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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Daily Strategist

October 22, 2018

Closing the Black Voter Turnout Gap

As the Democrats’ most supportive electoral demographic, African Americans have voted close to 90 percent Democratic in recent elections. But the benefit to the Democrats is offset to some extent by the lower turnout rate of African Americans.
Pollster.com‘s Mark Blumenthal reported recently that data compiled by Michael McDonald indicated a non-Hispanic white voter turnout rate of 51.6 percent in 2006, compared to 41.2 percent for Black Non-Hispanic and 32.3 for Hispanic respondents.
However, all groups “over-report” their voting. And a study by Benjamin J. Deufel and Orit Kadar “Race and Turnout in U.S. Elections: Exposing Hidden Effects” found that “African Americans turned out almost 20 percent less than whites in the 1992 and 1996 Presidential elections, almost double what use of self-reported data indicates.”
Even with a 10 to 20 percent lower turnout, African American voters have provided the margin of victory for the Democrats in a number of important elections in recent years. Imagine how Dems could benefit if the gap could be halved.
It’s not hard to imagine a package of initiatives that could help reduce or eliminate the gap. More African American and Hispanic Democratic candidates is an obvious goal that could help close the gap. Certainly Democrats should launch a full-court press to eradicate “caging” and other so-called ‘ballot security’ initiatives used by the GOP to obstruct Black voters.
The Democratic Party should organize an all-out campaign against felon disenfranchisement laws, which have a devastating effect on the African American turnout in states that still deny voting rights to Black citizens who have been convicted of felonies, some even after they have served their time. The Party could also make a point of training candidates of all races to better understand the legislative and policy concerns of Black voters and ways to more effectively share their message with the Black community. Most importantly, Democrats should solicit the ideas of African American and Latino community grass roots activists and leaders for more effective street-level voter education, registration and GOTV programs to increase turnout.
There must be a Party-wide commitment that such a large gap in voter turnout between voters of different races is no longer acceptable. Such a commitment would not only help Democrats — it would strengthen our democracy.


Burned Up

Today’s Washington Post provides a little clarity in the over-reported but under-analyzed story of where the various presidential candidates stand in the money-grubbing competition. In particular, there’s a chart that summarzes second-quarter and total fundraising; second-quarter spending; cash-on-hand as of June 30; and the second-quarter “burn rate” (the ratio of spending to new money), for all D and R candidates.
The top-line story for the Post is that early spending–and thus the burn rate–is proceeding at a uniquely high pace this cycle, and particularly in the second quarter. Interestingly enough, Barack Obama, whose first-quarter 26% burn rate was the highest among Democrats, had the lowest in the second quarter–but it was 50%.
It’s also obvious that different candidates are getting highly variable bangs for their buck. The second-quarter spending champ, Mitt Romney ($20.5 million), has invested in early-state television ads that have clearly helped catapult him into the lead in Iowa and New Hampshire. John McCain spent more ($13 million) in the second quarter than any other Republican besides Romney, and more than Hillary Clinton, for that matter, and all he got for it was an imploding candidacy.
The cross-party comparisons continue to show the Democratic money edge. There’s already been a lot of talk about the (roughly) two-to-one overall Democratic fundraising advantage for the second quarter. But Democrats have nearly a three-to-one advantage ($93 million to $32 million) in cash-on-hand. John Edwards, often depicted as a fundraising under-achiever in this cycle’s environment, actually has as much money in the bank ($12 million) as Mitt Romney, even after the latter’s $9 million “loan” of personal wealth to his campaign.
Edwards’ situation raises the larger question of whether money requirements in this campaign are comparative or absolute. Edwards’ campaign consistently answers all questions about its finances by saying it needs to raise and spend $40 million before the Iowa caucuses, regardless of what others have. One of the odder features of the Post article is an assertion by lowa political bigfoot Gerald Crawford (whom the Post failed to identify as an HRC backer) that $30 million is “an absolute floor” for pre-Iowa fundraising. This probably didn’t endear him to Chris Dodd’s campaign, which is saying its total budget is $20-25 million.
As for Republicans, the two candidates hoping to earn media designation as “the dark horse to watch,” Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee, have, respectively, $500,000 and $400,000 on hand going into the very expensive Iowa Republican Straw Poll in August. In terms of the insanely high financial demands of this cycle, that’s enough to buy a meal deal, but not enough to supersize it.


Has GOP Reached High-Water Mark in South?

Valerie Bauerlein’s article “Political Woes Dog Republicans Across the South” in today’s Wall St. Journal should lift the spirits of Democratic candidates. She touches on the Vitter (LA), Ravenel (SC) and Fletcher (KY) scandals and other GOP headaches across the region, and paints a dismal picture for Republicans hoping for new gains in ’08. Bauerlein’s article is subscription only, but Facing South‘s Chris Kromm also has a story on the mostly Republican scandals in the South, with an interesting riff on Vitter’s somewhat redolent support of his larger corporate contributors.
Bauerlein offers this cautious assessment of the GOP’s and Dem’s prospects in the region:

…Republicans look more vulnerable than they have in years to losing ground in the region’s legislatures and statehouses. Though there isn’t any sign of them losing their dominance in the region, the once-formidable “Solid South” coalitions they forged in the 1980s and 1990s to end a century of Democratic dominion have given way to messy schisms and infighting. Today, they look a lot like the bitterly divided Democrats of three decades ago.
Most of those divisions stem from internal rivalries that have developed as the party consolidated power in the region, where they control half of the legislative chambers. Some of the tensions can be ascribed to dueling priorities between legislatures and governors. Others have been caused or exacerbated by personal scandals like the one involving Mr. Ravenel, who has pleaded not guilty to the cocaine charges, but hasn’t made any public statement about them.

But there are some signs that GOP dominance is beginning to fade Even before the latest round of GOP mess, the 2006 elections signaled at least a small reversal of Democratic fortunes. Bauerlein notes that Democrats picked up a net 25 seats in Southern legislative races, their first since ’82, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The GOP’s recent gains notwithstanding, Democrats do have a fairly solid base of elective offices in the South. Democrats currently hold majorities of both houses of the state legislatures in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina and West Virginia (and one House in TN and KY), as well as the governorships of Louisiana, Arkansas, North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee, two U.S. Senate seats in both Arkansas and West Virginia, and one each in Virginia, Florida and Louisiana.
It appears that the red tide that has polluted southern political waters for the last quarter of a century is at long last beginning to recede. If the state and local Democratic parties can seize the opportunity presented by the GOP’s escalating troubles, Dems should be able to build on their ’06 gains in the South.


Plunging Hellwards

Sorry for the failure to post earlier today, but I was attending a funeral in Georgia for an aunt who died after a long illness. It was a thoroughly Southern Baptist event, with hymns I suddenly found myself remembering from early childhood (e.g., Marching to Zion), and also offered a reminder that most conservative white evangelical Protestant Americans are kind, decent, well-adjusted people who (whatever their voting habits) don’t really reflect the angry views of some of their self-appointed political leaders.
And it’s as good a time as any to note that said leaders are especially angry and anxious these days. George W. Bush has let them down by turning out to be a completely incompetent president. Their flocks are restive, threatening the long-term deal they cut with the GOP. And when they look at W.’s potential successors, they get very, very nervous.
Just during the last week, a weird campaign has emerged to hold Mitt Romney accountable as a long-time member of the Marriott Corporation board for the hotel chain’s practice of offering pay-for-porn to its guests. And on a different front, a casual comment by gay conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan about Fred Thompson’s “colorful and wide-ranging sex life” spawned hysterial conservative claims that Sullivan was suggesting that Fred was gay.
As the David Vitter saga illustrated, there are in fact plenty of time-honored ways of having a “colorful and wide-ranging sex life” without being gay. And as both the Romney and Thompson problems reflect, the Christian Right leadership’s anxiety is not limited to gays and lesbians or abortion: their more or less consistent position is that our whole culture, especially with respect to sexuality, is plunging hellwards.
So when they look at the men who are in the best position to take over the GOP’s side of the contract with the Christian Right, they see the thrice-married Guiliani, the Mormon porn-peddler Romney, and the reputed Tennessee Stud Thompson, all reflecting to some degree the degeneracy of the broader culture.
And that’s only the stuff they know about. It’s got to make them crazy.


Compressed

One of the hot topics surrounding the 2008 presidential campaigns is the effect of the “compressed calendar,” and especially the mega-primary scheduled for February 5, just 22 days after the opening bell in Iowa. There are two diametrically opposed theories about the impact of the new calendar. One holds that the mega-primary is so mega and so early that candidates might well downplay or even skip Iowa and New Hampshire, whose results will quickly be dwarfed, especially in terms of actual delegates won. And the second holds that the Iowa-New Hampshire duopoly will actually be enhanced, since the mega-primary will occur in the immediate wake of the “bounce” from those two states, particularly if one candidate wins both.
For candidates, gambling on the accuracy of the first theory is tempting if you (a) have the money and name ID to campaign heaviily in the February 5 states, and (b) don’t particularly want to spend months on end meeting every single voter in Iowa and New Hampshire.
But so far, no leading Democrats have taken that particular bait. Indeed, when an internal campaign memo making the case for downplaying Iowa got leaked, Hillary Clinton reassured the notoriously touchy residents of that state by immediately stepping up her Iowa scheduling and sending legendary field organizer Teresa Vilmain in to take over her effort there. And even the lower-tier candidates are at this point adhering to the hoary rituals of Iowa and New Hampshire campaign expectations, with occasional stops in Nevada, whose caucus was inserted between IA and NH by the DNC in an effort–of questionable efficacy–to dilute the duopoly.
On the Republican side, however, there odds are rising every day that we will see one if not two major candidates pursuing a February 5 strategy. Last month Rudy Giuliani (followed quickly and opportunistically by the imploding John McCain) announced he would not compete in the August Iowa Republican Party straw poll, a huge deal since more than a third of those who ultimately participate in the caucuses typically attend. Some observers think Rudy shrewdly made the straw poll irrelevant, but since the event is the state party’s major fundraiser for the presidential year, he will definitely pay a price at the caucuses for this act of disrespect. Moreover, though Giuliani’s doing reasonably well in Iowa polls, he hasn’t built much of an organization there, and his staff has been hinting for weeks that it may focus on the February 5 states in the end.
Meanwhile, Fred Thompson’s handlers announced yesterday that he was pushing back his anticipated July campaign launch, perhaps even to September. And even though Fred’s envoys are sniffing around in Iowa, and letting it be known that he might contest the straw poll, a late launch could become the perfect excuse for downplaying or even skipping Iowa and/or New Hampshire, and instead making a first stand in SC–where he’s already runnng first in the polls–as a lead-in to the mega-primary.
If Rudy and Fred both head in this direction, they would be essentially conceding IA and NH to Romney, which would give the Mittster quite a head of steam. But the other thing it could do is to create an opening for a dark horse to emerge in Iowa. One thinks immediately of Mike Huckabee, whose strong debate performances have enhanced his insider reputation as the Lower Tier Candidate To Watch. He’s even beginning to show up with visible support in Iowa polls. The poor guy, however, seems to have inordinate problems raising money, and there are signs in Iowa that he’s being out-organized by the lightly regarded Sam Brownback. The Kansan, who has committed to the August straw poll, has close ties to Iowa’s formidable anti-abortion movement, a credential he is emphasizing by campaigning with the late Terry Schiavo’s brother.
(On a side note: if Brownback does emerge from the pack, he may give Mormon Mitt and Is-He-Still-Catholic Rudy some competition on the religious controversy front. He’s one of those Washington celebrities converted to Catholicism by the Opus Dei organization, so we may find out if the gazillion readers of The Da Vinci Code took the book seriously).
As for the ultimate outcome, nobody knows, but as a historical matter, it’s worth remembering that the last serious candidate who tried to skip both Iowa and New Hampshire was Al Gore in 1988. It didn’t work out too well for him. In 2000, he dutifully competed and won in both the early states, basically croaking Bill Bradley’s challenge before the contest moved on to the rest of the country.
If the above ruminations aren’t complicated enough for you, remember that the calendar could still shift. Florida’s decision to defy both parties’ rules by moving up its primary to January 29 (the same day as SC’s Democratic primary, and four days before its Republican primary) is widely expected to produce a domino effect, with IA, NV, NH and SC all likely to move up at least a week. This will either enhance or dilute the IA/NH effect, depending on which theory turns out to be right about the compressed calendar.


Needed: More Women Candidates for ’08

A significant increase in women in federal, state and local office ought to be a higher priority for the Democratic Party, both as a matter of justice and as a strategic goal to strengthen the Party. Regardless of Senator Clinton’s ultimate success or failure, much more needs to be done to eliminate the gender gap in America’s political institutions.
According to the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), women hold the following percentages of key elective offices in the U.S.: Governors 18 %; U.S. Senators 16 %; House Members 16.1 %; State Legislators 23.5 %.


The War Within the GOP

After months and months of obsessive MSM and blogger attention to arguments within the Democratic Party about every detail of an Iraq withdrawal strategy, it’s refreshing this week to see some ink about Republican divisions as well.
You can make the argument, of course, that these divisons have no practical import: an assortment of Republican senators, especially those up for re-election next year, are itching to get their names attached to some sort of resolution that demands a change of strategy in Iraq, without doing anything real to force it.
But on another level, there’s a growing gap in Republican rhetoric on Iraq between those who are unhappy with Bush for failing to escalate our military involvement even more, and those who are at least willing to concede it’s time to prepare for withdrawal. Moreover, the GOP’s Iraq “hawks,” from Bush on down, are beginning to say things in defense of their position that are, well, a bit crazy.
According to the Washington Post’s account of a Republican Senate Caucus meeting yesterday on Iraq, featuring none other than Dick Cheney, Ted Stevens of Alaska offered this fine bit of geopolitical analysis: “If we leave prematurely, it would be absolute anarchy. We’d be turning over to al-Qaeda one of the largest oil-producing states in the world.”
Aside from confusing the Sunni insurgency with al-Qaeda-in-Iraq, and conflating al-Qaeda-in-Iraq with the perpetrators of 9/11, Stevens seems to assume that a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would lead inevitably to a Sunni reconquest of the country. Since the more likely outcome would be a ferocious Shi’a extermination campaign against the insurgency, this argument is truly bizarre. It’s even less credible than the standard “the terrorists would follow us home” extension of the “flypaper” theory that by sacrificing U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians, we’re at least “pinning down” al-Qaeda in Iraq, because our enemies can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.
Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain, presumably trying to step on news reports about his floundering campaign’s latest shakeup, came back from a trip to Iraq and immediately launched an attack on–I swear I’m not making this up–Mike Gravel.
Now it’s never been a secret that some Republican Iraq War Hawks have long promoted the decidedly minority view that we would have won in Vietnam if we handn’t cravenly drawn the line at nine years, 58,000 combat deaths, and troop levels exceeding a half-million. Some even think we should have deployed tactical nuclear weapons. But McCain’s now retailing an even more lurid revisionist tale: that the decision to cut off assistance–led by Gravel among othrs–to the crumbling regime of Lon Nol after the ill-advised U.S. widening of the war into Cambodia created Pol Pot and the Killing Fields. “I’ve seen this movie before from the liberal left in America, who share no responsibility for what happened in Cambodia when we said no,” quoth McCain. (This gambit was too much for Joe Biden, who rejoined: “Give me a break! Quoting Gravel as the voice of the left? This is a man who, God love him, nominated himself for vice president. I mean, come on!”).
Meanwhile, adding to the Republican disarray, the president himself, on the eve of an official interim report on Iraq, made a speech in which he said, after expressing an openness to different options: “Yes, we can accomplish this fight and win in Iraq. And secondly, I want to tell you, we must.” Since every viable option for a changed strategy in Iraq involves an admission that a “win” in Iraq is simply delusional, Bush is clearly rejecting, in advance, and for the umpteenth time, any hortatory advice from Congress.
So there you have it: GOP opinion on Iraq runs the gamut from self-consciously toothless efforts to distance vulnerable Republicans from Bush’s policies, to lunatic arguments that we’re about to hand Baghdad over to Osama bin Laden, to fatuous Vietnam-era analogies.
Democrats would be wise to take a few days off from debating their own relatively minor differences of opinion on Iraq and let the American people hear, loud and clear, the GOP’s “wisdom” on the subject. Democrats might also begin to hammer home the obvious point that Bush and his allies are paving the way for a major al-Qaeda propaganda victory by screaming from the rooftops that the inevitable U.S. withdrawal will be the worst U.S. setback since the British burned Washington during the War of 1812.


How Dems Can Tap the Political Brain

Robin Abcarian has an L.A. Times article about a book that is getting big buzz in political strategy circles, “The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation” by Drew Westen, a psychologist and brain researcher. Abcarian does an excellent job of mining the book’s main ideas and how it is being received.
Abcarian describes Westen’s book as providing “a grand unified theory of How Democrats Can Stop Blowing It,” and nails the Dems “single worst tendency: intellectual dispassion.” Abcarian notes also:


Prodigal Sons

Jonathan Cohn has just published a long piece for The New Republic on the influence of the late George Romney, governor of Michigan, member of the Nixon Cabinet, and occasional candidate for the presidency, on his son, Willard Mitt Romney, candidate for president in 2008.
It’s an excellent profile, of interest particularly to those with no personal memory of Romney pere, who, as Cohn emphasizes, was one of the leaders of moderate Republican resistance to the first, Goldwater phase of the conservative movement’s takeover of the GOP. (One tidbit not mentioned in the piece was Romney’s role in the next, aborted phase of that takeover: he was the object of an unsuccessful revolt against Spiro Angnew’s nomination as vice president at the 1968 Republican Convention, led by then-governor John Chafee, who was distrurbed by Spiggy’s inflammatory racial rhetoric. Lest we forget, Agnew briefly eclipsed Ronald Reagan as the darling of the Right in the early 1970s, before a bribery scandal drove him from office).
While Cohn carefully documents Mitt Romney’s very recent makeover as a paragon of Republican conservatism, he does not note the obvious parallels to another son of a prominent Republican politician: George W. Bush. Just like Mitt, W. had to overcome conservative mistrust of his old man in order to become the presidential nominee, a process that reached its apogee in the famous 1998 Robert Novak column which dubbed him the “ideological heir of Ronald Reagan” despite his biological link to G.H.W. Bush.
It’s true, of course, that George Romney’s legacy is not remotely as large a blessing or curse for Mitt as Bush 41 represented for Bush 43. Many Reagan- and post-Reagan Republicans have probably never heard of the man. And even relatively well-informed observers may only remember him for his disastrous remark on the 1968 presidential campaign trail that his earler support for the Vietnam War was the result of his “brainwashing” by military briefers (which led to the devastating quip by Gene McCarthy, playing on Romney’s reputation as intellectually unformidable, that “I’d think a light rinse would have sufficed”).
Still, you have to remember that most conservative activists and opinion-leaders are deeply, deeply invested in the idea that W.’s many problems are attributable to a lack of fidelity to The True Cause. In other words, they think they were “had” by Bush and his flacks in the runup to the 2000 elections. Given Mitt’s far more ideologically heterodox record in Massachusetts, and his very recent “conversion,” the Bush experience is certain to weigh on conservatives as they try to decide between Romney and, say, Fred Thompson. And profiles like Cohn’s, which stress Mitt’s moderate birthright and nonpartisan habits as governor, will help fan conservative fears that blood is thicker than ideology.


Bush’s DOJ Undermines NVRA

One of the long-standing cornerstones of GOP election strategy is the suppression of African American votes, accomplished in recent years through a host of techniques, including felon disenfranchisement laws, “caging” and voter i.d. requirements. But it turns out that one of the more effective tools used to reduce the votes of lower-income Black voters in the 21st century is the refusal of the Civil Rights Division of the Dept of Justice to enforce Section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which requires public assistance agencies to offer voter registration to clients,
According to a report by Demos, Project Vote, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, groups that have been working for better enforcement of the NVRA: