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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

Assessing 2020 Senate Majority Targets for Dems

Charlie Cook writes in The National Journal, via The Cook Political Report, “while the odds are better that Republicans hold onto, rather than lose, the Senate, there is at least a 30 percent chance the Senate flips.” Noting that “Democrats need a three-seat gain to win a Senate majority if a Democrat wins the White House—four seats if they don’t,” Cook explains “if Trump loses, the GOP chances of retaining control drops to just 55 or 60 percent, or maybe even less.” Further,

…In this new hyper-partisan political climate, with very little ticket-splitting taking place, more people than ever before are voting straight-line Republican or Democrat. The 2016 election was the first in American history in which every single Senate race was won by the same party as that state voted for President. In fact, 88 out of 100 Senators are now from the same party as their state’s most recent presidential victor.

However, Cook asks, “do Democrats really need only three or four seats based on the presidential outcome, or do they need to gross four or five seats in order to net three or four?” The latter scenario makes sense, because:

It’s hard to see how Democratic Sen. Doug Jones wins reelection in a presidential year with presidential-level turnout, even if Republicans nominate their worst possible candidate, former judge Roy Moore. The accusations about Moore and young women were fresh at the time of the December 2017 special election, but it’s old news now and likely to have less saliency.

If Democrats need to win at least four seats, where do they get them? Most would put GOP incumbents Martha McSally in Arizona and Cory Gardner in Colorado at the top of the Democrats’ target. My guess is that both have about a 50-50 chance, at best, particularly if a Democrat is prevailing at the top of the ticket.

My National Journal colleagues Drew Gerber and Kyle Trygstad presented their latest Hotline’s Senate Power Rankings, sequencing the top 10 seats in order of vulnerability. More or less, I agree with their rankings and analysis, but where I most disagree is Maine, where Susan Collins is seeking reelection. Drew and Kyle put Maine behind North Carolina; I would put it ahead in vulnerability.

My view is that Collins’s chances put her just barely behind McSally and Gardner. Yes, Collins was last reelected with a very impressive 67 percent of the vote, normally a sign of great strength even six years later. But, consider first that the 67 percent was in 2014, a fabulous year for Republicans up and down the ballot. Second, Collins did extremely well among groups with whom she is unlikely to do even remotely as well this time, particularly given her support of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination and vote for President Trump’s tax cuts.

The 2014 exit polls showed that Collins carried 37 percent of the vote among self-described liberals and 39 percent from Democrats. Anybody think she will remotely do that again? What about winning 69 percent of independents and 72 percent of moderates. This is not to predict that she will lose, just that this is likely to be an extremely difficult race and that it has a higher chance of going Democratic than several others.

Cook argues further,

After Arizona, Colorado, and Maine, Democrats are likely to need at least one more, and that would require a fairly substantial wave. Democrats need the suburbs to move in their direction, particularly among college-educated women, as strongly next November as last November. They need to pick up one or both of the Georgia seats—incumbent David Perdue and a seat expected to be vacated by Johnny Isakson, who is stepping down for health reasons—and/or beating Thom Tillis of North Carolina. That means suburban voters outside of Atlanta, Charlotte and the Research Triangle being as angry at Republicans as we saw in so many Southern Congressional races last year.

Or, they could pick up Iowa or an open seat in Kansas, but the latter is likely possible only if controversial former Secretary of State Kris Kobach wins the GOP nomination. Beyond that, beating John Cornyn in Texas and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky seem a bit too far for Democrats to win this time.

Here’s a 2020 Senate Race Ratings map from Sabato’s Crystal Ball, updated August 28th.


Political Strategy Notes

In his article, “Dixie Is (Still) Done: The author revisits his 2006 argument that the Democrats should forget the South—and finds that the non-Southern strategy still holds” at Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, Tom Schaller doubles down on his ‘skip the South’ strategy for Democrats. Schaller writes that “Democrats in “new South” states like Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida with liberal “ideopolises”—as John Judis and Ruy Teixeira termed them in their book, The Emerging Democratic Majority—can cobble together winning statewide coalitions comprised of black voters, the Latino community, and white liberals clustered around major cities and university towns. Sometimes that’s enough to deliver Democratic presidential electors.” Yet, Schaller notes, “Setting aside the difference between the states Obama and Clinton won, the important and oft-ignored parallel between their two winning coalitions matters more: Both won some Southern states, yet both amassed more than 270 non-Southern electors. Dixie was vital to none of their four combined victories.” Schaller also provides data on southern office holders to support his contention.

However, Schaller explains, “Virginia excepted, the South is even more Republican than when my book first published. In the past decade, an increasingly progressive Democratic Party has proven that it could win both congressional majorities and the presidency with a non-Southern strategy. Although the party has by now likely reached its electoral rock-bottom in the former Confederacy, Democratic revival in post-Donald Trump America necessarily begins outside Dixie.” Schaller concludes, “Thirteen years after publication of Whistling Past Dixie, white Southerners’ partisan reversal continues to have vast and seismic implications for both parties, and for state and national policy. Long before Donald Trump glided down that escalator in June 2015 to announce his candidacy, the South’s partisan and policy legacy was evident for all to see. In that sense, the South continues to serve as the vanguard for the preservation of white power in the United States. Whether they whistle or shout, Democrats invested in the political-electoral potency of an inclusive coalition derived from an increasingly mixed-race American populace have little reason to invest precious resources in Dixie.”

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. shares his take on the Democratic presidential  candidate debate: “After spending the first half-hour of Thursday’s debate tearing each other apart over health care — which happens to be their party’s strongest issue — the Democratic presidential candidates realized that their opponent is President Trump and acted accordingly…As a result, despite jabs and disagreements throughout a three-hour marathon, they offered a far less divisive performance than they (and an additional 10 contenders) turned in during the first two debates…And they underscored the degree to which they broadly agree on issues ranging from gun control, climate change, immigration — and even, despite their fierce disputes on Medicare-for-all, on the need to guarantee health insurance to all Americans…It was the best debate so far, partly because the ABC News moderators did not focus quite as much as earlier questioners did on inspiring conflict…”

At Vox, Dylan Scott and Tara Golshan focus on the differences between the trade policies of the Democratic presidential candidates revealed in the Houston debate: “On Thursday, the divide was roughly exemplified by Sanders targeting Biden’s record of voting for free-trade agreements over the years in the Senate. Biden, meanwhile, sought a middle ground, dismissing concerns about a trade deficit with China while trying to focus on alleged IP abuses instead. Warren largely sidestepped the Sanders-Biden fray while signaling her intention to implement a much more muscular trade agenda than the free-trade-friendly centrist consensus of the last few decades. Meanwhile, Harris, who has occupied fourth place in the polls, cautioned that she’s not some “protectionist Democrat.” “We’ve got to sell our stuff,” she said, seemingly defending Obama’s approach to free trade…In the 2020 field, Warren and Sanders make up the vocal trade skeptics. There are the trade-friendly Democrats like former Rep. Beto O’Rourke and former Vice President Joe Biden who stake out more of a Clinton/Obama-esque free-trade position. Going into Thursday night’s debate, candidates like Harris and Buttigieg were kind of stuck in between.”

A CBS News/YouGov poll conducted Sept. 6-10 finds that “Nearly 6 in 10 Americans…believe immediate action is necessary on climate change, while over two-thirds said humans are capable of taking action against it,” Zack Budryk reports at The Hill. The poll, which has a 2.2 percent margin of error, “found 56 percent of respondents in favor of immediate action, with 7 in 10 saying human activity contributes to climate change and 67 saying we can do something about it. More respondents — 48 percent — said humans can slow climate change than the 19 percent who said they can stop it entirely…Ninety-one percent of respondents acknowledged climate change is occurring. About 80 percent said they trust scientists a lot or somewhat on climate…The poll also found a partisan split on belief in the scientific consensus that climate change is caused by human activity. A majority of self-identified Democrats agreed with the scientific consensus while a majority of Republicans said they believed there is disagreement among scientists.”

“Hispanic Democrats and independents who had lost homes or home equity were less likely to vote in 2016, compared with Hispanic Democrats and independents who did not experience such losses, according to the study, “Vanishing Wealth, Vanishing Votes? Latino Homeownership and the 2016 Election in Florida.” Hispanic Republicans, on the other hand, showed up at the polls, regardless of any lost wealth…“The housing crisis made Latino Democrats and independents stay home,” explains [the study’s author, Jacob] Rugh…The share of Hispanics who voted Republican was larger in 2016 than it had been in 2012 while the share of Hispanics who voted as Democrats or independents fell — helping shift Florida from a blue state in 2012 to a red one in 2016…“Results from 2016 and 2018 strongly suggest that a more entrenched pattern of partisanship has taken hold among Florida voters, including Latinos,” Rugh writes. “In Florida, there are relatively few Mexican origin Latinos, yet a disproportionately higher share of Puerto Ricans (more Democratic yet less active), and Cubans and South Americans (more Republican and more active). This mix of Latino nationalities, partisanship, and voter activity … informs the future of elections elsewhere because the century-long wave of Mexican immigration is over and the U.S. Latino population is becoming more native born and less Mexican with each passing year.” – from “Drop in voter turnout among Hispanic Democrats linked to home foreclosures” by Denise-Marie Ordway at Journalist’s Resource.

“Regarding presidential elections, voter turnout for the U.S. population has stayed relatively stable since 1980 (with the exception of a slightly higher turnout in 1992 and a dip in 1996 and 2000),” Rashawn Ray and Mark Whitlock write at Brookings. “While whites traditionally have the highest voter turnout relative to other racial groups, Blacks have higher voter turnout than Hispanics and Asians. In fact, Black voter turnout was within 1 percentage point of whites in 2008 (65.2% compared to 66.1%) and was actually higher than whites in 2012 (66.6% compared to 64.1%). In 2016, voter turnout for Blacks dipped to 59.6%. While that number was lower than whites (65.3%), it was still higher than Asians (49.3%) and Hispanics (47.6%)…Some city and state elections further debunk the stereotype that Blacks don’t vote. Cities electing their first Black mayors, such as Little Rock’s Frank Scott and Birmingham’s Randall Woodfin, had high voter turnouts, particularly among Blacks. In fact, Brookings’s Andre Perry reported that the high turnout of Black voters, especially Black women, in Birmingham actually propelled Doug Jones to the Senate. In the governor races in Georgia and Florida, involving candidates Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum, respectively, voter turnout among Blacks was also high. Noting this in Florida is particularly relevant since an amendment restored voting rights to over 1 million state residents. Nearly one-quarter of Blacks in Florida could not vote before the November 2018 midterm elections. Research notes that incarceration for Blacks has also been used as a form of voter disenfranchisement.”

Ray and Whitlock note that “Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp put over 50,000 voter registrations on hold, 70% of which were from Black residents. (Considering that Kemp was running for governor, this seemed like a clear conflict of interest.) Regarding voter disenfranchisement, several states with large and growing Black and Hispanic populations closed polling places: Texas closed over 400 polling places, Arizona closed over 200, and the states of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina collectively have closed over 250 polling places. These closings are a direct result of the Supreme Court choosing not to hold the Voting Rights Act intact. The stripping of the Voting Rights Act has led to more discrimination regarding voter identification, poll closures, and gerrymandering at state and local levels.”

Writing at The Washington Monthly, Suzanne Gordon and Jasper Craven  explain how “The Trump Administration Is Sabotaging Veterans’ Access to Health Care,” and note: “The VA Mission Act is widely considered the most significant—and ideologically motivated—veterans’ law in a generation. Passed by a GOP-controlled Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump, it established a sweeping new private sector healthcare program, the Veterans Community Care Program (VCCP) and granted the Veterans Affairs Secretary, Robert Wilkie, with wide latitude to set eligibility criteria that determines when veterans can use private-sector care…The law garnered significant support from powerful healthcare interests, and savvy conservative veterans’ groups who have a great deal of influence in Trump’s Washington. But it was also supported by traditional veterans’ service organizations and some Democrats. This is largely because it expanded services to disabled veterans, but also because the final text contained stringent requirements that veterans could only be moved into private facilities for legitimate clinical needs, or if they faced burdensome wait or drive times at their nearest VHA clinic, assuaging the concerns about VA privatization. (Care inside the VHA, while often maligned in the media, is generally cheaper and better, with shorter wait times than what’s offered in the private sector.)”

Rambling Thoughts on the Houston Debate

Most of the rave reviews of candidates in last night’s debate in Houston I’ve seen point towards Beto O’Rourke, for his impassioned advocacy of reforms to check gun violence. O’Rourke also got some welcome praise  from his fellow Democratic presidential candidates, and he came off as sincere and authentic. He may get a modest bump in the polls.

O’Rourke’s comment, “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47” got a huge applause, but it will be distorted by the NRA/GOP into “see, the Democrats really are going to confiscate your guns.” It also sets up a “weathervane” ad against him if he advances, contrasting his comment with his previous assurances to the contrary. That blunder notwithstanding, all in all, a good night for O’Rourke.

As a presidential candidate, however, I think O’Rourke could use some ‘seasoning.’ I would rather see him run for senate at this point. Dems need the pick-up, and a Senate term could add some cred to a future White House run.

Warren and Sanders also provided solid presentations and fielded probing questions and comments about their embrace of ‘Medicare for All’ with impressive reponses. Unfortunately, however, their Democratic opponents also make a strong argument that the public option is what most Americans want. Even though the other candidates are grossly exaggerating the real costs of Medicare for All, while neglecting the offsetting out-of-pocket savings to consumers, Sanders and Warren have a very tough sell in arguing against giving health consumers a choice. There may not be adequate time for them to educate enough voters and make the ‘sale.’

I thought Biden did well enough to remain a front-runner, though he bristled at some of the criticism directed his way, including Castro’s shots about his memory, which is understandable. My hunch is that Castro’s attack against the former Vice President won’t hurt Biden’s chances much, and might even gain him some sympathy. Biden also did very well in the foreign and trade policy part of the debate.

Castro may indeed have damaged his candidacy with his sharp-edged criticism of Biden. I do wonder how high-turnout senior voters, in particular, will react. On the other hand, Castro showed that he can bring the fight and he could no doubt give Trump a proper blistering.

Sen. Cory Booker was impressive. He seems to be gaining confidence and eloquence with each debate. If he doesn’t win the nomination, he will certainly be on the veep short list. In post-debate comments, Booker defended Julian Castro’s much-criticized attack against Biden, calling Castro’s questioning Biden’s memory a ‘legitimate concern.’ But more instrucrive was Booker’s comment that “I do think that tone and tenor is really important. We can respect [Vice] President Biden and disagree with him.… We shouldn’t do things that at the end of this, when you demonize somebody and create bad blood, it’s hard to unify afterwards.”

Sen. Klobuchar provided a reassuring voice in behalf of Democratic moderates. More than any of the other candidates, she has staked out the political center of the Democratic spectrum. Like Harris, she has a gift for zingers, but bringing a little more vision might serve her well. Even if she doesn’t win, I could see her as a bad-ass Attorney-general.

I thought Sen. Harris made a good comeback in Houston. She may be the most agile debater of the candidates and she has a nimble wit that comes in handy in heated exchanges. She finessed the transition from Medicare for All supporter to public option advocate effectively. Like Warren, she has a talent for distilling the crux of an issue. She is also pretty good at the ‘vision thing.’ I hope she stays in the mix.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg also earned a repeat performance in my view. It wasn’t his best debate, but he continues to bring perceptive observations, including his criticisms of the Democratic debate process, as well as attacks against Trump and the GOP. All Democratic candidates could learn something about how to tell their personal stories from Buttigieg’s remarks in Houston.

If I could cut one candidate from the next presidential debate, it would have to be Andrew Yang, who reportedly supports keeping the Electoral College and has expressed doubts about a federal minimum wage hike. I didn’t much care for his gimmicky and possibly illegal offer: “My campaign will now give a freedom dividend of $1,000 a month for an entire year to 10 American families.” Gross.

Political Strategy Notes

Matthew Yglesias brings the a central argument about Democratic strategy up to date in his post, “The debate over swing voters versus mobilizing the base, explained” at Vox. Yglesias writes, “Tory Gavito and Sean McElwee warned in a spring GQ article that “in chasing a narrow swath of white swing voters, [Democratic Party] leadership has ignored a broader coalition of voters who have delivered blue victories time and time again.”…John Long in the New Republic, similarly, describes swing voters as “a persona from a political landscape that simply no longer exists.” Instead of chasing these mythical beasts, he says, Democrats should see that “mobilizing more Democratic voters is the key to the 2020 election.”…Absolutely nothing about this argument is new…The truth, however, is while mobilization is unquestionably important to winning elections, so is flipping swing voters. Activists who want to push Democrats to the left while still winning can do so by identifying popular progressive ideas to run on. But the notion that there’s some mobilization strategy that will eliminate the need to cater to the median voter is a fantasy.”

Yglesias continues, noting that “Harry Enten writes for FiveThirtyEightthat “Trump probably would have lost to Hillary Clinton had Republican- and Democratic-leaning registered voters cast ballots at equal rates.”…Nate Cohn at the New York Times offered the superficially opposite thesis that “turnout wasn’t the driver of Clinton’s defeat.” He points, instead, to white voters who went for Trump after having voted for Barack Obama four years earlier…Enten and Cohn are working with the same numbers. The real debate is what the implications are for 2020…The notion that swing voters — voters who back one part in some elections and the other party in others — are mythical is itself a myth…Yair Ghitza of the Democratic data firm Catalist estimates that while Democrats did make significant turnout-related gains in 2018, about 89 percent of their improvement vote margin is attributable to swing voting.”

“Of course, Yglesias adds, “when it comes to certain kinds of resource allocation questions — where do you run ads, whose doors do you knock on, whose social media feeds do you target — there is a zero-sum tradeoff between trying to mobilize non-voters and trying to persuade swing voters. Any prudent campaign would want to do some of both, but decisions need to be made at the margin about where to spend money…One reason that taking popular positions is smart politics is that it works as a mobilization strategy as well as a persuasion one…Politics matters because policy matters, and a political party that never takes a righteous stand on anything is worth very much. But while centrist types can be wrong about which kinds of policy stances will be popular, there’s fairly overwhelming evidence that popular stands are better than unpopular ones — both because swing voters matter but also because taking popular positions is better from a strict mobilization standpoint.”

David Wasserman shares “Five Takeaways from Republicans’ Narrow NC-09 Escape” at The Cook Political Report, including this one, which shows how a “wild card” factor can make a defference in a  congressional race: “4. The key to Bishop’s victory may have been a local Native American tribe. One of the most economically distressed places in North Carolina is Robeson County, home to the Lumbee Tribe and a sixth of NC-09’s population. By party registration, Democrats outnumber Republicans by a massive 60 percent to 13 percent. But in 2016, Trump’s appeal to “forgotten” America helped him carry the county by four points…In 2018, Robeson County reverted to form, voting for McCready by a healthy 15 points. According to one local source, McCready benefited from a Lumbee Democrat running for state House on the same ballot last fall. But on Tuesday, McCready won Robeson County by just one point, potentially costing him victory. An analysis by J. Miles Coleman showed the biggest swing occurred in heavily Lumbee precincts…So how did Bishop, whose state Charlotte area senate district is nowhere near Robeson County, do so well there? It turns out that in March, when Bishop was just launching his bid for the do-over congressional election, he sponsored a bill to open more grant opportunities for the Lumbees by clarifying state recognition of the tribe. Bishop’s picture appeared in the Robesonian, and it likely paid off on Tuesday.”

One final point about the NC-9 congressional seat from this reminder by John Nichols in his article, “We Can Have Free, Fair, and Secure Elections—if We Demand Them” at The Nation: “If Republican operatives had not cheated last year, it’s likely that Don McCready would be sitting in the US House today as the Democratic representative from North Carolina’s 9th congressional district. Their cheating was exposed and it forced a new election, which was good. But that new election, which was held yesterday, in the gerrymandered district saw massive spending by Republican-aligned groups, a presidential visit on the eve of the vote, and, ultimately, a narrow defeat for McCready in the last contest of the 2018 election cycle.” Nichols goes on to argue for electoral reforms being advocated by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and writes, “after the mangled mess we’ve seen play out in North Carolina…It is time to make high-quality voting in the greatest democracy in the world easy, convenient, and professional. It’s time to secure our elections from all threats, foreign and domestic. It’s time to address election security, administration problems, and voter suppression.”

Charlie Cook offers some answers to the question, “Just Who Are These Undecided Voters, Anyway?,” also at The Cook Political Report: Commenting on Kaiser Family Foundation May 30-June 4 and July 18-23 national health tracking polls, Cook writes, “Swing voters tend to be younger, more moderate, and less engaged in politics compared to those who have decided and to the overall electorate. While 72 percent of voters who are 65 years of age or older have decided for sure, just 47 percent of 18-29-year-olds have decided…Ideologically speaking, 56 percent of all swing voters identify themselves as moderates, compared to 38 percent of all voters. Just 16 percent of swing voters called themselves liberal, while 26 percent self-identified as conservative. Eleven percent of all voters are “pure independents”—that is, they don’t identify with or even lean toward either major party—but 18 percent of swing voters are pure independents…When asked, “How much attention do you normally pay to what is going on in national government and politics?” 57 percent of voters and 68 percent of decided voters said they pay a lot of attention, but only 39 percent of swing voters said so. Twice as many swing voters said they pay only a little attention or none at all—17 percent, compared with just 8 percent of those who are decided.”

Could targeted digital Content Persuade Trump Voters to Jump Ship?,” asks Colin Delaney at Campaigns & Elections. Delaney’s responds, “Trump’s team mastered the art of social-media ad outreach on a vast scale in 2016, often reaching small segments of the electorate with messages designed to appeal just to them…This time around, Trump’s reelection campaign has spent at least $5 million on Facebook just since the beginning of June, buying ads designed to rile up his base and build his grassroots donor list…The thought that Trump’s paid messaging might go unanswered for an entire year has driven Democratic organizations including Priorities USA and American Bridge to launch the kind of large-scale, multi-state digital advertising campaigns we usually expect from political parties and presidential campaigns. Priorities plans to spend $100 million between now and next summer, with American Bridge chipping in another $50 million…if an Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden locks it all up early, the campaign will have the time to indulge in persuasion ads designed to dampen Trump’s support on his own ground…If Democrats really want to make serious inroads in Trump country, though, they’re looking at a battle that would last for years, not just a few months before an election. Whether the party or any PAC  could take on a task of that magnitude is an open question, but it’s one that Democratic activists should be asking.”

In his NYT column, “No One Should Take Black Voters for Granted,” Thomas B. Edsall notes that “The African-American electorate has been undergoing a quiet, long-term transformation, moving from the left toward the center on several social and cultural issues, while remaining decisively liberal, even radical, on economic issues, according to a series of studies by prominent African-American scholars…“There has been a shift in the attitudes of black masses about the extent to which systematic discrimination and prejudice are the primary reasons blacks continue to lag behind whites,” Candis Watts Smith, a political scientist at Penn State, wrote in a paper published in the Journal of Black Studies in 2014, “Shifting From Structural to Individual Attributions of Black Disadvantage: Age, Period and Cohort Effects on Black Explanations of Racial Disparities.”…Now, on some of the most controversial issues currently under debate, African-Americans — who make up an estimated 25 percent of Democratic primary voters — have emerged as a force for more moderate stands as white Democrats have moved sharply left.”…While less committed to many of the broad social and cultural issues important to white liberals, black Democrats remain more committed than their white counterparts to progressive stands on economic issues of the type that characterized the New Deal coalition of the last century that also established the Great Society programs of the 1960s like Medicare and Medicaid.”

Edsall concludes, “At the same time, the contemporary multiracial, multiethnic Democratic Party needs more than vigorous black mobilization; it also needs high turnout from constituencies with conflicting agendas — radical and progressive millennials, the “creative class,” suburban women, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Muslims and those working and middle class whites who still count themselves Democrats…To deal with all this, Democrats will need an overarching message broad enough to bring together its entire coalition in a political uprising against Trump’s presidency at the same time that it will need to rely on the tools of narrowcasting: hyperpersonalization of campaign messages, segmented appeals to dedicated niches, slipping voters into discrete “bubbles.” They will need a firm grasp of America’s disparate, conflicted and warring center-left alliance. Without an ingenious campaign, even widespread hatred of Trump will not be sufficient to dislodge him from the White House.”

Political Strategy Notes

At The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein writes about the rumblings of what may be a political earthquake in Texas: “Regardless of whether the Democratic nominee invests in Texas, the party is mobilizing a serious effort to win back the state House of Representatives, where Republicans now hold a nine-seat advantage; contest five or more Republican-held seats in the U.S. House; and challenge Republican Senator John Cornyn more formidably than it did in 2014. The continuing wave of congressional retirements among Texas Republicans—a “Texodus” that reached five in number on Wednesday with the announcement from Representative Bill Flores of Waco—has added to the sense that the state is becoming competitive once again after an extraordinary two decades of complete Republican control…The fundamental force that has shaken the GOP’s hold on Texas is that for the first time in decades, voters there are behaving in patterns familiar from other states. Democrats are showing gains in the state’s diverse, well-educated metropolitan areas, even as Republicans retain a crushing lead in small-town, exurban, and rural areas, as well as some suburbs…while the state overall still clearly tilts toward the GOP, the places driving its population growth are those where Democrats are gaining,according to state demographers.”

“Democrats’ gains in metro Texas have been helped by two currents,” Brownstein continues. “The first is growing diversity. Since 2010, census figures show, the state has added 1.9 million new Latino residents, 541,000 African Americans, and 473,000 Asians, along with just 484,000 whites. That translates to nonwhites accounting for six of every seven residents the state has added over nearly the past decade. The demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution shared figures with me that show whites accounting for only about one-third of the state population younger than 30. Many of the suburban counties that once delivered reliable Republican majorities have changed substantially. “These are not the suburbs of the 1960s and 1970s,” Blank says. “These suburbs are significantly more diverse; they are significantly younger.” Since 2010, the number of eligible Latino voters has increased by at least 10 percent in five of the six suburban U.S. House districts Democrats are targeting next year, while the African and Asian American populations have grown even faster in most of them.”

However, Brownstein adds, “Both in 2016 and 2018, exit polls show that nonwhites cast 43 percent of the statewide vote. But the march toward a majority nonwhite electorate has been significantly slowed by lackluster turnout, particularly among Latinos. The Democratic firm Latino Decisions recently reported that while turnout from eligible Latinos in Texas soared from 1.1 million in 2014 to 1.9 million in 2018, the number of nonvoters dwarfed those who participated: 1.7 million Latinos who were registered to vote did not turn out, and 2 million more who are eligible have not yet registered. That huge gap threatens to again dilute the community’s impact in 2020, and despite all of Trump’s provocations, many Democrats are skeptical that the party knows how to significantly increase Latino engagement in Texas—a state with few unions that can organize these voters (as they do in Nevada) and with restrictive laws that hobble voter-registration drives.” Yet, “If there’s stronger turnout in 2020 among Latinos, Asians, and African Americans, even something close to a split among college-educated whites might be enough to allow a Democratic presidential candidate to withstand a towering Trump margin among nonurban, evangelical, and blue-collar white Texans.”

Nathaniel Rakich explains why “Americans’ Views Of The Economy Are Partisan, But They’re Not Immune To Bad News” at FiveThirtyEight: “So what’s perhaps more troubling for Trump is that independents’ opinions on the economy look a lot like Democrats’ — they often react to current events in a similar way, though their recent baseline is about 20 points higher. While it’s plausible that partisan polarization is so strong these days that even a recession would not change many voters’ minds about Trump, the fact that independents appear persuadable on the economy is a point in favor of the theory that a recession would indeed damage his reelection chances…Indeed, it might be a coincidence that Trump’s overall approval rating has ticked down in recent weeks amid speculation about a looming recession, but it also comes at a time when only 57 percent of independents have kind things to say about the state of the economy — the lowest number Quinnipiac has found since the summer of 2017.”

Anita Kumar’s Politico report on the Trump campaign’s new app to “keep supporters donating, volunteering and recruiting” includes some cogent observations about the value of apps in general as a campaign tool, including this one: “Betsy Hoover, who was online organizing director for Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign and later co-founded Higher Ground Labs, which invests in technology tools for Democrats, said candidates generally can’t rely on an app alone — even though it may be easier to have everything in one place — in part because of the arduous task of persuading someone to download it…“An app itself is not the answer,” she said. “You need a program and a strategy that engages supporters and builds community around your campaign. An app can help you achieve that strategy — but the strategy must be the primary focus and drive the usage of the app. If your goal is to recruit and train new people, an app is probably not your tool. If your goal is to increase the action your best supporters are taking, an app might be a great tool for management.”

Max Sawicky’s article, “The Wrong Way to Contrast With Trump on Trade” at The American Prospect” reviews Kimberly Clausing’s book, “Open: The Progressive Case for Free Trade, Immigration, and Global Capital,” but argues for a different policy direction for Democrats: “Corporatist trade deals have assumed a very different form, giving scant attention to social concerns and maximum emphasis to freedom of movement for capital (open borders!) and protection of intellectual property rights. This, above all, must be the target for Democratic attacks on the free-trade agenda…To compete with Trump on trade, Democrats need to stand for a trade regime that does not disadvantage U.S. workers by indulging inordinately low wages and lax environmental regulations among trade partners. Tariffs are a tactical weapon, purely a negotiating tool or a response to some kind of unfair trade, such as foreign firms dumping products below their own cost of production to eliminate competition. The overall objective should be more trade, not less, but where goods and the jobs that produce them flow in both directions in a more balanced fashion.”

In his New York Times column, “The Trump Voters Whose ‘Need for Chaos’ Obliterates Everything Else: Political nihilism is one of the president’s strongest weapons,” Thomas B. Edsall asks “How worried should we be about a fundamental threat to democracy from the apparently large numbers of Americans who embrace chaos as a way of expressing their discontent? Might Trump and his loyal supporters seek to bring down the system if he is defeated in 2020?…What about later, if the damage he has inflicted on our customs and norms festers, eroding the invisible structures that underpin everything that actually makes America great?…A political leader who thrives on chaos, relishes disorder and governs on the principle of narcissistic self-interest is virtually certain to find defeat intolerable. If voters deny Trump a second term, how many of his most ardent supporters, especially those with a “need for chaos,” will find defeat unbearable?” If Trump refuses to concede, it could get ugly for a short while. But my guess is most of the resistance would fade away after election results have been certified.

WaPo columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes that “like it or not, the most important watchers of the Democratic debate on Thursday will be electability voters, who happen to constitute a majority of the party. And they are right to believe that the priority in 2020 is defeating President Trump. A man who invents the trajectory of a hurricane is not exactly someone whom we should entrust with four more years of power…Still, if the question of who can win is a constant, the dynamic going into this encounter is very different from that of July’s face-offs — and not just because 10 candidates who were there before will be missing. Rather quickly, the Democratic presidential race has come down to three candidates, and then everyone else…The battle for supremacy is between former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), with Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) holding on to his loyalists but having trouble reaching beyond them…For now, nearly two-thirds of Democrats support one of the three leaders.”

Political Strategy Notes

In his L.A. Times column, “Medical bankruptcy is an American scandal — and that’s not debatable,” Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Hiltzik” probes the data on medical bankruptsies and shares his observations, including, “In a civilized country, public appeals for help with medical bills shouldn’t exist. Yet GoFundMe reports that it hosts more than 250,000 medical campaigns per year, raising more than $650 million a year…Even households seemingly well-covered by employer health plans can face financial trouble. A survey conducted jointly by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Los Angeles Times found this year that among those consumers, “four in 10 report that their family has had either problems paying medical bills or difficulty affording premiums or out-of-pocket medical costs, and about half say someone in their household skipped or postponed some type of medical care or prescription drugs in the past year because of the cost. Seventeen percent say they’ve had to make what they feel are difficult sacrifices in order to pay health care or insurance costs; for some, the sacrifices they report making are extreme…Unquestionably, the individual burden of medical costs in the U.S. can be unsupportable and, in the richest country in the world, should be unnecessary. Sanders and Warren are right to point the finger at a dysfunctional healthcare financing system. Those who say things aren’t that bad are wrong; it’s worse. Debating whether the number of Americans forced into bankruptcy by medical debt is 500,000 or some other figure is nitpicking, and woefully beside the point. What everyone knows is that the threat is bad enough, and it can strike at anyone.”

At The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein explains why “L.A.’s Health-Care Reform Is a Lesson for Democrats,” and notes one of the most difficult challenges in the implementation of the public option feature of the plan: “The experience of L.A. Care shows the possibility of the public option to leverage change, but also the tough choices that loom in implementing the idea. The plan has created a sturdy competitor to private insurers, but it hasn’t had a transformative effect on cost. L.A. Care “ended up being a good and lower-cost option, but it’s not the revolution,” Anthony Wright, the executive director of Health Access California, a consumer-advocacy organization, told me. “It shows both the potential and the limits of a public option.”…L.A. Care can hold down costs because it doesn’t have to turn a profit and it has been innovative in trying to restrain expenses. But its ability to squeeze costs is limited by the fact that it is negotiating reimbursement rates with the same medical providers the private plans are using…That dynamic points to what could be the most contentious issues for Democrats in any future attempt to create a nationwide public option. Many health reformers want a public option to reimburse doctors and hospitals at the rates paid by Medicare, which are much lower than what private insurers pay. Lucia told me that doing so would offer the best chance of significantly reducing national health-care costs…L.A. Care’s growing web of services for the families most in need may look like modest change compared with the calls from Sanders and others for a “revolution” in health care. But the steady gains evident in Lynwood may offer a more revealing preview of what the next Democratic president and Congress could likely achieve.”

Writing at vox.com, Alexia Fernandez Campbell provides a detailed analysis of every frontrunning Democratic presidential candidate’s policy proposals for for labor reform, and she observes, “Reading the labor platforms for each of the 10 candidates who qualified for the third Democratic primary debate next week, two groups emerged: the labor reformers and the labor supporters. Most of the frontrunners fall into the first category — Beto O’Rourke, Buttigieg, and Sanders have all put out astonishingly detailed proposals that would shift the balance of power from businesses to workers. Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, and Andrew Yang are in the second group. They seem to see themselves more as allies to workers and labor unions than true change-makers.” Campbell notes that nearly all of the candidates support: The Protecting the Right to Organize Act; The Schedules That Work Act; The Paycheck Fairness Act; The Family Act, which guarantees up to 12 weeks of paid family leave to workers; The Healthy Families Act; The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act; and The Raise the Wage Act. “Without a doubt,” Campbell asserts, “Democrats would need to control both chambers of Congress to make most of these promises a reality.”

CNN Politics writer Maeve Reston shares some revealing data regarding climate crisis views of voters: “The growing alarm is most pronounced among younger voters. John Della Volpe, who directs the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics poll, noted that climate change “is now viewed as a top area of concern within both a domestic and foreign policy framework” for those within the 18-29 year-old age group, though it generally still ranks behind health care, the economy and immigration…In the Institute’s spring poll, protecting the environment ranked third (33%) among foreign policy priorities, behind protecting human rights and preventing the rise of terrorist groups…Jon Krosnick, a political science and communications professor at Stanford University who directs the Political Psychology Research Group, notes that while no single issue dominates the psyche of American voters, his research shows that climate change is becoming a bigger motivator for a larger group of people…The growing alarm about climate change has showed up in poll after poll.

Reston adds, “A Quinnipiac University poll in late August found that 56% of registered voters nationwide believe climate change is an emergency, and those numbers were much higher among Democrats (84%) and independents (63%). By contrast, 81% of Republicans said they did not believe climate change is an emergency…In a new high since Quinnipiac began asking the question in 2015, 67% of voters said the US is not doing enough to address climate change…The alarm among younger voters is particularly pronounced: 79% of adults 18 to 34 said they worry a great deal or a fair amount about global warming, compared with 62% of those 55 and older…There is still a strong partisan divide on the issue, which has lined up with Trump’s continual tweeting about the issue and his assertion that the press is dramatizing the issue. Gallup found that 12% of Republicans said they were “a great deal” concerned about global warming, compared with more than two-thirds of Democrats (69%)…There are also regional differences in attitudes toward climate change. Gallup found that 67% of people in both the Northeast and the West, for example, believe that global warming has already begun, compared to 60% in the Midwest and 53% in the South.”

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2019’s Rucho v. Common Cause was a painful setback for voting rights advocates,” Mark Joseph Stern writes in his article, “Elena Kagan’s Blueprint to End Partisan Gerrymandering: North Carolina paid attention” at slate.com. “By a 5–4 vote, SCOTUS slammed the federal courthouse door on partisan gerrymandering claims, ruling that they cannot be brought under the U.S. Constitution. But Rucho had a silver lining in Justice Elena Kagan’s powerful dissent, which showed statejudges how to kill off the practice under their own constitutions. Her dissent served as a blueprint for the North Carolina court that invalidated the state’s legislative gerrymander on Tuesday. That decision charts a path forward for opponents of political redistricting. Every state constitution protects the right to vote or participate equally in elections, and state courts can take up Kagan’s call to arms to enforce those protections under state law…In his Rucho opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts insisted that federal courts were unable to determine when a partisan gerrymander goes “too far.” Kagan pointed out that, in fact, plenty of lower courts have already done exactly that. These courts deployed a three-part test. First, they ask whether mapmakers intended to entrench their party’s power by diluting votes for their opponents. Second, they ask whether the scheme succeeded. Third, they ask if mapmakers have any legitimate, nonpartisan explanation for their machinations. If they do not, the gerrymander must be tossed out…“If you are a lawyer,” Kagan wrote, “you know that this test looks utterly ordinary. It is the sort of thing courts work with every day.” In practice, the most important part of the test—its evaluation of a gerrymander’s severity—often boils down to a cold, hard look at the data. Take, for instance, North Carolina’s congressional map, which contained 10 Republican seats and 3 Democratic ones. Experts ran 24,518 simulations of the map that used traditional, nonpartisan redistricting criteria. More than 99 percent of them produced at least one more Democratic seat. The exercise verified that North Carolina’s map isn’t just an outlier but “an out-out-out-outlier.”

“Explicit protections against partisan gerrymandering,” Stern continues, “are extremely common in state constitutions. Thirteen state constitutions, including Pennsylvania’s, require elections to be “free and equal,” while an additional 13 demand that elections be “free and open.” Moreover, 49 state constitutions expressly safeguard the right to vote, which can be interpreted as the right to cast an equal vote undiluted by gerrymandering. Finally, most state constitutions guarantee freedom of speech and equal protection in some capacity. As Kagan noted, any basic conception of free expression and equality should limit politicians’ ability to punish voters on the basis of their political association. And none of these courts is bound by SCOTUS’ cramped view of constitutional liberties; they are free to interpret their state constitutions much more broadly…Not every state judiciary is as progressive as Pennsylvania’s or North Carolina’s. (Republicans declined to appeal Tuesday’s decision, probably because the North Carolina Supreme Court has a 6–1 Democratic majority.) Other states with terrible gerrymanders—like Alabama, Arkansas, Ohio, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin—have much more conservative judiciaries. But in each of those states, supreme court justices are either chosen by the governor or elected by the people. In other words, they are selected through a process that cannot be gerrymandered…Voting rights advocates are already focused on state supreme courts as the next battleground in the war on gerrymandering, and rightly so. Rucho was a brutal blow, no doubt, but Kagan’s dissent gave state courts a step-by-step guide for tackling the problem of political redistricting. Mapmakers cannot prevent citizens in many gerrymandered states from flipping their supreme courts. As the Wake County Superior Court just proved, state judges are perfectly capable of grabbing the baton from Kagan and running with it.”

The Atlantic’s Uri Friedman has a warning for Democrats: “Three and a half years have passed since John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, fell for a phishing email—granting Russian hackers, and thereby the world, access to his Gmail account and coming to embody the devastating ways foreign governments can meddle in democratic politics. In light of that trauma, the current crop of presidential campaigns has made progress in fortifying their digital operations. But according to those who have worked with the campaigns on these efforts, they nevertheless remain vulnerable to attack and lack cybersecurity best practices…“The risk is more than reasonable that another Podesta-like attack could take place,” Armen Najarian, Agari’s chief marketing officer, told me…Christopher Krebs, the director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which has consulted with every 2020 presidential campaign, has described the hack and leak of Democratic Party documents in 2016 as “the most impactful” element of the Kremlin’s interference in that race. “Shame on us if we’re not ready this time around,” he has said. With just over a year until the election, it’s far from clear that the candidates are.”

The moral myopia of Mitch McConnell and his equally-spineless GOP minions has never been so shameless and disgusting as their current dithering over what to do in response to the latest wave of mass shootings. At ThinkProgress, Josh Israel reports on McConnell’s clueless ruminations following the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas; Dayton, Ohio; and Gilroy, California: “In the wake of another series of mass shootings, President Donald Trump has repeatedly waffled and wavered on whether to take any action to stop the epidemic of gun violence in America. NRA-backed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who has long opposed any such progress, said Tuesday he will wait and see if Trump actually means any of the things he said in public before scheduling any Senate votes.” Israel quotes McConnell: “I said several weeks ago that if the president took a position on the bill so that we knew we would actually be making a law and not just having serial votes, I’d be happy to put it on the floor…” McConnell and his fellow Republicans apparently believe that voters are passive enough to gloss over the fact it took three mass murders in a month to get them to the point where they could even begin considering modest gun safety reforms supported by 90+ percent of the electorate. Has the Republican Party ever before been so utterly devoid of basic human decency?

Political Strategy Notes – 2019 Labor Day Edition

Does American labor have an image problem? Dylan Scott writes at Vox: “A new Gallup poll finds support for unions is about as high as it’s been in 50 years, but while that is surely welcome news for labor leaders, that favorable opinion hasn’t necessarily translated into any expansion in their ranks…It can be remarkably difficult to form a labor union in the United States, particularly in places like the Republican-led states that have sought to restrict collective bargaining rights with “right to work” laws in recent years; corporations are also inherently hostile toward them…Still, politically, labor has clout and goodwill in an era defined by income inequality. The leading Democratic presidential candidates — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and former Vice President Joe Biden — foreground the value of work and workers in their messages…In doing so, they are picking up on something real: The public’s approval of labor unions had fallen below 50 percent in 2009, but Gallup has found it now sits at a healthy 64 percent following the worst crisis of confidence for the labor movement in a generation.”

At The Monitor, Mark Trumbull writes, “In the coming presidential election organized labor looks set to wield influence in a way that never really happened in 2016…Despite setbacks in court and federal policy, unions have scored some wins in grassroots organizing and in state and local policies. And unlike in 2016, they are pushing for more than just lip service from any candidate that hopes to win their endorsement – prompting a flurry of pro-labor proposals from Democratic candidates…“Kitchen-table economics are first and foremost” in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said Thursday, at a Monitor Breakfast with reporters in Washington. Americans “want somebody who’s going to change the rules of the economy to make the country work for workers.”

Trumbull continues, “At least one change is that candidates on the left have begun rolling out more detailed plans than in the past, focused on worker empowerment…Mr. O’Rourke, for example, has come out with a set of proposals designed to bolster unions…Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has an “accountable capitalism” agenda that would make workers a significant force on corporate boards, among other things. ..Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont recently laid out proposals that include radically changing the playing field, so that worker empowerment doesn’t hinge on gaining representation one employer at a time. His idea is to “establish a sectoral collective-bargaining system that will work to set wages, benefits and hours across entire industries, not just employer-by-employer…Similarly, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., has embraced “multi-employer” bargaining, and stood alongside Uber drivers in California this month, arguing for union representation in so-called gig jobs where workers are often classified by companies as contractors rather than employees.”

Steven Greenhouse’s “The Worker’s Friend? Here’s How Trump Has Waged His War on Workers” at The American Prospect provides some useful insights for Democrats seeking to win working class support. Greenhouse, author of “Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor,” writes. “Yes, it is perplexing to many of us that so many workers are still wowed by President Trump even when his administration has rolled back overtime protections for millions of workers and made it easier for Wall Street firms to rip off workers’ 401(k)s (to cite just two of many such actions)…A labor leader recently explained to me, with considerable dismay, how Trump performs his magic on workers. Day after day, Trump pounds and pummels China over trade, and his macho trade war often dominates the headlines. That, this labor leader said, convinces many workers that Trump is their guy: While previous presidents refused to stand up to China, he alone has bravely launched this trade war to make sure that China stops cheating America—and American workers. The media trains its spotlight on this trade war day after day, while paying scant attention to the continuous stream of anti-worker and anti-union actions that Trump and his administration have taken. Not surprisingly, millions of Americans have little knowledge of Trump’s flood of actions undermining workers.”

Forbes Magazine is not the place where you would expect to find a tribute to labor unions. But there you can read Patricia Corrigan’s “On Labor Day, Workers Celebrate The Benefits Of Union Membership,” in which she writes, “In my family, we were thankful for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. My dad’s wages allowed him to buy our three-bedroom house, splurge on a 1966 Candy Apple Red Mustang and pay to send me to college. He was a longtime union shop steward, and I remember reading his copy of the Teamsters’ contract, which he kept on our kitchen table. As a journalist, I am a proud member of the United Media Guild Local 36047, part of the Communications Workers of America…Even the 170-plus cable car conductors carrying tourists up and down steep hills in San Francisco, where I live, are union members. Roger Marenco, president of the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A in San Francisco, reminds all of us today: “If you like having weekends off, thank the unions for that. If you like working eight hours a day as opposed to 12, 14 or 16, thank the unions for the 40-hour work week. And if you like being paid overtime, unions got you that, too.”..In 2018, the union membership rate among wage and salary workers was 10.5% ( some 14.7 million individuals), about half the rate reported in 1983, the first year comparable data was available. That said, The Conversation, an international journalism site, reported last year that interest in joining a union is at a four-decade high.”

In “The dark side of progress: We’re ignoring the most potent threat to working-class Americans” at The Hill, Glenn C. Altschuler writes: “Americans, it seems clear, want politicians to do something about automation. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2017 found that, although respondents were divided on whether government should take responsibility for assisting workers displaced by automation, 85 percent of Democrats and 86 percent of Republicans (including 7 in 10 with a high school diploma or less) indicated that automation should be limited to dangerous or unhealthy tasks, even if machines were less expensive and more efficient….one can only hope a substantive public debate about automation will now take place — and that politicians will present proposals to mitigate the threat to the lives and livelihoods of working-class and middle-class Americans, including, for example, a substantial expansion of wage insurance (which is now available under the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act to workers over 50, earning less than $50,000 a year, and negatively affected by imports) paid for by corporations; tax credits for displaced workers; vouchers to be used for re-training; lower barriers to switching jobs; relocation allowances; and increased investments in kindergarten thru college education.”

Nick Lehr interviews Jennifer Silva, author of “We’re Still Here: Pain and Politics in the Heart of America.” Among her observations: “One of the things that was very striking to me was how much distrust there was. Among everyone I interviewed – white, Latino, and black – there was a fierce distrust and hatred of politicians, a suspicion that politicians and big business were basically working together to take away the American Dream. Everyone was very critical of inequality.” Asked why some of her interview sublects voted for Trump, Silva responds, “The general take on Trump was, “We like Trump’s personality, we like his aggressiveness, we like how he doesn’t care about the rules.” Asked, “what’s the biggest obstacle that’s preventing working class voters from organizing en masse?,” she replied, “I think that it’s the absence of what you could call “mediating institutions.” The people in my book have a lot of critical and smart ideas. But they don’t have a lot of ways to actually connect their individual voices. So they don’t have a church group or a club that they would join that would then give them political tools or a louder voice.”

From “How Writing Off the Working Class Has Hurt the Mainstream Media” at Nieman Reports (excerpted from Christopher R. Martin’s 2019 book, “No Longer Newsworthy: How the Mainstream Media Abandoned the Working Class: “Today there are just six full-time labor reporters in the top 25 newspapers across the U.S., none in network or cable news, none at NPR or PBS, and just a few at digital news organizations and magazines on the left. What happened?…By the late 1960s and early 1970s, newspaper companies, then becoming publicly-traded, bigger chains, moved to a new business trajectory that changed the target news audience from mass to upscale, and altered the actual news narratives about the working class in US journalism. Today, the upscale news audience is the normal objective of news organizations’ marketing efforts. Nearly every mainstream news organization’s media kit claims they have an above-average audience of high-income, highly-educated consumers and influencers…As the labor beat was left to wither, newspapers pursued more upscale readers with workplace “lifestyle” columns featuring the lives of young professionals and their concerns about office gossip, job interview strategy, expense accounts, and office party etiquette…The mainstream news media’s write-off of the working class set the conditions for the decline of labor and working class news and the rise of a deeply partisan conservative media that hailed the abandoned white, working-class audience…People of all races, genders, and political persuasions inhabit the working class, and they exist as real people, not just occasionally visible and selectively cast props for presidential campaigns. But with few exceptions, America’s working class is invisible, deemed no longer newsworthy.”

Would Ranked Choice Voting in Democratic Presidential Primaries Enhance Solidarity?

At In These Times, Adam Ginsbug writes that “six Democratic primaries and caucuses will use RCV (ranked choice voting) next year…RCV would ensure that the crowded primary field ultimately produces a nominee with true majority support.”

Reporting at the end of July, Ginsburg was interested in assessing the support for ranked choice voting among the Democratic presidential candidates. He found that “there are four Democratic candidates who actively advocate for RCV, five candidates who are supportive and two candidates who are receptive to the method. Only two candidates have expressed indifference. The other 12 major Democratic candidates have not commented publicly on RCV.” None of the front-runners at the time advocated RCV, while Sens. Sanders, Buttigieg and Booker expressed “positive sentiment” towards the idea, while Warren and O’Rourke were “open” to it.

Ginzburg notes further that “After the contentious 2016 primary fight, the Democratic National Committee called on its state affiliates to make the presidential candidate selection process more accessible to voters. Six states—Alaska, Hawaii, Kansas, Nevada, Iowa, and Wyoming— will turn to RCV to heed that call.”

Simon Waxman notes at Democracy that RCV “has been used in municipal elections in California, Minnesota, Washington state, and elsewhere. And for nearly a hundred years, Australians have elected their lower house of parliament using the method.”

Ginsburg gets into the particular tweaks each of the six states uses for their RCV and adds,

Although the preliminary proposals indicate some states plan to implement RCV in slightly different manners, all plans adhere to the rules set by the Democratic Party: all candidates above the 15% threshold will accrue delegates. Accordingly, as FairVote Senior Fellow David Daley put it, using RCV means that “last-place candidates will be eliminated and backers of those candidates will have their vote count toward their next choice until all remaining candidates are above the 15% vote threshold to win delegates.”

While these plans are all preliminary until they are formally accepted by the DNC, it is heartening to see ranked choice voting adopted as a viable alternative to the current winner-take-all system—especially in a field this crowded.

My take is that ranked choice voting in presidential primaries is a good idea because it enhances voter participation, gives more consideration to each voter’s personal preferences and promotes solidarity among Democratic voters, who will have more of a sense that their range of views have been taken into consideration by the party.

As one of those voters who is struggling to choose between two of the current presidential candidates, it would give me a way to support them both over the others. If none of my choices win, at least I will have more of a sense that the party cared about my views and my candidates got more consideration than is now the case in most states.

One possible downside is that there might be more dithering at the polls, resulting in longer lines. That could be ameliorated to some extent with a publicity campaign urging voters to make their choices before they get to the polls and stick to it. Even better, if RCV is combined with expanded early voting, mail-in ballots, weekend voting and other reforms to make the voting experience less cumbersome.

Waxman argues that RCV often enhances voter disappointment, when their favored candidiates don’t make the cut. He notes further, that “In 2010 the Australian Labor Party won the House of Representatives with just 38 percent of first-place votes on the initial ballot, while the second-place Liberal-National coalition captured 43 percent. That hardly sounds like a firm mandate…So much for guaranteed majority rule.”

Yet, he also reports that “In the 2013 Australian federal election, 90 percent of constituencies elected the candidate with the most first-preference votes, which suggests that choice ranking had little effect on the outcome.” Perhaps the problem of undermining majority rule could be addressed by giving additional weight to first choices.

I like the idea of more voters discussing their ranked choices in coffee shops, carpools, workplace break rooms and water coolers before and after casting their ballots. Instead of Democratic voters segmenting into one camp and rejecting all others, giving due weight to the idea that we share respect for each others spectrum of choices creates more of a spirit of solidarity.

Right now, for example, there is likely some bitterness among suporters of candidates who got cut from the network debates. With RCV playing a role in the selection process, they would have more of a feeling that their preferences have gotten fair consideration.

It would be really good for the Democratic Party to take a stronger lead in adopting ranked choice voting in the primaries, thus providing a message that this is the party that really cares about democracy. At the very least, the states should widen the experiment.

Political Strategy Notes

Is the great winnowing of presidential candidates happening to soon, or right on time? Put another way, is 14 month out from the presidential election (less for the primaries) to soon for TV networks to dismiss presidential candidacies?  Chris Cillizza reports at CNN Politics: “At the moment, 10 candidates — out of the 21 still running — have met the qualifications (130,000 individual donors, four national or early-voting state polls at 2% support or more) to make the debate stage in Houston on September 12. ..The simple fact is that if you are running for president but can’t make it onto a debate stage that 10 of your fellow candidates made, it’s going to be very, very hard to justify staying in the race all that much longer. How do you go to donors and ask them to give — or give more — to a candidacy that is, by the Democratic National Committee’s standards, not in the top 10 most viable? And if you can’t raise money, how do you pay your staff and run a real campaign?…(Side note: This standard doesn’t really apply to Tom Steyer, who has the personal wealth to continue to fund his campaign for as long as he chooses.)” Remember, however, that candidates disqualified for the September debates could theoretically come back and qualify for the debates in October.

Regarding the shape of the current Democratic presidential race, Kyle Kondik writes at Sabato’s Crystal Ball that”Warren’s rise, from 4% to 16%, is the kind of change that any half-decent poll would suggest is statistically significant. That does not mean she is leading — Biden still clearly is, based on the bulk of the data — or even necessarily that she has surpassed Sanders for second place. But she is also, along with Sanders and Biden, one of the frontrunners, a group that at the moment is hard to expand beyond three…That said, we also cannot necessarily make the assumption that the shape of the race is set in stone — months remain until Iowa votes in early February. Harris has shown the potential to climb higher, and may yet again. Some of the low-polling candidates — like Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) or Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) — may yet get their moment. Remember, for instance, the 2012 Republican race: While Mitt Romney ended up winning, at this point of the race he was trailing Rick Perry, and the two contenders who would become Romney’s chief rivals — Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich — were combining for only about 7.5% of the vote. Of course, that’s a share of the vote that Klobuchar and Booker (now combining for only 3%) would envy, but it also does show at least the potential for low-performing candidates to break out later in what has become a long slog of a nomination process. The hope of a moment in the sun is sustaining many of the candidacies right now, although we’ve already started to see some candidates fall by the wayside, and expect to see more.”

In his NYT column, “We Aren’t Seeing White Support for Trump for What It Is: A crucial part of his coalition is made up of better-off white people who did not graduate from college,” Thomas B. Edsall writes, “The 2020 election will be fought over the current loss of certainty — the absolute lack of consensus — on the issue of “race.” Fear, anger and resentment are rampant. Democrats are convinced of the justness of the liberal, humanistic, enlightenment tradition of expanding rights for racial and ethnic minorities. Republicans, less so. This may well prove to be a base-vs.-base election, but even so the outcome may lie in the hands of the substantial proportion of the electorate that is undecided — 7 percent according to Pew. And if Democrats want to give themselves the best shot of getting Trump out of the White House, it is toward these voters that they must make concerted efforts at pragmatic diplomacy and persuasion — and show a new level of empathy.”

At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum mulls over Edsall’s article and observes “Working-Class Men Have Lost Nearly $20,000 Over the Past 40 Years” and observes, “College-educated men haven’t been doing great: their incomes have been treading water for the past 40 years. But men with only a high-school diploma have simply cratered: their incomes have dropped by nearly $20,000 since 1973. Trump appeals to the white segment of this group with his racial demagoguery because he has no real economic message for them and neither do Democrats…The white working class may not be essential to Democrats these days, but it’s unquestionably a group that has suffered a lot in recent decades and would be receptive to a genuinely populist economic appeal—including, but not limited to, a truly full-throated commitment to unionization. It’s no wonder that Elizabeth Warren is making the inroads that she is.”

Again at CNN Politics, Cillizza explains “How the surprise resignation of Johnny Isakson could change the 2020 Senate math,” and notes, “Georgia Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson’s announcement Wednesday that he will resign from the chamber at the end of the year is just the sort of break Democrats hoping to retake the majority next November badly needed…Here’s why: Isakson wasn’t up for reelection again until 2022. And had he run again, he would have been tough to beat given his long service to the state. But now, his seat will be on the ballot in 2020, not 2022. And whoever Gov. Brian Kemp (R) appoints to fill the immediate vacancy will have — at best — a year to convince voters that he or she deserves to serve out the final two years remaining on Isakson’s term. (Also worth noting: The electoral record of appointed senators is not so good.)…Republicans will now have 23 seats to defend in November 2020 as compared to just 12 for Democrats. Prior to Isakson’s surprise announcement on Wednesday, the Cook Political Report, a non-partisan campaign handicapping service, rated just three GOP seats as “toss up”: Arizona, Colorado and Maine. Widening the aperture, Cook rated 7 more seats — including Georgia Sen. David Perdue’s — as potentially competitive. Democrats, on the other hand, had just four total seats rated by Cook as even marginally competitive with Alabama as the only one, at the moment, in real danger.”

E. J. Dionne, Jr. makes it plain in his WaPo column, “The electoral college is in trouble” that “Defenders of such a departure from one-person, one-vote say that if Democrats run up big leads in a few states and regions — especially California but also, say, New York, Illinois and New England — that shouldn’t count. Their strained claim is that a president is somehow more “representative” of the country if he wins by eking out tiny margins in several Midwestern states. This transforms our democracy into a casino. If you narrowly hit the right numbers in some places, you take the pot…What they are really defending, without explicitly saying so, is the idea that states with a higher percentage of white, non-Hispanic voters should have a disproportionate influence on who becomes president…in addition to being undemocratic, the electoral college encourages a particularly odious politician with no interest in uniting the country to do all he can to promote minority rule…Our founders admitted that the electoral college system they created in the original Constitution was defective by altering it with the 12th Amendment in 1804 . It’s time we followed their lead in showing the same willingness to scrap a system that is sending us headlong into a national crisis.”

Writing in the Boston Review, Lenore Palladino shares some perceptive observations that Dems can use in talking points in her article, “RIP Shareholder Primacy,.” Palladino explains that “shareholder-focused corporations are not laws of nature, nor does that governance model accurately reflect today’s business dealings. This misguided focus is the result of decades of flawed theory in economics and law. It stems from an incorrect analysis of the relationships between shareholders, employees, management, and the corporation itself. And it is based on a flawed theory of the underlying economy: that markets work perfectly, and the heavy hand of government must get out of the way…This ideology has caused immeasurable harm. The singular focus on stock price means that wealth is extracted by a small number of shareholders while those who work to produce that wealth are squeezed to the bone. Large corporations operating in this way so dominate U.S. political, economic, and social life that it is difficult for most of us to remember that the rules that shape corporate governance are democratically determined—that we, the electorate, can actually change them.”

Democrats should read “Latinx voters are leaning Democratic in 2020 battleground states: They could be a force for Democrats next year, but the party needs to make sure its outreach keeps up” by Li Zhou at Vox. Zhou writes, “A new poll of Latinx voters has some potentially good news for Democrats: According to the survey, voters in battleground states are souring on Trump and open to other options in 2020…Whether that translates into an election-changing dynamic, however, remains to be seen. After all, the party hasn’t exactly had a great track record on executing successful Latinx mobilization strategies, and such efforts will be important to drive voters to the polls…The survey, conducted by Equis Labs, an organization dedicated to studying the Latinx electorate, included more than 8,000 Latinx voters in several highly competitive states such as Arizona, North Carolina, and Florida…Per the results, Latinx voters favor a Democratic candidate over Trump at this point in the election cycle, though that sentiment was more muted in certain states like Florida, where Republicans have historically had a strong foothold among Cuban Americans. Between 10 percent and 20 percent of voters across every state were also undecided.”

Zhou continues, “Expected to make up 32 million voters nationwide in 2020, including 23 percent of eligible voters in Arizona, 20 percent in Florida, and 19 percent in Nevada, Latinx voters are a theoretically pivotal demographic for the upcoming election. The survey, however, cautions that they aren’t a uniformly Democratic voting bloc, unlike African American voters, for example, who tend to vote pretty overwhelmingly for Democrats. The universe of Latinx voters has historically been more ideologically diverse, driven by factors including religion…Clinton wound up winning 66 percent of the Latinx vote, while Trump took 28 percent of it, according to a national exit poll. This breakdown is roughly in line with Latinx voters’ overall voter affiliation, though it has been contested by some polling experts…The 2018 midterms indicated a more dramatic shift. Turnout in the midterms spiked from 27 percent in 2014 to 40 percent in 2018. And Latinx voters supported Democratic candidates in the general election by a slightly higher margin: 69 percent voted Democrat compared to 29 percent who voted Republican.”

A Potentially-Powerful New Tool for Electing Democrats

In his post, “How 2020 Democrats Are Building Volunteer Armies: MobilizeAmerica is quickly becoming the go-to tool for campaigns and organizers to gather supporters” at The Daily Beast, Gideon Resnick reports on a potentially-powerful new tool for electing Democrats:

The Democratic Party is trying to build a volunteer army to match the one it has created for online giving, and so far, the results seem promising.

MobilizeAmerica, an online organizing platform that was founded in 2017 by two Democratic presidential campaign alums, has seen a major growth in usage so far in the 2020 Democratic primary. The platform gives campaigns and organizers a single venue to sign people up for canvassing, door-knocking, phone banking, and more. Already 14 current presidential campaigns and 881 overall organizations are actively using it, including the Democratic National Committee and a number of progressive groups, The Daily Beast has learned.

The events being posted on the site include a “Wine & Ring for Warren in Waterloo,” a “Phone Bank with Team Biden in Charleston County,” and a “Coffee Chat with Team Cory in Iowa City.”

Although those sound like fairly mundane campaign gatherings, they have been parlayed into larger political organizing forums. People participating are leaving their names, email addresses, and phone numbers, and are asked if they want to receive text messages with more information about events and how to stay involved. That data is not transferable between candidates or campaigns. But MobilizeAmerica has centralized a database of grassroots volunteers that has often proven cumbersome for candidates, campaigns, and committees to gather.

Resnick notes further,

Since MobilizeAmerica launched, 827,000 individuals have signed up for 1.27 million actions. And the platform has recently added a distributed organizing feature that lets volunteers create and manage their own events. That has allowed for the platform to play host to more than 6,700 watch parties with more than 39,000 signups around the first two presidential debates, and more are expected for the upcoming debate in September.

It has not quite reached the scale of ActBlue, a fundraising platform launched in 2004 that has revolutionized online giving for Democrats and progressives. But the goals are similarly lofty.

Cofounder Alfred Johnson explains that “putting all the data in one place in a single platform allows for campaigns to keep in better touch with their known supporters. If someone signs up to attend a rally, they could get follow-ups about participating in another volunteer event without the hassle of a campaign maintaining a list in a spreadsheet or elsewhere. And a supporter can opt in to provide feedback via text message about a rally they attended.”

Feedback would include automated text messages and emails to rate the process and make it better. Judging by the outcome, MobilizeAmerica performed well in its first test, the 2017 Virginia elections. In addition, the platform served 480 Democratic campaigns in the 2018 midterm elections, and they are primed for 2020. Resnick reports that, so far, the GOP, which prefers to “build systems around individual campaigns,” has no real equivalent.

As with all such tools, potential becomes power in the execution. But Democratic candidates and campaigns everywhere should take notice and investigate further how MobilizeAmerica can help them win elections.