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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

Iowa Mess Robs Winner – Whoever That Is – of Election Night Victory Buzz

From “Vote-reporting mess leaves Iowa with no victor on caucus night” by Stephen Collinson at CNN Politics:

Amid anger, chaos and confusion, candidates took to the stage at their caucus headquarters one by one — at a time when the victor would normally be expected to bask in the spoils — to give versions of their stump speeches before heading on to the next contest, in New Hampshire next week…The logjam threatens to rob the eventual winner of the caucuses of some of the early bounce from their victory and is a poor look for a party trying to prove it is up to taking on Trump’s fearsome political machine. It might offer candidates who do worse than expected some cover and is already raising questions about Iowa’s place at the front of the presidential calendar…The campaigns are livid.

So much for the town hall glorification vibes Iowa has milked so enthusiastically in recent years — a much tougher sell going forward. Presidential candidates, their staffs and media have roamed the state for the last year, spending millions of dollars and boosting the state economy enormously. That tradition may now be toast, if future Democratic presidential candidates have their wits about them. Ditto for the Democratic Party.

The top Democratic candidates gave variations of their stump speeches to fill the dead time while the TV networks were caught flat-footed. Sen. Amy Klobuchar was the first to seize the opportunity to grab some freebie national publicity. She rose to the occasion and delivered a pretty good speech. The other candidates followed Klobuchar, but struggled to match her energetic delivery.

As Collinson writes, “One candidate, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, made a shrewd move to fill the political vacuum and gave a pseudo-victory speech — grabbing the television spotlight in the absence of results giving other more favored candidates the win…We know there are delays, but we know one thing — we are punching above our weight!” Klobuchar said.”

All in all, whoever did worse than expected in the caucuses won the night, because their loss and their opponent’s victory will be overshadowed by reportage of the Iowa mess, and much of the public will likely shrugg off the tally as tainted by incompetence. Somewhere, former Mayor Bloomberg is glad he didn’t waste time in Iowa.

The explanations for the screw-up, including a knee-jerk quick denial of outside interference, were nearly as lame as the vote and delegate counting process. With benefit of hindsight, the whole process was way too complex, with its metrics for “viability,” “preference cards,” “re-alignment” and “state delegate equivalents” — requiring lots of ‘splaining. Dems should not overlook one obvious lesson: keep it simple.

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes called it a “Rube Golberg machine.” Esquire’s Charles Pierce said the disaster ought to be the “death knell” for Iowa’s caucus, which is inherently anti-democratic. Even before the vote count mess, former Senator Clare McCaskill criticized the caucus as “designed by Republicans” and discouraging participation. CNN commentator Ronald Brownstein said it shows that “caucuses have outlived their usefulness.”

Republicans, of course, will be piling on with the snarky one-liners. Dems will remind them that they  won’t even hold primary elections in many states, denying some of their presidential candidates any consideration at all.

But the unavoidable question for other state Democratic parties this morning: Would it be wise to adopt a hand-count ballot system pretty damn quick?

All of the candidates were surely glad to close their election night speeches with “On to New Hampshire” — and they really meant it.


Political Strategy Notes

Stephen Collinson explains why “A week like no other looms in American politics” at CNN Politics: “After a brief respite over the weekend, senators will return to President Donald Trump’s Senate trial on Monday to hear closing arguments from Democratic House impeachment managers and the President’s legal defense team…Hours later, and after months of exchanges on the campaign trail, Democratic voters finally begin their search for a candidate to make Trump a one-term President in Monday night’s Iowa caucuses…The commander-in-chief will hit back the next night, weaving a narrative of prosperity at home and strength abroad, as his reelection pitch reaches new intensity in his annual “State of the Union” address…And then after finally breaking their own enforced silence with speeches from the floor, senators will Wednesday undertake their gravest possible duty in voting on whether to make Trump the first impeached President to be ousted in US history. Spoiler: Republicans will ensure that Trump is acquitted of high crimes and misdemeanors and will leave it up to voters to decide his fate.”…“But it is unusual for three events with the potential to set the tone of a crucial campaign and the political year ahead to unfold in such a compressed time frame — one that encapsulates the sense-scrambling reality of Washington in the bewildering Trump era…The next three days will reveal the political forces shaping the nation’s present — like Trump’s relentless dominance of the Republican Party and the desperation of Democrats to consign him to a single term…They will also unleash chain reactions that will shape the run up to November’s election and will reflect divisions widened by impeachment.”

“In Monday’s contest,” Ronald Brownstein writes at The Atlantic, “the Democratic candidates will be more reliant on metro areas—particularly those with large numbers of young adults and white-collar suburbanites—than even four years ago: Among the state’s 99 counties, just seven will award 53 percent of the delegates at stake…These changes create the most obvious challenge for former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who are relying heavily on older and more establishment voters based in rural communities and smaller cities. Bigger turnout in college towns like Iowa City, the home of the University of Iowa, will benefit Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont—though critics complain that the rules of the caucus are designed to undercut the clout of college towns. Bigger turnout in the white-collar suburbs around Des Moines, Iowa City, and Cedar Rapids could primarily benefit Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg—though both Biden and Klobuchar are hoping to remain competitive in those areas too.”

Brownstein adds, “None of the cities in Iowa is that large by national standards: The Des Moines metro area has about 650,000 residents. Still, the trends in the state are familiar in two ways: First, the largest urban areas are fueling its population growth. The seven Iowa counties that will award the most delegates at the caucus are Polk (Des Moines), Linn (Cedar Rapids), Johnson (Iowa City), Scott (Davenport), Black Hawk (Waterloo), Story (Ames), and Dubuque. But the big three—Polk, Linn, and Johnson counties—are the ones most propelling the state’s growth: Since 1990, they have accounted for fully two-thirds of Iowa’s modest total population increase of 375,000…The second trend is a growing urban-rural divide: Like elsewhere, Iowa Democrats are losing ground in rural areas, even as they pick up voters in metro areas.”

Brownstein notes further, “With the latest Iowa polls indicating a close contest, the result on caucus night may come down to whether turnout is close to the roughly 170,000 who voted in 2016 or whether it matches or even exceeds the record 240,000 who voted in 2008. Among Iowa observers, the general consensus is that Biden, who is dependent on more moderate, older Democrats who regularly attend the caucuses, has his best chance to prevail if turnout falls on the lower end of that range. But if the total vote surges, Biden “could just get swamped,” Rynard told me…A big turnout on Monday will almost certainly underscore how thoroughly the Democratic center of gravity in Iowa has shifted toward the state’s largest population centers. But how such an elevated turnout divides between young people and college-educated suburbanites could ultimately decide which candidate leaves the state with the most powerful tailwind.”

Regarding the Iowa caucuses, Amy Walter writes at The Cook Political Report, “Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who has been moving up in Iowa polling, is closing out with a pragmatic pitch to voters: “Klobuchar can unite our party and perhaps our nation…She knows how to get things done.”…Primary voters, however, rarely reward the ‘practical’ choice. What gets someone to the polls — especially to a caucus on a Monday night in the dead of winter — is passion. But, we also know that Democratic primary voters have been telling us for months that their number one priority is beating Trump. Iowa has always prided itself on its sophisticated voting electorate. Woe to the candidate who thinks he or she can drop into Iowa unprepared for serious discussions about ethanol or the cost of soybeans. But, go there today, and you’ll hear voters discussing which Democrat is best positioned to win Pennsylvania or Michigan more than you will overhear talk about which one best understands Iowa issues. We will learn on Monday night if Trump — and the prospect of beating him — will supply the energy and passion that biography or policy once did.”

In his column, “Bloomberg’s Moment May Arrive,” Charlie Cook observes, also at The Cook Politial Report: “In my mind Joe Biden is still a fragile front-runner, with somewhere between a 40 and 50 percent chance of winning the nod. There are those who would bestow the title of front-runner on Bernie Sanders, who currently is polling in first place in both Iowa and New Hampshire. My hunch, however, is that he would have a hard time going the distance, for reasons I’ll get to in just a moment. My odds for Michael Bloomberg are in the 20-25 percent range, with the remaining 30-35 percent spread out between Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, or someone else. To be clear, these aren’t shares of the vote, but chances to win. I know I’m bullish on Bloomberg; this is definitely a contrarian view, but one that might make some sense…The profile of Bloomberg voters is that they’re 50 or older, college-educated, and somewhat centrist. Well, you have just defined the supporters of Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar as well. If none of those three are thriving, what do you think will happen?”

Kyle Kondik takes a look ahead at “The Road to Milwaukee: How the Democratic Primary Will Unfold” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, and writes, “These early contests will get loads of attention throughout the month, although the dirty little secret is that, together, they only account for a pittance of the delegates that will be awarded in the primaries and caucuses. There are 3,979 of them up for grabs in 57 contests, with 1,991 required for a majority…Every year, there is a Super Tuesday, this year on March 3. But it may be more appropriate to look at the March 3-March 17 span as “Super Two-weeks.” A flood of contests bookended by two ethnic holidays — Illinois’ Casimir Pulaski Day (celebrated in honor of a Polish Revolutionary War hero the day before Super Tuesday on March 2) and St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 — may effectively decide the nomination…By the end of the Super Two-weeks, more than 60% of all the delegates will have been awarded. There may be a clear leader at that point who could be effectively impossible to catch given the Democrats’ proportional delegate allocation rules, or no clear leader at that time, making it hard for any candidate to capture a majority of the delegates by the end of the nomination season.”

At Daily Kos, Chris Reeves writes, “As the Iowa caucus comes to a close on February 3, we begin to really gear up for New Hampshire on Tuesday, Feb. 11. Eight days doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but eight days can make a huge difference in where campaigns are and what potential resources are available to them. Campaigns leaving Iowa without delegates will be seen as wounded, mortally so. While some campaigns—thinking specifically of Bloomberg and Steyer—could proceed as long as they wish as vanity campaigns from those who can self-fund, other candidates will find that fundraising and staff support will quickly fade post-Iowa if they do not perform well…The story out of Iowa will happen in a few stages. First, we’ll get the results, but then we will find out which candidates can hold together enough staff and donors to stay active. Some campaigns will absolutely close down. Some will thin themselves, focusing whatever they have left on New Hampshire. Others will just wait and see. Winning campaigns will staff up and start to push more chips into the table to try and play to win.”

From E. J. Dionne, Jr.’s column, “Progressives and moderates: Don’t destroy each other” at The Washington Post: “The Democratic campaign was destined to entail an argument about the party’s direction for the next decade. Is this election about restoration, after the madness of Trump’s time in office? Or should the accent be on transformation, to grapple with the underlying problems that led to Trump’s election in the first place?…Like so many of the binaries in politics, the restoration/transformation optic captures something important but is also a false choice. The country can’t simply pick up where it left off before Trump took office. The radicalized conservatism that dominates the Republican Party will not go away even if he is defeated. The inequalities of class and race that helped fueled Trump’s rise have deepened during his presidency. You might say restoring the norms that Trump threatens requirestransformation. And the majority that opposes Trump is clearly seeking a combination of restoration and transformation…What should bring moderates and progressives together is an idea put forward long ago by the late social thinker Michael Harrington: “visionary gradualism.” The phrase captures an insight from each side of their debate: Progressives are right that reforms unhinged from larger purposes are typically ephemeral. But a vision disconnected from first steps and early successes can shrivel up and die. Vision and incremental change are not opposites. In our nation’s history, the two have reinforced each other — for example, in protecting the environment, achieving social security for the elderly and assistance to the unemployed, protecting civil rights, and expanding health insurance coverage. This lesson will apply for any new Democratic president, no matter which wing of the party she or he represents.”


Political Strategy Notes

What direction should Democratic strategy take if Republicans block witnesses from the Senate impeachment trial? In terms of messaging, Sen Kamala Harris’s comment that “there cannot be a true acquittal if there has not been a fair trial” is a good start. Taking a step back and looking at 2020 senate campaign strategy, a GOP witness shutdown would also give Democratic senate candidates additional leverage in close races. Republican obstruction of witnesses slimes their own party. They will undoubtedly hope that the damage fades by November; Indeed they are betting on it. How that pans out depends to a great extent on how well Democratic candidates, activists and especially the media remind voters of GOP witnesss obstruction in the months leading up to November 3rd. In races against the very few Republican senators who voted for witnesses, Democratic opponents will focus more on their final votes to let Trump off in a trial that banned witnesses. Meanwhile, Democratic ad-makers should get busy compiling video footage of Republicans squirming on camera as they try to justify their complicity in naked obstruction of justice. That ought to make genuine Constitutional conservatives of a once-great political party cringe in shame.

Alan I. Abramowitz explains the “Democrats’ Dilemma: Ideology, Electability, and the 2020 Presidential Nomination in Iowa and the Nation” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, and notes, “The evidence displayed in Table 3 provides some empirical support for the belief of many Democrats that Biden has a better chance of defeating Trump than Sanders. On average, Biden outperforms Sanders in matchups with Trump nationally and in 11 of 12 potential swing states for which polling data are currently available. The difference is slightly larger in the swing state polls than in the national polls. And the differences between the two Democratic candidates are generally small. Thus far, in the national polls and in most of the swing states, including the three that were critical to Trump’s Electoral College victory in 2016 — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — both Sanders and Biden are leading Trump…The fact that the differences in general election performance between Biden and Sanders are fairly small, especially in the national polls, is not surprising given the deep partisan divide that exists over the incumbent. A presidential election with a running incumbent like 2020 is largely a referendum on the incumbent. The vast majority of Democratic voters would be expected to support any of the leading Democratic challengers over Trump.”

Table 3: Polling averages of Biden and Sanders vs. Trump

Abramowitz is author of “The Great Alignment: Race, Party Transformation, and the Rise of Donald Trump.”

Most of the media coverage of the current Democratic presidential race has lately focused on front-runner Biden and Sanders. Elizabeth Warren has lost some support recently. But she is still a formidable candidate in key swing states. Richard Parker makes the case for Warren at The Nation, and notes, “Warren has also been consistently effective in helping elect other Democrats—allies a president will desperately need. In 2018 alone, she raised $8 million for congressional candidates, then personally called all 172 of them to offer her support and went on to meet with 61 of them face-to-face to lay out how to best deploy that support. She firmly grasps the reality the media’s relentless, monocular focus on the presidential race misses: that in order to deliver bold change, the next president will need a Congress that shares (rather than checkmates) an agenda with the White House…Her opposition to Wall Street’s endless predations has also been consistent, courageous, and persuasive—and tied directly to her recognition that 40 years of growing income and wealth inequality won’t be reversed without the reregulation of finance…She played public and behind-the-scenes roles in crafting the still-unused powers of the Dodd-Frank Act to tame Wall Street and in creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Washington’s first new (and under the Democrats, demonstrably effective) regulator since the New Deal…In her skill and dedication campaigning for other candidates; in doggedly shepherding tough, controversial bills through Congress; and in constructing a significant federal agency from scratch, Warren has demonstrated her ability to both win elections and govern.”

At Roll Call, Jacob Fischler provides some insights about the urgency of Democrats getting more pro-active in the fight against Repubican gerrymandering: “The state legislative campaign arms of both parties said wins in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin would help win congressional majorities for the next decade. Those six states send a total of 116 representatives to the U.S. House — more than a quarter of the entire voting body. Republicans outnumber Democrats in their combined delegations, 69-46, with one vacancy in Wisconsin…Both chambers of the legislature in all six states are now held by Republicans, and all empower their legislatures to draw congressional district lines…The first election cycle of a decade carries added importance because the winners will use the new census to draw district lines, which generally stay in place for 10 years. By percentage, the closest chamber to flipping is the Pennsylvania House, where Democrats would need to win 4.9 percent of seats now vacant or held by Republicans for a majority. The greatest gap is in the Georgia Senate, where Democrats would have to flip 14.3 percent of all seats…Matt Harringer, a spokesman for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which focuses on state legislatures, said the party was caught off-guard in the 2010 cycle, when Republicans spent heavily in state races and netted close to 700 seats nationwide…The DLCC said on Jan. 16 it would spend $50 million on what it called its “Flip Everything” campaign. And at least one Democrat-aligned group, Swing Left, is also spending in state legislative races, choosing targets based on redistricting.”

Regarding redistricting opportunities in Texas, Fischler notes, “The Texas House, for example, hasn’t seen a Democratic majority in 18 years. The party would need to pick up nine seats this cycle to change that trend…Texas’ size — it’s the largest not to use an independent commission for its maps — and projected growth make it critical for both parties this cycle…If Democrats can successfully make the Lone Star State a battleground, it will help the party outside the state’s borders as well, forcing Republicans to draw resources from other competitive states…“When Republicans are going to be forced to defend Texas and spend millions and millions of dollars there, it makes it harder for them to spend in a place like Minnesota,” Harringer said…Patrick Rodenbush, a spokesman for the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, pointed out that a number of suburban congressional seats have trended blue the last few cycles, further helping the effort to take over the Texas house…Flipping a chamber in Texas, as in Florida, Georgia or Wisconsin, would break a Republican trifecta — control in both legislative chambers and the governor’s office. In all states but Minnesota, one party controls both legislative chambers going into the 2020 elections.”

Fischler adds, “Flipping a chamber in Texas, as in Florida, Georgia or Wisconsin, would break a Republican trifecta — control in both legislative chambers and the governor’s office. In all states but Minnesota, one party controls both legislative chambers going into the 2020 elections…Ballot-box battles represent one front of an expanding struggle over legislative maps, as both parties have stood up their own organizations to fight for better maps for their side. That may involve courtroom battles, advocacy for state initiatives or political campaigns. For instance, the NDRC’s separate foundation filed the state court suit that resulted in North Carolina’s new maps…Democrats don’t even have to flip entire chambers in some cases to increase their power over maps. In Kansas, the DLCC is aiming to flip enough seats to break GOP supermajorities in each legislative chamber. Such a win would give Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly real veto power, without the possibility that her veto could be overridden on party-line votes…In Ohio, a new redistricting process requires that at least half of both parties vote for the new lines in order for them to go into effect. Rodenbush said that means that every seat Democrats gain there matters, even if they don’t flip the entire chamber.”

“A few months back, Republicans held a secret meeting to plot their strategy for gerrymandering America’s congressional and legislative districts after 2020. It was attended by nearly 200 GOP lawmakers from across the country. But now, leaked audio of the meeting is exposing the GOP’s grand strategy and outlining exactly what they have planned to make this takeover happen…In the recordings, Republicans exchanged tips for disguising illegal racial gerrymandering from the courts and discussed lying to the public about their true intentions. But their intentions couldn’t be clearer: The GOP is prepared to carve up the country and silence Democratic voters for another 10 years…a list of Republicans who were at that meeting was also leaked – and we have a chance to defeat some of them in elections this year, stopping right-wing gerrymandering plans in their tracks…Brett Kavanaugh and the conservative Supreme Court knew exactly what they were doing when they greenlit right-wing partisan gerrymandering last summer – and now, Republicans are already preparing to lock Democrats out of power for another decade, if they get the chance.” — From a Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) e-blast. Those who want to help the DLCC fight gerrymandering, can do so right here.


Political Strategy Notes

When the Democratic presidential campaigns first got underway, there was chatter about making worker rights a leading issue in the 2020 election. It  seemed like a good idea — adults spend half their M-F waking hours on the job. But somehow, perhaps as much because of Trump’s mastery of distraction as anything else, the concept devolved into a drive-by talking point for a few candidates. Those who still think it’s a promising approach for awakening more of America’s 100 million non-voters should read “An SOS Call for America’s Workers: The new Clean Slate report alerts the public and policymakers about the dismal state of worker power and worker voice” by Steven Greenhouse at The American Prospect. Greenhouse, author of “Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor,”  spotlights a new report, “Clean Slate for Worker Power: Building a Just Economy and Democracy,” which could serve as a useful resource for Democrats who want to address worker discontent in their campaigns.

Greenhouse notes recommendations from the Clean Slate Report, including “Give workers the power to elect 40 percent of the members of corporate boards. Moreover, corporate boards would need a supermajority to approve decisions with the biggest impact on workers…Require employers to engage in industrywide or sectoral bargaining once 5,000 workers or 10 percent of an industry’s workforce (whichever is smaller) petition for such bargaining. (The secretary of labor would help define which employers are in which industrial sectors.)…Require employers to bargain over a far wider set of issues. Under current law, unions generally can bargain over only wages and working conditions. The report recommends that unions be allowed to bargain over, for example, their company’s contribution to global warming or its violations of consumers’ privacy or the difficulties its workers and the greater community face finding affordable housing. The report says unions should also have the power to invite community groups to join them at the bargaining table.” Securing any of these reforms will require a Democratic landslide in November, which Democratic federal, state and local candidates should be calling for at every opportunity.

Thomas B. Edsall’s NYT column, “Why Trump Persists” probes the effects of political ambivalence among Democratic voters, and writes “What difference does it make if liberals and Democrats are more ambivalent than conservatives and Republicans?…For one thing, it means that in elections that are increasingly negative, ambivalent partisans — Democrats in this case — will be more vulnerable to attacks designed to generate conflict, to weaken enthusiasm and to increase the likelihood of nonvoting. President Trump and the proponents of the Republican Party he dominates are certain to do all they can to capitalize on this vulnerability…Most importantly, Democratic ambivalence, in a year when high turnout is mandatory, reflects the larger problem facing a political party that is now focused on its shared animosity to Trump. That animosity may or may not be enough to propel its presidential candidate to victory, but the inherent tension between different sectors of the center-left coalition over ideological, economic and social issues — not to mention glaring levels of intraparty income inequality — calls into question exactly what common ground holds the Democratic coalition together. How common is it?”

From Robert Kuttner’s “The Pocketbook Issues Are Still the Democratic Road to Victory: And backing off the ‘identity’ issues will achieve nothing but mush,” also at The American Prospect: “The 2016 election in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin was so close that Democrats only need to win back a tiny fraction of Trump voters and they will win the election. And without a compelling stand on pocketbook issues, watering down support for racial justice or reproductive rights will gain the Democrats little…There are just enough Democrats who win in swing states by putting pocketbook issues first—yet without backing off the social justice issues—to show that this can be good politics. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown is Exhibit A. Montana Governor Steve Bullock is Exhibit B. These progressive Democrats are not unicorns, and we need more to follow their example…That’s why it makes political sense for the Democrats to nominate a populist economic candidate such as Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders. Any Democrat will be tarred with the brush of being a cultural lefty—soft on immigrants, gays, and minorities; ignoring the rights of the unborn and gun owners—even if they try to disavow it. Only if the message on economics is compelling does it stand a chance of breaking through the cultural prejudices…Democrats also need African Americans and Hispanics to turn out big time. Disdaining their aspirations as mere “identity politics” is a lethal wet blanket in those communities…It isn’t easy to thread this needle, but it is necessary and possible given compelling leadership.”

In his article, ““Shit-Life Syndrome,” Trump Voters, and Clueless Dems” in Counterpunch, Bruce E. Levine, author of Resisting Illegitimate Authority: A Thinking Person’s Guide to Being an Anti-Authoritarian―Strategies, Tools, and Models, provides this nugget of strategic insight: “Getting rid of Trump means taking seriously “shit-life syndrome”—and its resulting misery, which includes suicide, drug overdose death, and trauma for surviving communities…Here in Ohio in counties dominated by shit-life syndrome, the Dems would be wise not to focus on their candidate but instead pour money into negative advertising, shaming Trump for making promises that he knew he wouldn’t deliver on: Hillary has not been prosecuted; Mexico has paid for no wall; great manufacturing jobs are not going to Ohioans; and most importantly, in their communities, there are now even more suicides, drug overdose deaths, and grieving families…You would think a Hollywood Dem could viscerally communicate in 30 seconds: “You fantasized that this braggart would be your hero, but you discovered he’s just another rich asshole politician out for himself.” This strategy will not necessarily get Dems the shit-life syndrome vote, but will increase the likelihood that these folks stay home on Election Day and not vote for Trump.”

Chris Cillizza writes about the possibility of “A Bernie Sanders Sweep” at CNN Politics, and observes, “New Hampshire polls conducted by CNN/University of New Hampshire and NBC/Marist College and released Sunday morning show Sanders with leads of nine and seven points in the Granite State. And in Iowa, a new New York Times/Siena poll puts him up eight points…Sanders’ edge in New Hampshire has been steadier and larger; he has an average five-point lead, according to the Real Clear Politics polling average of all surveys. In Iowa, Sanders is in an effective dead heat with Biden in the RCP average…The last time one candidate won both Iowa and New Hampshire in a Democratic presidential primary fight was 2004 — and Kerry cruised to the nomination following those twin wins.” My main question about a Sanders nomination: Would he get clobbered for being repeatedly branded a “Socialist,” or would that get stale by November and not matter much? It would be helpful to know what percent of 2016 Democratic voters say they would not vote for him under any circumstances, even though that could change in his favor the months ahead.

But any Democratic presidential nominee will likely be called a “socialist” by the Republicans in an unprecedented tsunami of political ads. An accused Democratic nominee could deploy the ‘Truman defense” —  “Republicans call anything that helps people ‘socialism,'” and there are plenty of examples of Republicans calling popular reforms socialism, including Medicare and Social Security. Also say “I don’t do ‘isms.’ That’s your hang-up. I support whatever helps Americans have  better lives.”

Despite the recently-improved polling numbers for Sen. Sanders, former Vice President Biden is still polling well a week out from Iowa. There has been some recent buzz that Sen. Kamala Harris may soon endorse him, despite her giving Biden a hard time in the first presidential debate. Primary season selection of a vice presidential running mate may come off as a tad gimmicky. But a Biden-Harris ticket could help him with turnout of African Americans, women and younger voters. It would also make Biden look good as a leader who doesn’t marinate in grudges, in stark contrast to the current White House occupant. in the post-war period, veep selections haven’t helped much, with the exception of  JFK’s choosing LBJ. But McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin and McGovern’s Eagleton pick (before he selected Shriver) probably hurt. Nowadays a veep candidate’s home state may matter less than her demographic background.

Some of the latest statistics from the Center for American Women and Politics about women candidates for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives in 2020: 41 of 63 women candidates for 29 U.S. Senate seats are Democrats. Of the 536 women candidates running for House seats in 290 districts, 339 of them are Democrats running in 242 districts. At present, there are 26 women Senators, 17 of whom are Democrats. There are 101 women House members, including 88 Democrats. While Democrats are doing much better than Republicans in terms of fielding women candidates for congress, there is plenty of room for Democrats to benefit from more women candidates.


Political Strategy Notes

From “Democrats lose impeachment votes but hatch a strategy” by Lauren Fedor and Courtney Weaver at The Financial Times: “The first day of Donald Trump’s impeachment trial may have stretched late into the night, but that did not mean there was any doubt how the session would end: in vote after vote, Democrats were defeated in their effort to subpoena documents and witnesses the White House has repeatedly refused to congressional investigators…Even though the party-line votes were foregone conclusions — no moderate Republican, including those who had signalled they were open to hearing from new witnesses, backed the amendments — Democrats appeared to be trying to do something other than just accessing emails, memos and text messages. They were building a political case that the president’s party was complicit in a cover-up…on Tuesday, it quickly become a refrain among House managers, Democratic senators, presidential candidates and the Democratic National Committee.”

Sean Collins’s’ “The latest impeachment polling reflects America’s deep polarization” at Vox notes that “Ahead of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate, a new poll finds Americans remain split on whether the president ought to be removed from office — with a very slight majority, 51 percent, saying he should be removed…That national poll, conducted by SSRS for CNN and released Monday, found little change in opinion on the matter of impeachment and removal. In November, as the impeachment inquiry was in full swing, the same survey found 50 percent of Americans advocating for Trump’s impeachment and removal. That number dipped slightly in SSRS’s December survey, to 45 percent, before rebounding to where it currently stands…That number mirrors the 51 percent an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released Tuesday found believed Trump encouraged election interference…A 538 meta-analysis of impeachment polling has found that, as of January 20, 84 percent of Democrats want Trump removed from office, but only 7.8 percent of Republicans feel the same. Americans who identify as independents reflect the split SSRS found of all Americans — 43 percent said they support removal…House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pointed to polling like SSRS’s most recent work in advocating for having new witnesses at the trial. Citing a Washington Post/ABC News poll on ABC’s This Week in mid-January, Pelosi said, “Over 70 percent of the American people think that the president should have those witnesses testify.”

Give it up for Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who not only made an impeccable factual case for convicting Trump in the Senate impeachment hearings, but also got rave reviews for his stirring call to senators to honor their oaths of office. Schiff eloquently blasted McConnell’s obstruction of witnesses and evidence and urged the senators to stand up for democracy and America’s security. At Alternet, Cody Fenwick provides “5 of the strongest moments from Adam Schiff’s opening statement of Trump’s impeachment trial.” Here’s a video clip of Schiff’s presentation fropm Time:

Syndicated columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. explains why “Why Democrats owe a debt to Mitch McConnell” in The Washington Post: “By working with Trump to rig the trial by admitting as little evidence as possible, McConnell robbed the proceeding of any legitimacy as a fair adjudication of Trump’s behavior. Instead of being able to claim that Trump was “cleared” by a searching and serious process, Republican senators will now be on the defensive for their complicity in the Trump coverup…It gets worse. Thanks to assertions by Trump’s lawyers that he did absolutely nothing wrong, an acquittal vote, as The Post editorialized, “would confirm to Mr. Trump that he is free to solicit foreign interference in the 2020 election and to withhold congressionally appropriated aid to induce such interference.” Is that the position that Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Cory Gardner (Colo.), Thom Tillis (N.C.) and Martha McSally (Ariz.), among others, want to embrace as they run for reelection this fall? Good luck with that.”

In his article, “The Democrats’ strategy conundrum: a ‘movement’ or a coalition?” at The Hill, Bill Schneider writes, “The division in the Democratic Party today isn’t so much about ideology. It’s more about strategy: Should the party be a coalition or a movement? What’s the difference? A coalition brings together voters with diverse interests who agree on one thing: President Donald Trump has to go. There’s just one test: “If you support the party’s candidate — for whatever reason — you’re one of us. No further questions.”…Supporters of a movement are expected to agree on everything. For the conservative movement, that means the entire conservative agenda, from taxes to abortion to immigration to climate change. Disagree on anything, and you can be declared a heretic and expelled from the movement…The Democratic coalition can include liberals who despise Trump’s policies. It can include ordinary voters who are offended by Trump’s behavior. It can include conservatives who believe Trump has betrayed the conservative cause. It can include voters of all persuasions who object to Trump’s governing by deliberately dividing the country.”

“Democrats are homing in on a strategy they hope will bring new rural voters into the fold through hyperlocal economic messaging and by venturing into parts of the country they ignored in the run-up to the 2016 election,” Jonathan Easley and Reid Wilson write in their article, “Democrats plot new approach to win over rural voters” at The Hill….There’s a coordinated effort among the House Democratic campaign arm, presidential candidates and liberal outside groups to address the party’s rural blind spot by finding new ways to speak to white working-class voters and rural black voters in key battleground states and districts in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Illinois and New York…Democrats believe they’re making inroads with the white working-class voters in the Rust Belt who broke late for President Trump in 2016 through an ad campaign showcasing stories from disappointed voters who are local to the region.”

“Democrats see opportunities to replicate Bustos’s success,” Easley and Wilson continue, “in rural communities elsewhere through a three-pronged strategy: an effort to talk to rural voters to find out what issues are important to them instead of assuming the same national talking points will work, hyperlocal messaging focused on kitchen table issues  and a commitment from local leaders to spending time in the community — a combination of “high-tech, high-touch” campaigning…“Rural voters in 2016 didn’t vote for us for a reason. There wasn’t enough outreach or effort to engage, and so there was a drop-off,” said Antjuan Seawright, a DCCC adviser who lives in rural Richland County in South Carolina, which is 46 percent black…After the 2016 election, a group called Focus on Rural America held focus groups with voters in Iowa who went for Obama twice before casting a ballot for Trump. They found that the new Trump voters broke late, were frustrated by the status quo, didn’t feel Democrats gave them an adequate alternative to Trump, and didn’t like being called racists or misogynists for turning away from Democrats.”

“The liberal super PAC American Bridge is plowing millions of dollars into polling, research and campaign ads in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Florida to win back the rural working-class voters who went for Trump in 2016,” note Easley and Wilson. “The ads feature personal stories from rural individuals explaining how they had high hopes for Trump but have been let down by his policies. The goal is to create a “permission structure” for disappointed Trump voters to come back to the Democratic side…“We’re working to find potential defectors and going door to door collecting stories and looking to recruit folks to go on camera to tell their stories, to talk about the manufacturing layoffs or farm closures they’ve experienced,” said Jeb Fain, the communications director for American Bridge. “It’s all about authenticity and the credibility of the messenger. Voters are more likely to take the message if it’s from someone nearby than a Washington super PAC.”


Political Strategy Notes

From “As Richmond braces for hate, Americans say race relations are getting worse” by  Sara Kehaulani Goo at Axios on the 35th MLK holiday: “Is the president really responsible for rising racial tension?…A majority of Americans say he is, according to a survey last year by non-partisan Pew Research Center. But the diverging views between blacks and whites and Democrats and Republicans make it seem as though they are living in different versions of America…A strong majority of blacks (73%), Hispanics (69%) and Asians (65%) say Trump has made race relations worse, compared with about half of whites (49%), according to the Pew Research Center survey released in April 2019…Majorities of blacks and Hispanics say that people are more likely to express racist or racially insensitive views since Trump was elected…More than 8 out of 10 Democrats say the president has made race relations worse; just 1% say he’s improved relations…More than a third of Republicans say Trump has made progress toward improving race relations. Just 20% say he’s made it worse.”

Commemorating MLK on the holiday, Washington Post syndicated columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. quotes from one of President Obama’s most eloquent speeches: “That the forces celebrating King prevailed spoke to a healthy intuition that cannot simply be written off as tokenism…No one championed this view more passionately than former president Barack Obama. In 2015, he offered his most powerful testimony on its behalf when he traveled to Selma, Ala., to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march for voting rights…“What could be more American than what happened in this place?” Obama asked. “What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than plain and humble people — the unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many — coming together to shape their country’s course?”

In his article, “Mitch McConnell may win the impeachment and lose the Senate” at The Hill, Albert Hunt writes that “the Kentucky Republican may turn out to be an asset for Democrats in the fall, as already competitive challengers against Republican incumbents are tying those incumbents to the Senate majority leader, not so much on impeachment but rather on his legislative role: rushing through right-wing judges and bottling up popular House-passed legislation, including crackdowns on rising drug prices, boosting the minimum wage, some campaign finance reform and pay equity for women…On most of these issues, McConnell doesn’t want his half-dozen endangered incumbents to face a vote that big financial interests, always a primary McConnell priority, oppose.”

In his post-debate poll analysis, Nate Silver notes at FiveThirtyEight that “our topline forecast is largely unchanged. Biden remains the most likely candidate to win the majority of pledged delegates, with a 41 percent chance, followed by Sanders at 23 percent, Warren at 12 percent and Buttigieg at 9 percent. There is also a 15 percent chance that no one wins a majority, a chance that could increase if Bloomberg, who has now almost caught Buttigieg in our national polling average, continues to rise.” Silver’s chart:

“What did Sanders and Warren discuss at that meeting in 2018? Who misinterpreted whom? It shouldn’t matter. This is no way to select a nominee,” David Daley writes at salon.com “Sanders and Warren are natural allies. Their supporters share overlapping policy agendas. They seem to like and respect each other personally. They’re only fighting this fiercely over ephemera to try and move a handful of voters from one column to the other ahead of a tight four-way race. Our very winner-takes-all election structure not only encourages this inane behavior, it almost necessitates it…The problem isn’t the people. It’s the all-or-nothing nature of the system. It is time to change it…Just imagine how different Sanders and Warren might campaign if we elected our leaders with ranked choice voting, and voters had the power to select their backup second and third choices to count if their first choice couldn’t win. Sanders and Warren wouldn’t be at each other’s throats, and we wouldn’t be seeing their supporters battling with snake emoji and unleashing powerful emotions about gender still raw from 2016. They’d be campaigning as a team, urging followers to support the other as a second choice…Different incentives lead to a different kind of race. When candidates also compete to be second and third choices, they play nicer and engage in less negative campaigning. They need to appeal to supporters of other candidates. They can’t risk alienating them.”

Regarding the fuss between supporters of Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, Harold Meyerson writes at The American Prospect: “I’m not going to be around in 2070, but if somehow there’s any money left in my posthumous checking account, I’ll bet it all that they’ll both be remembered for initiating a sharp break with the financialized capitalism of the past 40 years, and bringing the cause of a radically more democratized and egalitarian economy into American political discourse and the highest levels of American politics. Unlike the other candidates in this year’s Democratic field, each wants to tax wealth and financial transactions, each wants to put workers on corporate boards, each wants to switch to Medicare for All (if at different speeds), each backs free universal child care and preschool, each wants to curtail hedge funds and private equity, each wants to go as far beyond Obama and the previous ideology of the Democratic Party as (to paraphrase Michael Harrington) Roosevelt went beyond Hoover. As well, each has sworn off high-dollar fundraising and depends solely on small contributions—again, unlike the other Democratic candidates…In fact, both Sanders and Warren, whatever their flaws, are daily prescribing the kinds of radical egalitarian reforms that our increasingly plutocratic nation so badly needs. Campaigns are invariably about comparisons and differences, but I hope Warren’s and Sanders’s supporters, and Warren and Sanders themselves, can remember how much, uniquely, they have in common, and how important it is that their common perspectives, under either’s banner, prevail.”

“Of course, every group of reliable Democratic voters is important,” David Edward Burke writes in his article, “Who, Exactly, Makes Up the Democratic Base?” at The Washington Monthly. “But if Democrats want to consistently win elections in 2020 and beyond, they need to think differently about who, exactly, the base is and what unites them. The foundation of the Democratic Party is not built on what we look like, but rather, on a set of ideas that reflect our shared values. As President Obama has said, we don’t need to embrace a false choice between appealing to minority voters or white working-class voters. A candidate who prioritizes and effectively speaks to the issues that most voters truly care about can do both…Even in 2016, Democratic voters were approximately 60 percent white, 20 percent black, and 14 percent Hispanic., and 45 percent of all voters were whites without a college degree. By the time a coalition big enough to win in a general election is assembled—unmarried women, black voters, Hispanic voters, millennials—the concept of “the base” is no longer effectively measured by demographic makeup…It’s also not ideologically monolithic. The Democratic party is neither overwhelmingly liberal or moderate: Self-identified liberals make up 46 percent of the party, whereas moderates comprise 39 percent, and conservatives 14 percent. Therefore, a candidate who appeals more to liberals at the exclusion of everyone else is not necessarily more likely to turn out the base than a more moderate candidate—let alone attract independents.”

“If the Democratic Party wants to turn out their voters in 2020,” Burke continues, “they should choose a nominee who speaks effectively to the priorities and anxieties of the majority of Americans. On average, voters want someone who can help lower prescription drug costs, enact sensible gun control, invest in infrastructure, and strengthen women’s rights. They shouldn’t pick someone peddling divisive policies that can turn off more voters than they turn out…Any candidate who can remain in step with most Democratic voters while not adopting more extreme policy positions will likely win over many independents and Republican-leaning voters as well. A majority of Republicans also support increasing federal spending on education, rebuilding highways and bridges, and imposing universal background checks on gun sales…What’s more, approximately one-third of Republicans support raising taxes on corporations or believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases. Trump was out of step with most Americans in pushing for a tax break for corporations and the wealthiest Americans, standing in the way of gun control, and separating immigrant children from their families. Simply put, there is a golden opportunity for Democrats to exploit those weaknesses…But to take advantage, party leaders need to stop defining its base through the prism of age, race, or gender. It’s by focusing on the issues that most Americans care about that the party will succeed in 2020. If Democrats do that, they can turn out their base and reach enough swing voters to make Trump a one-term president.”


Political Strategy Notes

E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes in his syndicated column that “it was only in Joe Biden’s closing comments that the gravity of our situation was truly brought home. “We can overcome four years of Donald Trump,” he said, “but eight years of Donald Trump will be an absolute disaster and fundamentally change this nation.” That’s a good message for all progressives going forward to November 3rd. Dionne, also notes of the Iowa Democratic presidential debate, “This debate likely leaves Iowa’s poor caucus-goers more uncertain than ever as they decide under the cloud of a national political crisis. But it made one thing obvious: The outcome on a cold Monday night in February will hang on whether most of them are thinking about the urgency of dispatching Trump, or are pondering instead the kind of country they want to build after he is gone.”

At The Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky flags a ‘sleeper’ issue, which may bear on the Iowa caucuses outcome: “In 2015 and 2016, when Trump and Sanders were gaining steam, support for free trade sank (though it never, to my knowledge, went below 50 percent). But that has changed. And last August, an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll found that support for free trade was at an all-time high: By 64-27 percent, Americans said free trade brought more benefit than harm. Majorities of Republicans and Democrats agreed with the statement that “free trade is good for America, because it opens up new markets, and the country can’t avoid the fact of a global economy.”…And that brings us to last December’s House vote on USMCA, which passed by a whopping 385 to 41. All three of Iowa’s House Democrats voted for it: Cynthia Axne, Abby Finkenauer, and David Loebsack all said yes. The AFL-CIO, which is important in the state, said yes. In addition to that, naturally, Iowa’s farmers and leading business associations are all for it. Environmental groups are strongly opposed…The Senate hasn’t voted on it yet. It will do so soon—maybe before the Feb. 3 caucuses. Sanders will vote no, but Warren (and Klobuchar) will vote yes. It’s not likely to generate a ton of media interest, but it could shift a lot more votes here than most people realize, and the exchange may have been this debate’s sleeper moment.”

From Ronald Brownstein’s analysis of the debate in The Atlantic: “Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, the two senators jostling for the support of the Democrats’ most progressive voters, both delivered confident, aggressive performances in which they underlined their commitment to an array of liberal causes, from withdrawing all American forces from the Middle East to raising taxes on the rich and opposing most free-trade agreements…None of the more centrist candidates on the slimmed-down debate stage was nearly as vivid. And overall, the debate lacked the intensity that many expected for the final confrontation before the first votes are cast in Iowa, on February 3—especially since recent polls have shown the top four candidates all closely bunched together. The evening’s most anticipated moment largely fizzled, too. Sanders flatly denied that he told Warren, during a private meeting in 2018, that he believed a woman could not win the presidency, as initially reported by CNN. And when asked about Sanders’s denial, Warren chose not to challenge him—detouring instead into a forceful argument for why women can win elections. Without a genuine confrontation between the two, the real fulcrum of the debate was the division between the two of them and former Vice President Joe Biden, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.”

Brownstein continues, “But none of them delivered that case with as much conviction and energy as the two leading liberals on the stage. Biden, in particular, vanished for much of the debate; until his closing statement—which featured a strong appeal to reclaim the American character from Trump—it seemed unlikely that viewers would remember much of what he said. (While the Los Angeles debate last month dampened concerns among many Democrats about Biden’s capacity to build a case against Trump in the general election, last night’s performance seems destined to rekindle them.) Klobuchar and Buttigieg were better at making the case against the ideas from the left, particularly single-payer, though neither was as effective as they had been in earlier encounters.”

Aaron Bycoffe, Saah Frostenson and Julia Wolfe report on the findings of a poll by FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos following the debate  “we asked respondents to estimate each Democrat’s chances of defeating Trump, from 0 percent (no chance) to 100 percent (certain to win). Going into the debate, as in other general-election polls, Biden was the candidate voters thought was most likely to beat Trump, on average. He still leads on that question after Tuesday’s debate, with Sanders in second. But, as you can see below, Biden’s average stayed essentially unchanged while all the other candidates gained ground.”

At CNN Politics, Grace Sparks reports on the findings of a new CNN/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll, conducted Jan. 2-8: “Majorities of likely Democratic caucusgoers say they’re optimistic, fired up, feminists and … exhausted by politics. A new poll from CNN/Des Moines Register/Mediacom finds fewer soon-to-be caucus attendees consider themselves socialists than capitalists, and almost a quarter are regular Twitter users…Three-in-five likely Iowa Democratic caucusgoers say they’re fired up, especially those who are very liberal (76%), extremely enthusiastic about their first choice candidate (76%), and have locked in who they’ll caucus for (71%). Likely caucus attendees who say they’ll “definitely attend” rather than “probably attend” the caucus are more likely to describe themselves as “fired up” (66%)…But just as caucusgoers are fired up, they’re also pretty tired. Over half (54%) say they’re “exhausted by politics.” Lynn Richards, a retired social worker in Iowa, says she can’t turn on the TV without being bombarded by political ads.”

There is no substitute for personal, press-the-flesh contact, but I doubt that the impeachment trial is going to hurt any Democratic presidential candidates who can’t campaign in Iowa because they have to stay in Washington, D.C. As Ella Nilson and Li Zhou note at Vox, “Campaign spokespeople for three of the four senators told Vox they’re planning to fill in with a range of tactics such as having high-profile surrogates and candidates’ families hit the trail in the early states this week. And with social media, senators can hold events remotely or send messages out to their supporters. For the events they do conduct in person, at least one plans to focus on evening appearances in New Hampshire, which is logistically more accessible from Washington…For about a week, voters in Iowa and New Hampshire should expect to see a lot of the candidates’ spouses and family, as well as high-profile surrogates who have endorsed them…Warren and Sanders, in particular, have a number of celebrity endorsers who could hit the trail to draw crowds. A Warren campaign spokesperson pointed Vox to a previous statement made by communications director Kristen Orthman to the Washington Post.”

In their article, “Ratings Changes: Senate, House, and Governor,” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Kyle Kondik and J. Miles Coleman write that “The Kansas Senate race is getting a lot of national buzz, but we still see the GOP as clearly favored to hold the seat…The chances of Republicans springing Senate upsets in New Hampshire and Virginia appear to be growing dimmer…Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D-CA) decision not to hold a special election for CA-50 makes it likelier for Republicans to hold the seat…Vermont is a sleeper Democratic gubernatorial target.”

“Even if the Democratic nominee manages to hold all the states Hillary Clinton won,” Amy Walter writes at The Cook Political Report, “and win back Pennsylvania and Michigan, they can’t get to 270 without adding Wisconsin (or picking up Arizona, a state Clinton lost by almost four points). Trump can’t afford to lose Wisconsin either — unless he’s able to pick up neighboring Minnesota — a state where he came within 44,000 votes back in 2016…The most recent Marquette University Law School poll found a similar level of stability in opinions of President Trump that we see in national polling. His job approval in the state was 48 percent approve to 49 percent disapprove — not much different from his December showing of 47 percent approve to 50 percent disapprove. But, Charles Franklin, the Marquette pollster, notes that it “is the first time Trump’s disapproval has fallen below 50 percent in the Marquette Law School Poll since March 2017 when 47 percent disapproved.”


Political Strategy Notes

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who some observers believe won the last presidential debate, still lags in polls by double digits behind her 4 competitors in Tuesday’s televised debate. But expect that she will try to make a splash tommorrow night. Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. previews Tuesday’s debate, and notes, “More than anyone, Klobuchar needs to upend the dynamic of the contest. Her survival as the fifth option is not a trivial accomplishment given how many other candidates have already fallen by the wayside. But her candidacy is unlikely to continue past Iowa unless she can cut deeply into Buttigieg’s and Biden’s vote shares. This gives her an interest in provoking dramatic moments on Tuesday while hoping that her two immediate rivals falter.”

Meanwhile, Nate Silver makes the case at FiveThirtyEight that “Sanders Now Leads A Wide-Open Iowa Race.” As Silver writes, “We don’t necessarily plan to publish an Election Update as a result of each single new poll, but Friday’s Selzer & Co. poll of the Iowa caucuses, published by the Des Moines Register and CNN, warrants an exception and did have a somewhat material effect on the model…The poll showed Bernie Sanders ahead with 20 percent of the vote, followed by Elizabeth Warren at 17 percent, Pete Buttigieg at 16 percent and Joe Biden at 15 percent. This is a reasonably big shift from the previous Selzer & Co. poll, in November, which had shown Buttigieg ahead with 25 percent of the vote…Amy Klobuchar was next in the poll at 6 percent, but that was unchanged from November despite a couple of debate performances since November that voters rated strongly in our polling with Ipsos. Andrew Yang was sixth at 5 percent.” In terms of the national race for the nomination, “Biden remains the most likely candidate to get a delegate majority, with a 38 percent chance, followed by Sanders at 24 percent, Warren at 13 percent, and Buttigieg at 10 percent. There’s also a 14 percent chance that no one wins a majority, which could potentially lead to a contested convention.”

But don’t ignore the prospects of the unprecedentedly self-funded candidate who is skipping the debates. As Charlie Cook notes in his Cook Political Report,”The Democrats who do emerge out of those first four contests will face at least $160 million in media buys by Bloomberg, according to Advertising Analytics, in addition to an 800-person staff spread across 30 states. His plan: Accumulate delegates here and there in districts that his rivals will have never either visited or spent a dime in. After the first four states, it’s only about the delegates, which the Democratic Party rewards for as little as 15 percent of the vote share in a district…he may position himself to be an electable alternative to the current five contenders—more centrist than Sanders and Warren and without some of the baggage that he presumes Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar carry…Maybe it works, maybe it won’t, but any polling taken over the last few days would indicate whether Bloomberg’s ads are taking hold or not.”

From”Nancy Pelosi explains what Democrats gained by holding onto the articles of impeachment” by Katelyn Burns at Vox: “First, she hoped to pressure Senate Republicans into accepting Democrats’ requests that witnesses be called in the trial. “We wanted the public to see the need for witnesses, witnesses with firsthand knowledge of what happened,” Pelosi told This Week’s George Stephanopoulos…“Over 70 percent of the American people think that the president should have those witnesses testify. So, again, it’s about a fair trial,” Pelosi said. “And we think that would be with witnesses and documentation. So, that dynamic has — now the ball is in their court to either do that, or pay a price for not doing it.”Pelosi also said the delay was to allow the public time to see further “documentation which the president has prevented from coming to the Congress” — that is, more evidence of wrongdoing.”

The last thing Republicans want to talk about is health care reform, since the sum of all their ideas quickly boils down to a return to the status quo ante Obamacare. In another Katelyn Burns Vox post, she reports that “The Trump administration wants the Supreme Court to not rule on Obamacare until after the 2020 election: Democrats have asked the Supreme Court to hear a case that could determine the fate of Obamacare. The Trump administration wants the court to wait.” Burns notes, “Should the Republican plaintiffs succeed in getting the ACA struck down, the Urban Institute estimates that about 20 million people in the US will lose their health insurance. And the result of a Supreme Court ruling could have stark effects on both Democratic and Republican pitches to voters ahead of November’s elections…Studies have shown that Americans — including Republicans — like the benefits the ACA has given them. For example, a 2018 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that 80 percent of Republicans like the ACA’s provision that lowers the cost of prescription drugs for those on Medicare, and that 58 percent of Republicans like that it stopped insurance companies from denying coverage based on preexisting conditions…Overall, the foundation found that 52 percent of Americans approved of the ACA as of November 2019, and that 56 percent feared they, or someone they knew, would lose coverage if the Supreme Court overturned the law.”

Amy Walter mulls over “The Durability Advantage” benefitting Biden and Sanders at The Cook Political Report and provides some salient insights, including, “Biden and Sanders are not just the best-known candidates in the race, but they also have the most defined identities. You know what you get with them. And, that means they have a more stable base than anyone else in the field. While a late November Quinnipiac poll found that almost two-thirds of Democrats said they might change their mind on who they currently support in the primary, 43 percent of Biden voters and 49 percent of Sanders voters said that they were committed to supporting their candidate. Meanwhile, just 29 percent of Sen. Warren voters and 25 percent of former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg voters felt similarly…The challenge for Warren and Buttigieg is that while Biden is certainly vulnerable, the two of them are untested and unproven entities…Only when you’ve been through this grueling process can you understand how to prepare for it. This gives Biden and Sanders — and their campaigns — perspective and patience. Something that even the most disciplined first-time candidates don’t have.”

It’s way early, but Joel K. Goldstein kicks off the veepstakes speculations with “The Democratic Vice Presidential Derby: Look Beyond the 2020 Contenders: History suggests broad guidelines for the kinds of candidates who will be considered” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball. Goldstein argues “The history of vice presidential selection suggests some overarching trends that will guide the eventual Democratic nominee’s selection…One piece of history stands out: Presidential nominees often, though not always, opt for a running mate who was not a candidate for the nomination…Vice presidential candidates tend to have extensive experience in certain feeder positions, and they typically are not chosen to win a key swing state.” Sounds reasonable enough. but the Democratic field of presidential candidates has been  unusually impressive, and it’s not hard to envision most of the Democratic also-rans doing a solid job as a running mate. If one of the older Democrats wins the presidential nomination, a younger, energetic running mate becomes even more important than usual.

In his Salon post, “The Democratic debate stage is now all white. It doesn’t have to be this way,” David Daley, author of “Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count”, writes about tomorrow’s debate at Salon and notes, “Only six candidates will take the stage. All of them will be white. Only three will be under the age of 70. One will be a billionaire. Years from now, historians might compare photos of this debate with Democratic gatherings in the 1980s or 1990s and not be able to tell the difference. It’s an awkward look: The party that lays claim to the nation’s multiracial future will present five white people as its leading contenders…It didn’t have to be this way. Democratic leadership, anxious about the crowded field and unwieldy debates, intentionally structured the process to winnow down the number of candidates before any ballots were actually cast.” Daley reccomends ranked-choice voting in polls, giving all candidates more exposure as a possible solution for enhancing diversity.

Sarah Luterman writes in her article, “Elizabeth Warren Has Made Disability Rights Central to Her Campaign” in The Nation that “in the 2020 Democratic primary, almost every major candidate has put forward some sort of disability policy plan, albeit of varying quality. (The Sanders campaign will be releasing its plan in the coming weeks.) This is the first time that disability has become a mainstream campaign issue. Policy can be a life-or-death issue for those of us in the disability community. Social benefit programs keep many of us alive. In 2018, voter turnout among disabled people spiked by 8.5 percentage points, according to a report from Rutgers University, with 14.3 million disabled Americans voting. For a sense of how many that is, the number of disabled voters surpassed the number of Latino voters. One in four Americans have some form of disability.”


Political Strategy Notes

Nathaniel Rakich’s “Foreign Policy Doesn’t Usually Affect Elections. Could Iran Be Different?” at FiveThirty Eight explores the political fallout of Trump’s Iran mess, and notes, “First, most political science research has found that foreign policy doesn’t significantly affect people’s votes. But this isn’t always the case. For example, foreign policy can have more of an impact when it’s a big part of the national conversation and when the two parties have clearly contrasting positions on it — two conditions that this Iran episode could meet.” Rakich adds, “it’s rare for a primary candidate to be experienced in foreign policy. But this year, we have such a candidate in former Vice President Joe Biden. And two recent polls say that Democratic primary voters do trust him the most on foreign policy.”

In Adition, Rakich notes, “According to CNN, nearly half (48 percent) of Democrats and Democratic leaners said they thought Biden could best handle foreign policy; Sen. Bernie Sanders came in second place with just 14 percent. And in a poll taken immediately after the strike that killed Soleimani, HuffPost/YouGov found that 62 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners trust Biden on Iran, although Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren weren’t too far behind, with 47 percent trusting each of them (respondents were allowed to select multiple candidates they trusted).” However, “Someone like Sanders, who has been critical of Biden’s vote to go to war with Iraq, could seize the upper hand if the primary becomes a question of who is the most anti-war.”

As for which party is perceived as more qualified to address foreign policy crises, Rakich writes, “The GOP has long been seen as better than Democrats at protecting the country from external threats, according to Gallup polling. However, the gap has narrowed during the Trump era (as of 2019, 50 percent trusted Republicans, and 44 percent trusted Democrats), and other polls suggest Trump himself is not very well trusted on foreign policy…factors like the seriousness of the event, whether the country is already fatigued by war, the president’s approval rating before the event, and the level of media coverage of the event can all influence the size of the rally-around-the-flag effect, or even whether there is one at all…But if elite opinion splits along partisan lines — as it is doing so far on Iran — then so will public opinion.”

Even though Mitch McConnell is reportedly setting up highly-partisan impeachment trial rules and procedures, “There is one bright spot for Democrats: Their position is currently more popular than McConnell’s,” Amelia Thomson-Deveaux writes at FiveThirtyEight. “According to our recent poll with Ipsos, a majority of Americans think it would be better if the upcoming trial included new witnesses who could potentially shed light on Trump’s conduct, while only 39 percent said it would be better to keep the focus solely on the evidence introduced in the House hearings, without calling new witnesses…Binder said Democrats can try to force votes on whether to call witnesses as the process moves forward, too, which could keep the spotlight on the issue. But ultimately, once the articles of impeachment are transmitted to the Senate, disputes over fairness in the impeachment trial will mostly be decided by majority rule. That might not be the kind of trial most people are used to — but it’s the one the Constitution mandates. And it means even after the trial starts, the debate over how rules and witnesses will likely be far from over.”

Democratic candidates may find some useful talking points in “Trump got suckered by Iran and North Korea: He’s pushed Iran closer to going nuclear — and spurred an arms race in North Korea, Russia, and China” by disarmament expert Jeffrey Lewis at Vox. As Lewis notes, Trump’s foreign policy is “not a strategy, in the sense of a plan that matches resources to objectives, or even a philosophical outlook…It’s ultimately a pose — one that can be struck at a rally with thousands of screaming fans or posted on an Instagram account for the Department of Swagger…It is remarkable that, across the board, Trump’s strategies of pressure and bullying have resulted in no tangible agreements — no deal with Kim Jong Un, no meeting with Iran’s leaders, and no arms control deals with either the Russians or the Chinese…Trump will undoubtedly claim that all is going well — he is a master of creating a crisis and then claiming victory when he cleans up his own mess. He has already claimed to have solved the North Korean nuclear problem, and, no doubt, he will crow over the killing of Iran’s Soleimani. But each of these situations has gotten worse while he has been in office, not better. His supporters can rationalize his methods, but they can’t invent results that don’t exist.”

Thomas B. Edsall has a heads up warning for Dems in his NYT column, “Trump Wants Law and Order Front and Center: The president and his allies are trying to make Democratic plans to reform law enforcement a potent campaign issue.” As Edsall writes, “Unexpectedly, the 2020 presidential campaign is drilling down on petty crime and homelessness. Donald Trump and his Republican allies are reviving law-and-order themes similar to those used effectively by Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew in the late 1960s and early 1970s to demonize racial minorities…Turning the decarceration movement into a 2020 campaign issue fits into Trump’s go-to strategy of inflaming divisive conflicts, especially those involving disputed rights — particularly those benefiting minorities — in order to activate racial resentment, to mobilize his core voters and to goad swing voters into lining up against the Democratic Party.” However, Edsall writes, “While Trump’s strategy was successful in 2016, it is by no means clear that this strategy will work as well in 2020.”

In “Republican Edge in Electoral College Tie Endures,” Kyle Kondik writes at Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “If no candidate gets to 270 Electoral College votes, the U.S. House of Representatives would pick the next president…The House has not had to pick a president in nearly two centuries. In the event of such a tiebreaking vote, each state’s U.S. House delegation would get to cast a single vote. The eventual president would need to win a majority of the 50 state delegations…Republicans control 26 delegations and Democrats control 23, with one tie (Pennsylvania). That is a slight improvement for Democrats from this time last year, although that improvement is based on a fluke and may not endure…The GOP remains favored to control a majority of House delegations following this November’s House election.”

Majority Froward may have found the issue that can rid the U.S. Senate of Susan Collins. As Simone Pathe reports at Roll Call, “Majority Forward, the nonprofit arm of the Senate Majority PAC, which is aligned with Senate Democratic leadership, is hitting Collins over prescription drug costs with a statewide six-figure TV and digital ad campaign beginning Tuesday…While Majority Forward’s first Maine ad hit Collins for not holding town hall meetings, this one goes after her for taking $1.4 million from the drug and insurance industries, citing data from the Center for Responsive Politics…“Thousands of Mainers are forced to cut their medications in half just to get by,” the narrator says in the ad, which launches Tuesday, as viewers watch an elderly man use a knife to saw his pills in two. “But Susan Collins voted against measures that would have lowered the cost of prescription drugs…”“Collins should work for Mainers, not donors,” the ad says.”

At The Hill, Brent Budowsky shares an idea that will warm the hearts of progressives, coast to coast: “Bloomberg should give $1 billion to Democrats.” As Budowsky elaborates, “Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg should take one of the greatest pro-democracy actions in the history of democracy and donate $1 billion to register Democratic voters, protect voting rights of minorities, mobilize young people and women, support Democratic campaign committees, and back Democratic candidates for the House, Senate and critical statewide offices…Such an enormous donation would give an additional boost to candidate recruiting. With control of both houses of Congress so vital to the future of the nation, party leaders and activists should go all-out to draft candidates such as Steve Bullock in Montana and Stacey Abrams in Georgia to run in vital and winnable Senate elections…Such an enormous donation will dramatize the great urgency and high stakes of this election. It could inspire more super-wealthy Democrats such as Tom Steyer and others to make dramatic donations. It could inspire prominent leading Democrats, such as former President Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, to do dramatically more to elect Democrats than they are doing today.”


Political Strategy Notes

Some data for Dems about U.S. military spending and costs in the Middle East, as reported by Jake Thomas at The Intellectualist in November: “A new study on military spending in the post-9/11 era found that American taxpayers have shelled out $6.4 trillion on wars in the Middle East and Asia, according to CNBC…Published by the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University, the report also found “that more than 801,000 people have died as a direct result of fighting — with more than 335,000 being civilian deaths. A further “21 million people have been displaced due to violence.”…The figure cited in the report — which CNBC noted is $2 trillion more than the entirety of the federal government’s spending in 2019 — “reflects the cost across the U.S. federal government since the price of America’s wars is not borne by the Defense Department alone.”…“Even if the United States withdraws completely from the major war zones by the end of FY2020 and halts its other Global War on Terror operations, in the Philippines and Africa for example, the total budgetary burden of the post-9/11 wars will continue to rise as the U.S. pays the on-going costs of veterans’ care and for interest on borrowing to pay for the wars,” Crawford wrote.”

Democrats looking for soundbite-sized comments on Trump’s latest disaster should give Sen. Chris Murphy’s comment a read:

From “It’s not just the polls that show Biden and Sanders leading the primary” by Harry Enten at CNN Politics: “We have less than a month until the primary season, and it’s becoming more apparent that former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont are the candidates to beat. It’s not just that they are Nos. 1 and 2 in the national polling. It’s that each holds a lead on the two most important metrics beyond the polling: fundraising and endorsements…Sanders reportedly pulled in about $34.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2019, which makes for a total sum of nearly $100 million over the 2020 campaign. No one else is even close. His nearest competitor (former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg) is closer to $75 million for the year, according to self-reports…Those who lead in fundraising at this point often win. In primaries in which an incumbent is not running in the given primary, 9 of 14 leaders at this point have gone on to win the nomination. Even when a candidate is trailing in the national polls (like Sanders), the leader has won 3 out of 5 times. This includes candidates like Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992 and Republican Mitt Romney in 2012…Dating back to 1980, endorsement leaders at this point have a strong track record of winning primaries. They’ve gone on to win the nomination 10 of 14 times. When a candidate like Biden leads in the polls and endorsements, they’ve won 7 of 9 nominations…And as I have stressed over and over again, early polling actually does a fairly good job of predicting winners and losers. Biden is clearly ahead there, with Sanders a bit behind.”

“If polarization helps Trump,” E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes in his Washington Post syndicated column, “then the opposite follows for progressives. They win only with coalitions that cross the lines of race, place and faith. Democratic candidates need strong support and turnout from African Americans, Latinos and city dwellers. But they cannot prevail in swing states without help from blue-collar and non-college-educated whites…It’s thus a big mistake for progressives to think that their own form of “base politics” is sufficient, and one politician who firmly grasps this is Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). He has a lot to teach this year’s Democratic presidential candidates, and he gathered his thoughts in his delightful book, “Desk 88,” published last year.”

FiveThirtyEight has a well-deserved rep for poll analysis. Here’s their update, by Amelia Thomson-Deveaux and Laura Bronner, on the latest polling data on impeachment: “…According to our impeachment and removal polling trackers, there isn’t broad public support for that either — just 47 percent of Americans favor removing Trump…But in the latest installment of our survey with Ipsos, where we use Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel to poll the same group of respondents every two weeks, a majority (57 percent) of Americans said they think Trump committed an impeachable offense. Fifty-two percent said they think Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine or his refusal to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry constitute enough evidence to remove him from office…Consistent with previous rounds of our survey, we found that about 15 percent of Americans think that there is enough evidence to remove Trump from office on matters related to Ukraine or his attempts to stymie the impeachment inquiry, but also think his fate should be decided by voters in the 2020 election, not Congress.”

Thomson-Deveaux and Bronner add, “According to the survey, 57 percent of Americans think it would be better if the upcoming trial included new witnesses who could potentially shed light on Trump’s conduct, while 39 percent said it would be better to keep the focus solely on the evidence introduced in the House hearings and included in the articles of impeachment, without calling new witnesses. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 65 percent of Democrats support calling new witnesses in the Senate trial. But 48 percent of Republicans also support calling new witnesses — although about the same number still want the trial to proceed with only the evidence introduced in the House hearings (50 percent)…The survey also found that Americans are divided on House Democrats’ current strategy of refusing to transmit the articles of impeachment until their concerns around a fair trial have been addressed. Roughly half of Americans say the Democrats should not wait to deliver the articles of impeachment, compared with 45 percent who say they should withhold the articles”

Also at FiveThirtyEight, Geoffrey Skelley explores “What Decades Of Primary Polls Tell Us About The 2020 Democratic Presidential Race,” and concludes “But having examined all the national polls from the last six months of 2019, the bottom line is that, at this point, Biden remains the favorite to win the Democratic nomination. That said, his grasp on the lead is tenuous. For instance, when thinking about Biden’s odds, it’s important to remember that the historical data suggests that the rest of the Democratic field combined has a larger chance of winning than Biden does on his own — 44 percent for all of the other candidates still in the race compared with Biden’s 35 percent shot.2 And this uncertainty around Biden as the front-runner lines up with what else we know about the race — Biden, Buttigieg and Sanders are fighting for the lead in Iowa while Biden and Sanders are neck-and-neck in New Hampshire, and Biden raised less money than either Sanders or Buttigieg in the final quarter of 2019. So as we jump into the new year and brace ourselves for the first two nominating contests, remember that Biden has the best chance of winning his party’s nomination, but it’s also quite possible that someone else will be facing off against President Trump this November.”

At The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein writes, “”On the whole, polls suggest that the 2020 election will closely track 2016, with small changes among key groups potentially tipping the result. Democrats hope that revulsion at Trump’s behavior will help them make gains with traditionally Republican-leaning blue-collar white women and college-educated white men, and further boost their margins with college-educated white women, who have left the GOP in droves. Republicans believe that the strong economy and Trump’s swaggering style will lead them to make small gains with Hispanic and African American men, suppress any defections from the working-class white women who backed him in 2016, and prompt greater turnout among the party’s base….”Trump’s persistently low approval rating—he is the only president in the history of Gallup polling never to crack 50 percent at any point in his tenure—means he faces an uphill climb to win the popular vote. But he could still squeeze out another Electoral College victory without it. Like in 2016, the election will likely hinge on just a few states that could be decided by very small margins: Pennsylvania and Michigan, which both polls and the 2018 election results suggest lean slightly toward the Democrats; Florida and North Carolina, which lean toward Trump; and Wisconsin and Arizona, which sit precariously at the absolute tipping point between both parties…Republicans think they cansqueeze out larger margins from shrinking groups; as a long-term strategy, that’s a dicey proposition. But it could prevail in the near term, especially since both the Electoral College and the Senate benefit small states that remain mostly white and Christian.”

In his article, “Have Democrats Found Their ALEC? The party has long pined for a nationwide network for state-level legislation. One group is finally succeeding where so many others have failed” at The New Republic Alan Greenblatt reports on a pro-Democratic group that is primed to help Dems win back control of state legislatures: Former Obama staffer Nick Rathod accepted the challenge and “built SiX out of the ashes of three prior progressive groups. “There’s a reason the right has been able to define policy,” he told me. “They’ve been doing it at the state level for so long.” (Jessie Ulibarri, a former Colorado state senator, took over the reins in 2018.)…As it has grown, SiX has honed its approach by embedding much of its staff in individual states and focusing on a limited number of issue areas, such as reproductive health and voting rights. Even where progressives can’t write the laws, SiX helps them gather data in an effort to shape policies in areas that don’t always capture headlines, such as maternal mortality rates. “Its mission really did fill a void,” said Ohio state Representative Stephanie Howse. “There is no basic school in how to be a legislator, in making policies, and even how to build a network.”…SiX’s materials now go out to more than 3,000 legislators or staffers, while its own staff has grown from 10 in 2017 to 27 today. The group has a $6.5 million budget, dwarfing the size of earlier groups that have fallen by the wayside—but still short of ALEC’s $10 million in annual revenue.”…“One of my biggest fears is that if we do take the presidency, and hopefully we do, things go back to the status quo: ‘Let’s just forget about the states again,’” Rathod said. “If the left is serious about long-term power-building and having political power in the country, they better not do that.”