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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

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Dems Should Project Clarity, Unity On Government Spying

by Pete Ross
Dem candidates up for election in November already have plenty of knotty issues to chew on. Not to add to that burden, but a new Salon.com post “Fear of Spying” by Walter Shapiro merits their attention. Subtitled “Democratic strategists say opposing Bush on NSA spying makes the party look weak. Of course, that’s what they said about Iraq,” Shapiro’s article makes the case that the party is not well served by indulging its ostrich reflex on this issue.
He quotes a Democratic party official, who noted “”The whole thing plays to the Republican caricature of Democrats — that we’re weak on defense and weak on security.” He notes the trepidations of unnamed democratic strategists, “obsessed with similar fears that left-wing overreaction to the wiretapping issue would allow George W. Bush and the congressional Republicans to wiggle off the hook on other vulnerabilities.”
Shapiro cites a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press indicating that the public is evenly divided on the issue, with 48 percent agreeing that it was “generally right” to monitor those suspected of terrorist ties “without court permission,” and 47 percent saying it was “generally wrong.”
Osama bin Laden’s recent threat of terrorist violence in the U.S. won’t help leaders voicing concerns about government surveillance much. Yet, in his MLK Day speech, broadcast on C-SPAN, Al Gore made a strong impression as a champion of civil liberties, opposing unbridled government spying on Americans as a serious threat to freedom. Shapiro notes further,

the Democrats’ positioning on the eavesdropping issue invites comparisons to their fetal crouch in the run-up to the Iraqi War. A majority of Senate Democrats voted for Bush’s go-to-war resolution — including John Kerry, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton — at least partly because the pollsters insisted that it was the only politically safe position, a ludicrous and self-destructive notion in hindsight.

The article quotes Clinton and Gore advisor Elaine Kamarck’s observation that by ignoring the issue, Dems will

leave the critique open to the far left. And that will exacerbate two problems the Democrats have: one, that they look too far out of the mainstream, and the other, that they don’t believe in anything…a political party that is always the namby-pamby ‘me too’ party is a party that isn’t going to get anyplace.

Hearings on illegal eavesdropping are scheduled to begin Feb. 6 in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Shapiro worries that Dem supporters may be seduced by “the frail hope that the Republicans will self-destruct” and won’t get that “politics sooner or later becomes a test of character and not merely a paint-by-numbers exercise in low-risk electioneering.”
The hunch here is that Kamarck and Shapiro may be right, and Dem candidates and strategists should get a copy of Gore’s speech (available here), which did a good job of addressing mainstream concerns about government spying. Dems can differ about how much the issue should be emphasized with various constituencies, but a clear, unified position can only help.


Polls Show Many Not Up to Speed on Alito

by Pete Ross
As the Senate Judiciary Committee begins hearings on the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court, public opinion polls indicate that Dems opposed to Alito have an uphill struggle. According to the most recent Harris Poll, conducted 12/8-14:

Almost equal thirds of all adults believe Judge Alito should be confirmed (34%), should not be confirmed (31%) or are not sure (34%). However, a majority of Republicans (65% vs. 9%) favor his confirmation, while a plurality of Democrats (48% vs. 14%) oppose it. Independents are split (34% for confirmation; 38% against).

The Harris poll reveals that the most formidable hurdle to defeating the Alito nomination may be ignorance about his views:

Opposition to the confirmation of Judge Alito would probably grow substantially if most people believed he would vote to make abortion illegal. A 69 to 31 percent majority of the public say they would oppose his confirmation if they thought he would vote to make abortion illegal. Majorities of Democrats (86%) and Independents (74%) feel this way. However, a majority of Republicans (56% vs. 44%) would support his confirmation if they believed he would vote to make abortion illegal.
The potential impact of abortion on Republican attitudes toward Judge Alito is particularly interesting. The 56 percent majority of Republicans who would support his confirmation if they believed he would vote to make abortion illegal is less than the 65 percent who now support his confirmation.

Other polls taken during the same period show stronger support for the Alito nomination. In an ABC News/Washington Post Poll conducted 12/15-18, 54 percent of respondents supported confirmation of Alito, with 28 percent opposed. But 61 percent said, if Alito is confirmed, they want him to uphold Roe v. Wade — which is highly unlikely, given his stated views on abortion rights.
When a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics Poll conducted 12/13-14 asked respondents “If you were voting on Samuel Alito’s nomination, would you vote to confirm him or not?”, 35 percent said they would vote for him and 27 percent said they would not. And a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll conducted 12/9-11 found 49 percent in favor of Alito’s confirmation, with 29 percent not in favor.
There are other compelling reasons, aside from abortion rights, for Dems to strongly oppose the Alito nomination, including his dismal record and archaic views on environmental protection, worker rights and individual liberties. Given the current ideological balance on the court, this is clearly the most important nomination in many years.
There is no guarantee that a better informed public would automatically translate into a Senate majority against his confirmation. But if Dems launch a strong public education campaign, backed up by an energetic “call your senator” effort, polls suggest Alito can be stopped.


Dems Target Seven States to Win Senate Majority

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has decided to focus on winning races in seven states to regain a majority in the U.S. Senate, according to New York Senator Chuck Schumer, chair of the DSCC. The Associated Press reports that the targeted Senate races will be in Arizona, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Missouri, Montana and Tennessee. Dems currently enjoy a better than 2-1 fund-raising advantage, with $22 million in their campaign war chest, according to the AP.
The article also offers insight into Schumer’s strategy for individual campaigns, noting:

In part to counteract charges that Democrats are disconnected from average Americans, Schumer has for years boosted his political strength by constant public appearances throughout New York state.
Every year, he has visited each of the 62 counties, talking up local issues or touting some new piece of federal funding. In 2004, that effort paid off with Schumer winning all but one county.
It is a strategy he is preaching to 2006 candidates.
Schumer is also trying to pare his party’s message down to a few straightforward ideas.
“Mostly, it’s the meat and potato issues: Save Social Security. Fix prescription drugs. Energy independence,” he said.

The targeting decision may create some buzz among Democratic strategists, some of whom have made compelling arguments against focusing on a few races to the detriment of others. See, for example, Ruy Teixeira’s article making the case against narrow targeting of House of Reps seats, “Do the Math: Expanding the Playing Field in 2006 Is Actually A Very, Very Smart Idea.”
The GOP currently holds a 55-44 lead over Dems in the Senate, with one Independent voting Democratic. In 2006, 5 open Senate seats will be contested, with 14 Democratic senators seeking re-election and 14 incumbent Republicans seeking re-election. The Cook Political Report rates five races for Senate seats as tossups, with four of the seats currently held by Republicans.


Vets Boost Dems ’06 Chances

by Pete Ross
Swing State Project has an interesting article on the bumper crop of Dem candidates, who are veterans of the armed forces and a soon-to-be-launched PAC, “Band of Brothers” designed to give them some leverage. Swing State’s David NYC notes that vets bring some built-in advantages to a campaign, including:

Veterans’ views on matters of war and national security are often accorded greater respect in the public sphere (whether fairly or unfairly). These issues are going to matter a whole hell of a lot in 2006, and we need candidates willing to engage – not avoid – this debate.
The media typically adores veterans, especially the straight-talking kind. (Think Hackett & McCain.) Moreover, our lazy media has bought into the GOP’s smear of the Dems as “weak on security” wholesale. It doesn’t matter how sophisticated our think-tank-produced plans on foreign policy are – the media just doesn’t care. But if you’ve worn a dogtag around your neck or have had ribbons pinned to your chest – now that is something the media can understand.
The American people love our armed forces. The military always ranks at the very top when pollsters ask people how much confidence they have in various public institutions.
Strength in numbers: It’s a lot easier to Swift Boat a lone vet in isolation. While I put nothing past today’s GOP, it’s much harder to slander your opponents when you’re talking about dozens and dozens of men and women across the country. And these guys, I can assure you, will fight back when attacked.

All good points. Candidates should be careful, however, about overplaying the vet card, as Kerry may have done at the ’04 convention, and Bush certainly did on the aircraft carrier. Vet status works best in combination with a little humility. Make it known, but as much as possible, let others praise the candidate for her/his service. GOP Senator McCain seems to work this technique effectively.
Band of Brothers already has a new website, featuring a list of Democratic vets running for office. Presumably, the group will also support women candidates. The PAC will provide money, expertise and training to vets running as Democratic candidates and is now accepting contributions.


DLC Urges Dems to Fight for Center

by EDM Staff
Supported by recent public opinion polls, a growing chorus of Democratic leaders is calling for an accelerated timetable for withdrawing American troops from Iraq. But the centrist Democratic Leadership Council’s president Al From and pollster Mark Penn have warned Dem leaders that a hasty withdrawall from Iraq could be a “trap,” according to a report in the Sunday WaPo. As John Harris and Chris Cillizza note in their article,

While a poll taken by Penn for the DLC showed voters opposing the Iraq war 54 to 44 percent, they warned that “Democratic leaders could be playing with political dynamite if they call for an immediate pullout of American troops…
From and Penn said the most defensible ground for Democrats is a middle path: rejecting deadlines for troop withdrawal but endorsing “clear benchmarks” to measure progress and hold Bush accountable for the results.

Penn and From argue that it is important for Dems to consider public opinion about Iraq in light of Americans’ views about the Democratic Party in general.

In Penn’s survey, 13 percent of voters said they would favor a “liberal Democrat” for president, and 43 percent of independent voters said they regard the party as “too liberal.” Forty-two percent of these unaligned voters also said they perceive the party as becoming more liberal.
While the problems of Bush and Republicans have “opened the door” for Democrats, Penn and From wrote, to take advantage of this “Democrats need to capture the vital center and bring an abrupt halt to what voters see as the party’s drift to the left.”

Other poll analysts have argued that it’s not so much that the Democratic Party has drifted to the left on the issue of withdrawall from Iraq, but a very real shift of the “vital center” of public opinion. (See, for example, Ruy Teixeira’s Dec. 15 post.) Either way, the stakes are huge, and Dems must get it right to win the center in ’06 and ’08.


New DCorps Poll Shows Dems Lead House, Senate Races

A Democracy Corps Poll conducted by Greeberg Quinlan Rosner from 12/8-12 brings good news for Dems 11 months before the 2006 congressional elections. The poll found that 50 percent of likely voters said they would vote for the Democratic candidate for Senate in their state if the election were held today, with 42 percent saying they would vote for the Republican. In the House races, 49 percent of LV’s said they would vote for the Democratic candidate, with 41 percent for the Republican. The poll also found that 60 percent of respondents agreed that “things have gotten pretty seriously on the wrong track” and 53 percent disapproved of the way Bush is “handling his job as President.”


Mainstream Media Shuns Impeachment Poll Results

by EDM Staff
If a major opinion poll showed a majority of Americans favored impeaching President Bush if he lied about his reasons for going to war in Iraq, natch it would get broad press coverage, right?
Wrong, according to Jamison Foser’s expose of mainstream media’s pro-Republican bias over at Media Matters. His article, “Media Continues to Ignore Impeachment Polling” argues that Bush pretty much got a free ride from ostensibly non-partisan major media, which ignored the Zogby Poll result noted above. In the Zogby poll, 53 percent of respondents agreed that Bush should be impeached if he lied about his reasons for leading America to war in Iraq. Foser does cite a short ‘honor roll’ of media that did report the story:

Only five news reports available on Nexis mention the latest Zogby poll: the Froomkin [WaPo] column, an Investor’s Business Daily editorial, a column in the University of Massachusetts student newspaper, a “Potpourri” feature in West Virginia’s Charleston Gazette, and a column in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Froomkin’s November 7th WaPo column also cited an Ipsos-Public Affairs Poll showing 50 percent of respondents in agreement with the need to impeach. Foser reports that other WaPo writers lamely defended the paper’s decision not to do a poll on the impeachment question, even though the Post and other papers nearly drowned their readers in ink about former President Clinton’s impeachment prospects.
There’s more, and Foser makes a slam dunk case that Bush benefits significantly from lapdog media in this story and others at Media Matters.


Dems On Track to Win Majority of Governorships

by EDM Staff
There’s no denying Dems face an uphill struggle in winning back majorities in the U.S. House and Senate. But it now appears quite likely that Dems will win a majority of governorships in November. Even Republicans are admitting as much, according to Dan Balz’s and Chris Cillizza’s WaPo article “Republican Crystal Ball: Rain on Governors’ Parade“:

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney assumed the chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association last week, and immediately confronted a troublesome landscape for 2006. As Romney put it during a break at the RGA gathering at La Costa resort, “The math is not in our favor this time.”
There will be 36 gubernatorial races next year, 22 in states held by Republicans and 14 by Democrats. Seven of the eight states where the incumbent isn’t seeking reelection are held by the GOP — and that could grow to eight if Romney decides to forgo a second-term bid in favor of running for president in 2008.

Romney and other GOP analysts see their party, which currently holds 28 of 50 governorships, losing from 3 to 6 governors next November. They may be optimistic, considering Dem landslides in Virginia and New Jersey gov races last month. Even better, Dem Gov candidates are running strong in larger states, including NY, FL, CA and OH.
Republicans at the La Costa meeting expressed optimism about winning the governorships of Michigan and Illinois from Dems. But Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm holds a “solid, double-digit lead” lead over GOP opponents in the latest Epic/MRI poll, according to Political State Report. Dem Governor Rod Blagojevich leads all GOP challengers in Illinois by at least 9 percent, according to Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire.
All politics may be local, but GOP strategists are worried about the collateral effects of President Bush’s tanking popularity. Mike Finnegan’s L.A. Times article on the GOP meeting quotes GOP strategist Mike Murphy, who thinks voters may express their anger at Bush by voting against his Republican allies.

“You’ve got to have your own identity, and be really good, and really loud, or you could be a part of that,” Murphy told the governors, adding: “Federally, it could be really bad.”

Republicans are also concerned about the toxic fallout from GOP scandals spreading to gubernatorial races. Ironically, the GOP Gov’s meeting was held in the congressional district of Randy “Duke” Cunningham, the Rancho Santa Fe Republican who resigned in disgrace after pleading guilty to taking $2.4 million in bribes.


Stronger Unions Boost Dem Prospects

by Pete Ross
Despite internal struggles within the American labor movement and the decades-long decline in union membership, there are signs that unions may be poised for a new era of growth. Even in red states unions are making headway. For example, Anders Schneiderman, online campaign manager for the Service Employees International Union reports that 5,000 Houston janitors in the private sector “who clean more than 60 percent of Houston’s office space,” have signed up with the union in less than a year — “one of the largest successful organizing efforts by private sector workers in Texas history.” In addition, prospects for adding 20,000 more Texas workers to S.E.I.U. rolls in the coming months are bright
However, unions in general face a daunting challenge in projecting a better image nation-wide. A Harris Poll conducted 8/9-16, for example indicates that a hefty majority of U.S. adults entertain a negative overall view of “the job being done by labor unions.” But when asked to focus on the question of whether unions deliver better wages and working conditions for their members, 75 percent of adults agree, a slight uptick over the 72 percent who agreed in a 1993 Harris poll. 50 percent of respondents also agreed that unions work for legislation that benefits all workers, compared with 42 percent in 1993 and 51 percent said unions give members their money’s worth, compared to 42 percent in 1993. And 61 percent of union households believed union dues are a good investment, a double digit increase over the 50 percent who thought so in 1993.
These figures are encouraging, although they should be better. There’s more unions can do to project a better overall image, such as launching national cable TV and radio networks. Or how about a Ken Burns-style major documentary on organized labor’s contributions to improving worklife and living standards in America, or a public service ad campaign featuring celebrities with street cred, or free workshops to train biz page reporters to do a better job of covering labor issues?
A more vigorous union movement is good news for Dems. Organized workers are more likely to vote for, contribute money and volunteer to help Dem candidates. If other unions can match S.E.I.U.’s fighting spirit in the years ahead, it could transform the political landscape.


Dems Surge Ahead in Recent Polls

by EDM Staff
Having been duly cautioned against unbridled optimism about the upcomming congressional elections (see post below), let’s have a peek at recent opinion polls suggesting a rosier prospect for Dems. Pollingreport.com has a wrap-up of a dozen surveys dating back to September 5th on the question of which party’s candidates respondents favor in their House of Reps district. The polls mix up likely voters and registered voters, and the questions asked by the polls are a little different. But all 12 polls cited show the dems ahead in the races for House seats, with leads ranging from 5 to 17 points — and an average lead of 9.5 percent.
For a little icing on the cake, check out the latest USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll, in which respondents were asked “Do you think the country would be better off if the Republicans controlled Congress, or if the Democrats controlled Congress?” Respondents favored Dem candidates 46 percent to 34 percent.