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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

Friday Fact Fest

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

Clinton-Obama Ad Wars Heat Up in 22 States

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

Grassroots Questions Challenge Dems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florida’s Hispanic Voters Could be Key in November

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pozo has this to say about the ideologial breakdown:

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

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

Obama’s Wide Net Vexes Pundits

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

Obama, Clinton and MLK’s Lengthening Shadow

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

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

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

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

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

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.