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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


Liberal Editors Mull Dems’ Future

The New York Times has an interesting roundtable discusssion in “Left Behind‘ on the challenges facing American liberals. Peter Beinart, Katrina vanden Heuval and Michael Tomasky, editors of The New Republic, The Nation and The American Prospect, respectively, share their thoughts on Democratic strategies for future victories. Some ideas:

The party has to have a listening tour within its own base but also a listening tour among swing constituencies that are moving away: Hispanics, Jews, the military in particular. (Beinart)

One of the things that came out of this election, which is exciting, is that there’s the beginning of an independent infrastructure outside the Democratic Party, a kind of fusionist politics combining movement politics with electoral politics. And I would build on that, building a farm team of new, Paul Wellstone-type leaders, developing messages and ideas.(vanden Heuval)

Liberal concepts still have more resonance than you might think. Polls continually show that people are rhetorically conservative and operationally liberal or progressive.(Tomasky)

There’s more, including a lively reader’s forum responding to the editors’ ideas now underway.

Southern Dems Launch New Dialogue

With 120 thousand more votes in Ohio or spread out over a few western states John Kerry would be President today, even though he wrote off the South. But, in his article in The Nation, “Southern Strategies,” Chris Kromm argues that writing off the South in future Presidential elections could be a strategic disaster. Kromm puts it this way:

Given that almost a third of the country lives in the South and it’s growing fast, and that the South still sets the tone for national politics (look at the Tennesseans and Texans who lead the White House and Capitol Hill), ignoring the South is hardly an option….There are four Southern Democratic governors, hundreds of Democratic state legislators, and in six of thirteen Southern states, more registered voters identify as Democrats than Republicans.

But Kromm has no illusions about the magnitude of the challenge facing Democrats. Reporting from “New Strategies for Southern Progress,” a conference of 200 southern progressives in Chapel Hill, Kromm quotes Dem consultant David ‘Mudcat’ Saunders, a proponent of the ‘NASCAR Dads’ strategy: “We’ve lost the white working-class male.” Kromm adds:

Poll analyst Ruy Teixeira rolled out a compelling set of numbers to back up the claim: Although the ideology of the Southern electorate hasn’t changed over the last decade — it’s now 14 percent liberal, 41 percent moderate and 45 percent conservative, only a hair to the right of 1996 — voting patterns have. Bill Clinton got 46 percent to Bob Dole’s 44 percent of the Southern white moderate vote in ’96; in 2004 Kerry had a 58-to-41 deficit to Bush among the same voting group. Even accounting for Clinton’s Southern touch, it’s clear that Democrats have lost ground.

Democrats need to pay very close attention to this discussion as it develops in the months ahead. To help get up to speed, read the DR posts on Democratic prospects and strategies in the South (Feb. 20, 23 and 27) below. In addition, a new blog, “Facing South,” where Kromm and other southern progressives discuss their strategies, merits the attention of Democrats seeking future victories.

GOP Playbook Now In Accessible Format

Today’s Daily Kos makes Frank Luntz’s GOP Playbook on Republican strategy (see Feb. 24th entry below) available in a much more accesible format, which can be read chapter by chapter on line. Before today, it was available only as a problematic 160-page download.

New AP-Ipsos Poll: Most Disapprove of Bush SS Plan

A new poll by Ipsos-Public Afairs for the Associated Press indicates that a solid majority of Americans oppose President Bush’s proposals for privatizing Social Security. The poll, conducted 2/22-24, found that 56 percent of respondents “disapprove of President Bush’s handling of Social Security and oppose investing a portion of Social Security taxes in stocks and bonds,” with 39 percent saying they approve. In addition, 66 percent of the respondents said they oppose increasing the retirement age, 93 percent opposed cutting benefits for current retirees and 87 percent opposed reducing benefits for future retirees.
The poll indicated that there was substantial support for one potential reform — 74 percent favored requiring those earning more than $90,000 per year to pay Social Security taxes on all their earnings.
The poll also included some good news for Dems. Asked “who do you trust more to handle the issue of Social Security?”, 43 percent chose Democrats, while 37 percent chose Republicans.

More On Winning Southern Moderates

Georgian Ed Kilgore of New Donkey follows up on DR’s recent posts (see Feb. 20 and 23 below) on Democratic prospects among white moderates in the south. Kilgore offers some clarifying insights about the weakness of Kerry’s and Gore’s messages for southern voters in 2000 and 2004:

Personalities aside, the biggest difference between Clinton ’96 and Gore ’00 had to do with how each candidate dealt with two sets of issues: culture, and role-of-government–both big “trust” issues in the South. Clinton was thoroughly progressive, but went well out of his way to make it clear that he wanted abortion to be “safe, legal and rare,” that he supported a modest gay rights agenda because everyone who “worked hard and played by the rules” should be treated the same; and that he fought to maintain and even expand the social safety net on condition that it truly represented a “hand up, not a handout.”…in general, Clinton’s whole ’96 message was that he was willing to reign in government’s excesses, while fighting to defend its essentials–the famous M2E2 (Medicare, Medicaid, Education and the Environment).
Compare that message to Gore’s, and you go a long way towards understanding why the guy lost nearly half of Clinton’s southern white support. Gore was forever bellowing about partial-birth abortion legislation (supported by about three-fourths of southerners) representing a dire threat to the basic right to choose. While Clinton called for “mending, not ending” affirmative action, Gore pledged to defend every aspect of affirmative action with his life. Clinton talked about balancing gun ownership rights with responsibilities. Gore talked about national licensing of gun owners. Clinton talked about making government “smarter, not bigger.” Gore never mentioned his own role in the “reinventing government” initiative, and boasted an enormous policy agenda that added up to a message that he wanted to expand government as an end in itself.
…Kerry tried to avoid Gore’s mistakes on specific cultural and role-of-government issues, but never talked about these themes more than occasionally, and never came across with any kind of authenticity in his efforts to project himself as a man of faith, a hunter, a government-reformer, or a family guy. While Gore got killed by his positioning and the lack of a compelling message, Kerry got killed by the lack of a compelling message and by those personal characteristics–distorted and exaggerated by GOP propaganda–that made him seem alien to southern voters.

Rightly or wrongly, both Kerry and Gore wrote off the south in their campaign strategies. But demographic trends, such as the rapid increase of African American and Hispanic voters and continuing reverse migration may well put some southern states back in play by 2008 — especially with a more thoughtful strategy targeting southern moderates.

NPR Poll: Dems Have Early Edge for ’06 Elections

A newly-released poll for National Public Radio gives Democratic congressional candidates an early lead in the 2006 congressional campaign. The poll, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research 2/15-17 indicated that 42 percent of repondents would vote for the Democratic candidate and 36 percent would vote for the Republican candidate in their district, “if the election for Congress were held today.”
The 6 point Democratic advantage was in line with a GQRR poll conducted in January that gave the Dems a 5 point advantage in ’06. A December Ipsos-Public Affairs poll gave the Dems a 7 point advantage in response to the question “And if the election for congress were held today, would you want to see the Republicans or Democrats win control of Congress?”

Poll Says America Is Ready for Woman President

A new Siena College Research Institute Poll for Hearst Newspapers provides strong encouragement for women Presidential candidates. The Poll, conducted 2/10-17, found that 81 percent of the respondents would vote for a woman for President. A surprising 60 percent expect a woman to head the Democrats’ 2008 ticket and 42 percent expect a woman to be the Democrats Vice Presidential candidate. Only 18 percent of the respondents expect a woman to head the GOP ticket, while 28 percent expect a woman to be the Republicans’ Vice Presidential candidate.
Interestingly, the poll found very little difference between men and women on expectations of and support for a woman Presidential candidate. Two-thirds of the respondents said that a woman would be “better than a man president” on domestic issues and 52 percent said that there would be no difference on foreign policy, 24 percent said a woman would be better and 11 percent said a woman would be worse on foreign policy. Asked which gender would make a better “Commander-in-Chief,” 45 percent said there would be no difference, 18 percent said a woman would be better and 23 percent said a woman would be worse.
Asked their preferences of which of four women political figures should run, 53 percent said Hillary Clinton should run, followed by 42 percent for Condoleezza Rice, 33 percent for Elizabeth Dole and 13 percent for Barbara Boxer.

Finding Common Ground in Abortion Debate Minefield

Democratic candidates are on solid political ground in opposing criminal penalties for women who have abortions and supporting safe and legal abortion as a general principle, according to numerous opinion polls. But the common ground turns into a minefield for Democrats addressing a range of related issues, such as parental consent, partial birth abortions and the “morning-after pill,” according to other recent polls.
Two recent articles help clarify the issues and political ramifications. David D. Kirkpatrick’s article in the New York Times, “For Democrats, Rethinking Abortion Runs Risks” provides an overview of the political challenge:

In their search for middle ground on the subject of abortion, Democrats are encountering a mixture of resistance and retreat from abortion rights advocates in their own party.
Since its defeats in the November elections, nothing has put the fractured soul of the Democratic Party on display more vividly than abortion. Party leaders, including Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and the new chairman, Howard Dean, have repeatedly signaled an effort to recalibrate the party’s thinking about new restrictions on abortion….But abortion rights advocates warn of a bigger revolt within the party if its members start compromising on new abortion restrictions like parental notification laws or the fetal-pain bill.

Better Choices,” a Boston Globe Editorial, provides a thoughtful exploration of alternative policies that can help find common ground:

Access to reliable birth control is an obvious way to reduce the need for abortion. Birth control has been legal since the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut decision by the Supreme Court, but religious conservatives have blocked making even condoms available in high schools.
…women who are driven to have abortions — the majority of whom are young and poor — would have better options if society provided them with support in raising their children. Instead, states are passing ever more stringent welfare laws that eliminate benefits for pregnant women and for those with ever younger children. Some centers for unwed mothers provided by opponents of abortion do provide prenatal care and parenting classes, but most simply aim to steer women away from abortions. After that, they’re on their own. Women who are desperate should not be forced into motherhood, but financial and social support would help make their decisions more of a true choice.
…Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, who opposes abortion, has filed the ”Prevention First Act,” which would require insurance plans to cover prescription contraceptives, give emergency contraception to rape victims, and fund comprehensive sex education, including discussion of birth control, in public schools.
Majorities of Americans still support keeping abortion legal in at least some circumstances. But everyone should be able to agree on ways to make abortions less frequent or necessary. Reid’s legislation would be a good test of the sincerity of all those calling for common ground.

The stakes are high for Democrats, including future support of Catholics and feminists, and balancing the concerns of all Democratic constituencies will not be easy. But an earnest search for common ground can help create a stronger Democratic consensus

Dems Future Scrutinized As Dean Takes Helm of DNC

The February reading list for Democrats provides a host of interesting articles on the party’s future prospects and strategy as Howard Dean takes charge of the DNC. It is usually a good idea to begin with the newspaper articles, because of their short shelf-life as freebies. So start with E. J. Dionne’s thoughtful piece in the Washington Post Sunday Outlook “Can Dean Give ‘Em A Winner?” enumerating and analyzing the choices and challenges facing Howard Dean as he assumes command. Then peddle on over to the Los Angeles Times, and take a peek at Ronald Brownstein’s “Democrats Aren’t Giving Bush A Break This Term,” predicting a much more contentious tone, not only from Dean, but across the Democratic spectrum. Chuck Todd’s “Clintonism R.I.P.: How Triangulation Became Strangulation” in the Atlantic has reinvigorated the debate about Bill Clinton’s strategy as a template for the Dems’ future, but you’ll have to subscribe to read it and an accompanying interview, as well as Al From’s critique. For an optimistic take, The American Prospect offers Robert Kuttner’s “Being Howard Dean: Give the Chair a Chance. You Just Might Like What You See.” If you’re up for some heavy lifting, check out Peter Dreier’s “Why Bush Won: What To Do Next” in the current issue of Dissent. Also reccomended is John Nichols’ recent Nation profile “Dick Durbin: Bush Fighter,” about Illinois’ soft-spoken tough guy and possible prototype for Democratic leaders of the future.

Bush Approval Sinks in New AP/Ipsos Poll

Not to pile on concerns about the credibility of Gallup’s sampling choices, but a new AP/Ipsos Poll indicates 54 percent of adults now disapprove of President Bush’s job performance, while 45 percent approve. Seniors over age 65 registered the highest disapproval ratings, a very bad sign for Social Security privatization prospects. The poll, conducted 2/7-9 also showed 57 percent disapproving of Bush’s Iraq policy and 56 percent disapprove of his handling of the economy. In addition, 58 percent of the respondents now believe the country is headed down the “wrong track”, a hefty increase from 51 percent in January.