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Expanding the Playing Field

I don't always agree with what Ron Brownstein has to say but, in this case, I think he is very definitely onto something--and it is expressed with his usual clarity and solid research. His Washington Outlook column today in The Los Angeles Times is entitled, "Democrats Need a Red-Blooded Candidate to Stanch Losses" and is basically about how Democrats need to widen the playing field to compete effectively with the Republicans.

He argues:

In the congressional and presidential races, Democrats maintained the core of their support in the blue states that Al Gore won in 2000. But at both levels, the Democrats made scant headway in the red states Bush won last time.

That left Sen. John F. Kerry with too narrow a margin of error for reaching 270 electoral college votes and congressional Democrats with too few options for reversing the GOP majority. It also allowed Bush, far more than Kerry, to take the offense and erode the edges of the other side's coalition.

"We were not pressuring them in as many places as they were pressuring us," said Steve Elmendorf, Kerry's deputy campaign manager. "We were never really in play in a whole bunch of states Bush had won four years ago, and he was pushing us hard in states we won four years ago."

From this pattern, the lesson seems unavoidable. Democrats need a nominee who can effectively compete for more of the country than Kerry did especially socially conservative regions such as the South and rural Midwest. That would give the Democrats more paths to an electoral college majority. A nominee with more appeal in the red states might also create a climate that enables the party to seriously contest more House and Senate seats.

And goes on to say:

If there's any solace for Democrats, it's that Bush hasn't built a coalition so broad that it's out of reach. The 29 states that Bush has carried both times equal 274 electoral college votes. The 18 Gore states that Kerry won plus the District of Columbia provide a base of 248 electoral college votes. Indeed, Democrats have now carried those 18 states in four consecutive elections. The party wouldn't need to move much from red to blue to squeeze out its own narrow majority in 2008.

But that will require a nominee who is able to expand the playing field. As a nominee, Kerry did many things well. But as a Massachusetts senator with a generally liberal voting record, especially on social issues, he labored to get off the runway in the states Bush carried last time.

I found his argument persuasive and one all Democrats will have to reckon with.


I find the argument that the only way to beat the Republicans is to be like them, bizarre. It's not the social issues Kerry lost on.

The word liberal is meaningless, particularly for the Democrats. It implies an arrogant high-handed self centered attitude to most people--I include myself.

I think you, again, are falling into the trap of believing the Republican garbage. We lost by a small margin. We need, as I've said before, to work from the ground up rather than to find a "magic" candidate. Bill Clinton worked plenty of electoral magic, but was a mediocre president, and ruined the Democratic party by hijacking it to the right.

In the blue states, statehouse Democratic reps gained seats. That's where the work begins in the red and purple states-with strong local Democratic candidates running for office. It's not a quick fix, but when candidates are local, people will begin to hear the message of our party without predjudice, and it's a message that resonates, particularly as people start watching environmental problems escalate, the war get completely out of control, terrorism move from being isolated cells out to get us to all out war on this country, workers' wages erode further, the manufacturing sector here completely be eliminated, etc.

The fact is, most people will give a sitting president the benefit of the doubt, particularly in wartime, and this is just going to play itself out.

We need to stop the "oh my God we ran a Northeast liberal and lost, oh dear, oh dear" stuff. It's wrong, divisive, anything but useful.

It strikes me as odd how everyone is in a dither over how the Democrats missed the boat on the values thing and need to make themselves over if they want to win. Come on! This is Karl Rove killing two birds with one stone. First, he appeases the Religious Right by giving them credit for tipping the election to Bush (not necessarily true, no matter what exit polls say). If history is true to form, having paid lip service to them Bush now will ignore them for the next four years. Second, Rove has led Democrats down the garden path where he will slay them in 2006 and 2008 and bury them in the cabbage patch next to John McCain, Max Cleland, Ann Richards and John Kerry, good people one and all. It's all a big trap. Any Democratic candidate who attempts to appeal to the Southern Conservatives based on faith in the next elections, no matter how genuinely, will be pilloried as a flip-flopping panderer who is callously using faith just to try to win an election.

The only recourse Democrats have is in relentlessly quoting the Constitution and framing the debate in terms of the overarching American Values that unite us. To play in Rove's sandbox, which he is building right now, is a recipe for getting sand kicked in our faces.

Evan Bayh of Indiana is the man here. He is a very warm, personable guy who has a wife and twin boys. His voting record is conservative on fiscal issues and liberal on social issues, but the IN GOP just cannot get any of the liberal labels to stick on him. He is a very good candidate...look hard at this one.

I have really had enough of commentaries explaining how our loss was not too bad. Since Wednesday morning I have been thinking of General Joseph Stilwell's comments when he escaped a Japanese advance in Burma in World War II: "I claim we got a hell of a beating. . . . [I]t is humiliating as hell. I think we ought to find out what caused it, go back and retake it."

For far too long Democrats try to pick up too many disaffected groups causes, resulting in lour leaders too often being afraid to speak their minds for the fear of offending a potential supporter. Except for Bill Clinton, we fail to give hope to those who are doing alright economically but would like to do better. We do not ask for our supporters to sacrifice, promising them that we can buy what they need with tax increases on those more wealthy than themselves. Most importantly, we do not answer the fear that many, if not most parents have of a loss of control engendered by the media and a culture that proposes abandoning rules of thumb which made raising children a bit easier than it is today. Not all of these fears are justified, but Democrats have not explained why they are not.

We must recognize that a majority of Americans chose to overlook George Bush's substantial faults because unlike our candidate, he stood for something and was not ashamed to say so. We have leaders who eloquently address those concerns, like Joseph Biden, Diane Feinstein, Ed Rendell, Bob Kerrey and Bob Graham and many others who can sound like a Democrat without sounding they're for anyone whose voite is up for grabs. Candidates who fight these battle as as much heart as head will help us " go back and retake it."

This article is off-base, I think. First of all, we did have a Southerner on the ticket, and it didn't do us a bit of good. Does anybody think Edwards would have won any Southern (or Midwest or Mountain West) states at the top of the ticket? Based on what evidence?

The piece also ignores the fact that Mountain West and Midwestern states -- Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada; Ohio, Minnesota -- are trending our way.

Democrats also did quite well at the state level this time around.

Check out:

Colorado on the Brink of Blue

The Return of the Blue and the Gray

Also I think Chris Bowers is right in labeling these calls for putting Southerners or Midwesterners or Mountain staters on the ticket as "gimmick" strategies that will not solve the basic problem of the Democratic Party: we lack a clearly defined public philosophy linked to a platform that resonates with voters. Until we solve that problem, putting Warner or Vilsack or anybody else on the ticket is just a band-aid

While I agree with much this article has to say, I remain unconvinced that we can take many states in the South. Our big prize is in the southwest where we can take New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada. Nearby Colorado remains within reach as well. In the south, only Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and Arkansas are legitimately in play (not including Florida as in many ways it does not resemble the rest of the south). A case can be made for one or two other states as well.

While grabbing the few southern states which may legitimately be in play would virtually guarantee a Democratic win, I am not sure moving too far to the right on social issues is a wise move for the Democratic party at this time. As has been widely publicized, socially conservative Republicans are already attacking the more moderate members of their party. It is likely they will overreach as they did in the mid nineties. We need to strike a balance between providing alienated moderates a viable alternative within the democratic party and moving so far as to help sweep the differences between the parties in this area under the rug.

I agree with much of what Brownstein says in his article. My view is that we're getting the cart before the horse.

We have two major problems to deal with before the presidency is an issue. One is here now, and one will be here soon enough. Addressing the interim issues is necessary to lay a sound predicate for the presidential runs. If we do not address these legislative issues now, the presidential election in 2008 will not be in play for us.

We must deal with minority status in the Congress now, and we must prepare to make gains in 2006.

Our most pressing problem is not the presidency or even the midterm elections. It is the coming battle in the House and Senate to stop the more extreme forces inside the Republican party from prevailing on key matters. Our Democratic leadership must reach out to the reasonable members of the Senate to forge working coalitions to limit the damage the rightwing can do.

Among Republican Senators, there are allies on issues such as the deficit, runaway spending, the mess in Iraq, the lack of focus on the terror issues, abortion, and other matters. We do not have to filibuster, and we should try to outflank the right by being there for the moderate Republicans. Those 55 Republican votes in the Senate are not all rightwingers. On foreign policy, McCain, Hagle, and Lugar are three thoughtful minds. On domestic policy, Snowe and Collins are two who frequently vote our way.

We need to beat the rightwing to the moderate Republicans. The rightwing has already announced its approach to the Bush agenda, which can be summed up as "if not now, when?" We can expect the House to veer right, and push a strongly rightwing agenda. The pressure will be on Frist to get things passed in the Senate, while keeping Frist's presidential hopes alive. Frist will likely choose keeping the rightwing constituencies happy over keeping Bush or the moderates in his party happy. That means he will likely alienate the moderates at times. We must be there to harvest the moderate's votes.

Let us remember that the moderates in the Republican party have not had to stand up and fight with the rightwing on votes, but that has to be coming. They no longer have the luxury of the Democrats stopping the onslaught of the rightwing. If past experience is an indicator, the people the rightwingers will come after next are the moderate Republicans up for reelection in 2006. The moderates have to know that. They need to counterbalance the right just as much as we do.

Our legislative focus should be on the Senate because it has some Republican moderates. The House is much tougher. There, we must do as best we can to shape the agenda, recognizing our limitations. We must also make sure we require the House to have recorded votes on key issues. For example, why should any Democrat vote to increase the debt ceiling on the federal debt? Why shouldn't we vote NO, and make them pass it over our objections? Why shouldn't we make them vote NO on our tax cuts for the middle class? They will propose tax cuts, and we can propose amendments to those cuts. We can and should make them vote down our middle class tax cuts.

The House and Senate both have to come to a simple recognition that they seem unable to grasp: You must choose better leaders, more TV effective leaders. Nancy Pelosi is a disaster on TV. She's a good person, but she is exactly what is wrong with the Democratic Party. Forget her politics, just look at her. Is this a spokesperson for anything? Of course not. We have to get smarter. We need a House leader who is good on TV. If they aren't good on TV, they are worse than worthless, they are harmful to us. If Nancy Pelosi truly wants the Democratic Party to succeed, she should immediately help us find someone good to replace her.

The Senate must do likewise. Harry Reid? Are you serious? That is ridiculous. Memo to Dems in the Senate: Wake up and smell the election results! Name Joe Biden your leader and get him out there on the TV daily. Don't you Senators get it? You're putting people up that don't connect to viewers on TV. It's a marketing problem more than anything. You can't sell anything with the likes of Robert Byrd or Harry Reid as your front man. We must recognize the age in which we live, and market accordingly. Younger, more energetic, more telegenic faces.

I'll pick up on some of Brownstein's other points later and address them, as they lead up the presidental election in 2008. What I am proposing is simple: we must focus first on the FACE the public sees for our party, and then we must play smart defense in the Senate. We have to stake out the MIDDLE and make the Bushies stake out the right.

Our focus is to find the middle and hold it, and to put up FACES that don't look like they knew Bogart and Bacall personally.

That last post is part of my thoughts regarding his article and how we get to the 2008 election with a winning candidate who can steal back the middle states.

I have two more parts in my head, but I don't have time to write them now. I will write them and add them later, however.

In a nutshell, (1) we must get good candidates ready for House and Senate runs NOW for 2006, along with their funding, and (2) we must change how we pick our candidate, to eliminate the impact of New Hampshire and Iowa, other than the few EC votes they have.

We must end the tyranny of Iowa and New Hampshire. They're killing us.

This is the problem with you dlc centrists. A beleif that we need to nominate a certain kind of person is a one trick pony. We need a long term strategy to take away the moral values issue. This is done by defiining the word liberal/progressive not running from it. By telling everyone that the echo chamber definition is false. We also need election machine reform. Make this the top priority otherwise nothing can be trusted. Lakoff is the key. Define our morals and frame them. Then we can nominate anyone regardless of where they are from. The Repubs will have there hands tied though because they will only be able to nominate candidates that appeal to the far right wing extremists. The Repub candidate can be framed as beholden to the far right wing extremists. No matter how much they scream about values and flip flopping it won't stick because our morals are defined.

Though I agree that the Dems need a candidate who can expand the playing field, i disagree that such a candidate can only be mined from the South. A viable alternative might be the very liberal, but fluent in the language of values, Russ Feingold. Kevin Arnowitz over at Slate made a pretty good case (http://slate.com/id/2109342/):

"While Democrats were wringing their hands over the defeat of Kerry, Tom Daschle and statewide candidates across the national landscape, Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin coasted to an easy 11-point victory, running 5-points ahead of Kerry in a state that's regarded as increasingly rouge.

So how did this Jewish Harvard Law grad the only senator in a hundred to vote against the Patriot Act do in rural Wisconsin against a Gulf War vet? He won a majority.

How did this proud liberal one of a handful to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act and a staunch opponent of the death penalty do in small Wisconsin towns of populations between 10,000 and 50,000? He won a majority.

How did this pinko, who voted to fund overseas abortions in military hospitals and who opposed his own party's homeland security package, do in the suburbs where evangelical congregations are flourishing? He won a majority."

Interested, I did a little background, and as a liberal, I love his politics. He would guarrantte we hold onto Wisconsin, a state that seems to be slipping away, and perhaps pickup neighboring Iowa as well.
Here's a great speech he gave on terrorism:

I here we need someone who can talk values and offer vision. How about this? Answering the call? Rely on our values?

"Americans have answered the call to defend the country, to assist their countrymen and women in New York and in Washington, to make sacrifices, to be watchful yet resolute, guarded but undeterred.
But there is another call Americans can answer, and the American people may have a greater role to play in determining the text of the next century's history books than we ever suspected.
I believe that the American people have the capacity to construct a better world, where others would only destroy the existing one.

...One of the elements that can help America to overcome this potential disadvantage is a reliance on our national values, which are not partisan and are not ephemeral."

Sounds good to me. Of course, he is a jew, which doesn't help his chances (why I suspect we haven't heard his name seriously yet).

In my opinion Brownstein has it dead-on right. Clearly, the Democratic party is not on life-support, at least not yet. Kerry did an admirable job given that he did not have an especially strong hand. Easily labeled as a liberal given his Senatorial voting history, from a state endorsing a gay marriage initiative, and an aloof manner with the people doomed him with many, many voters out there. Given these factors, when combined with a formidable (and in a way admirable) political machine, it is impressive that he garnered the support he did. In my opinion, the only thing that kept him in the race was his debating skills against a less articulate President with a very sketchy record. But his performance does indicate that the Demos do still have a firm base of support on which to build.

If I may, I think the Demos need to do three things:

1) Find a man of the people. I am not in position to determine who the best person for this position is, but this person must be able to relate to a wider demographic than the current Democratic base.

2) Define our policies in a succinct manner. We need to get our collective acts together. Being against gay marriage but not being able to elaborate why is not going to "play in Peoria". This, and many other points raised during this political season, is a divisive issue and we need to develop a non-divisive stand that resonates with the 85% of us that are moderate. We have to develop a more cogent position on the issues of our day and express them not in terms of a "plan" but rather a "vision".

3) Dampen down the rhetoric from the far-left. Certainly, these people have the right, and often the obligation, to speak their mind. Without these people and media outlets we would not have the decenting political view and our democracy would be weakened. But the down-side is that they just provide ammo for the far-right media outlets that are omnipresent and, sadly, a permanent part of our culture. Take the ammo from these right-wingers and we will have a less divided nation and sanity and political moderation will rule the land once again.

The points made in this note are spot on. The party, while losing a tough election, is in much better shape for an electoral college win next time than in the Reagan era, for instance, where virtually every state was a red state. But it will be key not to nominate a Northeasterner, whether that is fair or not to all the great Northeastern Democrats like John Kerry and Hillary Rodham Clinton. The party must look to its elected officials from the heartland and the South for the next Presidential candidate. We need a candidate with gospel in his or her voice. The party itself needs to look at radical, visible, symbolic actions to re-brand itself among the heartland and the South. Why not move the DNC headquarters to Florida? It's a lovely place to live and work. And much as I admire Howard Dean's energy level, he's from the Northeast. Send the right message and find someone from the heartland or south to be chairperson.

First, I agree that the next demo candidate need not be from a red state, he just needs to know how to communicate with the average Joe. Given all the far left/right rhetoric being flung about at present, I am sure the average blue collar worker in the country thinks that all demos think he is dumb. Dumb or not, he has a vote.

Second, yes indeed, we need a grass roots movement. Take back state houses, local governments, etc. This is where the leaders of tomorrow hone their skills.

Someone commented:

"This is the problem with you dlc centrists. A belief that we need to nominate a certain kind of person is a one trick pony."


1. That isn't what we DLC types say at all. We say that centrist policies and attractive candidates that are electable are the way to go in the presidential election.

2. The DLC was responsible for the one trick pony named Bill Clinton, the most successful presidency of the last 50 years.

3. The DLC types, as you like to call us, understand that you guys gut us with the likes of Dukakis, and Mondale, and Kerry, and then wonder what happened when we get destroyed in middle America. If you come off as pompous and annoying to your own centrists, how do you think you sell to independents? You don't.

I'll say it again. The hardcore libs are killing the party, as they always do. I've been dealing with whiney libs for over 30 years, and they have to get their butts kicked royally for 2 or 3 times in row before the beatings finally knock some sense into them. Then they come around our way, and we deliver.

I've never felt the DLC Dem was anything close to being a Republican. If you evaluate the members and their votes, you'll find they represent their constituencies, something so basic, but many libs tend to forget it is our bedrock.

I want to follow up on my earlier post, which dealt primarily with being a good opposition party in Congress the next two years, fighting the good fight, finding the middle, co-opting the moderate Republicans, and making Republicans vote for increasing the debt ceiling against our opposition.

In addition to smartly adopting the opposition role, we must prepare for the 2006 elections as a predicate to the 2008 presidential race.

The best time to beat a congressman or woman is at the end of their first term. We must find good, attractive candidates in each district where we have some hope of retaking the district in the 2006 election. We need to target about 30 seats held by Republicans, and get busy raising money and creating 527s to prepare tracking of them, and negative campaigns to define them ASAP.

Old, out of touch congressmen are also sometimes vulnerable, and we should explore those. Also, we want DeLay defending his own district so he has less time and money to screw up other races. The guy who ran against him did a nice job, and should probably work to take him on again.

The process of recruiting young candidates, studying the districts for what will sell, and organizing will lay ground work for our 2008 races. We have to build on the organization created to push Kerry in 2004. We must keep all these new soldiers in the battles, and get them redirected towards the immediate goals.

I am encouraging many of the young ones I know to get jobs in state legislatures and figure out who the young movers and shakers are. We have to grow fresh talent, and nurture the young talent already in place. The history of the US is replete with people who come out of nowhere at age 27-34 to beat some old time politician.

We must seize on the energy, organization, and heart we found in 2004, and ride that forward.

On the topic of who best to guide us as DNC Chair?

Bill Clinton

He's the only person with the universal respect of the party regulars.

brownstein also gave a very lucid summary of the facts on today's C-Span coverage of DLC meeting.

it mirrors my opinon that there was no great sea change, rather we conceeded 23-26 red states from the get go and fought a complety defensive battle. had there been a charismatic and lucid souhtern or western candidate we probably could have picked up nev. and nm. and ark. and easily won ohio.

i believe firmly it was the candiate(as well as it was with gore in 00).

a candidate has to be able to convey a simple, pithy message. to this day we talk about clinton the messenger and not his strategies. i believe we sublty acknowleged that "likabilty" is the key to a presidential candidates's success.

Bill CLinton was the most sucessful presidentcy of the last fifty years? What about Truman, JFK, LBJ, heck even Carter played an important role in whipping inflation, making us more energy independent, and bringing peace to the Middle East, along with bringing down the SOviets with hsi defense spending and HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN? Under Clinton all we got was a stock market bubble whose bursting made it harder for me to find a job, GOP control of the House, GOP control of the Senate, GOP control of most state governorships, and GOP control of most state legislatures. Not to mention levels of income inequality that were greater than anytime since the Depression.
By the way, Clinton got 5% less of the popular vote in 1992 than Kerry did in 2004, nad only got 1% better in 1996 than Kerry in 2004. While we are on the topic of elections, every state Kerry carried we have won every election for the past 4 elections. We're much closer to an EDM than people think.

I agree Bill Clinton should be Democratic Party Chairman....but that aside...

The idea that we Democrats have to move further to the right is wrong. The only thing we have to do that the Republicans have done effectively is communicate our positions with a language that make sense to people. I believe that the Democratic party is the more moral party, the more honest party, and the more able to represent the white working class voter that W captured this time. The Republicans have never delivered anything but empty promises to that group. But they have communicated to them effectively. The Democrats must frame their issues more effectively. That is the sole problem in my view. The country is middlish as it always has been. And framing the issues to the middle is the way to go, not moving the party to the right.

I agree with Gabby Hayes. If you far-leftists think the DLC Democrats are too far right, you obviously haven't lived in a place where Republicans run things.

Here in Virginia, our Democrat governor (Mark Warner) is probably the kind of guy that you'd criticize as not liberal enough. He was for keeping Virginia's very permissive concealed-weapon laws, and promised that he would rescue the state from a looming fiscal insolvency, "Never spending a penny more than necessary, but never a penny less than necessary." He was in favor of keeping the death penalty. Also, notably, he was not originally a politician, but an entrepreneur in the telecom industry.

But the Republicans are so much worse that there's really no comparison. Even as the state threatened to go bankrupt, they still tried to prevent a long-overdue tax reform that polls consistently showed most Virginians favored. While Warner tried to keep the costs of college down, Republicans gleefully raised the tuitions of UVA and VATech to counter their regressive tax cuts. As Warner looked to the future, all Republicans had to offer was more tax cuts, more divisive wedge talk, and more accusations.

My point is, even the most moderate Democrat is better than most Republicans. I'll be the first to admit that in more liberal northern states (like Wisconsin and Minnesota) the Republican party might not be quite so single-minded, but the power center of the Republican party is concentrated in more conservative states like my native Virginia.

Coalitions by their nature have to include the middle. And the left should realize that without the support of the center they won't be able to get anything they want. The left can either compromise with the DLC and get some of what it wants, or it can remain purely leftist and lose everything.

And keep in mind, there's still a lot of Republicans who think even the DLC Dems are too liberal. That this crowd even exists should tell you something. Rather than persuade the middle before we win, we should win the middle and THEN try to persuade. This is how Lincoln won in 1860, when even many northerners were wary of completely ending slavery. We have to get the middle on our side before we start to make the case for drastic changes.

And to add to my last post, I frankly don't think that we have to move further in ANY ideological direction. Ideologically, the Democrats are fine where they are.

We just have to find someone who can communicate the reasonableness of the center-left policies we favor while keeping the base calmed down enough to stick with us. I admit I'm not entirely sure who that might be, but I'd like to say right now that it's not Hillary. If you think this election was divisive, the divisiveness created by a Hillary run would be too venomous to contemplate.

And as long as I'm on the subject of coalitions, I'd just like to remind the far-left base that you can't just accuse any Democrat to your right of being "Republican-lite." This isn't a "closer to the New Deal/Great Society than thou" contest.

The question should be, what is the best way to achieve the equal opportunity society? If the answer is to diverge from old New Deal-style dogmas, then I say so be it. Don't be afraid to try new things. As FDR himself said, if you try something and it fails, try something else. For all the far-left's hysteria about welfare reform, the system Clinton devised seems to be working better than either the older Democrat proposals of expansion or Republican proposals to just axe the system entirely (to bring up one example).

The fear and division engendered by the Bush campaign was enough to push that critical few million to the Republican side, but it will subside. Vinidcated by their win, the far-right is likely to sieze the wheel in 2008, making a Democrat win even more plausible.

Have you guys checked out the DLC roundtable on the future of the Demo party? We have the leadership saying a hell a lot of what we are talking about. Yea! The link is available front page of ndol.com

The DLC is closest to the voters we must have to win the election.