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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

Data Measures Southern Whites Political Drift

Paul Rosenberg’s Open Left post “Class Still Matters Among Southern Whites” provides some interesting trend data showing party self-identification by income percentile in the south over the last half-century. Rosenberg provides tables for each decade from the 1950’s through the 2000’s (based on the American National Election Studies (ANES) Cumulative Datafile) showing a precipitous decline in middle-upper income white southerners identifying themselves as Democrats. As you might expect, the largest shift was from the 1950’s to the 1960s, with a more modest drift toward the GOP after that. There’s really no good news for Dems in the data, other than an increase benefitting Dems at the lowest (0-16) and highest (96-100) income percentiles from the 1990’s to the 2000’s.
Rosenberg’s earlier Open Left post on the topic, “(Southern) White Men Can’t Vote–For All Of Us,” offers more detail on southerners’ party preferences. As late As 2004, 50.7 percent of southerners chose Democratic for party i.d., compared with 41.5 percent choosing the GOP. Comparable ’06 southerner party i.d. statistics are not yet available.
Also, actual voting patterns provide a more complex — and relevant — view than we get from party i.d. statistics. Paul Krugman has reported that 62 percent of southern whites voted Republican in ’06 House races. However, in a later NYT blog post, Krugman cites studies and concludes “… if you look at voting behavior, low-income whites in the South are not very different from low-income whites in the rest of the country…It’s relatively high-income Southern whites who are very, very Republican.”
Moreover, the GOP advantage on issues of concern to southerners is not so overwhelming, as Bob Moser explained in his Nation article “The Way Down South“:

The chasm supposedly yawning between Southern ideology and national norms is wildly, though routinely, overstated. In a 2003 comprehensive study of Southern political attitudes, pollster Scott Keeter found folks still tilting to the right on many issues of race, immigration and the use of military force. But Southerners are just as likely as other Americans to support government regulation, strong environmental protection and social welfare. They’re prochoice, too (though less than the rest of the country), and on another contentious “cultural” issue, gay civil unions, are just slightly less supportive than other Americans. Polls show that young Southern voters, along with the region’s booming Hispanic population, lean Democratic

Before writing off the Democats’ future in the south, take note also of demographic trends indicating strong growth in African American and Latino population in the region. In addition, Despite party i.d. data and congressional votes in ’06, Democrats manage to hold majorities of both houses of the LA, MS, AL, AR, NC and WV state legislatures, and one House in both TN and KY.
Democrats clearly have a future in the South, but you have to look at a broad array of data to see it.

Can Dems Win Business Support?

The American Prospect is featuring an article by Paul Waldman, “The Dems’ Big Business Opportunity,” making a persuasive case that Democrats are in position to win broad support from pro-business voters, particularly with a few smart moves.
Much of Waldman’s argument is based on the GOP’s “stunning record of incompetence.” It’s not just the current Administration’s disastrous Iraq and foreign policy, which could provide a case study in mismanagement for the Harvard Biz School. He also cites a nicely-done eriposte study showing that, on a range of economic indicators important to business, such as GDP growth, unemployment, deficits and inflation, the average performance under Democratic Administrations has been superior to that of Republican Administrations. Waldman concedes that the facts won’t matter much to ideologues, but for rational and “responsible” business men and women, making this case might help Dems.
Waldman urges Dems to “approach business with a new grand bargain” and “change how they think and talk about corporations” a tall order for the Party of the Big Tent. He also counsels a more practicable wedge strategy to separate rational business people from the right-wing ideologues, so Dems can peel off a healthy portion of the former.
In his blog at the ITT List (In These Times) Adam Doster argues that Waldman underestimates the importance of taxes as a core issue of Big Business and adds that the “responsible” busineess leaders are already supporting Democrats. Doster sees slim business pickings now that the low-hanging fruit is being hauled away on donkey carts. Doster says Dems would do better to put the energy into promoting “populist policies.” Doster also flags Christopher Hayes’ Washington Monthly article “Revolt of the CEO’s,” which included this paragraph echoing Waldman’s thought on the possibility of a social contract business leaders could support:

“The corporate guys are beginning to think this is going to happen,” said Bill Galston, a senior policy adviser in the Clinton White House and a current fellow at the Brookings Institution, referring to health care and climate change legislation. “They are willing to make their peace with the welfare and regulatory state as long as they can have some say. What they don’t want is for the train to leave the station and they’re not in the first-class car.” The Chamber of Commerce’s Josten summed up his members’ views this way: “You want a seat at the table, because if you’re not at the table you may be on the menu.”

Of course the hat trick for Dems is to win business support without selling out organized labor, whose ground troops loom large in the weeks leading up to election day — or, to put it in moral terms, to win the confidence of business while remaining faithful Democrats.
I’m a little more optimistic than both Waldman and Doster that it can be done. It’s getting to the point, where honest, level-headed business folks have nowhere else to go than to the Democratic Party. Jackie Calmes’ Wall St. Journal article, “GOP Is Losing Grip On Core Business Vote, ” cited by Waldman, notes that 37 percent of the “professionals and managers” occupational category now identify themselves as Republican/Leaning Republican, a significant decline from the 44 percent of just three years ago, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted last month.
I anticipate Dems winning the largest percentage ever of small business men and women, few of whom could be much-impressed by what the GOP field and congressional candidates have offered in the way of health care reform thus far, or by their do-nothing prescriptions for the Iraq quagmire. All in all, ’08 is shaping up as a banner year for Democrats — and that’s good for business as well.

Seniors Rule — Especially in Iowa

Just an observation, following-up on our staff post below on the Des Moines Register poll. Check out Patrick Healy’s article “New Program for Saving Is Proposed by Clinton” in today’s New York Times. An interesting coincidence that candidate Clinton, whose campaign is increasingly being described as a “juggernaut,” (see here, for example) comes out with an innovative federal “401K-style” program on the heels of of the Register poll showing 51 percent of the likely caucus-goers are over age 55. The hunch here is that Clinton’s exceptionally-alert strategists figured this out a long time ago, in addition to the fact that seniors always rule when it comes to turn-out percentage. Heck, the picture with Healy’s article alone almost tells the story. Don’t be surprised by a rash of “me too” proposals suddenly emerging from the rest of the Dem field.

Global Warming as a Sleeper Issue

For all of the media coverage and water-coooler buzz about global warming as an issue of concern, it checks in fairly low in priority rankings, when it is listed at all. Most recently, it ranked 7th in a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted 7/9-17.
But such rankings of the importance of issues may understate the depth of concern many people have about global warming. A national survey conducted by Yale University, Gallup and the ClearVision Institute 7-23-26 and released last week indicates that 40% of respondents now say that presidential candidates’ positions on the issue will “strongly influence” their vote in both the presidential primaries and general election.
The survey also found that 85 percent favored requiring automakers to increase the fuel efficiency of cars, trucks and SUVs to 35 mpg, “even if it meant a new car would cost up to $500 more.” In addition, 82 percent of respondents want to require that at least 20 percent of electricity comes from renewable sources, even if it costs an extra $100 annually. However, two-thirds of respondents opposed raising gasoline taxes and 71 percent were against raising electricity taxes to curb carbon emissions.
Democrats have a significant edge in addressing global warming. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll conducted 7/27-30 found that 48 percent of adults said the Democratic Party would do a “better job” of addressing the issue, while only 9 percent favored the Republicans.
Democrats are expected to provide the needed leadership on the issue, a challenge that is proving increasingly difficult for a party well-short of a veto-proof majority. As Daniel W. Reilly explains in his post on the topic at The Politico, “Democrats have held more than 120 hearings on global warming and have delivered countless speeches in this Congress. Yet a climate change bill is still in the drafting stages in the Senate.”
With a president hostile to environmental reform in the white house, enactment of global warming reforms could be more than a year away. But clearly, the low regard the public has for the GOP’s commitment to curb global warming gives Dems an advantage. In light of the alarming greenhouse gas threshold announcement in today’s WaPo, highlighting the difference between the parties on the issue could make a pivotal difference in the ’08 presidential and congressional elections.

Messaging the SCHIP Veto

Democrats are raising some richly-deserved hell about Bush’s behind-closed-doors veto of legislation to increase funding for The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). The bill would have increased the number of impoverished children covered from about 6.6 million children to more than 10 million.
Democrats are now organizing to override the veto. MyDD’s Todd Beeton reports that More than 200 “Rallies For Our Children’s Health” protesting the veto have been scheduled around the country by unions and progressive groups. The legislation passed the Senate by a veto-proof majority, including some conservative Republican Senators. But the bill is believed to be about 15 Republican votes short of the amount needed to override his veto in the House by the October 18 deadline.
An ABC News/Washington Post Poll conducted 9/27-30, found that 63 percent disapproved of Bush’s “handling of health care,” respondents favored Democrats “to do a better job of handling health care” by a margin of 56-26 percent and 72 percent supported the SCHIP increase (25 percent opposed), even when told that “opponents say this goes too far in covering children in families that can afford health insurance on their own.”
In other words, it is hard to imagine a more vulnerable veto for Dems to attack.
Glenn W. Smith, blogging at George Lakoff’s Rockridge Institute web pages, has an interesting idea — publicly asking those voting against the expanded SCHIP coverage to explain their vote to children “who cannot afford treatment for whooping cough or measles, luekemia or juvenile diabetes.”
In addition to the usual neocon ideologue drivel about “federalizing health care,” Bush argues that we can’t afford to insure just 3.4 million additional poor children this year, which would cost about $7 billion yearly, or about the cost of 41 days of the Iraq War. As Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Senator Edward M. Kennedy put it “Today we learned that the same president who is willing to throw away a half trillion dollars in Iraq is unwilling to spend a small fraction of that amount to bring health care to American children.”
Crediting Bush with fiscal responsibility on this issue is a huge stretch, explains blogger Hale “Bonddad” Steward in his HuffPo post, noting that “total federal outlays have increased from 18.5% of GDP in 2001 to 20.3% in 2006. That’s some fiscal prudence….Discretionary spending increased from $649.3 billion in 2001 to $1.016 trillion in 2006. That’s a 56.47% increase.”
Tobin Harshaw has a New York Times article revealing the lame white house rationale for the SCHIP veto. He quotes a white house source echoing Bush’s explanation the bill is a bad idea because it would raise (cigarette) taxes to add some adults and middle class kids to the coverage. Harshaw also quotes a Heritage Foundation blogger arguing that the bill favors “wealthier” states and another blogger complaining about the bill being funded by a cigarette tax hike of 39 cent per pack.
But don’t expect much GOP dissent among the GOP presidential candidates. As John McCain said in a CNN interview, “Right call by the president.” McCain also referred to the cigarette tax as a “phony smoke and mirrors way of paying for it.”
This is a good fight, well worth the Dems’ maximum firepower, and DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen has called for a district-by-district campaign to hold the R’s accountable, and radio ads are already running. Even if we fall short of the 15 Republican House votes needed, the override effort will dramatically brand the Democrats as the party that actually does something to help uninsured kids. Dems must make it loud and clear that health care for all kids is a critical element of real national security, and that this bill is a very modest beginning in that direction.
Every Republican opposed to the override should be cornered on their vote and called to explain the morality of denying less than 4 million poor kids decent health care at a cost equivalent to the cost of just 41 days of the Iraq war, while every member of congress has their families covered at tax payer expense. The squirming of GOP Presidential candidates under such intense scrutiny should make for entertaining YouTube clips.

Democracy Ill-Served by Poll-Worshiping Media

I have no dog in this race just yet — I could easily vote for any Democratic presidential candidate over anybody in the GOP field, not only as a yellow-dog Dem, but also because we have an exceptionally strong field this time around. But it just seems wrong that the front-runners in opinion polls continue to hog so much more media face time and ink.
Don Frederick and Andrew Malcolm report in today’s L.A. Times, for example, that Hillary Clinton racked up 17 minutes and 37 seconds of speaking time in the Dartmouth debates, some 4 minutes more than Obama. They report also that Obama lead in speaking time in some of the earlier debates, even though Clinton lead in the polls. But all of the other candidates are way behind the two front-runners in debate speaking time.
I haven’t seen any studies of the amount of ink and TV face time the candidates get. But, just looking at the daily newpapers and evening news, I would not be shocked if such a study showed Clinton and Obama getting 80-90 percent of the total coverage. I would guess the political blogosphere does a little better, but not much.
That’s an awful lot of political power being given to pollsters, who, after all, were elected by nobody. True, most of the pollsters strive to be fair and rigorous in their methods. And, yes, it is the average of many polls that really drives the amount of debate time and media coverage the candidates get. And I totally understand why the media lavishes coverage on poll front-runners. They have to sell newspapers and toothpaste to stay in business.
In so doing however, they create a cycle of privilege. “Top tier” candidates get more coverage because they are doing well in the polls. Then they perform well in the polls because they get more coverage. Other well-qualified candidates can’t get arrested. Public discourse suffers. Interesting ideas don’t get a fair hearing. Promising young leaders decide not to run for office against less-qualified but more mediagenic candidates.
I don’t know if this can be fixed. But surely we can do better. Would it be too much to ask that traditional and new media make an effort to be more inclusive in their coverage?

Thinking Veepstakes

It may seem early to be thinking about the Democratic presidential nominee’s running mate, but, hey that decision is less than a year away. Somebody has to get the ball rolling, so just for fun, here goes one blogger’s early shortlist:

Bill Richardson – Assuming he doesn’t pull a NH upset, he has to rank high on everybody’s veepster short list. Obviously, he brings serious Latino creds. And he just might ice the SW for Dems. He also has an appealing ‘regular guy’ quality that comes across in interviews. And he matches nicely with any of the other Democratic aspirants. Hard to see a downside.
Chris Dodd – Senator Dodd has decades of experience, and if there were more equitable media coverage, he would likely be one of the front-runners. Presidential nominees always say the primary criterion for their V.P. choice is someone who is “ready to be President at a moment’s notice.” Nobody in the current field fits that qualification better than Dodd.
Howard Dean – Smart, passionate and straight-talking, Dean would bring impressive grass roots creds to the ticket. Plus he can articulate the case for voting straight Democratic ticket down the line better than anyone, and we need that big-time. The “Scream” media fallout that ended his white house run in ’04 now seems more about trifling MSM coverage than his emotional stability.
Russ Feingold – Would energize left-progressives like no other nominee and bring home a swing state in the bargain. Would fit best with a more centrist presidential nominee.
Three rookies – Claire McCaskill, Sherrod Brown and James Webb. Each reps a swing state, and the “fresh face” thing might draw some extra interest. All three won close elections, but with broad-based support and could rumble with the best anywhere. McCaskill is an energetic champion of working families, Brown is one of the fiercest debaters in the Senate and Webb exemplifies the strong but more thoughtful foreign policy yearned for by many Americans.
Caroline Kennedy – Stop scoffing and try to remember her speech at the 2000 Democratic convention. Talk about poise, class and symbolic power. Yes, I also doubt she would accept it. But she is highly patriotic and, if called to serve by the right uncle, who knows?

My short list is based on the assumption that none of the ‘Big Three’ would accept the V.P. nomination. Can’t see Clinton or Edwards accepting it, or being offered it for that matter. And my hunch is that Obama might prefer thriving as a top Senator for a few years to cutting ribbons and attending funerals. Just thinking here. If you have any better suggestions, fire away.

Should FL and MI Take One for the Team?

According to the latest reports, Florida is going ahead with it’s plans for a primary on January 29th. Florida Dems have a few days to change their minds, since the DNC has set September 29 as the last day to comply with Party rules preventing the seating of any delegates from a state that holds a primary before Feb 5th, except for NH, SC, IA and NV
It’s hard to say how many Floridians are pissed about being told they can’t have an early primary because it might offend the privileged status of those four states. But judging by the sour grapes over early primary scheduling that keep rolling out of Florida, it is a problem. A recent example comes from the Sunshine State’s top columnist Carl Hiaasen, who makes some valid points and gooses a few bitter chuckles out of Florida’s unhappy predicament along the way. Says Hiaasen:

At first, the dispute looked like a fiendishly clever ploy to make the party leadership appear self-destructive and incompetent, thereby lulling Republicans into a sense of complacency. Now it’s obvious that the DNC really is self-destructive and incompetent, stubbornly insisting on perpetuating the charade that allows only Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada to hold nominating contests before Feb. 5.

Hiaasen’s point should resonate with those who can actually count electoral votes. Florida is a big bad mother, electorally speaking. So is Michigan, the other state dissed by the pledge of Democratic Presidential candidates not to campaign in states that have scheduled primaries before Feb. 5th, except for the privileged four.
FL and MI are being asked to take one for the team, but without a sweetener. Some of this fuss is about economics. NH reportedly rakes in about $300 million as a result of it’s first-in-the-nation primary. Perhaps giving FL and MI each one of the Democratic conventions in the years ahead could help with the resentment. In that event, however, you couldn’t blame other states for grumbling. Sooner or later Dems will have to allocate primary dates equitably, either through random selection or taking turns.
The early primary conflict between the DNC on the one hand and FL and MI on the other has been likened to a game of chicken. Unless grown-ups prevail and work out a compromise everyone can live with, after September 29th it may look more like a demolition derby.

GOP Diss of Troops Overshadows MoveOn Ad

Whatever traction the GOP had in sliming Democrats as troop-bashers because of MoveOn’s General Petraeus ad has been replaced by spinning wheels as a result of the Senate Republicans’ vote against the Webb amendment. Webb’s proposal would have provided American soldiers serving in Iraq with guaranteed time at home at least equal to their length of service in Iraq, before being sent back into battle. (For complete vote tally, click here).
The MoveOn ad was a non-issue even before the Webb amendment vote, based on the GOP’s trying to equate the organization with the Democratic Party. It’s one thing for an independent liberal organization to criticize one general, rightly or wrongly. It’s quite another for all but six Republican Senators to vote against giving our soldiers in Iraq a much needed break. Every Democratic Senator voted for the Webb amendment, which was supported by veterans’ organizations. The inescapable conclusion is that when it comes to providing substantive support and relief for our troops, only one Party shows up, and it sure ain’t the GOP.
Republicans will still try to trot out the MoveOn ad as somehow indicative of Democratic disrespect for our soldiers serving in Iraq. But it will have a very hollow ring from now on, since the GOP blew its best chance to show meaningful support of our men and women in battle.
Outgoing Republican Senator John Warner, performed the ultimate flip-flop on the Webb Amendment, saying “I endorsed it…I intend now to cast a vote against it.” He isn’t running for re-election next year, but the Republican running for his seat will likely reap a bitter whirlwind. As WaPo’s Dana Milbank noted in his report on the Webb amendment vote, “Pro-war Republicans, who had been grumbling about Warner’s perfidy for weeks, suddenly celebrated him as an American hero.”
As one commenter on Milbank’s article, SarahBB, put it “The tolerance for hypocrisy in the Republican party, the art of saying one thing and doing the opposite, or projecting that which you do onto others, is truly staggering.” Another, Joy2, said it this way:

Shame on Senator Warner! I certainly thought he held the best interests of the troops in the foremost. But, alas, loyalty to the Bush administration and their continued bungling took precedence. He will have to live with the consequences as our troops burn-out and die in greater numbers.

Virginia veterans and their families will certainly remember which Senator — and which Party — was there for them when it counted. The Republicans stopped Senator Webb from getting a fillibuster-proof majority. But in so doing, they handed Webb — and all Democratic candidates — a potent example of GOP hypocrisy when it comes to supporting our women and men in uniform.
Meanwhile, Democrats can be proud of Senator Webb, and our troops have no greater champion.

Dems’ Untapped Unity Issue: Kids

Cultural historian Riane Eisler talks some practical politics in her Alternet post “The Ignored Issue That Can Get Progressives Elected.” Eisler makes a point that has been made many times before, though less frequently in recent years — that the health and well-being of America’s children is a unique coalition issue that can bring diverse constituencies together and empower progressives (read Democrats) to win big next year. Eisler cites polling data from an unusual source, The Barna Group, “a Christian polling organization,” noting:

The poll asked conservatives and liberals, whites and blacks, men and women, Christians and non-Christians which of 11 changes were “absolutely necessary” for the United States to address within the next 10 years. The 11 ranged from national security and environmental protection to the state of marriage and families and the spiritual state of the country. But the issues that emerged as the frontrunners were “the overall care and resources devoted to children” and “the quality of a public school education.” That was the response by 82 percent of the adults surveyed.

Eisler feels strongly that progressives have underemphasized child health and welfare in recent political campaigns, and the Barna Group poll suggests she may be on to something. Republicans as a whole have been downright negligent in addressing the needs of American children, and now we have President Bush threatening to veto an expansion of health care coverage for uninsured kids under the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Meanwhile, the Children’s Defense Fund has a post up reporting new data indicating that in 2006 more than 700,000 children were added to the uninsured — more than double the increase from 2004-5.
The proposed $50 billion expansion in funding for the SCHIP program in the House of Reps. version would insure millions more vulnerable American children. It would cost what taxpayers shell out to pay for 5 months for the Iraq quagmire, according to the latest figures of the Congressional Budget Office (Some observers believe $10 billion per month is less than half of the real cost).
So far, Senator Dodd has probably been the leading advocate for children in the U.S. Senate, and all of the Democratic presidential candidates supported SCHIP increases and other health and welfare initiatives to help children. By raising the well-being of children from a continuing concern to a top priority, Dems can not only help solidify progressive support, but also win some votes from moderates and other swing voters who have the compassion and/or good economic sense to help children in need.