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There is a moral arc in the universe and it bends toward justice.

The Daily Strategist

April 17, 2014

The Real GOP "Civil War"



Every time you turn around, some primary fight or rhetorical tussle involving Republicans is labeled a "civil war," which typically inflates arguments over strategy and tactics into matters of deep principle (and also creates a misleading impression of "moderation" when less extreme strategy and tactics are adopted for the same ideological agenda).

At TPMCafe this week, I continued an ongoing critique of "phony wars" within the GOP, and noted one area where the not-so-friendly-fire is real:

The phony-war dynamics of intra-GOP disputes is apparent just under the surface on a remarkably wide range of topics. "Incrementalists" and "absolutists" on reproductive rights issues may battle over "personhood" initiatives or rape-and-incest exceptions or a general tendency to focus on relatively rare late-term abortions. But they all long for the day when abortion -- broadly defined to include birth control methods they deem "abortifacients" -- is entirely illegal, even if that's via the route of first allowing states to keep abortion legal as it was prior to Roe v. Wade.

Similarly, some Republicans are embarrassed by the more aggressive tactics of gun advocates, such as allowing people to in churches, bars or on college campuses. But that doesn't indicate significant willingness to support efforts to extend or even maintain gun regulation, despite massive public sentiment supporting it.

And to cite just one more example, advocates of radical "tax reform" proposals like the "Fair Tax" or the 9-9-9 scheme Herman Cain made famous may seem to diverge in a big way from Republicans focused on reducing capital gains taxes or the top income tax rate. But they all generally agree on making taxes more regressive and focused on income earned from labor rather than capital, and it's hard to find a GOPer these days who shares Teddy Roosevelt's advocacy of inheritance taxes.

Rare as real "battles of principle" within the GOP generally are, they do exist, though sometimes they are mixed up with strategic and tactical concerns. A significant if shrinking number of Republicans appear to be attached to comprehensive immigration reform as an end in itself, sometimes on libertarian or free-market grounds, sometimes as a matter of ensuring their business community allies and patrons a ready supply of affordable labor. More prominent lately have been strategic/tactical arguments based on fears of a demographic disaster if Republicans continue to alienate Latino voters. But at present, both principled and "pragmatist" advocates of comprehensive reform have been outgunned in the House GOP Caucus. Reform opponents, too, seem divided between principled nativists (or hard-core legalists) and pols just afraid of "base" hostility to amnesty, which may explain the popularity of "enforcement first" or legalization-without-citizenship positions which straddle the usual battle lines.

But if you want to see a real "civil war" work itself out, watch the rapidly developing fight over foreign policy and defense issues, in which Sen. Rand Paul's 2016 presidential aspirations are very likely to be the first major casualty.

Paul has been very crafty in revamping without entirely abandoning his father's non-interventionist foreign policy stance. His first smart step was to display allegiance to Israel, the linchpin of the contemporary conservative global scheme of friends and enemies (he was helped by the turmoil in the Arab world which enabled him to focus on opposition to U.S. assistance to Israel's rivals rather than to Israel itself). But more generally he has framed his critique of American overseas commitments as attacks on Barack Obama's diplomatic and military initiatives, very safe territory But as we learned the last week, Paul is exposed as a heretic whenever his positioning takes him beyond standard GOP Obama-bashing into the past or future.

The 2009 video of Paul suggesting that the 2003 Iraq War was in no small part the product of Dick Cheney's concerns for Halliburton profits didn't just anger hard-core neoconservative defenders of the nobility of that war. It also carried him well beyond the pale of acceptable criticism of GOP foreign policy and of the two-term elected GOP Vice President of the United States.

The backlash against Paul's Iraq comments is well underway, and there's little doubt the intent is to marginalize or even veto him as a viable presidential candidate. This is one civil war that will likely turn into a rout.


Political Strategy Notes



Greg Sargent notes at The Plum Line that "Brian Beutler has a good piece documenting the GOP's "grand swindle," in which Republicans claim to support Obamacare's goals but still refuse to own up to the actual implications of repeal, which shows they don't actually support those goals. As Beutler notes, it's partly on Dems to make sure this swindle fails: 'The good news is that it will fail if Democrats are prepared to remind the public that Obamacare created these benefits; Republicans voted against Obamacare, to a person; they are still trying to repeal it; and they have a long record of opposing its means and its ends in equal measure. But the awful truth is that if Democrats are determined to avoid thoroughgoing debates about Obamacare, and at times they appear to be, then it might just work.'"

From Noam Levy's L.A.Times report on a new Gallup Survey showing Obamacare doing much better than expected: "President Obama's health law has led to an even greater increase in health coverage than previously estimated, according to new Gallup survey data, which suggests that about 12 million previously uninsured Americans have gained coverage since last fall...That is millions more than Gallup found in March and suggests that as many as 4 million people have signed up for some kind of insurance in the last several weeks as the first enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act drew to a close."

In "Defend 'Obamacare' Unabashedly, Some Democrats Say,"AP writers Charles Babington and Richard Alonzo-Zaldiva note, "Republicans already were pushing their luck by vowing to "repeal and replace" the health care law without having a viable replacement in mind, said Thomas Mills, a Democratic consultant and blogger in North Carolina. Now, he said, Democrats have even more reasons to rise from their defensive crouch on this topic..."Democrats need to start making the case for Obamacare," Mills said. "They all voted for it, they all own it, so they can't get away from it. So they'd better start defending it."...Even some professionals who have criticized the health care law say the political climate has changed..."I think Democrats have the ability to steal the health care issue back from Republicans," health care industry consultant said Bob Laszewski said. "The Democratic Party can become the party of fixing Obamacare."

The wingnut threat of a "range war" in Nevada is apparently making GOP presidential contenders a little squirmy. Timothy Cama has the skinny at The Hill.

A nod to Julian Zelizer for his CNN Opinion post "Democrats, show some spine on taxes," which includes this spicy little morsel: "Irving Berlin wrote "I Paid My Income Tax Today," which reminded Americans: "You see those bombers in the sky? Rockefeller helped to build them -- so did I!" The campaign worked and the tax system put into place remained a permanent part of the political landscape with upper level taxes reaching over 90% in the 1950s." Do read the rest of it and share.

At The Nation Bryce Covert probes the complexities of "Why We Can't Strip Race Out of the Gender Wage Gap Conversation."

The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates calls President Obama's address on voter suppression "one of the most significant and morally grounded speeches of his presidency. I think we will eventually regard this current effort to suppress the vote through voter-ID laws, ending early voting, restricting voting hours, etc., in the same way we regard literacy tests and poll taxes. (It's worth recalling this piece for the magazine by Mariah Blake which helps historicize voter suppression.)"

"If November's election for Congress were held today, the Democrats would have an edge over the Republicans as far as the total national vote is concerned. Nearly half of registered voters nationally -- 48% -- would support the Democrat on the ballot in their district while 42% would back the Republican candidate. Four percent would vote for neither, and 6% are undecided...When McClatchy - Marist last reported this question in February, voters divided. 46% favored the Democrat while 44% were for the Republican." (from the McClatchy-Marist Poll conducted 4/7 through 4/10.)

Would you believe it, a nod to a Daily Kos tribute to "lefty bloggers" -- in a conservative e-rag?


DCorps: The Urgent Economic Narrative for 2014



The following article is cross-posted from a DCorps e-blast:

The economy is still the main issue in the 2014 election, impacting the mood of the country, driving likely voter turnout, and defining what is at stake. With voters uncertain of President Obama and the Democrats' direction on the economy, Democratic voters are 7 points less likely than Republicans to say they are 'almost certain to vote' in the off-year election in November.

But Democrats can change that equation if they show they understand people's financial struggles, get the narrative right, push back against an economy that works only for the 1 percent, and offer an economic agenda that puts working women first.

These are the key elements of the working women's agenda - tested in our recent national survey with Women's Voices Women Vote Action Fund. This agenda drives Democratic support and increase turnout, not just among working women, but among a broad range of voters.

Read the memo here.

See the graphs here.

econ_message_e-alert.png


April 16, 2014

The Racist Elephant in the Political Room



Not all Republicans are racist, there are people of color who are Republicans and there was a time when Republican leaders were in the forefront of the struggle for racial equality.

All of that said, and acknowledging that there are also racists who identify themselves as Democrats, the Republican Party has a significant -- and growing -- problem with racism in its ranks. GOP leaders and conservative pundits who refuse to address it are complicit, no matter how unbiased their personal views may be.

Read Sean Sullivan's post, "Democrats are talking about race and the Republican Party an awful lot lately. Is it a smart midterm strategy?" at The Fix. Sullivan gives both Republicans and Democrats fair vent on the issue. He doesn't support one side more than the other, nor offer much evaluation of their argument. Fair enough. Not all articles on the topic have to do that. Sullivan is mostly interested here in the midterm political ramifications of the GOP's race problem.

Sure, there is political benefit for the Democrats in highlighting racist comments, policies and behavior among Republicans. It could help stoke turnout of voters of color, who tend to favor Democratic candidates. But Sullivan doesn't discuss the possibility that Democrats have to speak out against racism because it has gotten so blatant that not calling it out would make Democrats part of the problem, created though it was by Republicans.

In his Daily Beast post, "You're in Denial if You Think Steve Israel is Wrong About GOP Racism," Michael Tomasky rolls out some of the more rancid recent examples in comment threads responding to articles about current events, and then he adds:

Beyond these, we have numerous instances of low-level (and sometimes not so low-level) Republican Party officials--Republican Party officials--making racist jokes about Obama. Here's a little chrestomathy of some of them. If you follow the news closely, you know that hardly a...not quite a week, but let's say hardly a fortnight goes by that some local GOPer doesn't show up in the news explaining that he "didn't mean any harm" in sending that email to friends showing watermelons piled up on the White House, and he's sincerely sorry "if it offended anyone." Often, of course, it's something more malevolent than that.

No one will have any trouble digging up more examples, and yes, there is also some data which merits consideration. As Christopher Ingraham writes in a recent Wonkblog post,

An Associated Press poll conducted in 2012 attempted to measure implicit racism among Democrats and Republicans by asking respondents to compare black, white, Asian and Hispanic faces. It found that 55 percent of Democrats expressed implicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 64 percent of Republicans -- a difference that the lead researchers called "highly significant...In 2012, 18 percent of Republicans disapproved of blacks and whites dating each other, compared with 5 percent of Democrats."

The all-out assault on voting rights, for example, has reached a level of shamelessness not seen since before the Civil Rights Movement. The GOP is doing everything it can to obstruct the voting rights of African Americans and Latinos, even to the point of risking alienation of other voters with restrictions on early voting opportunities. That the Republicans on the Supreme Court have been eager partners in voter suppression shows that the moral rot in their party has burrowed deeply.

It's not just voting rights Republicans oppose. Sen Rand Paul, by some estimates the Republican front-runner for the 2016 presidential nomination, still gets away with mealey-mouthed waffling about the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Other Republican Governors and state legislative majorities have done all they can to harass and intimidate Latino immigrants.

You would think that some of the more prudent conservative pundits would pick up the slack left by political leaders on the right and challenge their party to embrace racial justice and a higher level of interracial goodwill. But apparently they buy into the strategy that suppressing minority votes is an acceptable price to pay for holding power. It's a sad commentary on the shrinking reservoir of conservative patriotism.


April 15, 2014

Creamer: Nine Rules for Democratic Midterm Victory



The following article by Democratic strategist Robert Creamer, author of "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," is cross-posted from HuffPo.

Much has been written about the difficult road faced by Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections. But virtually all of it presumes that turnout among reliable Democratic voters will decline 3 to 5 percent more from 2012 levels than turnout among reliable Republican voters.

There is no question that most midterms do in fact follow that model. The results of the disastrous 2010 midterms can be chalked up almost entirely to the fact that record numbers of Democratic voters failed to show up at the polls.

But before the pundits and ambitious Republicans get too cocky, it is important to remember that this kind of turnout differential is not at all preordained. A three to five percentage imbalance in turnout can have a massive impact on in-play elections -- but it is also small enough that Democrats can do something about it.

In fact, as recently as 2013 -- in a completely off-year election in Virginia, Democrats kept the turnout mix at 2012 levels. To win -- as we did in Virginia -- Democrats don't have to turn out the same number of voters as we did in 2012. We only have to ensure that the turnout mix is the same as it was in 2012. In other words, we have to make certain that the drop-off between 2012 and 2014 is no greater than the drop-off for Republican voters.

So what affects turnout?

In general, electoral turnout is not affected by the factors that dominate the discourse of the chattering class. For persuadable voters -- voters who always vote but are often undecided in elections -- the factors that affect the voters' decisions involve the candidate. Persuadable voters made their decisions based on candidate qualities like:

Is the candidate on my side?
Does the candidate have strong core values?
Do I think the candidate is a strong effective leader?
Does the candidate respect me?
Do I like or make an emotional connection with the candidate?
Is the candidate an insider or outsider?
Is the candidate self-confident?
Does the candidate have integrity?
Does the candidate have vision?
Does the candidate inspire me?

With one exception, turnout it not affected by any of these factors -- or for that matter by the "issues" being used by the candidates to demonstrate that they are on the voter's side. That's because low-propensity Democratic voters would already vote for Democratic candidates if they went to the polls -- the question is not how they would vote, but whether they are motivated to go to the polls.

The messages that motivate low-turnout voters are not about the candidates or issues -- they are about the voters themselves.

This fall, Democrats have the ability to motivate the voters to turnout at levels adequate to replicate the 2012 turnout mix -- just as they did in Virginia last year. But we need to focus 100 percent of our energy on motivation. That requires that we follow several important rules:

1). Rule #1: Motivation is about emotion. We must engage the voters' feelings -- their anger, their love, their passion, their humor. You engage emotion by making things concrete and personal -- not abstract or cerebral. Our messages to low-turnout voters must engage the senses. The political dialogue between now and November needs to make people hear, visualize, feel -- experience -- the battle.

2). Rule #2: People are motivated (and convinced) more easily by getting them to take action than by explanation or argument. Getting someone to take an action engages emotion and commitment to the outcome of a battle much more easily than any form of rhetoric or discussion.

Action can include any level of activity from going to a rally or meeting, to rooting for a candidate in a debate, to making a donation online. The more people have the opportunity to act, not just hear about the upcoming election, the more likely they are to vote.

Research has shown that this principle even extends to how we talk to voters about going to vote. If we ask them to tell us how and when they plan to vote, they are more likely to vote than if we just ask them if they plan to vote. That's because they begin to visualize the act of voting and begin to commit themselves to the act of voting through their own visualization of action.

If voters are asked to take the action of signing a pledge form committing them to vote -- they are even more likely to cast a ballot.

3). Rule #3: The fight's the thing. Motivation flows from engagement in a political narrative that involves a protagonist and an antagonist. When people root for a sports team, they become invested in the team.

Democrats need to provide every opportunity to create a battle between the Right-wing's leaders and our champions. We need to force the battle -- proudly and visibly. And,we need to enlist low-propensity voters to join us in the battle.

Continue reading "Creamer: Nine Rules for Democratic Midterm Victory" »


April 14, 2014

Political Strategy Notes



Some observation's from Wesley Lowell's Washington Post article, "Democrats settle on fairness issues hoping to avoid a repeat of 2010 midterm disaster": ""There are pretty stark contrasts here, and we know that when we bring out our base vote, we're in a pretty powerful position," said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.). "In 2010, we fell on our face and we paid for it. We're not going to make that mistake again." Se. Charles Schumer echoed, "This week, the talk is pay equity, not ACA. We won't have every week like that, but we'll have more and more weeks like that because we're talking about things that people really care about..."We're at a turning point. . . . These last few weeks have been sort of a game-changer. I think that the day when Obamacare will be the only dominant message is over."

And it's not just about economic fairness. As Zachary Roth writes in his MSNBC post "Democrats finally make voting rights a top priority": "...voting rights are likely to be a front-burner issue when Americans go to the polls this fall--at least if Democrats have their way....To voting rights advocates, the new level of engagement from top Democrats, especially Obama himself, is welcome indeed..."Nothing is more important than the American people hearing the president of the United States bringing the full passion and power of his voice and his position to the issue of promoting voting rights and an open democracy for every citizen," said Barbara Arnwine, the president of the National Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law."

At The American Prospect Abby Rapoport writes about a powerful new tool for evaluating election administration, Pew's 2012 Elections Performance Index. Among her observations: "...A quick perusal shows 40 of the 50 states have improved since 2008--wait times are down an average of three minutes and online registration is spreading quickly, with 13 states offering online voter registration during the 2012 election, up from just two in 2008. (Since the election, another five states have started offering it.) Many of the top-performing states in 2008, like North Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Colorado, stayed on top in 2012 while low performers, like Mississippi, Alabama, California, and New York remained at the bottom."

Taegan Goddard's Political Wire is featuring a conversation with Anna Greenberg, who was recently honored as "Democratic Pollster of the Year" by the American Association of Political Consultants. Greenberg shares her thoughts on "three key voting groups -- unmarried women, young voters, and minorities -- who will decide the 2014 midterm elections" right here.

Paul Blumenthal of Moyers & Company outs the lie that wealthy Democrats are spending as much "dark money" as the Koch Brothers on elections. "...Already, Koch-linked dark money groups have spent more than $30 million on ads targeting vulnerable Democratic congressional candidates running in the 2014 midterms...There exists no outside network or organization supporting Democratic Party candidates in elections, while not disclosing its donors, that spends money in comparable amounts."

The title of Michael Tomasky's Daily Beast post says it straight: "You're in Denial if You Think Steve Israel Is Wrong About GOP Racism." For me the most disgusting part of it is the failure of the so-called "respectable" conservative writers to address the issue in any way whatsoever.

For more on this topic, read Christopher Ingraham's Wonkblog article "Data suggest Republicans have a race problem."

From Nathan L. Gonzalez's Rothenblog post "Democratic Senate Prospects and the New Black Voter": "Of the top 14 Senate races, Arkansas is one of seven states where the black population cracks double digits. The other states include Louisiana (32 percent), North Carolina (21 percent), Michigan (14 percent), Virginia (19 percent) and Georgia (30 percent)....In Georgia, Democrats are excited about the long-term demographic trends in the state, but strategists believe there is a short-term opportunity to increase black turnout this year. There are an estimated 375,000 African-American voters who voted in 2012 but not 2010, and 572,000 African-Americans still unregistered. And in Louisiana, where Landrieu is running for re-election, Democrats estimate 185,000 African-Americans voted in 2012 but not 2010, and another 228,000 African-Americans are unregistered."

Democratic candidates and campaign staffers should give Brian Beutler's New Republic article, "Democrats Need to Start Blaming the GOP for the Death of Charlene Dill: How liberals should talk about the Medicaid expansion" a thoughtful read.


April 11, 2014

Is GOP Voter Suppression a Good Campaign Issue for Dems in 2014?



In her Care2.com post "Politicians are Beginning to Realize Voter Suppression is a Bad Idea," Crystal Shepeard notes that more than 1,000 voter suppression bills have been introduced in state legislatures around the country since the year 2000. Nearly all of these bills designed to make it harder to vote have been introduced by Republicans. While most have failed, too many have passed, and "after the Supreme Court gutted the Voter Rights Act of 1965, voter suppression bills surged, leading to some of the most restrictive voter suppression bills to date." However, adds Shepeard,

A new analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law says the trend may be reversing.

In January, Congress introduced a bill to address the issues of the VRA the Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional. This is just one of the many efforts the Brennan Center says that the focus is now on increasing voter access. While the SCOTUS ruling led to (largely) southern states ramping up their voter suppression efforts in 2013, 46 states had introduced legislation to make voting easier that same year. The momentum continues this year with 190 bills expanding voter access introduced in 31 states since the beginning of the year. By comparison, 19 states have introduced 46 voter suppression bills.

While there is often a long path between the introduction of legislation to actual passage, 13 bills making it easier to vote have passed thus far.

We also know that anger over unnecessary long lines at polls in Florida and Ohio caused by Republican sponsored restrictions on early voting, and shrinking poll hours and cutting the number of polling locations in recent elections have angered many voters, including some voters from constituencies which have favored Republicans.

Most voters who are at least moderately well-informed know that the politicized Republican majority on the U.S. Supreme Court has rendered the Voting Rights Act almost unenforceable and has issued decisions facilitating billionaire manipulation of U.S. elections. (interestingly, one CBS News/NYT poll taken in back 2012 found that 60 percent of the public felt that lifetime appointments for Supreme Court justices was "a bad thing.") Public opinion polls on the Holder decision have been somewhat contradictory.

Overall, however, voters have to be more than a little inattentive to be unaware that GOP lawmakers are doing everything they can to manipulate U.S. election law in service Republican candidates.

Democrats, of course, are outraged, and there is some evidence that anger over voter suppression increased African American turnout in 2012. It also seems reasonable to hope that most well-informed political moderates who have a sense of fairness and a patriotic appreciation of the right to vote might also be concerned that the Republicans have gone too far. Here and there, even some Republicans have decided that they can't stomach their party's penchant for abusing election law. Shepeard quotes one Republican Wisconsin state Senator;

...Senator Dale Schultz condemned his party for trying to suppress the vote. "I'm a guy who understands and appreciates what we should be doing in order to make sure every vote counts, every vote is legitimate. But that fact is, it ought to be abundantly clear to everybody in this state that there is no massive voter fraud. The only thing that we do have in this state is we have long lines of people who want to vote. And it seems to me that we should be doing everything we can to make it easier, to help these people get their votes counted."

There have been a few other Republican state officials who have voiced similar concerns, and a couple of them have even quit their party. But they are newsworthy because they are so few. It's increasingly possible, however, that Democrats can gain some ground with swing voters by challenging them to stand up for fairness and integrity in elections, as an inviolate principle of democracy.

In yesterday's Strategy Notes, I flagged several articles about Democratic leaders, including President Obama, beginning to speak out more forcefully about voter suppression. It's not too much of a stretch to guess that Dems' internal polling indicates GOP voter suppression is an issue that can get some traction. So far there have been more than 150 protest demonstrations against the McCutcheon v. FEC decision in 38 states, which is impressive considering the short time that has passed.

In any case, Democrat have little choice but to raise hell about voter suppression, which is becoming the emblematic identifier of the GOP brand. In so doing, Dems just may pick up enough conscientious swing voters to hold the line until 2016.


April 10, 2014

Political Strategy Notes



In his bid to win the governorship of Ohio, Democratic Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald may be creating a potent template for Dems in statewide races. Fitzgerald is getting out front and generating buzz in attacking voter suppression. "He is asking the federal government to investigate efforts by state lawmakers to limit voting this election cycle," reports Samnatha Lachman at HuffPo. ("Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) announced in February that voters won't be able to vote on Sundays before November's general election, while Kasich signed a measure eliminating the so-called "Golden Week" during which voters can both register to vote and cast an early ballot.")

Further evidence that Ohio Dems are getting their act together from MSNBC's Zachary Roth: "The effort to push back against Ohio's new voting restrictions hasn't been limited to Cuyahoga. The state Democratic party is mulling a legal challenge to the early voting cuts. African-American leaders are working to get a "Voters Bill of Rights" on the ballot this fall. And national Democrats are lending key backing to state Sen. Nina Turner, a voting rights champion, as she runs for secretary of state against Husted this fall.

The Big Dog gives Chief Justice Roberts and his fellow vote suppressers on the High Court a proper lashing for their partisan hackery: "Is this what Martin Luther King gave his life for? Is this what Lyndon Johnson employed his legendary skills for? Is this what America has become a great thriving democracy for? To restrict the franchise?..Clinton called the Supreme Court's decision "one of the most radical departures from established legal decision-making in my lifetime," said restrictions on voting rights were "risking the future of this great experiment" and could "put us back in the dustbin of old history," reports Adam Serwer in his post "Clinton slams voting restrictions in civil rights speech" at MSNBC.com.

Sue Sturgis has a by-the-numbers rundown in her "INSTITUTE INDEX: A Supreme Court win for the plutocrats sparks protests" at Facing South, which includes this nugget: "Number of protests against the McCutcheon decision held across the U.S. the same day the Supreme Court handed down its ruling: more than 150"

"Un-American" is the word that best describes GOP voter suppression. As President Obama put it in his speech in Texas: ""The idea that you'd purposely try to prevent people from voting? Un-American. How is it that we're putting up with that? We don't have to." Elsewhere, reports Edward-Isaac Dovere at Politco, "Campaigning in minority communities in Florida, Charlie Crist often reminds people of his decision to extend voting hours in 2008, and contrasts his decision while governor to restore the vote to nonviolent felons to Gov. Rick Scott's reversal to do so. In Wisconsin, Mary Burke is calling a state Legislature plan to cut back early voting "voter suppression."

Democrats have a painful must-read in the AP article titled "How The Republican Party Constructed An Ironclad Advantage In The Midterm Election" at Fox News Latino. The article is not brimming with new revelations, and politically-engaged Democrats will be familiar with most of the content. It's just a well put-together article that nicely encapsulates history and analysis of the Dem's current predicament -- a good one to share with those who are wondering how we got into this mess. It doesn't offer any solutions. But understanding how the knot got tied is helpful for figuring out how to fix it.

At The Atlantic Molly Ball pooh poohs Democratic bragging about an edge in targeting/turnout technology: "In short, claims that one party or the other has built up a tactical advantage based on the latest in campaign science are always to be taken with a grain of salt...Party committees' boasts about their tactical arsenals are probably largely for the benefit of their donors, who must be reassured their money is going somewhere useful. (Why else would they reveal techniques that surely would be all the more effective if they caught opponents unawares?). On the other hand, if a technology edge gives a candidate just 1 percent more, that's often enough to win an election. Worth the effort, if not the brag.

Former DNC Communications Director Bob Neuman's "Advice for Democrats on Winning the Midterm Elections" explains how Dems recovered from Reagan's 1980 landslide: "Despite some misgivings by the more noble of our colleagues, we set out a two-pronged attack, despite our woeful financial situation, and focused on those two issues under the mantel of fairness. We held a "mini issues convention" in Philadelphia that emphasized fairness...It worked. We did very well in the [1982] midterm election. Thanks to a weak economy and a spot-on message, the Democrats picked up 27 House seats, and one in the Senate. By midterm standards, it was an impressive comeback." The political dynamics are not parallel to 2014, but the success of the message theme "fairness" may be instructive.

Alex Roarty's Hotline on Call post "Inside the War to Win over Women" includes this interesting quote from GOP strategist Wes Anderson: "If you're a single woman, the message that Republicans will abandon you has had some effect in the past...There's some resonance there with single parents, especially single moms. They paint that with a thick coat of class warfare to it, and they've had success with that in some places."


April 9, 2014

'Agitation' Needed to Fight the War on Voting Rights



From The Guardian's "How to reverse a supreme court attack on democracy: fight for voting rights: John Roberts' wrecking ball got you mad as hell? Don't take his court's electoral destruction for granted anymore" by Richard L. Hasen, author of The Voting Wars:

The worst thing about the [McCutcheon v. FEC] decision is that there's not much you can do about it, other than fight to uphold what remains of the rules. The only ways to restore the pre-Roberts court campaign finance rules would be for Congress and the states to amend the Constitution (something that's all but impossible in today's partisan environment), or for the supreme court to change its interpretation of the First Amendment (something that would take the retirement of Justice Scalia or Kennedy and their replacement by a Democratic president, which is not impossible but not something to bank on).

A lot more can be done to roll back some of the Roberts court's other unfortunate decisions involving our electoral process. Somehow, the political will just doesn't seem to be there. Many white Americans are exercised about campaign finance but little else. But the American public - all of it - should be just as exercised by the assault on voting rights as it is by the court's new views on money in politics.

Be that as it may, Hasen believes the Shelby County v Holder ruling offers more potential for corrective action:

But the Shelby case did leave open the possibility that Congress could adopt a new coverage formula tied to current conditions. And in the last few months, Sen Patrick Leahy, Rep John Conyers and Rep James Sensenbrenner - a Republican - introduced a new law, the Voting Rights Amendments Act (VRAA). It would impose a new preclearance regime tied to current voting rights violations by the state. States that recently have violated other provisions of the Voting Rights Act can get covered again under the proposed preclearance rules.

The VRAA is far from perfect - and there's a chance the Roberts wrecking crew would take its ball to this new law, too - but the provision is a whole lot better than nothing. It's an improvement on the status quo, where a number of (mostly Republican) states have made it harder to register and vote. Capitol Hill observers believe that the VRAA has an actual chance of making it through the Republican House, if majority leader Eric Cantor decides to support it.

Hasen decries the lack of "agitation" from progressives regarding the Shelby ruling, and adds:

...The voting rights issue seems to have fallen off the radar screen, even though the Roberts court's reasoning in the Shelby County case is just as indefensible as its reasoning in Citizens United and McCutcheon in the campaign finance arena. But this is an area where something can and should be done, despite the Roberts court...If the supreme court won't do its job and actually defend democracy, there should be agitation for Congress to do it.

Hasen is right to wonder where is the outrage regarding the Supreme Court's right-wing majority's shameless assault on voting rights and democracy itself. Ditto for his concluding challenge: "It's about time for Congress to pass some new laws protecting voting rights, and it's high time - right now - for us to dare the supreme court to strike even more of them down."

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has arrived at a moral crossroads which will likely define his legacy in congress as either a profile in courage who stood up for the most sacred of American rights or as just another tea party stooge. By all indications, Dems have no choice other than an all out effort to replace the obstructionists in November.


April 8, 2014

GOP Opposition to Medicaid Expansion Backfiring in Red States



Sally Kohn reports some encouraging news for Dems in her Daily Beast post "New Poll Shows Voters in Red States Want to Expand Medicaid: A core part of Obamacare is popular in states from Kansas to Georgia where Republicans are blocking it. They'll pay come November." Says Kohn:

...Republicans face stiff opposition from voters in states where they blocked Medicaid expansion...According to new polling by Public Policy Poling conducted for MoveOn, in voters support Medicaid expansion in key states by wide margins: 52 to 35 percent in Kansas, 58 to 33 percent in Florida, 59 to 30 percent in Pennsylvania, 54 to 38 percent in Georgia. All are states where Medicaid expansion has been blocked by Republican politicians. In Virginia, where the GOP has also blocked Medicaid expansion, a previous poll found that even a majority of state Republican voters support extending coverage for the state's low-income residents. And other polls show that three-out-of-four Americans nationwide, including a majority of Republicans, support Medicaid expansion.

Kohn reports that tone-deaf, Obama-deranged Republicans are nonetheless "actively, single-handedly blocking health coverage for 5 million Americans in 24 states." The consequences are extremely serious:

...One academic study suggests that of those 5 million, 10,000 Americans will die this year alone due to lack of insurance. The Medicaid expansion is the law of the land, it's already paid for, and 5 million more Americans would be getting coverage if Republican politicians hadn't taken it away because of petty partisanship. Largely because Republicans want to spite President Obama on a key piece of his namesake, thousands of Americans may die.

Kohn cites Obamacare's increasing popularity and continues, "as the law's positive effects continue to spread, running against Obamacare will be increasingly self-destructive. Of course, that won't stop the "kamikaze caucus." Also,

The take-away for voters is clear: Democrats are actively working to provide affordable care and insurance to Americans, while Republicans are actively working to deny coverage to Americans by restricting Medicaid and attacking Obamacare in general. Polls show Republicans are already on the losing side of this issue. As voters hear more and more stories of Americans able to afford a heart transplant or get their cancer detected early thanks to Obamacare, versus stories about rural hospitals closing and Americans not getting care they need because Republicans blocked Medicaid expansion, voters will even more emphatically support the Democrats.

Kohn acknowledges the pundit buzz favoring Republicans and the fact that it's early for Dems to get overly optimistic. But she concludes that, "in terms of Obamacare, the landscape will just keep getting better for Democrats as petty, partisan Republican obstructionists continue to keep hurting themselves--and their poor constituents."

Republican opposition to Medicaid expansion is essentially indefensible and the horror stories resulting from it are mounting almost daily. If Democrats do their job in terms of revealing the effects of the GOP's reckless disregard for the health of Americans and getting the RAE voters cited below to the polls, Dems should be able to hold the Senate and do better than expected in the House, state legislatures and governorships.






Editor's Corner

by Ed Kilgore



April 17: The Real GOP "Civil War"

Every time you turn around, some primary fight or rhetorical tussle involving Republicans is labeled a "civil war," which typically inflates arguments over strategy and tactics into matters of deep principle (and also creates a misleading impression of "moderation" when less extreme strategy and tactics are adopted for the same ideological agenda).

At TPMCafe this week, I continued an ongoing critique of "phony wars" within the GOP, and noted one area where the not-so-friendly-fire is real:

The phony-war dynamics of intra-GOP disputes is apparent just under the surface on a remarkably wide range of topics. "Incrementalists" and "absolutists" on reproductive rights issues may battle over "personhood" initiatives or rape-and-incest exceptions or a general tendency to focus on relatively rare late-term abortions. But they all long for the day when abortion -- broadly defined to include birth control methods they deem "abortifacients" -- is entirely illegal, even if that's via the route of first allowing states to keep abortion legal as it was prior to Roe v. Wade.

Similarly, some Republicans are embarrassed by the more aggressive tactics of gun advocates, such as allowing people to in churches, bars or on college campuses. But that doesn't indicate significant willingness to support efforts to extend or even maintain gun regulation, despite massive public sentiment supporting it.

And to cite just one more example, advocates of radical "tax reform" proposals like the "Fair Tax" or the 9-9-9 scheme Herman Cain made famous may seem to diverge in a big way from Republicans focused on reducing capital gains taxes or the top income tax rate. But they all generally agree on making taxes more regressive and focused on income earned from labor rather than capital, and it's hard to find a GOPer these days who shares Teddy Roosevelt's advocacy of inheritance taxes.

Rare as real "battles of principle" within the GOP generally are, they do exist, though sometimes they are mixed up with strategic and tactical concerns. A significant if shrinking number of Republicans appear to be attached to comprehensive immigration reform as an end in itself, sometimes on libertarian or free-market grounds, sometimes as a matter of ensuring their business community allies and patrons a ready supply of affordable labor. More prominent lately have been strategic/tactical arguments based on fears of a demographic disaster if Republicans continue to alienate Latino voters. But at present, both principled and "pragmatist" advocates of comprehensive reform have been outgunned in the House GOP Caucus. Reform opponents, too, seem divided between principled nativists (or hard-core legalists) and pols just afraid of "base" hostility to amnesty, which may explain the popularity of "enforcement first" or legalization-without-citizenship positions which straddle the usual battle lines.

But if you want to see a real "civil war" work itself out, watch the rapidly developing fight over foreign policy and defense issues, in which Sen. Rand Paul's 2016 presidential aspirations are very likely to be the first major casualty.

Paul has been very crafty in revamping without entirely abandoning his father's non-interventionist foreign policy stance. His first smart step was to display allegiance to Israel, the linchpin of the contemporary conservative global scheme of friends and enemies (he was helped by the turmoil in the Arab world which enabled him to focus on opposition to U.S. assistance to Israel's rivals rather than to Israel itself). But more generally he has framed his critique of American overseas commitments as attacks on Barack Obama's diplomatic and military initiatives, very safe territory But as we learned the last week, Paul is exposed as a heretic whenever his positioning takes him beyond standard GOP Obama-bashing into the past or future.

The 2009 video of Paul suggesting that the 2003 Iraq War was in no small part the product of Dick Cheney's concerns for Halliburton profits didn't just anger hard-core neoconservative defenders of the nobility of that war. It also carried him well beyond the pale of acceptable criticism of GOP foreign policy and of the two-term elected GOP Vice President of the United States.

The backlash against Paul's Iraq comments is well underway, and there's little doubt the intent is to marginalize or even veto him as a viable presidential candidate. This is one civil war that will likely turn into a rout.


April 4: The Severe Hispanic Midterm Falloff Problem

As part of a continuing effort to get Democrats focused on what they can and cannot do to deal with the problem of a midterm voting falloff by pro-Democratic demographic groups, let's look at the particular issue posed by Hispanic voters. Using a new Pew study, here's what I had to say today at Washington Monthly:

In 1986, the percentage of eligible Hispanic voters who turned out was 38%, as opposed to 46% of African-Americans and 51% of whites. By 1994, the gap between Hispanic and white turnout figures had increased to 17% (34% versus 51%), where it has almost exactly remained through 2010 (when Hispanic turnout was down to 31%, while white turnout was just under 49%).

The erosion of Hispanic turnout has been obscured, of course, by the steady growth of the eligible Hispanic voting population.

Now if you ask the average pundit about current or prospective Hispanic turnout problems, he or she will probably start talking about "discouragement' over immigration legislation or conflicts between liberal economic views and conservative cultural views, or even language issues, and so on and so forth. But Pew points out one huge factor you don't hear much about:

The relative youth of the Hispanic electorate has helped drive down the group's overall turnout. In 2010, 31% of Hispanic eligible voters were under 30. By contrast, 19% of white, 26% of black and 21% of Asian eligible voters were under 30.

As noted here recently, under-30 voters are conspicuously and consistently prone to midterm falloff, for reasons that appear to have more to do with life status (particularly high geographical mobility and a generally low level of civil engagement) than with the issue landscape or the standing of this or that president or this or that party. So shouting "messages" at them via network television ads they mostly will not see doesn't seem the most fruitful way to deal with the problem.

There is some potential turnout improvement associated with old-fashioned GOTV efforts enhanced by new technology. Consider this data nugget from Pew:

Nearly twice as many Hispanics as non-voters overall said they forgot to vote, 13.3% to 7.5%.

You have to figure the DSCC's 60-million dollar GOTV initiative this year ought to be able to drive that number down dramatically.


April 2: The Limits and Uses of "Enthusiasm"

In a column for TPMCafe today, I continued to beat the drum for a clearer understanding of the turnout problem faced by Democrats this midterm cycle, and for a more rational assessment of the limits and uses of "base enthusiasm," which some Democrats (and Republicans) often discuss with mystic intensity.

We're at that time of the election cycle when you start hearing a great deal about the relative "enthusiasm" of each major party's "base," with the assumption being this is the key to a robust turnout in November. Do this and don't do that, we are told (especially by conservative Republicans, but increasingly as well by progressive Democrats), or you will dampen base enthusiasm and court disaster.

But there are a couple of problems with this assumption, namely (1) "enthusiasm" does not reward the base voter with additional trips to the ballot box, and (2) there are quite a few factors other than "enthusiasm" that affect turnout rates....

Now a lot of Democratic progressives claim that a party message more focused on the perceived interests or ideological leanings of marginal voters (i.e., a "populist" message) will produce much higher turnout. That's based on the assumption that non-voting is mainly attributable to "voter discouragement," rather than to longstanding demographic patterns of participation. It's fair to wonder if those making this claim are projecting their own attitudes onto marginal voters, and/or simply prefer a different message (an entirely legitimate desire, but not one inherently relevant to turnout).

But in any event, there's plenty of evidence that turnout can be more reliably affected by direct efforts to identify favorable concentrations of voters and simply get them to the polls, with or without a great deal of "messaging" or for that matter enthusiasm (no one takes your temperature before you cast a ballot). Such get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts are the meat-and-potatoes of American politics, even if they invariably get little attention from horse-race pundits. Neighborhood-intensive "knock-and-drag" GOTV campaigns used to be a Democratic speciality thanks to the superior concentration of Democratic (especially minority) voters, though geographical polarization has created more and more equally ripe Republican areas.

In recent years, however, technology has made it increasingly feasible to use voter-to-voter contacts to expand and intensify marginal-voter outreach (pioneered by the Bush re-election campaign in 2004, which used email chains and informal civic connections to conduct "under the radar" GOTV efforts, and then raised to another level via social media by the Obama re-election campaign of 2012). And that's where "enthusiasm" really might play a role. Perhaps highly "energized" base voters don't get a personal ballot bonus. But if they are motivated to contact those who otherwise might not vote at all, their "enthusiasm" can be usefully harvested.

While there is nothing wrong with "enthusiasm," a message-driven hyper-polarized approach to GOTV can sometimes help the other side increase its own "enthusiasm." Better to chose the message most in accord with the party's policy goals and enjoying the most public support, and use "enthusiasm" in synch with investments in technology to reach and get to the polls as many voters as possible.


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