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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

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GOP Implodes on All Fronts

If only the ’08 election could be held tommorow. As Jo-Ann Mort notes in her TPM Cafe’s Coffee House post:

Just a quick look at the Washington Post homepage says it all — three stories, one after another: the Libby convictions, the growing scandal at Walter Reed (and VA hospitals across the country), the juicy tidbits about the political maneuvering to force out federal prosecutors across the country, and of course, the endless and tragic war in Iraq.

Not to pile on, but to this we can add record lows in Bush’s approval ratings, dozens of Vermont towns passing impeachment resolutions and Eric at Pollster.com reports that the GOP’s top Senate target Mary Landrieu is up 15 points in a head-to-head match-up with Louisiana Sec’y of State Jay Dardenne. Also, Kos reports that John Edwards has decided not to take part in the Fox News Debate, and it would be a great demonstration of Democratic solidarity if Senator Clinton and other candidates would join Edwards and Obama in this boycott. And will the last self-respecting Gay or Lesbian person leaving the GOP please turn out the lights?
Want some icing on the cake? Savor Ed Kilgore’s eloquent explanation why the GOP can kiss goodbye any hope of getting votes from Democratic centrists:

For all the talk of the “Bush-hating Left” in the Democratic Party, it’s us “centrists” who really have reason to loathe the Bush-Cheney administration and its conservative allies with a special intensity. They’ve ruined everything they’ve touched, including some previously “liberal” causes like democracy-promotion, open trade, education reform, and market-based approaches to solving public problems. They’ve made the very concept of bipartisanship suspect. And they’ve deliberately, aggressively, consciously poisoned the ground of the political center.

It’s hard to see how any of this could improve much for the Republicans, and it’s easy to see it getting a lot worse. Heady days for Donkeys, and it appears that the outlines of an ’08 landslide are taking shape.

New Book Teaches Kids Democratic Values

On the theory that it’s never too early for kids to become good Democrats, political writer Jeremy Zilber has written a nifty picture book for younger children, “Why Mommy Is A Democrat,” nicely illustrated by Yuliya Fursova. In the book, a mother squirrel explains why she is a Dem to her children in simple language. On one page she looks on from her tree house window and says “Democrats make sure we all share our toys just like Mommy does,” while the little squirrels play with blocks. On another she says ‘Democrats make sure we are always safe, just like Mommy does,” while she shields the little ones from a big, fat elephant walking by. The book is reasonably priced at $10, with further discounts for Democratic organizations and candidates (t-shirts, handbags and teddy bears available also). If your little ones still don’t get it after reading the book, just show them a picture of Ann Coulter, preferably not right before bedtime.

Study Ranks Dems on Left-Right Continuum

The National Journal‘s 2006 congressional vote ratings provide a tool for measuring the political leanings of House and Senate Dems. A panel of the magazine’s editors and reporters selected 84 Senate votes and 103 House votes in 2006 designating “yes” or “no” voters as “liberal” or “conservative.” The percentile rankings of the members help identify the most liberal and conservative members.
According to the rankings, the five most liberal Democratic senators, along with their respective percentile scores in the total Senate are: Dick Durbin (IL) 95.2; Barbara Boxer (CA) 95; Ted Kennedy (MA) 93.7; Leahy (VT) 92.5; and Tom Harkin (IA) 92. The five most conservative Democratic Senators are: Ben Nelson (NB) 45.3; Mary Landrieu (LA) 57.5; Mark Pryor (AR) 59.5; Bill Nelson FL) 62.3; Blanch Lincoln 62.3. Based on these scores, the numerical average for Dems would be a rating of 70.2, which only one U.S. Senator hit on the nose — Hillary Clinton (NY). However, this measure is somewhat distorted by Ben Nelson’s score — 8 Republicans ranked higher on the liberalism scale than did Nelson. Subtracting Nelson and Durbin as the highest and lowest-ranking, the new numerical average score for the ideological center of the Senate Dems is 76.25, and the closest Dem Senator is Diane Feinstein with a 76.5 liberalism rating. Independent Senator Lieberman (CT), who caucuses with Dems, scored a more liberal rating, 67.5, than 8 Dem Senators.
In the House, the five most liberal Dem members were: Diane Watson (CA) 97.7; George Miller (CA) 96.5; Raul Grijalva (AZ) 96.2; Hilda Solis (CA) 96.0; and tied for 5th with a 95.5 score were Sam Farr (CA), Barbara Lee (CA), Lynn Woolsey (CA) and Edward Markey (MA). Interestingly, seven of the top ten Dem House liberals were Californians. The five most conservative Dem House members were: Dan Boren (OK) 50.8; Jim Marshall (GA) 50; Gene Taylor (MS) 50; and tied at 49 were Collin Peterson (MN) and Henry Cuellar (TX). The numerical average for House Dems was 69.25, and the closest Dem House members to that score were Brian Higgins 69.2 and Norman Dicks (WA), Brian Baird (WA) and Joe Baca (CA) all with 69.3 “liberal” ratings.
The National Journal study also breaks down votes into economic, social and foreign policy votes with numerical ratings for members of congress based in each category. For a fuller picture of political leanings of congressional Dems, other organizations, including the Americans for Democratic Action, also provide ratings, which calculate evaluations based on some of the same and some different votes.

Watch Pair of ’07 Gov Races for Clues to ’08

While everyone’s focused on the ’08 prez and congressional races, Larry J. Sabato reminds us that there are important gubernatorial races in ’07. Sabato sees statehouse races as more significant than one would gather from inside-the-beltway msm because the states are “laboratories of democracy” and Governors play a critical role in redistricting. In addition, he sees a ‘canary in the mine” reason for paying more attention to these races:

For example, in 1993 Republican gubernatorial victories in the two states up that year, New Jersey and Virginia, presaged the GOP landslide of 1994, and in 2005 Democratic triumphs in the same states hinted at the Democratic wave of 2006.

A good point. Sabato says The key races this year are in Kentucky and Louisiana, with the Mississippi governor’s race a cake walk for the GOP’s Haley Barbour. Sabato goes into considerable detail about individual candidates’ chances in both parties and notes of the Dem’s chances in KY:

the Democrats smell blood, and voters will need a detailed program to follow all the players. There is no obvious favorite at the moment…None of the Democrats comes close to being a shoo-in, and they all have some damage to their goods…It will be a major surprise if there isn’t a run-off primary for the Democrats, and that could drain money and stir acrimony, to the party’s detriment, especially if the GOP has been able to settle on a nominee in May.

Louisiana is looking increasingly like the marquee race of ’07, and the buzz is all about Governor Blanco stepping aside to let former Dem Senator John Breaux take on the GOP’s rising star, Rep. Bobby Jindal. Sabato stops short of giving Breaux the edge, but many believe Jindal would have a very tough time beating him. Looking toward ’08, Sabato sees only one Dem Governor seriously endangered at this point, Washington’s Gregoire, and predicts Dems will retain a majority of the Governorships.
Sabato has much more to say about individual candidates, demographic changes and races, all of which is well worth a read by political strategy watchers.

Felon Disenfranchisement: Key Component of Voter Suppression

Over at TomPaine.com, Kara Gotsch, advocacy director of The Sentencing Project has an update on what is arguably the GOP’s most powerful tool for voter suppression — felon disenfranchisement. Gotsch sums up the problem succinctly:

…an estimated 5.3 million Americans. Forty-eight states (all but Maine and Vermont) and the District of Columbia prohibit inmates from voting while incarcerated for a felony offense. In 35 states, people on parole also cannot vote. And, in the dozen most regressive states, the right to vote can be permanently denied to people with felony records.

That’s right, a dozen states don’t care if you have served your time and paid your debt to society. You still can’t vote — ever.
Gotsch explains how these laws target African Americans, the most reliable constituency of the Democratic Party:

During the Jim Crow era, disenfranchisement laws in southern states were revised to silence the political voice of newly emancipated slaves. Today, racial disparities in the criminal justice system contribute to dramatic rates of felony disenfranchisement for African Americans. Thirteen percent of black men are disenfranchised and as many as 40 percent of black men are projected to lose their right to vote in states that disenfranchise after completion of sentence….

The 2006 elections have increased momentum for reforms to restore voting rights to ex-felons. Reform legislation has been introduced in 20 states. This is critically important in Florida, where Gotsch notes that one million felons have been disenfranchised for life, thanks in part to the leadership of former Governor Jeb Bush. Reformers are hopeful that the new Republican Governor Charles Crist will rise above partisan concerns and sign an executive order restoring voting rights to hundreds of thousans of Floridians who have served their time.
Democrats increased their strength substantially in the state legislatures and among the governorships in the ’06 elections, and now have an unprecedented opportunity to reinstate voting rights to ex-felons. Strengthening a mass movement to restore voting rights to those who have served their time ought to be a top priority of state Democratic parties in ’07 — a cause that serves justice, as well as their party’s future.

Early Polls Have Weak Track Record for Dems

Early horse race presidential polls have an unimpressive track record in predicting the Democratic nominee. In fact, historical experience suggests there is money to be made betting against the current front-runners. As Associated Press reporter Will Lester explains:

…Edmund Muskie in 1972, George Wallace in 1976, Ted Kennedy in 1980, Gary Hart in 1988, Mario Cuomo in 1992 and Joe Lieberman in 2004 were early front-runners among Democrats. None won the nomination.

But, as poll analyst Mark Blumenthal notes in his Pollster.com article “Pew Center on Past Presidential Trial Heats”:

…two of the four that did not win (Cuomo in 1991 and Hart in 1987) “withdrew from the race for reasons other than lagging support in the polls.” So make of that history what you will.

And further, as Blumenthal quotes Pew Research Center’s Nilanthi Samaranayake and Scott Keeter:

the increased front-loading of the primaries and the growing importance of early fundraising means that the dynamics of the nominating process are apt to be somewhat different this election cycle, making comparisons with past elections less useful.

True ’nuff. And there are two exceptions to the trend, as Lester notes:

Democrats nominated a former vice president, Walter Mondale, in 1984, and a sitting vice president, Al Gore, in 2000. For those elections, the early polls were more predictable at picking the front-runner.

Of course, we’ve never had a presidential spouse in early front-runner position before, much less the spouse of a popular President who had eight years of comparative peace and prosperity and who is a popular U.S. Senator. So don’t go betting the ranch that Hillary will tank. But the point that early presidential trial heat polls have little predictive value for Dems is nonetheless worth keeping in mind.
Interestingly, the reverse is true for the GOP, says Lester:

Republicans have picked the early front-runner in seven of the past 10 elections, according to Gallup polling. In the other three elections, Republican incumbents cruised to re-election.

Lester offers a couple of possible explanations for this phenomenon. But could it be that Dems are just more open to change?
None of this is to say that early horse race polls have no value to Dems. They do help candidates identify areas of strength and weakness and who they need to challenge at various stages of the race. The thing to keep in mind is, the early polls help the candidates shape their message, persona and strategy, not those who want to predict the Democratic nominee.
For a peek at who the early “smart money”, i.e. the gambling community, is actually betting on at this stage, check out the surprising current betting odds at Intrade’s web pages.

Getting Past Who Voted How, Said What, When And Why

It’s not hard to find lengthy discusssions about how which candidates voted and/or what they said about the decision to invade and occupy Iraq and how important it is — just throw a dart over your shoulder at your favorite bloglist. It’s just something Democrats have to go through at this early, winnowing stage of the ’08 campaign. The presidential primaries will help resolve the discussion, and in time all good Dems will unify behind the nominee. On the road to that glorious day, we suggest the following to put the discussion in perspective:
In his American Prospect article, “Their Vote Counts,” Michael Tomasky says “apology, schmapology,” those candidates who supported the war early on (Clinton and Edwards) should not get a free ride:

Readers, and voters, will decide for themselves who’s being more honest. For my part, I’ve decided: Neither is, and if only for the sake of remembering things accurately, we should look back at the infamous October 2002 vote in some detail and tell the plain truth about why most Senate Democrats voted to authorize war. It’s one of the most important and fateful votes Congress has cast in recent American history, and it’s very much worth remembering.

One of Tomasky’s American Prospect stablemates, Garance Franke-Ruta, agrees in her article “The Ethics of Apology”:

So, sure, America could use someone who’s able to admit mistakes, and, yes, apologies only count for so much. What America could really use, though, is someone who had the courage to stand up for truth-telling when it really mattered, as it did in 2002 — and who now uses his high-ranking political post to take action to end the war. Obama’s test — his trap — will be whether or not he can do more than introduce well-written and well-intentioned legislation which dies without a vote.

Yet another American Prospect writer, Ezra Klein, makes a more flexible assessment in his piece “Honest Stupidity”:

Had Democrats been thinking more clearly, they would have considered Bush’s record, his competence, his instincts, and just said no. The moment, however, was not one conducive to clear thought. And the question was never framed or explained quite like that. Rather, an array of foreign policy wisemen and self-styled Iraq experts fanned out to speak to those politicians they were closest with and convinced them to vote for the resolution as a way of voting for their personal wars.

And no doubt New Donkey Ed Kilgore speaks for legions with this take, from his “Kos, Vilsack, the War and the DLC”:

Look, I don’t personally mind antiwar Democrats pointing out again and again they were right and others, including the DLC, were wrong on the original decision to go into Iraq…If we are going to go back and examine everyone’s position at every stage of the nightmare in Iraq, it’s not unfair to point out that Howard Dean, during his presidential campaign, said repeatedly that America had a responsibility to stay in Iraq, perhaps for a long time, given our unfortunate decision to go to war.
All this endless recrimination over who said what when after the war started, and who moved as fast or faster than Murtha or Kos in the maximum antiwar direction, is IMHO a big waste of time, and far more divisive than anything emanating from the DLC, much less Tom Vilsack.

Do read the pro and con comments following these articles for more insight and join the fray. But know that first Tuesday in November ’08, nearly all of the candidates’ harshest progressive critics will cast their ballots for the Democratic nominee, regardless of their earlier positions — and that’s a good thing..

‘Coattail Effect’ May Swing Senate

Democrats concerned about shoring up their U.S. Senate margin should read “Senate Races ’08: Down to the Wire Again?” at Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball. Sabato crunches the numbers and covers the big picture, along with some specific Senate races, and concludes:

At least to judge by the early line-up, it will be a surprise if the Senate doesn’t remain highly competitive after November 2008, with neither party having anywhere near the sixty reliable votes needed to run this balky, idiosyncratic institution–the saucer that cools the hot brew in the House teacup.

Sabato opines that at this admittedly early stage, it appears that Dems are slightly more likely to hold the Senate, than lose control. But he warns:

The biggest imponderable is the presidential campaign. Senators like to think they are immune from the coattail effect. They are not. Certainly, coattail has a greater impact on open seat races, such as the ’04 Southern contests mentioned earlier, where the Bush reelection margin pushed Republicans over the finish line in states such as Florida and Louisiana. Yet a large margin for one party’s White House contender can add a few Senate seats all by itself. And then there are all the usual macro forces that are unpredictable but often determinative, including scandals that may arise, or the shape of each state’s economy (if it’s good, the incumbent claims credit, and if it’s bad, the challenger makes the incumbent take some blame). Fear of the unknown keeps both parties on their toes.
This early in the game, we hesitate even to categorize Senate races for 2008. Which senators will retire? Which senators will attract trouble or commit devastating gaffes before the campaign is finished? What will the quality of the challenger turn out to be in each race? How about the comparative financial war chests of the candidates and the national party senatorial committees? (With money, as in so many other aspects of life, size matters.)

A reasonable assessment, and one that underscores the importance of financial contributions to ’08 Senate and presidential candidates, as soon as possible for the latter, given the heavily front-loaded presidential primaries.

Religious Prattle May Hurt Candidates

Kos has a thought-provoking post “Religion, Values and Politics,” offering a cogent argument that political candidates rarely gain much by talking about their religion. He nails it nicely in this nut graph:

Here’s the deal — Republicans have claimed god as their own and perverted religious texts to justify some of the most divisive and hateful policies and discourse in our politics today. And while Corporate Cons, Neocons, and Paleocons have tolerated the Theocons in order to tap into their activist network (none of those other conservative factions have significant boots to help them win elections), fact is it’s created an ugly party that is unelectable in entire regions of the country. No one likes to have their morality dictated by others. And that doesn’t just mean the Religious Right, but those on our side as well.

Kos believes Dems who think Harold Ford’s losing Senate campaign provides a model for emulation are sorely mistaken. He notes that Jim Webb and John Tester won in conservative states “without cheap pandering to the religious set.” He explains further:

They didn’t shoot commercials in churches, embrace hatred of gays, or demand school prayer (all of which Harold Ford did). They didn’t prattle on about “god” at every campaign stop. Yet somehow they were able to win.

Voters do want to know about candidates’ personal values, Kos explains. But candidates who equate values with parroting religious doctrines may be courting defeat. Kos’s article riffs on a discussion underway at Atrios, and both merit a thoughtful read. Nation-wide, there may, indeed be more voters who wish candidates would just shut up about their religion than those who want to hear about it. And just once, wouldn’t it be great to hear some leading politician say “Religion is a deeply personal matter, and I’m just not going to exploit it to jockey for votes.”

Political Ads Now ‘Huge Revenue Opportunity’ for Bloggers

Today’s Wall St. Journal has an interesting article about the power of the blogosphere as a medium for political advertising. In the article, “Candidates Find A New Stump In the Blogosphere,” author Amy Schatz notes that internet political ads are increasing sharply

With 18 candidates vying for the most open race for the White House in 80 years and front-runners on both sides announcing plans to forgo public financing, the 2008 election promises to be a huge revenue opportunity, not just for TV broadcasters….All told, online spending by candidates, political parties and third-party special-interest “soft money” groups, like Moveon.org, could hit $80 million during the 2008 cycle compared with $29 million in 2004, according to an estimate by PQ Media LLC, a Connecticut research firm.

The boom in ads for political blogs is proving to be lucrative for high traffic political websites, although TV still rules in terms of ad revenues, explains Schatz:

Internet ad spending is small compared with spending on traditional radio, broadcast and cable advertising. The best-read blogs still charge comparably little for ads. A standard-size weekly ad purchased through Blogads costs $2,900 on the progressive site DailyKos for example, or $250 at Hotair.com, a conservative video blog site. By comparison, a 30-second broadcast television spot could set back a candidate anywhere from $90,000 to $110,000 a week in a market like Des Moines, according to Evan Tracey of the TNS Media Intelligence’s Campaign Media Analysis Group.

Campaigns know, however, that they are targeting a high number of opinion leaders and politically active net-surfers when they advertise on particular blogs.

The most popular political blogs reach a daily audience of just a few million readers, according to a study released last October by George Washington University’s Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet. But they are more likely than the general public to actively participate in the political process. The study found that about 75% of daily political-blog readers are male, about 40% are between 35 to 54 years old and 42% reported an annual income of $100,000 or more.

So far bloggers’ content has not been influenced by their advertisers, and Schatz cites examples of bloggers biting the hands that feed them. The article also discusses the internet ads of several presidential candidates, including John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and John McCain.