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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


Health Care Poll: Americans Want Change

by EDM Staff
A just-released Harris Interactive Poll should strongly encourage Democratic candidates to support a broad range of health care reforms. The poll, conducted 9/6-12, measured attitudes of Americans of different faiths on a dozen health and health care-related issues, and found scant support for conservative or status quo health care policies, except among ‘born-again Christians’ and evangelicals. According to the poll:

Medicare (health insurance for the elderly and disabled). Fully 96 percent of adults support Medicare, including 92 percent or more of all religious categories.
Birth control/contraception is supported by 93 percent of all adults, including 90 percent of Catholics and 88 percent of born-again Christians, the “very religious” and Evangelicals.
Condom use to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases is supported by 92 percent of adults, including 93 percent of Catholics, 82 percent of born-again Christians, 83 percent of the “very religious” and 81 percent of Evangelicals.
Medicaid (health insurance for people with very low incomes) is supported by 91 percent of all adults, including 88 percent of all religious categories.
Sex education in high schools is supported by 87 percent of the public, but only by 76 percent of born-again Christians, 77 percent of the “very religious” and 72 percent of Evangelicals.
Funding of international HIV prevention and treatment programs is supported by 87 percent of the public, including not less than 82 percent of all religious categories.
Universal health insurance is favored by 75 percent of all adults, including 63 percent or more of all religious groups.
Embryonic stem cell research is favored by 70 percent of all adults, including 70 percent of Catholics. However, it is supported by only 45 percent of born-again Christians, 38 percent of Evangelicals and 51 percent of the “very religious.”
Funding of international birth control programs is supported by 70 percent of the public, including 66 percent of Catholics, but only 53 percent of born-again Christians and 48 percent of Evangelicals.
Withdrawal of life support systems/food for those in a vegetative state is supported by 68 percent of the public, but by only 47 percent of born-again Christians and 45 percent of Evangelicals.
Abortion rights (which were not defined) are supported by 63 percent of the public, including 56 percent of Catholics, but by only 30 percent of born-again Christians, 39 percent of the “very religious” and 28 percent of Evangelicals.
Abstinence from sex before marriage is supported by 63 percent of the public, but by fully 85 percent of born-again Christians, 85 percent of the “very religious” and 91 percent of Evangelicals.

Interestingly, the views of Catholics were not significantly dissimilar from other groups:

…the attitudes of Catholics are generally very similar to those of all adults and, on some issues, very unlike the official position of the Pope and the Church. For example, overwhelming majorities of Catholics favor contraception (90%), condom use to prevent HIV and STD infections (93%), the funding of international birth control programs (66%), embryonic stem cell research (70%) and the withdrawal of life support for those in a vegetative state (68%). A majority (56%) also supports abortion rights.

The poll did not measure the opinions of Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists. And the report was unclear as to whether “universal health insurance” was defined for respondents as covering all illnesses and all expenses. Taken together with recent polls discussed in EDM posts by Ruy Teixeira on September 10th and 16th, it is clear that Democratic candidates have little to lose by supporting bold health care reforms — and a lot to win.

Bush’s Net Job Approval Tumbles in State Polls

by EDM Staff
President Bush’s net job approval fell to minus 21 in October, down from minus 16 in September, according to 50 separate but concurrent SurveyUSA statewide polls conducted 10/14-16. The President had a positive net job approval rating in just 7 states (UT, ID, WY, AK, NB, OK and ND), and a negative rating in 41 states — including 21 “red” states he won in 2004.
When all of the state polls are combined and proportionately averaged, 59 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Bush is doing, while 38 percent approve. SurveyUSA reports that Bush’s net job approval fell by double digits in TX, SC, MS, TN, MI, IL and NC.

Dem Theme for ’06: GOP’s ‘Culture of Corruption and Incompetence’

Janet Hook’s “Storm Clouds Hanging Over Republicans” in today’s LA Times reveals more GOP-nail biting overt the effect of their corruption problems in next year’s congressional elections. Hook quotes several Republican insiders:

“This vague issue of corruption hanging over Republicans is not good, because it is the one thing on which Democrats don’t have to have an alternative policy . . .I don’t want that cloud over us going into [next year’s] elections…Of all the things hanging out there, the one that Republicans are most concerned about is Abramoff, because nobody knows where it’s going to lead” – former Rep. Vin Weber
“You have Frist, DeLay, the Plame case, and you have Democrats with a theme: the culture of corruption and incompetence. [Republicans] are concerned that next year could be a bad year.” – a GOP lobbyist who requested anonymity
“This is not the environment we want to have come next year” – Republican pollster David Winston

Hook and others have reported that the tarnishing of the GOP’s image has helped to ignite a prairie fire of appealing Dem ‘outsider’ candidates for congress. But Republicans have always been particularly good at floating distractions from their internal problems and from some of their less popular policies. For an insightful discussion about the GOP’s ‘wicked genius’ for evasive action, see Christopher Hayes’ “No Right Turn ; If Americans haven’t gotten more conservative, why is the GOP in charge?” in the current issue of the Washington Monthly.
Bottom line is that the GOP’s ethics problems offer fresh hope to Dem challengers in the months ahead. But it doesn’t relieve Dem candidates of their obligation to provide credible alternatives.

Dem Hopes Rise Amid Limp GOP ’06 Campaign

by EDM Staff
Ezra Klein has a post in TAPPED on the recent NRCC memo to the House GOP conference, trumpeting unbridled bravado about their ability to retain their congressional majorities in next year’s elections. Natch, the memo lists all of the Republicans assets, such as cash, incumbency and limited playing field. The memo was undoubtedly a response to recent comments by twitchy Republicans expressing concern about Bush’s approval ratings, the Iraq quagmire and the strong possibility of perp walks by GOP leaders in the months ahead. For a more realistic assessment, check out Charles Babington and Chris Cillizza’s piece in today’s WaPo, “For GOP, Election Anxiety Mounts.” Among other factors, the authors cite:

…Republican operatives, including some who work closely with the White House, privately point to what they regard as a lackluster performance by Sen. Elizabeth Dole (N.C.) as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the group that heads fundraising and candidate recruitment for GOP senators.
But some strategists more sympathetic to Dole point the finger right back. With an unpopular war in Iraq, ethical controversies shadowing top Republicans in the House and Senate, and President Bush suffering the lowest approval ratings of his presidency, the waters look less inviting to politicians deciding whether to plunge into an election bid. Additionally, some Capitol Hill operatives complain that preoccupied senior White House officials have been less engaged in candidate recruitment than they were for the 2002 and 2004 elections

Cillizza and Babington provide some interesting thumbnail sketches of GOP candidate recruitment problems in various states. They could have also cited recent polls asking respondents which party they would vote for in their congressional districts if the election were held today. Polling Report has the results of polls taken during the last month that show Dem leads on this question at 5,8,9, 8 and 12 percent in polls by Newsweek, Fox News, Democracy Corps, The Winston Group and Pew Research Center respectively.

R.I.P. ‘Contract with America’

Decembrist Mark Schmitt has a post scolding the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for its “monumentally stupid” unearthing of the long-dead ‘Contract with America.’ Schmitt says:

Eleven years is a long time. Yes, to Washington Dems the Contract with America is still a living, breathing monster. Many of us lost our jobs because of it. (I didn’t, but I would have been in line for a very cool job if Democrats had retained the Senate.) But does the Contract have any meaning for ordinary people after 11 years, three presidential elections, an impeachment, Sept. 11, a war, etc.? I’m open to hearing about poll numbers that indicate otherwise, but I suspect the answer is no.

Schmitt takes the DCCC to task for embracing a custom-tailored GOP “frame” and notes further:

The whole breach-of-contract argument is internal and process-oriented. It’s an insiders’ argument to insiders. What does it have to do with war, economic security, global challenges, hurricanes and floods, etc. Yes, reform is a key theme and Democrats must embrace it, but not in a bloodless good-government way. It’s got to be integrally connected to the things people care about in life, and in the non-political aspects of their life.

And then, the nut graph:

If Democrats expect to capitalize on the emerging scandals, indictments, chaos, and the President’s unpopularity to nationalize a congressional election for the first time since 1994, they have to find one or two clear points, substantive points, that are our own and that would matter: universal health care, preparedness for future crises, economic security, bring the war in Iraq to an end — something serious that people can grab onto. Talking about someone else’s 11-year-old Contract is no substitute.

The bottom line is that the Republicans are doing a wonderful job of destroying themselves, and we don’t have to go back more than a decade to highlight their failures. What’s missing is a projection of the Democratic Party as the credible alternative. The sooner the DCCC meets that challenge head on and full-strength, the better our chances in November ’06.

Needed: More Dem Scrutiny of Redistricting Campaigns

by EDM staff
Nancy Vogel has a good wrap-up of several proposals to redistrict congressional elections around the country in the L.A. Times. Her article “Several States May Revisit Redistricting” also presents a summary of arguments for and against ‘bipartisan’ redistricting, focused primarilly on California, where voters will decide on Prop 77, which would put redistricting in the hands of three retired judges. The stakes are high, and Dems need to pay closer attention to these redistricting campaigns, any one of which could alter national politics in short order. Vogel quotes Nathaniel Persily, a redistricting expert who is a professor of law and political science at the University of Pennsylvania on the impact:

“To some extent, the power to draw lines is more important than the power of voting…The redistricting process is often more determinative of who wins elections than the voting in elections itself.”

While the Schwarzenegger-led California proposal is a fairly transparent political power grab, other equally-partisan initiatives have been more cleverly shrouded in bipartisan wrapping paper. At present Prop 77 is opposed by a 46 percent of voters, with 32 percent supporting it, according to a September Field poll cited by Vogel. Recent redistricting initiatives implemented in Texas and Georgia benefitted the GOP, as would Prop 77. But redistricting reforms proposed in Florida and Ohio are being supported by leading Democrats.
Pro-redistricting campaigns are underway in 12 states. At present 12 states prohibit lawmakers from drawing legislative boundaries and six states ban lawmakers from drawing congressional district boundaries.
Democrats should stay focused on winning hearts and minds in all congressional districts, but there is also a compelling need to defeat those redistricting proposals designed to undercut their strength in key states.

Targeting House Seats Dems Can Win in ’06

by EDM Staff
Superribbie has an interesting article “74 House Races to Target (ranked)”, cross posted at My DD and Daily Kos. The article crunches some numbers, plugs in some insider analysis and comes up with a credible list of 74 seats in the House of Representatives Democrats can be optimistic about winning in November, ’06. The 74 seats include both vulnerable Republicans and open seats Dems can win, with the House district and name of the incumbent. Even better, Superribbie has links to 7 regions, which include detailed discusssions of key races in individual states, a useful bookmark for Dems interested in following specific ’06 House races. Readers’ comments also include some perceptive insights on ’06 battles. It’s encouraging that Dems have a shot at 74 seats, since winning just 15 would enable them to regain control of the House. (For a discussion on expanding the playing field to 100 seats, see also Ruy Teixeira’s September 7 EDM post).

Dem ’06 Prospects Brighten

by EDM staff
Has Bush’s bungled handling of Katrina relief and record increases in gas prices undermined the GOP’s chances in next year’s congressional elections? According to the latest Pew Research Center poll, conducted 9/8-11, 52 percent of Americans now say they would vote for the Democratic candidate for congress in their district, while 40 percent say they would vote for the Republican. A Newsweek Poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International 9/8-9 found that 50 percent of respondents said they would vote for the Democratic candidate in their district, while 38 percent said they would vote for the Republican.
This is a significant increase in favor of Democrats from the most recent results reported by a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll. The Fox poll, conducted 8/30-31, the day after Katrina’s landfall, found that 38 percent of respondents wanted Democrats to win next year’s congressional elections, compared to 35 percent for the Republicans.
The Pew poll also showed that Democrats have double digit leads over Republicans among Independents in terms of which party can best handle a range of current issues. Dems had a 38 percent advantage on health care, a 37 percent lead on environmental issues, 15 percent on social security, 11 percent on both the economy and handling disasters and a 14 percent advantage on Iraq policy. If congressional elections were held today, 55 percent of Independents said they would vote Democratic, compared with 27 percent for Republicans.

Pew Poll: Feds Flunk Katrina Relief

by Pete Ross
According to a new poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 61 percent of Americans rate the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina as “only fair/poor,” while 37 percent rate the feds’ response as “excellent/good.” The poll, conducted 9/8-11, found similar ratings for the response of state and local governments (60 and 34 percent respectively). No surprise in the “fair/poor” ratings, but it would be interesting to know what in blazes anyone thought was “excellent” about the feds’ response.
Amid charges that racial discrimination played a major role in the Administration’s late and limp response, the poll also found that:

whites and blacks have identical views about the state and local response, but blacks are much more negative than whites about how the federal government has dealt with the hurricane’s impact.

Asked if the federal government should help rebuild New Orleans, 51 percent of respondents agreed that the feds “should help pay,” while 41 percent said it is “too risky to rebuild.” The poll also found that Americans are evenly divided on whether the “US has enough forces to fight effectively in Iraq and respond to domestic crises,” with 47 percent agreeing that we can do both and 48 percent disagreeing.

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.