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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


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.

Dems Sobering Up for ’06 House Races

by EDM Staff
New York Times reporter Robin Toner has some strong black coffee for Dems still buzzed on the sweet wine of last Tuesday’s election results. In her post-mortem “An Opening for Democrats, However Slim,” Toner offers some sobering numbers outlining the challenge we face next November in winning a net pick-up of 15 seats needed for a House of Reps majority:

In the last three Congressional elections, the incumbent re-election rate has hovered from 96 to 98 percent, among the highest since World War II. In 2004, only seven incumbents were defeated in the general election, four of them Texas Democrats pushed into new districts engineered by Republicans.
…political analysts can identify only two or three dozen House seats that are, at the moment, competitive. Gaining 15 seats out of that small a group would be like threading a needle. In contrast, 15 months before the 1994 election, the Cook Political Report, an independent handicapper of House races, rated 89 seats as competitive – based on fund-raising, the strength of the incumbent and the challenger, and the political demographics of the district.
…by many measures, the Republicans had more targets of opportunity a decade ago than Democrats do today. In 1992, 56 Democrats won with 55 percent of the vote or less, an indicator of their vulnerability in 1994, according to Cook. Only 19 Republicans won with 55 percent or less in 2004.
Or consider this: 103 Congressional districts in 1992 voted for one party’s candidate for president and another party’s candidate for the House, a marker of a potential swing district. In 2004, there were only 59 such districts…
But perhaps the most striking advantage the Republicans had in 1994 was the number of Democratic retirements: there were 52 open seats that year, 31 of them that had been held by Democrats, according to Cook. So far in this cycle, Republicans have 13 open seats, Democrats 7. Open seats are much easier for the other party to capture.
Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster, noted that even in the toughest, throw-the-bums-out political season, like 1982 or 1994, only about 10 percent of incumbents are defeated.

Yet, as Toner notes, Dems have some promising advantages that could translate into upset victories, such as growing GOP ethics problems. Republicans will also be more wedded to failed Iraq policy, high gas prices and bungled hurricane relief 11 months from now. In addition, Linda Feldman’s article “Election ’05 Gives Democrats Hope” in The Christian Science Monitor spotlights Tim Kaine’s Virginia win as an indication that Dems may be able to turn growing public concerns about fiscal responsibility to their advantage. Feldman quotes Bob Holsworth, a political scientist at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond on the powerful precedent set for Dems by former Governor Warner:

What Mark Warner helped to do is transform the political culture of a red state and make it far more amenable to Democratic perspectives. Clearly, in Virginia and in the South, Democrats have found it successful to run as the fiscally responsible party. Given all the current spending by the Bush administration, there’s an opportunity for that message to resonate nationally.

Despite the daunting numbers cited by Toner, University of California redistricting expert Bruce Caine points out in her article, “The annals of redistricting are replete with stories of parties that thought they drew themselves into safety but got blown away.” And U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sees as many as 50 competitive House races. With good candidates, credible alternative policies and hard work, a net pick-up of 15 of those House seats should be possible.

Some Lessons from ’05 Elections

by Pete Ross
The Donkey romped yesterday, and the results suggest some lessons for political strategists:
1. Dems can win in the South.

Virginia has two Republican Senators, but it is officially purple, having now elected two consecutive Democratic Governors. Tim Kaine’s win is all the more impressive, considering Virginia’s large evangelical community. It may have helped that he spoke sincerely about his faith (Catholic), and perhaps southern Dem candidates ought to study his balanced handling of religion as a possible template.

2. Tip was right…sort of

O’Neill’s dictum “All politics is local” held up nicely, as meddlesome W discovered. However Bush’s support for loser Kilgore in Virginia indicates that national leaders interfering in local races can have a negative impact. In St. Paul, Democratic Mayor Randy Kelly, a Bush supporter also went down.

3. Don’t even mention your opponent’s family.

Republican Forrester’s disgusting attempt to use Corzine’s divorce against him backfired big time, although Corzine may have won NJ anyway.

4. Arrogance doesn’t sell.

Arnold’s powerplay to reshape California politics flunked in a huge (zero for four) way. Voters also rejected reapportionment reform in Ohio, another indication that the public may prefer to leave the issue to the state Legs.

All in all, a great day for Dems, and the scope of Dem victories bodes well for ’06 elections — less than a year from today.

Dems Up Double Digits in Congressional Races

by EDM Staff
The latest ABC News/Washington Post Poll should keep the National Republican Congressional Committee spin doctors busy. The poll found that 52 percent of registered voters say they would vote for the Democrat in their congressional district if the election “were being held today,” compared to 37 percent for Republican candidates. The poll, which was conducted 10/30-11/2, also reported that 55 percent of Americans said they would like to see Democrats “in control of Congress after the congressional elections a year from now,” compared to 37 percent for Republicans.
In their Sunday WaPo article “Voter Anger Might Mean an Electoral Shift in ’06,” writers Dan Balz, Shailagh Murray and Peter Slevin ventured “many strategists say that if the public mood further darkens, Republican majorities in the House and Senate could be at risk…A Democratic takeover of either the House or Senate is not out of the question.
Reviewing the poll data, the authors see signs of a political reallighnment:

None of these results can be used to predict the future, but together they explain why many GOP strategists privately are in such an anxious mood. One claimed that this is the most sour environment for the party in power since 1994, when Democrats lost 53 House and seven Senate seats and surrendered their majority. Another said Republicans have not faced such potential backlash since 1982, when the party lost 26 House seats in the midst of a recession.

With less than a year to go before the ’06 elections, Dems have good reasons to be optimistic. But the poll did offer a cautionary clue for Dems looking toward ’08. Asked which party had “stronger” leaders, respondents picked the GOP with 51 percent, compared to 35 percent for Dems. Between now and the next presidential primary season, Dem candidates should work harder on projecting elements of perceived strength, such as clarity and consistency.

Dems’ Best Focus: Alito’s Anti-worker Record

by Pete Ross
Nathan Newman, director of Agenda for Justice, has a good read at TPM Cafe,”Scalito on Workers Rights,” alerting Dems to Judge Alito’s long history of undermining laws that protect working people from abuses on the job. While there is a lot in Alito’s record for Dems to be concerned about, particularly with respect to women’s reproductive rights, Dems will be missing an opportunity if they don’t give strong emphasis to opposing Alito because of his rubber stamping corporate arguments against worker rights. As Newman notes:

What is striking about Alito is that he is so hostile even to the basic right of workers to have a day in court, much less interpreting the law in their favor…

Newman cites cases in which Alito opposed majority decisions on worker’s rights with respect to minimum wage, discrimination, pensions, public employee rights and union protection. He points out that Alito wrote “anti-worker majority decisions” on exempting employers from the Family and Medical Leave Act, “putting him to the right of William Rehnquist.”

His opposition to the Family Medical Leave Act will be highly unpopular with middle class voters and should be the focus of any fight against Alito. Family Medical Leave is sacred ground for working people with children–republican, democratic, and independent. Paint the republicans as anti-family leave and you have a huge political victory.

Molly Selvin’s article “Court Nominee Has Free-Market Bent: Bush’s choice to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has a pro-business record” in today’s LA Times also cites cases in which Alito revealed his strong anti-worker bias. Selvin quotes Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School:

Alito gives every indication that he will be a strong ally for business interests on the court…He will be swimming in the deep right of the court’s pool on business questions

Newman is skeptical about Dems’ rising to the challenge of making concern for worker rights the centerpiece of their oppostion to Alito. But, if the Dems are going to go all out against Alito, focusing their arguments as champions of worker rights has the greatest potential for building a broad groundswell for defeating the Alito nomination — and for strengthening the Dems’ credibility with working people in November, ’06.