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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

January 29, 2023

No Longer Missing?

by Scott Winship
Longtime readers of TDS–by which I mean those of you who read it last fall–remember the, um, spirited debate we hosted over an essay by Third Way, “Missing the Middle“. Authors Anne Kim, Adam Solomon, and Jim Kessler argued that Democrats’ economic message to the middle class failed to resonate with voters because it was unduly pessimistic and focused on security rather than opportunity. Their critics responded that economic insecurity is prevalent–often with good reason. Secondarily, discussants asked, “Where’s the Beef?”, noting the absence of a coherent policy agenda that flowed from their analysis.
Today Third Way rolled out its initial effort to respond to these criticisms–“The New Rules Economy: A Policy Framework for the 21st Century“. The report begins by debunking “myths” of neopopulism and conservatism. It then takes the next step of presenting nine “new rules” of today’s economy, as well as proposals to address the gaps between our old-rules policy framework and the new rules. You could think of it as a “third path”, no, a “middle way”, or….what’s the phrase I’m looking for?…….
Hil-larious kidding aside, progressives will recognize that there is nothing mushily centrist about Third Way’s policy agenda, though because it rejects the neopopulist critique of the new economy it is not as expansive as many progressives would like. Still, there’s no denying the progressivity of an agenda that advocates wealth-promoting and inequality-reducing “worth at birth accounts”, making college more affordable, greater funding for continuing education, training for workers in industries vulnerable to foreign competition to prepare for better employment in high-growth industries, expanded portability of fringe benefits, expanded child care funding, and having the federal government take over responsibility for some of the health care costs that businesses currently bear (among other laundry-list items). To be sure, it’s a framework viewed from 10,000 feet, but Third Way has a permanent project dedicated to fleshing out the details of these and other ideas.
Seems like an agenda even neopopulists could embrace. Give it a look-see. How does it compare with other progressive policy agendas you’ve seen?

Dems Senate Majority Shaky, But Poised to Increase

Dems will be cheered to read Eric Kleefield’s TPM Cafe synopsis of Stuart Rothernberg’s Roll Call article, pointing out that Dems have a good chance to win a fillibuster-proof 60 Senate seats by 2010. Kleefield cites Blumenthal’s argument that Dems only have to defend 27 seats over the next two cycles, while the GOP must defend 40 seats. In addition, in 2008, Blumenthal says the GOP has “tough seats to defend” in CO, NH and ME, along with possible Republican retirements in VA, NM, NE, MS and NC. Further, most Dem seats being defended are in blue states.
All well and good in the longer run. But on Sunday on The Chris Matthews Show, killjoy Joe Klein predicted that, in the shorter run, Senator Lieberman may switch to the GOP “pretty soon,” causing Dems to lose control of the Senate. Here’s hoping Sens. Schumer and Reid are working hard on persuading a GOP Senator to join the Dems.

For Democrats, Whistling Past Dixie May be Whistling Past the Graveyard

by Alan Abramowitz
Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science
Emory University
The South is the most conservative and most Republican region of the country. In both the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, the Democratic presidential candidate failed to carry a single state of the old Confederacy, although Al Gore probably did win a majority of the intended votes of Floridians. And even though Democrats made modest gains in the South in the 2006 midterm elections, Republicans continue to hold the large majority of the region’s Senate and House seats.
Looking at the bleak Democratic landscape in the South, Tom Schaller argues in Whistling Past Dixie that not only should Democratic presidential candidates write off the South, they should actively campaign against southern values in order to maximize their electoral prospects in the rest of the country. What Schaller is advocating is not just a non-southern strategy for Democrats, but an anti-southern strategy.
The assumption underlying Schaller’s argument is that not only is the South more conservative than the rest of the nation, but that southern values are now so antithetical to those of voters outside of the region that trying to appeal to southerners will only reduce a candidate’s appeal outside of the region.
But is it true that a candidate who appeals to voters in the South will reduce his appeal in the rest of the country? Based on an examination of the evidence from the past six presidential elections, the answer to this question is a loud and clear no. In fact, the evidence supports the opposite conclusion: the better a presidential candidate does in the South, the better that candidate will do in the rest of the country and, especially, in the key battleground states that determine the outcomes of presidential elections.
In order to test the viability of Schaller’s anti-southern strategy, I examined the correlations among Democratic presidential candidates’ vote margins (Democratic percentage minus Republican percentage) in five states across the last six presidential elections. The five states that I chose included two southern states, Georgia from the Deep South, and North Carolina from the Rim South, and three battleground states, Pennsylvania from the Northeast, Ohio from the Midwest, and Colorado from the Mountain West. The results are displayed in Table 1.
Not only are all of the correlations positive, all of them are very strongly positive—a correlation of 1.0 indicates a perfect relationship between two variables, and most of these correlations are very close to 1.0. It is clear that over the last six presidential elections, the better the Democratic candidate did in Georgia and North Carolina, the better that candidate did in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Colorado.
There is no reason to believe that the positive relationship between a presidential candidate’s appeal in the South and that candidate’s appeal in the rest of the nation, including the key battleground states, will change in the future. The better the Democratic (or Republican) candidate does in the South in 2008, the better that candidate will do in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Colorado that are critical to winning the presidency. That is because southern voters respond in the same way to the candidates and issues as voters in the rest of the country.
No matter whom the Democrats and Republicans nominate for president in 2008, the South will almost certainly be the most difficult region for the Democratic candidate. But is also almost certain that no matter whom the Democrats and Republicans nominate for president in 2008, the better the Democratic candidate does in the South, the better that candidate will do in the rest of the country including the key battleground states and the better that candidate’s chances will be of winning the presidency.

Dither About Blither Bogs Down Senate

The blogosphere is still smokin’ with screeds covering every conceivable angle of the Edwards campaign bloggers flap (from here it looks like he struck a fairly Solomonic compromise as a presidential candidate who appreciates the importance of free speech, the netroots, reproductive rights and Catholic voters in PA.) Meanwhile, print columnist Jules Witcover reminds us that, ahem, there is a war on, and “the world’s greatest deliberative body” is being upstaged by the “lower” House in dealing with it. As Witcover rolls it out in his syndicated column:

With the Senate dithering over whether or not to debate President Bush’s latest troop buildup in Iraq, the Democratic leadership in the House is going ahead next week with debate of its own, thumbing its nose at tradition and protocol.
As the legislative body responsible for such key matters of foreign relations as approving treaties and confirming ambassadors, the Senate customarily leads the way on issues of international consequence. Its 100 members elected statewide revel in its reputation as “the world’s greatest deliberative body,” compared with the House, whose 435 members are often painted as more focused on the needs of their districts.

Witcover goes into considerable detail about the pathos of the spectacle of Senators droning on about procedure to a mostly empty chamber, while the House is about to be set afire with impassioned debate about how to actually disengage from Iraq. He doesn’t give due weight to the narrowness of the Dems’ Senate majority as a causal factor of all this inaction, which underscores the importance of Dems increasing their Senate edge in ’08. Helvidius, over at Taegan Goddard’s Political Insider notes in his post “Kerry’s Cash” that ex-candidate John Kerry has $7.4 mill left over from his ’04 campaign and another $5 mill in his campaign’s legal war chest, and to his credit, Kerry “has pledged to donate a considerable amount” to a new campaign to bring the troops home from Iraq. After reading Witcover’s article, one wonders if maybe the best investment might be the DSCC, so Dems could win a real working majority in the upper chamber in ’08.

Schumer: Netroots Can Help Dems Hold Senate

MyDD‘s Jonathan Singer scores a revealing interview with Sen. Chuck Schumer, uber-strategist behind the Democratic takeover of the U.S. Senate. Singer gets more interesting insights about the Senate ’08 campaign out of Schumer than any print reporter thus far. A teaser:

I think what the blogosphere did in 2006 was incredibly great, particularly with Webb and Tester. We intend to work really closely with the blogosphere in this cycle…We have 12 Democrats and 21 Republicans and we’re feeling good about the 12 Democrats who are incumbents. But the 21 Republicans by and large come from very tough states. You have very few deeply blue states. Last time we had Pennsylvania, which was a pretty blue state, and Rhode Island, which was a very blue state. We don’t have many of those this time. New Hampshire is slightly blue, Maine is a little more blue, Oregon is slightly blue, Minnesota is slightly blue. But none of them you’d call more than 52 percent Democratic states.
So we’ve got to find candidates all over. And this is where the blogosphere excels. There may be somebody, a state Rep. or even not, in Alabama who might be a very good candidate. So we intend to have a good, close relationship and work together the way we did, sort of, towards the end last time…Webb, Tester would be the two classics. But I think it’s going to be more close – I know it’s going to be more close this year.

Schumer also lets loose on Dem prospects in specific states, including Oregon and Colorado, as well as inside Democratic stategy against sending more troops to Iraq. All in all, a must-read for everyone who wants to see a stable, thriving Democratic majority in Congress. There are also some interesting reader comments (see David Kowalski’s take). And this is only the first installment of a four-parter.
It may seem early for horse race analysis, but it’s good to know Schumer is already focused on candidate identification and development. Even better, he envisions a critical role for the netroots in helping Dems to improve on their one-vote Senate majority amid the quickening pace of the presidential sweepstakes.

Dems Tread Carefully in Advancing Agenda

The National Journal‘s Charlie Cook pulls the plug on the party lights in his post “Reality check for the Democrats: Fragile majority seems to be acknowledging its limitations” at MSNBC‘s Politics page. Cook says GOP pundits who expected the Dems under Speaker Pelosi to press a full-speed-ahead leftist agenda are disappointed by the House Dems'”moderate and measured” leadership. Noting that approval ratings of congress in opinion polls have improved only slightly, Cook explains:

Public antipathy toward Congress is deeply engrained; trying to turn it around is akin to changing the direction of an aircraft carrier — it only happens very slowly. Democrats had the luxury of attacking a much-maligned institution in 2006; in 2008 they must defend it and justify its performance.
…As tempting as it must be for Democrats to embark on a bold and ambitious policy agenda, particularly after having been mired in the minority for a dozen years, the simple truth is that between the reality of narrow majorities and their decision to abide by pay-as-you-go spending and tax rules, their options are few and limited to relatively small-ticket items.

According to Cook, the average post-election approval rating for Congress in the most recent polls is 34.4 percent, which is an improvement over pre-election figures averaging about 27 percent. With just over a third of respondents holding a favorable impression of Congress, however, it may be that the public wants bolder action on leading priorities such as disengaging from Iraq and better health care security.
Cook describes the House Dems’ 15-seat majority as “narrow,” but it’s extravagant compared to the 1-seat margin that allows Dems to run the Senate. A 15-seat lead should be enough to hold the House in ’08, barring any major disasters. Winning some breathing space in the Senate is the more urgent challenge — and the key to bolder Democratic leadership in Congress.

New PSI Study Paints South Purple

MyDD’s Chris Bowers takes the latest Gallup Poll figures for “partisan self-identification” (PSI) for a spin, and it’s a sweet ride for Dems. Bowers quotes from a Gallup News Service article by Jeffrey M. Jones:

An average of all national Gallup polling in 2006, consisting of interviews with more than 30,000 adult Americans, finds 34% of Americans identifying as Democrats, 30% as Republicans, and 34% as independents…In 2006, 50% of Americans identified as Democrats or were independents who said they leaned toward the Democratic Party. Forty percent identified as Republicans or leaned to the Republican Party…This is the first time since 1991 that a party’s support reached the 50% level.

Bowers explains further:

…the rate of change in favor of Democrats appears to be increasing…The percentage of Democratic self-identifiers, not including Democratic-leaning independents, rose by 2-2.5% during the final nine months of 2006. This might suggest that Democrats are in fact on the verge of a very real realignment….Over the past three years, Republicans have lost their advantage in 14 states, and Democrats have gained a statistically significant advantage in 19 states.

Bowers stops short of a regional analysis, but a look at PSI in the southern states suggests that advocates of the ‘skip ‘n diss the south’ strategy may have some ‘splainin’ to do. Here’s how Gallup rates ’06 PSI in a dozen southern states (competitive = within m.o.e.):

AL competitive; ARK Dem; FL Dem; GA competitive; LA competitive; MS competitive; NC Dem; SC Rep; TN competitive; TX Rep; VA Dem; WVA Dem.

Of course the ’06 PSI figures are connected more to the way respondents felt about the mid-terms, than how they might vote in a presidential election. However, five Dem, Two GOP and five competitive doesn’t look all that red. Dem PSI increased over ’05 in FL, VA and NC and declined only in LA, probably as a result of Dem Katrina evacuees leaving the state. Purple, with blue tint rising would be more like it.

Dems Search for Iraq Consensus

Terence Samuel takes on the question of the hour in his article in The American ProspectThe Fight We’re In: What’s the best way for Democrats to force Bush to end the war?” Samuel limns the current debate in the U.S. Senate this way:

The controlling intelligence, based on the political calculus of the moment, holds that the strategic approach is to leverage the president’s grim poll numbers and the unpopularity of the war into a non-binding resolution rejecting the surge, which in turn would further isolate the president, perhaps forcing him see the light and change the course of the war. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed such a measure, and next week we are likely see heated debate in the full Senate. (Republicans have threatened to filibuster it.)
But even given open skepticism about whether such a strategy could work on a president who is almost theological in his beliefs about the rightness of his chosen course, Democrats have bet almost all their chips on the congressional repudiation strategy.

Meanwhile, Novak reports that a the effort to craft a Biden-Warner sponsored resolution supported by a super-majority has collapsed on Warner’s decision to go it alone. Samuel quotes Senator Carl Levin’s rationale for the non-binding resolution:

Don’t underestimate the power of such a vote, says Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, the new chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “You are further isolating the president,” says Levin. “The president is on one side and the American people are on the other.” The calculation is that squeezing the president politically is a wiser course than ending the war by cutting off the money to pay for it. Most congressional Democrats just don’t want to go there.

But others disagree. As Vermont Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders says:

At some point we are going to say, ‘We are not going to give you money to fight an endless war.

Sanders may be a minority in so saying, but he is not alone. John Nichols quotes Senator Russ Feingold thusly in his article in The NationExercising Congress’s Constitutional Power to End a War“:

Congress holds the power of the purse and if the President continues to advance his failed Iraq policy, we have the responsibility to use that power to safely redeploy our troops from Iraq…I will soon be introducing legislation to use the power of the purse to end what is clearly one of the greatest mistakes in the history of our nation’s foreign policy.

Sanders and Feingold get some support from a recent Newsweek poll, conducted 1/24-25. Asked “Since the Iraq war began, do you think Congress has been assertive enough in challenging the Bush Administration’s conduct of the war, or has not been assertive enough?,” 64 percent responded that Congress has not been assertive enough, compared with 27 percent who thought it had. But asked whether Democrats should try to block funding for the surge in a Newsweek poll conducted 1/17-18, respondents were equally divided at 46 percent.
It’s hard to imagine a tougher call Senate Dems will have to make between now and the next election. The consensus that finally emerges may well determine whether they hold their Senate majority in ’08.

Political Internet Use Doubles Since ’02

Internet use for political information has doubled since 2002, according to a new Pew Research study (PDF here) conducted 11/8 to 12/4. As Lynn Rainey and John Horrigran report in their article “The Internet Is Creating a New Class of Web-Savvy Political Activists“:

The number of Americans who got most of their information about the 2006 campaign on the internet doubled from the most recent mid-term election in 2002 and rivaled the number from the 2004 presidential election…15% of all American adults say the internet was their primary source for campaign news during the election, up from 7% in the mid-term election of 2002 and close to the 18% of Americans who said they relied on the internet during the presidential campaign cycle in 2004.

In addition, 31 percent of respondents — representing 60 million people — said they used the internet to get political information in 2006. The study also identifies the type of websites being most frequently visited by political internet users, reporting, for example, that 20 percent read political blogs. Interestingly, the survey of 2,562 adults included 200 respondents who had cell phones only.
For more on political internet users, see Emerging Democratric Majority’s January 20 post.

CQ Posts Early Peek at ’08 Senate Races

Congressional Quarterly has a round-up of ratings for 08 Senate races — their earliest ever. Of the 33 U.S. Senate seats up in the ’08 cycle, 21 are held by Republicans, compared to 12 seats for Dems. The article rates each seat as “safe” Republican/Democrat” (8/6), Democrat/Republican “favored,” (4/7) “leans” Democrat/Republican (1/5) and “no clear favorite” (1 each). In other words, the early money says the Senate will remain very close, with a possible net-pick up of 1 for the Dems. Some of those submitting comments to the article disagree, but not by much. The delicate balance that gives Dems their majority remains a continuing concern.