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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


Katrina Evacuees May Tip Some Races

by EDM Staff
Apropos of the post below, Dems need to insure that as many Katrina evacuees as possible are registered to vote in time for the November elections. No doubt some evacuees are reluctant to register in new states where they now live for a number of reasons, such as uncertainty about their residence in the near future. But there are a significant number of votes at stake here. For example, FEMA estimates that there are 34,575 evacuee households now residing in Georgia — and growing quite rapidly. It’s not hard to envision 50,000 or so potentially eligible voters associated with these households, a significant number for any state. Nor is it too much of a stretch assume that many, if not most of them are angry about the Administration’s weak leadership on their behalf.
No doubt there will be GOP shenanigans aplenty in the months ahead to prevent these potential voters from getting registered, and the states have a range of different residency and registration requirements (see this link for a state by state comparison). Hopefully, Democratic party leaders in affected southern states are already planning strategies to get as many of these potential voters as possible registered. Not a few important races, including the governorship of Georgia, could depend on it.

Katrina Recovery: Dems’ Wedge for Southern Votes

by Pete Ross
If we Dems ever want to see southern states colored blue on morning after election maps, the time to raise some serious hell about the botched Katrina “recovery” is now.
Consider the new Associated Press poll conducted by Ipsos-Public Affairs 2/13-16 (toplines here) on Katrina recovery: For openers, Americans would prefer that Katrina recovery be “a higher priority for government spending” than the war in Iraq by a margin of 64 to 31 percent. Asked “How confident are you that the money appropriated for recovery from Katrina is being spent wisely,” 37 percent responded “not too confident” and another 29 percent chose “not confident at all.”
Talk about national security, only 15 percent of respondents said they were “very confident” about the government’s ability to handle major disasters in the future, with 28 percent “not too confident” and 24 percent “not at all confident.” And talk about ‘Portgate’ as a national security issue, consider that the Port of South Louisiana (New Orleans) handles more tonnage than New York City — only 3 ports in the world handle more.
A reporter friend, himself a lifelong southerner, who recently visited the Gulf rim, was stunned by the number of “destitute people” he saw who were still struggling to survive along the highways of southern Mississippi and Louisiana. The people who live on the Gulf Coast and those who have evacuated are pissed in a huge way, and they will most assuredly take their discontent to the polls, wherever they are, on election day. What we don’t want is them — and other southerners — saying they have not been impressed with the Democrats’ response to the Administration’s disasterous handling of the recovery effort. It would serve the DCCC and DNC well to crank up the volume on this issue to the point where it is crystal clear which party is ready to provide energetic leadership to restore and revitalize Gulf communities.

Dems Need Higher Profile on Energy Reform

by Pete Ross
When President Bush said the U.S. was “addicted to oil” in his state of the union address, many thought it was just a cheap applause line with no follow-up. But yesterday Bush visited a leading producer of hybrid car batteries and energy-saving technology for buildings to preach the gospel of energy independence. (see this article in today’s WaPo for a wrap-up) Later in the day, he visited a solar energy plant in Michigan and today he speaks at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory — clear signals that his party intends to improve its standing with voters who are concerned about rising gas and heating oil prices, our dependency on mideast oil and environmental pollution.
Environmentalists can’t be blamed for scoffing at the notion of Bush as champion of energy independence, given Bush’s and Cheney’s long history as errand boys for big oil. But Democrats should not dismiss the possibility that Bush’s p.r. initiatives may have the desired effect, which is to persuade enough voters that the G.O.P is becomming more supportive of energy independence in order to reduce Democratic victories in the November elections.
A look at recent polls goes a long way to explaining Bush’s new-found concern about energy independence. For example, a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted 2/1-5, indicates that 55 percent of Americans disapprove of Bush’s handling of energy policy, with 30 percent approving. Asked if America is “addicted to oil,” 85 percent of the respondents agreed and 86 percent supported tougher fuel efficiency standards for cars, truck and SUV’s. The poll also indicated that 68 percent of Americans want a greater investment in developing mass rail and bus transit systems.
Because Bush and the Republicans have refused to support stricter CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards or a significant investment in mass transit development, Dems are in good position to call the GOP’s bluff. Most Democrats have a solid record of support of these two reforms and this difference should be strongly highlighted in every congressional campaign.
In the months ahead, Democratic candidates should emphasize how the Administration and Republican congressional majority have blocked CAFE reforms and mass transit investment at every opportunity. With this commitment, Bush’s p.r. intitiative will backfire and Dems will gain a sharper edge in November.

GOP Losing Support Over Prescription Drug Mess

The Democrats are making gains among senior citizens as a result of confusion and rising discontent over the new prescription drug rules, reports Robin Toner in “Drug Plan’s Start May Imperil G.O.P.’s Grip on Older Voters” in The New York Times.
Discontent over prescription drug polices could have a decisive effect in races in which senior voters are critical, such as the U.S. Senate contest in Pennsylvania. In House races, Toner says “Among the fewer than three dozen House districts considered competitive, the over-60 vote will be critical in states like Florida and New Mexico.”
As Ruy Teixeira explained in his December 21 piece “Seniors, the Prescription Drug Benefit and the 2006 Election,” voters age 60 and older have become highly critical of the job performance of both the President and congress — and these voters turn out at even higher rates in midterm elections.
Toner quotes GOP pollster Glen Bolger’s observation that confusion over the drug benefit has “taken the key swing vote that’s been trending the Republicans’ way and put it at risk for the next election.”
A range of problems are driving senior concerns about the new plan, according to Toner:

…including low-income people who fell between the cracks in the transition; the difficulties reported by many pharmacists in determining eligibility; and the general struggle of millions of retirees faced with a choice among 40 or more private drug plans, with different rules, lists of covered drugs and premiums.”

Toner cites a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll, indicating that “retirees were almost twice as likely to say they viewed the benefit unfavorably (45 percent) as favorably (23 percent)” and a recent New York Times/CBS News Poll showing that “most did not expect the law to lower drug costs over the next few years.” In addition, a recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll reveals that only 20 percent of seniors believe the new plan is working.
Smart Dems have taken a common sense approach to addressing the issue. Toner quotes Florida State Senator Ron Klein, who is running for congress against Rep. Clay Shaw:

“These Medicare prescription drug costs, on top of the other issues, are weighing pretty heavily on people with fixed incomes…Let’s start thinking about the consumer side, instead of figuring out how to prop up the pharmaceutical and insurance industries.”

Toner notes that Democrats are pushing reforms to improve the benefit, including extending the sign-up deadline, empowering Medicare to negotiate prices directly with drug companies and more vigorously regulating private drug plans. Dems will publicize their reforms at a series of nearly 100 forums that will be held across the U.S. in the coming months

GOP Losing Grip on Senate?

Most pundits seem to agree that the GOP will retain control of the U.S. Senate after the November elections. But the latest SurveyUSA roundup of approval ratings for all U.S. Senators suggests the GOP hammerlock may be loosening. When the 100 Senators’ are ranked according to their most recent approval ratings, 13 of the 16 Senators with approval ratings below 50 percent are Republicans. Granted, not all of the 13 are up for re-election this year, but the approval rankings may indicate that change is afoot.

Dems Sharpen Edge in House Races

by EDM Staff
My DD‘s Chris Bowers concludes his 4-parter on Democratic prospects for winning the 15 seats needed for a House majority on an optimistic note:

While I believe the thirty districts I have already mentioned are indeed the best chances Democrats have for pickups, there are of course other districts that could fall our way given a new extraordinary event, such as a major scandal, an unexpected retirement, or a particularly strong campaign. There also still remains the outside possibility of a major national landslide, especially given our good very good “macro” situation. We have good recruitment, while Republicans are not. This will allow Democrats to stretch Republican defenses much thinner than they did in 2002 or 2004 even if our national poll lead shrinks. Democrats are also doing well in terms of money, both at the individual candidate level and in terms of the DCCC closing the cash on hand gap with the NRCC. Democrats also hold the generic advantage in 2006, which will help keep their poll numbers high.

If there is a landslide or “an extraordinary event,” Bowers sees another 25 House seats that could go Democratic. Bowers’ 4-parter is the best horse-race wrap-up so far, and outclasses anything in print. Readers comments on individual races published with his series are perceptive as well.
Mark Gersh and New Donkey Ed Kilgore add some insights into upcoming House races in their Blueprint Magazine piece “Target Rich: Democrats Have a Slew of Vulnerable House Republicans in Their Sights for the 2006 Midterm Elections.” WaPo‘s Dan Balz and Chris Cillizza have a recent article “Handfull of Races May Tip Control of Congress” estimating 25-40 openly competitive house races, but also noting that “in 2004 just 32 congressional districts were won with less than 55 percent fo the vote.”
The list of 65+ vulnerable GOP-held districts compiled from the aforementioned articles is encouraging. But it might be even more helpful to know which issues are most important in these districts.

Dems Mull Future in ‘Get This Party Started’

MyDD is running a forum centered on the ideas in a new book of interest to EDM readers, Get This Party Started: How Progressives Can Fight Back and Win, an anthology edited by Matthew R. Kerbel and featuring essays by Anna Greenberg, E. J. Dionne, George Lakoff, Howard Dean, John Podesta, Amy Sullivan and EDM contributor Alan I. Abramowitz, among others. This week features MyDD’s Chris Bowers on “Blogging for Political Change” and next Thursday, (Feb. 2) Abramowitz, the Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science at Emory University and author of Voice of the People: Elections and Voting in the United States, will discuss his essay “Explaining Bush’s Victory in 2004 (It’s Terrorism, Stupid).”

Dems Should Learn from Their State Labs

My DD’s Scott Shields has a post following up on Justin Blum’s Sunday WaPo article about ‘blue states” leading the charge in creative energy reforms. Yes, we know, it’s hard enough to keep up with national politics, let alone what’s going on in the individual states we don’t call home. Yet, the point is well-taken that the states are laboratories for innovative policy, and if a new legislative reform meets with impressive success, it should be publicized and replicated.
Shields faults the WaPo piece for its narrow definition of “blue” states as those voting for John Kerry in ’04. He argues that states with Dem Governors and/or legislative majorities ought to be included for a fuller picture, and serves up Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer’s plan for coal liquefaction as exhibit “A”.
Shields points out that blue states are also pioneering creative ethics reforms. No surprise there. How could it be otherwise? Yet it does merit a special reminder for Dems looking for fresh policy alternatives amid mounting GOP scandals. To this we could also add social reforms, such as the Maryland state legislature’s recent measure, passed over the GOP governor’s veto, to require Wal-Mart to spend a higher portion of the state’s budget on health security for its workers.
The oft-repeated cliche that “the Democratic party is devoid of ideas” has been nicely refuted by Shields and Blum, and Dem candidates and campaign staffs should master their points. As Shields concludes:

Not only do the national Democrats have a small mountain of policy proposals sitting on the shelf, waiting for Democratic majorities in Congress to pass it, but Democrats in the states are actually getting things done. If anyone wants to know what Democratic control in Washington would look like, look to the states.

This challenge takes on heightened importance, considering that Dem prospects for winning a majority of state governorships in November are exceptionally bright. (See our December 5 th post) Dems may well be on the cusp of an historic opportunity to reverse years of GOP gerrymandering and turn the states into shining demonstration projects that can shape national policy.

Polls: Dems Poised for Modest Gains in ’06

Nine months out, Democrats are in position to win modest gains in the U.S. Senate, but could do better in races for seats in the U.S House of Representatives, according to recent opinion polls. If the Senate elections were held today, Dems would have a net pick up of one seat, five short of the number needed to win a majority in the Senate, according to a Wall Street Journal/Zogby Interactive poll of 17 “battleground states” released January 19th. Zogby concludes of Dems’ Senate chances:

They could knock off Ohio Republican Mike DeWine, a two-term incumbent moderate who has angered his home-state base by going against President Bush on judicial nominees, and Pennsylvania Republican Rick Santorum, a staunch conservative who is running a tough race for re-election this year against the son of a very well-known Democratic icon. Familial politics works in the favor of the GOP in New Jersey, however, as Republican Tom Kean, Jr. the son of a popular governor there, polls well against his Democratic opponents, including Bob Menendez, who was recently appointed to fill the senate seat vacated by Jon Corzine, who resigned after winning the race for governor in November.
Democrats are leading in the Senate races in Minnesota and Maryland, while Republicans appear ready to hold onto their seat in Tennessee.

However, Asked which party’s candidates they prefereered for U.S. Senate races, respondents in a poll of LV’s by Democracy Corps conducted 1/4-8, favored Dems by a 14 point margin.
Zogby didn’t address races in the House of Reps. But the DCorps poll suggests that Dems could win the 15 seats needed to gain a majority in the House. Asked which party they would vote for in their congressional district, respondents favored Democrats by a margin of 50-40 percent. Other polls taken in January by Harris, Hotline, Gallup and AP show leads for Dems of 9, 7, 7 and 13 percent respectively.

Dems Should Project Clarity, Unity On Government Spying

by Pete Ross
Dem candidates up for election in November already have plenty of knotty issues to chew on. Not to add to that burden, but a new Salon.com post “Fear of Spying” by Walter Shapiro merits their attention. Subtitled “Democratic strategists say opposing Bush on NSA spying makes the party look weak. Of course, that’s what they said about Iraq,” Shapiro’s article makes the case that the party is not well served by indulging its ostrich reflex on this issue.
He quotes a Democratic party official, who noted “”The whole thing plays to the Republican caricature of Democrats — that we’re weak on defense and weak on security.” He notes the trepidations of unnamed democratic strategists, “obsessed with similar fears that left-wing overreaction to the wiretapping issue would allow George W. Bush and the congressional Republicans to wiggle off the hook on other vulnerabilities.”
Shapiro cites a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press indicating that the public is evenly divided on the issue, with 48 percent agreeing that it was “generally right” to monitor those suspected of terrorist ties “without court permission,” and 47 percent saying it was “generally wrong.”
Osama bin Laden’s recent threat of terrorist violence in the U.S. won’t help leaders voicing concerns about government surveillance much. Yet, in his MLK Day speech, broadcast on C-SPAN, Al Gore made a strong impression as a champion of civil liberties, opposing unbridled government spying on Americans as a serious threat to freedom. Shapiro notes further,

the Democrats’ positioning on the eavesdropping issue invites comparisons to their fetal crouch in the run-up to the Iraqi War. A majority of Senate Democrats voted for Bush’s go-to-war resolution — including John Kerry, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton — at least partly because the pollsters insisted that it was the only politically safe position, a ludicrous and self-destructive notion in hindsight.

The article quotes Clinton and Gore advisor Elaine Kamarck’s observation that by ignoring the issue, Dems will

leave the critique open to the far left. And that will exacerbate two problems the Democrats have: one, that they look too far out of the mainstream, and the other, that they don’t believe in anything…a political party that is always the namby-pamby ‘me too’ party is a party that isn’t going to get anyplace.

Hearings on illegal eavesdropping are scheduled to begin Feb. 6 in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Shapiro worries that Dem supporters may be seduced by “the frail hope that the Republicans will self-destruct” and won’t get that “politics sooner or later becomes a test of character and not merely a paint-by-numbers exercise in low-risk electioneering.”
The hunch here is that Kamarck and Shapiro may be right, and Dem candidates and strategists should get a copy of Gore’s speech (available here), which did a good job of addressing mainstream concerns about government spying. Dems can differ about how much the issue should be emphasized with various constituencies, but a clear, unified position can only help.