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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Popular “Moderates versus the Left” narrative about Democrats’ struggle to regain the support of working class voters is the “Night of the Living Dead” of American political commentary.

No matter how many times it is buried by the weight of events it keeps on coming back.

To Regain the Support of “Culturally Traditional but Not Extremist” Working Class Voters Democrats Need to Understand the Compelling Political Narrative That Leads Them to Vote for the GOP.

Read the Memo

The culturally traditional but non-extremist working class voters: who they are, how they think and what Democrats Must Understand to regain their support.

As the 2022 and 2024 elections approach Democrats have responded to their declining working class support by proposing variations on one or another of two strategies that they have advocated ever since the 1970’s.

The Popular “Moderates versus the Left” narrative about Democrats’ struggle to regain the support of working class voters is the “Night of the Living Dead” of American political commentary.

No matter how many times it is buried by the weight of events it keeps on coming back.

The culturally traditional but non-extremist working class voters: who they are, how they think and what Democrats Must Understand to regain their support.

By Andrew Levison

Read the Report.

The Daily Strategist

November 28, 2022

‘A Memo to Democrats’ by Democratic Strategists

Democratic strategists Patrick Gaspard, Sanley B. Greenberg, Celinda Lake and Mike Lux have co-written “A Memo to Democrats,” cross-posted here from The American Prospect:

The four of us have been around politics a long time. We have been a part of some of the Democratic Party’s biggest victories; we have seen some big losses. In the 2022 election, things are as close as we have ever seen them. But we are right on the edge of overcoming historical trends and other factors weighing us down, and winning a decisive victory.

What we have to do, though, is end on a strong economic argument. Democrats need to understand that we have a winning message on the economy and inflation. But rising costs will beat us if we avoid the issue.

Don’t get us wrong: we are all firmly convinced of the power and central importance of abortion. The Dobbs decision changed the trajectory of this election, and it is the most powerful issue we have in turning out Democratic base voters. No Democratic candidate should stop talking about abortion. But going down the stretch, we need to make sure our closing message also talks about the cost of living, inflation and the economy.

Even before the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS and Science Act, when Joe Biden’s approval ratings were still in the 30s, what was striking in the focus groups we were watching was that people were not blaming Biden for inflation. They certainly wanted him to do something about rising prices and to be in touch with their lives, but their primary ire was directed at big corporations that have moved jobs overseas and created supply chain issues; and at the near-monopoly power these wealthy corporations have over prices, allowing them to price-gouge consumers.

Voters want politicians to solve these problems. Inflation and the cost of living is their number one concern right now, and they are thinking and talking about it all the time in part because they believe it is getting worse with no end in sight. They understand that the problems are complicated and tough to solve, but if they don’t think the Democrats are prioritizing their everyday costs, they will be put off. They want to know you understand what is going on in their lives. They want to know you are helping with their number one problem and have a plan.

They want to know the difference between Democrats and Republicans when they cast their votes.

If voters never hear ads from candidates mentioning rising costs; if the mail they receive never mentions it; if they only hear it touched on in stump speeches; if the answers to the inflation question in debates are mushy; voters are going to decide those Democratic candidates are not prioritizing the issue they are most focused on.

And our research shows that it’s important for voters to know that you are in touch with what they are facing economically, especially Gen Z and millennials, Blacks and Latinos, and blue-collar women, all of whom are the key swing voters in this campaign.

There is not a reason in the world Democrats need to be defensive or mushy about their plan for inflation. The American Rescue Plan included the enhanced Child Tax Credit, tax relief for poor, working and middle-class families. The Inflation Reduction Act will bring prices down for pharmaceutical drugs, health insurance premiums, and energy prices. The House passed an anti-price gouging bill that all Republicans voted against. A populist message on the issue has been tested repeatedly and it works.

That Republicans voted against or stopped many of these measures is a key reason to highlight the difference of what happens when you elect Democrats or Republicans. The GOP has also announced that they would reinstate the Trump tax cuts on the wealthy and wealthy corporations.

Rather than dwelling on Republicans stopping these measures, we should embrace those popular answers as key to the choice in the election.

Democrats defeated special interests— including big oil companies and big pharmaceutical companies—to make these happen. So, here’s the choice in the battle over the cost of living: Democrats fighting special interests to help working people with these high costs, or Republicans simply helping their big corporate donors.

This is time for a powerful close that shows Democrats embracing these messages:

1. Wealthy corporations with monopoly power are jacking up their prices, and their profits are going through the roof. Big oil, food, shipping, health care, and real estate companies have been making record profits over the last two years. I will crack down on price gouging, but to be clear: My opponent takes the opposite position.

2. I will fight hard to bring down health care costs, especially for prescription drugs.  Because we passed the Inflation Reduction Act, Democrats took a good first step. Pharma is going to have to negotiate with Medicare on prescription drug prices for the first time. it’s about time, and Medicare premiums as well as drug costs will be going down as a result. I want to do even more to lower costs, but the Republicans want to repeal negotiating prescription drug prices, the price caps on insulin, the lower health insurance premiums, and the cap on seniors’ out of pocket drug costs—all while having no plan of their own. Seniors will be getting the biggest increase in their Social Security payments in 40 years, which will help them cope with inflation, but Republicans are talking about ending Social Security.

3. I will fight for the Child Tax Credit, which will give parents up to $600 a month to help with groceries, gas, and housing. And I’m going to pay for it by taxing wealthy corporations and millionaires who are paying little or nothing in taxes right now. My opponent is against the Child Tax Credit and wants to give structural tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy.

These three points make up a compelling, highly persuasive set of policies that help with the cost of living. Here’s what an ad might look like:

“The cost of living is hitting working families and senior citizens hard. They haven’t seen a pay raise in years, and now this obscene rise in global prices.  Elect me because my top priority will be tackling rising prices. We should crack down hard on corporate price gouging and start making things in America again, so that we have fewer supply chain problems. We should also help people cope with rising prices. Under the Biden administration, Social Security’s cost of living increase was the biggest in 40 years, and Medicare premiums went down for the first time in a long time. The Inflation Reduction Act lowers drug prices by forcing Big Pharma to negotiate with Medicare, but we need to build on that to keep health care costs declining. Republicans will undo all that if they regain power. For parents, we should bring back the expanded Child Tax Credit, which gives parents up to $600 a month to help with housing, groceries, and gas prices, paid for by finally making wealthy corporations pay what they owe.

“I will fight for you and your family, not just to survive, but for the freedom of every family to thrive. Because every American deserves a shot at the Dream.”

Yes, Democrats, also keep talking about the fundamental threat to the right to an abortion. That remains a priority we must deliver too. It’s really important in turning out the Democratic vote and persuading swing Independent and Republican women to vote for us.  But your path to victory is to also make sure voters know you will prioritize fighting rising costs and for an economy that works for working families.”

The American Prospect provides an audio version of the article. Author bio notes:

Patrick Gaspard is the president and chief executive officer of the Center for American Progress.

Stanley B. Greenberg, a founding partner of Greenberg Research, Democracy Corps, and Climate Policy & Strategy, and Prospect board member, is a New York Times best-selling author and co-author of It’s the Middle Class, Stupid!

Celinda Lake, the president of Lake Research Partners, is a pollster and political strategist for Democrats and progressives.

Mike Lux, a senior staffer in the Clinton White House and a senior adviser to the DNC chair, has worked on seven presidential campaigns, and authored two books.


Teixeira: Democrats’ Working Class Problem Intensifies

The following post by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from The Liberal Patriot:

These are hard times for America’s historic party of the working class—as in, they keep on bleeding support among these voters. The just-released New York Times/Siena poll provides the latest evidence for this trend. Among likely voters, Democrats’ generic Congressional ballot support among college-educated and working class (noncollege) voters are mirror images of each other. Democrats have a 15 point deficit among working class voters but a 14 point advantage among college voters—almost a 30 point gap. (The AEI demographic group tracker averages poll results and confirms an unusually large working class-college gap.)

The Times/Siena poll also asked a 2024 trial heat question pitting Biden against Trump. This showed the same pattern: college-educated voters favored Biden by 20 points, while working voters preferred Trump by 16 points. Keep in mind that working class voters are likely to far outnumber college voters in that election just as they did in 2020 and as they are likely to do this November.

Putting these results in context is instructive. In the 2012 election, the working class-college gap was a mere 4 points; Obama carried college-educated voters by 6 points, but also carried working class voters by 2 points. By 2020, Democrats were losing working class voters by 4 points and the gap had widened to 22 points. Lest anyone think that declining working class support was solely due to white working class voters moving away from the Democrats, it should be noted that nonwhite working class voters moved away from Democrats by 19 margin points over the time period.

However, it is true that the education gap is exceptionally large among whites. In the Times/Siena data, Democrats are losing white working class voters by 32 points while carrying white college voters by 7 points. And these white working class voters still loom very, very large in most states, including ones with key contests in November’s election. Echelon Insights, which anticipates another high turnout election, has released estimates of the demographic composition of voters this November. They expect that voters nationally will be 41 percent white noncollege and higher still in states like Wisconsin (56 percent), Ohio (53 percent), Pennsylvania (49 percent) and even Nevada (46 percent).

Echelon comments, correctly I think, on the implications of their turnout and voter composition analysis:

Which party will benefit from higher turnout or a more diverse electorate? The answer might surprise you. In the 2020 election, high turnout led to a surprisingly close election with a surge in support for Donald Trump among low-propensity Hispanic voters in particular. Rising turnout is being driven by a working class, non-college electorate that Republicans have been doing better with in recent elections, as well as an aging electorate, creating more high-turnout voters over the age of 65. When it comes to the conventional wisdom about high versus low voter turnout, all bets are off.

It is not hard to see what might be driving the current working class drift toward the Republicans. First, there is the economy. The recent upturn in inflation, still near a 40 year high, is squeezing already-squeezed working class budgets. It cannot be emphasized enough that in the last year real wages for workers have actually gone down because wage increases have not kept pace with inflation.

Not surprisingly, the economy and the cost of living are by far the top issues for working class voters. In the Times/Siena poll, 49 percent cited these issues, compared to 37 percent among college-educated voters. The closest other issue among working class voters was immigration at 7 percent.

But Democrats haven’t run a campaign aimed at these working class concerns. As a recent headline put it in the New York Times, “Democrats Spent $2 Trillion to Save the Economy. They Don’t Want to Talk About It.” Instead, they have elected to run a campaign focused on three things: abortion rights, gun control and safeguarding democracy. This appeared to be a strategy aimed at socially liberal, college-educated voters among whom these issues are highly salient. No doubt this has helped shore up their support among these voters and contributed to Democrats’ maintaining strong margins among the college-educated. But among working class voters, whose concerns are more mundane and economically-driven, these issues are far less salient.

It seems unlikely that the Democrats’ approach will work any better as we get closer to the election. Abortion rights, which has by far been the dominant issue in Democratic ad spending, may have reached the limits of its effectiveness. Many Republican candidates are softening their abortion positions and avoiding association with outright bans, which may help explain the apparent movement of independent womenback toward the GOP.

As for gun control, it is clearly being overshadowed by the crime issue where the Democrats are hugely vulnerable and Republicans have released a barrage of campaign advertising. In the just-released Politico/Morning Consult poll, more voters say crimewill be a major factor in their voting decision than say the same about abortion.

As for safeguarding democracy, which for Democrats means an unrelenting focus on Trump, the “Big Lie” and the January 6th hearings, this just has much less juice than Democrats like to think it does. Indeed when normie voters think about threats to democracy, they are just not thinking about it in the same way that Democrats do. As Nate Cohn notes in his analysis of the recent Times/Siena poll:

While 71 percent of registered voters agreed that democracy was “under threat,” only about 17 percent of voters described the threat in a way that squares with discussion in mainstream media and among experts — with a focus on Republicans, Donald J. Trump, political violence, election denial, authoritarianism, and so on.

Instead, most people described the threat to democracy in terms that would be very unfamiliar to someone concerned about election subversion or the Jan. 6 insurrection… When respondents were asked to volunteer one or two words to summarize the current threat to democracy, government corruption was brought up most often — more than Mr. Trump and Republicans combined….Instead, they point most frequently to a longstanding concern about the basic functioning of a democratic system: whether government works on behalf of the people.

That certainly sums up the overriding priority of working class voters: a government that works on behalf of the people. No amount of talk about abortion, gun control and January 6th is likely to convince them that Democrats are providing that when their “lived experience”, as it were, is quite different.

Political Strategy Notes

In his latest update on the midterm elections, Nate Silver writes at FiveThirtyEight: “In fact, Democrats had a string of excellent special election and ballot referendum results in which they met or exceeded their polling. If you’d held the midterms in late August, I’d have bet heavily on Democrats to win the Senate. It sure would be nice to have another special election or two now, and to see how these polling shifts translate into real results. Polls can sometimes change for reasons that don’t reflect the underlying reality of the race, such as because of partisan nonresponse bias or pollster herding….And certainly, Democrats have plenty of paths to retain the Senate. Republicans don’t have any sure-fire pickups; Nevada is the most likely, and even there, GOP chances are only 53 percent, according to our forecast. Meanwhile, Democrat John Fetterman is still ahead in polls of Pennsylvania, although his margin over Republican Mehmet Oz has narrowed. The model is likely to be quite sensitive to new polling in Pennsylvania going forward. If Democrats gain a seat there, meaning that the GOP would need to flip two Democratic-held seats to take the chamber, that starts to become a tall order. Nevada, sure, but I’m not sure Republicans would want to count on Herschel Walker in Georgia or Blake Masters in Arizona….But the bottom line is this: If you’d asked me a month ago — or really even a week ago — which party’s position I’d rather be in, I would have said the Democrats. Now, I honestly don’t know.”

At The Nation, Joan Walsh gives a proper bashing to that New York Times/Siena poll that has pundits mumbling about a Republican surge in the closing weeks the midterm elections: “The decisive “tell” that the poll was flawed was its finding that women are splitting their votes evenly between Republicans and Democrats. “Do you really believe just months after losing a fundamental right, women will split their votes [between Republicans and Democrats]?” Bonier asks. “Have we ever since the ’90s had a situation where women didn’t vote more Democratic than men did?” pollster Anna Greenberg asked rhetoricallyin The New Republic….Lake was more scathing: “There isn’t another poll in America that shows that,” she says. “If I did an outlier poll like that for a candidate, I’d have to do it over again at my own expense.” The Times should have tossed its October findings and started over, she says….The best “polls” are of course actual elections, and Democrats have outperformed expectations in most of them this summer, thanks largely to increased turnout among women and young voters. In the special election for New York’s 19th Congressional District in August, there was a seven-point gender gap favoring Democrat Pat Ryan; Joe Biden’s edge among women in 2020 was only four and a half points. “I’m not aware of a single poll in that race that predicted a seven-point gender gap,” Bonier says. Voter registration is surging among women and young voters, he adds. That doesn’t translate to turnout, however, pollsters are quick to admit. Without targeted intervention, many newly registered voters may not show up in November….The biggest flaw in the poll, which was sadly the fact most hyped by mainstream journalists, was that alleged 32-point swing among “independent women” to Republicans. It’s based on 95 women, and its margin of error is at least 10 points.”

Louis Jacobsen shares a bit of good news for Democrats in “The (Updated) Battle for the Statehouses” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, and notes “In what we expect to be our final pre-election look at the nation’s legislatures, we are shifting our ratings for 7 chambers. We are moving 5 chambers in the Democrats’ direction, while 2 move in the Republicans’ direction….It’s important not to read too much into the imbalance in these shifts favoring the Democrats. The shifts reflect 2 major changes in the political environment since our last handicapping, which was published in May: the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade, and GOP primaries that anointed polarizing candidates aligned with former President Donald Trump for key top-of-the-ballot contests….Overall, the landscape for competitive state legislative chambers this year is fairly neutral, with Republicans playing defense in 7 of the 15 chambers we see as competitive and Democrats playing defense in 8. The Toss-up category includes 7 chambers, 3 currently held by Republicans and 4 held by Democrats….Several of the key battleground states with high-profile statewide races also have competitive legislative chambers, such as Arizona, Michigan, and Nevada.” Jacobsen provides detailed info on legislative races in nine key states.

“There are new tea leaves to read: now we have initial early voting data — what people are actually doing, rather than what they say they will do and what political observers think they will do,” Psychbob writes at Daily Kos. “A good review of early numbers, particularly in Georgia, can be found here.  The short version for Georgia is that total early voting (in-person and mail-in) is well ahead of where it was in 2018, the last midterm, but well behind 2020. Of course 2020 was a presidential election year, which always brings a higher turnout, but in addition 2020 had a huge mail-in vote and this election does not (the mail-in vote has dropped an eye-popping 90%+). So bad news for Democrats? Well, no. The 2018 midterms were quite successful for Democrats, and the total early vote in GA is running nearly 200,000 ahead of that election. The % of vote attributable to Black voters is running ahead of 2018 (good for Democrats) and the female vote is outnumbering the male vote (also good for Democrats). Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania (where there still is a lot of voting by mail) ballots from registered Democrats are outpacing those from Republicans 73.1% to 19.4%. This is exactly what Fetterman and PA Democrats need — a very large advantage in early votes banked. In another summary across PA and 4 additional states, the Democratic share of the early vote is outpacing 2020, by margins ranging from 1 pt (in Ohio) to 11 pts (in Michigan). From last week, also check out this summary of why 2022 could turn out to be another record-setting year for midterm turnout. There is no certainty that early voting/mail-in advantages will remain as strong or that they will be enough to overcome the expected GOP advantage on election day, but there is nothing in this early data that should alarm Democrats, and some room for optimism.”

January 6 Ought to Be a Campaign Issue

In all the talk about the issue landscape for 2022, there’s a glaring anomaly, which I wrote about at New York:

The astonishing endgame of the 2020 presidential election happened less than two years ago. After news outlets from the AP to Fox News, plus 50 state governments, certified Joe Biden’s victory, Donald Trump made an unprecedented attempt to overturn the results and stay in power. This culminated in a day of violence when Trump’s supporters broke into the U.S. Capitol in an effort to stop the final confirmation of the election by Congress. In case anyone managed to forget these shocking events, the House select committee on January 6 has held an impressively produced series of made-for-TV hearings in recent months detailing the postelection coup attempt.

So what has been the ultimate effect of all this high-visibility evidence of a rogue president gone insurrectionist? Well, the number of Republicans who agree with Trump’s “stolen election” fable has almost certainly gone up rather than down. The 45th president remains the leader of his party by any reasonable definition and is unquestionably the front-runner for the GOP’s 2024 presidential nomination if, as expected, he chooses to run. He actually leads Biden in averages of 2024 trial heats.

And the best efforts of the House select committee have failed to make the events of January 6 a significant campaign issue in the 2022 midterms. You can, if you wish, blame some of that on Democratic campaign wizards, as Politico recently noted:

“Overall, less than 2 percent of all broadcast TV spending in House races has gone toward Jan. 6 ads, according to ad-tracking firm AdImpact — or just $2.7 million of $163 million. Taken in total, Democrats have aired just two dozen spots focused on threats to democracy this cycle, in roughly 16 different battleground districts.”

But some unusually deep polling by the New York Times and Siena College about whether voters care about “threats to democracy,” and how they understand that term, might justify Democrats’ focus on other issues.

That recent survey asked an open-ended question about the “most important issue facing the country today.” Just 7 percent cited “the state of democracy.” That’s nothing compared with the 26 percent who offered “the economy” or the 19 percent who volunteered “inflation or the cost of living.” But concerns about democracy did top “abortion,” which was cited by 4 percent, and “crime,” which was called a top issue by 3 percent. Moreover, the pollsters later asked whether American democracy is “currently under threat,” and 71 percent said yes. That’s a big deal, right?

Maybe not. It’s when the pollsters dig into what people mean by “threats to democracy” that any focus on January 6 gets lost. Far and away the most popular complaint was about politicians and government generally being “corrupt.” Nate Cohn tried to explain the responses:

“When respondents were asked to volunteer one or two words to summarize the current threat to democracy, government corruption was brought up most often — more than Mr. Trump and Republicans combined.

“… One said, ‘I don’t think they are honestly thinking about the people.’ Another said politicians ‘forget about normal people.’ Corruption, greed, power and money were familiar themes.”

This sure sounds a lot closer to MAGA folk calling Washington a “swamp” than it does to members of Congress expressing shock at the desecration of “the temple of democracy” on January 6.

Voters perceiving a “threat to democracy” are nearly as likely to view Biden as a “major threat” (38 percent) as Trump (45 percent). Forty-nine percent call “electronic voting machines” a major or minor threat (as opposed to no threat at all), and 54 percent feel the same way about voting by mail. The claim with the strongest bipartisan support is that “mainstream media” are a threat to democracy: 84 percent of respondents, including 83 percent of self-identified independents, consider the media a major or minor threat to democracy.

Democracy itself is broadly perceived as so broken that Trump’s deliberate effort to break it by an act of insurrection is being accepted by an alarming percentage of the population as just another warning light. They see it as no more significant than ineffective anti-inflation policies rather than as a unique threat to our system of self-government that must be condemned, punished, and prevented from ever happening again. If Trump’s Republican Party makes the gains so many expect in November, it will be a green light for authoritarianism in the future, even if Trump himself exits the political scene and gives way to another demagogue.

Political Strategy Notes

At Brookings, William A . Galston probes a question of growing concern, “Are Hispanics leaving the Democratic Party?,” and writes that “a just-released poll of likely voters suggests that Texas Hispanics could be breaking away from the Democratic Party in droves….The poll, conducted by Quinnipiac University, found that incumbent Republican Governor Greg Abbott leads Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke by 7 points. No surprise there; Abbott is an incumbent in a very Republican state. But here’s a real surprise: the Hispanic vote is divided almost evenly between O’Rourke (49%) and Abbott (48%)….By a wide margin, likely Hispanic voters named the situation at the Texas-Mexico border as their top concern. Many Democratic pundits would regard this focus as an encouraging sign. But when asked who could better handle the border issue, 53% named Abbott, compared to 44% for O’Rourke—a nine-point gap. And despite the national uproar over transporting migrants entering the United States in Texas and Florida to states far removed from the border, a strong minority of Texas Hispanics—48% supported Gov. Abbott’s policy, compared to 51% who opposed it….To be sure, these voters have a nuanced view of the choice they face. For example, on what for them is the second-most important issue—abortion—they disapprove of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade by 61 to 35%, and they trust O’Rourke over Abbott to handle this issue by a 15-point margin, 54 to 39%. But if the Quinnipiac survey is correct, their doubts about O’Rourke’s approach to the border more than counterbalanced their concerns about abortion….Relying on a single poll is always risky, and this one is no exception. For example, another recent survey of likely voters by a Texas television chain and the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation gave Abbott a 7-point lead overall (the same as the Quinnipiac poll), but in that poll O’Rourke led among Hispanics by 14 points, 53 to 39%….In the 2018 gubernatorial race, Gov. Abbott received only 35% of the Hispanic vote. In the 2020 presidential contest, Donald Trump received 41% of this vote, up from 34% in 2016. If Abbott can improve on these results in November, Texas will likely be out of the Democrats’ reach indefinitely, and Democrats will have more cause for concern about an essential building block of what they hoped would be their new majority.”

Charlie Cook explains why “The Midterms May Come Down to the Last Gust of Political Wind” at The Cook Political Report: “A hallmark of midterm elections is that those in or leaning toward the party of a sitting president are lethargic, complacent, or at least a little disappointed, and less likely to vote in the general election. True to form, that is the situation Democrats had going into this past summer. Republicans were just more motivated. That gap closed during the second half of the summer and into September. Indeed, the Fox News poll released this week shows Democrats now just as motivated as Republicans….The extreme partisan polarization in recent years has yielded fewer “true independents,” ones who do not identify with or even lean toward either party, and fewer people voting split tickets….Why so many people offer such confident predictions about the Senate continues to baffle me. The possibility of a 50-50 Senate in the 118th Congress is very real, quite possibly the single most likely outcome….candidate quality matters so much more in the Senate than the House, the far more sensitive barometer of the national political climate….In the House, it is my inclination to defer to David Wasserman, senior editor for The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter, a House race expert without peer. By David’s count, there are 162 seats in the Solid Democratic column, 26 more that are Likely Democrat, and 28 listed as Lean Democrat, for a total of 193 seats where they have an edge. Conversely, 188 seats are in the Solid Republican category, 12 more are Likely Republican, and 11 Lean Republican, totaling 211 seats where they seem to have the upper hand. It is the 31 seats in the Toss Up column where most of the action is….To hold onto the barest majority possible, 218 seats, Democrats have to win 25 (81 percent) out of the 31 Toss Ups, while Republicans need to win just seven (23 percent) of the 31. If Democrats win every Toss Up race, they would end up with a net gain of one seat, a total of 223. If Republicans win every Toss Up, they would have a net gain of 29 seats. So constructing a bell curve would put the tails around one seat up for Democrats to 29 seats for Republicans, up to 242 seats. Although it is fairly rare for a party to win all of the Toss Ups, keep in mind that in 2020, when the Blue Wave turned into the Dead Sea in the final week, the GOP did just that.”

Chris Cillizza spotlights “The trick Republicans are using to justify supporting election deniers” at CNN Politics. Cillizza argues that Republicans are pretending that a great many of their fellow Republican candidates who are election deniers should be excused because, well, that’s just one of their policies. Cillizza cites a couple of examples, including VA Gov. Glenn Youngkin supporting election denier Kari Lake for Governor of Arizona and NH Gov. Sununu’s endorsement of election denier Don Bolduc for Senate: “Although he and Bolduc have had their differences – Bolduc has called Sununu a “Chinese communist sympathizer” and a “globalist world-government guy,” while Sununu has called Bolduc a “conspiracy theory extremist” – Sununu is now supporting him out of a sense, it seems, of party loyalty. Yeah, they don’t see the world exactly the same way, but they’re both Republicans, so it just makes sense that Sununu would support Bolduc….But there’s an elision of logic inherent in that compromise that is dangerous….One of them believes – or is at least willing to keep open the option – that, contrary to all of the evidence, that there was fraud in the 2020 election. This isn’t a policy disagreement. This is about the very bones of our democracy, the notion that we hold free and fair elections – whether or not the candidate you supported winds up winning….Again, this isn’t just a disagreement over some policy plank. The issue here is whether the 2020 election was free and fair. You can’t just yada-yada the notion that someone you are endorsing for high office actually believes that the last election was stolen!…By casting election denialism as just another policy position, the likes of Youngkin and Sununu – both of whom have national ambitions of their own – are trying to put a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. If you don’t believe in the fundamental tenets of democracy that have been followed since the founding of the country, all the other stuff doesn’t really matter.”

From “C’mon, Democrats. Tout Your Economic Record: Despite inflation, they have a great story to tell about the Biden administration’s record. Here are three economic talking points, free of charge” by Robert J. Shapiro at The Washington Monthly: “Drawing on the fact-free politics of Donald Trump, Republicans are selling the meme that Americans are much worse off economically under President Joe Biden and the Democrats. That is demonstrably untrue. But the Democrats’ main response has been to mumble an apology for the inflation they didn’t cause—and then try to change the subject….That approach won’t work, because every national election is a platform for voters to express their disappointment or satisfaction with the economy. And this year, the economic facts on jobs, wealth, and incomes largely favor Democrats. So let’s distill them into three talking points for Democratic candidates to recite over and over again for the next three weeks.” Shapiro then shares a few stats that Democratic campaigns should echo, including: “Here’s the first talking point: Over the 21 months that Biden and Democrats have run Washington, the economy has created a record 10 million new jobs. That’s a monthly average of 476,200 new jobs, or 300,000 more per month, than during the first 21 months when Trump and Republicans were in charge in 2017 and 2018….Here is the next economic talking point: Under Biden and a Democratic Congress, Americans at every income level are wealthier today, with lower-, moderate-, and middle-income households making the most significant gains….we found that Americans’ average wage and salary income rose from $68,943 to $73,988 [un Der Biden]. That’s an increase of $5,045 per working person, or 7.3 percent….Democrats, here’s a third talking point on the economy: Under Biden, on average, people’s wages and salaries rose more than $5,000. While inflation has modestly outpaced that increase, more importantly, increases in most people’s assets are more than 50 times that shortfall. And on top of that, 10 million more people have jobs….It’s no secret that most Americans find economic facts and analysis boring, apparently including the operatives writing speeches and ads for this year’s candidates. But voters care about their jobs, paychecks, and wealth. Democrats, wake up—your record is a strong case for keeping you in charge. It’s time to let the voters know.”

Democrats Should Expose GOP’s Bad Ideas for Fighting Inflation

Inflation, inflation, inflation. It’s practically all we hear about from Republicans on the campaign trail, but Democrats need to point out the GOP’s ant-inflation strategies won’t make voters happy, as I noted at New York:

It’s now pretty clear that if current trends showing Republicans locking down control of the House and making gains in Senate races continue through Election Day, it will mostly be because of increasingly concentrated public concern about the economy and particularly inflation.

It’s not exactly news that sharp increases in the cost of living are deadly to governing political parties. Indeed, current international polling shows that parties unlucky enough to be in control of governments right now — whether they’re on the left, right, or center — are suffering major losses of popularity, as John Halpin of the Center for American Progress wrote at the Liberal Patriot website:

“As recent Global Progress/YouGov data from 11 leading democratic countries shows, inflation is a political wrecking ball for incumbent governments. Although citizens don’t have a consistent idea of what should be done about inflation — and many opposition parties have no clear alternative policy ideas on the matter — most voters don’t like the situation and are apt to punish sitting parties for rising costs regardless of their actions.

“Respondents in the survey were given three options about inflation and asked which one best reflects their own view. Across all 11 countries, 62 percent of citizens say they lack confidence in their own government’s ability to get inflation under control. In contrast, one-tenth of global citizens believe not much can be done on inflation and about another fifth say they have confidence in their government on inflation. ”

That’s part of the reason why Republicans in the United States are licking their chops in anticipation of Election Day. But you have to wonder how the voters inclined to reward the GOP with power thanks to inflation fears would actually feel about Republican policies aimed at fighting inflation.

As Halpin notes, it’s clear in virtually all the advanced societies battling inflation that voters do not support what used to be called “austerity” measures, like cutting public spending benefitting low-to-moderate income people, raising interest rates, or raising broad-based tax rates:

“[L]arge majorities of citizens across all 11 countries say they would oppose their own government taking action to reduce consumer prices if it means that ‘rent and mortgage payments increase’; ‘taxes paid by people like you increase’; or that ‘unemployment increases.’ The only consequence that global citizens are willing to stomach to reduce inflation is ‘rich people pay more taxes’ — an idea backed by two-thirds of people across the 11 countries.”

This does not augur well for how Republican anti-inflation plans will be received in this country. As CNN reports, far and away the most common GOP anti-inflation talking point is that “runaway Democrat spending” is responsible for today’s price hikes, and “cutting wasteful spending” is the way to rein it in:

“In mid-July, Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy tweeted, ‘Inflation is running rampant due in part to out-of-control spending from President Biden and Speaker Pelosi.”

“About two weeks later, the chair of the House Republican Conference, Rep. Elise Stefanik, went a step further in blaming Democrats, saying in a press conference that ‘inflation is skyrocketing because of Democrats reckless and wasteful spending’ and ‘this rampant inflation is a result of Democrats reckless tax and spend policies.’

“Later that day, in an interview with Newsmax, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz suggested Republicans should not support Democrat-led initiatives that call for more spending and cited Biden’s several trillion dollar proposed budget, claiming ‘when it comes to spending, spending trillions is what is driving inflation.'”

Nobody, of course, likes “wasteful spending.” But the problem Republicans will eventually run into is that the “Democrat policies” most associated with stimulating (and possibly overstimulating) consumer demand and thus reigniting inflation have been wildly popular. The direct “stimulus” payments that were supported by both parties in 2020 and continued by Democrats in 2021 are a case in point: According to Data for Progress polling in March of 2021, Americans supported the final “stimulus checks” by a 78-16 margin; supported increased funding for state and local governments by a 76-17 margin; and supported increased family tax credits by a 68-21 margin.

But more problematic for Republicans is that their anti-spending plans invariably wind up threatening programs that are even more popular than stimulus checks: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Part of Donald Trump’s appeal was that he was the first major Republican politician in a long while who did not talk about “entitlement reform” (though the health-care plan he unsuccessfully promoted to replace Obamacare did indeed hammer Medicaid). But the itch to mess with the New Deal and Great Society legacy programs never goes away in the Republican Party. And as my colleague Jonathan Chait points out, House Republican leaders are already talking about using a mandatory debt-limit vote to extort “entitlement reform” from Joe Biden and congressional Democrats:

“Republicans are committed to scaling back the safety net. But they realize this agenda is toxically unpopular — even less popular than defunding the police, a policy Democrats have repudiated en masse.

“They could try to accomplish this through compromise — the previous two Democratic presidents showed some willingness to trade social-spending cuts for higher taxes on the rich. But higher taxes on the rich are completely verboten in the GOP. And so their strategy is to force Democratic presidents to sign spending cuts into law against their will.”

Other than attacking “wasteful” — and popular — spending, what else might Republicans propose to fight inflation? As Chait noted, the most popular solution here and globally — paying for relief for regular folks by taxing the rich — is off the table until the end of time. Maybe they can have some success with expanding fossil-fuel production to reduce transportation and heating/air-conditioning prices, at the expense of the global climate. But the most effective yet politically dangerous weapon in their arsenal is to lead cheers for the interest-rate hikes that the Fed is already in the process of aggressively implementing.

The GOP’s taste for tight-credit policies is one of its dirty little secrets, dating all the way back to the 19th-century days when “hard money” defined its economic worldview. It is for many conservatives a fundamentally moral issue, fed by disdain for interest rates that let those people borrow money and live beyond their means (the fundamental complaint in the Rick Santelli rant that touched off the tea-party movement). But even on pure economic-policy grounds, Republicans have regularly groused about the Fed loosening credit to battle or head off unemployment instead of monomaniacally making inflation-fighting its only goal. And occasionally they are plain about wanting high interest rates, as conservative columnist Henry Olsen called for in March of this year:

“Rapidly rising interest rates will increase the returns to saving, which will cause some people to stop spending. But that’s in the purview of the Federal Reserve, not Congress. Congressional Republicans should call loudly for rapid interest rate hikes and pledge to conduct oversight hearings of the Fed to monitor its activity.”

You won’t hear Republican candidates specifically praising higher mortgage and car-loan costs, but it’s the predictable product of an austerity strategy for fighting inflation, along with the serious risk of a recession that is already spooking investors.

To be clear, Republicans would have to be a lot more dangerously specific about their policies on inflation if Democrats challenged them to a highly visible debate instead of changing the subject to abortion or threats to democracy, important as those topics undoubtedly are. That’s what Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg has been arguing:

“Democrats cannot be the custodians of the status quo. This insight informs Greenberg’s advice to candidates about the all-important inflation issue. Instead of boasting about signs of progress or discussing macroeconomic statistics, Democrats should recognize that the living standards of wage earners have been deteriorating for years and focus on those who are grinding them down by both holding down wages and boosting prices: rich and powerful corporations.”

At the very least, a populist counterattack on the inflation issue could force Republicans to oppose anti-inflation measures that are actually popular and admit their reliance on policies that are politically toxic. But it’s getting late in the day for that when it comes to the 2022 midterms. Democrats should at least get ready to join the inflation debate in earnest before 2024, when control of the whole federal government will be at stake.

A Sunnier View of Democratic Midterm Prospects

Big media and the blogosphere are full of stories about how the midterm races are “tightening” in the GOP’s favor. Some are even saying the Republicans have new momentum in the closing weeks of the campaigns. For an alternative perspective, however, check out “The Republicans’ disappointing midterm elections” by Peter Morici at Marketwatch. Among Morici’s observations:

“Voter dissatisfaction with President Joe Biden on inflationborder security and the general direction of the countrycrime in major cities and the culpability of the progressive prosecutors movement; and data suggesting school children were set back in math and reading thanks to prolonged pandemic shutdowns gave Republicans lots of grist to mill.

However, Biden’s recent winning streak in Congress — the CHIPS Act and the  Inflation Reduction Act — raised his approval ratings and rallied the troops. And the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade has energized Democratic voters.

Larry Sabato’s crystal ball at the University of Virginia shows 214 House seats as safe, likely or leaning Republican and only 195 in the Democratic column. Of the remaining 26 seats, Republicans should still be able win at least four to grasp control. But they should be doing better.

The Senate has gone from the Republicans likely winning control to at best a toss-up. Sabato has 49 in each party’s column and Georgia and Nevada as toss-ups — compared with FiveThirtyEight’s assessment, that’s generous.

Even the betting markets “now see Republicans winning Senate in midterm elections, as GOP slightly favored for first time in 2 months.” If this strikes you as a lot of awfully confident crystal ball gazing, welcome to the club. But come on, does anybody really know what is going to happen?

Sure they could be right. After all, political patterns are based on stuff that actually happened. And smart gamblers don’t bet the ranch against the preponderance of data. But the best data indicator for election predictions is poll averages during the yet-to-come last few days of the campaign.

Morici adds, “conservatives have badly misread the tenor of the times,” and notes,

The Kansas referendum that would have excluded abortion rights from the state constitution lost badly and hardly helped conservatives’ public image.

In the August special election for the House seat in New York’s 19th district, signs reading “Choice Is on the Ballot” were ubiquitous. And Democrat Pat Ryan won in what should have been a good prospect for a Republican pickup.

See: Biden promises bill codifying abortion rights if Democrats keep Congress, with elections now just 3 weeks away

The Senate seat in Arizona held by Mark Kelly should be a good target for a Republican gain, and Blake Masters, backed by Trump and with funding from venture capitalist Peter Thiel, has cut the incumbent’s lead from about nine points to about five. But those last five points could prove illusive.

Masters has scrubbed “I am 100% pro-life” from his website, and now claims to be someplace in the middle and ran an ad to that effect.

Further, Morici argues, “GOP candidates should be hammering the economy, inflation, gas prices, the border crisis and the like, not playing defense on a wedge issue. When you are doing that, you’re losing.”

Also, “Republican woes go well beyond abortion rights. The GOP “Commitment to America” platform was late in coming, is merely a grab bag of conservative ideas and complaints, and does not provide the party with a coherent identity other than that it’s against the Democrats. And that Biden is happy to assign them one.”

The platform reads like it was hatched in a spirit of “Let’s throw some shite against the wall to pretend like we have a legislative vision and see if it sticks.” It didn’t.

Morici is skeptical about  the longer term effects of Biden’s policies. But in the short term leading up to the midterm elections, those same policies may help the Democrats do better than expected.

Kuttner: How Dems Can Talk About Inflation

The following article, “Can Democrats Talk About Inflation? Today on TAP: They’d better learn how. They won’t win the midterms just on reproductive rights” by Robert Kuttner, author of  “Going Big: FDR’s Legacy, Biden’s New Deal, and the Struggle to Save Democracy,” is cross-posted from The American Prospect:

How to talk about the economy when inflation remains stubbornly above 8 percent, and workers’ wages are rising at less than half that? The latest New York Times/Siena poll shows Republicans gaining ground based on increasing voter concerns about the economy, which is now the top issue for 44 percent of voters, up from 36 percent in July.

There is a fascinating and nuanced conversation on this subject among some of the smartest Democratic strategists. Pollster and strategist Stan Greenberg has argued at this site that even though Biden has lots to be proud of, it’s a strategic mistake to brag about how good the economy is at a time when so many voters are not feeling so good. Better to point out all the ways that Republicans and corporate elites have sandbagged ordinary people, and what Democrats could do if they had a working majority.

Celinda Lake, once a partner in Greenberg’s polling firm, contends that there are nonetheless a few things worth bragging about, such as the benefits to ordinary families contained in Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, notably the Child Tax Credit. This is broadly consistent with Greenberg’s view.

Meanwhile, Democratic strategist Mike Lux has circulated an important memo warning that Democrats can’t duck talking about inflation at a time when Republicans are using it as a campaign cudgel. It’s a point Greenberg has also made at the Prospect site when he wrote:

The NBC poll tests the message that Democrats are actually saying, and it starts with their advocacy for working people on the cost of living: “we need to keep delivering for working Americans by lowering costs, including health care and prescription drugs, and ensuring the corporations pay their fair share of taxes.” That message gives the Democrats a 7-point advantage compared to the Republican message.

Lux, urging Democrats to explicitly address inflation, adds that the five most important points for Democrats to make are these:

1. Wealthy corporations with monopoly power are jacking up their prices, and their profits are going through the roof.

2. Drug prices and health insurance premiums are going to go down because of the Inflation Reduction Act … Republicans have no plan of their own.

3. Seniors will be getting the biggest increase in their Social Security payments in 40 years … Republicans are talking about ending Social Security.

4. Manufacturing jobs are coming back to the United States … and our infrastructure is being rebuilt. All of this will end our supply chain problems and create millions more good jobs.

5. I will fight for the Child Tax Credit, which will give parents up to $600 a month to help with groceries, gas, and housing. And I’m going to pay for it by taxing wealthy corporations and millionaires who are paying little or nothing in taxes right now. My opponent is against the Child Tax Credit.

Democrats should have plenty to say about inflation, connecting it to broader economic themes. By all means, let’s talk about Republicans’ appalling actions destroying reproductive rights and health—but don’t expect that to win the election alone.

Teixeira: A Three-Point Fix for the Democratic Coalition

The following post by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from The Liberal Patriot:

The Republican Party, according to Democrats, has given rein to some of the darker impulses in the national psyche, has shown flagrant disregard for democratic norms and offers little to the American people in terms of effective policy. There is considerable truth to this indictment and Democrats have not been shy about making their case in uninhibited language (“semi-fascist”, “ultra-MAGA”, etc.)

Yet Democrats cannot decisively beat their opponents as this election seems likely to show once again. The party is uncompetitive among white working class voters and among voters in exurban, small town and rural America. This puts them  at a massive structural disadvantage given an American electoral system that gives disproportionate weight to these voters, especially in Senate and Presidential elections. To add to the problem, Democrats are now hemorrhaging nonwhite working class voters in many areas of country.

The facts must be faced. The Democratic coalition today is not fit for purpose. It cannot beat Republicans consistently in enough areas of the country to achieve dominance and implement its agenda at scale. The Democratic Party may be the party of blue America, especially deep blue metro America, but its bid to be the party of the ordinary American, the common man and woman, is falling short.

There is a simple—and painful—reason for this. The Democrats really are no longer the party of the common man and woman. The priorities and values that dominate the party today are instead those of educated, liberal America which only partially overlap—and sometimes not at all—with those of ordinary Americans.

This has to change. I offer here a three point plan to put the Democrats on a different path where they might reasonably hope to be once again the party of the common man and woman. I won’t pretend that will be easy but I think given political will it can be done. Perhaps the results of the 2022 election will help concentrate the mind as the prospect of the 2024 election looms (President Trump anyone?)

Here are the three parts of the plan, explicated in several of my recent posts and collected here in one convenient package.

1. Democrats Must Move to the Center on Cultural Issues

2. Democrats Must Promote an Abundance Agenda

3. Democrats Must Embrace Patriotism and Liberal Nationalism

Let’s take them each in turn.


Political Strategy Notes

At Politico, Ally Mutnick and Sarah Farris report that “House Democrats retrench as GOP money floods the map: The party isn’t airing ads in six of the 14 GOP districts Joe Biden carried in 2020, as it directs money to help incumbents under threat“, and write: “House Democrats’ panic has escalated this month as GOP outside groups continued to smash fundraising records. Despite high candidate fundraising, Democrats have been unable to respond with the same volume of money, and the party has struggled to free up the resources to attack potentially endangered Republican incumbents — a crucial part of their strategy, since they need to offset expected losses in more conservative Democratic-held districts….Democrats currently have just a 5-seat majority and already seem to be abandoning some tough seats that their incumbents currently hold in Arizona, Wisconsin, Texas and Michigan….“The No. 1 factor here is money,” said Tim Persico, executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee….Altogether, national Democratic groups aren’t airing TV ads in six of the 14 Republican-held districts that went for Biden in 2020 — seats that are among the most important to contest. That includes the district represented by Garcia, who won in 2020 by 333 votes….On top of that, Republican outside spending is forcing Democrats to divert precious resources to what should be safe blue districts. Democrats’ top super PAC this week slashed a planned TV blitz in Los Angeles, which could have targeted Garcia, and Tucson, where Engel is running, to redeploy the money elsewhere….An infusion of about $20 million, according to one senior Democrat, could hold the House.”

Maddowblog’s Steve Benen rolls out a powerful rebuttal to the Republican’s attempt to blame the Democrats for rising crime. Here’s the first three nuggets from Benen’s 7-point rebuttal: “1. The evidence of soaring crime rates is dubious. The latest data from the FBI actually showed a decline in violent crime, and while there are legitimate concerns about the figures being incomplete, there are other recent reports pointing in similar directions….2. Republicans may need to take a long look in the mirror. As Dana Milbank explained in his latest column:

Earlier this year, the centrist Democratic group Third Way crunched the 2020 homicide figures and found that per capita homicide rates were on average 40 percent higher in states won by Trump than by Joe Biden. Eight of the 10 states with the highest homicide rates have been reliably red states for the past two decades. Republican-led cities weren’t any safer than Democratic-led cities. Among the 10 states with the highest per capita homicide rates — Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, Alabama, Missouri, South Carolina, New Mexico, Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee — most were in the South and relatively rural. The findings were broadly consistent with other rankings of states (and counties) by violent crime.

3. The GOP seems awfully selective about its crime-related interests. Many of the Republicans trying to leverage crime as a campaign issue are the same Republicans who appear wholly indifferent to serious crimes such as the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and Donald Trump’s alleged felonies. Take Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, for example.” Read Benen’s post for more rebuttal points.

Is “Democracy itself is on the ballot” a good pitch for Democrats in the closing weeks of the midterm campaigns? At Randomlengthsnews.com,  Paul Rosenberg explains it like this: “Democracy itself is on the ballot this November: 299 election deniers are on the ballot—more than half of all Republicans running for congressional and state offices, according to an exhaustive investigation by the Washington Post. Some, like Jim Marchant of Nevada, are running to be Secretary of State, where they could block the will of the voters in 2024, just as Trump wanted in 2020.” I agree with Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. that “democracy’s future” is “the overarching question.”  But polls indicate that it may not be as powerful an issue for Democrats as abortion rights, and most polls indicate that inflation and related economic concerns remain the top priority for most voters. But those are national polls and the midterms are not one, but, hundreds of elections all across America. Perhaps the better question is, in which campaigns is “Democracy itself is on the ballot” a good messaging point.  Bear in mind that most voters who really care about election integrity are already more likely to vote Democratic, since Republicans have produced no credible evidence that Trump or any Republicans have lost votes to theft. There is value in making the GOP own its disrespect for democracy.  In particular states and congressional districts where Republican candidates are making election denial a big theme, the pitch may resonate well with some swing voters. And sure, Biden, Harris and other Democratic leaders should include it in talking points., but maybe not as the central theme in places where more voters are worried about inflation and abortion rights.

In his article, “Democrats Need to Make the January 6 Attack an Election Issue,” however, John Nichols writes at The Nation that “Democrats seem to be wrestling with whether to focus on what happened on January 6, 2021, as a 2022 election issue. Throughout this challenging midterms season, we’ve seen reports that, as an August Politico headline put it, “There’s a Huge Divide Among Democrats Over How Hard to Campaign for Democracy.” The article explained that “Democrats competing in elections this year have not been pressing the issue anywhere near as hard as other concerns.” In fact, political ads mentioning the insurrection accounted for less than 4 percent of all Democratic spending at the time, according to Politico….That’s a misguided strategy that needs to be rethought as midterm voting begins….Of course, there are other issues candidates must address—abortion rights, price gouging and inflation, the lingering effects of the coronavirus pandemic, and an increasingly unstable international circumstance. But to neglect the role that Trump-aligned Republicans have already played in assaulting democracy is political malpractice. Even if viewership of the January 6 committee hearings has waned since they began in June, the threat to democracy that they have illustrated remains very real—and very potent as a political issue with the voters Democrats need to mobilize in advance of the November 8 election….It’s the right thing to do. It’s smart politics. And a few Democrats have provided a template for how to get it right, by recognizing that, at a time when Republicans are pouring millions of dollars into TV ads that falsely paint Democrats as soft on crime and anti-police, Republican insurrectionists and their allies are vulnerable on these issues….In a midterm election where mobilizing the base is essential, January 6 is an issue that can move voters—if Democratic candidates are prepared to talk about it.”