peter Wallsten’s L.A. Times article “Obama campaign targets black voters — carefully” merits a thoughtful read from Obama’s state-level organizers. In the nut graphs, Wallsten writes:

Obama strategists believe they have identified a gold mine of new and potentially decisive Democratic voters in at least five battleground states — voters who failed to turn out in the past but can be mobilized this time because Obama’s candidacy is historic and his cash-rich campaign can afford the costly task of identifying and motivating such supporters…What makes the idea of bringing in so many new voters more than just political fantasy is the Obama campaign’s deep pockets and the sophisticated apparatus it has begun building to achieve its goals — using techniques to ferret out and mobilize potential supporters that only a few years ago were the secret weapons of Republican strategists and their ideological allies.

Black voter turnout lagged behind the overall voter turnout nationwide in ’04, 60 to 64 percent overall. But Wallsten reports that David Bositis of the Joint Center for Political Studies, which monitors Black voter participation, believes a 20 percent increase is feasible in November, given the excitement generated by Obama’s candidacy.
While it’s likely that Obama’s nomination will produce a record-level Black voter turnout in November, it could still fall short of full potential without a lot of work at the street level. Obama, a former community organizer knows this is critical. And judging by the outstanding job his campaign did in the primary caucuses, there is reason to hope they will deploy those same organizing skills in turning out the Black vote.
One challenge facing Dems in maximizing African American turnout is felon disenfranchisement. There were as many as 1.1 million disenfranchised Black felons in Florida alone in 2004. New reforms in Florida have reduced that number by about 10 percent, but getting newly eligible Black adults registered and to the polls, felon or not, will require a creative, determined effort from the Obama campaign. Bush won Florida in ’04 by 381,000 votes. In all it’s estimated that 500,000 registered Black voters didn’t vote in ’04, with hundreds of thousands more eligible Black citizens unregistered. Clearly, an energetic Black turnout mobilization in the Sunshine State could be decisive in November.
Meeting voter registration deadlines is another major obstacle in turning out new voters from all constituencies. Here, procrastination is the enemy. October 6th is the voter reglstration deadline for potential swing states like Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Most of the others have deadlines a week or two after that date. Only Idaho, Montana, New Hampshire and Wyoming have same day registration provisions. North Dakota has no registration requirement.
In other words, the Obama campaign has about 100 days to reach all of those unregistered Black voters and help to get them on the voter rolls. Otherwise, all such talk of turning out new voters is just wishful thinking. It’s a daunting challenge, but meeting it could make all the difference. Finding unregistered young people of all races is yet another challlenge, and being prepared for the GOP’s usual election day obstructions is critical, as well.
Wallsten cites the concern that Obama’s messaging to mobilize Black voters could turn off some white voters. But I don’t think that’s the main problem. Obama knows he must reach out more effectively to get a larger portion of the white working class, which has plenty of shared concerns with Black workers. The two are not mutually exclusive, and Obama will find the common ground.

The Choice Edge

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner has an interesting — and important — study just out entitled “How Choice Helps Obama Win the White House.” Here’s the nitty-gritty from the executive summary:

With a struggling economy and on-going war in Iraq, choice is unlikely to be the defining issue of this year’s election. However, this latest research by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner commissioned by NARAL Pro-Choice America in 12 battleground states suggests that choice could in fact play a role in building a winning coalition for Barack Obama. Issues of choice not only have the ability to motivate Obama’s base, but among key swing groups – chiefly pro-choice Republican and Independent women – it creates sharps contrasts between Obama and Republican candidate, John McCain. These contrasts may tip the scale in what is sure to be a close race in November.

And a couple of the bullet points:

Once balanced information about Obama and McCain’s respective positions on choice is introduced, Obama gains 6 points overall, with his lead in battleground states expanding from a net 2 points (47-45 percent) to a net 13 points (53-40 percent).
The issue of choice moves the swing vote and generates crossover support. Obama gains 13 points among pro-choice Independent women (who make up 9 percent of this electorate) and 9 points among pro-choice Republican women (who account for 5 percent of this electorate). When these groups are combined, this movement equates to a gain of 1.6 points overall in the general election race against McCain.

The GQR study, commssioned by NARAL/Pro-Choice America and conducted 5/29 – 6/8, indicates a potentially decisive edge on the issue for Obama. There’s more, and the pdf and charts also merit a perusal by Dem campaign strategists at all levels of representative government. In presidential election years, there is usually some nervousness about abortion positions and the Catholic vote among Dems. But this survey should give Dem candidates more confidence in defending their pro-choice policies.
I’ve often wondered if the Democratic framing of the abortion debate could be recast more advantageously. (George Lakoff ruminates on the topic in broad context here) I liked the way Michael Dukakis laid it out in his ’88 run, saying in essence that women who have abortions should not have to go to jail, which is where criminalizing abortion leads. I’ve found that this angle works well in arguments with religious and pacifist friends who were a little wobbly on the issue of a constitutional amendment to ban abortion. It is possible, after all, to be morally-opposed to abortion as a personal choice and equally opposed to penalizing women who have abortions at the same time. Asking “If your daughter/sister/friend had an abortion, do you think she should be subjected to criminal penalties?” brings it home nicely. And, in one of the presidential debates, I would like to hear Senator Obama ask Senator McCain “Do you think women who have abortions should go to jail?” It could help clarify the issue for many who haven’t thought it through.
Related abortion rights issues like parental notification, partial-birth abortion and government funding for abortions elicit more complicated responses in opinion polls. But on the core issue of protecting women who have abortions from legal harassment, the GQR study indicates Obama — and likely other pro-choice Dems — have a potent edge, and they should use it.