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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

Nose-Cutting, Face-Spiting ‘Dems’ for McCain

Kos-poster Meteorblades gets medeival on so-called ‘Democrats’ who say they are going to vote for McCain because their candidate isn’t getting nominated. The whole article is worth a read, but this excerpt in particular lays out cold what such a vote would really mean:

…you McCainocrats are premeditating ballot support for an exclusive club of racist, union-busting, woman-suppressing, bedroom-peering, rights-scoffing, warmongering, torture-backing, buccaneering, global warming-denying, privatizing, public land-grabbing, Supreme Court stuffing, empire-building, Constitution-shredding raptors. All for self-indulgent revenge. You’re unhappy that your candidate has not won the nomination. I understand that. Mine didn’t win either. But you’re not just unhappy, you’re also willing to contribute to the election of someone who stands against most of what your candidate has been promoted as standing for. That, I don’t comprehend at all. Emotionally, intellectually or morally…

‘Nuff said. Apparently ‘Blades has struck a nerve here, with some 872 comments thus far.

DNC R&B Strikes Fair Compromise

The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee did a good job of resolving the dispute over what to do about the Florida and Michigan delegates. The compromise, which seats their entire state delegations and allows each delegate to cast a half vote, looks like one which an overwhelming majority of Democrats can live with. I would expect that a tiny percentage of Democrats at most will vote for McCain or stay home in November because of it. That’s probably about as good a compromise as could be expected.
Some Clinton supporters feel she deserved better. According to the NYT wrap-up, she gets 19 more FL delegates than Obama, giving her a total of 52.5 percent of FL’s 211 delegates, close enough to her 49.8 percent of Florida’s Democratic primary voters. But she only got a 5-delegate pick up in MI, for a total of 53.9 percent of MI delegates, close enough to her 55 percent of MI voters in the Dem primary, especially considering that Obama was not on the ballot. The argument that ‘Hey, he took himself off the ballot’ didn’t count for much. Nor should it. He should not be penalized for following the spirit of Party rules. Clinton supporters can argue that she deserved a few more MI delegates, while Many Obama’s supporters feel the Committee was generous in giving her any edge in MI delegates. In all, the Committee awarded Clinton a net gain of 24 delegates.
The Clinton campaign can’t gripe much about the composition of the deciding committee. They had an edge in terms of their supporters being a at least a plurality of the Rules and Bylaws Committee, and probably a majority. And the two chairs of the committee, Alexis Herman and James Roosevelt were both former Clinton Administration officials. That should put a chill on making too much of the “we wuz robbed” argument.
Bottom line is that there was no compromise that would make everybody happy. This one seems fair enough.
The contest may continue at the convention, starting with the credentials committee. It’s a close race and both campaigns would be remiss if they didn’t press their respective cases throughout the process. Both Obama and Clinton seem poised to support their Dem opponent if she/he is the Party’s certified nominee.
As for the future, the DNC and all Democrats should press the case for primary reform, starting the day after the general election, so we don’t have to go through this divisive exercise again. Senator Levin has a fair point in arguing the injustice of letting New Hampshire and Iowa have disproportionate influence in every presidential election. Other states should have a fair opportunity to go first, and the Rules and Bylaws Committee should begin moving in that direction.
Given the experience of the ’08 primary season, however, we may soon see some jockeying on the part of the states to see who goes last. Imagine the clout CA, TX or NY could wield if their primaries were the last in the nation.

McCain’s Blunder on G.I. Bill

Senator John McCain’s campaign fairs poorly in CNNPolitics.com‘s story, “GOP strategist: Democrats outmaneuver GOP over GI Bill.” The legislation, which McCain opposed, provides for a modest expansion in benefits for veterans with three years of post 9-11 service.
McCain argued that the bill would reduce military retention by 16 percent and discourage service members from becoming noncommissioned officers. However, GOP strategist and former Mike Huckabee campaign chairman Ed Rollins reportedly said of McCain’s opposition to the bill, which last week passed the U.S. Senate by a hefty 75-22 margin:

I think John McCain has been outmaneuvered…Sometimes in politics, there are intellectual issues and emotional issues…John McCain is going against veterans groups; he is going against a constituency that should be his. … But I think he is on the wrong side of this issue.

As for the political fallout, CNN quotes Rollins:

A lot of Republicans are voting for this, and I think to a certain extent as it moves forward there will be more and more. There will be tremendous pressure from veterans groups past and present and I think you will see a lot of bipartisan support for this as well…Intellectually, John McCain may be right, the president may be right. Emotionally, you are on the wrong side, you can never win an emotional battle in an intellectual argument.

While the occasionally insightful Rollins may have a point about intelllectual arguments rarely winning emotional battles (ala Drew Westen), I have doubts that McCain is on very solid intellectual ground with his argument about the bill hurting military “retention rates” by 16 percent. It just sounds a little too precise. Can any study accurately predict what military personnel will decide to do out of context? If our trained soldiers perceive a real threat to national security, would we really lose 16 percent? With respect to Iraq, on the other hand, we ought to be scaling back a lot more than 16 percent of those soldiers who put in three very tough years, anyway. It seems a lame excuse for opposing a bill that would help America’s veterans.
McCain has tried to distract attention from the issue by bashing Obama for not having served in the military. As for veteran status as a pivotal factor, Rollins points out that “George Bush’s father was a war hero lost the veterans’ vote to Bill Clinton…Same way with Bob Dole, a war hero lost the vote.”
In other words, military service is a significant plus for any political candidate. But it does not necessarily protect a candidate from the consequences of exercizing poor judgment on major issues, especially at a time when the candidate’s political party is having its own very serious problem with “retention rates.”
McCain has an alternative veterans’ benefits bill that would base education benefits on a sliding scale according to an individual’s years of service, and some version of it may eventually pass. His opposition to a military benefits bill supported by 75 Senators nonetheless puts him squarely in league with the out-of-touch Bush-Cheney ideologues who have a tight fist for vets, while squandering billions of taxpayer dollars on military contractors of questionable integrity to prolong a horrific military quagmire, with no end in sight. “Hey, I’m a vet” and even a war hero narrative may have less political resonance in such a context.

Clinton’s Poll Edge Over Obama in Big States

The Clinton campaign has been making a case that she has done better than Obama in primaries and head-to-head vs. McCain polls in “swing states.” It’s a credible argument, as far as it goes, although “swing states” can be a pretty fluid designation. I was wondering if it might be worthwhile to take a look at a more permanent designation — the ten largest electoral vote states — to see which Dem does better vs. McCain, using the most recent Rasmussen Polls (conveniently-presented at Pollster.com). I won’t compare primary results here, since some are not so recent.
First, there is a three-way tie between GA, NJ and NC for 9th rank in e.v.’s, so we’ll look at recent poll averages among LV’s in “the big 11”, in order (electoral votes in parens):

CA (55) Clinton 54, McCain 35; Obama 52, McCain 38
TX (34) C 43, M 49; O 43, M 48
NY (31) C 60, M 31; O 52, M 35
FL (27) C 47, M 41; O 40, M 50
IL (21) No recent Rasmussen data, but Obama has an 18 point advantage over HRC in SurveyUSA’s Feb. poll.
PA (21) C 47, M 42; O 43, M 44
OH (20) C 50, M 43; O 44, M 45
MI (17) C 44, M 44; O 44, M 45
GA (15) C 37, M 48; O 39, M 53
NJ (15) C 42, M 45; O 45, M 46
NC (15) C 40, M 43; O 45, M 48

Clinton does better than Obama against McCain in 7 of the 11 states with the most electoral votes. Obama does better than Clinton against McCain in 3 of the top e.v. states, with no difference in the margin in one state (NC). McCain leads both Dems in 4 states, and beats Obama in 4 more, but loses to Clinton in those 4. The consolation for both Dems, and Obama in particular, is that the margins are often very small/within m.o.e. Both Dems, especially Clinton, have a big edge in the top five e.v. states. Obama does run strong in the mid-ranking and below e.v. states, and in a close election, even the smallest e.v. state could make the difference. Nonetheless, our candidate has to be competitive in the top 10 to win. There is every reason to expect that McCain’s leads will evaporate under the glare of the spotlight when the race narrows to the two nominees, given the stark weakness of his Iraq and economic policies.
It seems fair to infer, based solely on this limited and highly qualified poll data, that Clinton would be the stronger candidate v. McCain in the top e.v. ‘mega-states’, were the general election held today. I suspect that poll averaging would reveal something similar. However this does not take into account, like Clinton’s ‘electability’ argument, that voters may turn on her in decisive numbers if Obama is denied the nomination after complying with all of the rules fair and square and winning a majority of both the popular vote and the non-supers. Still, I can’t yet blame her for hanging in there and pumping up her creds, assuming she will campaign actively for Obama after the delegates vote and he clinches the nomination. There is also a counter-intuitive argument that her refusal to quit before the convention is actually a good thing for Obama in November because his chances of winning over her supporters are better if it’s clear that she had — and took — every opportunity.

The Lion in Winter

I have to agree with Digby that it’s a little unseemly to be delivering eulogies for Ted Kennedy, while he is still alive. Still it was kind of moving to see his fellow Senators of both parties expressing their love and best wishes for him. Senator McCain was right on target in calling Kennedy “the last lion.” But hold the eulogies. Ted Kennedy is a tough guy, who has the kind of fierce spirit physicians like to see in patients with serious illnesses. There are good reasons to hope he will win this battle.
So often we don’t express or even feel our appreciation for people until after they are gone. So it’s a good thing that he is getting his due now. He certainly deserves it. There is no question that Ted Kennedy has been one of the greatest U.S. Senators ever, maybe the greatest, and his tangible accomplishments during his 45 years in the Senate surpass even those of his revered brothers, whose lives were cut short by assassinations.
It’s been many years since Ted Kennedy has been considered a serious contender for the presidency. But he has nonetheless left his mark on just about every piece of progressive legislation introduced in the Senate since he was first elected in 1962. Certainly no Senator has been a more steadfast opponent of efforts to roll back the clock of progress. Throughout his career, Kennedy has been the Senate’s most tireless advocate for the disadvantaged and downtrodden and a ringing voice for the powerless.
I had to smile when I saw a video-clip of Senator Byrd saying that Kennedy didn’t really need a microphone. I once saw Kennedy deliver the keynote address of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday service in Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, a sanctuary well-accustomed to the highest standards of American oratory. Kennedy grabbed the podium like he owned it and rang the rafters with a fiery call to action on behalf of the poor and oppressed that provoked gales of cheering and shifted the amen corner into overdrive. I remember thinking “That’s the loudest man I have ever heard.”
America still needs that voice, and the Democratic Party needs it more than ever. For me Ted Kennedy will always be the emblematic Democratic Senator, the one you point to in showing rookies “this is how it’s done.” Add my prayers for his complete recovery to the many being expressed to his family. Get well, good Senator. You’re still needed on the front lines.

Nebraska As Kingmaker, Role Model

MyDD‘s Jonathan Singer flags a Poblano post discussing a scenario in which, Nebraska, as one of two states (yes, Maine is the other) that do not have the anti-democratic winner-take-all system of allocating electoral votes, could actually cast the decisive electoral vote that puts Obama in the White House.
It’s an unlikely scenario, admittedly, since Dems haven’t won a Nebraska electoral vote since LBJ. But it is not an implausible one. Although McCain is up 11 points state-wide in a new Rasmussen poll, Poblano and Singer crunch the poll numbers, including the 2004 election data, and see Obama running close to even in NE’s 2nd district (Omaha), with an outside chance to take NE-1 (Eastern Nebraska). Poblano then plugs these potential wins into one plausible scenario, and voila, Nebraska is a king-maker.
In any event, hats off to Nebraska and Maine for rejecting the winner-take-all electoral votes system — which ought to be a high priority for democracy-loving state legislatures everywhere. Plaudits to NE, also, for their unicameral state legislature, arguably more democratic with a small “d.” Now, if Nebraskans will just vote right in November…
Photo Alert: Campaign ’08 is not likely to produce more glorious photographs from a Democratic perspective than the shots of the huge Obama rally (75K) at Portland’s gorgeous Waterfront Park (See here, here and here.).

Huge Black Turnout May Spark Broad Dem Gains

Adam Nossiter and Janny Scott have an important New York Times article “In the South, a Force to Challenge the G.O.P.” The authors are primarily interested in the how the historically high turnout of African American voters in the south will help Obama’s chances, and they have this to say about his influence in the primaries thus far:

…turnout in Democratic primaries this year has substantially exceeded Republican turnout in states like Arkansas, Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia…Some analysts suggest that North Carolina and Virginia may even be within reach for the Democratic nominee, and they point to the surprising result in a Congressional special election in Mississippi this week as an indicator of things to come.

Scott and Nossiter note that Black primary turnout in SC more than doubled over ’04 and nearly doubled in GA. MD, VA and LA also had large gains in Black turnout. The Black turnout was pivotal in Mississippi this week in electing
Democrat Travis Childers, after Republicans tried to drum up racial animosity over Obama’s campaign. The authors acknowledge that the deep south, especially Mississippi, is still forbidding territory for Dems, but they believe the Childers victory provides “a case study in the effects and consequences of focusing on Mr. Obama.”
And Georgia, tied at 10th rank among the states in electoral votes with NJ and NC, could be added to the list of states in play if Bob Barr gets any traction as a siphon of GOP votes from McCain and/or Obama picks Sam Nunn as his running mate. In the February 5th primary in GA, Dems cast nearly 53 percent of the votes, and Black voters cast 55 percent of the Democratic ballots — an all-time high.
Whether Dems win or lose the presidency in November, it’s a safe bet that there will be an unprecedented turnout of African American voters nationwide, if Obama is nominated. Although most Black voters reside in the south, they can be a decisive margin of victory in Senate, House and state legislative races in many other states. As Josh Goodman notes at Governing.com:

It seems unlikely that solid red states will suddenly become swing states solely on the basis of more African-Americans showing up at the polls…But, even if Obama doesn’t win these states, the implications of increased black turnout for down-ballot races could still be significant. Plus, many swing states do have substantial African-American populations, including Virginia (19.6%), Florida (15.4%), Michigan (14.1%), Ohio (11.8%), Missouri (11.3%) and Pennsylvania (10.4%).

It’s never been more important for the DNC, DSCC, DCCC and national and community-based organizations to work together in getting Black citizens registered to vote. Writing at The Hill, David Hill explains:

…Even if non-voting blacks came out this election in numbers twice that of every other group of non-voters, it would not turn the election upside-down. There is a ceiling effect on how influential a surge in black turnout can be because of African-Americans’ comparatively small share of non-voters.
The development that would make black turnout more significant would be a surge in registration of African-Americans. This is a realm where the black population still lags in a meaningful way. According to the Census survey, only 69 percent of African-Americans are registered. While this compares very favorably to registration rates of other ethnic and racial minorities (52 percent of Asians and 58 percent of Hispanics are registered, according to the Census Bureau), it significantly trails the 75 percent rate of registration among non-Hispanic whites.
Because of non-registration, the electoral participation of all black adults is 60 percent, trailing whites by seven percentage points. If blacks closed that gap completely, it would bring 1.7 million additional African-American voters to the polls this fall. Scattered out across 50 states and 435 congressional elections…

Hill and Goodman are more skeptical about the effects of Black turout in November. But it’s hard to argue with the numbers cited by Nossiter and Scott and the implications of Childers’ victory, driven as it was, by Black voter turnout. In any event, another safe bet is that the GOP’s Black voter suppression machine will soon go into maximum overdrive.

Increasing Political Enclaves, Sharper Partisanship Challenge Campaigns

William A. Galston’s and Pietro S. Nivola’s Sunday New York Times Magazine article, “Vote Like Thy Neighbor” notes an interesting demographic development that should have significant implications for GOTV campaigns and political advertising:

Our research concludes not only that the ideological differences between the political parties are growing but also that they have become embedded in American society itself…Most strikingly, political polarization has become akin to political segregation. You are less likely to live near someone whose politics differ from your own. It’s well known that fewer states are competitive in presidential races than in decades past. We find similar results at the county level. In 1976, only 27 percent of voters lived in landslide counties where one candidate prevailed by 20 points or more. By 2004, 48 percent of voters lived in such counties.

The authors discuss the reasons for the shift and note that “majorities tend to become supermajorities.” They add “When states become more homogeneous, presidential campaigns begin by conceding a large number of contests to the opposition, disheartening their supporters in those states and increasing the majority’s electoral advantage.”
Nivola and Galston are OK with the resulting “hard-hitting partisan competition,” but lament the ill-effects of growing “hyperpartisanship,” which they believe can do damage to “public trust and confidence in government.” In his blog at theAtlantic.com, Matthew Yglesias responds to their article, arguing that the more partisanship, the better and he sees “a merited decline in trust” in government, given recent government abuses of civil and human rights. “Why would we pine away for a shift that would make government less accountable but more trusted?,” asks Yglesias. A fair question. But distrust of government practices/policies can morph into generalized government-bashing of the sort that enabled the rise of reactionary ideologues like Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich and empowered them to do their worst.
In any event, there is not much that can be done about halting the increasing geographic concentration of people with similar political attitudes, short of hoping that better-educated generations to come will lead to more progressive communities everywhere. Until then, Dems should take note of the trend and target their ads and GOTV efforts accordingly.

Beating McCain — With Seniors

Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, has a New York Times op-ed that merits a careful read by all Democratic candidates, especially Senator Obama. Kohut warns that “The personal and social resistance of older voters to the party’s likely nominee could well keep a Democrat out of the White House and reverse the nationwide Democratic trend,” and he provides polling evidence to make his case. Kohut cites an 8 point advantage (51-43) for McCain over Obama in favorability ratings by seniors in recent Pew Research Center polling, and notes,

…older voters — many of whom supported Democrats over the years — seem reluctant to support Mr. Obama. Hillary Clinton has carried the vote of people over 65 in 26 primary elections. And looking forward to the general election, the national polls now show John McCain running better against Mr. Obama among this older age group — as well as among middle-aged voters and younger voters.

The senior vote is becoming more important every election, because it is growing and because of seniors’ high turnout rates. The Kiplinger Retirement Report notes, for example, that “In the 2000 elections, people age 65 and older cast 25% of the votes although they made up only 12% of the U.S. population.”
In his Newsweek article “Generation Gap: Obama is trailing with older voters. Can he win them over?,” Jonathan Alter writes that “40 percent of the voters in Pennsylvania were over 60, which is not surprising considering that Pennsylvania trails only Florida as the oldest state in the union.”
Senator Obama is well-aware of his shortage of senior voters. Alter quotes Obama: “If you look at the numbers, our problem has less to do with white working-class voters [than] with older voters.” Alter agrees:

Obama did better among seniors in Pennsylvania, where he lost 59-41 percent, than in Ohio, where Hillary crushed him by 41 points in that age cohort. That 69-28 drubbing tells us almost everything we need to know about why Hillary won Ohio by 10 points on March 4.

Kohut points out that “significantly more older voters hold the highly conservative social opinions” on social issues like equal rights, iinterracial dating and immigration. He also provides April polling data showing McCain has an edge over Obama in the perceptions of RV’s 65 and older regarding characteristics such as: ‘patriotic’ (91-57); ‘tough’ (71-46); ‘honest (76-57); and ‘down to earth’ (68-51). However, Obama is more ‘inspiring’ to seniors by a margin of 53 to 39 percent.
Obama probably can’t make much headway with seniors who like McCain mostly because of his age/character/bio or conservative values. But Obama can make inroads into McCain-leaning senior voters who care about policy. Obama, like Clinton, has more agreeable policies for seniors regarding critical issues like Social Security, health care and Iraq. McCain will hit hard on tax cuts in appealing to seniors. But if Obama’s messaging on the aforementioned issues is sharp and well-targeted, he should be able to win a healthy portion of the senior vote. As Alter observes of McCain:

His problem is Social Security. McCain recently told The Wall Street Journal that he continues to support President Bush’s idea for private accounts. Whatever one thinks of that proposal on the merits, it’s a pitiful loser politically. Every place Bush visited in 2005 when he was stumping for his plan saw a decline in his popularity numbers when he left town…When Social Security gets discussed this fall, McCain had better duck. If anything, with the market down, privatization is even less popular now than in 2005. All the Democratic candidate has to say is, “If Senator McCain’s idea had been adopted, you would have lost a chunk of your retirement in the stock market.”

Alter is more optimistic about Dems’ chances with older voters, and believes “…Grandma and grandpa are likely to return home in November and vote Democratic, regardless of the nominee.” And given their unrivaled turnout rates, seniors — especially those who can be described as ‘high information’ voters — just may provide Obama’s margin of victory.

Super Delegates: Abolish or Reform?

Apropos of Ed’s post below citing the need for systematic reforms of our nominating process before ’12, abolishing the superdelegates or redefining their role and qualifications should top the list. Toward that end, Josh Marshall has an instructive TPM post “Thumb on the Scales” mulling over the history of the superdelegates, which were established in 1982, and he notes:

The more palatable argument was that the superdelegates balanced out the idealism of party activists with the more pragmatic experience of party regulars and elected officials who had experience winning actual elections. But however you argue it, the supers were put there precisely to second-guess the results of the primary and caucus process.
…Indeed, it’s not only that the concept is less palatable today. The sociology of the party is simply different; from the inside I don’t think the party’s critics any longer see its shortcomings in that way. The superdelegate concept was just a bad idea that got kept on the books because it seemed not to have any practical effect other than to give federal officeholders and sundry party bigwigs credentials to attend the conventions.

Marshall also comments on the important distinction between superdelegates who are elected officials, vs. party operatives:

…there are almost 800 superdelegates and they’re divided roughly equally between elected officials and party officials. While I think the superdelegate system should probably be scrapped in its entirety, the rationale for the elected folks is far, far greater than for the party operatives. The electeds are basically every Democratic member of Congress, Democratic governors and then a few miscellaneous folks like ex-presidents, ex-vice presidents and ex-congressional leaders. These folks are actually elected by Democrats on a fairly regular basis. And if they abuse the power they can be held accountable at the ballot box.

I come down with Marshall on the side of getting rid of them before ’12, as a way of making a clean break with the notion that it’s OK to thwart the will of the voters in some circumstances. Getting rid of them altogether would make a simple statement that the 21st century Democratic Party has faith in the decisions of voters. If the Party is going to keep the superdelegates, however, I would agree with Marshall that they should insist that only elected officials, not unelected party operatives, can serve in this capacity.
I can think of only one situation in which the super-d’s can serve democracy in an honorable way: in the event that a candidate gets enough delegates to secure the nomination despite the fact that her/his opponent got more popular votes. This can happen when a candidate loses or wins enough districts by a huge margin, despite having more/less popular votes nation-wide. In that event, the superdelegates could decide to give the nomination to the popular vote winner. But it should be stipulated that the superdelegate designees would be empowered as delegates only when the popular vote winner receives fewer delegate votes.
There are other reforms of the nominating process that merit consideration before ’12, including the primary calendar and possible incentives for caucus states switching to direct primary elections. But abolishing or reforming the outdated superdelegate system should be a simpler, and quicker fix.