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The Daily Strategist

October 20, 2014

Political Strategy Notes



At VOXXI Tony Castro explains "The midterm paradox of the US Latino vote," noting a new Pew Research study which finds that "It comes as a disappointing paradox that though a record 25.2 million Latinos are eligible to vote in these midterm elections -- comprising 10.7 percent of eligible voters nationwide -- they only make up a small share of voters in the many states with close Senate and gubernatorial races this year...Specifically, in the eight states with the closest Senate races, just 5 percent of eligible voters on average are Latinos and average substantially under half of the national average."

With respect to the TX governor's race, however, Wendy Davis's campaign is betting substantial resources on turning out the Latino vote, reports Gromer Jeffers, Jr. at the Dallas News. Davis describes "her voter turnout program as the "most significant field operation that state has ever seen."

E. J. Dionne, Jr.'s column on "The Blue Collar Imperative" notes "The elections in Georgia and Kentucky are different in important ways, but one lesson from both is that Democrats can't win without a sufficient share of the white working-class vote." Despite oft-cited concerns about racial resentments among white workers, "race is not the only thing going on. Andrew Levison, the author of "The White Working Class Today," says it's important to distinguish between racial feelings today and those of a half-century ago. "It's not 1950s racism...It's more a sense of aggrievement -- that Democrats care about other groups but not about the white working class." Dionne adds "younger members of the white working class are more culturally liberal than their elders. They are also more open to a stronger government role in the economy, as Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin of the Center for American Progress have shown." Further, "Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, says this points the way toward arguments that progressives need to make in the future: "We have to expose the unholy alliance between money and politics," she says. "Concern about inequality is unifying, it's cross-partisan, and it's not ideological."

The Wall St. Journal's Janet Hook and Patrick O'Connor discuss the "Democrats' New Senate Move: Backing Long-Shot Candidates."

"On Friday, two Democrats running in key Senate races called for a temporary travel ban from countries battling Ebola: Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and Georgia's Michelle Nunn," reports Sean Sullivan at Post Politics. Furher, "A Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that shows 67 percent of Americans would support restricting entry to the United States from countries fighting dealing with an Ebola crisis."

In the CA state legislature, "Democrats' hope of Senate supermajority could rest with 2 districts," according to Patrick McGreevy's L.A. Times post.

At The New Yorker Jelani Cobb's "Voting by Numbers" shares some interesting data, including that "black women had the highest voter turnout of any segment in the country in 2008 and 2012" and "A Gallup poll conducted in July found that sixty-three per cent of respondents believed that we would be better off with more women in elected office. (The partisan divide on the question was noteworthy: seventy-five per cent of Democrats agreed with the sentiment; forty-six per cent of Republicans did.)"

In his post, "Dems Take Comfort from Early Voting Numbers," The Plum Line's Greg Sargent offers some encouraging data for Democrats re the IA Senate race: "The DSCC says that...over 170,000 Iowans have already voted in 2014, a 63 percent increase over 2010...A DSCC official emails: 'Among those ballots cast, nearly 7,000 more registered Democrats have voted than registered Republicans. Our models show that Bruce Braley has a lead of over 15,000 votes among those who have already voted, thanks to a 25-point lead among the unaffiliated voters who have already voted...The recent Des Moines Register poll also showed Braley leading among early voters. But here's the key nuance. The DSCC official says its model shows Dems are bringing in significantly more non-2010 voters than Republicans."

From Stephanie Simon's Politico post "GOP Schooled on Education Politics": "Accusing Republicans of cutting programs for students while giving tax breaks to the rich motivates diffident voters more than similarly partisan messages on reproductive rights, the economy or health care, veteran Democratic political strategist Celinda Lake found in a series of focus groups and polls...Lake's research, commissioned by MoveOn.org, included a survey of 1,000 Democratic voters who said they weren't sure they'd bother to vote in the key states of North Carolina, Michigan, Kentucky, Colorado and Iowa. Coupling the education theme with talk about the middle class falling behind was "nearly a slam dunk with these targets," Lake wrote...Democratic strategists James Carville and Stan Greenberg came to a similar conclusion after polling 2,200 likely voters in battleground states. They found that unmarried women in North Carolina and Georgia were particularly swayed by messages about expanding access to early childhood education. In Iowa and Colorado, affordable college loans hit the mark. Combining those issues with an appeal to raise the minimum wage, they wrote, creates a "powerful, populist opportunity to shift the vote."


October 17, 2014

Why "Personhood" Matters



There's been quite a bit of discussion during this midterm cycle about the "Personhood" movement and its efforts (via ballot initiatives and proposed federal and state constitutional amendments and statutes) to give zygotes the full rights of citizenship, in order to infallibly protect them from destruction via abortions, IV fertilization, or certain kinds of birth control.

But "Personhood" has become a real problem from pols who embraced that radical Cause and are now getting heat for it, including most notably 2014 Senate candidates Cory Gardner, Joni Ernst and Thom Tillis. So they're distancing themselves from it, and even trying to depict themselves as "moderates" on reproductive rights issues because they don't really share the Personhood movement's most radical tenets. But it won't go away that easily, as I discussed at Washington Monthly today:

In a fascinating look at the Colorado-based Personhood USA organization, Irin Carmon explains why this fring-y cause is getting so much attention this year, and why it's deplored by both GOPers and "mainstream" antichoice groups. The bottom line is that its efforts are blowing the cover of a GOP/RTL strategy to incrementally ban abortions (and eventually "abortifacient" birth control methods) by focusing on controversial late-term abortions and such deceptive practices as the increasingly popular "medical conditions" restrictions that are shutting down clinics in a host of states. The Personhood folk hate the indirect strategy, and want to hold everyone's feet to the fire to make sure they will embrace the least as well as the most popular antichoice measures.
What Personhood USA wants is culture change. Specifically, they want a culture where fertilized eggs are paramount, without exceptions, and anyone who stands in their way - including the woman carrying an embryo or fetus - is subject to the criminal code.

They aren't there yet, but they're getting closer. "Being around for six years," [Personhood USA communications director Jennifer] Mason said, "we've changed the way the country talks about abortion."

She's right. Candidates who call themselves pro-life are being called out by parts of their base for not going far enough - far enough being Personhood. Evangelical Protestants being drawn into the previously Catholic terrain of the contraception wars are working from the Personhood playbook, and growing its coalition. The Supreme Court decision in Hobby Lobby, which refused to question Personhood's unscientific claims in allowing religious owners of companies to opt out of covering contraception for their employees, was the biggest public relations coup yet for Personhood's worldview.

Even Republicans who have at one point embraced Personhood and are now denying or deflecting their stances - as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Iowa Republican Senatorial candidate Joni Ernst have -are still operating on Personhood's terrain.

Here's the key thing to understand:

Nor is Mason bothered by the sometimes fierce battles fought among anti-abortion factions on how Personhood is spoiling everything. "It's important to note that they do agree on the goals," she said of her fellow abortion opponents. "In fact, even before we got involved, Personhood has long been considered the end game for the pro-life movement." She's right about that too.

As is the case with a lot of arguments within the GOP and the conservative movement these days, regular old antichoice pols and the Personhood folk agree on principles and goals but differ on strategy and tactics. If they could run the country, they'd run it the same way, with no abortions legal anywhere and with IUDs and Plan B contraception either banned or under a legal cloud.

So the "Personhood" debate is a useful optic for understanding the relationship of the GOP with extremist groups, and why Republican claims of "moderation" are so often exaggerated at best and plainly deceptive at worst.


Creamer: GOP Fear-Mongering In Overdrive, Despite Record of Inaction, Obstruction



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

They're back. Like the fourth sequel to a bad horror movie, the Republican Right has once again chosen to embrace its long ignoble, hypocritical tradition of pandering to -- and stoking -- fear.

As the election nears, their ads are filled with images of ISIL terrorists, Ebola viruses, Secret Service breaches, and "porous" borders through which knife-wielding Muslim extremists are surely infiltrating every corner of our society.

It's not just disgusting. It's also hypocritical. The fact is that the Republicans have an abysmal record when it comes to defending the security of ordinary Americans.

Last week, the New York Times reported that:

Darkness is enveloping Americans politics.
With four weeks to go before the midterm elections, Republicans have made questions of how safe we are -- from disease, terrorism or something unspoken and perhaps more ominous -- central in their attacks against Democrats. Their message is decidedly grim: President Obama and the Democratic Party run a government that is so fundamentally broken it cannot offer its people the most basic protection from harm.
But this is nothing new. Right-wing demagogues have perfected their techniques for appealing to our darkest fears for decades. It's embedded in their DNA.

Who can forget Senator Joe McCarthy in the 1950's who fomented the "red scare" and claimed to "have in his hand a list of Communists" who had infiltrated the government -- of General Dwight Eisenhower. McCarthy and his followers cowed many in politics, government, and entertainment with charges that they were "un-American" for years before his tactics so sickened the country that the term "McCarthyism" is now used to denote " the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence".

Then there was Sarah Palin, who fabricated the fictitious "death panels" of the Affordable Care Act.

Even the genial George H.W. Bush won election by stooping to the racist demagoguery of the infamous "Willie Horton" commercial.

Last summer, you would have thought that there was an enemy army at our southern border -- not 10-year-old refugees from violence in Central America.

And earlier this month, Congressman Duncan Hunter "revealed" that his secret sources had tipped him off that ten ISIL terrorists had been apprehended at the border trying to infiltrate the United States. Turns out that, according to the Department of Homeland Security and Border Patrol, Hunter's charge was sheer fabrication based on no evidence whatsoever.

But the thing that really makes this kind of fear mongering so outrageous is the fact that Republicans themselves have such a horrific record keeping Americans safe and secure.

Let us recall that the worst attack on our homeland in American history -- 9/11 -- occurred after the Bush administration had ignored warnings that Osama Bin Laden was planning an attack. That attack did not happen under Bill Clinton or Barack Obama -- it happened under Mr. "War on Terror" George W. Bush.

And let's also recall that for all his bravado following the attack, the Bush administration failed to apprehend Osama Ben Laden. Barack Obama did.

Of course it was the Bush administration that kicked over the sectarian hornet's nest in Iraq in the first place, with a completely unnecessary war that was bungled so badly that it created a Sunni power vacuum and created the conditions for the development of ISIL.

And the Iraq War was, itself, the product of precisely the same kind of Republican fear mongering we see today. It was, after all, Saddam Hussein's non-existent nuclear program that the war was ostensibly launched to destroy.

Remember Condoleezza Rice's famous line: "But we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud"?

Republican advertisements try to sow insecurity with their disturbing images of Ebola viruses and the fear of an American epidemic. But they don't mention that it was the GOP that has slashed funding for the Centers for Disease Control -- the first line of defense against Ebola and other viral threats to the United States.

And in real dollars, Republican budget cutting has also slashed the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by 23 percent over the last decade. In fact the NIH Director, Dr. Francis Collins says that if the agency had not gone through a 10-year slide in research support a vaccine for Ebola would be ready today.

The GOP has made much of recent Secret Service security breaches at the White House -- without ever noting that their sequester has starved the Secret Service of needed personnel.

The most disgusting GOP ads this cycle are probably the ones that whip up fear of immigrants flooding into America and bringing with them diseases and embedded ISIL terrorists. These amazing ads take all of the ingredients of Republican fear mongering and conflate them into an inflammatory cocktail of fictitious boogeymen. They are all aimed at playing upon the legitimate economic anxiety of ordinary Americans and convincing them that Barack Obama and his Democratic allies are endangering their safety and security.

And, of course, they completely ignore that by every measure the borders of the United States are massively more secure today than they were during the Bush administration.

If you broaden the lens to focus on that underlying economic insecurity, the Republican record gets even worse. It was Republican George W. Bush whose economic policies led to the most catastrophic meltdown of the economy in half a century. When Barack Obama became president the economy was bleeding 800,000 jobs a month. Obama's stimulus policies, on the other hand, have led to the longest sustained period of private sector jobs growth (55 months) in modern history.

Most middle class Americans -- and those aspiring to be middle class -- wouldn't have a clue from their personal lives that America is in fact wealthier per person today than at any other time in history. That's because those Republican economic and tax policies allowed the top 1 percent of CEOs and Wall Street bankers to siphon off virtually all of the economic growth America has experienced over the last 30 years and left the middle class with stagnating incomes.

The GOP has consistently opposed changing the Bush era tax policies that greatly contributed to the ever-greater concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. And they have fought tooth and nail to stop popular Democratic proposals that would improve the economic security of the middle class and prevent the continued concentration of wealth -- like raising the minimum wage, equal pay for women, continued unemployment benefits, asking the wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes, and lightening the burden of student loans.

Then there's retirement security. The Republicans failed plan to privatize Social Security would have eliminated the Social Security guarantee and forced middle class families to rely on the ups and downs of the stock market for their retirement prospects. If your idea of retirement security is a Las Vegas roulette wheel, the GOP is the party for you.

And now they have tried the same thing with Medicare -- with a wildly unpopular plan to replace the Medicare guarantee with vouchers for private insurance that would raise out of pocket costs for seniors by several thousand dollars a year. And the Republicans say they are concerned with our "security"?

Let's not forget Republican fear mongering about the budget deficit. Throughout the Obama presidency, GOP-Tea Party politicians have inveighed against an "exploding deficit" that would surely turn America into an economic basket case. America will go the way of Greece, they claimed.

All of this deficit handwringing has been intended to promote austerity policies intended to allow them to shrink government down so it can be "drowned in a bathtub." Never mind that those austerity policies have been a disaster in Europe where they have actually been tried.

But once again the GOP has not stopped at fear-mongering. Its deficit hypocrisy has been nothing short of breathtaking. The truth of the matter is that it was the Bush-Cheney regime that left the nation with ballooning deficits as a result of their tax cuts for the rich and spending on the Iraq War. During the Bush years, Cheney was quoted as saying "deficits don't matter." So it shouldn't surprise anyone that as they left office the federal deficit hit a whopping 9.8 percent of Gross Domestic Product.

And, the Obama stimulus policies that Republicans claimed would explode the deficit have actually shrunk the deficit by over half. It is now anticipated to be only 2.8 percent of GDP in 2014 -- lower than its average for the last 40 years of 3.1 percent.

It's no surprise given this record that the GOP has resorted to fear mongering and demagoguery so often in its history. When you really just represent the interests of the top one or two percent of the population -- of the Corporate CEO's and Wall Street Bankers -- it's hard to convince ordinary Americans that they should entrust you with the leadership of their country unless you can distract them with fear. The GOP offers fear because it cannot offer hope.

Republicans have a horrible record of securing the nation against physical danger and against economic disaster, so to compensate they bluster on and on about the "security and safety" of the American people.

They're like the sanctimonious televangelist who rails on and on against fornication and ends up getting caught in bed with an underage hooker.

And in the end, history will deal with the demagoguery of Right Wing Republicans like Ted Cruz the same way it dealt with demagoguery of Joe McCarthy. If he's "lucky" maybe future generations will even label all acts of demagogic, hypocritical fear mongering as "Cruzism."


October 16, 2014

Political Strategy Notes



Josh Kraushaar has a clue for Dems, particularly Michelle Nunn in GA in his National Journal post, "The Democrats' Most Effective Midterm Message: Outsourcing: Taking a page from Obama's 2012 playbook, Democrats have found a winning message in a dismal political environment." But it's not only Georgia; Kraushaar notes that the issue has traction in IL, MN, CT, MA, or pretty much any electorate with substantial numbers of "blue- and gray-collar voters that aren't that enthused about shiny young capitalists."

Luke Brinker presents compelling evidence at Salon.com for "How the minimum wage could tip key midterm races."

At NBC News.com Mark Murray writes of the GOP lead in a new national bipartisan NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll: "Their edge over Democrats (two points among likely voters) is narrower than it was at this same point in 2010 (seven points), suggesting the GOP won't see the wave-like gains it made in the last midterm cycle." Republican Bill Mc Iturff notes, "When you are sitting on top of an unstable electorate, there is a joker in the deck." Murray notes further, "And in perhaps the best news of all for Democrats...they're leading Republicans in congressional preference among registered voters in the top-11 Senate races, 47 percent to 42 percent. That's a reversal from a month ago, when Republicans held a 10-point lead in the top Senate races."

Crystal Ball's Sean Trende observes, "To predict Democrats retaining Senate control, you basically have to bet on (a) Democrats sweeping South Dakota, Iowa, Colorado, and North Carolina; (b) picking off enough Republican seats in very red states like Kentucky, Kansas, or Georgia to offset any losses in (a) or; (c) systemic polling failure. You can make a plausible case for each of those scenarios, with (b) probably being the most likely. Regardless, given the current state of polling and knowing how races have behaved over the past few cycles, those really do appear to be the options left for Democrats."

At Post Politics Sean Sullivan explains "Why Georgia looks more promising than Kentucky for Senate Democrats."

Talking Points Memo's Dylan Scott explores "The Strategy Dems Are Betting Will Save Mark Udall -- And The Senate":...Focus on two core Democratic constituencies -- women and Hispanics -- and an unprecedented, data-driven get-out-the-vote effort...The methods have evolved -- better software this time, an all mail-in ballot election -- but the foundation remains the same, Paul Dunn, DSCC's national field director, told TPM in a phone interview." Scott notes that Udall's campaign supposes "Bennet's operation in key categories: 25 field offices in 2014, versus 15 in 2010; 100 field organizers versus 40; and 3,200 volunteers in the last month versus less than 1,000."

Marquette law School poll has stat tie in Governor's race, with Republican Scott Walker trending down.

At Time Politics Jay Newton-Small notes an encouraging trend, "Midterm Elections See Surge in Tough-to-Lure Candidates: Young Moms." Newton-Small notes, "On average, women enter politics four years later--at the age of 51 versus 47--than men, according for Rutgers University's Center for American Women in Politics. But not so this cycle: A remarkable number of young mothers are running for Congress."

Timothy Cama reports at The Hill that "Six organizations are teaming up to visit college campuses and encourage young people to vote in the name of environmental protection....The groups, led by the Environmental Defense Fund's (EDF) Defend Our Future campaign, are backing a Campus Consciousness Tour in eight college towns."


October 15, 2014

Polls Wrong? Hard To Say Whether or How



So we're now down to the lick-log in the midterm elections, and some observers are spinning the latest polls to predict Total Victory for The Team, and some are arguing the polls are wrong. Nate Silver comes along at FiveThirtyEight to provide an empirical take on whether and how the polls may be wrong, and I distilled his wisdom at Washington Monthly:

Nate Silver has one of those posts today at FiveThirtyEight you feel like you should memorize, since it covers a lot of the misunderstandings and arguments left in this midterm election cycle.

First he takes on this year's version of the "skewed polls" controversy of 2012, and reminds us that as it turned out the 2012 polls were generally off--but in favor of Republicans.

It's a bit of a shock to read Nate's data and realize that Senate polling averages in the last three weeks of the campaign have been off by more than 3% four times since 1990: twice showing "bias" towards Democrats (1994 and 2002) and twice towards Republicans (1998 and 2012). Bottom line:

On average since 1990, the average bias has been just 0.4 percentage points (in the direction of Republicans), and the median bias has been exactly zero.

Not much predictive value there.

How about turnout? Could the polls be missing the hidden effect of, say, the Brannock Street Project? Maybe, but they're already showing a narrowed gap between registered and likely voters, a good sign for Democrats:

[T]he pollsters, at least as a group, are not expecting the sort of turnout gap they did in 2010. That year, the average poll had Republicans doing about 6 percentage points better among likely voters than among registered voters -- a historically large difference. The average poll we've tracked this year has shown about a 3-point gap (favoring Republicans) instead -- in line with the historical average in midterm years.

And remember, the question is not which party has the stronger ground game, but whether a stronger ground game will lead to benefits that aren't reflected in the polls.

In passing, Nate also reminds us of election theories you still hear but that have been largely discredited: the Incumbent Rule (undecideds break towards challengers); the Bradley Effect (polls overestimate the vote of African-American candidates); and the Generic Ballot Tilt (the generic congressional ballot has a built-in Democratic bias).

The bottom line is that past experience doesn't tell us much about the likely accuracy or inaccuracy of polls this year. What we do know is that the landscape, particularly for the Senate, is skewed heavily in favor of the GOP, and that Democrats are fighting impressively to overcome a lot of built-in obstacles. How much they need to overcome and whether they succeed is something we won't know until November 4.


SD's Rick Weiland Starts Populist Prairie Fire -- with Song



Like what you hear and see? Here's Rick Weiland's ActBlue page.


A Realistic Look at Consequences of a GOP Senate Takeover



We're starting to see more warnings in various media about the likely consequences of Republicans winning majority control of the U.S. Senate on November 4. It's not a pretty picture, as a couple of posts TDS has noted (here and here) explain. This Baltimore Sun editorial also does a good job of laying out what it would likely mean:

...It would be a mistake to assume that a Republican-held Senate would not be able to assert its will on public policy in a meaningful way. It might not be able to pass game-changing legislation high on the GOP wish list -- a complete dismantling of the Affordable Care Act, for instance -- but it might be able to nibble at the edges or put vulnerable Democrats on the spot. In the case of Obamacare, the targets are clear -- go after the tax on medical devices, the employer mandate or other unpopular elements in the program. The strategy would be to weaken Obamacare, put it deeply in the red or make it so dysfunctional that eventually a repeal would seem like an act of euthanasia.

And it doesn't stop there. There are a number of controversial policies that have been bottled up in the Senate by Majority Leader Harry Reid that would suddenly come to the fore. Expect a lot of attacks on the regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency and its Clean Air Act-related rules that seek to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and on Dodd-Frank restrictions that the Wall Street crowd really despises like executive pay disclosures and the Volcker Rule, which prohibits banks from certain speculative investments...

Think House investigations into the Obama administration have been endless? A GOP Senate would almost certainly join the fray and likely put 2016 Democratic presidential front runner Hillary Clinton in its sights. Political confrontations don't require 60 votes, just a hearing room and a lot of network cameras. Benghazi and "Fast and Furious" will only be an appetizer...

...Meanwhile, you can be assured that President Obama can forget about meaningful appointments, particularly on the federal bench. Even as a political minority and despite changes in Senate rules, the GOP had succeeded in stalling judicial appointments; now, the wait will be endless -- or at least for the remainder of the term.

Republicans will also be able to make inroads in the budget -- or at least in the spending bills that take the place of an actual budget -- to shape government policy, de-funding Obama initiatives they don't like much. Legislation will also be offered to score political points (a practice both parties embrace) with an eye toward 2016. But instead of green energy initiatives or immigration reform, as the Democrats pushed, it will now be approval of the Keystone Pipeline or the rejection of curbs on NSA spying or refusing to shut down Guantanamo Bay.

It is a sobering assessment, and it would be good if swing voters would do some serious thinking about it, beyond simply making their choices based on particular candidates in individual races. Party is important, which is something that often gets obscured in the voting booth. Unfortunately, many Americans quickly dismiss party support with assertions along the lines of "I vote the candidate, not the party," as if they were boldly affirming their individuality.

In reality, however, such voters are merely affirming a shallow understanding of the consequences of political parties in the U.S. They are over-trusting in false equivalence memes about there being no difference between the parties and ignoring the reality that the majority party sets the agenda and runs the committees.

The Sun editorial and similar posts which have recently been published are good antidotes for those who get their political information from print media and the internet. But television still rules with too many voters, so it would be good if more major TV news shows would step up and show the American people why a Republican takeover of congress would further institutionalize gridlock --- and worse.


October 14, 2014

Kos says: "We're building a small-dollar people-powered party"



From Kos:

This is a good thing:

Democratic candidates for Congress are crushing their Republican counterparts in small-dollar donations--outraising their GOP foes by an average of more than $100,000 per candidate in the nation's top races.

That's the finding of a new National Journal analysis of federal records in the most competitive House contests in the country. In those, the average Democrat has collected $179,300 in donations under $200; the average Republican has brought in only $78,535.

"That," said Vincent Harris, a Republican digital strategist, "is a big deal."

It has been widely reported that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has lapped the National Republican Congressional Committee when it comes to small donations. The DCCC has outraised the NRCC by more than $41 million in donations under $200 this cycle, much of it collected online.

I know many of you are frustrated at the amount of email fundraising pitches you're getting, but THAT'S the reason you are--they work, and they are helping power Democrats past their Republican opponents.

Republicans WISH they could get this kind of popular support, but they're left begging Sheldon Adelson for another $10 million check. Ours is a people-powered party, theirs is a billionaire-powered one.

And who owns a party? Those who fund it. The more dependent on small-dollar contributions the Democrats become, the more beholden they are to its grassroots. It's a win-win. We are the majority, and we know better how to win our hearts and minds than the Third Way jokers still holding too much sway.

That's why it's important that everyone who hasn't given this cycle check out this page and find at least one candidate to give $3. At least one.


October 13, 2014

Political Strategy Notes



Dan Balz's "A consumer's guide to the final weeks of Campaign 2014" at The Washington Post provides a sort of drive-by tour of where things stand in the battle for control of the U.S. Senate. He cites polls and forecasts indicating a Republican edge, but neglects to address Sam Wang's prediction that Dems will hold the Senate, despite Wang's impressive track record.

Michael P. McDonald reports "robust" early voting in states with competitive races thus far -- and it's just gutting started.

"...One of the most fascinating numbers from Elect Project's excellent round-up of early voting is this: 34.5 percent of Georgians who requested a mail ballot this year did not vote in 2010," reports Jef Singer in a Daily Kos e-blast..

In "Cassidy's Count," at The New Yorker John Cassidy has one-paragraph updates on 10 key senate races.

At MSNBC.com Benjy Sarlin concludes, " It doesn't look like a Republican wave in which a national tide boosts candidates around the country - some races have moved in the GOP's direction in recent weeks, others the opposite way. On the other hand, almost all the top tier races are currently either tossups or not much better for either side."

For more on an issue Dems might be able to leverage, read "Ebola Vaccine Would Likely Have Been Found By Now If Not For Budget Cuts: NIH Director" by Sam Stein at HuffPo.

And a new poll conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner for RespectAbility indicates that LVs and swing voters in battleground states strongly favor more federal and state support for employment of Americans with disabilities. "Said Stan Greenberg, PhD, "Issues of employment among people with disabilities can affect outcomes in competitive races for Senate and Governor. This community is far bigger than many people realize, including people in my profession."

At The New Republic, Rebecca Leber, Naomi Shavin, and Elaine Teng have a warning: "What the Next Two Awful Years Will Look Like: The five things to fear about a Republican Congress." Their concerns include: The Gutting of Dodd-Frank; A Keystone Showdown--And Possible Shutdown; The Continuance of NSA Snooping; Strategic Slashes to Obamacare; and Confirmation Chaos.

And if that doesn't wake up your friends who are considering whether or not to vote:


October 11, 2014

Krugman's Case for Obama



Paul Krugman's "In Defense of Obama" at Rolling Stone is getting lots of deserved buzz. Krugman, who was initially skeptical about his policies, now sees an impressive record of accomplishments, despite unprecedented opposition.

...Obama faces trash talk left, right and center - literally - and doesn't deserve it. Despite bitter opposition, despite having come close to self-inflicted disaster, Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history. His health reform is imperfect but still a huge step forward - and it's working better than anyone expected. Financial reform fell far short of what should have happened, but it's much more effective than you'd think. Economic management has been half-crippled by Republican obstruction, but has nonetheless been much better than in other advanced countries. And environmental policy is starting to look like it could be a major legacy.

Krugman shrugs off the right-wing opposition Obama has faced as irrational partisanship appropriately enough, and then addresses the criticism from the left:

There's a different story on the left, where you now find a significant number of critics decrying Obama as, to quote Cornel West, someone who ''posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit.'' They're outraged that Wall Street hasn't been punished, that income inequality remains so high, that ''neoliberal'' economic policies are still in place. All of this seems to rest on the belief that if only Obama had put his eloquence behind a radical economic agenda, he could somehow have gotten that agenda past all the political barriers that have con- strained even his much more modest efforts. It's hard to take such claims seriously.

Krugman gives MSM pundits a proper thrashing for mindlessly parroting every report citing the President's "low approval ratings," as if it were holy writ. Further, he adds,

...In a year when Republicans have a huge structural advantage - Democrats are defending a disproportionate number of Senate seats in deep-red states - most analyses suggest that control of the Senate is in doubt, with Democrats doing considerably better than they were supposed to. This isn't what you'd expect to see if a failing president were dragging his party down.

Then he provides the reality check about the polls which seems beyond the ken of most pundits: "More important, however, polls - or even elections - are not the measure of a president. High office shouldn't be about putting points on the electoral scoreboard, it should be about changing the country for the better. Has Obama done that? Do his achievements look likely to endure? The answer to both questions is yes."

He offers some facts to buttress the claim, regarding the Affordable Care Act:

...Multiple independent surveys show a sharp drop in the number of Americans without health insurance, probably around 10 million, a number certain to grow greatly over the next two years as more people realize that the program is available and penalties for failure to sign up increase.

...Obamacare means a huge improvement in the quality of life for tens of millions of Americans - not just better care, but greater financial security. And even those who were already insured have gained both security and freedom, because they now have a guarantee of coverage if they lose or change jobs.

What about the costs? Here, too, the news is better than anyone expected. In 2014, premiums on the insurance policies offered through the Obamacare exchanges were well below those originally projected by the Congressional Budget Office, and the available data indicates a mix of modest increases and actual reductions for 2015 - which is very good in a sector where premiums normally increase five percent or more each year. More broadly, overall health spending has slowed substantially, with the cost-control features of the ACA probably deserving some of the credit.

In sum, "In other words, health reform is looking like a major policy success story. It's a program that is coming in ahead of schedule - and below budget - costing less, and doing more to reduce overall health costs than even its supporters predicted... with the basic guarantee of adequate coverage not only intact but widened to include Americans of all ages."

As for the political consequences of Obamacare, Krugman nails the new reality that has pissed off Republicans beyond measure:

And this big improvement in American society is almost surely here to stay. The conservative health care nightmare - the one that led Republicans to go all-out against Bill Clinton's health plans in 1993 and Obamacare more recently - is that once health care for everyone, or almost everyone, has been put in place, it will be very hard to undo, because too many voters would have a stake in the system. That's exactly what is happening. Republicans are still going through the motions of attacking Obamacare, but the passion is gone. They're even offering mealymouthed assurances that people won't lose their new benefits. By the time Obama leaves office, there will be tens of millions of Americans who have benefited directly from health reform - and that will make it almost impossible to reverse. Health reform has made America a different, better place.

Krugman relates his initial disappointment with Obama's financial reforms, but concedes:

It's easy, however, to take this disappointment too far. You often hear Dodd- Frank, the financial-reform bill that Obama signed into law in 2010, dismissed as toothless and meaningless. It isn't. It may not prevent the next financial crisis, but there's a good chance that it will at least make future crises less severe and easier to deal with.

...Unemployment in America rose to a horrifying 10 percent in 2009, but it has come down sharply in the past few years. It's true that some of the apparent improvement probably reflects discouraged workers dropping out, but there has been substantial real progress. Meanwhile, Europe has had barely any job recovery at all, and unemployment is still in double digits. Compared with our counterparts across the Atlantic, we haven't done too badly.

Did Obama's policies contribute to this less-awful performance? Yes, without question. You'd never know it listening to the talking heads, but there's overwhelming consensus among economists that the Obama stimulus plan helped mitigate the worst of the slump. For example, when a panel of economic experts was asked whether the U.S. unemployment rate was lower at the end of 2010 than it would have been without the stimulus, 82 percent said yes, only two percent said no.

...Obama has done more to limit inequality than he gets credit for. The rich are paying higher taxes, thanks to the partial expiration of the Bush tax cuts and the special taxes on high incomes that help pay for Obamacare; the Congressional Budget Office estimates the average tax rate of the top one percent at 33.6 percent in 2013, up from 28.1 percent in 2008. Meanwhile, the financial aid in Obamacare - expanded Medicaid, subsidies to help lower-income households pay insurance premiums - goes disproportionately to less-well-off Americans. When conservatives accuse Obama of redistributing income, they're not completely wrong - and liberals should give him credit.

Krugman goes on to credit Obama with groundbreaking leadership in fostering environmental reforms, via executive order -- with no good faith compromise provided by GOP members of congress. Renewable energy, fuel efficiency standards, efforts to reducing greenhouse gas emissions have all improved under President Obama, despite Republican roadblocks at every intersection.

With respect to national security concerns, Krugman cites "a huge improvement over what came before and what we would have had if John McCain or Mitt Romney had won. It's hard to get excited about a policy of not going to war gratuitously, but it's a big deal compared with the alternative." In terms of social issues, like women's rights and same-sex marriage, "We have, in a remarkably short stretch of time, become a notably more tolerant, open-minded nation" under the Obama Administration.

Despite the disappointments of the last six years, concludes Krugman, "This is what a successful presidency looks like. No president gets to do everything his supporters expected him to...I don't care about the fact that Obama hasn't lived up to the golden dreams of 2008, and I care even less about his approval rating. I do care that he has, when all is said and done, achieved a lot."

Krugman has made a strong case, not only for Obama's record, but also for voting against Republicans, who have tried to block his every initiative. His argument should appeal to persuadable voters among his Rolling Stone readers who may have been sitting on the fence. But the last thought they should consider on the morning of November 4 is that not voting is, in reality, a vote to affirm Republican obstruction indefinitely.






Editor's Corner

by Ed Kilgore



October 17: Why "Personhood" Matters

There's been quite a bit of discussion during this midterm cycle about the "Personhood" movement and its efforts (via ballot initiatives and proposed federal and state constitutional amendments and statutes) to give zygotes the full rights of citizenship, in order to infallibly protect them from destruction via abortions, IV fertilization, or certain kinds of birth control.

But "Personhood" has become a real problem from pols who embraced that radical Cause and are now getting heat for it, including most notably 2014 Senate candidates Cory Gardner, Joni Ernst and Thom Tillis. So they're distancing themselves from it, and even trying to depict themselves as "moderates" on reproductive rights issues because they don't really share the Personhood movement's most radical tenets. But it won't go away that easily, as I discussed at Washington Monthly today:

In a fascinating look at the Colorado-based Personhood USA organization, Irin Carmon explains why this fring-y cause is getting so much attention this year, and why it's deplored by both GOPers and "mainstream" antichoice groups. The bottom line is that its efforts are blowing the cover of a GOP/RTL strategy to incrementally ban abortions (and eventually "abortifacient" birth control methods) by focusing on controversial late-term abortions and such deceptive practices as the increasingly popular "medical conditions" restrictions that are shutting down clinics in a host of states. The Personhood folk hate the indirect strategy, and want to hold everyone's feet to the fire to make sure they will embrace the least as well as the most popular antichoice measures.
What Personhood USA wants is culture change. Specifically, they want a culture where fertilized eggs are paramount, without exceptions, and anyone who stands in their way - including the woman carrying an embryo or fetus - is subject to the criminal code.

They aren't there yet, but they're getting closer. "Being around for six years," [Personhood USA communications director Jennifer] Mason said, "we've changed the way the country talks about abortion."

She's right. Candidates who call themselves pro-life are being called out by parts of their base for not going far enough - far enough being Personhood. Evangelical Protestants being drawn into the previously Catholic terrain of the contraception wars are working from the Personhood playbook, and growing its coalition. The Supreme Court decision in Hobby Lobby, which refused to question Personhood's unscientific claims in allowing religious owners of companies to opt out of covering contraception for their employees, was the biggest public relations coup yet for Personhood's worldview.

Even Republicans who have at one point embraced Personhood and are now denying or deflecting their stances - as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Iowa Republican Senatorial candidate Joni Ernst have -are still operating on Personhood's terrain.

Here's the key thing to understand:

Nor is Mason bothered by the sometimes fierce battles fought among anti-abortion factions on how Personhood is spoiling everything. "It's important to note that they do agree on the goals," she said of her fellow abortion opponents. "In fact, even before we got involved, Personhood has long been considered the end game for the pro-life movement." She's right about that too.

As is the case with a lot of arguments within the GOP and the conservative movement these days, regular old antichoice pols and the Personhood folk agree on principles and goals but differ on strategy and tactics. If they could run the country, they'd run it the same way, with no abortions legal anywhere and with IUDs and Plan B contraception either banned or under a legal cloud.

So the "Personhood" debate is a useful optic for understanding the relationship of the GOP with extremist groups, and why Republican claims of "moderation" are so often exaggerated at best and plainly deceptive at worst.


October 15: Polls Wrong? Hard to Say Whether or How

So we're now down to the lick-log in the midterm elections, and some observers are spinning the latest polls to predict Total Victory for The Team, and some are arguing the polls are wrong. Nate Silver comes along at FiveThirtyEight to provide an empirical take on whether and how the polls may be wrong, and I distilled his wisdom at Washington Monthly:

Nate Silver has one of those posts today at FiveThirtyEight you feel like you should memorize, since it covers a lot of the misunderstandings and arguments left in this midterm election cycle.

First he takes on this year's version of the "skewed polls" controversy of 2012, and reminds us that as it turned out the 2012 polls were generally off--but in favor of Republicans.

It's a bit of a shock to read Nate's data and realize that Senate polling averages in the last three weeks of the campaign have been off by more than 3% four times since 1990: twice showing "bias" towards Democrats (1994 and 2002) and twice towards Republicans (1998 and 2012). Bottom line:

On average since 1990, the average bias has been just 0.4 percentage points (in the direction of Republicans), and the median bias has been exactly zero.

Not much predictive value there.

How about turnout? Could the polls be missing the hidden effect of, say, the Brannock Street Project? Maybe, but they're already showing a narrowed gap between registered and likely voters, a good sign for Democrats:

[T]he pollsters, at least as a group, are not expecting the sort of turnout gap they did in 2010. That year, the average poll had Republicans doing about 6 percentage points better among likely voters than among registered voters -- a historically large difference. The average poll we've tracked this year has shown about a 3-point gap (favoring Republicans) instead -- in line with the historical average in midterm years.

And remember, the question is not which party has the stronger ground game, but whether a stronger ground game will lead to benefits that aren't reflected in the polls.

In passing, Nate also reminds us of election theories you still hear but that have been largely discredited: the Incumbent Rule (undecideds break towards challengers); the Bradley Effect (polls overestimate the vote of African-American candidates); and the Generic Ballot Tilt (the generic congressional ballot has a built-in Democratic bias).

The bottom line is that past experience doesn't tell us much about the likely accuracy or inaccuracy of polls this year. What we do know is that the landscape, particularly for the Senate, is skewed heavily in favor of the GOP, and that Democrats are fighting impressively to overcome a lot of built-in obstacles. How much they need to overcome and whether they succeed is something we won't know until November 4.


October 9: Will Perdue Beat Himself?

Like a lot of people, I'm gazing in awe at the "outsourcing" brouhaha in the Georgia Senate race, which is fascinating because David Perdue entirely brought it on himself. That actually kind of figures, as I observed at the Washington Monthly:

In the endless argument between political scientists and "traditional" political people about how elections are decided, I'm with the Poli Sci crowd more often than not, and don't much believe individual "moments" in campaigns usually matter all that much. But there are obviously exceptions; nobody really thinks Todd Akin was done in by "fundamentals" in 2012.

And so, I suggested a while ago that there are two Senate candidates this year who strike me as especially capable of delivering the kind of gaffe that could blow up a campaign: Joni Ernst of Iowa and David Perdue of Georgia. Turns out Ernst's problem is less what she is saying now (which is very little other than "farmer! farmer!") than the crazy stuff she's said in the recent past And that's partially true for Perdue as well, insofar as his latest problem emerged from something Politico (operating on a tip?) found in a 2005 deposition wherein he allowed as how he'd spent most of his career "outsourcing."

But then redeeming my faith in him as a gaffe-master, Perdue compounded the error by saying in the present tense that he was "proud" of his involvement in outsourcing, and Michelle Nunn's campaign has not wasted a moment in exploiting the comment....

[T]hose who remember the palpable relief Republicans everywhere expressed when Perdue made a runoff spot and then won the nomination, the latest developments are kinda rich. Wouldn't it be funny if GOPers ultimately wished they'd had Paul Broun or Phil Gingrey on the ballot in November?

In the meantime, Perdue's making me look prescient, and making his backers look for more mud to throw at his opponent.


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