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August 30, 2005

Californians Sour on Governor, Special Election, and the State’s Direction

By Michael Alvarez

Majorities of California adults are in a sour mood, regarding both Governor Schwarzenegger and the direction of the state, according to a new poll and report issued by the Public Policy Institute of California. This poll, conducted August 8-15, 2005, interviewed 2004 California adults and found they ending their summer in a foul mood as far as the Schwarzenegger is concerned:

54% disapprove of the job he is doing as Governor.

50% disapprove of the job he is doing to reform state government.

55% disapprove of the job he is doing to fix the state’s budget and tax problems.

60% think that he should have waited until the scheduled elections in June 2006 to vote on his reform agenda.

Further compounding the Governor’s problems is a generally foul and pessimistic mood with the state’s overall direction, as 57% see the state as moving in the wrong direction and 51% see the state’s economic situation as worsening over the next twelve months.

As we get closer and closer to the November special election, Schwarzenegger’s job approval ratings are falling lower and lower. If these trends continue, he soon could see an approval rating as bad as his predecessor experienced just before California voters recalled Davis from office, and replaced him with Schwarzenegger. The Governor needs a strong victory in the November special election to turn these bad approval ratings around. Don’t forget that right behind the special election this fall will be the beginning of Schwarzenegger’s campaign for reelection in November 2006.

Schwarzenegger’s job performance rating continues to be weak across the board. Democrats and Independents continue to see Schwarzenegger’s job performance in very negative terms, as 72% of Democrats and 50% of Independents disapprove of his work as Governor in this latest PPIC poll. Support is not uniform among Republicans, as 31% of the Governor’s own partisans either disapprove or have no opinion of his job performance. One of the groups with the strongest disapproval of Schwarzenegger are the state’s Latinos, with only 17% of Latinos approving and 73% disapproving of his job as Governor.

The prospects of a big victory this fall for Schwarzenegger look bleak. Only one of his reform measures on the special election ballot, one that would increase the probationary period for teacher tenure from two to five years (Proposition 74), receives support from likely California voters, with 49% saying they would support it, 42% opposed, and 9% uncertain. The redistricting measure supported by the Governor (Proposition 77, which would change California’s redistricting process mainly by placing it into the hands of a nonpartisan panel of retired judges) is not now polling well, as 49% of likely voters oppose this measure, 34% approve, and 17% undecided. Last, a proposal to limit state funding and alter school funding requirements is looking bad for the Governor (Proposition 76) --- 61% of likely voters are currently opposed, 28% in support, 11% uncertain.

But there are also some warning signs in the PPIC polling for Democrats and progressives about the mood of Californians and some of the measures on the special election ballot.

First, Californians also hold the state legislature in disregard. 56% of Californians disapprove of the job the state legislature is doing, and 62% disapprove of the job that the state legislature is doing to fix the state’s budgetary and fiscal problems. Distressingly, only 38% approved of the job their own state legislators are doing to represent their own districts. Keep in mind that the state legislature is currently a Democratic stronghold in California, so that most of the legislators that Californians seem to hold in such disregard are Democrats.

Second, two of the ballot measures that are not part of the Governor’s reform agenda need to be followed closely by Democrats and progressives. One of these measures would place severe restrictions on the ability of public employee unions to use member dues for political purposes (Proposition 75) has relatively strong support from likely voters, with 58% of likely voters in support, 33% opposed, and 9% undecided. The other measure, which would require parental notification before a minor could terminate a pregnancy (Proposition 73), is now running roughly evenly in this poll; 44% of likely voters say they support this measure, 48% are opposed, and 8% are undecided.

In coming weeks, the campaigns for the special election will begin in earnest, and both sides are well-funded to fight this fall. But there is much in this latest PPIC poll that continues to paint a bleak picture for Governor Schwarzenegger’s reform agenda this fall, and possibly for his reelection campaign next year.

August 29, 2005

More Hispanics, More Democratic

By Ruy Teixeira

As two recent reports document, the Hispanic population of the United States continues to increase rapidly, especially in areas that we now think of as "solid red." The Pew Hispanic Center report describes and analyzes the extraordinary growth of the Hispanic population in six southern states, Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee, down to the county level. The Census report shows that Texas has now become a majority-minority state (joining New Mexico, California and Hawaii), primarily due to its burgeoning Hispanic population.

The political impact of this demographic trend should generally favor the Democrats. But the extent to which this is true will be limited if Democratic margins among Hispanics continue to be shaved, as they were in the 2004 election.

However, according to a useful new report by the indefatigable folks at Democracy Corps, the Democratic margin among Hispanics seems likely to expand in the future, not contract. If so, the pro-Democratic impact of Hispanic population growth should be very substantial.

The Democracy Corps report is based on a June survey of Hispanic voters, whose basic results I previously summarized. There is much rich detail in this report, but here are some of the most important observations:

Democrats witnessed the loss of a small though significant portion of their Hispanic support to George Bush in 2000 and 2004, but by no means were these dislodged voters an advance party for a greater flight of Hispanics from the Democratic Party. Hispanic voters remain instinctively very Democratic, but more important than that, they hold values, views of society, the economy and the role of government, as well as issue priorities and hopes for America, that put them deep inside the Democratic world. The Democrats will stem the erosion of the Hispanic vote, not by chasing the defectors or waving the partisan banner, but by rediscovering their own values and beliefs. The route to a national Democratic majority goes right through the Hispanic community, where Democrats will find the themes that best define the modern Democratic Party. . . .

[Hispanic] voters were disappointed and dislodged; they did not defect. In this survey just completed, Hispanics had swung back to the Democrats with a vengeance, giving them a 32-point margin in a generic race for Congress (61 to 29 percent). The Republican vote today is 10 points below what Bush achieved just six months earlier. These voters are deeply dissatisfied with the Bush economy and Iraq war; they are socially tolerant and internationalist; they align with a Democratic Party that respects Hispanics and diversity, that uses government to help families, reduce poverty and create opportunity, and that will bring major change in education and health care. This is even truer for the growing younger population under 30, including Gen Y voters, who support the Democrats by a remarkable 46 points (70 to 24 percent). All together, this paints a portrait of a group that respects Bill Clinton, indeed giving him higher marks than the Catholic Church, and that embraces his vision of the Democratic Party. . . .

When Hispanic voters were asked why Kerry lost, they focused above all on Kerry himself, his lack of clear convictions, followed by worries about his positions on abortion and gay marriage. . . .

That values issues were part of the erosion in 2004 and 2000 is not the same as saying that addressing those issues directly is the best way to rebuild the Democrats' majority. Majorities of Hispanics believe we should be tolerant of homosexuality, would keep abortion legal, and support stem cell research, even with church opposition. This is especially true among the large younger and more middle-class segments of the community. . . .

[Hispanics'] views on values, family, the economy, the poor, working people and the middle class, community and government, and how best to expand opportunity and realize the American dream put these voters in the center of a Democratic world-if the Democrats would remember what it means to be a Democrat in these times. (emphases added)

Do I detect a theme here? Just as Democrats-see the post below-will do best among difficult, contestable voter groups by making clear what they stand for, they will maximize their potential gains among Democratic-leaning Hispanics by doing the very same thing. Sounds like a winner to me.

August 27, 2005

Bush’s First Sub-40 Approval Rating

By Ruy Teixeira

In late June, I remarked:

If present trends continue, it will not be long before Bush receives his first sub-40 overall approval rating, a traditional marker of an incumbent administration in serious trouble.

Well, it's here. In the latest American Research Group (ARG) poll, Bush's overall approval rating is down to 36 percent, with 58 percent disapproval. This result is importantly driven by Bush's relatively low rating among Republican identifiers (77 percent). As I also observed in late June:

Bush's approval rating among Republicans has fallen in recent months from around 90 percent to around 85 percent. It is entirely possible it will decline further if the difficulties of the Bush administration continue to deepen. Certainly, there is no sound reason to suppose Republican identifiers will somehow be immune from overall political trends.

Bush's 77 percent rating among Republicans suggests that attrition in Bush's approval rating among this group is indeed continuing. If so, we are likely to observe more sub-40 Bush approval ratings in the near future. Already, other public polls have come very close to breaking this barrier. The latest Ipsos-Associated Press and Newsweek polls have Bush's rating at 42 percent, the latest Quinnipiac and Survey USA fifty state polls have his rating down to 41 percent and, of course, the most recent Gallup poll has his rating right at 40 percent.

The reasons for Bush's current low ratings are not hard to discern. First and foremost is probably Iraq and its increasingly vexed relationship to the war on terror. In the Newsweek poll, Bush's approval rating on Iraq is down to a shockingly low 34 percent, with 61 percent disapproval. Half the public now thinks we are losing ground rather than making progress (40 percent) in our efforts to establish security and democracy in Iraq. And a staggering 64 percent now believe the Iraq war has not made Americans safer from terrorism, compared to just 28 percent who believe it has.

No doubt related to the harsh judgements that the public is forming on the Iraq war, views on Bush's character-his other strong suit along with his stewardship of the war on terror-continue to erode. In the Ipsos-Associated Press poll, more now say he is dishonest (50 percent) than say he's honest (48 percent). And a clear majority (56 percent) now say he can be described as arrogant. Dishonest and arrogant. Not exactly the characteristics Americans are typically looking for in a president.

And let's not forget the economy. In the ARG poll, Bush's approval rating on the economy is down to 33 percent, with 61 percent disapproval-the worst I've seen in this or any other public poll. Apparently, the public gives little credit to Bush for recent improvements that have shown up in some aggregate economic statistics, but assign him considerable blame for rising gas prices and health care costs, a poor job situation, sluggish to nonexistent wage growth and a generalized sense of economic insecurity.

As the most recent Gallup report on public views of the economy puts it:

Americans, on average, continue to believe that economic conditions in the United States are getting worse, not better. Only a little more than a third are willing to rate the economy as "excellent" or "good." A majority says it is a bad time to find a quality job. And about a third of Americans tell us that some aspect of the economy is the most important problem facing the country today.

In none of these instances are there signs of a sustained recovery in consumer confidence. In most cases, the public's views on the economy remain more depressed than they were at the beginning of this year or on average last year.

All this on top of Bush's debacle on Social Security, where the public soundly rejected his privatization plan and now gives him approval ratings in this area that just barely break 30 percent in most polls.

This can reasonably be described as a target-rich environment for the Democrats as we move into 2006. As the latest Democracy Corps memo summarizes the situation:

There is every reason to believe America is ready for a change election in 2006-already evident in the Democrats' remarkable performance this past Tuesday in the contest for Ohio-2, one of the most Republican congressional seats in the country. Voters were diverted from voting for change in 2004, but the sentiment now is much stronger, with only 41 percent consistently saying they want to continue in Bush's direction. Only 37 percent of all voters think the country is headed in the right direction, falling to 29 percent among independents.

But the memo also notes:

[The Democrats'] own image has not improved and most of the gain in Congressional vote margin has come from the Republicans' decline. That has created a lot of dislodged voters not yet enamored with the Democrats and a lot of protest and change voters that the Democrats can still pick up. Democrats are still at 48 percent but need to push over 50 percent. Fortunately, over one in ten voters are "winnable" for the Democrats-ready to switch their vote and hostile to the Republicans, but not yet voting Democratic.

The memo goes on to detail the groups where the Democrats appear to have already made considerable progress (white rural voters, white mainline Protestants, and white postgraduates) and those groups where winnable voters for the Democrats are most common (white older noncollege voters, midwestern voters, unmarried women, white seniors, and devout white Catholics). This analysis can be fruitfully read in conjunction with another Democracy Corps memo on "The Cultural Divide and the Challenge of Winning Back Rural and Red State Voters," which summarizes the results of focus groups held among rural voters in Wisconsin and Arkansas and disaffected Bush voters in Kentucky and Colorado. These results help bring into focus the difficulties Democrats face winning over voters who don't like where the country is going, but aren't yet sold on the Democrats as an alternative. Here are some key observations from the focus group memo:

[P]articipants' broad dissatisfaction with the country's direction was focused on three issues-the lack of progress or a clear plan in Iraq, a stagnant economy without job security, and skyrocketing health care costs. President Bush and Republicans in Congress were faulted for their lack of effective leadership on these issues and their failure to offer new ideas. . . .

There is no doubt that congressional Democrats start at a disadvantage, with red state and rural voters holding very negative views of the party on a number of fronts-most notably support for big government at the expense of personal responsibility, "moral issues," and security-but the real problem for Democrats is that their elected officials, and by extension their entire party, are perceived as directionless and divided, standing for nothing other than their own personal enrichment. . . .

Democrats are seen as being more on the side of the middle class and working Americans, more in touch with the challenges facing these Americans. However, voters only see this manifested in costly government social programs or political alliances with labor unions and minorities. There is absolutely no sense that Democrats have a viable alternative vision that would truly promote broad economic growth or increased prosperity for working Americans. . . .

The unity Democrats showed in opposing President Bush's Social Security privatization plans was an important first step for a party seen as weak and standing for nothing, although it also served to reinforce the belief among many red state and rural voters that Democrats are quick to oppose Republican initiatives but have no positive agenda of their own.

Quit criticizing so much and have a little bit more of your own direction. Whether it's right or wrong, pick a direction and go. . . . Be on the offense instead of the defense. (Appleton, older non-college men)

The Democrats have opposed these efforts. . . . Well, where is their great idea for protecting jobs? Where is their great idea for lowering health costs? They don't have it. (Appleton, younger non-college women)

They want to point out the issues that go wrong that the Republicans are making. And yet, they don't really have a solution of their own. . . . That's why they don't ever win now. (Little Rock, older non-college women)

The message of these and other findings is straightforward: Democrats can't overcome a cultural divide that advantages the Republicans among contested voters unless those voters have a clear sense of what Democrats stand for. Given that they don't, it's no wonder voters as a whole give Democrats only trivial advantages on the economy generally and in key areas like creating economic security and providing opportunity. Moreover, the image of the party continues to lag the Republicans on critical attributes like optimism, prosperity and individuals making the most of their talents.

And, on the key issue of Iraq, Democrats are famously divided on what to call for, despite the public's increased discontent about the war and increased interest in a timetable for withdrawal. The failure of Democrats to coalesce around a specific plan and timetable for withdrawal seems likely to limit their potential gains from this issue, as well as reinforce their basic problem of appearing to not know what they stand for.

Sharing Blame for Partisan Rancor

George F. Will’s latest WaPo column, “Tone-Deafness Among Democrats,” repeats a charge long familiar to Dems engaged in political discourse. Will accuses various Democrats of escalating “shrillness,” “hysteria” and “truculent asperity” in their rhetoric. His specific targets include Cindy Sheehan, along with the usual suspects cited by the GOP, Moveon.org, Howard Dean and Michael Moore.

OK, Will has a point. Democrats in general have on too many occasions been hurt by tone-deaf and excessively harsh rhetoric, which can turn off voters and make a difference in close elections.

Yet there is very little the Republicans can teach the Democrats about civility, and even less Dems can teach the GOP about the art of partisan rancor. Will does cite the long-irrelevant John Birch Society as an example of intemperate attacks by conservatives, as if GOP asperity was a thing of the distant past. But he could also have discussed many more recent examples, such as Bush attacking the patriotism of Democrats who disagree with his Iraq policy, the GOP-encouraged "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth " campaign to slime John Kerry or the non-stop barrage of nasty personal innuendo directed against Hillary Clinton. And talk about rhetorical excess, how about Pat Robertson's urging the assassination of a duly-elected head of state --- and the refusal of GOP leaders to denounce it?

Rare are politicians of any party who refuse to stoop to ad hominem attacks against adversaries, and both parties could do a better job of reducing trash-talking and upgrading debates. Maybe a bipartisan agreement to do so would help. But hanging responsibility for the coarsening of political dialogue on one party while ignoring the transgressions of the other does nothing to solve the problem.

August 24, 2005

Calling Dem Bridge Builders: Time to Lead

Kevin Drum's "It's all about-face for the Democrats" in today's LA Times is a good read for Democrats who are seeking a semblance of party unity on Iraq policy for the '06 and '08 elections. While it's unlikely that Dem doves and DLCers will cuddle up anytime soon, Drum argues that it should be possible to avoid the circular firing squad that so often undergirds GOP victories. But he warns:

Needless to say, an internecine war between its hawks and doves is the last thing the beleaguered Democratic Party needs. You can be sure that Karl Rove would do his best to hammer such a wedge straight through the heart of the party come election time. So both Democratic factions would be well-advised to do some serious thinking before their disagreements get out of hand.

Drum is clearly right, and it's time for the grown-ups to build the bridges we need to win back congress and the white house. Drum urges Dem liberals to help lead the way:

For their part, members of the antiwar left have an easy role: They should continue to push establishment Democrats to support withdrawal from Iraq, but they should also make it clear that no one will be punished for doing so, regardless of their past support for the war. However angry they are, doves can best serve their cause by not demanding tortured explanations and tearful apologies. A change in position should be enough.

Yes, and both sides could give the snarky insults to each other a rest for a while. Drum believes that the situation in Iraq is rapidly approaching the point where our current policy is indefensible even to moderates and thinking conservatives, and Dem leaders who supported the occupation are going to need room to change:

The hawks have a much harder job. They're the ones who need to publicly change their position, an act that carries the risk of being tarred forever with the dreaded label that killed Kerry's presidential campaign: "flip-flopper." Besides, mainstream Democratic politicians and their advisors genuinely think immediate withdrawal is a bad idea that likely would plunge Iraq into a savage civil war.

...For any Democrat who has been on the record for the last two years as supporting the war in Iraq, advocating withdrawal will take guts. But being the first liberal hawk to seriously propose such a solution would also carry some rewards: The antiwar left would finally have someone to rally around, and the Bush administration would finally have some serious competition.

If Drum is right about this--- and it is hard to find even a shred of evidence that Iraq is not becomming another quagmire --- it's going to be tough for Dem candidates who support continued, indefinite occupation. Drum goes on to make a strong case for a "phased withdrawall" from Iraq, with a "hard end-date two years from now." Agree or not, his argument is well-stated and his points deserve thoughtful consideration.

August 23, 2005

Bush Job-Approval Plummets to New Low

We're running out of headlines to describe President Bush's free fall in job approval ratings. The latest American Research Group survey, conducted 8/18-21, has Bush at a record low 36 percent overall job approval among Americans, with 58 percent disapproval. The figures for registered voters are 38 percent approval and 56 percent disapproval, respectively. Among registered self-identified Independents, his overall job-approval was only 21 percent, with 72 percent expressing disapproval.

Bush's "handling of the economy" approval ratings among respondents was 33 percent, with 66 percent disapproving. Among Independents, Bush's handling of the economy approval rating was 19 percent, with 74 percent disapproving.

August 22, 2005

Iraq: Where Dems Agree

Peter Baker and Shailagh Murray are generating some buzz with their article in today's WaPo "Democrats Split Over Position on Iraq War: Activists More Vocal As Leaders Decline To Challenge Bush." But there's little that is new here -- it's pretty much a standard "Dems Face Dilemma" piece. Baker and Murray provide a good summary of recent developments concerning Iraq with respect to Democratic policy (Hackett, Feingold, Sheehan etc.) and they present a few interesting comments about the wisdom of Dems quietly feeding Bush more rope as he continues to self-destruct.

Actually, the more interesting story is the widening cracks in the GOP's foreign policy consensus (See Hagel, Chuck on the front page of today's edition of any American newspaper).

Yes, it would be swell if all Democrats agreed on what to do about Iraq. But that is about as likely to occurr as Bush's daughters enlisting to serve in Baghdad. Dems can ill afford hand-wringing over the fact that we do not have a unified position on Iraq, and probably won't. But let's do emphasize what the overwhelming majority of Democrats agree on:

Bush lied about Iraq having WMD's and being a threat to U.S. national security.

Bush, Rumsfeld & Co have bungled the occupation of Iraq through poor preparation, mismanagement and bad decisions and gotten us into a horrific quagmire.

Halliburton and other firms favoring the GOP have gotten filthy rich on the bloodshed in Iraq.

At the present casualty rate, more Americans will have been killed in Iraq by next summer than were killed in the attacks on 9-11.

We have already spent $250 billion taxpayer dollars in Iraq, and there are credible forecasts indicating that the final tab could reach $1 trillion.

Although there have been no more attacks within U.S. borders since 9-11, our "homeland security" is highly porus, with many needed measures, such as stronger port security, left sorely underfunded.

There are probably more terrorists willing to do harm to the U.S. today as a direct result of U.S. oocupation of Iraq than there were before we invaded Iraq.

We have a manpower shortage in our armed services, and new enlistments have slowed to a trickle.

Gas Prices are higher than ever, and expected to go up even further.

Flip-flopping on what to do about Iraq is clearly a loser. Dem candidates all across the dove-hawk spectrum must state a clear policy on Iraq, while leaving enough room to adjust to changing realities.

Bin laden is alive and taunting the U.S, and he ain't in Iraq.

These points of agreement, which are shared by a huge majority of Democrats ought to be enough to project powerful campaign themes that can resonate in '06 and '08 in every congressional district. If we can't present a compelling foreign policy alternative to the Bush administration's litany of blunders, we don't deserve to win.

August 19, 2005

Dems' Senate Hopes Rising

SurveyUSA has just released the latest job approval ratings for U.S. Senators, and there is some cause for Democratic optimism. Here are the Senate Seats to be contested next year, accompanied by the most recent job approval ratings for the incumbents:

Job Approval Ratings for 14 Democrats Up for Re-election in '06

Daniel Akaka (HI) 56%
Jeff Bingaman (NM) 59%
Robert Byrd (WV) 65%
Maria Cantwell (WA) 47%
Tom Carper (DE) 66%
Hillary Rodham Clinton (NY) 61%
Kent Conrad (ND) 69%
Dianne Feinstein (CA) 54%
Edward Kennedy (MA) 61%
Herb Kohl (WI) 55%
Joe Lieberman (CT) 68%
Ben Nelson (NE) 63%
Bill Nelson (FL) 48%
Debbie Stabenow (MI) 46%

Job Approval Ratings for 14 Republicans Up for Re-Election in '06

George Allen (VA) 52%
Conrad Burns (MT) 48%
Lincoln Chafee (RI) 55%
Mike DeWine (OH) 42%
John Ensign (NV) 53%
Orrin Hatch (UT) 55%
Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX) 57%
Jon Kyl (AZ) 49%
Trent Lott (MS) 60%
Richard Lugar (IN) 59%
Rick Santorum (PA) 42%
Olympia Snowe (ME) 77%
Jim Talent (MO) 48%
Craig Thomas (WY) 60%

5 Open Senate Seats Up for Election in '06

Democratic (MD)
Democratic (MN)
Democratic (NJ)
Republican (TN)
Independent (VT)

Only 3 of the 14 Democratic incumbents up for re-election in '06 scored less than 50 percent job approval: Maria Cantwell; Bill Nelson and Debbie Stabenow. But 5 Republican incumbents running next year scored less than 50 percent job approval: Conrad Burns; Mike Dewine; John Kyl; Rick Santorum; and Jim Talent. Only 4 Dems scored under 55% job approval, compared with 7 Republicans. Democrats do have more "open" seats to hold (4 compared to 1), but they are fielding strong candidates in these races. For up to date wrap-ups of the campaigns for these open seats, check out the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee website, and click on the individual races in the "open seats" section.

August 18, 2005

GOP Leaders Worried About Iraq, '06

The New York Times has a front-page story "Bad Iraq War News Worries Some in G.O.P. on '06 Vote." The article, by Adam Nagourney and David D. Kirkpatrick, features quotes by GOP leaders, which indicate a growing anxiety about the war, exit strategy and the political consequences. Some examples:

"There is just no enthusiasm for this war...Nobody is happy about it. It certainly is not going to help Republican candidates, I can tell you that much." - Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. (R-TN)

"If Iraq is in the rearview mirror in the '06 election, the Republicans will do fine. But if it's still in the windshield, there are problems." - Grover Norquist, white house senior advisor

"Any effort to explain Iraq as 'We are on track and making progress' is nonsense...The left has a constant drumbeat that this is Vietnam and a bottomless pit. The daily and weekly casualties leave people feeling that things aren't going well." - former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich

"(Bush)turned the volume up on his megaphone about as high as it could go to try to tie the war in Iraq to the war on terrorism...I just don't think it washes after all these years." - Richard Viguerie, veteran GOP fund-raiser

"If your poll numbers are dropping over an issue, and this issue being the war, than obviously there is a message there - no question about it...If we are having this conversation a year from now the chances are extremely good that this will be unfavorable..." Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-NC)

Nagourney and Kirkpatrick also quote Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center on the political fallout from doubts about Bush's Iraq policy:

If this continues to drag down Bush's approval ratings, Republican candidates will be running with Bush as baggage, not as an asset...Should his numbers go much lower, he is going to be a problem for Republican candidates in 2006.

The legendary GOP echo chamber's parroting of the "message of the day" seems to be fragmenting into a cacophony of doubt. Amid mounting U.S. casualties, the loss of increasing billions of taxpayer dollars and the growing prospect that Bush's leadership will leave Iraq in a horrible mess, Republicans are starting to hear a chorus of concern from their more moderate constituents. Democratic candidates who offer a credibile alternative can win most of their votes.

August 17, 2005

SurveyUSA Polls: Bush Approval Below 50% in 41 States

Taegan Goddard's Political Wire has a mini-wrap-up of SurveyUSA's Bush approval ratings in the 50 states, and the results offer scant comfort to an embattled white house. As Goddard notes:

President Bush’s job approval has dropped to 41% nationwide, according to the results of 50 separate but concurrent, statewide public opinion polls conducted by SurveyUSA...Bush is above 50% in 7 states...at 50% in 2 states...Bush is below 50% in 41 states. Compared to last month's poll, Bush's approval numbers dropped 5 or more points in 10 states. The single largest drop was in Minnesota, where it fell 10 points. Bush also fell 9 points in New Mexico.

The SurveyUSA Poll, conducted 8/05, also indicated serious trouble for the GOP in 2004 "red" states Ohio and Missouri, which registered 37 and 38 percent Bush approval respectively.

August 15, 2005

'06 Senate Races Taking Shape

In connection with our post just below, there is no better place to go for a quick update on various U.S. Senate races than Chris Bowers' MyDD articles on '06 races for the U.S. Senate. Bowers doesn't think Dems will win the 7 seats needed to attain majority status and gain control of Senate committees. But he does see Dems picking up Senate seats. Here's just one example of his excellent wrap-aps of individual races:

Mike DeWine is extremely vulnerable with a weak 44 / 43 approval rating. Of course, that is not the only reason he is vulnerable. As one of the Gang of 14, DeWine doesn't have many friends in the Republican base and grassroots. After his son was crushed in the Republican primary for OH-02, every Republican blog that wrote about it blamed Son of DeWine's defeat on DeWine being a member of the Gang of 14. Even further, as Hackett proved with an 11-point swing in OH-02, Ohio is clearly becoming increasingly disgusted with the Taft and other scandal-plagued Republicans who have run the state into the ground. Finally, no matter who DeWine's opponent is, Sherrod Brown, Tim Ryan or Paul Hackett, he will be facing a serious, serious challenger. The only poll on the race, by the DSCC, showed him at only 42%, but up six on Brown. Overall, I really think DeWine is toast. Of course, none of the three Dems I listed could run, making me look like an idiot. We shall see.

Bowers also predicts that '06 Dem Senate candidates will once again collectively outpoll their GOP competition, as they have for the last three Senate elections --- by 2 million votes.

August 13, 2005

Ignore '08 Presidential Polls, Get Focused on '06

All who are tempted to take early polls on Presidential preferences for '08 seriously are directed to Mystery Pollster's pre-vacation post "2008 Presidential Polling in 2005: A REALLY Big Grain of Salt." Yes, Hillary and Guliani or McCain may look like front runners now. But that doesn't mean squat, if historical experience is worth anything. Mystery Pollster analyses a study of early polls by The National Journal Hotline and concludes:

The polls for the 2004 Democratic primary provided "the best example of tainted primary polls." Three candidates who did not run (Gore, Clinton & Bradley) dominated the early trial heats, while the ultimate "frontrunners" (Kerry, Edwards & Dean) barely registered:

WH '04 Dem Primary Averages
41% Al Gore
19% Hilary Clinton
9% Joe Lieberman
8% Bill Bradley
7% Dick Gephardt
4% John Kerry
2% John Edwards
2% Bob Kerrey

Mystery Pollster notes similar results for other recent presidential polls and elections and adds:

...the horse race questions you are seeing on the 2008 race for the White House are sampling segments of the population that are three to four times larger than the electorates that will actually decide each nomination. And keep in mind, we do not conduct a national primary, but a series of statewide primaries. ...It may be helpful to consider that private campaign pollsters -- the people hired by the presidential candidates -- do not bother with this sort of national primary horserace poll. When they begin to do their internal surveys for presidential candidates, campaign pollsters will focus more on sampling individual states that come early in the process (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, etc) rather than looking at a national sample. And even then, they pay far less attention to horse-race questions at this stage in the race than to favorable ratings that tell us how well each potential candidate is known.

So leave early speculation about the presidential nominees of both parties to the time-wasters. Dems have enough to worry about in '06 --- to make the most of the opportunity to regain control of at least one house of congress. For more on the importance of meeting this challenge, see our July 25 post "Dems Should Focus More on Congressional Campaigns."

August 12, 2005

Dems Should Modify '55 Percent Rule'

In the wake of Paul Hackett's near upset in the Ohio 2nd district congressional race, Ron Brownstein's latest LA Times column, "Campaign Battlefield May Grow," features an interesting discusssion about Democratic strategy in upcoming congressional campaigns. Brownstein's column centers on the debate between internet activists and Democratic Party leaders over how much money should be invested in races in GOP stronghold districts, which Hackett's campaign suggests may not be so far out of reach for aggressive Dem candidates.

Both sides offer compelling arguments, which are well-presented by Brownstein. But Hackett's near win does indicate that the "55 percent rule," in which the Democratic Party withholds significant cash from races for districts the GOP won in the previous election with 55 percent of the vote, should be modified. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) seems to be open to a compromise. As Brownstein notes:

He said he had rejected the traditional milepost of only contesting seats where the GOP incumbent polled 55% of the vote or less. He said the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee would try to recruit and fund challengers in "every open seat, every seat where an individual Republican incumbent has an [ethics] issue," and in districts where Bush's performance fell short of expectations in 2004.

"We've got to get to 50 [challengers]," Emanuel said. "That's my magic number. But I can't say, 'Go to Texas and take on a guy who has 80% [support] in a district where Bush got 78%.' I am only going to have 'X' dollars."

Meanwhile, The internet activists, led by Swing State and Kos won't be sitting around waiting for the Party to embrace their broader vision of electoral victory. Instead, they will be raising serious dough for more dark horse candidates in the months ahead --- one more reason why 2006 is shaping up as one of the more interesting congressional campaigns in a long time.

August 11, 2005

Texas Turning Purple

Texas reached an historical milestone yesterday, when the U.S. Census Bureau announced that it has become the fourth state in the nation with a majority of its residents in non-white racial categories. Some conclusions, noted by the AP's Alicia A. Caldwell notes in her L.A. Times article, "Texas Now a Majority-Minority State" (no link):

According to the population estimates based on the 2000 Census, about 50.2 percent of Texans are now minorities. In the 2000 Census, minorities made up about 47 percent of the population in the second-largest state.

Texas joins California, New Mexico and Hawaii as states with majority-minority populations -- with Hispanics the largest group in every state but Hawaii, where it is Asian-Americans.

Five other states -- Maryland, Mississippi, Georgia, New York and Arizona -- aren't far behind, with about 40 percent minorities.

We might also add that North Carolina has the fastest-growing Hispanic population of any state.

The political implications of this pivotal demographic trend are thoroughly discussed in The Emerging Democratic Majority. Although growth in Texas and other states has been led by Latinos, large percentages of whom are not yet citizens, they will soon be voting in ever-increasing numbers.

Republicans are already reaching out to Hispanics with a range of initiatives, but it is likely that GOP success in winning their electoral support will be limited as long as their major policies are anchored in, well, Republican priorities. Dems are in a good position to benefit -- especially if we develop more credible policies that address Latino concerns, recruit more Hispanic leadership in decision-making positions within the Democratic Party and campaigns and make political education in Hispanic communities more of a priority.

August 10, 2005

Gallup, Newsweek Polls Show Bush at Historic Lows

A new Gallup/CNN/USA Today Poll conducted 8/5-7 has President Bush's job approval rating at 45 percent, just a point better than his all-time Gallup low of 44 percent recorded two weeks ago. Bush's approval rating tied an all-time low of 42 percent in the new Newsweek poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates 8/2-4.

Bush hit historic lows in public approval of his Iraq policies. In the Gallup Poll, an all-time high of 54 percent of Americans agreed that sending troops to Iraq was a "mistake" and an all-time high of 57 percent of respondents said America was "less safe" from terrorism as a result of the war. In the Newsweek Poll, an all-time high of 61 percent disapproved of Bush's "handling of the situation in Iraq" and 64 percent believed the war has not made the U.S. safer from terrorism. The Newsweek Poll also found that 38 percent of Americans support keeping "large numbers of US military personnel in Iraq less than one year," with 12 percent wanting to bring the troops home now.

August 9, 2005

New Study Reveals Harm Done By Electoral College

We're stuck with it for now, but as soon as the Democrats win back the white house and get a healthy congressional majority, one of the top priorities has to be getting rid of the Electoral College. True, Kerry might have won the presidency in 2004 if he had carried Ohio and lost the nation-wide popular vote, just as Bush won in 2000, despite losing the popular vote. But a new study by Fairvote: The Center for Voting and Democracy reveals that the Electoral College does a lot of damage to democratic principles and warps political priorities. Among the conclusions:

A shift of just 18,774 votes would have meant an exact repeat of the 2000 state-by-state results.

In the 12 most competitive states in 2004, voter turnout rose 9% to 63%. In the 12 least competitive states, voter turnout rose only 2% to 53%.

Voter turnout among 18-29-year-olds was 64.4% in the ten most competitive states and 47.6% in the remaining states – a gap of 17%.

A shift of just 20,417 votes would have given the country an Electoral College tie. An even smaller shift would have thrown the 2000 elections into the U.S. House.

The number of states where there is genuine competition has been steadilly shrinking. In 1960, 24 states with a total of 327 electoral votes were battlegrounds. In 2004, only 13 states with 159 electoral votes were similarly competitive.

It could be argued that keeping the Electoral College, at least thru 2008 is in the Democrats' favor, since demographic trends indicate that there will be disproportionate growth of pro-Democratic constituencies in the 2004 "battleground" states (people of color are currently underrepresented in those states, as a whole). But direct popular election of the President would encourage presidential candidates to campaign everywhere and would likely increase voter participation for all groups. It would help reduce cynicism about the political process and give all voters a sense that their vote is as good as anyone else's. Most importantly, it would end the very real threat of the will of the majority being thwarted in consecutive presidential elections, which could have a devastating effect on voter turnout in the future.

States have the option of making the Electoral College more representative by requiring proportional distribution of votes based on the popular vote, as opposed to winner-take-all. Only Maine and Nebraska currently allocate electoral votes this way. Colorado rejected such a change in November, when many of the state's voters said they didn't want to make their state a "guinea pig." Abolishing the Electoral College would take a constitutional amendment, and there would be some resistance in the larger states. But the improved fairness would benefit everyone, and strengthen the principle of one person, one vote --- which should be a cornerstone of every great democracy.

August 8, 2005

Roberts Likely to Uphold Felon Disenfranchisement

Barring any major revelations, beltway insiders are predicting that Supreme Court nominee John Roberts may be confirmed by as many as 70+ votes, including 15 or more Democratic Senators. This is disturbing, considering Roberts' record with respect to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As Sasha Abramsky, notes in his article"Locked Out Of Democracy" in the current edition of TomPaine.com:

...A smattering of articles have looked at memos the young Roberts wrote back in the early 1980's urging a limited interpretation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act...Roberts argued in the 1980's that the Voting Rights Act should be restricted to "intentionality." To prove a violation of the Act, under the definitions he set forth, plaintiffs would have to demonstrate not simply that policies and social structures had the effect of restricting minority populations' ability to vote and otherwise politically participate, but that there were individuals in positions of authority who specifically intended their laws and regulations to produce this outcome.

Abramsky, author of a forthcomming book on felon disenfranchisement entitled Conned, argues that Roberts' record in this regard is cause for concern, especially for Democrats:

...Judicial reluctance to bar practices of felon disenfranchisement in an era of mass, and racially-skewed, incarceration has, over the past three decades, resulted in backdoor disenfranchisement of mammoth proportions. While the Voting Rights Act has been used to destroy most vestiges of Jim Crow, advocates in states as far flung as Washington and Florida have been unable to convince courts to apply it in the one area where America's ongoing racial divides are most clearly, and depressingly, on display-the criminal justice arena.

For many years now, state and federal courts hearing challenges to permanent felon disenfranchisement laws have ruled that felons' political rights are not protected under the Voting Rights Act. Such rulings essentially apply Roberts' intent criteria and arguing that states aren't intentionally convicting and incarcerating people simply because of the color of their skin. This, despite the fact that social circumstance and the peculiarities of U.S. history have combined to produce intense racial disparities throughout the criminal justice system, and, by extension, have disenfranchised legions of impoverished Black males.

Roberts' embrace of the need to prove intent to discriminate, which is all but impossible to prove in most instances, makes it likely that he will uphold state statutes requiring disenfranchisement of felons. This will help to permanently cripple Democratic prospects, particularly in the south. As Abramsky notes:

The main challenge is no longer the straightforward, racial disempowerment engineered by supremacist state politicians and terror groups such as the KKK—the Voting Rights Act has indeed relegated those abuses to history. Today, one of the chief threats to minority voting rights comes from the practice of disfranchising individuals with felony convictions, and it is a threat that the legal system—all the way up to the Supreme Court—has conspicuously failed to recognize.

As more and more crimes, especially drug offenses, have been defined as felonies during decades of "tough on crime" rhetoric and populist politicking, the number of felony convictions is increasing. Until this year, a half-dozen states—mainly in the South-permanently disenfranchised people with felony convictions. There have been some victories-like when Nebraska and Iowa jettisoned their permanent disenfranchisement laws earlier this year. But in the United States today, 48 out of 50 states still deny voting rights to people based on conviction status. Maine and Vermont stand alone as never denying ballot access based on felony status.

The result is that in 2005, in a country that considers itself the world's preeminent democracy, almost 5 million Americans—those in prison, on parole or probation, or living in states where voting restrictions extend beyond the end of one's criminal sentence—are now legally without a vote and politically voiceless. Millions more, not familiar with the intricacies of recent law changes, likely think they cannot vote. Quite simply, the combination of the "War On Crime" and felon disenfranchisement codes has resulted in the biggest contraction of the franchise since the South adopted Jim Crow at the end of the nineteenth century.

In states such as Alabama—where a single felony conviction is enough to result in lifelong disenfranchisement -— teenagers, many of them African American, routinely lose their right to vote before they have even had a chance to exercise it. Regaining the vote is so onerous a process in Alabama that vast numbers simply drop out of political participation altogether, living the remainder of their lives as political invisibles.

Numbers compiled by the D.C.-based Sentencing Project and other researchers suggest that in many areas of the South, up to one-third of African American men have lost their right to vote because of a criminal conviction. The expansion of the criminal justice system has had such an extreme impact on voting rights that elections from the local, all the way up to the presidential levels are now affected as much by who cannot vote as by who does cast a ballot.

It is true that the Democratic Party must win the support of greater numbers of white workers, especially women, to have even a chance of winning victories in southern states in '06 and '08. But it is also critically important to remember that African Americans are a large and increasing percentage of southern voters, and they vote Democratic by 9-1. (For more on the political effects of felon disenfraqnchisement, see our June 18th post) No legal reform would do more to strengthen Democratic prospects in the south than enfranchising convicted felons, starting with those who have served their time. As the movement to end felon disenfranchisement gathers momentum, Democratic Senators preparing to rubber stamp the Roberts nomination ought to pause and give that more serious thought.

August 7, 2005

How GOP Voter 'Reforms' Cut Dem Votes in GA

On first consideration, the new Georgia law requiring picture identification to vote seems reasonable enough as a tool for preventing voter fraud. But, as Cynthia Tucker notes in her recent Atlanta Constitution article "Easy to identify hypocrisy of Georgia Republicans' voter ID law," such seemingly fair requirements provide a transparent mask for a highly partisan agenda:

...white Georgians are five times more likely to have a car or truck than black Georgians. According to Kilpatrick Stockton attorney Seth Cohen, about 4 percent of white adults in Georgia lack a driver's license, but more than four times as many black adults — about 18 percent — lack one.

...Furthermore, the Legislature passed its new law while doing precious little to fix the backlog for driver's licenses. The newly created Department of Driver Services, where voters will have to go for their new state-sponsored IDs, is still short-staffed. As it stands, only 56 motor vehicle safety licensing branches serve Georgia's 159 counties

Georgia does provide a state photo I.D., knowing full well that many voters, particularly seniors with mobility problems, will not go the extra trouble to apply for one and many others are unaware of the process. Echoing Rep. John Lewis (see post below), Tucker, points out that voter suppression is a national problem:

...Across the country, GOP strategists have used dirty tricks against Native Americans, blacks and Latinos, ranging from false reports of invalid registration to threatening legitimate voters with arrest. They've been doing it for years. In 1993, Republican operative Ed Rollins, who managed Christine Whitman's run for governor of New Jersey, made headlines when he attributed her success, in part, to his tactic of paying black preachers to keep their congregants away from the polls. Though he later retracted the claim, it had the unfortunate ring of truth.

Since then, the tactics have only become more open and more aggressive. In 2003, South Dakota's GOP-dominated state Legislature passed a law requiring photo IDs, and it kept many of that state's Native Americans, reliable Democratic voters, from the polls last year. Perhaps it's no coincidence, then, that Tom Daschle, who had been Senate minority leader, lost his race for re-election.

Tucker points out that Georgia's Republican-dominated state legislature and Governor have done nothing to require identification for absentee ballots, most of which are cast for GOP candidates. She quotes Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox: "In contrast to the lack of voter fraud relating to impersonating voters at the polls, the State Election Board has reviewed scores of cases of alleged voter fraud relating to the use of absentee ballots."

The example of Georgia's voter i.d. law provides a compelling illustration of the urgent need to make renewal of provisions of the Voting Rights Act a priority. If the Georgia law is allowed to stand, it will be replicated in other states, and Democrats will pay the price.

August 6, 2005

Voting Rights Act Renewal and Dems's Future

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the enactment of the Voting Rights Act, and the kickoff of a new movement to secure the renewal of key provisions of this historic legislation. This is a concern of significance for the Democratic Party, which is weakened by the suppression of minority votes. Writing in today's New York Times ("Keeping the Polls Open"), U.S. Rep. John Lewis, one of the heroes of the Voting Rights struggle, underscores the critical importance of renewing the law:

Several sections of the act are set to expire in 2007, however. One of the most important is Section 5, which requires that states and localities with a history of voting discrimination submit any changes in their voting systems for review, called "preclearance," by the Justice Department or a federal court. If those changes are found to violate the act, they must be reformulated.

There are some in Congress who suggest that Section 5 is now irrelevant, a relic of an unjust past. Yet there is plenty of convincing recent evidence of insidious attempts to deny some Americans equal access to the voting booth.

For example, the Georgia Legislature passed a law this spring requiring voters to present a government-issued photo identification before voting. This is a significant departure from the state's current law, which allows 17 other forms of identification, including birth certificates and bank statements. This change would have a discriminatory effect on African-Americans, who are far less likely than whites to have a driver's license. To make matters worse, there are only 53 motor-vehicle offices to serve the state's 159 counties. For now, this law cannot take effect without federal approval, but should Section 5 lapse, Georgia voters would lose an important line of defense.

But, as Rep. Lewis points out, the Voting Rights Act protects other minorities outside the South from disenfranchisement schemes:

Some states have blatantly disregarded the law. In 1975 Congress added two counties in South Dakota with long histories of discrimination against Americans Indians to the list of those requiring preclearance of voting laws. Nonetheless, state officials decided not to recognize the federal mandate; over the next two decades, they passed 800 regulations and statutes without submitting them for federal review. As recently as 2002, officials in Buffalo County packed nearly all the county's American Indian majority into a single voting district to ensure that they could control only one seat on the three-member county commission. Relief came in lawsuits filed under the act. As part of a settlement, Buffalo County was forced to admit its rules were discriminatory and to allow federal oversight of future plans.

The Voting Rights Act has also aided "language minorities" in New York City. As a result of lawsuits brought by Puerto Ricans in the 1970's arguing that New York's English-only ballots discriminated against Spanish-speaking voters, three counties - New York, Bronx and Kings - are now covered under Section 5's federal review regulations.

Another section of the act, the "language assistance" provision, is also set to expire in 2007. Litigation based on the provision led to mandated Chinese-language ballots in New York, helping more than 100,000 Asian-Americans not fluent in English to vote. In 2001, John Liu was elected to the City Council, becoming the first Asian-American elected to a major legislative position in the city with the nation's largest Asian-American population.

These are just a few of the hundreds of contemporary challenges to the right to vote that need our attention (without even mentioning recent judicial decisions intended to weaken the power of the Voting Rights Act). Unless we re-authorize and strengthen every vital provision of the act, we risk the advances we have achieved.

The WaPo wrap-up on the Voting Rights Act anniversary adds:

...efforts to dilute the minority vote by redrawing districts in South Carolina and Texas are a real-life example of why the pre-clearance of rules is still needed. Also, they say, black voters complained of being wrongly identified as felons and crossed off the voting rolls in the 2000 presidential election.

As a matter of simple justice, renewal of these provisions of the Voting Rights Act are needed to insure continued protection of the rights of minority voters. And because people of color more often vote Democratic, it should be a special priority for Dems.

August 5, 2005

Bush Hits New Lows for Iraq Approval, Honesty

A new AP/Ipsos Poll, conducted 8/1-3 indicates that President Bush has hit historic lows in approval of his handling of Iraq and the percentage of Americans who agree that he is "honest."

President Bush is perceived as "honest" by 48 percent of respondents --- the first time his honesty rating has fallen below 50 percent. 50 percent now say he is not honest. A total of 59 percent now say they disapprove of his "handling of the situation in Iraq," with 38 percent approving. The percentage of Americans who now view his confidence as "arrogance" has risen dramatically, from 49 percent in January to 56 percent now.

His overall job approval continues to hover at 42 percent, with 55 percent of respondents disapproving. His handling of Social Security is also down, with only 33 percent of Americans approving and 63 percent disapproving.

August 4, 2005

Hackett's Near-Upset Shakes GOP

GOP spin doctors are scrambling to put a happy face on Paul Hackett's near-upset of Jean Schmidt in Tuesday's congressional election in Ohio's most conservative congressional district. "Special elections are unique, they don't always reflect the district's usual results," explained National Republican Congressional Committee spokessman Carl Forti, quoted in today's New York Times.

The GOP post-mortems argue correctly that, after all, Schmidt won by a margin of 51.7 - 48.3 percent. True enough, but if Hackett received another 1787 votes of the total cast, he would have been elected.

They point out that it was a low turnout --about 25 percent of eligible voters, or 112,375 total votes. But this argument underscores the GOP's weakness in delivering a low turnout in one of their strongholds.

But not all Republicans were in denial. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich issued a candid warning to the GOP, as quoted in today's WaPo:

"It should serve as a wake-up call to Republicans, and I certainly take it very seriously in analyzing how the public mood evidences itself," Gingrich said. "Who is willing to show up and vote is different than who answers a public opinion poll. Clearly, there's a pretty strong signal for Republicans thinking about 2006 that they need to do some very serious planning and not just assume that everything is going to be automatically okay."

Ohio GOP political director Jason Mauk put it this way:

To the extent that voters in that district were sending a message to the Republican Party at the state or national level, we have heard that message and we will continue to listen to their concerns.

One of the key lessons of Hackett's near-win is the power of the liberal blogosphere in raising needed funds for individual campaigns. Lead by The Swing State Project, liberal bloggers raised an estimated $500,000 for Hackett, two-thirds of his campaign budget of $750,000, according to the WaPo article.

Another lesson for Dems is that Hackett's impressive tally was boosted by his refusal to water down his criticism of the Administration's Iraq policy or tone down his anti-corruption message. Hackett also used some strong rhetoric during the campaign, reportedly calling President Bush an "s.o.b." and a "chicken-hawk." An interesting question is whether the name-calling helped or hurt him. When asked if his rhetoric helped his campaign, Hackett, who clearly appreciates the importance of consistency, was quoted in a Cincinnatti Post article as saying "Meant it, said it, stand by it...I'd say it again. For every vote I may have lost because of it, I probably picked up one or two." There should be no doubt, however, that his tough stands on Bush's Iraq policy and GOP corruption in Ohio resonated with many of the 2nd district's swing voters.

August 3, 2005

OH-02 Vote Bodes Well for Dems in '06

The results of the OH-02 congressional race are in, and Paul Hackett's showing, while 2+ points short of an upset victory, strengthens Dem hopes for '06. As Charlie Cook noted before the vote:

If Schmidt's victory margin is in double digits, this tells us that there is not much of an anti-GOP wind in Ohio right now. If the margin is say six to nine points for Schmidt, then there is a wind, but certainly no hurricane. A Schmidt win of less than five points should be a very serious warning sign for Ohio Republicans that something is very, very wrong, while a Hackett victory would be a devastating blow to the Ohio GOP.

Kos does a nice job of putting the vote in perspective:

this is probably the only district in Ohio in which Paul would've lost...So the state GOP avoids a "devastating blow", but only by the hair on their chinny chin chin. OH-02 saw the resurgance of the Democratic Party, the GOP had to spend $500K they hadn't otherwise planned on spending, and a Democratic star is born (next stop for Hackett -- statewide elected office). So much for "burying" Hackett...It's a new day for the Democratic Party, one in which no Republican district is safe.

And DavidNYC adds this at the same Kos link:

tonight's results represent a tidal wave in Ohio (and perhaps national) politics. In 2004, the Democrat running in OH-02 lost by 44 points. Tonight, the Democrat, Paul Hackett, lost by a mere 4 points - just 4,000 votes out of over 114,000 cast. That's one-eleventh the prior margin, and that's fighting against one of the most corrupt state Republican parties in the land.

Dems should take note that Hackett is a fiercely outspoken critic of the President's leadership of the War in Iraq. As CNN reports:

Hackett, a lawyer and Marine reservist who recently completed a seven-month tour in Iraq, drew national attention to the race with his flame-throwing assaults on Bush. He was especially harsh of the president for his July 2003 "bring 'em on" comment about Iraqi insurgents, saying such talk merely "cheered on the enemy."

"That's the most incredibly stupid comment I've ever heard a president of the United States make," Hackett told USA Today.

There's more at Kos, and there are other interesting posts about the OH-02 results at the Swing State Project, MyDD, The Left Coaster and Whiskey Bar.

August 1, 2005

Does the Big Tent Have a Weak Foundation?

In the wake of the caving of the Dems' CAFTA defectors, David Sirota has cranked up the case for stronger Democratic Party discipline. In his Working Assets post "Why Dems Should Value -- not Shun -- Accountability," Sirota argues that it is a major blunder not to invoke some punishment on Dems who caved on CAFTA, the bankruptsy bill and other defining issues. Says Sirota:

...it never ceases to amaze me how Washington, D.C. Democrats - unlike Republicans - have no understanding of why accountability will actually help them get back into the majority.

You've heard it before: Democrats don't like to talk about who is loyal to the party and who isn't. They would prefer that everyone just be quiet about divisions, even if those divisions undermine the party's ability to deliver a serious message. It's the big tent for big tent's sake - even if it means losing into perpetuity.

...Whining Democrats, I ask you: do you think Newt Gingrich was nice to people within his party who undermined him in his quest to take back the majority? Do you think the current Republican leadership dislikes Grover Norquist's efforts to keep GOPers in line today? Do you think Karl Rove keeps winning elections by letting turncoats within his own party undermine the GOP?

...Republicans understand the value of having an infrastructure that helps keep their troops in line - an infrastructure that makes it clear there are actual consequences for selling out. To most people in the real world, this kind of thing is really very elementary...consequences are the only thing that makes sure someone who has undermine the team doesn't undermine the team again in the future.

...the majority of Democrats in Congress are courageous and honest people. The problem is, they are being undermined on a daily basis. It is the loyal foot soldiers that a strengthened accountability infrastructure will help, because without consequences for turncoats, the party will be undermined forever.

This is the way back to the majority for the Democratic Party - not rolling over and dying when turncoats within the party's ranks repeatedly undermine the party's effectiveness. Helping create accountability for those who sell out is not disloyal. On the contrary, it is the ultimate act of loyalty if you are seriously interested in seeing Democrats regain the majority. The people who are disloyal are those Democrats who pay lip service to the goal of winning back Congress, but in reality have become so comfortable in the minority they'd rather just sweep even the most self-destructive problems under the rug.

Ouch, but well-said. And in his Sirotablog article "Grover Norquist, Turncoats & the Embrace of Movement Politics," he argues further that invoking discipline on wayward Republicans is the ultimate source of Norquist's increasing influence. Of course, the Big Tent Dems would hasten to point out that heavy-handed discipline caused the GOP to lose their Senate majority when Jim Jeffords quit the Republicans. Yet it does seem crazy to just shrugg off betrayals of Democratic principles for the sake of an ineffectual party 'unity.' This issue is important for the future of the Democratic Party, and Sirota's post deserves serious consideration.