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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


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.

Bush Job-Approval Plummets to New Low

We’re running out of headlines to describe President Bush’s free fall in job approval ratings. The latest American Research Group survey, conducted 8/18-21, has Bush at a record low 36 percent overall job approval among Americans, with 58 percent disapproval. The figures for registered voters are 38 percent approval and 56 percent disapproval, respectively. Among registered self-identified Independents, his overall job-approval was only 21 percent, with 72 percent expressing disapproval.
Bush’s “handling of the economy” approval ratings among respondents was 33 percent, with 66 percent disapproving. Among Independents, Bush’s handling of the economy approval rating was 19 percent, with 74 percent disapproving.

Dems’ Senate Hopes Rising

SurveyUSA has just released the latest job approval ratings for U.S. Senators, and there is some cause for Democratic optimism. Here are the Senate Seats to be contested next year, accompanied by the most recent job approval ratings for the incumbents:
Job Approval Ratings for 14 Democrats Up for Re-election in ’06
Daniel Akaka (HI) 56%
Jeff Bingaman (NM) 59%
Robert Byrd (WV) 65%
Maria Cantwell (WA) 47%
Tom Carper (DE) 66%
Hillary Rodham Clinton (NY) 61%
Kent Conrad (ND) 69%
Dianne Feinstein (CA) 54%
Edward Kennedy (MA) 61%
Herb Kohl (WI) 55%
Joe Lieberman (CT) 68%
Ben Nelson (NE) 63%
Bill Nelson (FL) 48%
Debbie Stabenow (MI) 46%
Job Approval Ratings for 14 Republicans Up for Re-Election in ’06
George Allen (VA) 52%
Conrad Burns (MT) 48%
Lincoln Chafee (RI) 55%
Mike DeWine (OH) 42%
John Ensign (NV) 53%
Orrin Hatch (UT) 55%
Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX) 57%
Jon Kyl (AZ) 49%
Trent Lott (MS) 60%
Richard Lugar (IN) 59%
Rick Santorum (PA) 42%
Olympia Snowe (ME) 77%
Jim Talent (MO) 48%
Craig Thomas (WY) 60%
5 Open Senate Seats Up for Election in ’06
Democratic (MD)
Democratic (MN)
Democratic (NJ)
Republican (TN)
Independent (VT)
Only 3 of the 14 Democratic incumbents up for re-election in ’06 scored less than 50 percent job approval: Maria Cantwell; Bill Nelson and Debbie Stabenow. But 5 Republican incumbents running next year scored less than 50 percent job approval: Conrad Burns; Mike Dewine; John Kyl; Rick Santorum; and Jim Talent. Only 4 Dems scored under 55% job approval, compared with 7 Republicans. Democrats do have more “open” seats to hold (4 compared to 1), but they are fielding strong candidates in these races. For up to date wrap-ups of the campaigns for these open seats, check out the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee website, and click on the individual races in the “open seats” section.

GOP Leaders Worried About Iraq, ’06

The New York Times has a front-page story “Bad Iraq War News Worries Some in G.O.P. on ’06 Vote.” The article, by Adam Nagourney and David D. Kirkpatrick, features quotes by GOP leaders, which indicate a growing anxiety about the war, exit strategy and the political consequences. Some examples:

“There is just no enthusiasm for this war…Nobody is happy about it. It certainly is not going to help Republican candidates, I can tell you that much.” – Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. (R-TN)
“If Iraq is in the rearview mirror in the ’06 election, the Republicans will do fine. But if it’s still in the windshield, there are problems.” – Grover Norquist, white house senior advisor
“Any effort to explain Iraq as ‘We are on track and making progress’ is nonsense…The left has a constant drumbeat that this is Vietnam and a bottomless pit. The daily and weekly casualties leave people feeling that things aren’t going well.” – former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich
“(Bush)turned the volume up on his megaphone about as high as it could go to try to tie the war in Iraq to the war on terrorism…I just don’t think it washes after all these years.” – Richard Viguerie, veteran GOP fund-raiser
“If your poll numbers are dropping over an issue, and this issue being the war, than obviously there is a message there – no question about it…If we are having this conversation a year from now the chances are extremely good that this will be unfavorable…” Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-NC)

Nagourney and Kirkpatrick also quote Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center on the political fallout from doubts about Bush’s Iraq policy:

If this continues to drag down Bush’s approval ratings, Republican candidates will be running with Bush as baggage, not as an asset…Should his numbers go much lower, he is going to be a problem for Republican candidates in 2006.

The legendary GOP echo chamber’s parroting of the “message of the day” seems to be fragmenting into a cacophony of doubt. Amid mounting U.S. casualties, the loss of increasing billions of taxpayer dollars and the growing prospect that Bush’s leadership will leave Iraq in a horrible mess, Republicans are starting to hear a chorus of concern from their more moderate constituents. Democratic candidates who offer a credibile alternative can win most of their votes.

’06 Senate Races Taking Shape

In connection with our post just below, there is no better place to go for a quick update on various U.S. Senate races than Chris Bowers’ MyDD articles on ’06 races for the U.S. Senate. Bowers doesn’t think Dems will win the 7 seats needed to attain majority status and gain control of Senate committees. But he does see Dems picking up Senate seats. Here’s just one example of his excellent wrap-aps of individual races:

Mike DeWine is extremely vulnerable with a weak 44 / 43 approval rating. Of course, that is not the only reason he is vulnerable. As one of the Gang of 14, DeWine doesn’t have many friends in the Republican base and grassroots. After his son was crushed in the Republican primary for OH-02, every Republican blog that wrote about it blamed Son of DeWine’s defeat on DeWine being a member of the Gang of 14. Even further, as Hackett proved with an 11-point swing in OH-02, Ohio is clearly becoming increasingly disgusted with the Taft and other scandal-plagued Republicans who have run the state into the ground. Finally, no matter who DeWine’s opponent is, Sherrod Brown, Tim Ryan or Paul Hackett, he will be facing a serious, serious challenger. The only poll on the race, by the DSCC, showed him at only 42%, but up six on Brown. Overall, I really think DeWine is toast. Of course, none of the three Dems I listed could run, making me look like an idiot. We shall see.

Bowers also predicts that ’06 Dem Senate candidates will once again collectively outpoll their GOP competition, as they have for the last three Senate elections — by 2 million votes.

Ignore ’08 Presidential Polls, Get Focused on ’06

All who are tempted to take early polls on Presidential preferences for ’08 seriously are directed to Mystery Pollster’s pre-vacation post “2008 Presidential Polling in 2005: A REALLY Big Grain of Salt.” Yes, Hillary and Guliani or McCain may look like front runners now. But that doesn’t mean squat, if historical experience is worth anything. Mystery Pollster analyses a study of early polls by The National Journal Hotline and concludes:

The polls for the 2004 Democratic primary provided “the best example of tainted primary polls.” Three candidates who did not run (Gore, Clinton & Bradley) dominated the early trial heats, while the ultimate “frontrunners” (Kerry, Edwards & Dean) barely registered:
WH ’04 Dem Primary Averages
41% Al Gore
19% Hilary Clinton
9% Joe Lieberman
8% Bill Bradley
7% Dick Gephardt
4% John Kerry
2% John Edwards
2% Bob Kerrey

Mystery Pollster notes similar results for other recent presidential polls and elections and adds:

…the horse race questions you are seeing on the 2008 race for the White House are sampling segments of the population that are three to four times larger than the electorates that will actually decide each nomination. And keep in mind, we do not conduct a national primary, but a series of statewide primaries.
…It may be helpful to consider that private campaign pollsters — the people hired by the presidential candidates — do not bother with this sort of national primary horserace poll. When they begin to do their internal surveys for presidential candidates, campaign pollsters will focus more on sampling individual states that come early in the process (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, etc) rather than looking at a national sample. And even then, they pay far less attention to horse-race questions at this stage in the race than to favorable ratings that tell us how well each potential candidate is known.

So leave early speculation about the presidential nominees of both parties to the time-wasters. Dems have enough to worry about in ’06 — to make the most of the opportunity to regain control of at least one house of congress. For more on the importance of meeting this challenge, see our July 25 post “Dems Should Focus More on Congressional Campaigns.”