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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

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Can Wesley Clark Win the Democratic Nomination? Should He?

Yesterday, DR alluded to the idea that Wesley Clark could be an attractive candidate, able to match Dean in terms of antiwar credentials, but not tied down to some of Dean’s less palatable stances, like repealing all of the Bush tax cuts.  And, in addition, of course, pretty difficult to criticize as soft on national security.  But really, how feasible is it for Clark to get the nomination at this late date? And, if he did, would this necessarily be a good thing?
The Daily Kos, who believes Clark would be a great general election candidate, just thinks he’s waited too long and probably can’t get the nomination. He mentions three factors–money, organization and drive–which all tell against Clark. The drive factor (“fire in the belly”) is hard to assess, but the lack of money and organization will obviously present huge obstacles to him.
Amy Sullivan of The Washington Monthly  believes Clark can overcome these obstacles by using the internet and his existing network of supporters to jump-start his campaign and get a quick cash infusion, after which one good thing will lead to another. Maybe. Frank Foer of The New Republicin an interesting debate with Noam Scheiber over Clark’s (possible) candidacy, puts his faith in Clark’s presumed ability to rally the Democratic establishment, including a critical mass of fundraisers, consultants and politicians, to his side as the candidate who can beat Bush and avoid a McGovernesque Dean defeat for the Democrats.
Well, maybe again. As Scheiber points out in the above debate, a great deal of Democratic money and energy is tied up in Democratic candidates that are not likely to drop out anytime soon, no matter how strong Dean appears at the moment. Scheiber also dwells on the uncomfortable facts that Clark has no political experience of the conventional sort and we really have no idea what kind of policies he actually stands for and how he’d actually fare on the campaign trail. Sure he’s got a great resume and he’s come up with some nice phrases to summarize his general stance on some issues (“I have got 20-some-odd guns in the house. I like to hunt. I have grown up with guns all my life, but people who like assault weapons, they should join the United States Army–we have them.”)
But to translate that into The Man Who Will Save the Democratic Party strikes DR (at least at this point) as the wishful thinking of Democrats who are panicked by the possibility Dean will get the nomination, have no faith in any of the other candidates and who want to believe.
posted 9:27 pm

Core Voters Vs. Swing Voters

There was a rather unenlightening article by Adam Nagourney in the Sunday New York Times, which appeared to be arguing that, in today’s political landscape, core voters are the important voters and swing voters are fading as a political force. Could be. But there was nothing in the article that would logically lead one to conclude that was the case. Sure, the electorate’s polarized and sure, the parties will be trying to mobilize their core supporters–but that doesn’t mean swing voters are somehow unimportant. Indeed, if the parties manage to achieve about equal levels of mobilization through their efforts, which could easily happen, then swing voters could be more important than ever, since the mobilization efforts will roughly cancel each other out.
DR could go on, but he won’t. Instead, he’ll let the DLC do the heavy lifting. Check out their broadside against Nagourney’s article here. DR doesn’t agree with everything in the DLC piece, but their central point is incontrovertible: you’ve got to go after both core voters and swing voters to succeed and concentrating on just one is a recipe for disaster.

Will Bush Definitely Be Re-elected?

If you asked the average pundit, they’d probably say yes. But the average voter sees it differently. According to  just-released CBS News data, only 38 percent now say Bush will definitely be re-elected, compared to 50 percent who say a Democrat can win. Intriguingly, this is a quite a bit worse than Bush’s father was faring in late 1991, when 47 percent thought he’d definitely be re-elected, compared to 42 percent who thought a Democrat could win.
But which Democrat is it going to be? Here’s some interesting data from Gallup that was just released: among Democrats and Democrat leaners, 52 percent say the Democratic nominee should be someone who opposed the decision to go to war but 62 percent say the nominee should want to repeal only the Bush tax cuts for the rich, not those for the middle class. The first item sounds like Dean, but the second one doesn’t.
Could this cause trouble for Dean? Possibly, especially if there was another candidate people took seriously who was also against the war, but didn’t want to repeal the middle class Bush tax cuts. Like….well, like Wesley Clark.

Labor Day Reading

As we head into Labor Day, it’s an appropriate to time to think a bit about the future of the American labor movement. DR strongly recommends Harold Meyerson’s article in the new American Prospect as an aid to such thinking. Meyerson’s article, “Organize or Die”, is about the three union presidents–Andrew Stern of SEIU, John Wilhelm of HERE and Bruce Raynor of UNITE–who have formed an alliance to push the AFL-CIO and its member unions to put more effort and money into organizing. The title of the article crisply expresses the viewpoint of the three presidents: without success on the organizing front, the labor movement will die as an effective force in American society.
Probably true. And so far, John Sweeney’s regime, despite success in reviving labor’s political clout, has essentially made no progress on the organizing front. The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data peg union density at an anemic 13.2 percent and headed, if anything, slightly downward. Given the centrality of the labor movement to a strong Democratic politics, that should be a matter of concern to every Democrat.
Can Stern, Wilhelm and Raynor do it? DR’s crystal ball’s a bit fogged up on this one, but he sure as hell hopes they can. And you should too.

What Do You Call a President That Independent Voters Are Losing Faith In?

Vulnerable, that’s what. Here’s some data from a CBS News poll released on August 29. Bush’s overall job approval is at 53 percent among independents, drops to 44 percent on foreign policy (with 43 percent disapproval) and then collapses to 32 percent on the economy (with a stunning 58 percent disapproval).
On the war with Iraq, just 43 percent of independents now say the result of the war was worth its costs, while 49 percent think the result wasn’t worth the costs. And only 42 percent believe the US is in control of events taking place in Iraq, compared to 50 percent who say we aren’t. Note that these data were collected before the car bombing in Najaf on Friday that killed 125 people, including the relatively moderate Shiite cleric, Mohammed Bakir Hakim.
Finally, a mere 17 percent of independents think the threat of terrorism against the US has been decreased as a result of the war with Iraq. That number is dwarfed by the 30 percent who believe the threat of terrorism has increased and the 51 percent who believe the threat has remained the same.
An independent voter who doesn’t feel safer, who doesn’t feel the war was worth the costs and who thinks the Iraq situation is spinning out of control is an independent voter that Bush is on the verge of losing. More proof, if proof were needed, that Democrats shouldn’t be hugging Bush on the national security issue, they should be going after him.

Dean Kicks It Up a Notch

Wow. Howard Dean will raise well over $10 million this quarter, far outdistancing all of his Democratic rivals. And the latest Zogby poll out of New Hampshire has him with an astounding 21 point lead (38 percent to 17 percent) over his closest rival, John Kerry. The previous Zogby poll in early June had Kerry with a 3 point lead, so that’s quite a shift.
Moreover, as Ryan Lizza of The New Republic reports, Dean has steamrollered over Kerry in virtually every demographic category–”upscale Democrats, blue-collar Democrats, independents of all persuasions, every age group and every area of the state”, including New Hampshire’s Boston suburbs, where Dean is now trouncing Kerry by 40 percent to 21 percent.
That suggests that Dean is starting to build support outside of the internet-savvy professionals and college students who have helped generate a lot of the excitement around the Dean campaign. Another sign is that more women than men supported Dean in the Zogby poll (the reverse has been typical so far), indicating he is starting to plug into mainstream support from Democratic women.
How’s he having all this success? As &c. points out, by keeping his initial supporters mobilized and excited, even while he concentrates on broadening his appeal to different groups and to different areas of country (for example, he recently visited Washington state, Wisconsin and Virginia).
In short, he’s convincing more and more people that he’s not just a compelling candidate, but a viable one. And skeptics like Joan Walsh of Salon.com are increasingly willing to admit that that’s the case. Meanwhile, Dean isn’t resting but planning to run ads soon in 8 of the first 15 caucus and primary states–Iowa and New Hampshire, of course, but also Arizona, New Mexico, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Washington and Wisconsin.

The DLC Phones It In

Meanwhile, back at the DLC, Al From and Bruce Reed are, no doubt, preparing yet another one of their memos imploring Democrats to reject the dreaded Dean, turn away from Mondale-McGovernism and embrace the true New Democrat faith. To paraphrase Bob Dylan: “There’s something happening here and you don’t know what it is, do you Mr. From?”
In an interesting article in the latest American Prospect, Garance Franke-Ruta reports that the DLC’s general cluelessness this election season has not been lost among many longtime New Democrat supporters. Many are starting to feel that the DLC has lost its way and appears frighteningly unaware of the many ways in which today’s political challenges and today’s Democratic party differ from the challenges and party faced by the DLC in mid-1980’s.
The article quotes Simon Rosenberg, whose New Democrat Network has traditionally been closely allied with the DLC, as follows: “Saying this is like ‘68, like ‘72–all of that is irrelevant. We are in a different era…..We’re in an unsettled time….What’s not going to happen is a restoration of the old order.”
Another veteran DLC supporter says: “You can’t walk away from [Al From’s] accomplishments.” But “at this point, he and the DLC are more trying to re-create the past in terms of battles and achievements rather than look at the landscape as it is now.”

See, This Is All Part of Kerry’s Plan

So, let’s see, Dean’s got the money, the excitement, the momentum and the lead in the polls. Not to worry, says the Kerry camp, we’ve got Dean right where we want him. Now we can roll out our message-driven campaign and really smoke him.
Just one problem. What is their message? Besides, of course, that Kerry fought in Vietnam. That he’s more optimistic? That he’ll only repeal some, not all, of the Bush tax cuts? That he’ll spend a bit of money trying to help out financially-strapped states?
Somehow that just doesn’t sound like it’ll do the trick. Time for the Kerry campaign, DR says, to kick it up a notch. If they don’t, they could be eating Dean’s dust all the way to Boston.

Bush Woes Continue

Well, DR’s back from the beach–tan, rested and ready, as they say–and he’s pleased to note that public disenchantment with Bush is continuing and intensifying.  In CBS News polling data released August 13, Bush’s approval rating was 55 percent, down 5 points from their July poll, and Bush’s approval rating on the economy was a dreadful 36 percent with 52 percent disapproval. Moreover, the poll found 60 percent of Americans saying the economy was in bad condition, with just 38 percent saying it in good shape. That’s the worst reading on this indicator since September, 1993.
And how much progress has been made on the economy? Compared to two years ago, 55 percent (60 percent of independents) think the nation’s economy is in worse shape today and 66 percent think the job market has deteriorated in that time span. No wonder that 70 percent (74 percent of independents) believe Bush should be paying more attention to the economy.
Bad, bad, bad. But of course the economy is Bush’s worst area. What of Bush’s strong suit: national security and the supposedly popular war in Iraq? Well, that war may have been mighty popular when the troops were barreling into Baghdad and Saddam’s statue was coming down, but it ain’t so popular anymore. 
According to the CBS News poll, the country is now about evenly split between those who think the results of the war were worth the costs and those who disagree. The public is also evenly split between those who think the US is in control of the Iraq situation and those who think we aren’t.
Not so good. And
 a Newsweek poll released last weekend has Bush’s approval rating on Iraq down to 54 percent, off 4 points since late July and down 11 points since the end of May. Only 18 percent are very confident the US will be able to establish a stable, democratic form of government in Iraq and just 16 percent think efforts to rebuild Iraq are going very well.
And wait, there’s more! Recent developments have raised doubts in a substantial segment of the public about whether going to war with Iraq was the right thing to do. These developments include the number of US military casualties since the end of major combat was declared, reports about the long-term cost of the occupation, and the fact that no banned chemical or biological weapons have yet been found. In each case, about half the public says the development has raised doubts about the rightness of the war. In another indicator of wavering commitment, a slight plurality (48 percent to 47 percent) in now willing to say they would support a withdrawal of US military personnel from Iraq in response to ongoing attacks on our forces.
Finally, we’re getting close to an even split about whether the Bush administration purposely misled the public to build support for the Iraq war (43 percent say they did; 51 percent say they didn’t). No wonder an August 22 Washington Post story was headlined “
Security May Not Be Safe Issue for Bush in ‘04“. It isn’t and he’s not. The Newsweek poll, in fact, finds more registered voters (49 percent) saying they would not like to see Bush re-elected than say they would like to see him get a second term (44 percent). That’s quite a turnaround from early May., when registered voters favored Bush’s re-election by 51 percent to 38 percent.
Now if the Democrats could just get their act together, we might really have a horse race here. Latest thoughts on that problem soon.

Bush’s Approval Rating Hits the Low 50s

The latest Pew Research Center poll has Bush’s approval rating down to 53 percent, with 37 percent disapproval, the highest disapproval of his Presidency. Bush has now given back all of the approval spike and more he got from the Iraq war; indeed he’s down almost 20 points (about 5 points a month) since his high of 74 percent when the statue of Saddam came down in Baghdad. While he can’t keep on losing approval at this clip, he doesn’t have far to go before he starts dipping below 50 percent, an unambiguous danger sign for incumbents.
The poll also has about an even split between those who say they would like to see Bush re-elected (40 percent) and those who say they would prefer that the Democratic candidate win the election (39 percent). In addition, the Democrats have a 7 point lead on party ID, once independents who lean toward a party are factored in.
If more evidence of Bush vulnerability is needed, consider this: by 30 points, the public now says it is more important for Bush to focus on the economy (57 percent) than on the war on terrorism (27 percent). When the public is asking you to focus on your chief area of weakness, that’s not a good sign.