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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


Calling Dem Bridge Builders: Time to Lead

Kevin Drum’s “It’s all about-face for the Democrats” in today’s LA Times is a good read for Democrats who are seeking a semblance of party unity on Iraq policy for the ’06 and ’08 elections. While it’s unlikely that Dem doves and DLCers will cuddle up anytime soon, Drum argues that it should be possible to avoid the circular firing squad that so often undergirds GOP victories. But he warns:

Needless to say, an internecine war between its hawks and doves is the last thing the beleaguered Democratic Party needs. You can be sure that Karl Rove would do his best to hammer such a wedge straight through the heart of the party come election time. So both Democratic factions would be well-advised to do some serious thinking before their disagreements get out of hand.

Drum is clearly right, and it’s time for the grown-ups to build the bridges we need to win back congress and the white house. Drum urges Dem liberals to help lead the way:

For their part, members of the antiwar left have an easy role: They should continue to push establishment Democrats to support withdrawal from Iraq, but they should also make it clear that no one will be punished for doing so, regardless of their past support for the war. However angry they are, doves can best serve their cause by not demanding tortured explanations and tearful apologies. A change in position should be enough.

Yes, and both sides could give the snarky insults to each other a rest for a while. Drum believes that the situation in Iraq is rapidly approaching the point where our current policy is indefensible even to moderates and thinking conservatives, and Dem leaders who supported the occupation are going to need room to change:

The hawks have a much harder job. They’re the ones who need to publicly change their position, an act that carries the risk of being tarred forever with the dreaded label that killed Kerry’s presidential campaign: “flip-flopper.” Besides, mainstream Democratic politicians and their advisors genuinely think immediate withdrawal is a bad idea that likely would plunge Iraq into a savage civil war.
…For any Democrat who has been on the record for the last two years as supporting the war in Iraq, advocating withdrawal will take guts. But being the first liberal hawk to seriously propose such a solution would also carry some rewards: The antiwar left would finally have someone to rally around, and the Bush administration would finally have some serious competition.

If Drum is right about this— and it is hard to find even a shred of evidence that Iraq is not becomming another quagmire — it’s going to be tough for Dem candidates who support continued, indefinite occupation. Drum goes on to make a strong case for a “phased withdrawall” from Iraq, with a “hard end-date two years from now.” Agree or not, his argument is well-stated and his points deserve thoughtful consideration.

Bush Job-Approval Plummets to New Low

We’re running out of headlines to describe President Bush’s free fall in job approval ratings. The latest American Research Group survey, conducted 8/18-21, has Bush at a record low 36 percent overall job approval among Americans, with 58 percent disapproval. The figures for registered voters are 38 percent approval and 56 percent disapproval, respectively. Among registered self-identified Independents, his overall job-approval was only 21 percent, with 72 percent expressing disapproval.
Bush’s “handling of the economy” approval ratings among respondents was 33 percent, with 66 percent disapproving. Among Independents, Bush’s handling of the economy approval rating was 19 percent, with 74 percent disapproving.

Dems’ Senate Hopes Rising

SurveyUSA has just released the latest job approval ratings for U.S. Senators, and there is some cause for Democratic optimism. Here are the Senate Seats to be contested next year, accompanied by the most recent job approval ratings for the incumbents:
Job Approval Ratings for 14 Democrats Up for Re-election in ’06
Daniel Akaka (HI) 56%
Jeff Bingaman (NM) 59%
Robert Byrd (WV) 65%
Maria Cantwell (WA) 47%
Tom Carper (DE) 66%
Hillary Rodham Clinton (NY) 61%
Kent Conrad (ND) 69%
Dianne Feinstein (CA) 54%
Edward Kennedy (MA) 61%
Herb Kohl (WI) 55%
Joe Lieberman (CT) 68%
Ben Nelson (NE) 63%
Bill Nelson (FL) 48%
Debbie Stabenow (MI) 46%
Job Approval Ratings for 14 Republicans Up for Re-Election in ’06
George Allen (VA) 52%
Conrad Burns (MT) 48%
Lincoln Chafee (RI) 55%
Mike DeWine (OH) 42%
John Ensign (NV) 53%
Orrin Hatch (UT) 55%
Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX) 57%
Jon Kyl (AZ) 49%
Trent Lott (MS) 60%
Richard Lugar (IN) 59%
Rick Santorum (PA) 42%
Olympia Snowe (ME) 77%
Jim Talent (MO) 48%
Craig Thomas (WY) 60%
5 Open Senate Seats Up for Election in ’06
Democratic (MD)
Democratic (MN)
Democratic (NJ)
Republican (TN)
Independent (VT)
Only 3 of the 14 Democratic incumbents up for re-election in ’06 scored less than 50 percent job approval: Maria Cantwell; Bill Nelson and Debbie Stabenow. But 5 Republican incumbents running next year scored less than 50 percent job approval: Conrad Burns; Mike Dewine; John Kyl; Rick Santorum; and Jim Talent. Only 4 Dems scored under 55% job approval, compared with 7 Republicans. Democrats do have more “open” seats to hold (4 compared to 1), but they are fielding strong candidates in these races. For up to date wrap-ups of the campaigns for these open seats, check out the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee website, and click on the individual races in the “open seats” section.

GOP Leaders Worried About Iraq, ’06

The New York Times has a front-page story “Bad Iraq War News Worries Some in G.O.P. on ’06 Vote.” The article, by Adam Nagourney and David D. Kirkpatrick, features quotes by GOP leaders, which indicate a growing anxiety about the war, exit strategy and the political consequences. Some examples:

“There is just no enthusiasm for this war…Nobody is happy about it. It certainly is not going to help Republican candidates, I can tell you that much.” – Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. (R-TN)
“If Iraq is in the rearview mirror in the ’06 election, the Republicans will do fine. But if it’s still in the windshield, there are problems.” – Grover Norquist, white house senior advisor
“Any effort to explain Iraq as ‘We are on track and making progress’ is nonsense…The left has a constant drumbeat that this is Vietnam and a bottomless pit. The daily and weekly casualties leave people feeling that things aren’t going well.” – former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich
“(Bush)turned the volume up on his megaphone about as high as it could go to try to tie the war in Iraq to the war on terrorism…I just don’t think it washes after all these years.” – Richard Viguerie, veteran GOP fund-raiser
“If your poll numbers are dropping over an issue, and this issue being the war, than obviously there is a message there – no question about it…If we are having this conversation a year from now the chances are extremely good that this will be unfavorable…” Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-NC)

Nagourney and Kirkpatrick also quote Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center on the political fallout from doubts about Bush’s Iraq policy:

If this continues to drag down Bush’s approval ratings, Republican candidates will be running with Bush as baggage, not as an asset…Should his numbers go much lower, he is going to be a problem for Republican candidates in 2006.

The legendary GOP echo chamber’s parroting of the “message of the day” seems to be fragmenting into a cacophony of doubt. Amid mounting U.S. casualties, the loss of increasing billions of taxpayer dollars and the growing prospect that Bush’s leadership will leave Iraq in a horrible mess, Republicans are starting to hear a chorus of concern from their more moderate constituents. Democratic candidates who offer a credibile alternative can win most of their votes.

’06 Senate Races Taking Shape

In connection with our post just below, there is no better place to go for a quick update on various U.S. Senate races than Chris Bowers’ MyDD articles on ’06 races for the U.S. Senate. Bowers doesn’t think Dems will win the 7 seats needed to attain majority status and gain control of Senate committees. But he does see Dems picking up Senate seats. Here’s just one example of his excellent wrap-aps of individual races:

Mike DeWine is extremely vulnerable with a weak 44 / 43 approval rating. Of course, that is not the only reason he is vulnerable. As one of the Gang of 14, DeWine doesn’t have many friends in the Republican base and grassroots. After his son was crushed in the Republican primary for OH-02, every Republican blog that wrote about it blamed Son of DeWine’s defeat on DeWine being a member of the Gang of 14. Even further, as Hackett proved with an 11-point swing in OH-02, Ohio is clearly becoming increasingly disgusted with the Taft and other scandal-plagued Republicans who have run the state into the ground. Finally, no matter who DeWine’s opponent is, Sherrod Brown, Tim Ryan or Paul Hackett, he will be facing a serious, serious challenger. The only poll on the race, by the DSCC, showed him at only 42%, but up six on Brown. Overall, I really think DeWine is toast. Of course, none of the three Dems I listed could run, making me look like an idiot. We shall see.

Bowers also predicts that ’06 Dem Senate candidates will once again collectively outpoll their GOP competition, as they have for the last three Senate elections — by 2 million votes.

Ignore ’08 Presidential Polls, Get Focused on ’06

All who are tempted to take early polls on Presidential preferences for ’08 seriously are directed to Mystery Pollster’s pre-vacation post “2008 Presidential Polling in 2005: A REALLY Big Grain of Salt.” Yes, Hillary and Guliani or McCain may look like front runners now. But that doesn’t mean squat, if historical experience is worth anything. Mystery Pollster analyses a study of early polls by The National Journal Hotline and concludes:

The polls for the 2004 Democratic primary provided “the best example of tainted primary polls.” Three candidates who did not run (Gore, Clinton & Bradley) dominated the early trial heats, while the ultimate “frontrunners” (Kerry, Edwards & Dean) barely registered:
WH ’04 Dem Primary Averages
41% Al Gore
19% Hilary Clinton
9% Joe Lieberman
8% Bill Bradley
7% Dick Gephardt
4% John Kerry
2% John Edwards
2% Bob Kerrey

Mystery Pollster notes similar results for other recent presidential polls and elections and adds:

…the horse race questions you are seeing on the 2008 race for the White House are sampling segments of the population that are three to four times larger than the electorates that will actually decide each nomination. And keep in mind, we do not conduct a national primary, but a series of statewide primaries.
…It may be helpful to consider that private campaign pollsters — the people hired by the presidential candidates — do not bother with this sort of national primary horserace poll. When they begin to do their internal surveys for presidential candidates, campaign pollsters will focus more on sampling individual states that come early in the process (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, etc) rather than looking at a national sample. And even then, they pay far less attention to horse-race questions at this stage in the race than to favorable ratings that tell us how well each potential candidate is known.

So leave early speculation about the presidential nominees of both parties to the time-wasters. Dems have enough to worry about in ’06 — to make the most of the opportunity to regain control of at least one house of congress. For more on the importance of meeting this challenge, see our July 25 post “Dems Should Focus More on Congressional Campaigns.”

Dems Should Modify ’55 Percent Rule’

In the wake of Paul Hackett’s near upset in the Ohio 2nd district congressional race, Ron Brownstein’s latest LA Times column, “Campaign Battlefield May Grow,” features an interesting discusssion about Democratic strategy in upcoming congressional campaigns. Brownstein’s column centers on the debate between internet activists and Democratic Party leaders over how much money should be invested in races in GOP stronghold districts, which Hackett’s campaign suggests may not be so far out of reach for aggressive Dem candidates.
Both sides offer compelling arguments, which are well-presented by Brownstein. But Hackett’s near win does indicate that the “55 percent rule,” in which the Democratic Party withholds significant cash from races for districts the GOP won in the previous election with 55 percent of the vote, should be modified. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) seems to be open to a compromise. As Brownstein notes:

He said he had rejected the traditional milepost of only contesting seats where the GOP incumbent polled 55% of the vote or less. He said the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee would try to recruit and fund challengers in “every open seat, every seat where an individual Republican incumbent has an [ethics] issue,” and in districts where Bush’s performance fell short of expectations in 2004.
“We’ve got to get to 50 [challengers],” Emanuel said. “That’s my magic number. But I can’t say, ‘Go to Texas and take on a guy who has 80% [support] in a district where Bush got 78%.’ I am only going to have ‘X’ dollars.”

Meanwhile, The internet activists, led by Swing State and Kos won’t be sitting around waiting for the Party to embrace their broader vision of electoral victory. Instead, they will be raising serious dough for more dark horse candidates in the months ahead — one more reason why 2006 is shaping up as one of the more interesting congressional campaigns in a long time.

Texas Turning Purple

Texas reached an historical milestone yesterday, when the U.S. Census Bureau announced that it has become the fourth state in the nation with a majority of its residents in non-white racial categories. Some conclusions, noted by the AP’s Alicia A. Caldwell notes in her L.A. Times article, “Texas Now a Majority-Minority State” (no link):

According to the population estimates based on the 2000 Census, about 50.2 percent of Texans are now minorities. In the 2000 Census, minorities made up about 47 percent of the population in the second-largest state.
Texas joins California, New Mexico and Hawaii as states with majority-minority populations — with Hispanics the largest group in every state but Hawaii, where it is Asian-Americans.
Five other states — Maryland, Mississippi, Georgia, New York and Arizona — aren’t far behind, with about 40 percent minorities.

We might also add that North Carolina has the fastest-growing Hispanic population of any state.
The political implications of this pivotal demographic trend are thoroughly discussed in The Emerging Democratic Majority. Although growth in Texas and other states has been led by Latinos, large percentages of whom are not yet citizens, they will soon be voting in ever-increasing numbers.
Republicans are already reaching out to Hispanics with a range of initiatives, but it is likely that GOP success in winning their electoral support will be limited as long as their major policies are anchored in, well, Republican priorities. Dems are in a good position to benefit — especially if we develop more credible policies that address Latino concerns, recruit more Hispanic leadership in decision-making positions within the Democratic Party and campaigns and make political education in Hispanic communities more of a priority.

Gallup, Newsweek Polls Show Bush at Historic Lows

A new Gallup/CNN/USA Today Poll conducted 8/5-7 has President Bush’s job approval rating at 45 percent, just a point better than his all-time Gallup low of 44 percent recorded two weeks ago. Bush’s approval rating tied an all-time low of 42 percent in the new Newsweek poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates 8/2-4.
Bush hit historic lows in public approval of his Iraq policies. In the Gallup Poll, an all-time high of 54 percent of Americans agreed that sending troops to Iraq was a “mistake” and an all-time high of 57 percent of respondents said America was “less safe” from terrorism as a result of the war. In the Newsweek Poll, an all-time high of 61 percent disapproved of Bush’s “handling of the situation in Iraq” and 64 percent believed the war has not made the U.S. safer from terrorism. The Newsweek Poll also found that 38 percent of Americans support keeping “large numbers of US military personnel in Iraq less than one year,” with 12 percent wanting to bring the troops home now.

Voting Rights Act Renewal and Dems’s Future

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the enactment of the Voting Rights Act, and the kickoff of a new movement to secure the renewal of key provisions of this historic legislation. This is a concern of significance for the Democratic Party, which is weakened by the suppression of minority votes. Writing in today’s New York Times (“Keeping the Polls Open“), U.S. Rep. John Lewis, one of the heroes of the Voting Rights struggle, underscores the critical importance of renewing the law:

Several sections of the act are set to expire in 2007, however. One of the most important is Section 5, which requires that states and localities with a history of voting discrimination submit any changes in their voting systems for review, called “preclearance,” by the Justice Department or a federal court. If those changes are found to violate the act, they must be reformulated.
There are some in Congress who suggest that Section 5 is now irrelevant, a relic of an unjust past. Yet there is plenty of convincing recent evidence of insidious attempts to deny some Americans equal access to the voting booth.
For example, the Georgia Legislature passed a law this spring requiring voters to present a government-issued photo identification before voting. This is a significant departure from the state’s current law, which allows 17 other forms of identification, including birth certificates and bank statements. This change would have a discriminatory effect on African-Americans, who are far less likely than whites to have a driver’s license. To make matters worse, there are only 53 motor-vehicle offices to serve the state’s 159 counties. For now, this law cannot take effect without federal approval, but should Section 5 lapse, Georgia voters would lose an important line of defense.

But, as Rep. Lewis points out, the Voting Rights Act protects other minorities outside the South from disenfranchisement schemes:

Some states have blatantly disregarded the law. In 1975 Congress added two counties in South Dakota with long histories of discrimination against Americans Indians to the list of those requiring preclearance of voting laws. Nonetheless, state officials decided not to recognize the federal mandate; over the next two decades, they passed 800 regulations and statutes without submitting them for federal review. As recently as 2002, officials in Buffalo County packed nearly all the county’s American Indian majority into a single voting district to ensure that they could control only one seat on the three-member county commission. Relief came in lawsuits filed under the act. As part of a settlement, Buffalo County was forced to admit its rules were discriminatory and to allow federal oversight of future plans.
The Voting Rights Act has also aided “language minorities” in New York City. As a result of lawsuits brought by Puerto Ricans in the 1970’s arguing that New York’s English-only ballots discriminated against Spanish-speaking voters, three counties – New York, Bronx and Kings – are now covered under Section 5’s federal review regulations.
Another section of the act, the “language assistance” provision, is also set to expire in 2007. Litigation based on the provision led to mandated Chinese-language ballots in New York, helping more than 100,000 Asian-Americans not fluent in English to vote. In 2001, John Liu was elected to the City Council, becoming the first Asian-American elected to a major legislative position in the city with the nation’s largest Asian-American population.
These are just a few of the hundreds of contemporary challenges to the right to vote that need our attention (without even mentioning recent judicial decisions intended to weaken the power of the Voting Rights Act). Unless we re-authorize and strengthen every vital provision of the act, we risk the advances we have achieved.

The WaPo wrap-up on the Voting Rights Act anniversary adds:

…efforts to dilute the minority vote by redrawing districts in South Carolina and Texas are a real-life example of why the pre-clearance of rules is still needed. Also, they say, black voters complained of being wrongly identified as felons and crossed off the voting rolls in the 2000 presidential election.

As a matter of simple justice, renewal of these provisions of the Voting Rights Act are needed to insure continued protection of the rights of minority voters. And because people of color more often vote Democratic, it should be a special priority for Dems.