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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


More Shrinkage in GOP’s ‘Safe’ House Seats

In today’s WaPo, the Michael D. Shear and Dan Balz article “Growing Number of GOP Seats In Doubt: Vulnerability Seen In Unusual Places,” should gladden the spirits of Dem leaders looking toward November. The authors note:

Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of a political newsletter, now has 42 Republican districts, including Drake’s, on his list of competitive races. Last September, he had 26 competitive GOP districts…”That’s a pretty significant increase,” he said. “The national atmospherics are making long shots suddenly less long.”

As Balz and Shear explain,

Incumbents’ poll numbers have softened. Margins against their Democratic opponents have narrowed. Republican voters appear disenchanted. The Bush effect now amounts to a drag of five percentage points or more in many districts.
The changes don’t guarantee a Democratic takeover by any means, but they are creating an increasingly asymmetrical battlefield for the fall elections: The number of vulnerable Democratic districts has remained relatively constant while the number of potentially competitive Republican districts continues to climb.

And MyDD’s Jonathan Singer reports more good news for the DCCC:

As of Friday, Cook (.pdf) rates 75 seats as potentially competitive, of which the GOP must defend 55 (or 73 percent, up from 68 percent the previous week). Among the seats that could become competitive this year, Cook sees 46 as already competitive, with Republicans defending 36 (or 78 percent, up from 69 the previous week). Within the races that are today competitive Cook rates 12 as “toss-ups,” with the GOP defending 11 (or 92 percent, up from 82 percent the previous week).

Clearly, the Dems’ chances of winning a majority of the House are improving rapidly and better than expected. A lot can happen between now and November, but the trends are all blue.

Can Dems Win Evangelicals?

by Pete Ross
…is a question that would have been quickly dismissed a few years ago, but is now well worth asking, suggests Amy Sullivan in her New Republic Online article “The Christian Right Moves Left: Base Running.” Sullivan recounts a recent incident at Messiah College in which GOP Senator Rick Santorum was char-grilled by evangelical environmentalists, who were unhappy with his opposition to the Kyoto Accords and support of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Sullivan sees the incident as emblematic of a larger trend within the evangelical community — and a growing problem for the GOP:

…Rove is also reportedly worried about another group of evangelicals: the nearly 40 percent who identify themselves as politically moderate and who are just as likely to get energized about aids in Africa or melting ice caps as partial-birth abortion and lesbian couples in Massachusetts. These evangelicals have found the White House even less open to their concerns than their more conservative brethren have…They have also been aggravated by the refusal of the Christian right’s old guard to embrace new causes like the environment and global poverty.

Others have noted the growing interest in environmental causes among evangelicals, as evidenced by their increasing references to Genesis 2:15, in which God tells Adam to “watch over” the Garden of Eden “and care for it,” posited against the sorry record of the GOP on every environmental issue. Sullivan offers a revealing statistic in this context that should be of interest to all Dem candidates:

…63 percent of evangelicals in a March survey released by the Evangelical Environmental Network agreed that global warming is an immediate concern.

It is doubtful that Dems will win a majority of self-described evangelicals. Yet it is quite possible that they can win a healthy slice of the evangelical vote this year and in ’08. (For more on the political attitudes of white evangelicals, see John Halpin’s and Ruy Teixeira’s American Prospect article “The Politics of Definition, Part II”) But it won’t happen automatically. As Sullivan points out, the national Democratic Party, as well as state and local candidates, must make a focused commitment and an energetic effort to make it a reality.

GOP Angling for Black Votes Short on Substance

In The Sunday Guardian/Observer, Paul Harris has an update on GOP efforts to get a larger slice of the African American vote in the November elections. Harris’s article “Desperate Republicans Chase the Black Vote” offers no statistics to indicate they are making any significant headway, but he sees GOP hopes riding on three high-profile candidates:

Republican hopes are placed firmly on three political races, two of them in the key battleground states of Ohio and Pennsylvania. In Ohio, Kenneth Blackwell is the black Republican candidate for state governor, while in Maryland Michael Steele is aiming to capture one of the state’s senate seats. Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, former Pittsburgh Steelers star Lynn Swann is campaigning for the governorship.

All of the above face tough Democratic opposition. Moreover, the limp rationale of the Republicans’ national and local appeal, as dilineated by Harris, is unlikely to generate much excitement in African American communities:

They hope that socially conservative ideas pushed by Bush on issues such as limiting abortion and opposing same-sex marriages will appeal to many traditional black voters. They are also hoping to capitalise on the aspirations of a growing black middle class with its concepts of an ‘ownership society’ breaking free from government help and handouts.

It seems highly doubtful that such appeals won many votes for the GOP in the last election. And Republicans will have their hands full trying to offset the damage done by Bush’s late and still-weak response on behalf of the victims of Hurrican Katrina, especially the indelible images of African Americans left stranded for days in horrific conditions while the Administration dithered. If Republicans had any real chance of posting significant gains a year ago, they have been all but drowned in Katrina’s floodwaters. As pollster John Zogby observes “There was a huge opportunity for Republicans before that, but afterwards it had undone all their work.”
The GOP has a daunting enough challenge shoring up its own rapidly-deteriorating base. Whatever miniscule gains they may make in winning African American votes will probably be offset by fed-up Republicans staying at home in November and crossing over to vote for Democrats.
Democrats, on the other hand, have a clear opportunity to increase their votes from Black Americans, especially if they provide a greater investment in voter registration and turnout in predominantly African American communities.

Dems Vision-Quest Takes Shape

by Pete Ross
Robin Toner adds to the recent spate of articles about Dems pondering their their “first principles” in today’s New York Times. Toner’s piece, “Optimistic, Democrats Debate the Party’s Vision,” outlines the current discussion being led by The American Prospect’s Michael Tomasky, EDM’s Ruy Teixeira, John Halpin and others about the Dems’ future. Notes Toner:

This discussion of first principles and big goals marks a psychological shift for many in the party; a frequent theme is that Democrats must stop being afraid, stop worrying that their core beliefs are out of step with the times, stop ceding so much ground to the conservatives.

Judging by the amount media coverage on this topic, it would be easy to get the impression that Dems are so busy worrying about not having a grand vision, that they may fritter away their best chance in years to win control of congress. But Democratic strategists are doing what they are supposed to — confronting the tough questions to shape a winning coalition around common values. If it seems a little late for the ’06 elections, that’s OK. It’s right on time — and more important — for ’08.
Toner’s article paints a picture of a healthy political party, alive with vigorous internal debates about its beliefs and future, in stark contrast to the GOP, now riven with squabbles about how much they want to bash immigrants, stigmatize gays and defend ever-increasing numbers of their corrupt and incompetent leaders.
As the Dems’ vision-quest continues, Party warriors Emanuel, Schumer and Dean are focused on the heavy lifting needed to win congressional majorities in November — and laying the foundation for victory in ’08.

GOP Leaders Squirm Over Immigrant-Bashing

Pacific News Service’s Earl Ofari Hutchison has an interesting post over at AlternetWhy Republicans Will Cave on Immigration Reform,” which should be of interest to Democratic strategists. Hutchison argues that the rational Republicans will win the day and send their xenophobic brethren sputtering away. He makes some good points, including:

Latino evangelicals, both legal and illegal immigrants, make up about one-fourth of the membership of evangelical churches in America, and their numbers are growing…Latino evangelicals flexed their political muscle in March when they forced several prominent national evangelical groups to back-peddle fast from their hard-nosed stance on immigration reform.


Former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie was one of the first to sound the alarm bell. In a Wall Street Journal editorial in April, he firmly put the GOP on notice that it must not become known as the anti-immigrant party. Gillespie crunched the numbers and noted that Republicans can’t win in 2008 without the key swing states of New Mexico, Florida, Colorado and Nevada, which Bush won in 2004.
Bush and the Republicans fix their political eye on more than Latino population numbers and votes. They also see Latinos’ dollars. In politics money doesn’t talk, it screams. The disposable income of Latinos soared to nearly $1 trillion during the 1990s and continues to climb. Credit card, shipping and communications companies, trade and tourist associations, hotels, airlines and sports franchises are now feverishly marketing products to snatch a bigger share of Latinos’ dollars. Republican campaign officials will do the same.

Hutchison may be right about the course the GOP leaders will chose. Even so, the GOP’s internal division should be good for Democratic candidates. And it may be too little too late for Republian leaders to save the day, because serious damage to the GOP’s Hispanic outreach has already been done, and politically-aware Latinos know that the latest wave of immigrant-bashing did not originate from Democrats.

Framing Immigration Issues — On TV

Michael Sean Winters takes a crack at brainstorming some potential TV ads Dems could run to get a grip on immigration issues and expose GOP demagoguery at the same time. Winters’ New Republic Online piece “Democrats Immigration Opportunity: Defining Moment” suggests using baseball and other celebs to address the moral dimensions of the issue head-on:

Swing voters are probably not impressed by Bill Richardson, the Hispanic governor of New Mexico. They are impressed by Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals. Pujols is from the Dominican Republic, he is a perennial all-star, and he is a born-again Christian. The spot would begin with him reading from the Book of Leviticus, chapter 19, verse 34: “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Pujols could then put down the Bible, look into the camera, and say, “I believe Americans are a God-fearing people, but these Minutemen seem to have forgotten their Bibles.”
The Hebrew and Christian scriptures are filled with such texts. I picture Yankees star Alex Rodriguez, who is Dominican American, reading the story of the Good Samaritan. Or Colombian-born singer Shakira reciting the twenty-fifth chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew: “For I was hungry and you gave me to eat, thirsty and you gave me to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. … Whatever you have done for these the least of my brethren, you have done for me.”

Or these:

another could take place in front of the Statue of Liberty…Liberals should not be afraid to insist that it is their position on immigration that is the truly patriotic one.
…Democrats could produce a spot with a ten-year-old girl in the kitchen helping her grandmother bake cookies. The girl might say, “Those Republicans call immigrants nasty names. In our family, we call immigrants Grandma and Grandpa.” Ads that go for the emotional jugular tend to attract free media attention, and therefore do not require expensive media buys to be effective.

The discussion thread following Winter’s article reveals some legitimate concerns about his moral confrontation approach. But credit Winters with proposing some creative ‘framing’ ideas for Dems. And making use of television to expose Republican pandering and xenophobia is a jolly good idea. Dems should also run ads that advocate some solutions to guest worker-related and other concerns.
But it’s hard to argue with Winters’ conclusion:

Last month, the Dubai Port story came and went with no real long-term benefit to the Democrats. They failed to turn the narrow issue of port management into the broader issue of Republican failure to provide adequate port security, an issue with legs, as well as an issue on which Democrats could benefit from being seen as the tough guys. The demographics of the Latino population explosion make support for immigrants smart politics as well as humane policy. If only the Dems will jump on the wave.

Painfully true about the missed opportunity regarding port security. Winters’ article and the accompanying discussion thread provide a good beginning for readers who want to seize the opportunity presented by immigration issues.

How ‘Northeast Strategy’ Can Benefit Dems

My DD’s Chris Bowers concludes his three-parter “Building a Real House Majority” with a strong case for “the northeast strategy.” As Bowers explains it:

The “Northeast strategy,” as I propose it, entails looking at potential 2006 Democratic pickups in the House, and weighting their order of value based upon the degree of difficulty in holding the seat once we take it…Now, I am not writing about this strategy to in any way diminish my personal commitment to the fifty-state strategy. I still believe 100% in competing everywhere, in challenging Republicans everywhere, and on staying away from selective targeting of races and states as much as possible. I feel, instead, that this is another strategic layer to an overall theory of retaking the House…Specifically, I am advocating for the full-scale targeting of every Republican held seat with a partisan voting index of +1.5% Democratic or more in every election. While I believe that every Republican in Congress should face a democratic challenger with at least $40K to run a campaign, I also believe that every Republican in a district with a Democratic PVI of 1.5 or more should face a challenger with at least $400K and a strong, complimentary grassroots / netroots operation. This should be the target for every election cycle.

Bowers discusses specifics in key districts and makes a strong case for using his numerical guidelines in developing a flexible Democratic resource-allocation strategy for winning back the House. While most of the states meeting his p.v.i. guidelines are in the northeast at this time, there are some districts in other regions that meet the criteria. All in all, it seems a reasonable approach, provided exceptions can be made for strong Dem candidates in other districts that may fall short of the +1.5 standard.

Protecting Dem House Seats

Most Democratic speculation about which ’06 U.S. House races to target for optimal resource allocation tends to focus on GOP-held seats we can win. But that’s only part of the strategy for creating a majority to retake the House. Dems also need to protect their most vulnerable House members. Swing State’s DavidNYC offers a thoughtful contribution to this discussion, “House 2006: Where Their Targets Are,” and includes a nifty chart featuring 41 Dem-held seats in districts that went for Bush in ’04 which Rahm Emanuel should stick on his fridge.
Yet, even considering ’06 House races from a defensive vantage point, DavidNYC sees a very weak GOP effort to win these seats and concludes:

Now, don’t get me wrong here: I am absolutely, absolutely not counseling complacency, or suggesting we’ve got this one in the bag, or anything like that at all. We have tons of work cut out for us. Rather, I’m pointing out the simple fact that the GOP has forty-one prime targets and is only mustering a serious assault against a handful of them. This just empirically confirms something we’ve probably all felt to be true for a while: The GOP is very much on the defensive this year. And that gives us a lot of opportunities to expand the playing field.

We’ll drink to that. But let’s do encourage the DCCC to protect our most vulnerable incumbents.

Americans Sour on Nation-Building, Oil Dependence

by Pete Ross
Foreign Affairs is featuring an eye-opening analysis of public attitudes towards ‘democracy building.’ The centerpiece article by Dan Yankelovich discusses two recent surveys by Public Agenda which bring bad news for neo-con interventionists:

As for the goal of spreading democracy to other countries, only 20 percent of respondents identified it as “very important” — the lowest support noted for any goal asked about in the survey. Even among Republicans, only three out of ten favored pursuing it strongly. In fact, most of the erosion in confidence in the policy of spreading democracy abroad has occurred among Republicans, especially the more religious wing of the party. People who frequently attend religious services have been among the most ardent supporters of the government’s policies, but one of the recent survey’s most striking findings is that although these people continue to maintain a high level of trust in the president and his administration, their support for the government’s Iraq policy and for the policy of exporting democracy has cooled.

And, apropos of yesterday’s post, Yankelovich sees energy independence as a rapidly rising priority of Americans:

No change is more striking than that relating to the public’s opinion of U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Americans have grown much more worried that problems abroad may affect the price of oil. The proportion of those who said they “worry a lot” about this occurring has increased from 42 percent to 55 percent. Nearly nine out of ten Americans asked were worried about the problem — putting oil dependence at the top of our 18-issue “worry scale.” Virtually all Americans surveyed (90 percent) said they see the United States’ lack of energy independence as jeopardizing the country’s security, 88 percent said they believe that problems abroad could endanger the United States’ supply of oil and so raise prices for U.S. consumers, and 85 percent said they believe that the U.S. government would be capable of doing something about the problem if it tried. This last belief may be the reason that only 20 percent of those surveyed gave the government an A or a B on this issue; three-quarters assigned the government’s performance a C, a D, or an F.

We may be witnessing the initial rumblings of a political earthquake. As Yankelovich notes:

The oil-dependency issue now meets all the criteria for having reached the tipping point: an overwhelming majority expresses concern about the issue, the intensity of the public’s unease has reached significant levels, and the public believes the government is capable of addressing the issue far more effectively than it has until now. Should the price of gasoline drop over the coming months, this issue may temporarily lose some of its political weight. But with supplies of oil tight and geopolitical tensions high, public pressure is likely to grow.

Yankelovich also discusses public attitudes about the Iraq war, outsourcing and illegal immigration — and the Administration will find scant comfort in these trends, either. The entire article is recommended to Dems who want to get a better handle on recent public opinion trends on key foreign policy issues.