washington, dc

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 27, 2023

Economic Populists vs. Rubinites to Shape Dems’ Future

Louis Uchtelle’s “Here Come the Economic Populists” in The New York Times Week in Review spotlights the internal struggle within the Democratic Party between “economic populists” and “the Rubinites.” While the marquee conflict between the two groups has been globalism vs. protectionism (or ‘free trade’ vs. ‘fair trade’), there are other major issues at stake, as Uchitelle explains:

As the two groups face off, Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, contends that the populists are pushing much harder than the Rubinites for government-subsidized universal health care. They also favor expanding Social Security to offset the decline in pension coverage in the private sector.

Fortunately, there are common areas of agreement uniting the two factions:

Both would sponsor legislation that reduced college tuition, mainly through tax credits or lower interest rates on student loans. Both would expand the earned-income tax credit to subsidize the working poor. Both would have the government negotiate lower drug prices for Medicare’s prescription drug plan. And despite their relentless criticisms of President Bush’s tax cuts, neither the populists nor the Rubinite regulars would try to roll them back now, risking a veto that the Democrats lack the votes to override.

The economic populists clearly have the momentum as a result of the November 7 election, and their numbers will swell when the freshman are sworn in. But the Rubinites may still have considerable leverage in the Party. The one thing that seems certain is that the era of runaway globalism is coming to a close.

Dems’ Challenge: Recruit More Women Candidates

On one level, 2006 has been a great year for womens’ political empowerment, with Nancy Pelosi set to serve as the first woman Speaker of the House in the new congress. After that, however, women’s gains were modest, according to statistics compiled by the Center for American Women in Politics (CAWP). Women added two new U.S. Senators (both Democrats) and one governor. With two congressional races still to be decided, women increased their numbers in the House of Reps by less than one percent.
In terms of statewide elective offices, women actually lost two seats nationwide (from 78 in ’04 to 76 in ’06). Women recorded a small gain in the nation’s state legislatures, picking up 46 seats, for a new nation-wide total of 1,732. If there is any consolation in these figures, it is that Democrats did much better than Republicans, with Dems now holding 68 percent of women’s legislative seats. As CAWP Director Debbie Walsh explains:

What’s most notable for 2007 is the growing party disparity, with more than twice as many Democrats as Republican lawmakers…We’re concerned that, with state legislatures providing a vital pipeline to higher offices, we’ll see fewer Republican women positioned to move up.

When the new elected officials take office, women’s share of political offices in the U.S. will be:

Governors 18%
U.S. Senators 16%
House Members 16.3 % (pending two undecided races)
State Legislators 23%

The Dems’ strong majority of women office-holders notwithstanding, the total figures are still less than impressive. The clear challenge for all national, state and local Democratic organizations is to recruit, train and support more women candidates.

Southern Demographics and the Electoral College

Before swallowing the “skip the south” meme whole hog, Democratic presidential aspirants should take a look at R. Neal’s post “The Changing Southern Demographic” at Facing South. Neal’s summary of the trend of the South’s African American demographic is especially interesting:

…While the Black population in the South is growing in numbers, the percentage of Black population as compared to the total has declined overall, presumably because of the increase in Hispanic and other minority population. The percentage of Black population decreased in Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia, increased in Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi, and stayed the same in Louisiana and Tennessee. (The figures for Louisiana seem off, but perhaps the data was collected before Katrina.)

A key word in the above graph being “overall.” But Neal also provides this snapshot table:

Percentage of Black population (2005):
Mississippi 36.5%
Louisiana 32.5%
Georgia 29.2%
South Carolina 28.5%
Alabama 25.8%
North Carolina 21.0%
Virginia 19.1%
Tennessee 16.4%
Arkansas 15.3%
Florida 15.0%
Kentucky 7.2%
West Virginia 3.1%

Pretty much the whole south, with the exception of KY and WV (are they really southern, anyway?) has a higher percentage of the Democrats’ most loyal constituency than the nation as a whole. Five southern states have double or better the national average. Given these numbers — and a strong presidential candidate — Dems should be able to win a few southern states.

How ’06 Shake-up May Tilt Electoral College

LA Times columnist Ron Brownstein’s article “The electoral college map is morphing” merits a read by Democrats interested in what the ’06 election bodes for the 08 presidential contest. Among Brownstein’s more encouraging observations:

More important, Colorado emerged next to Virginia as the top new target for Democrats. A party nominee who could hold all the states Kerry won in 2004 and add just those two states would obtain an electoral college majority.
In Colorado in 2004, Democrats captured both chambers of the Legislature and got Ken Salazar elected to the U.S. Senate. This year, Ritter won the governorship in a landslide — helped by commanding margins in the vote-rich Denver suburbs that propelled Bush’s two victories in the state.

Brownstein also suggests that Democratic wins in statewide races in Arkansas, Montana and Ohio offer additional hope. Brownstein doesn’t discuss demographic changes underway in many states that could tip the balance in favor of Dems during the next two years. But it’s clear that winning the states carried by Gore or Kerry, plus one or two others adds up to an electoral college majority.

Dems Poised for Big Senate Gains in ’08

All eyes and ears may be tuning into the Presidential prospects of ’08, but WaPo‘s Chris Cillizza takes an early peek at the ’08 Senate races in The Fix’s The Friday Line, and the view is very good. As Cillizza explains:

A cursory evaluation of the 2008 Senate playing field shows Democrats seemingly well-positioned to build on their 51-seat majority. Of the 33 seats up for reelection, just 12 are held by Democrats. And of those 12, only two Democratic incumbents received less than 54 percent of the vote in 2002 — Sens. Tim Johnson (S.D.) and Mary Landrieu (La.).
….Republicans must defend 22 seats and have more obvious vulnerabilities. At first glance, just three GOP senators — Norm Coleman (Minn.), John Sununu (N.H.) and Wayne Allard (Colo.) — look vulnerable, as each won in 2002 with less than 54 percent of the vote. But the complicating factor for Republicans is that there are a number of rumored retirements that may come before 2008, creating more open-seat opportunities for Democrats.

Cillizza also provides a race by race run-down. Bottom line is that the nine seat pick-up needed for a fillibuster-proof Senate majority is within reasonable range, but a 16 seat-pick up needed for a veto-proof majority is probably not. Ironically, Dems probably wouldn’t need it, because if we pick up nine Senate seats, we will likely win the presidency as well. (corrected 11/20, thanks to Kevin Drum).

Fair Trade May Give Dems Edge in ’08

The 2006 mid-terms may go down as the turning point when fair trade finally became a major cutting-edge issue. Many commentators have noted that a backlash against “free” trade played a pivotal role in Democratic victories in the mid-west and rust belt. The call for fair trade was a common denominator in the Democrats’ Senate victories over incumbents, as Harold Meyerson explains in his American Prospect article “The Fair-Trade Election”:

The Democratic pickups — Missouri’s Claire McCaskill, Montana’s Jon Tester, Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey, Rhode Island’s Sheldon Whitehouse, and Virginia’s James Webb — all unseated free-trade incumbents with campaigns that stressed the need to pay far greater attention to the downward leveling that globalization entails. Tester ran ads attacking trade agreements for putting “our jobs and the viability of family farms and ranches across Montana in jeopardy.” Webb’s Web site states, “We must reexamine our tax and trade policies and reinstitute notions of fairness.”

Likewise in the House races, as Christopher Hayes notes in his article in The Nation “The New Democratic Populism”:

A postelection analysis by Public Citizen found that campaigns cut twenty-five ads attacking free-trade deals, and that trade played a significant role in more than a dozen House races won by Democrats. In the entire election, Public Citizen noted, “no incumbent fair trader was beaten by a ‘free trader.'”

Fair trade may prove to be the issue that helps Democrats make inroads into the south, where the textile industry has been devastated in a number of communities. Democrat Heath Shuler’s victory in his North Carolina House race benefitted from his embrace of fair trade as a priority.
Fair trade is an issue that has clearly arrived in a big way for a growing number of voters in industrial heartland communities. Yet, with characteristic elitism, President Bush has already taken some pot shots at the newly-elected fair trade Democrats. Let’s hope the GOP’s next presidential nominee will be equally clueless.

Make Nice — Not

Post of the day goes to Paul Waldman, whose “Democrats, Don’t Wimp Out” at TomPaine.com does a refreshing number on the “Let’s be nice bipartisans” school of thought about what congressional Democrats should do now. Waldman, a senior fellow at Media Matters for America, puts it this way:

…What Democrats need to do is spend the next two years crushing their opponents like bugs. It’s not about mercy, it’s not about manners, it’s about three fundamental goals: limiting the damage the Bush administration can do, passing whatever legislation they can in the short term to help the American public and laying the foundation for future progressive victories.

For example, with respect to empowering the federal government to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs, Waldman counsels:

…Democrats should wage the fight…Two outcomes are equally likely: Either they won’t be able to pass such a bill in both houses, or they’ll pass a bill and Bush will veto it. Either way, it shows whose side they’re on, and whose side the Republicans are on.

His point is nicely-echoed by American Prospect co-editor Robert Kuttner in his web-exclusive piece “Bye Bye, Bipartisanship“:

Pelosi has said her first actions will include legislation to raise the federal minimum wage and create an effective prescription drug benefit under Medicare. If Bush signs these progressive bills, we can all sing bipartisan Kumbaya. If he vetoes them, Democrats can keep reminding voters which party serves whose interests.

Waldman has an interesting idea for dealing with the GOP’s lapdog media:

…Democrats should say the following to Fox: You want to spread GOP propaganda all day? Be our guest…But don’t expect any Democratic newsmakers to legitimize you with their presence. We’ll go on every other network, be interviewed by every legitimate news organization. But we don’t consider ourselves under any obligation to pretend that buffoons like Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and John Gibson are news professionals who deserve a moment of our time. We’re not going to try to fight you; we’ll just act like you don’t exist.

There’s more, and Waldman concludes:

Democrats need to understand that they are engaged in a war of ideas, one that stretches far beyond any one Congress or presidency….Democrats should wake up every day thinking, “How can we keep Republicans on the run?” Never give them a moment’s rest, never let them advance their agenda, keep them on the defensive so they have to apologize for being the standard-bearers of a discredited ideology and a disgraced president. Do that, and every legislative battle and election to come will be that much more likely to swing in your favor.

Kuttner lays it out with equal clarity:

Forget treacly calls to come together to solve national problems. There are huge, principled differences here. The voters rejected the policies of the governing party and gave Congress a mandate to help regular people for a change.

If Waldman’s and Kuttner’s calls to arms seem draconian, answer one question: If the tables were turned, would the GOP hesitate to consolidate their power and crush the opposition?

Will Dems’ Winning Formula Hold in ’08?

E. J. Dionne, Jr. makes a persuasive case in his column in today’s WaPo that, after all of the spin has been rolled out on all sides, the relevant message of the election is that the Dems’ winning formula was progressives plus angry moderates equals victory. In addition, Senator Lieberman would do well to give some thougthful consideration to Dionne’s take on his win:

Some Republicans say that Sen. Joe Lieberman’s reelection as an independent suggests that rejection of Bush’s Iraq policies was not, to use Rove’s word, the “determining” factor in the election. But exit polls make clear that Lieberman won despite his support for the war, not because of it.
Connecticut voters disapproved of the war by a margin of two to one, and nearly two-thirds favored withdrawing some or all of our troops. Lieberman, who enjoyed residual affection among Connecticut Democrats, managed to carry close to 40 percent of the vote among those who favored troop withdrawals, including a remarkable 29 percent among those who favor withdrawing all our troops.

The botched, misguided Iraq policy was not the only source of moderates’ anger, nationwide. Many polls show an enormous backlash against corruption and scandal in the GOP, while economic concerns fueled voter discontent in the pivotal midwest. The ’06 formula may have to be tweaked for ’08 — but it’s clear Democrats will nonetheless have to provide credible leadership to address these issues.

New Dems Provide Strong Voice for Environment

Mother Earth was one of the winners on November 7, according to Amanda Griscom Little’s Salon article “Green Gains“. Little reports that the League of Conservation Voters re-elected 8 of its 9 supported candidates and defeated 9 of the 13 “dirty dozen” it targeted for defeat. And it gets better, as Little explains:

Jerry McNerney (a Democrat), also has the environment to thank for his stunning victory over House Resources Committee chairman Richard Pombo (a Republican), who for 14 years represented the Golden State’s 11th Congressional District and rose to become one of the most powerful Republicans in Congress. A no-name wind-energy engineer, McNerney made clean energy his signature issue and painted himself a zealous eco-warrior against the backdrop of Pombo’s relentless efforts to drill in sensitive natural areas, butcher the Endangered Species Act and open millions of acres of public lands to development.
…The new Democratic senator-elect from Montana, Jon Tester, beat out Republican environmental foe Conrad Burns with a similarly enthusiastic environmental platform. An organic farmer turned state senator, Tester centered much of his TV advertising on his plans to make Montana a stronghold of the new energy economy. As president of the state Senate, he pushed through a 2005 law requiring utilities in Montana to derive 15 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2015.
This same message also cropped up during the campaign of Missouri’s new Democratic senator-elect, Claire McCaskill, who ousted Republican Jim Talent, an avid proponent of oil extraction in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And it was a theme in the gubernatorial races of Democrat Bill Ritter in Colorado, who beat out his drilling-happy Republican opponent Bob Beauprez, and Democrat Ted Strickland in Ohio, who walloped Republican Ken Blackwell with a campaign that included a promise to spend roughly $250 million on next-gen alternative-energy projects.

In addition, Speaker-in-waiting Nancy Pelosi has named energy independence one of the top action priorities for the incomming House of Representatives. As Cathy Duvall, Sierra Club political director “Voters…gave a green light to a new energy future.”

Sunday Post-Election Articles Speculate on Dem Future

Sunday after the election offers a bountiful harvest of post-election wrap-ups in the major dailies. Some of the better ones include:
In “Liberal groups expect postelection results” LA Times reporters Peter Wallsten and Janet Hook focus on potentially divisive issues facing Dems as the try to consolidate their victory. The LA Times also has American Prospect Editor Michael Tomasky’s “Dems put the ‘big tent’ back together,” arguing that Dems shouldn’t buy into the ‘conservative victory’ view of the election, and instead should build the left-center coalition that has always been the key to their most significant wins.
The New York Times post-election wrap-up “Incoming Democrats Put Populism Before Ideology” by Robin Toner and Kate Zernike probes some of the newly-elected Dems to assess prospects for bipartisanship. Leon Panetta’s “Govern, Don’t Gloat” op-ed argues that now is a good time for some Democratic humility and a genuine spirit of bipartisna cooperatrion. Nonetheless, No good Democrat should miss “2006: The Year of the ‘Macaca’,” Frank Rich’s blistering critique of GOP bigotry and fear-mongering in campaign ’06.
WaPo‘s Jonathan Weisman’s “Democrats Find Lessons In GOP Reign” mulls over the lessons Dems should glean from the failure of Gingrich’s scorched-earth philosophy of congressional leadership. Wapo is also featuring Joe Trippi’s “The Democrats: Is Winning Winning?“, predicting more trouble for the GOP ahead and assessing prospects for Dem ’08 candidates from Bayh to Vilsack.
And speaking of hot prospects, check out the Boston Globe’s Politics Section for a host of articles on Deval Patrick’s historic election as Governor of Massachusetts, rich with lessons for winning strategies. Then relax, take a moment to savor the victories of ’06, because campaign ’08 begins in ernest tommorrow.