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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

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Dems Gaining in Senate Races, Party Preference

Thanks to MissLaura at Kos for flagging Senate 2008 Guru’s link-rich roundup of upcoming Senate races. The Guru takes issue with the CQPolitics description of a handful of races as “safe” for the GOP and provides interesting snapshots of current Senate races. Guru also cites an AP/IPSOS poll conducted 6/4-6, showing Americans “lean” toward Dems by a margin of 54-36 percent.

New Study of American Muslims Merits Dem Review

The Pew Research Center has released what is likely the most thorough study ever of an often-overlooked constituency, “Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream” (108-page pdf here). While Muslims are a relatively small religious minority in the U.S. (.06 of U.S. adults), they are disproportionately concentrated in a few key states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio and are therefore positioned as a potentially influential constituency.
The survey of 60,000 interviewees, conducted from January though March, found that 63 percent of U.S. Muslims “lean Democratic,” with 11 percent leaning Republican and 26 percent leaning independent. Additionally, 63 percent of U.S. Muslim citizens said they were registered to vote, compared with 76 percent of the general public.
The survey found that 73 percent believe government “should do more to help the needy,” compared with 63 percent of the general public. But the survey confirmed that American Muslims as a whole are far more conservative on some social issues, such as their view of homosexuality.
The study includes a large quantity of interesting demographic and attitudinal detail about U.S. Muslims, and is highly recommended for Dems who want to better understand this constituency.

‘Minority’ Surge in South Promises Change

Chris Kromm gives both political strategists and policy wonks something to chew on in his Facing South post “Changing South: Half of K-12 students are ‘minority.’” Kromm reports on the explosive growth of African Americans and Hispanics in the south, noting that 47 percent of the south’s K-12 public school students are now people of color. The implications for immigration, education and tax policy should be huge in upcomming election cycles.

So Who Won the Debate?

Edwards is well ahead in both the Daily Kos and MyDD quickie polls as of midnight, which means at most that liberal blog-readers liked his answers and style. But there won’t be any ‘scientific’ polls asking a representative sample who won, and good debate performance is only one part of a successful campaign anyway.
It’s pretty clear, however, that fairness did not win, according to a statistical analysis conducted by the Dodd campaign. Here’s the time and question tally for the first half of the debate, as reported by Salon:
CLINTON 9:25, 9 questions
OBAMA 8:19, 9 questions
RICHARDSON 7:23, 6 questions
EDWARDS 7:06, 8 questions
BIDEN 4:45, 5 questions
DODD 4:00, 4 questions
GRAVEL 2:59, 5 questions
KUCINICH 2:28, 3 questions
Somehow, the remaining debates have to do a better job of letting all candidates get fair coverage.
UPDATE: The Dodd campaign’s tally, presumably for the entire debate is now up. The tally provided for time only: Obama 16:00; Clinton 14:26; Edwards 11:42; Richardson 10:48; Kucinich 9:02; Dodd 8:28; Biden 7:48; Gravel 5:37.
Perfect equality of “face time” is impossible to achieve in any debate format. But a ten plus minute gap between the top time-user and the last-ranking participant is too much.

Dems Set to Gain From Health Care Mandate

If there was any doubt that the American people want health insurance guaranteed for all Americans, it should be extinguished by the latest CNN/Opinion Research Corp poll. Asked whether “the government should provide a national health insurance program for all Americans, even if this would require higher taxes,” 64 percent of respondents agreed in the poll. Even more Americans (73 percent) agreed when the guaranteed coverage was limited to children under age 18, according to the poll, which was conducted 5/4-6.
For a progressive critique of America’s current health care system, read “The Health Care Crisis and What to Do About It” by Paul Krugman and Robin Wells in the New York Review of Books. Krugman and Wells discuss the tricky politics of health care reform and make strong case that Democrats should fight for a single-payer system.
These links take you to the Health Care Reform web pages of eight announced candidates:
Joe Biden
Hillary Clinton
Chris Dodd
John Edwards
Mike Gravel
Dennis Kucinich
Barack Obama
Bill Richardson
All of the Dems’ health care packages provide credible alternatives to the GOP field’s defense of the status quo. The plans will be refined in the months ahead and the Democratic nominee should benefit substantially from the growing public clamor for health care reform.

Exposing GOP Candidates’ Bogus Populism

Noam Scheiber’s irresistibly-titled “Pickup Artist: Populist Poseur Fred Thompson” in The New Republic illuminates a cornerstone of GOP strategy — to portray their rich boy candidates as good-ole, aw-shucks working-class guys. Scheiber has some fun describing Thompson getting all gussied up in blue jeans and boots, delivering folksy speeches from the bed of a rented, used pick-up truck, and then explains something Dems need to better understand:

…Thompson is hardly the only Republican to have ridden phony populism to elective office. In 2003, Haley Barbour, perhaps the most accomplished Washington lobbyist of his generation, pig-in-a-poked and dog-won’t-hunted his way to the Mississippi governor’s mansion. (One of Barbour’s signature tricks was to have himself paged at Ole Miss football games.) And, of course, a certain Yale-educated Northeastern Brahmin reinvented himself as a brush-clearing country boy en route to winning the White House in 2000. These days, phony populists win with such regularity that you’ve got to look beyond any particular candidate to find an explanation.

Republicans are very good at this scam, despite the fact that it would be extremely difficult to identify even one of their policies that actually benefits the working-class. Conversely, they are adept at portraying Democratic candidates, whose policies actually help working people, as elitists. Witness now, for example, the GOP’s concerted effort to portray John Edwards, the son of two union organizers and an advocate of genuine populist policies, as an elitist.
Dems need to get wise and mount a relentless assault on the GOP’s bogus populism. Reading Scheiber’s article is a good start.

Wanted: Dem Senate Candidates in Key States

Chris Bowers MyDD article “Spinning Our Wheels On Senate Recruitment” should come as a wake-up call to Dem leaders looking toward ’08. Bowers does a nice job of outlining the Dems bright prospects for picking up Senate seats next year, noting,

…with twenty-one potential Republican targets, only twelve defenses of our own, and a large and still increasing fundraising advantage, Republican defenses are stretched thin from the get-go. Given the national mood and the structural problems Republicans face, if all goes well, this situation should allow us to pickup between four and seven seats next year, thus returning the Senate to its pre-1994 Democratic majority.

However, Bowers makes a disturbing case that we are seriously behind schedule:

…right now this situation does not seem to be translating into many good pickup opportunities. Off hand, the problem seems to center around recruitment problems. In some states, we are failing to get our top recruits. In other states, our top recruits now seem less promising than they did just a couple months ago. Worst of all, in most states, we don’t have any challengers yet….While the situation could be reversed with improvements just two or three major Senate campaigns, the way things have been going so far, further downgrades seem more likely than further upgrades. We need to start getting our best candidates in every state, or else we could waste this historic electoral opportunity.

Bowers then gets down to specific races, with capsule reports on five key races, and he notes some others that merit more attention. Granted there is still 17 months to go, and we can be confident that Chuck Schumer is on the case. But the Democratic party activists in these states would do well to address Bowers’ concerns.

Dem Leaders Struggling to End Iraq Quagmire

The “hawk” vs. “dove” terms now seem outdated in describing current divisions within the Democratic party, given the overwhelming opposition to Bush’s Iraq policies, not only among Dems, but the nation at large. Very few Dems favor open-ended military occupation of Iraq. What we have now is more in the vein of differences over how to get out.
The bad news for Dems is well-reflected in the Senate vote (80 to 14) to support funding for our continued occupation of Iraq, without deadlines or timetables. The progressive blogosphere is generally livid about the number of Democratic Senators who refused to hang tough and oppose any further funding without timelines, including many prominent liberal Senators. Kos‘s Georgia10 calls it “the Capitulation Bill.” And The Left Coaster Steve Soto has the list of Democrats who voted for it here. Others say they feel “betrayed” by the votes of some of the newly-elected Democratic senators, for whom they had high hopes.
But for Dems who favor deadlines and timetable restrictions on Iraq funding, there is also some good news: Three out of four Democratic Senators running for the Presidency voted against funding without timetables or deadlines — Clinton, Dodd and Obama. Only Biden among Dem presidential candidates, voted for funding without time restrictions. Edwards, a former Senator, has also voiced his strong opposition.
Sure the 80-14 vote count is disappointing for those who wanted to see a little more backbone in the Senate, especially since 60 percent of the American people want timelines on further Iraq war funding, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll, conducted 5/18-23. No doubt, many of the Democrats who voted for the bill would have liked to vote against it, but felt they couldn’t survive the political fallout. It is nonetheless encouraging that the Democratic presidential nominee will almost certainly be a strong opponent of any more blank checks for the Iraq quagmire.

Memo to Dems: Don’t Blur Distinctions

Bill Scher of Liberal Oasis has an instructive riff on the Dodd-Gingrich debate on Sunday’s Meet the Press. On one level, it was an odd pairing — a ‘second-tier’ Democratic candidate who has one of the more impressive resumes in the field vs. an all-but announced Republican, who is arguably one of his party’s most creative strategists. First, thanks to Russert for giving the nation more of an in-depth, head-t-head look at somebody besides the front-runners. But Scher picked up on something important that concerns all Dems who are faced with debating Republicans:

Dodd didn’t say anything that was abhorrent. But he missed an opportunity to frontally challenge and decimate the neocon “World War III” foreign policy vision offered by Newt, and clearly contrast that fundamentally flawed vision with his own alternative.
…Dodd chose to blur distinctions by saying he agrees with Newt about “the war on terror.” In fact, he doesn’t…Dodd sees the difference between terrorists that must be opposed and isolated, and distasteful but rational state governments where the possibility of successful diplomacy not only exists, but can help advance democratic reform and weaken terrorist threats.
It’s a fundamental difference that should be clarified and brought into the open.
If Dodd squarely put his vision up against Newt’s, showing the moral and pragmatic superiority of his vision, that could have turned heads and helped him break out of the second-tier.
Instead, by blurring distinctions, Dodd made some decent points that will soon be forgotten.

Dodd’s longevity in the Senate indicates he is no slouch when it comes to winning elections and making needed distinctions, and generally he is one of the Democrats’ better debaters. But this presidential race is being run in the middle of an elective war that many believe is the worst foreign policy disaster in U.S. history. Now is not a good time to rely on subtle distinctions. Sher’s point is well-taken.