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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

GOP Fear-Mongers Twist Obama Proposal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demography +Events +Candidate quality +$ = Victory

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

Behind the NC Wins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New South Trumps Dixie

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

The Big Picture

Back in 1980, when Reagan announced “It’s morning in America,” the day after he won the presidential election in a landslide, I remember feeling a chill of revulsion about what was going to happen. And sure enough, Reagan delivered the largest ever transfer of wealth from working people to the already wealthy, plus a tripling of the federal deficit, along with fomenting a general meanness of spirit toward liberals and even moderates that swept the land.
But now, 28 years later, it’s really morning in America, in a much more inclusive sense — for all who believe in the possibility of brotherhood. Even if Obama had lost, his campaign would be credited with moving America forward to the fulfillment of MLK’s dream. (Digby leads with it today).
Obama’s victory is a wonderful thing for African Americans, and the pride and joy in his example has already been an empowering force in Black communities. But it’s a big win for Americans of all races because it shows the world our best side for a change. And it provides an instructive example for Democrats, and yes even Republicans, who want to learn how to run an intelligent, efficient campaign. Political scientists, as well as candidates, will be studying the Obama campaign for many decades to come. And if David Axelrod writes a strategy playbook/memoir, he will get filthy rich, and deservedly so.
Future candidates should also study President-elect Obama’s spirit, the way he responds to criticism, not by bristling or returning personal insults, but instead calmly addressing the core issue with directness and eloquence. His emotional maturity and coolness under fire is indeeed reminiscent of MLK. Last night in Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, Dr. and Mrs. King’s daughter, Rev. Bernice King told a rally about how her mother, Coretta Scott King reacted when she saw Obama address the 2004 Democratic convention. “Bernice, come here,” she said. “I think we got somebody.”
One of the big challenges facing Dems and president-elect Obama in the short run is the meme that ‘America is a center-right nation” and he should proceed accordingly. David Sirota has a couple of interesting posts at Open Left today addressing this fear-based notion (here and here).

GOP Whistling Nervously in Dixie

One of the more interesting questions that will be answered tonight is whether the southeast will come home in terms of electoral votes. Of the four southeastern states with the most EV’s, one is trending blue (VA), two are toss-ups (FL and NC) and one (GA) is tilting red, but only slightly.
Among poll analysts, the pollster.com map projects the south staying red as a region, with the exception of VA. Chris Bowers’ final poll-averaged projection map at Open Left is a little more optimistic, coloring FL baby blue and NC pink, although his VA is baby blue. The TPM Election Central‘s map shows a blue VA, but toss-ups for the other three. Nate Silver’s map has VA safely blue, with NC and FL light blue, but GA red. Chuck Todd’s MSNBC map has a baby blue VA, a pink GA and toss-up gray for NC and FL.
The November polls suggest a blue tide may indeed be rising in Georgia. The final Insider Advantage poll, taken 11/2 and reported in the Southern Political Report, is calling a “dead heat in Georgia.” FiveThirtyEight.com reports that the Pew, Survey USA and Strategic Vision Polls all taken 11/1, a day earlier, have McCain leading in GA by 2, 7 and 4 points, respectively.
And clearly, the four largest southeastern states are very much in play in terms of candidate visits and ad investments by the Obama campaign.

A Vote for the Big Orange

I tried to vote at 8:00 a.m on Wednesday at an early voting location in downtown Decatur, Georgia. I waited for ten minutes or so in a long, fairly chaotic line in a parking garage. Everyone seemed to be having a good time of it, chattering away and drinking coffee. But the cold that penetrated my flimsy jacket and fear of a parking ticket ran me off. I’m told those who stayed waited about 2 hours. Later in the day I looked into the voting by mail option, but decided against it because the available information I got about deadlines seemed contradictory.
I lined up to vote early the next day at a different poll at an abandoned mall, where parking was less of a hassle, and cast my ballot exactly an hour later. The feeling at this poll was very different than the party-like atmosphere of my experience the day before and from that described in other accounts I’ve read.
There wasn’t much chatter and nobody I could hear was joking or otherwise cutting up. Instead there was a mood of solemnity and a seriousness of purpose I’ve never before sensed at the polls, almost like church. A long line of several hundred people, 99 percent African Americans, snaked around inside an abandoned T.J. Maxx, partitioned into a couple of narrow, sheet-rocked halls. There were a lot of young voters, but few elderly people in the line.
There were volunteers posted every 30 feet or so, carefully checking i.d.’s, initialing ballot applications, collecting and distributing clipboards and pens, keeping people in single file and running a very tight ship in general. The volunteers, all African Americans, were courteous and businesslike. The walls inside the halls were full of sample ballots and other voting information. When I got to the comparatively small voting room, there was an extra checking process, also run by efficient volunteers with computers.
The scene reminded me of James Orange, MLK’s march organizer and Atlanta’s top GOTV activist, who died early this year. I wouldn’t be surprised if the organizers of this particular poll were Orange-trained volunteers. Orange had worked hard for Obama, and if Obama wins Georgia, much if not most of the cred should go to Orange-trained volunteers, who are now mobilizing a record Black voter turnout in the peach state. I got a little dewy-eyed thinking about Orange’s legacy being played out so beautifully, how he worked his whole life for Black political empowerment and how he would celebrate Obama’s victory. I imagine hundreds of his co-workers are feeling the same way these days.
I felt a flash of what I hope was paranoia, when I saw the voting machines because they were all Diebold branded. But the touch screen voting machines worked fine, and no one seemed to be having problems with them. However, there should have been twice or triple the number of machines. This is where I think a lot of vote suppression is implemented, not only the inadequate number of polling places Ed cited yesterday, but also in the shortage of machines in minority precincts. I cast my ballot but got no written receipt confirming my choices. Still, it felt like the most important ballot I’ve ever cast.
President-elect Obama will take the oath of office and deliver his inaugural address the day after the national holiday marking MLK’s 80th birthday anniversary. I’m sure President Obama will credit Dr. King and the movement he lead for making his presidency possible. It will be an especially sweet day for the ‘community organizers’ who were dissed at the GOP convention, and I know Rev. Orange’s spirit will still be with us as we begin organizing for the 2010 mid-term elections the next day.

Dole’s ‘False Witness’ May Give Hagan Senate Seat

It appears that Sen. Liddy Dole (R-NC) has lost either her marbles or control of her campaign. Dole has unleashed a ridiculously bombastic ad that tries to slime her opponent, Kay Hagan as “Godless.” Hagan has put in time as both a Sunday school teacher and church elder in a Greensboro Presbyterian church her family has attended for more than a century.
MyDD‘s Jonathan Singer has a nicely presented pair of video clips that shine light on Dole’s heavy-handed slime.
It’s a huge blunder. No doubt Dole hopes to fire up her evangelical base for the home stretch. But Dole’s absurd allegations are easily rebutted, given Hagan’s clear record of commitment to her Christian faith. It’s hard to see how Dole can get off scott-free from the consequences of such a silly accusation. And not all evangelicals are happy about what Hagan describes as Dole’s ‘false witness.’ The latest NC Senate race poll average at Pollster.com has Hagan ahead by a margin of 46.6 to 43 percent. If the people of North Carolina are as decent as I think, Dole’s ad could cost her the election.
I remember Dole once saying that her husband, Bob Dole’s lagging campaign for the Presidency needed “adult supervision.” It looks like her campaign has the same problem.
Contributions to Hagan’s campaign can be made here.

The Tao of Obama

Stanley Fish has an enjoyable op-ed in today’s New York Times, ruminating on Senator Obama’s remarkably calm temperament in the midst of blazing political conflict at the highest level. Fish likens Obama’s equanimity in absorbing blistering insults to that of the “preternaturally still Jesus” enduring the attacks of Satan as portrayed in John Milton’s Paradise Regained. It makes for a jolly read, especially as a possible response to the religious lunatics who have tried to demonize Obama. It’s an apt metaphor as Fish explains it:

The power Jesus generates is the power of not moving from the still center of his being and refusing to step into an arena of action defined by his opponent. So it is with Obama, who barely exerts himself and absorbs attack after attack, each of which, rather than wounding him, leaves him stronger…
And McCain knows it. Last Wednesday, campaigning in New Hampshire, he spoke sneeringly about Obama’s campaign being “disciplined and careful.” That’s exactly right, and so far the combination of discipline and care — care not to get out too far in front of anything — along with a boatload of money is working just fine. Jesus is usually the political model for Republicans, but this time his brand of passive, patient leadership is being channeled by a Democrat.

Sure, it’s a grandiose comparison, although he makes a good point about Obama’s strategy in dealing with conflict. One could just as easily liken Obama’s temperament to that of the Buddha under the Bo Tree. Even better, Obama’s strategy in addressing conflict has a Taoist aspect: “The water that flows around the rock reaches the destination faster than the water that fights the rock.” Obama doesn’t waste a lot of time whining about personal attacks; he graceful glides around them and moves on to the next obstacle, while McCain is left behind, preaching to the choir or yammering about some non-issue ( Rev. Wright, Ayers, ‘socialism’ etc.) of little interest to most voters.
Obama has an impressive ability to convey both a passionate spirit and a cool temperament at the same time, in the tradition of JFK and FDR. Hard to say how much of it is a gift and how much is studied. But clearly Democratic candidates can learn from it.