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Articles Spotlight Elements of Winning Dem Strategy

In These Times is featuring three articles on aspects of Democratic Party strategy. Matt Singer's "The Progressive Frontier: The governor of the Big Sky state has important lessons to teach Democrats across the nation" offers insights from the experience of Montana's rising star, Governor Brian Schweitzer. The Schweitzer story has been well-covered here and elsewhere, but Singer's article rolls out some useful principles, such as:

Fight everywhere. Schweitzer didn’t write off the rural areas of Montana that have recently become Republican strongholds. He campaigned statewide, winning two counties typically lost by Democrats and narrowing the margin in dozens of others.

Fight back. When Schweitzer got “Swift Boated,” his campaign staffers didn’t sit silently. They hit back fast and hard. And in his first months in office, Schweitzer didn’t refrain from criticizing the president who received more votes than he did. He aggressively criticized Bush on a number of fronts. Now he’s more popular than the president among Montana voters.

Actions speak louder than words. Unlike other Democrats who revel in meta-analysis or theorizing over values, Schweitzer simply did it. Rather than saying he was a real Montanan, he talked about his homesteading ancestors. Rather than talking about reclaiming the flag, Schweitzer just did it—prominently on his Web site and on pens the campaign distributed.

ITT is also featuring U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky's speech to the recent Campaign for America's Future conference, entitled "Democratic Dos and Don'ts": Among Schakowsky's points:

Progressives and Democrats don’t need an extreme makeover. Far from it. We do not need to rethink our values and principles, rewrite our agenda or move to the “center.” Polls taken the day before the 2004 election as well as the day after tell us clearly that the Democrats are already where most Americans are on the issues and also on values...We do, in fact, represent the aspirations of the majority of Americans.

...do what your mother said—or at least what my mother said—stand up straight. What people like least about progressives and Democrats is that they think we’re squishy. They think Bush is tough, knows what he believes and is willing to fight for it. Americans like tough, even when they don’t entirely agree with the substance. Voters like tough; voters don’t like tentative.

...Repeat, repeat, repeat...Republican repetition of the same talking points may irritate you, but it represents the level of discipline that we need if we ever expect average Americans to hear what we stand for and be able to articulate it in one declarative sentence.

In "The Case for a Democratic Marker," ITT's Christopher Hayes interviews Rick Perlstein, author of The Stock Ticker and the Superjumbo: How the Democrats Can Once Again Become the Dominant Political Party. Perlstein's most salient point in the interview is the importance of consistency:

...a commitment that doesn’t waver adds value by the very fact of the commitment. The evidence is that even though the individual initiatives that make up the conservative project poll quite poorly, they’ve managed to succeed simply because everyone knows what the Republicans stand for. And the most profound exit poll finding in the last election had nothing to do with moral values, it was all the people who said that they disagreed with the Republicans on individual issues, but they voted for George W. Bush anyway because they knew what he stood for....there’s value just in making credible demonstrations of fortitude."

If there is a common theme to the advice presented in the three articles, it's that Dems have a lot to gain by emphasizing clarity, consistency and commitment --- not a bad formula for victory in '06 and beyond.