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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Matt Compton

Nancy Pelosi’s Detractors

When you type the words, “Why is Nancy Pelosi” into Google, the search engine offers to complete your question with three popular queries:

  1. Why is Nancy Pelosi so stupid?
  2. Why is Nancy Pelosi so powerful?
  3. Why is Nancy Pelosi bad?

Every national politicians has his or her share of critics, but Nancy Pelosi seems to inspire a special kind of agitation from her detractors. This is a point highlighted in a new profile of the Speaker in New York Magazine:

To conservatives, she’s the devil: “Mussolini in a skirt,” “Nancy Botox,” a “domestic enemy of the Constitution.” In August, when she and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer wrote a USA Today editorial calling town-hall shouters “un-American” for stifling national debate, a radio host said he’d like to punch her in the face; Joe the Plumber wanted to “beat the living tar” out of her; and Glenn Beck brought out a cardboard cutout of her likeness, then pretended to drink wine alongside it: “I wanted to thank you for having me over here in wine country,” he cackled. “By the way, I put poison in your—no, I look forward to all the policy discussions we’re supposed to have. You know, on health care, energy reform, and the economy. Hey, is that Sean Penn over there?” She’s a high-handed lady who needs to be “put … in her place,” as the National Republican Congressional Committee said when she questioned General McChrystal’s advice on Afghanistan. “It’s really sad. They really don’t understand how inappropriate that is,” Pelosi shot back, smirking a little and trailing a hand in the air. “That language is something I haven’t even heard in decades.”

Nancy Pelosi is occasionally called the most hated woman in America, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that much of that hatred seems to stem from the fact that she is a woman. Harry Reid, for instance, is the victim of similar approval ratings, but his enemies don’t attack him with the same sort of vitriol. Just type the phrase, “Why is Harry Reid” into Google — you get no suggested completion to your query at all.
When she isn’t being threatened by conservatives, Pelosi often escapes national attention altogether. That’s a shame, because in terms of accomplishment, it’s hard to imagine how she as Speaker could be more effective. She’s raised $155 million for the DCCC since 2002 and helped to orchestrate the new Democratic majority in Congress. Of course, from the floor, she’s been a champion for major increases in college aid and pay for veterans, upping the minimum wage, climate change, and now, health care.
That’s leadership we as Democrats can be proud of.

The Legislative Results

Last night’s legislative elections offered few surprises. As the polls closed, Republicans and Democrats each held a majority they needed to protect, and today, the status quo remains the same.
In Virginia, buoyed by a set of strong statewide candidates and a national climate that put history on their side, Republicans last night added to their margins in the House of Delegates.
But the GOP believed that this election might help them wipe out all the Democratic gains of the past six years, and it did not.
Democrats in the state were able to knock off two vulnerable Republicans, electing Luke Torian and Robin Abbott to the caucus. Their victories helped to offset losses in other parts of the state.
In a night when state Democrats were looking for good news, the New Jersey Assembly offered a sharp counterpoint to elections elsewhere.
Headed into Tuesday, Democrats held a solid majority, but Republicans had been talking about mounting a serious effort to cut into that margin, if not win the eight seats they would need to tie the chamber.
The Democratic Assembly Caucus met that challenge head-on. In the weeks before Election Day, New Jersey Democrats built up formidable advantages in fundraising, candidate quality, and organization. That in turn allowed them to counter a bad set of national trends and a strong statewide campaign from GOP gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie.
Last night, the Democratic Caucus protected all of its incumbents, ultimately holding 47 of 48 seats. The only seat that now appears to have changed hands was left open by retirement in District 4.
The NJ Democratic Assembly Caucus did nearly everything right in this year’s election, and the advantages they banked during the summer allowed them to offset the Republican climate in the state last night.
Across the country, Democrats still hold 60 legislative chambers and control 55 percent of the nation’s partisan legislative seats. Our current position remains a solid one heading into the final election before the Census and the next round of Congressional and legislative redistricting.
For more information, visit DLCC.org.

Google Blasting Virginia

In the hours before the Virginia Democratic primary, it was almost impossible to visit a major website from a computer in Virginia without staring at an advertisement for Creigh Deeds.
After Deeds won the nomination, lots of people took notice, including Patrick Ruffini, blogging at TheNextRight:

The coup de grace came in the final 24 hours, when with money to burn Deeds bought a “network blast” on Google’s ad network, essentially taking over ad inventory on every website (including this one) if you lived in Virginia.

Ruffini is a consultant for Deeds’ opponent, Republican Bob McDonnell, and now that we’re hours out from Election Day in Virginia, he’s putting the lesson to use.
On his Flickr feed, Ruffini posted a screenshot taken this morning from TechCrunch, an incredibly popular tech blog based in Silicon Valley.
McDonnell’s face is everywhere.
This is yet another reminder that the Democratic technological advantage is not self-sustaining.
Whether it’s a willingness to experiment with Twitter, a drive to release new mobile applications, or putting the best lessons from Democratic campaigns to use, Republicans are determined to close the Internet gap.
And while it’s easy to point fingers and laugh when those experiments fail, Democrats ought to at least recognize that we cannot get complacent.


Say one thing about the Republican minority — they’ve shown readiness to embrace new technology in an effort to claw their way back to power that is occasionally something to envy.
Their newest effort is WhipCast — a BlackBerry application that, once downloaded, offers GOP staffers and activists the ability to pull up talking points, track votes, coordinate action on the floors of Congress, and follow the latest gossip and rumors.
This is actually a neat idea. Both parties need more tools for sharing information, and an application that can be accessed offline on mobile devices has the potential to be a winner. If I were a Republican, I could think of a lot of ways where this might be tactically useful.
The problem is, as a Democrat, I’ve got the same idea.
The POLITICO reports:

Starting Thursday, the GOP is making WhipCast available to the public for free as a way to show that the party is regaining the technical edge that has been lost to Democrats in recent years.

How valuable can the information on the application be if the GOP isn’t regulating who has the ability to access it?
If any Democratic hack can read, in real time, the Republican plan for coordinating action on a vote, then no matter how impressive a technical achievement WhipCast is, it fails in terms of usefulness.
If the information shared on WhipCast is watered down for the general public, then it fails in terms of usefulness.
If, in fact, the motivation behind WhipCast is, as POLITICO reports, to make the application available, “as a way to show that the party is regaining the technical edge that has been lost to Democrats,” then the ambition is wholly misguided.
Innovation should have a point, and in the business of politics, no one should care about a new piece of technology if it doesn’t do anything.
It’s a waste of resources to build a tool simply to prove you can.

Out of sight, out of mind

Ezra Klein makes an important point.
Under the way the Senate bill is currently structured, the opt-out debate will be pushed back until 2014, when many of the health care reforms would take effect.
By then, he believes, the public option won’t be controversial:

By 2014, we’ll be arguing over all manner of things, but a public insurance option for the small sliver of the population with access to the health insurance exchanges will be one of those things. In that scenario, where there’s very little controversy over the public option, I don’t believe that state legislatures and governors are going to go to the trouble of rejecting it, and I don’t believe that anyone will manage to reinvigorate the controversy around it. The controversy around the public option is an expression of the controversy around Barack Obama’s presidency in general, and health-care reform in particular. Once those issues are essentially settled, the underlying policy isn’t going to hold people’s attention.

Another reason why Republicans in Utah probably ought to hold off on introducing their opt-out bill in January.

What does an opt-out look like?

We now know that the health care bill that reaches the Senate floor will contain a public option with an opt-out provision. That said, if the bill passes, we don’t know how the opt-out will work in practice.
Matt Ygelsias appears to have the answer to one of my biggest questions about the process:

To opt out you need a bill based by both houses of the state legislature and signed by the governor.

And while Yglesias is the only source I’ve seen reporting this, those kind of mechanics certainly make sense. If those are the conditions for opting-out in the final bill, that probably sets up a scenario in which most states actually do join the program.
It’s important to remember that opting-out, as a policy mechanism, is not a new idea.
Medicaid, for instance, is an opt-out program, but no state has ever chosen to take that step.
Federal highways are also an opt-out program, but we all follow the same speed limits.
At worst, we should expect about as much resistance as we saw with the federal recovery package earlier this year. Despite a lot of hand-wringing from conservatives, ultimately, most states took most of the money.
That doesn’t mean we won’t have to listen to Republicans who are determined to grand stand on the issue. In Utah, they’re already considering legislation to keep their citizens from having access to a public option:

Utah House Speaker Dave Clark (R) told the (Salt Lake City) Deseret News that “we already have a health-care system in Utah that is bottom three in cost for the nation. As I understand the latest version (of health care legislation) — always subject to numerous changes — I would recommend Utah opt out.”
Utah Senate Majority Leader Sheldon Killpack (R) also expressed skepticism; another Republican state representative, Carl Wimmer, said he will introduce a bill in January “that will get us out.”

While most state policymakers will probably wait to see the final content of the bill before they start drafting laws, these statements from the Utah legislators highlight an important point.
The debate in Washington is about to go on the road — every state lawmaker in the country is going to get asked what they think about a public option.
Update: There are, of course, plenty of exceptions to speed limits. But states still do what is required of them to receive money from the Highway Trust Fund.

Virginia Isn’t Really About Obama

We’re one week out from Election Day in New Jersey and Virginia.
No matter how the governors’ races in those two states turn out, plenty of pundits will argue that the outcomes are a referendum on the Obama Presidency.
At least with Virginia, we’ve got an excellent data point to show that this argument is demonstrably false.
Greg Sargent has looked at the internals of the new Washington Post poll (which puts McDonnell ahead by 11 points) and pulls out one key stat:

Seventy percent of likely voters say Obama is “not a factor” in ther choice. Only 15% say opposition to Obama is a factor, while 14%, say support for him is a factor.

The real issue in the race is the lack of enthusiasm for Deeds’ campaign among those who voted for the president last year. As Marc Ambinder points out, it isn’t so much a gap as it is a chasm.
That said, it’s important to keep in mind that we’ve always had a historic hurdle to cross this year.
For instance, the last time that the party of presidential power won one of the two governors races in an off-year was 1985.

Twitter Shuts Down Connecticut GOP

Every piece of online technology — from YouTube to Facebook to Twitter — comes with a set of legal disclaimers outlining the application’s “terms of use.”
Twitter, in particular, is very clear about using their service to impersonate another individual. Parodies are OK, but only if a reasonable person can recognize that your Tweets are satire.
Which is why the Republican Party of Connecticut got in so much trouble last week :

Twitter, Inc., shut down 33 fake Twitter accounts created by Republicans using the names of Democratic state representatives. The Republican scheme was to send out posts under the Democrats’ names.

There are lots of valuable ways in which Twitter can be used in political communication, and there’s no doubt that we’ve only just begun to see the new directions to which campaigns and candidates take this service as they innovate.
But reading and understanding terms of use has to be a basic threshold for utilizing any Internet tool. That’s just as true for individuals as it is for political parties.
Which makes the Republican response to the Twitter take-down all the more ridiculous:

“That’s unfortunate,” was state Republican Chairman Chris Healy’s response when told of Twitter, Inc.’s decision. “I’m not quite sure what the issue is, other than that the Democrats were successful in stopping free speech.”

Again, Twitter’s rule about impersonation is simple and short enough to be written as a Tweet:

You may not impersonate others through the Twitter service in a manner that does or is intended to mislead, confuse, or deceive others.

When you’re unclear about an issue as transparent and indefensible as this, perhaps it’s best if you step away from the Internet.
[Crossposted from DLCC.org]