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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy Notes

“No longer playing defense on health care, Democrats and allied groups aired nearly 56,000 TV ads focused on health care between January and July,” writes Alice Miranda Ollstein at Politico. “The Wesleyan Media Project found that in September, health care ads dominated 44 percent of ads supporting Democratic House candidates and 50 percent of those supporting Democrats in Senate races. And in several competitive high-profile races, Democratic candidates are adding personal narratives…Candidates are sending this message in ads, on social media and in face-to-face encounters, and polls show the issue strongly resonates with voters.”

Here’s a good example:

From “The party of men: Kavanaugh fight risks worsening the Trump GOP’s gender problem” by Philip Rucker, Ashley Parker and Robert Costa  at The Washington Post: “Everything about this kind of encapsulates in one moment the problem the Republican Party has with women, ranging from it being male-dominated — with Trump’s Cabinet and the Republican leadership in Congress — to issues of dismissing women who experienced harassment and assault with typical kinds of victim blaming,” Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg said…Current attitudes about Trump have inspired a record number of women to run for office this year as Democrats. In House races, women make up 43 percent of Democratic nominees and 13 percent of Republican nominees, according to Kelly Dittmar, a political science professor at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. Many of these female Democratic candidates have shared their #MeToo stories on the campaign trail…strategists in both parties say Trump’s agenda and style — and the fact that the GOP leadership stands mostly in lockstep with him — are undoing years of often painstaking work by party leaders to court more female and minority voters.”

From John McCain’s 2008 campaign’s senior strategist:

In his New York Magazine post, “Lessons From the 2018 Primaries,” Ed Kilgore provides 8 takeaways, including: “5) The “struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party” was oversold. Despite a lot of media talk about ideological clashes between “progressive” and “centrist” primary candidates, there was no clear pattern for who won primaries. Some of the notable “progressive” victories were in safe Democratic House districts (e.g., Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s NY-14 and Ayanna Pressley’s MA-07) where district diversity and generational change were at least as important as ideology. Overall, “establishment” candidates did pretty well; an analysis of all Democratic House primaries by the Brookings Foundation showed 27 percent of “progressives” and 35 percent of “establishment” types winning.”

We are about to find out what would happen if a politician began making public statements about issues that sound the way real people talk. Charles Pierce has the story in his article, “Mazie Hirono Is a Legitimate Badass of the Senate: It’s about time someone in elected office called “bullshit” on this process” at Esquire. Pierce quotes Horono to good effect: ” I just want to say to the men in this country: Just shut up and step up. Do the right thing for a change.”..I would like to have us come together and figure out what is the best way to proceed. Not this seat of the pants stuff, and the latest being a letter from the chairman to the Democrats saying we have done everything we can to contact her—that is such bullshit I can hardly stand it.” Pierce notes also that she wants “judges who are fair and qualified” and ‘”care about individual and civil rights.” And then, without missing a beat, she added, “If that’s considered liberal, as opposed to what I call justice and fairness, as I am wont to say, ‘F*** them!'” It’s about time a U.S. Senator went a little Bullworth, all the more gratifying that it’s a Democratic woman. Don’t be surprised if her approval ratings increase.

Some interesting ad stats from “Despite an Uptick in Digital Spend, Top Senate Races Still Dominated by TV” by Sean J. Miller at Campaigns & Elections: “In 14 competitive Senate races, Democratic campaigns put an average of 15 percent of their pre-Labor Day ad budgets into digital while GOP efforts averaged 6.2 percent, according to the Wesleyan Media Project, which conducted its analysis on ad spending done from May 31-Sept. 3. Though it’s worth noting those percentages include a handful of Senate campaigns that have yet to spend much of anything in earnest…Facebook remains the digital ad platform of choice – at least for Democrats. Of the total spent on digital advertising by the 14 Democratic Senate campaigns, $3,159,700 went to Facebook and $1.495 million went to Google…In total, some $6.1 million went into digital advertising from the 28 Senate campaigns. Compare that to some $45 million spent on TV during the same period.”

In his post, “Let’s sharpen and embolden the progressive narrative (and the counter-narrative, too),” Egberto Willies offers some insightful observations at Daily Kos: “Resigning ourselves to the belief that there is a large racist component within the Trump voting bloc and this therefore makes them unreachable denies a reality that President Obama disproved twice: Even racists will vote their interest if the narrative is right. It is my humble belief that our impatience, our timid narrative, our proclivity to stay high-minded in all circumstances, and our inability to frame and tailor a narrative at the level of those we need to reach have been the cause of our demise…Our young and upcoming politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Andrew Gillum, as well as activists like Indivisible Houston’s Daniel Cohen and Nisha Randle, are unabashedly promoting progressive narratives. Much of it will fly in the faces of those who are pinning their hopes on the mythical political center, but only when we redefine the narrative, devoid of our past indoctrination, will we get the vote…It is not enough to complain that Trump’s voters are racist. After all, we have our own racists among us. We are not looking for friends and lovers, but we should be attempting to coalesce on common values that will get our people elected. After all, above and beyond economic issues, aren’t our people supportive of racial, criminal, and social justice?”

At cnbc.com, John Harwood writes, “Congressional Republicans are facing a mid-term election wipeout fueled by voter resistance to President Donald Trump, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll…The survey, six weeks before Americans head to the polls, shows Democrats leading Republicans by 52 percent to 40 percent for control of Congress. If it holds, that 12 percentage point margin would suggest a “blue wave” large enough to switch control of not just the House but also the Senate…Democrats have generated wide advantages among key swing groups within the electorate. The poll shows them leading by 31 percentage points among independents, 33 points among moderates and 12 points among white women…Among white college graduates, a group Republicans carried by nine points in 2014 mid-term elections, Republicans now trail by 15 points. Among white women without college degrees, a group Republicans carried by 10 points in 2014, Republicans now trail by five points.”

New Polling Data Shows Seniors Breaking for Dems

At CNN Politics, James A. Barnes writes that “Late summer surveys by CNN and other organizations show senior voters tilting decisively towards Democratic congressional candidates. That would dramatically reverse the recent pattern in midterm elections when the elderly provided a major boost to GOP candidates.” Barnes adds,

In CNN surveys conducted in early August and early September, registered voters who are 65 years of age and up preferred Democratic congressional candidates to Republicans by margins of 20 and 16 percentage points, respectively. CNN is not the only news organization to report this kind of GOP deficit among seniors. A late August Washington Post-ABC News survey found that if older voters were casting their ballots today, they would back Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives over Republican candidates by a whopping 22-point margin, 57% to 35%. Similarly, a national poll by Marist College conducted in early September found that among voters 60 years of age and up, they favored Democratic congressional candidates by a 15-point margin.

This is a potentially huge problem for Republicans: In the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections when Republicans regained control of the House and Senate, respectively, GOP candidates were solidly backed by voters 65 and up. When Democrats won control of both the House and the Senate in the 2006 midterm elections, they had a narrow advantage among senior voters.

Barnes notes that “Seniors are customarily more risk-averse than younger voters. Upheaval and uncertainty in government policies can make older voters apprehensive…In many instances, Donald Trump has governed in an opposite manner. And his brash personal style can sometimes come across as reckless. Barnes believes that Trump’s chaotic foreign policy, along with his reckless domestic initiatives and brinksmanship, is a turn-off for many seniors.

And it’s not just GOP-held House seats that are in danger. As Barnes writes,

But it may be in the midterm Senate contests where this trend could have its most profound impact. Democrats have six potentially vulnerable Senate incumbents: Florida’s Bill Nelson, Indiana’s Joe Donnelly, Missouri’s Claire McCaskill, Montana’s Jon Tester, North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin. President Trump carried those last five states by double-digit margins in the 2016 election, and he is a frequent presence in Florida, where he narrowly bested Hillary Clinton and maintains a Palm Beach retreat.

Four of those states, Florida, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia, are among the top ten states with the highest proportion of elderly (65+) residents according to the last decennial census. (Missouri was ranked 16th and Indiana ranked 33rd.)

All of those Democratic incumbents have been elected before, and in Nelson’s case, he’s won three previous Senate races. They are known quantities, and if elderly voters in those states decide to look for a check on Trump, they have a familiar face to cast a ballot for.

“Of course, polls can vary a lot between now and Election Day, and Democrats may not be able to sustain the hefty margins they’re currently receiving from seniors in several polls,” Barnes concludes. “But to win back the House and the Senate, they probably don’t need to. As the 2006 election showed, even a narrow margin of victory among elderly voters can help facilitate a Democratic takeover of Congress.”

Why Emphasizing Skills Training in Democratic Messaging is Effective

Brian Stryker, a partner of Anzalone Liszt Grove Research, has an e-blast memo on “Campaigns: More Messaging about Skills Training,” which makes a compelling case for “skills training-that has been effective in persuading historical Democratic voters to return to the fold.” As Stryker, who specializes in advanced statistical analysis, turnout modeling, and non-traditional survey methods such as cellphone and Internet research, writes,

Not only has talking about skills training helped win us special elections across blue-collar America in the last year and change, it’s also consistently one of the best-polling reasons to support Democratic candidates across the Midwest/Great Lakes region of the country that swung so hard against us in 2016.

This is not to suggest Democrats stop talking about the value of classroom/college education and the need to get costs/debt down – they still have message value with many voters. It’s more to suggest highlighting alternatives in our messaging and realizing post-recession, many voters view non-college paths as a viable and successful alternative. We do well to hit on this issue that speaks strongly to voters who can’t, don’t want to, don’t want the debt, or for other reasons don’t see themselves sitting in college classrooms for four years.

Stryker makes som specific messaging points regarding skills training, including:

  • Make this more about children, not adults. Campaigns too often conceptualize skills training solely as a job re-training message, when in fact voters react more positively to it when framed as a program for young people in high school or just after it. Voters talk in focus groups about the lack of shop classes or other work-oriented classes in high school any more. Many also raise the example of a child they know who they feel won’t succeed in college but could work hard and earn a living with their hands if given the chance. They also talk about how many high paying jobs are out there in the real world and how they are in demand if young people will just go get the skills needed to succeed.
  • Think of skills training as a cultural touchstone, not just an economic one. Skills training speaks to people on a pocketbook level, for sure. But there’s a deeper cultural resonance among people who value hard work and don’t think hard work includes sitting at a desk. To many voters, it speaks to the honor of putting in a day’s work as a plumber, crane operator, mechanic, or working in advanced manufacturing. Respect for that type of work isn’t something blue-collar voters are hearing from all corners of the Democratic party, at least not as much as they need to be.
  • Frame it in terms of a path for children who college isn’t right for. When presented with this concept in an ad or on paper in a focus groups, non-college voters talk about the “college for all mentality” that doesn’t speak to them or their reality. As a party, we should more explicitly talk about providing alternatives for kids besides just a four-year degree.
      • Acknowledge that college isn’t for everyone. We hear a lot of “college isn’t for everyone” in focus groups from people who did and didn’t go to college. Voters don’t think of that as something to look down on someone for-there’s value to them in skilled trades and hard work-but they that elites look down on people who aren’t willing or able to go to college. Democrats would do well to talk about the inherent value of these paths that we should be providing for kids if college isn’t going to work for them.

Stryker adds that the message polls particularly well “with white blue-collar voters across the Midwest and Great Lakes states” as well as with white Obama-Trump and Rust Belt voters. But it also resonates with voters of color, college-educated whites and swing voters across the nation. He notes that it also “shifts the jobs debate from businesses (tax cuts and red tape/excessive regulation) to workers (raises, better jobs, training), which is more favorable terrain for Democrats. So we shouldn’t just silo this into an education message, it should also be about economic opportunity for kids.

In addition, skills training messaging also helps to educate the public about the important role of trade union training facilities and apprenticeship programs, and that “unions provide people a great path to the middle class. The more voters get that, the more they support the right to organize and a whole host of union priorities.”

Nearly all Democratic candidates can benefit from incorporating thoughtful skills training advocacy and proposals into their messaging — and it’s a message that strengthens the Democratic ‘brand’ as the political party that serves the prioroties of working people.

Mississippi Runoff Could Determine Control of the Senate–and Even the Supreme Court

Mississippi’s special election to replace Sen. Thad Cochran hasn’t gotten a lot of attention. But that could change in a big way, as I explained at New York:

In the various scenarios of what will happen to the Supreme Court if Brett Kavanaugh’s originally expected late-September confirmation runs off the rails, it’s obvious that a Democratic Senate takeover in November (which would take effect on January 3) would create a real crisis for conservative SCOTUS hopes….

But there is one scenario that’s especially fraught with uncertainty and peril. The odds are good that a special election in Mississippi for the seat currently held by appointed senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (and formerly held for forty years by Republican Thad Cochran, who resigned in ill health in March) will go to a runoff on November 27. At the moment, the election is a three-way battle between the incumbent, fiery conservative insurgent Chris McDaniel, and former congressman and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy, a Democrat. If no one wins a majority of the vote on November 6, it’s runoff time, almost certainly between one Democrat and one Republican. And if control of the Senate hasn’t yet been determined at that point, every campaign operative in the country and every unspent dollar will flood into the Magnolia State for three weeks.

This particular race has settled down a bit in recent weeks. Initially, it looked like McDaniel, who lost to Cochran by an eyelash in 2014 (with a lot of help from crossover voting by Democrats), might ride his “anti-establishment true conservative” message past former Democrat Hyde-Smith and into a runoff with Espy. But Donald Trump’s “complete and total Endorsement” of the incumbent (who has a 100 percent pro-Trump voting record) in late August has taken a lot of the wind out of McDaniel’s sails. One internal Hyde-Smith poll in early August showed McDaniel trailing her by ten points. Other polls have shown her with an even larger lead.

If there’s a Hyde-Smith-Espy runoff, the incumbent will be favored, for sure; if McDaniel pulls the upset and makes the runoff, it’s anybody’s race. But either way, Espy is about as strong a candidate as Democrats could field in this red state. Back in 1986, he became the first African-American to represent Mississippi in Congress since Reconstruction, and burnished a centrist reputation before Bill Clinton appointed him Secretary of Agriculture. He was forced from that position by perhaps the least-well-regarded independent counsel investigation of the era, which eventually led to his speedy acquittal on charges of taking gifts from corporations with USDA business. It’s doubtful that this 20-year-old “scandal” will significantly harm Espy’s Senate hopes, but his party affiliation is definitely a problem in a state where no Democrat has won a Senate or gubernatorial race in this millennium.

Still, the last Senate special election, 2017’s contest in next-door Alabama, presented an even tougher landscape for Democrats. Roy Moore’s upset primary win over an appointed senator backed by Donald Trump has to be the inspiration for Chris McDaniel, a neo-Confederate who is nearly as notorious in Mississippi as Moore was in Alabama. And in the likely case of a runoff, Mississippi’s large African-American population would provide an even stronger base for Espy than Doug Jones could count on in winning his race.

It’s possible that Hyde-Smith could win without a runoff; that control of the Senate will be decided elsewhere; and that Anthony Kennedy’s SCOTUS seat will be filled before the deal goes down in Mississippi. But it’s also possible that for the second straight year, a special election in the Deep South will command everyone’s attention.

Political Strategy Notes

The New York Times editorial board says the Kavanaugh proceedings have become “a mockery of lawmakers’ constitutional responsibility,” which invite public skepticism. “The bulk of the blame lies with Senator Chuck Grassley, the committee chairman, and his fellow Republicans, who have abused their power by refusing to let their colleagues and the American people see over 90 percent of the documents relating to Judge Kavanaugh’s critical years in the federal government.” Add that to the fact that the Republicans refused to allow Judge Merrick Garland even a hearing, and it’s clear why the public has good reason to see the nomination process as corrupted by GOP hyperpartisanship.

“I can’t imagine a scenario where it benefits Republicans to have their party’s Judiciary Committee members — 11 men, 0 women — interrogating a woman about the details of her recollections of being sexually assaulted. The only way this definitely benefits them is if Kavanaugh can really, really prove in some way that this did not happen…It would not be the worst move for Republicans if they found a female Supreme Court nominee. The problem is, of course, that the number of people who have the Federalist Society credentials of conservatism and elite degrees and are also female and already sitting on the bench might be small.” – From Perry Bacon, Jr. in “How Will The Troubled Kavanaugh Nomination Affect The Midterms?,” in FiveThirtyEight’s Weekly Politics Chat.

Among the findings of a new poll by Pew Research Center on gender and leadership released today, “Only about a quarter of them [Republican men] said there were too few women in leadership. That’s compared with almost half of Republican women, roughly three-quarters of Democratic men and more than 80 percent of Democratic women,” reports Clair Cane Miller at The Upshot. The poll also found an edge for women in one area, which political ad-makers for women candidates may want to explore: “In politics, they were more likely to be viewed as being good role models, and as maintaining a tone of civility and respect.”

At New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait flags an ironic development that has emerged in the campaign for Ted Cruz’s U.S. senate seat: “Ted Cruz is running for reelection in Texas trying to humanize himself by talking about basketball, and accusing his opponent, Beto O’Rourke, of liking tofu, hating the national anthem, and plotting to ban barbecue. What’s notably missing from Cruz’s campaign message is any recognizable conservative program. The conservative agenda has become at best a distraction, and at worst a liability…In this pivotal moment in his career, facing a surprising reelection threat from left-leaning Beto O’Rourke, and running in a state that has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1976, conservative thought is almost completely absent from Cruz’s campaign themes. His television ads tout Cruz’s record in securing federal hurricane relief for Texas and attack his opponent. (What would Ludwig von Mises think?) Cruz’s role in supporting Trump’s conservative policy accomplishments goes unmentioned…O’Rourke opposed the Trump corporate tax cut. He is openly endorsingthat his state accept the Medicaid expansion created by Obamacare. If even a conservative movement fundamentalist like Cruz doesn’t want to campaign on these issues in a state like Texas, what does that say about the political health of conservatism?”

Nathaiel Rakich writes in FiveThirtyEight’s September 19 Election Update: “The most likely scenario in the upcoming midterm elections: split control of Congress. As of Tuesday evening, the Classic version of our model gave Republicans a 7 in 10 chance of keeping control of the Senate, slightly better than when we launched the forecast, and gave Democrats a 4 in 5 chance of flipping the House. That’s close to the highest odds for taking the House that Democrats have had since the beginning of August…As I wrote last Wednesday, 21 U.S. House seats fit in the middle of the Venn diagram between “districts carried by Barack Obama in 2012” and “districts carried by Donald Trump in 2016.” These districts aren’t quite as fertile for Democratic gains this year as Romney-Clinton districts, but they are nonetheless a competitive batch of seats…”

“Democratic legislatures will be more likely to expand Medicaid, raise teacher pay, enact minimum wage increases, and go for things like automatic voter registration that will increase political participation down the road,” notes Matthew Yglesias at Vox. “Trump’s deep unpopularity is likely to give state-level Democrats a big boost….we are very likely to see some chambers flip this November. The Democratic committee for state legislative races has identified 17 key races that could collectively flip eight chambers. And, given national trends, Democrats will likely flip far more than 17 seats…In terms of actually flipping chambers, though, it is worth noting that the “stretch” goal on that 17/8 list is to flip the Florida state Senate by picking up five seats — and Florida is one of the states where Trump’s numbers have held up worst…In general, Democrats are well-positioned to make gains down-ballot in 2018. That’s going to give them a bigger voice in 2020 redistricting and, of course, in the important work of state policymaking.”

“So our ratings now show Democrats favored to net three Republican-held governorships, Illinois, Michigan, and New Mexico, while the Republicans are favored to win Alaska, currently held by an independent,” notes Kyle Kondik at Sabato’s Crystal Ball. “There are seven remaining Toss-ups, and all but Connecticut are currently held by Republicans (and Democrats may ultimately have the edge in the Nutmeg State despite the unpopularity of outgoing Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy). So Democrats remain poised to net several governorships, although some of the biggest races — Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin most notably — remain uncertain.”

Ruy Teixeira cites an “interesting new round of state polls from Reuters/Ipsos,” which show Democratic candidates “Gillum and Sinema ahead, confirming other recent polls. Rosen behind in NV which is a bummer though race is clearly very tight. Most shocking is Beto O’Rourke ahead of Ted Cruz in Texas. I’m pretty skeptical given that most other recent polls have shown Cruz ahead. Also, the internals of the new poll show O’Rourke with 33 percent of the white vote which is super-high for Texas. But ya never know. If O’Rourke can really pull a third of the white vote, he’s golden.”

From Ronald Brownstein’s “The Year of the Woman of Color: Backlash to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh could help elect an unprecedented number of minority women to offices around the country” at The Atlantic: “Democrats have positioned themselves to benefit from that energy by nominating female candidates in 183 House races, according to the Rutgers University Center for American Women and Politics. That easily outdistances the previous record of 120 in 2016 and is much more than the 70 women who ran in 1992. (Republicans have nominated just 52 women in House races this year.) According to the center’s calculations, Democrats have also set records with 15 female Senate nominees (including the two challengers, in Nevada and Arizona, who are best-positioned to win GOP-held seats) and 12 gubernatorial picks…But this election could prove an even greater landmark for women of color. “I think what we’re seeing is the tipping point in the Democratic Party,” says longtime Democratic activist Aimee Allison. “We are telling a new story to the country about women of color: We are the least represented and the most progressive, and this is our year.”

Red State Dems Mull Kavanaugh Strategy

In his New York Times column, “What the Kavanaugh Accusations Mean for Red-State Democrats” Michael Tomasky discusses several plausible scenarios that could affect the outcome of the hearings for the midterm elections, as well as for Trump’s nominee. As Tomasky writes,

A view seems to have taken hold in Washington that the sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford have let red-state Senate Democrats off the hook. These Democrats — chiefly Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the three Democrats who voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch in April 2017 — all face re-election in just seven weeks in states where President Trump is popular, and where majorities presumably would support Judge Kavanaugh’s elevation to the Supreme Court.

But now, some say, the allegations against the nominee provide reason enough for them to vote no. Jim Manley, a former longtime Democratic Senate aide who knows these matters well, told Reuters on Tuesday: “For those Democrats up for re-election from states that Trump carried, they now have absolutely no reason to vote for Kavanaugh. Period. End of story. They have all the cover they need.” Several talking heads on cable news said much the same thing Tuesday.

I’m not sure it’s that simple. Assuming Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination is not withdrawn and the Republicans continue to fight for him, these three Democrats and possibly one or two others will still find themselves in a tough position. In fact, if a couple of Republicans defect from Judge Kavanaugh, these Democrats will be in an even tougher spot than before.

But even if two Republicans, say Collins and Murkowski, turn against Kavanaugh, “At that point, Republicans, far from accepting defeat, will surely start aiming fire at the three Democrats. Their opponents will taunt them about Judge Kavanaugh on the campaign trail.” It’s possible that these Democrats may see little to lose by voting for Kavanaugh.

Tomasky presents a more appealing scenario for Democrats:

Now imagine a second scenario. Imagine that Ms. Collins and Ms. Murkowski vote no, but this time they are joined by two other Republicans, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee. Now, Judge Kavanaugh is down to 47 votes. And more important, the air will be out of his balloon, emotionally. At that point, I think the three Democrats will be fully off the hook.

That’s a plausible scenario, but not the one Tomasky sees as most likely:

And, of course, there’s a third scenario (at least!), which I discussed here earlier, and it’s probably still the most likely one. All 51 Republicans stand pat, in which case some Democrats will go ahead and confirm Judge Kavanaugh. But their votes won’t matter. Whether you got 51 votes or 55 or 100, they still call you Mr. Associate Justice.

It’s not hard to see how much depends on Maine and Alaska voters who are against Kavanaugh making their voices heard. Of course, there are other plausible scenarios, including the possibility that more revelations about Kavanaugh emerge, providing the red state Democratic senators with even more cover.

Part of the calculus for all U.S. Senators has to be the potentially explosive power of the ‘Me Too’ movement. Ditto for the strong pro-Democratic voter enthusiasm trend among educated women, which will surely play a major role in the midterm elections, even in red states.

And let’s not forget all of the other arguments against Kavanaugh, including a key point that red state Democrats could amplify to good effect — Kavanaugh’s record of opposing worker rights against employer abuse at every opportunity that came his way.

In the end, however, the red state Democrats will have to answer key questions of conscience that will bear on their legacies, including: ‘Should my vote give Kavanaugh a pass on the serious allegations made by a credible woman?’ Also, ‘should I give Trump and the Republicans a rubber stamp on the Supreme Court that would adversely impact working people for decades?’

If being a Democrat means anything at all, the answer is no.

Teixeira: Et Tu, Ohio?

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

Politico is out with a new poll of Ohio voters which underscores just how contested the Rustbelt has become in the Trump era. Far from being lost to the Democrats in the wake of the Trump election, Democrats are coming roaring back, riding a wave of discontent with the Orange One and his party.

In the new poll, Democrats lead the Congressional ballot by 7 points in the state, Democratic Senatorial incumbent Sherrod Brown is crushing challenger Jim Renacci and Democrat Richard Cordray is running about even with Mike DeWine in the governor’s race

Clearly something good is going on for the Democrats in this state. Recall that Ohio swung sharply toward the GOP in 2016, supporting Trump by an 8 point margin. This was above all driven by a massive shift in his favor among white noncollege voters, who gave him a whopping 32 point margin. This poll and other data suggest that that margin is being whittled down considerably.

Teixeira: GOP-Held House Seats Ranked Competitive Increase From 12 to 66 – Since May

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his Facebook page:

That Was Then. This Is Now.

Excellent article by Dante Chinni and Sally Bronston at NBC News running through how big the swings have been this election cycle–and pretty much all in the Democrats’ favor. Nice graphics!

“The 2018 midterm terrain looks a lot different now than it did at the start of the campaigns. Races that many expected to be close, aren’t. Candidates that were assumed to be safe now find themselves in fights. And the Democrats have been the biggest beneficiaries of the changes.

A look at the numbers shows how the field has tilted in the last year-and-a-half.

Start with the most basic measure, the number of House seats that are thought to be competitive. Back in May of 2017, when the Cook Political Report did its first ratings, it looked as if the Democrats and Republicans were starting on relatively even ground, but the numbers look very different today.

Back in May, there were 12 seats held by the Republicans that looked competitive and there were 11 held by Democrats — those were seats that were ranked as “lean” toward their party or were considered even more in danger.

As of mid-September, there are 66 GOP-held seats that look competitive and only four Democratic seats in that category.”

A reminder that things can really change and–unlike 2016–it’s not always bad!

Political Strategy Notes

What is the best option for Democratic strategy regarding the sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, now that his accuser has passed an F.B.I.-administered lie detector test? Elana Schor reports that Sen. Jeff Flake, a member of the closely divided Judiciary Committee, “flashed a yellow light Sunday night on Brett Kavanaugh’s high court bid, telling POLITICO that he won’t support advancing the nomination this week if fellow senators don’t do more to hear out a woman accusing the nominee of sexual assault more than three decades ago.” Sen. Bob Corker also supports a delay in the confirmation process. The Washington Post conservative columnist Max Boot writes, “If Republicans try to muscle Kavanaugh’s nomination through now, without any further investigation, they will be guilty of gross deflection of their duty to “advise and consent.” Given their narrow 51-49 majority, it takes only a few Republicans of conscience — paging Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowksi (Alaska), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Ben Sasse (Neb.) and Bob Corker (Tenn.) — to force the majority to do the right thing. Which is to have the FBI investigate the incident, and, if as appears likely, the accusation is found to be credible, to call both Kavanaugh and Ford to testify under oath.” Democrats do need to kep the heat on, and strongly express their opposition to a quick confirmation, especially in light of the latest allegations.

Let’s have an amen for Frank Bruni’s New York Times column, “Democrats’ Top-Secret Formula for Victory: Stop obsessing over ideology. It’s about personality.” The central point of the article is well-encapsulated in the title. After all of the theories about developing a winning formula for political campaigns have been exhausted, there is no substitute for an exciting candidate. Nothing all that new here, but Bruni does provide some well-stated insights, including “…Over and over, as we rapt observers yearn for a pattern and persuade ourselves that we’ve found one only to have it vanish before our eyes…That’s because we’re staring at the wrong thing. Intent on some ideological takeaway, we miss the human moral. This year’s victorious candidates, like so many winners before them, aren’t prevailing simply or even mainly because of the labels they’re wearing or the precise points on the political spectrum to which they can be affixed.” Bruni says of good candidates, “They’re powered by their personalities, their organizations or both. They communicate effectively. They have backgrounds that make sense to voters or temperaments that feel right to them. And they’ve devised ways to reach voters that their rivals haven’t…It’s candidates’ ability to connect and make the case.” But being a good candidate is not just about endowed personal charisma; it’s also about discipline, working hard to be an effective communicator and running a smart campaign. It’s not a 100 percent foolprooof notion — charismatic candidates sometimes get beat by dullards, as Bruni notes. All other factors being equal, however, a candidate who has a really good personality is  usually a better bet than a yawner.

Bruni cites a couple of examples to help make his point: “Did Andrew Gillum, the Democratic contender for governor in Florida, win his primary because he was the most progressive of the four main candidates? That’s a less likely explanation than two others. First, his rivals, fixated on each other, competed for and split the same territory, enabling Gillum to gobble up different ground. Second, he was an impassioned, magnetic competitor with an inspiring biography, a talent for telling it and an innovative approach.” After the horrific shootings at Parkland, FL, Gillum  communicated a sense of compassion for the victims and their families with authentic warmth and sincerity that has become all too rare among current politicians. Bruni also cites Ohio’s Sen. Sherrod Brown as an example of a progressive who also communicates an aura of integrity and dedication with “rumpled authenticity” and Beto O’Rourke, who effectively leverages his personal likeability with an even more impressive work ethic in his Texas campaign for U.S. Senate.

Noam Scheiber and Astead W. Herndon have an outstanding New York Times report on Democratic midterm prospects in a key state, entitled “In Michigan, Female Candidates Target a Key Trump Bloc: Union Voters.” An excerpt: “…Michigan Democrats, like the party’s nominee for governor, Gretchen Whitmer, are determined to recapture union voters in 2018, and in so doing show national Democrats how to retake the state’s critical electoral votes in 2020. For unions, the fall election provides a test of political strength after years of decline, and of the power of economic issues to drive their members’ votes…Michigan Democrats are now on the offensive on the economy, proposing hundreds of millions in spending on infrastructure: “Fix the damn roads!” thunders Ms. Whitmer. They rail against new taxes on pensions and vow to stand up to scofflaw corporations. They insist, à la Mr. Trump, that the state can once again produce good blue-collar jobs.”

Scheiber and Herndon continue, “In 2016 I think I had two people working with me on politics,” said Lisa Canada, the political and legislative director for the state carpenters union, referring to paid staffers. “We have 20 this year.”…All four Democratic nominees for statewide office are women, as are three of the party’s five nominees in competitive congressional races, and they are showing a knack for trying to increase the return on the labor investment in their races. Many of the candidates lighten their populist overtures with an empathy that often evades Mr. Trump — and, some Democrats say, evaded Mrs. Clinton, too…She has discussed spending billions on infrastructure and pointedly contrasts her proposals — which draw inspiration from the epic Mackinac suspension bridge — with the president’s. “At a time when some people want to build walls,” she says in her Grand Rapids lilt, “we in Michigan are going to get back to building bridges.”…Recent public polls have shown Ms. Whitmer with double-digit leads over her Republican opponent, Attorney General Bill Schuette. She also led Mr. Schuette by 22 points among union households in an early September pollcommissioned by the Detroit News…“I think she’s resonated because she’s invited labor to the table,” said Jon Brown, a construction worker and member of a local laborer’s union, citing Ms. Whitmer’s infrastructure plan.”

Margot Sanger-Katz explains why the “No. 1 Aim of Democratic Campaign Ads: Protect Pre-existing Conditions” at The Upshot: “This cycle, even Democrats running in red states are unapologetically putting health care at the center of their campaign messages. There’s a reason: Republican efforts to overhaul the health care system last year were deeply unpopular…A lawsuit brought by several states imperils the health law’s protections for people with pre-existing health conditions, the law’s most popular provision. Recent polls show growing numbers of Americans rank health care as a top issue, and coverage for pre-existing conditions as an important policy…A recent analysis from the Wesleyan Media Project showed that health care was the most common subject of televised campaign advertisements by Democrats in both the House and the Senate…(Obamacare figures in only 1 percent of Republican ads, according to the Wesleyan count.)”

Sanger-Katz presents and analyzes 7 Democratic midterm video ads that effectively target the GOP’s war on protection for pre-existing conditions, including this one:

New York Times columnist David Leonhardt cuts through the fog of simplistic slogans and generalizations and makes it plain: “For the most part, though, the Democratic agenda remains decidedly center-left: Raise taxes on the rich, and use the money to help the middle class and poor. Protect civil rights. Expand educational access. Regulate Wall Street, and fight climate change. Expand health insurance using the current system. And compromise with Republicans when necessary…The radical agenda is the Republican agenda: Make climate change worse, unlike almost every other conservative party in the world. Aggravate inequality. Sabotage health-insurance markets. Run up the deficit. Steal a Supreme Court seat. Keep dark-skinned citizens from voting. Protect Trump’s lawlessness…If you consider yourself a moderate — whether you lean slightly right or slightly left — your choice in this year’s midterms is clear…And if you consider yourself a leftist, I understand you are probably frustrated that the Democrats won’t go further. But look at the big picture. The Democratic Party may not have moved nearly as much as you would like, but the party has moved. It has adjusted its agenda in response to soaring inequality and stagnant living standards…The one mistake no voter should make is pretending that the two parties are just different versions of the same thing.”

Here’s a chart spotlighting four different midterm election forecasts by political scientists, presented by James E. Campbell, author of Polarized: Making Sense of a Divided America, at Sabato’s Crystal Ball.

Trump Tweets On Maria Death Toll Roil Florida

It was another day marked by strange presidential tweets. I wrote about the fallout at New York:

Republicans everywhere are running for the hills in the wake of the president’s bizarre, reprehensible tweets this morning describing generally accepted estimates of the death toll in Puerto Rico attributable to last year’s Hurricane Maria as a conspiracy hatched by Democrats. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s reaction was pretty typical:

“Ryan didn’t answer a question about whether Trump’s claim disturbed him or whether Trump should apologize to the victims’ families. He reiterated that there’s no reason to dispute the numbers.

“‘It’s a function of, this was a devastating storm that hit an isolated island,’ he said. ‘And that’s really no one’s fault. That is just what happened.’”

In other words, the president is lying again, but the real issue is that the Sun King should not fear that those 3,000 deaths dim the dazzling brilliance of his reign.

But while Republicans everywhere are probably rolling their eyes and wondering why on earth Trump would bring up his weird claims about Maria with both the midterms and another potential hurricane approaching, Trump’s tweets hit Florida politics like a stink bomb. The state’s large (an estimated 1.1 million) and politically pivotal Puerto Rican community — enhanced by post-Maria refugees, aside from the many Florida residents with family and friends on the island — is going to be enraged by Trump’s dismissive claims about the disaster and the suffering it caused. And already Florida Republicans are distancing themselves from their Maximum Leader with varying degrees of intensity, as Politico reports:

“’Mr. President. SHUT UP,’ Alan Levine, a Republican appointed by Gov. Rick Scott — a top Trump ally — to Florida’s university governing board, replied on Twitter.

“’Any death, whether one or 3,000 is a tragedy. That doesn’t mean you caused it, and its not about you. Show compassion for the families,” Levine wrote. “Learn what we can so future response can improve. Honestly…’.”

Florida governor and Senate candidate Rick Scott took a few beats to react, and did so firmly if calmly:

Scott has invested heavily in outreach to the normally Democratic-leaning Puerto Rican community. So he can be expected to defend that investment against offensive comments from Trump. A more interesting case is that of the Republican nominee to succeed him as governor, U.S. Representative Ron DeSantis:

“’Ron DeSantis is committed to standing with the Puerto Rican community, especially after such a tragic loss of life,’ his spokesman Stephen Lawson said in an email. ‘He doesn’t believe any loss of life has been inflated. Ron is focused on continuing to help our Puerto Rican neighbors recover and create opportunities for those who have moved to Florida succeed.'”

There is no way Ron DeSantis would be the GOP nominee for governor without the early and avid support he received from Trump. Yet he’s basically calling his supreme benefactor a liar here. That’s how explosive this issue could be in Florida.

Marco Rubio came the closest of any prominent Florida Republican to offering an defense of Trump among early reactions:

“These days even tragedy becomes political. 3k more Americans died in after Hurricane than during comparable periods before. Both Fed & local gov made mistakes. We all need to stop the blame game & focus on recovery, helping those still hurting & fixing the mistakes.”

So the president abruptly denies 3,000 deaths, but hey–everybody makes mistakes, and “we all” need to stop the “blame game.” As Trump himself might put it, that’s sad.