washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

Political Strategy Notes

In his Washington Post column, “President Biden, push the voting bills now,” E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes, “What’s missing in Washington is a sense of urgency. The best case for that urgency rests on the imperative to defend democracy. Biden must stop downplaying the pro-democracy bills while waiting for passage of his social program. The truth is: We’ve waited too long for both….And at the moment, there appears to be more room for hope on the voting legislation. A group of senators who have in the past shared Manchin’s reluctance to change the filibuster rules have been working closely with him to find a way to alter them enough to get the democracy bills — bills that both he and Sinema support — to Biden’s desk….A victory for the voting reforms would electrify Biden’s currently dispirited supporters. And a bold defense of democracy is exactly the right response both to the findings of the Jan. 6 committee so far and to the attacks on free elections in the states….Building on voting rights victories, Biden would be in a stronger position to argue that passing the rest of his program is part of an effort “to prove that democracy still works,” as he put it last April, by easing the day-to-day burdens on our citizens. Surely Manchin and Sinema cannot want Biden’s efforts to collapse in a heap. That would only open a wide path for a resurgence of Trumpist Republicanism, the main threat to our democracy now.”

For a bit of good news, read “Incumbency vs. Environment in 2022’s Gubernatorial Races; Rating changes in four races” by Kyle Kondik and J. Miles Coleman at Sabato’s Crystal Ball. As they explain, “Today’s rating changes clarify that Democrats have the 2 clearest gubernatorial pickup opportunities: the open seats in Maryland and Massachusetts. Republicans also are defending a couple of races in the Toss-up column, the open seat in Arizona as well as Kemp’s bid for a second term in Georgia. Meanwhile, Democrats are defending an open, Toss-up seat in Pennsylvania as well as the Toss-up reelection bids of Sisolak in Nevada and Govs. Laura Kelly (D-KS) and Tony Evers (D-WI). But there’s also a large group of 5 Democratic-held governorships in the Leans Democratic column — Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Oregon — while there are no Republican-held seats rated as Leans Republican (all of the other current GOP states are rated as either Likely or Safe Republican).For Republicans, the more immediate focus is helping their incumbents navigate primaries, as well as sorting out large fields of challengers in some key targeted states. After the primary season, there are a lot of attractive pickup opportunities for the GOP, and the potential is there for Republicans to have a big cycle. For Democrats, it’s more about helping incumbents steel themselves against what very well could be a difficult cycle — and also capitalizing on what are some golden offensive opportunities even amidst a challenging environment.”

Thomas B. Edsall has a warning in his latest New York Times column: “An Aug. 3-Sept. 7 CNN survey of 2,119 people demonstrates the differing ways Democrats and Republicans are responding to the emerging threats to democracy….Far higher percentages of Republicans, many of them preoccupied by racial and tribal anxiety, believe “American democracy is under attack” (75 percent agree, 22 percent disagree) than Democrats (46 percent agree, 48 percent disagree). Republicans are also somewhat more likely to believe (57-43) than Democrats (49-51) “that, in the next few years, some elected officials will successfully overturn the results of an election in the United States because their party did not win.”….This level of anxiety is in and of itself dangerous, all the more so when it masks the true aim of America’s contemporary right-wing movement, the restoration and preservation of white hegemony. It is not beyond imagining that Republicans could be prepared, fueled by a mix of fear and provocation, to push the nation over the brink.”

Simon Rosenberg has a juicy message point at NDN: “Biden’s 5.9m jobs is already three times as many than were created in the 16 years of the last 3 Republican Presidencies, combined.  It is also millions more than were created in the entirety of any of their three individual Presidencies.  Many millions more.  Since 1989 and the end of the Cold War, the US has seen 42 million new jobs created.  Remarkably 40 million of those 42 million were created under Democratic Presidents, 95%….since this new age of globalization began in 1989, a modern and forward looking Democratic Party has repeatedly seen strong economic growth on its watch.  Republican Presidents, on the other hand, have overseen three consecutive recessions – the last two, severe. The contrast in performance here is very stark, it is not a stretch to state that the GOP’s economic track record over the past 30 years has been among the worst in the history of the United States.”

Political Strategy Notes

Incumbent politicians are rightly nervous about inflation, particularly rising gas and grocery prices, even when accompanied by low unemployment and rising wages. Some new polling data suggests the concern is well-founded. “With ongoing labor and transportation constraints affecting the supply chain, many grocery stores have a limited supply of products — and Americans are feeling it at the kitchen table. Most Americans (65 percent) said they thought grocery availability was worse now than before the pandemic, according to an Ipsos poll released this week. And while COVID-19 still topped concerns for Americans (18 percent), the cost of everyday expenses, like bills and groceries, and inflation were the second- and third-highest concerns, according to a recent Monmouth University poll. The poll found that 15 percent of Americans thought everyday bills and groceries were the biggest concerns facing their families, which marked a 4-percentage-point increase from July. Meanwhile, inflation concerns jumped 9 points, from 5 percent in July to 14 percent in December.” – From “Other Polling Bites” by Alex Samuels and Mackenzie Wilkes at FiveThirty Eight.

At CNN Politics, John Harwood explains “How Larry Summers makes sense of confusing economic signals,” and shares the Democratic economist’s views on the dangers of inflation in context: “In May, he warned that Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan risked over-stimulating the economy and sparking inflation; Republicans have invoked those warnings ever since….Yet Summers also says Congress should pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion Build Back Better Plan over GOP opposition because it would boost long-term growth without significantly increasing inflation. Democratic leaders have crossed their fingers that West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin listens….Lately, economic data offers cross-cutting superlatives nearly every day. Last week, new unemployment claims fell to a 50-year low — just before data releasd on Friday showed monthly inflation for November registered a 40-year high.…Summers, a former top economic adviser to Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, sees neither unalloyed prosperity nor dangerous decline. Instead, he acknowledges immense uncertainty that allows for either outcome or something in between….But the economy has also shown important strengths in its recovery from the coronavirus calamity. The Federal Reserve projects 2021 growth at 5.9%, the highest since 1984, as the US became the first advanced industrial economy to return output to pre-pandemic levels. Employers have added 6 million jobs, more than in any other president’s first year….Currently, Summers pegs chances at 50% that inflation will settle in at perhaps twice the Fed’s 2% target — for years. If the problem snowballs anything like it did in the 1970s, when expectations of higher prices became self-fulfilling, taming it could force an excruciating downturn….Summers sees a 30% chance that Fed tightening will trigger another recession, just three years from the last one, within the next 18 months. His least likely scenario — a 20% chance — is that the Federal Reserve pumps the brakes skillfully enough that demand and supply resolve imbalances harmoniously enough to sustain growth….Summers allows that economic good fortune could render his warnings overblown. “I don’t want to over-argue my case,” he said.”

In his Washington Post column, “Can Germany’s new leader teach Democrats to stop feuding?,” E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes, “A bit of free advice to the feuding factions blaming each other for the Democrats’ falling polling numbers: Parties that are bitterly and openly divided rarely win. And a friendly hint to Biden: Both ends of your coalition need a talking to — and a coherent approach to coming back together….For intimations of what that might look like, Democrats might learn from what just happened in Germany, a country where the major center-left party was widely seen as out of touch and doomed less than six months ago. In becoming only the fourth Social Democratic chancellor since the end of World War II, Olaf Scholz defied the premature obituaries. In the process, he gave center-left parties, including the Democrats in the United States, not only hope but a philosophical game plan…Scholz’s own obsessions in recent years have been concerns that ought to animate Democrats: how to protect democracy by turning back a rising far right; how to reconnect with a working class that often perceives educated progressives as belittling them; and how to offer realistic paths for economic advancement to left-out people and regions….Progressives, he said, needed to persuade voters that they sought a society in which “we are acting on the same level” and “not looking down on each other.” Respect is the virtue linking progressive imperatives that should not be in conflict: achieving racial justice and healing the injuries of class….Scholz’s success in building a heterogenous government is also a lesson to fractious Democrats. Progressive parties just about everywhere must win younger environmental and culturally liberal voters, but also parts of a more socially conservative working class and elements of a striving middle class as well….Before they can recapture the initiative, Democrats need a politics of forbearance, an understanding that neither the party’s center nor its left can win and govern alone. They also need a larger purpose. Scholz’s sermons about a society built upon mutual respect suggest a good place to discover it.”

Charlie Cook considers “The Possible Electoral Impact of a SCOTUS Abortion Ruling” at The Cook Political Report, and writes: “The Supreme Court’s oral arguments in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case last week got political minds wondering whether the abortion issue would make the midterm elections about anything other than what they normally are: a referendum on the incumbent president and his party. Cook shares the insights of several political analysts of both parties, including, “One key Democratic strategist saw a risk in his party seeming to be too focused on abortion to the exclusion of other issues: “I do worry that even if there is unrest toward Republicans on this front, that voters will still primarily be focused on more economic matters—cost of living/wages and whatever effects of COVID we are still seeing that are disrupting life. And if Democrats seem more exercised about an abortion Supreme Court decision than they do about high prices, workers’ paychecks not going as far as they used to, businesses struggling to hire/survive … then that could be a problem for Democrats.”…It is entirely possible that the abortion issue triggers a shift in focus of this election. But it is also possible that it boosts turnout among both bases, mirroring the fight over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court in 2018, creating what I called at the time a “color enhancement event.” That is, blue areas got bluer and red areas redder. Conservative turnout increased, particularly in rural, small-town, and heartland areas, enabling the GOP to hold onto the Senate, while simultaneously amplifying more liberal voting in the suburbs and cities, helping Democrats win a majority in the House….One Republican operative concluded, “I may be an island on this one, but I really do believe 2022 will be more of a persuasion campaign than we’ve had in a while. It worked in VA and NJ, and there is a lot (on both sides) to work with.”

Political Strategy Notes

“Do Democrats’ difficulties grow more out of structural advantages of the Republican Party — better geographic distribution of its voters, the small-state tilt of the Electoral College and the Senate, more control over redistricting? Or do their difficulties stem from Democratic policies and positions that alienate key blocs of the electorate?,” Thomas B. Edsall asks in his New York Times column. Edsall explains, “If, as much evidence shows, working-class defections from the Democratic Party are driven more by cultural, racial and gender issues than by economics — many non-college-educated whites are in fact supportive of universal redistribution programs and increased taxes on the rich and corporations — should the Democratic Party do what it can to minimize those sociocultural points of dispute, or should the party stand firm on policies promoted by its progressive wing?….I asked a group of scholars and Democratic strategists versions of these questions. Three conclusions stood out:

  • There was near unanimous agreement that the Republican Party under the leadership of Trump is a threat to democracy, but disagreement over the degree of the danger.

  • There was across-the-board opposition to the creation of a third party on the grounds that it would split the center and the left.

  • A striking difference emerged when it came to the choice of strategic responses to the threat, between those who emphasized the built-in structural advantages benefiting the Republican Party and those who contended that Democrats should stand down on some of the more divisive cultural issues to regain support among working-class voters — white, Black and Hispanic.”

Edsall quotes several top political analysts to assess the Democrats’ prospects in 2022 and beyond, and explains that  “Skocpol is sharply critical of trends within the Democratic Party: “The advocacy groups and big funders and foundations around the Democratic Party — in an era of declining unions and mass membership groups — are pushing moralistic identity-based causes or specific policies that do not have majority appeal, understanding, or support, and using often weird insider language (like “Latinx”) or dumb slogans (“Defund the police”) to do it”….The leaders of these groups, Skocpol stressed, “often claim to speak for Blacks, Hispanics, women etc. without actually speaking to or listening to the real-world concerns of the less privileged people in these categories.”….Along similar lines, William Galston, a senior fellow at Brookings and former White House aide during the Clinton administration, wrote, “For the first time in my life, I have come to believe that the stability of our constitutional institutions can no longer be taken for granted…In my view,” Galston continued, “the issue is not so much ideology as it is class. Working-class people with less than a college degree have an outlook that differs from that of the educated professionals whose outlook has come to dominate the Democratic Party. To the dismay of Democratic strategists, class identity may turn out to be more powerful than ethnic identity, especially for Hispanics.” The party’s “principal weakness,” Galston observes “lies in the realm of culture, which is why race, crime and schools have emerged as such damaging flash points.” In this context, “the Biden administration has failed to articulate views on immigration, criminal justice, education and related issues that a majority of Americans can support.”

Edsall continues, “Ruy Teixeira, senior fellow at the pro-Democratic Center for American Progress, wrote in an essay, “Democrats, Not Republicans, Need to Defuse the Culture Wars”: Democrats are not on strong ground when they have to defend views that appear wobbly on rising violent crime, surging immigration at the border and non-meritocratic, race-essentialist approaches to education. They would be on much stronger ground if they became identified with an inclusive nationalism that emphasizes what Americans have in common and their right not just to economic prosperity but to public safety, secure borders and a world-class but nonideological education for their children. Edsall concludes, It may be that in too many voters’ minds the Democratic Party has also crossed a line and that Democratic adoption of more centrist policies on cultural issues — in combination with a focus on economic and health care issues — just won’t be enough to counter the structural forces fortifying the Republican minority, its by-any-means-necessary politics and its commitment to white hegemony….The Biden administration is, in fact, pushing an agenda of economic investment and expanded health care, but the public is not yet responding. Part of this failure lies with the administration’s suboptimal messaging. More threatening to the party, however, is the possibility that a growing perception of the Democratic Party as wedded to progressive orthodoxies now blinds a large segment of the electorate to the positive elements — let’s call it a trillion-dollar bread-and-butter strategy — of what Biden and his party are trying to do.”

Alan I. Abramowitz has a data-driven analysis of the Dems’ Virginia loss, “Explaining the Republican Victory in the Virginia Gubernatorial Election: Conversion or Mobilization?” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball. Abramowitz reviews “exit poll data from the 2021 Virginia gubernatorial election (there was no exit poll in New Jersey) to examine the sources of the swing toward the GOP in that contest.[1] These exit poll results — though imperfect, just like any other survey — allow us to estimate the proportion of 2020 Biden and Trump voters who shifted parties in 2021 and the impact of changes in the demographic composition of the electorate between the two elections.” As Abramowitz writes further, “The results of the 2021 gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey showed a strong swing toward the Republican Party. A 16-point Democratic margin in New Jersey in 2020 turned into a 3-point Democratic margin in 2021 and a 10-point Democratic margin in Virginia in 2020 turned into a 2-point Republican margin in 2021. However, county-level data show that voting patterns in the gubernatorial elections were very similar to those in the presidential election while exit poll data from Virginia show that very few Biden voters actually switched sides in the 2021 gubernatorial election. Instead, it appears that the shift in election results between 2020 and 2021 was due largely to disproportionate partisan mobilization — stronger turnout among Republican voters than among Democratic voters in the off-year elections….Republicans won in Virginia and came surprisingly close to winning in New Jersey because Republican voters were more energized than Democratic voters. In the California recall election, in contrast, Republicans apparently did not enjoy a major advantage in turnout and the GOP-sponsored recall effort fell flat. These results suggest that the results of the 2022 midterm elections will depend primarily on the ability of Republican and Democratic candidates to mobilize their own party’s supporters more than their ability to convert supporters of the opposing party.”

Political Strategy Notes

At Axios, Sarah Mucha writes, “Vulnerable House Democrats are convinced they need to talk less about the man who helped them get elected: President Trump….Democrats are privately concerned nationalizing the 2022 mid-terms with emotionally-charged issues — from Critical Race Theory to Donald Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 insurrection — will hamstring their ability to sell the local benefits of President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda….The push by centrist lawmakers, especially from the suburbs, to keep the conversation away from Trump is frequently derailed by the party’s loudest voices — and their insistence to talk about him at every turn….People don’t want to hear about Donald Trump,” Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.), told Axios. “They’re going to vote because they want to see people get sh-t done.”….”All politics is local,” Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-Ga.) tweeted last week. “Whether it’s advocating for the equitable redevelopment of Gwinnett Place Mall, or securing funding for our local trailway system, every day I am working in Congress for our community.” However, “It’s going to be really really hard to distinguish yourself from your national brand,” said Sean McElwee, executive director of Data for Progress, a progressive think tank. “It’s functionally impossible for House members to do.” Mucha adds, “Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg said Democrats need to capitalize on their successes and paint Republicans as extremists….The process of defining the Republicans as unfit will not be about Trump,” he told Axios, but instead about how each Republican has adopted “unacceptable positions.”

Gregory Krieg and Rachel Janfaza argue that “If the Supreme Court curtails abortion rights it could flip the script on the 2022 midterm elections” at CNN Politics: “With the looming possibility of the Supreme Court gutting Roe v. Wade, the future of reproductive rights in America is poised to become a central and potentially defining issue in the upcoming midterm elections….The high court is expected to deliver its ruling on a Mississippi law banning most abortions after 15 weeks next summer, as campaign season kicks into high gear. At a hearing this week, the bench’s conservative supermajority signaled its intent to uphold the law, going against decades of precedent and likely introducing a volatile new variable in electoral politics….Democratic campaign organizations up and down the ballot, along with allied abortion rights groups, are now ramping up efforts to channel the anger and anguish of pro-choice voters and drive them to the polls. On the federal level, Senate Democrats are stressing the importance of maintaining their majority in order to confirm a new justice in the event President Joe Biden has the opportunity fill a vacated seat. In the states, leading Democrats are warning that Republican victories in legislative and gubernatorial races will lead to another burst of efforts to outlaw or severely curtail abortion rights, in line with the hundreds of restrictions that have been enacted in the last decade — this time without constitutional barriers to slow or stop them….Abortion rights have strong support in a variety of national polling. An ABC News/Washington Post survey from last month found that 60% of Americans say Roe v. Wade should be upheld. Only 27% said it should be overturned.”

David Siders doesn’t buy it, however, as he writes in “Why the threat to Roe may not save Democrats in 2022; “I wish we lived in a world where outrage mattered. But I think we live in a post-outrage world,” said one party strategist” at Politico. Siders explains further, “Interviews with more than a dozen Democratic strategists, pollsters and officials reveal skepticism that the court’s decision will dramatically alter the midterm landscape unless — and perhaps not even then — Roe is completely overturned. Privately, several Democratic strategists have suggested the usefulness of any decision on abortion next year will be limited, and some may advise their clients not to focus on abortion rights at all….Some of that thinking is colored by Virginia’s gubernatorial race earlier this year. After the Supreme Court allowed a law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy to take effect in Texas, the party was so sure abortion would resonate with voters that Democrat Terry McAuliffe made it a centerpiece of his campaign, saying “it will be a huge motivator for individuals to come out and vote.”….By the time ballots were cast, just 8 percent of voters listed abortion as the most important issue facing Virginia, according to exit polls. Even worse for Democrats, of the people who cared most about the issue, a majority voted for the Republican, Glenn Youngkin.” As Julie Roginsky, a former top adviser to New Jersey’s Democratic governor, put it, “Every time we’ve run on issues like women’s health, they have polled through the roof. But … they have been completely ineffective at getting voters to the polls. There’s a difference between something that polls really well, and something that gets voters to the polls. And that is what a lot of people are confusing.” And yet, a substantial majority did vote against Trump in both 2016 and 2020.

Political Strategy Notes

“What Biden hasn’t done is seize the bully pulpit as only a president can,” Harold Meyerson observes at The American Prospect. “Last week, my colleague David Dayen, in writing about how corporations are hiking their profit margins under the cover of inflation and supply-chain gridlock, noted that JFK, when confronted with an inflationary price hike from U.S. Steel, secured national prime-time all-network coverage of an address he delivered from the Oval Office attacking the company for raising the cost of living despite its pledge not to….a prime-time Oval Office address would at least command the attention of anyone watching the legacy networks and the news networks. It still provides presidents with the biggest megaphone available to them. And Biden has yet to use it….It’s time he did, to spell out what’s actually in both the infrastructure bill and Build Back Better. It will soon be time he went the prime-time route to make the case for the voting rights legislation that will come before the Senate early next year, in which he will have to talk about why voting rights are more fundamental to maintaining a democracy than the Senate’s filibuster rule….He can make those cases in his State of the Union address early next year, but that in itself won’t suffice. His ongoing avoidance of a prime-time Oval Office talk with the nation, which has helped enable his intraparty adversaries to block his agenda, has been an abdication of presidential power and responsibility that has played a major role in bringing down both his standing and his party’s.”

Although studies indicate that many self-described “independent” voters actually lean toward voting Democratic or Republican on election day, the choice of the “independent” label does indicate a reluctance to publicly identify with either party, a branding problem for both of them. At The Cook Political Report, Amy Walter takes a look at President Biden’s trendline with Independents.  Walter explains, “According to Gallup polling….Biden’s overall job approval rating has dropped from 57 percent in February to 42 percent today, a slide of 15-points. That drop-off has been driven almost entirely by independent voters. Since February, Biden has lost 6 points of approval among Democrats (96 percent to 90 percent), a similar 6 points among Republicans (from 12 percent to 6 percent), but he has lost 16 points among independents (dropping from 53 percent in February to 37 percent in November)….The most recent polls from Marist, Quinnipiac, Washington Post/ABC, Fox and Monmouth, show Biden’s job approval ratings among independents in a similar place; from 29 percent to 44 percent approval. More ominously for Biden, the strong disapproval ratings among independent voters have also increased over these past few months. For example, back in April, 27 percent of independent voters in the Quinnipiac poll said they strongly approved of the job Biden was doing, compared to 38 percent who strongly disapproved. In the November polling, just 12 percent of independents strongly approved to 46 percent who strongly disapproved; a swing of 23 points more strongly negative.”

Walter adds that “Independent voters are like the “check engine” light in American politics: when that light goes on, you are in trouble. Right now, that light is blinking red. That’s a terrible sign not just for Biden but for Democrats writ large.” But the latest trend for Biden regarding Independant voters offers hope that the President and the Democrats may be on the cusp of a turnaround with  Independents. As Walter writes, “This month provided some good news for Biden. The most recent polls from Gallup, Fox, Marist and Quinnipiac find Biden recovering some ground — or at least stabilizing — with independent voters. For example, Marist polling found Biden underwater with independent voters in August by 19 points (36 percent approve to 55 percent). Their November poll showed that gap down to 5 points (44 percent approve to 49 percent disapprove). The October FOX poll found Biden losing support among independents by 26 points (36 percent to 62 percent); that gap was 16 points (39 percent to 55 percent) in their November poll….Of course, there’s no telling if this is simply a blip, an outlier or the start of an upward trend.”

At The Hill, Karl Evers-Hillstrom writes, “Paid leave’s popularity is central to advocates’ lobbying push. Eighty percent of voters in Manchin’s home state support ensuring paid leave for workers suffering from a serious illness, and 72 percent support universal paid leave for workers caring for a new child, according to a new poll from Democratic firm Global Strategy Group, commissioned by Paid Leave for All….That makes paid leave one of the most popular measures in Democrats’ reconciliation bill, and far more popular among West Virginia voters than other proposals such as universal pre-K and the enhanced child tax credit, which were backed by 58 percent and 54 percent of those surveyed, respectively….Those same trends extend to battleground state polling, where paid leave is even more popular. Advocates say the measure would help Democrats reverse GOP gains among parents and suburban women that powered Republicans’ huge election night in Virginia last month and increase turnout among likely Democratic voters such as young women and women of color….“Whether you’re talking about the strategy of persuasion or you’re talking about the strategy of turnout, this is one of the few issues that is at the top of both of those agendas,” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who is urging the party to prioritize passing the paid leave program.”

Political Strategy Notes

In “With Build Back Better, Dems aim to correct messaging missteps,” Scott Wong and Mike Lillis write at The Hill,  “While President Biden‘s Build Back Better Act still has a tough road in the Senate, House Democrats have already begun holding a series of roundtable discussions, site visits, in-person and virtual town halls and news conferences across the country highlighting individual pieces of the roughly $2 trillion package….The idea is to break it up into smaller bite-size chunks — things like child care, climate change, education, health care and help for seniors — that will make the 2,135-page bill easier for voters and constituents to digest and understand how it directly impacts their lives….”There are some challenges. I think we never messaged effectively the American Rescue Plan. I think we have to do it bit by bit,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), a senior member of the Ways and Means and Budget committees who is planning separate events focused specifically on child care and students….“So given the size and scope of the bill, the messaging of it cannot be done in a day or a week,” he said. “It’ll have to be spread out, and do it with people whose lives really will be affected by what we do.”….Vulnerable Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), a mother of three, has done local TV interviews focused on her top priorities in the bill: universal preschool and the one-year extension of the expanded child tax credit….And at a Phoenix pharmacy this week, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) joined patient advocates at a health care-themed news conference, highlighting how Build Back Better empowers Medicare to negotiate lower prices for some prescription drugs, expands Medicaid coverage and allocates $150 billion for home care for seniors and people with disabilities…..[Rep. Sean Patrick] Maloney recently gave a pep talk to colleagues at the Democratic National Committee headquarters, where he unveiled internal polling numbers showing that Democrats are only 2 percentage points behind Republicans in a generic ballot across battleground districts — suggesting his party has plenty of time to make up the difference if they message Build Back Better effectively.”

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne explains why “The hypocrisy argument on the filibuster is itself phony,” and notes, “Because every Republican senator voted against the Freedom to Vote Act last month — and all but one opposed even debating the John Lewis voting rights bill this month — no bill that would do anything worthwhile can reach the 60-vote threshold required to overcome the filibuster….Reforming the filibuster is the only way Democrats can pass the voting guarantees favored by civil rights groups and democracy advocates. It’s the only way they can undo the voter suppression and election subversion laws that have been passed in more than a dozen GOP-controlled states since 2020. It’s the only way to dismantle wildly partisan gerrymanders…..No Democrat or progressive whohas flipped on the filibuster is pretending they didn’t. They are quite clear in saying versions of what the Senate arch-traditionalist Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) said in 1979: Rules that seemed appropriate in the past “must be changed to reflect changed circumstances.”….The loudest critic of changing filibuster rules now, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), was happy to junk the filibuster in 2017 in his quest to pack the Supreme Court with conservatives. Seems pretty hypocritical to me.”

Dionne continues, “There are two big reasons why senators should vote to reform the filibuster, no matter their past views. The first is institutional: What started out as an unusual practice to extend debate has become a routine method for blocking the will of the majority. To put it starkly: Abuse of the filibuster is wrecking the Senate….A 2020 report from the Brennan Center for Justice nicely summarized just how radical the shift has been on the use and abuse of the filibuster. “There have been as many cloture motions in the last 10 years (959),” wrote senior fellow Caroline Fredrickson, “as there were during the 60-year period from 1947 to 2006 (960).”….But the core reason the filibuster must be reformed is the moral imperative of passing bills to defend democracy. It confronts multiple challenges: to the right to vote; the right to have votes counted without political interference; and the right of voters to select their representatives — and not have politicians do it by drawing wildly partisan district boundaries….Should Democrats, including President Biden, allow these things to happen by claiming that the filibuster renders them powerless, they will be guilty of a more profound hypocrisy. If it fails to act, the party that won power in 2020 as the bulwark of democracy and civil rights will be saying that these commitments matter less than fealty to an outdated, dysfunctional practice that has been altered repeatedly in pursuit of far less noble goals.”

Some comments from David Pepper, former Ohio Democratic Party Chairman and author of “Laboratories of Autocracy,” during his interview by David Neiwert at Daily Kos: “…There were a lot of people who rigged these districts in 2011 after Karl Rove was very sadly adept at targeting statehouses to flip….Ohio is this glaring case study of what happens when you’ve had that for a generation, but sadly, Missouri or Tennessee or Florida, they’re all seeing the same thing as Ohio is….It was on the third time of trying they succeeded in getting rid of the week where people both vote and register at the same time. It took them three tries. But if there’s never accountability, they just keep pushing and pushing….We often have one bad cycle, we quit, we fire everybody, we start over. Stacey Abrams told us, even when she lost her governor’s race for a lot of reasons that she explained were really illegitimate, she gained progress in that loss. She registered people. She fired up people, and that progress carried over to ’20 in a way that we turned Georgia blue, just like running in every single statehouse district in every state. You’re going to lose most of those races. We know that, but we should celebrate the fact that we’re running in every district because every one of those candidates will register voters….They will have higher turnout, and maybe in two or four years, if they do it again, and we’ve seen this in states like Virginia, they win the next race….So we’ve got to define it as a long game, and that means you see progress even in tough years if you’re doing it right, and we’ve seen that in Ohio. We’ve seen that in other states, and the other thing we got to do—back to the broader politics—there are multiple elections that impact democracy.”

Political Strategy Notes

We’re not going to put lipstick on a pig named Pollyanna here, But Laura Barron-Lopez writes in “Team Biden gets some pep in its step after months of taking it on the chin” at Politico: “Don’t call it a comeback. Seriously, don’t. But for the White House, the breakthroughs they had last week represent major progress. And after the few months they’ve had, they’ll take it….In the span of four days, the president signed his bipartisan infrastructure bill into law and saw the second piece of his landmark economic package pass through the House. The Food and Drug Administration authorized Covid-19 booster shots for all adults, and the administration announced a new purchase of 10 million treatment courses of the Pfizer antiviral Covid-19 pill. All this, while government reports show strong gains in the number of jobs across the labor market….But there is a desire among Democrats for the White House to move even more aggressively should the social spending bill ultimately pass through Congress. In particular, they want the administration to target Republican governors and lawmakers who try to take credit for new projects in their state made possible by funding approved in either Biden’s Covid-relief plan from earlier this year or the recently signed infrastructure bill. They also want to see the president explain to voters that some of the benefits will take time to dole out….“I’ve made this point to the administration … a lot of it’s going to depend on managing expectations” said Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), the retiring chair of the House Budget Committee, noting the lag-time in implementation of many of the programs that will be funded in the bill. “We have to get much more ruthless” with Republicans.”

Despite all of the hard cheese Dems have been served in recent months, it appears that they have a decent chance to win the governorship of Texas, as Geoffrey Skelley explains at FiveThirtyEight:  “[Republican Governor Greg] Abbott’s approval slide has a few causes. First, his handling of the pandemic has received a lot of criticism from all corners in the state, and a late September poll from Quinnipiac University found more Texas voters (50 percent) disapproved of his handling of the pandemic than approved (46 percent). Second, Texas voters seem to still be disappointed by his administration’s response to the winter storms this past February and the failure of the state’s power grid. Earlier this month, a survey conducted by YouGov on behalf of the University of Texas-Austin and The Texas Tribune found that 60 percent of Texas voters disapproved of how state leaders and the legislature had dealt with the reliability of the grid, which was the highest disapproval mark for any issue asked about in the poll. Finally, Abbott’s numbers may have also suffered in the aftermath of the Texas GOP’s push to essentially ban abortions and to allow the concealed carry of handguns without a permit — both being pieces of legislation that Abbott signed into law. A Dallas Morning News/University of Texas-Tyler poll from early September found that 50 percent of registered voters opposed permit-less concealed carry, while the Quinnipiac survey found 53 percent disapproved of Abbott’s handling of abortion.” Skelley points out that most horse-race polls give Abbot a slight edge over Democrat Beto O’Rourke at this early juncture. But Democrats ought to be able to win some swing voters who are disgusted with Abbot’s incompetent Covid response and his disastrous handling of the winter storms Texas experienced. A Democratic win of the governorship of the nation’s 2nd largest state would take a lot of the sting out of the Virginia loss.

In “What Beto O’Rourke has to overcome in Texas,” Nicole Narea writes at Vox: “he governor’s race isn’t going to be about convincing partisans already entrenched in their views to switch sides. It’ll be about turning out each party’s base while wooing moderates and independents, said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin….O’Rourke hasn’t had trouble inspiring voters to show up for him; he helped fuel an 18 percent increase in turnout in 2018. This time, he has the opportunity to mobilize an estimated 7 million Texans who didn’t vote in 2020….Registering and turning out new voters may be more difficult than in the past; Texas now has one of the most restrictive voting laws in the country passed by state Republicans earlier this year. The bill imposes a slew of new restrictions on 24-hour polling locations, drive-thru voting, voting by mail, and sending voters mail-in ballot applications. Opponents of the law have argued that it will disproportionately impact voters of color, who helped fuel O’Rourke’s 2018 campaign and who he’d again need to win the governor’s race….One issue that has emerged as an early flashpoint is O’Rourke’s comments on guns during a Democratic presidential debate in 2019. “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” he said when asked about his position on mandatory buybacks of assault-style weapons in the wake of a deadly mass shooting in El Paso….O’Rourke told the Texas Tribune that he isn’t backing down from his position, arguing that responsible gun owners can “vigorously protect that Second Amendment right and also protect the lives of those around us.”….That seems to be in line with public opinion: A 2019 UT Tyler poll found that more Texans — about 49 percent — supported mandatory buybacks of military-style assault weapons than the roughly 29 percent who opposed it. But troubling for O’Rourke is the fact that independents were less favorable toward buybacks, with just 39 percent supporting them and roughly a third opposing them.”

Narea adds, “Abbott set off on a misleading quest to construct a border wall on his own (the taxpayer funds he’ll use for the effort are enough for only a few miles of wall, at most) and has falsely claimed that migrants are behind Covid-19 surges. On Monday, he went to court to challenge the Biden administration’s requirement that all companies with at least 100 employees ensure their workers are vaccinated or undergo weekly testing….Those kinds of policies have built loyalty among Republicans, but there are also cracks starting to show in Abbott’s candidacy. A September 28 Quinnipiac poll found that his job approval rating had fallen to 44 percent, its lowest since 2018, and 51 percent said he did not deserve reelection, up from 48 percent in June. That’s largely due to overwhelmingly negative perceptions among Democrats and divisions among independents, with 43 percent approving and 47 percent disapproving. Still, Abbott remains more popular than Cruz was during his race against O’Rourke — in 2018, the senator had a 39 percent approval rating….Those numbers, however, may mean Abbott will have a tougher primary than O’Rourke. He’s already facing challenges from high-profile candidates, including former Texas Republican Party chair Allen West, with his most important challengers coming from his right. If he wins the Republican nomination — as he is expected to — he would be a formidable but not unassailable opponent.” O’Rourke’s campaign may be one of the few statewide races next year, in which Democrats can hope to mobilize a substantial young voter turnout. If O’Rourke can generate some enthusiasm with Black voters and reverse the Latino trend toward Republicans, he has a chance. And if Democratic ads do a good job of spotlighting Abbot’s gross mismanagement of the Texas power outages, they may be able to flip enough white working-class voters to help defeat Abbott.”

Political Strategy Notes

“The rise of inflation, supply chain shortages, a surge in illegal border crossings, the persistence of Covid, mayhem in Afghanistan and the uproar over “critical race theory” — all of these developments, individually and collectively, have taken their toll on President Biden and Democratic candidates, so much so that Democrats are now the underdogs going into 2022 and possibly 2024,” Thomas B. Edsall writes in his New York Times column, “Democrats Shouldn’t Panic. They Should Go Into Shock.” Edsall goes on to add the fumbling of the infrastructure and social spending bills, GOP edge in redistricting, historical patterns and high crime rates to the list. He cites polls and quotes pundits to make his case, including Duke political scientist Herbert Kitschelt, who, “quoting James Carville, noted in his email: “It’s the economy, stupid. And that means inflation, the supply chain troubles and the inability of the Democrats to extend the social safety net in an incremental fashion.” Edsall doesn’t see a lot of silver lining for Dems. But he does note that Trump’s divisive “vengeance tour” could help Biden’s re-election and he cites the possibility that midterm losses for Dems would put the spotlight on the GOP’s failure to deliver any reforms. But the hope of booming, covid-free economy a year from now appears to be the Dems best hope for holding their congressional majorities.

From “GOP recruitment struggles give Democrats hope in 2022 Senate fight” by , and  Senate on Tuesday when a top Republican prospect decided not to run….In New Hampshire, popular Republican Gov. Chris Sununu shocked party leaders when he announced that he wouldn’t launch a bid for a Democratic-held seat, preferring instead to seek re-election for a fourth term as governor….With one-third of the Senate up for grabs next year and a handful of competitive states likely to decide control, Democrats are looking for any advantage as they try to defend their majority. They’ve been getting some help recently from Republicans….From New England to Arizona, Republicans are struggling to land top-tier recruits even as the deteriorating political climate for Democrats puts them in a strong position to win back the chamber. Party operatives find themselves having to keep a close eye on several Senate hopefuls they see as unelectable, a familiar problem for the GOP….Brian Walsh, a former Senate GOP campaign operative, said he sees “echoes of 2010″ in the pro-Republican political environment and the potential for subpar candidates to cost Republicans the majority….”Arguably, Republicans lost five seats between 2010 and 2012 because of bad general election candidates,” he said. “I’m not saying that’s necessarily going to happen here. We don’t know that yet. But broadly, candidates matter.”

Russell Berman has a different kind of warning for Democrats at The Atlantic. It goes like this: “The people who fear the most for the future of American democracy weren’t watching the election returns in Virginia and New Jersey earlier this month for clues about next year’s midterms. These voting-rights advocates didn’t pay much attention to who won mayoral or school-board races. Instead, they’ve spent the past two weeks trying to discern how many Donald Trump loyalists captured control of elections in a pivotal 2024 swing state: Pennsylvania….Voters across the Keystone State decided who will run their polling places in the next two elections, but you could forgive them if they didn’t realize it. Buried near the bottom of their ballots on November 2 were a pair of posts: judge of elections and inspector of elections, bureaucratic titles that most people have never heard of. In many counties, the contests didn’t even make the first page of local races, falling far beneath those for supreme-court justice, county executive, and the school board—even tax collector and constable merited higher placement….Yet the people who hold these election positions will play an important—if often overlooked—role in determining whether elections in Pennsylvania go off smoothly. Grassroots Republican supporters of Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 defeat targeted these posts throughout the state, and many of them won their race last week. “There hasn’t been a sophisticated, concerted effort to sabotage elections like the one we’re facing now,” Scott Seeborg, the Pennsylvania state director for the nonpartisan group All Voting Is Local, told me.”

Some good pro-Democratic message points from Simon Rosenberg at ndn.org: “Biden’s 5.6m jobs is already three times as many than were created in the 16 years of the last 3 Republican Presidencies, combined.  It is also millions more than were created in the entirety of any of their three individual Presidencies.  Many millions more.  Since 1989 and the end of the Cold War, the US has seen 42 million new jobs created.  Remarkably 40 million of those 42 million were created under Democratic Presidents….since this new age of globalization began in 1989, a modern and forward looking Democratic Party has repeatedly seen strong economic growth on its watch.  Republican Presidents, on the other hand, have overseen three consecutive recessions – the last two, severe. The contrast in performance here is very stark, it is not a stretch to state that the GOP’s economic track record over the past 30 years has been among the worst in the history of the United States….And look at the jobs created per month over these Presidencies – Rs at just 10k per month over 16 years.  Biden is running more than 60 times times that so far in 2021.  Yes 60x….The rigid ideological approach of the modern GOP has left it unable to govern in a time of rapid change; and those repeated failures have left many Republicans angry, reactionary and willing to do the unthinkable to stay in or regain power.  The modern GOP has no answers for many of the most important challenges America faces today, and rather than modernizing, adapting, as all institutions must in a time of change, the GOP has decided to fight the future by rigging the system to remain in power while the country and its people drift from their narrow grasp.”

Political Strategy Notes

In his post mortem on Tuesday’s two governorship elections, E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes, “All of Tuesday’s portents were negative. In both Virginia and New Jersey, Republicans were energized and Democrats were indifferent….In Virginia’s GOP rural precincts, the places where Donald Trump is still a hero, voters surged to polling places in a tidal wave….Democrats, particularly young and Black voters, stayed away, making up a far smaller share of the electorate than they did a year ago….in the end, exit polling made clear, hostility to Biden mattered more than alarm over Trump….But McAuliffe cannot simply blame the president or a dithering Democratic Congress for failing to enact the president’s program in a timely way — even if they have much to answer for….McAuliffe will no doubt long regret 12 words that Youngkin played back again and again in advertising that blanketed the state: “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”…It was a dismissive formulation that made it far harder for McAuliffe to push back against Youngkin’s demagogic attack on critical race theory, which is not taught in Virginia’s schools….McAuliffe was not wrong to describe Youngkin’s appeal as “a racist dog whistle.”….But Democrats and progressives need a much better answer to parental discontent….They also have to make a compelling argument for how schools can offer an honest accounting of the role of racism in American life that also honors the country’s achievements. They cannot continue to let Trumpists dominate this discussion….One thing Democrats should not do: tear themselves apart with arguments over critical race theory itself, a set of ideas far better debated in law schools and graduate schools than at school board meetings….Democrats would also be foolish to litigate whether moderates or progressives in Congress are most to blame for McAuliffe’s loss and the surprisingly weak showing of Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy in New Jersey. They must all take responsibility for the unconscionable delays in enacting the president’s program. So must Biden.”….Democrats must move swiftly to enact and defend the president’s program, and Senate Democrats cannot allow the filibuster to block action on voting rights, now a more urgent cause than ever. Republican state governments will continue to throw up roadblocks to voting — and Black voters who were key to Biden’s victory will not forgive the president or his party if they just walk away from the pivotal civil rights battle of our time.”

In Judy Woodruff’s interview on PBS, James Carville explained it this way: “Well, what went wrong is this stupid wokeness. All right? Don’t just look at Virginia and New Jersey. Look at Long Island, look at Buffalo, look at Minneapolis. Even look at Seattle, Washington. I mean, this defund the police lunacy, this take Abraham Lincoln’s name off of schools, that — people see that….Some of these people need to go to a woke detox center or something. They’re expressing language that people just don’t use. And there’s a backlash and a frustration at that….Youngkin never ran any ads against Biden. And I think what he did is just let the Democrats pull the pin and watch the grenade go off on them….And we have got to change this and not be about changing dictionaries and change laws. And these faculty lounge people that sit around mulling about I don’t know what are — they’re not working….Who could even think of something that stupid? And they’re suppressing our vote. And I have got news for you. You’re hurting the party. You’re hurting the very people that you want to help….And Terry got caught up. He’s a good friend of mine. He’s a good guy. He got caught up in something national, and we have got to change this internally, in my view.”…There’s a ton of pent-up demand in this economy. I’m just not one of these people that thinks that we’re necessarily doomed in 2022….We could have a roaring economy. This Build Back Better is going to give people a lot of confidence.And as long as we talk about things that are relevant to people and understand what they’re going through in their lives and get rid of this left-wing nonsense, this claptrap I hear, I think we can be fine….These people have got to understand they’re not popular around the country. People don’t like them. And they’re voting because that’s the only way that they can express themselves and how much they disagree with this….People don’t want to ride in the car with you. They don’t want to ride next to you in the subway….You’re annoying people. And they got to understand that. It’s very important….every Democrat wants to be a policy maven. No one wants to be a salesperson….Well, you got to get out there and sell your product and tell people what’s in it and quit worrying about being in the policy shop or being some self-important bureaucrat. That’s what I think.”

From Ronald Brownstein’s take on the elections at The Atlantic: “The Republican victory in the Virginia gubernatorial race and the unexpectedly close result in New Jersey’s—both states Biden won comfortably last year—don’t guarantee a midterm wipeout for Democrats in 2022. Rather, the sweeping Republican advance in both states more likely previews the problems Democrats will have next November if the political environment doesn’t improve for Biden….Glenn Youngkin, benefited from a huge gaffe by Democrat Terry McAuliffe that seemed to dismiss the role of parents in shaping their kids’ education. But above all, the results reinforced the conclusion that in modern U.S. politics, it’s becoming almost impossible for candidates to escape the shadow of attitudes about the incumbent president, for good or ill….Compared with Biden’s sweeping 2020 win, the exit polls did show Youngkin gaining ground with independents, college-educated white men, and especially white voters without a college degree, both men and women….Even with Youngkin’s marginal gains in the center, both the exit polls and actual results suggest instead that McAuliffe’s biggest problems were explosive turnout and huge deficits in the parts of the state most alienated from Biden and the Democrats who now control Washington. Turnout in Republican-leaning places was so strong that the share of the statewide vote cast by the blue-leaning big five Northern Virginia counties declined this year after steadily rising over the past three governor’s races….For the majority of Democratic elected officials and strategists, the most immediate lesson of Tuesday’s tough night is that the party needs to finally pass Biden’s economic agenda—which they hope will both assuage doubts about the president’s competence and provide them a list of tangible programs they can take to voters next year, including an expanded child tax credit and child-care subsidies and plans to lower prescription-drug prices.”

“Although public polling on immigration shows a strong shift to the left, survey responses in that vein mask a far more complicated reality, Thomas B. Edsall writes in his New York Times column. “Over and over again, immigration has proved to be politically problematic for Democrats. As far back as 2007, when he was chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Rahm Emanuel warned that immigration had become the new “third rail of American politics.”….The reality of the politics of immigration stands in contrast to the more positive Gallup findings that the percentage of people describing immigration as a “good thing” grew to 75 percent in 2021 from 52 percent in 2001, and the percentage describing it as a “bad thing” fell to 21 percent from 31 percent. Over the past 20 years, the percentage of voters who say immigration should be increased grew to 33 percent from 10 percent, while the share who said it should be decreased fell to 31 percent from 43 percent. The percentage saying immigration levels should be left unchanged remained relatively constant over these two decades, ranging from the mid-30s to the low 40s.” Edsall quotes Ryan Enos, a professor of government at Harvard, who contends, “The question for the future of the broader consensus on immigration is whether Republicans can continue to be successful despite the anti-immigrant pandering that is largely out of step with the broad American consensus on immigration. If they are electorally successful — and there is reason to believe they will be, given forecasts for Democratic losses in 2022 — then this broad consensus might break down permanently and a large portion of the American public may follow their Republican leaders toward more fully adopting anti-immigrant ideology.”

Painful Lessons for Dems from VA and NJ

From “8 takeaways from the 2021 elections” by Eric Bradner, Gregory Krieg and Dan Merica at CNN Politics:

“Youngkin drafted a playbook for Republicans to navigate around Trump — keeping the former President’s base energized while also winning back a share of suburbanites who had fled the party during Trump’s tenure….[Youngkin] tapped into the brewing culture war over education. He appealed to conservatives steeped in the right-wing media ecosystem by promising to ban critical race theory, which isn’t taught in Virginia schools; to end coronavirus-related school shutdowns and mask mandates; and to launch an expansive charter school program. He also won over moderates by pledging an education budget with money for teacher raises — a core theme in his television ads — and special education….the pandemic appears to be fading as a driving factor at the ballot box….McAuliffe went all-in on linking Glenn Youngkin to Donald Trump and it failed.”

The NJ governor’s race is still razor close as of this writing, but it shouldn’t be. Youngkin’s 2.5 percent margin of victory in VA could get just a little bigger or smaller, when the last votes are counted.

When the margin is that small, you can blame a host of factors, including the BBB and infrastructure circus, Biden’s tanking approval ratings, Youngkin’s impressive campaign skills, McAuliffe’s stale candidate persona, inflation, weak Democratic GOTV, or some combination thereof. Some of those factors likely hurt Democratic Gov. Murphy in NJ as well.

But there’s no denying that the Youngkin campaign skillfully deployed a duplicitous, but effective attack  on “critical race theory,” their code for a ‘don’t guilt-trip today’s white school kids for the racism of the past’ message. We will likely see more of it in upcoming campaigns. Democrats have to develop a better response, including a more effective attack strategy of their own.