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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


WSJ Poll: Support for Dem-Controlled Congress Grows

The latest Wall St. Journal/NBC News poll brings more good news for Democratic congressional candidates. The survey, conducted 6/9-12 by the bipartisan Hart/McInturff polling team, finds that 49 percent of registered voters prefer a Democratic-controlled congress after the November elections, compared to 38 percent favoring Republican control. The figures show a 4 percent increase for Dems and a 1 percent decrease for the GOP since the last (April) poll. Poll respondents also said they were more concerned about continuing Republican control with “not enough” change than Democratic control with the “wrong kind of change” by a margin of 51 percent to 36 percent. Further, as John Harwood notes in his WSJ report on the poll, voters

…prefer Democrats by a wide margin on issues such as health care, gasoline prices and the economy, while traditional Republican advantages on values and terrorism have shrunk.
Five months before Election Day, Democrats also enjoy an edge on voter intensity. Some 60% of self-described Democrats expressed a very high level of interest in fall elections, compared with 52% of self-described Republicans.

The poll results suggest that Democratic candidates may have some challenges ahead in honing their policies on Iraq and immigration. But, with less than five months until the election, it’s clear the GOP has a lot more to worry about.

“Take Back America” Conference Lights Path to Victory

The Campaign for America’s Future “Take Back America” Conference concludes today with an impressive array of presenters, including Sens. Russ Feingold and Barack Obama, Reps. Bernie Sanders, Jan Schakowsky, Sherrod Brown and Lynn Woolsey, luminaries like Eric Boehlert, Kevin Phillips and Gar Alperovitz and a host of leading activists. The conference features sessions on topics of interest to Democratic campaigners, including: “Media Reform: A Critical Issue of Our Times,” “The Cost of Corruption Campaign: the Defining Issue in 2006” and “Eruptions: The Public Moves Against the War,” among others. The Campaign For America’s Future website offers access to selected multimedia content of conference proceedings at the end of each day. Also available at the CAF website is “Straight Talk” by Robert Borosage and Stan Greenberg, described as “a manual for candidates and activists that outlines how to argue the progressive case for this fall’s elections.” Synopsis and download available here.

Illegal Immigration as GOP’s Wedge Issue

David Corn’s “Illegal Immigration: A GOP Issue That Works?” in The Nation merits a thougtful read by Democratic strategists and campaigners. On the heels of the Dems’ narrow loss in CA-50, Corn writes:

If the Ds cannot pick up a seat when an R is nabbed on bribery charges and tossed into prison, that’s a sign that the “culture of corruption” charge (see Jack Abramoff) they are campaigning upon may not do the trick in November…
Without reading too much into the results of one race, there is good reason for Democrats to worry: illegal immigration. Bilbray hyped his support for tough border enforcement, siding with the House Republicans’ keep-’em-out/toss-’em-out approach and attacking the Bush-favored Senate compromise position that blends a (convoluted) path-to-citizenship with steps to beef up the border. And that might have won him the race. During the campaign, Bilbray called for building a fence “from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.” Celebrating his victory, Bilbray said, “The president proposing amnesty was absolutely a big problem. In fact, it wasn’t until I was able to highlight the fact that I did not agree with my friends in the Senate or my friend in the White House on amnesty that you really saw the polls start supporting me strongly.”

However, as Adam Nagourney notes in his New York Times post-mortem on the CA-50 vote:

…Whatever disadvantages the Republicans had here, this is, with some notable exceptions, about as friendly ground as they are likely to find in the months ahead. This was never considered a truly contested district, and most of the districts where both parties are focusing their energy and money are less reliably Republican than this one.
Republicans will be hard-pressed to duplicate that expensive and elaborate campaign they waged for Mr. Bilbray in every district where an incumbent is under assault.
Of the 10 most competitive races for House seats now held by Republicans, as identified by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, only 2 had Republican margins of victory in 2004 greater than the one posted by Mr. Cunningham here that year. Of those two, one is held by Representative Bob Ney of Ohio, who is under federal investigation in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, and the other by Representative Jim Kolbe of Arizona, who is retiring.

Corn may be right that immigrant-bashing will trump gay-bashing and flag-burner bashing as the wedgie of choice for Rove & Co in the months ahead. But any gains the Rs make through immigrant-bashing will be at least somewhat offset by losses in Hispanic votes for GOP candidates. Still, Dems in states experiencing high rates of Latino growth should prepare for similar versions of the Bilbray strategy — and get seriously busy registering Hispanic voters.

Elections Message — Voters Want Change

We didn’t win the big one, CA-50, losing by less than 5,000 votes with 90.2 percent of the vote reported at this posting. But, in a way, we did, according to Chris Bowers’ insightful analysis at MyDD:

In 2004, Busby lost the CA-50 by 22.0%. Today, it looks like she will lose by around 4.5%. And that was with the NRCC spending $4.5M on the race. If Republicans want to spin losing 18 points after spending $4.5M of committee money as a good thing, go for it. After all, spin is basically why they spent so much money on this race. By blowing their wad in a solidly Republican district, they wanted to change the media narrative on the election in their favor. It will probably work, given how subservient and generally inaccurate the media tends to be when it comes to Republicans and elections. In reality, for a Republican candidate to pull 49.5% of the vote in a district with 44.5% Republican registration is shocking. Given those numbers, Bilbray probably managed all of 20% of the vote among independents.
No matter what the media says, no Democrat should be mistaken about this result. First, this is a huge, seismic shift in our favor that bodes extremely well for November. If we receive an 18% shift nationwide, we will win the House easily. If Republican candidates are pulling only 20% of the independent vote, the Indycrat realignment is still on.

Was immigration reform a wedge issue that favored Bilbray or Busby in this north San Diego district? The WaPo wrap-up says Busby probably would have won, if not for a gaffe encouraging illegal immigrants to vote. If so, the Busby vote was all the more impressive. If there are any exit polls, it will be interesting to see how immigration reform played out. In any event, Busby gets another chance to beat Bilbray in November, and 5,000 more votes seems doable.
The other big story is a huge victory for netroots in the Dem Senate primary in Montana, where state Senator Jon Tester, favored by many progressives, beat state Auditor John Morrison by a healthy margin, a victory Bowers describes as “Historic” and “Revolutionary.” Tester’s chances are excellent, but he will need more dough to take this seat for the Democrats, and Bowers’ article has the links for those who want to contribute.
Voter anger about corruption was a common denominator from coast to coast, according to the AP wrap-up:

Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico and South Dakota also held primaries. Corruption and allegations of corruption — in California, Alabama and Montana — crisscrossed the country. Immigration was a campaign issue from the South to the Plains.

Concern about immigration reform cuts both ways and may prove to be a washout, nationwide. But corruption, along with increasing dissatisfaction with the mess in Iraq, will most likely sharpen the Democrats’ edge between now and November.

Eight Elections Today Hold Clues for Mid-terms

Today is D-Day, for Democrats, as well as historically, with 8 elections to watch for some real-world clues about the Democrats’ (and the GOP’s) prospects coming up in November. These include: Alabama – Primary; California – Primary / Special Election CD 50; Iowa – Primary; Mississippi – Primary; Montana – Primary; New Jersey – Primary / Special Primary CD 13; New Mexico – Primary; South Dakota – Primary. CA 50 is the marquee contest, with the Montana Senate campaign a close second. Look also for an overall “throw the bums out” trend which should bode well for Dems.
Swing State Project is probably the best place to hang out for early results analysis. DavidNYC has asked local Dems to submit tracking sites, and you can most easily check local newspapers through the clickable map at newspapers.com. Sometimes local TV stations are quicker on the draw, especially those with live webcasting, and they can be tapped through Newslink.

Dems’ Challenge: The How and When of Leaving Iraq

Adam Nagourney’s article in today’s Grey Lady, “War Handicaps Senators in ’08 White House Race” discusses the political fallout facing Senators who voted for President Bush’s Iraq War initiatives as they struggle to navigate their way through the current Iraq quagmire. There may be some drama here and there in the upcomming presidential primaries about different Senators’ votes on Irag. But it’s more likely that American voters will be less interested in votes that helped get us in Iraq, than how and when a candidate is going to get us out. Two years from today, in the heat of the ’08 presidential campaign, no one who doesn’t have “loser” tatooed on his/her forehead will be defending open-ended US military occupation of Iraq, regardless of their earlier Senate votes supporting the war.

Dems Mull Strategy Options

by Pete Ross
In today’s L.A. Times, Ron Brownstein assesses the Democrats’ efforts to forge a strategy consensus. In his article “Democrats Weigh Risks of Caution,” Brownstein reviews the arguments for emphasizing a unified, detailed message versus letting the Republicans self-destruct, without distracting voters with too many specifics about Democratic reforms. He quotes a range of Democratic strategists, including EDM’s Ruy Teixeira, commentator David Sirota and Progressive Policy Institute President Will Marshall, who points out that:

If we don’t present voters with a coherent definition of the party’s core commitments, they tend to default to negative stereotypes.

Brownstein also quotes an anonomous campaign manager, who presents the minimalist strategy option succinctly:

I don’t think there necessarily needs to be a ‘Democratic’ message,” said the campaign manager, who asked not to be identified when discussing political strategy. “The message is pretty easy. The Republicans control everything, and the question to voters is: ‘How is that working out for you?’ “

Nicely put, and it’s not a bad meme to use with either strategy option. But surely the Dems need a clear agenda and a unified message, if not this year, then certainly for ’08 and the long haul.

Swing States Impacted By Felon Disenfranchisement

Right to Vote: Campaign to End Felony Disenfranchisement has a nifty rollover map that gives an indication of how effective laws that prevent people convicted of felonies from voting are in helping to keep Republicans in office. The figures below, based on the map, show the percentage and raw number of African American citizens who have been disenfranchised in some key “swing” states:
FL 16% or 256,392
VA 16.1% or 161,559
NJ 9.2% or 78,920
MO 7.2% or 30,471
WI 10.8% or 20,805
NV 17.1% or 17,970
AZ 12.9% or 17,700
IA – 24.9%, or 11,192
NM 24.7% or 9,128
Of course there is no guarantee that once enfranchised, these citizens would turn out at the polls in percentages comparable to those who have no convictions. Yet the fact that African Americans vote nearly 9 to 1 Democratic, as well as simple justice, ought to make repeal and liberalization of felon disenfranchisement laws a priority for progressives. Felony convictions account for two-thirds of the “under registration” of African American males, who are also about one-third of all citizens disenfranchised because of criminal records.
If the above figures seem small, remember that Bush won FL in 2000 by 930 votes, New Mexico in 2004 by about 6,000 votes and Iowa by 10,100. Many congressional and statewide races were also decided by smaller margins.
Take away the felon disenfranchisement laws, and even the South doesn’t look quite so forbidding for Democrats. Consider the figures below on African American voter disenfranchisement:
FL (see above)
VA (see above)
AL 14% or 111,755
GA 10.3% or 161,685
MS 11.3% or 76,106
KY 17.4% or 35,955
The US Supreme Court has refused to hear a lawsuit to overturn Florida’s disenfranchisement law. But the state Legs and the U.S. Congress are free to repeal and modify such laws. At present, five states permanently disenfranchise convicted felons: AL, FL, IA, KY and VA, and many other states have restrictive laws on the books. Only Maine, Vermont and Puerto Rico have no voting restrictions on those convicted of felonies. Last year, Iowa Governor Vilsack issued an executive clemency order enfranchising those who had served their time. Nebraska lifted its permanent disenfranchisement law last year and the Rhode Island legislature has put it on the ballot. Liberalization measures are being considered in several other states.

Podcasting Pols Leverage Web for Votes

Democratic campaigners who want to get up to speed on using internet resources should have a gander at Nancy Zuckerbrod’s and Brooke Donald’s “Politicans Brave the Internet –With Help” at ABC News Online. The authors discuss how political leaders such as John Edwards, Harry Reid, Mark Warner, Bill Frist and others use cutting edge tools such as podcasts, YouTube and video blogs to get their message out and raise funds. For those who doubt the value of using the web to influence political attitudes, Donald and Zukerbrod cite a Pew Research Center poll indicating that “40 percent of Internet users found the Web important in helping them decide for whom to vote.”

Balance As a Campaign Issue — For Dems

by Pete Ross
One of the best reasons for moderate and swing voters to vote Democratic in November is the need to restore some much-needed balance to our political system. Swing voters often grumble about the lack of bipartianship in congress. Dems should respond that nothing would do more to encourage greater bipartisan cooperation than reducing the GOP’s domination of congress.
The political imbalance issue has has begun to emerge as a growing concern in recent reports, such as this latest from Janet Hook’s article in today’s LA Times:

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said at least one wealthy Republican was now supporting Democrats. Although the Republican had voted for Bush, Schumer said, this person gave the maximum allowable, $26,700, to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, telling Schumer, “I see the need for more balance in government.”

Few voters will support a weak Democratic candidate instead of a stronger Republican just because the GOP controls all three branches of government and America needs more political balance. But in close races, a well-made argument that the checks and balances function has been severely weakened by GOP domination of all three branches just might help Democratic candidates. Certainly a nation-wide, political ad campaign on the benefits of restoring balance to America’s political system couldn’t hurt.