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June 30, 2006

LA Times Poll: Dems Pulling Ahead in Congressional Races

The new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg Poll just out gives the GOP a lot to worry about. The poll, conducted 6/24-27, paints "a gloomy picture for the Republicans in Congress," with Dems poised to make substantial gains in the November elections.

The poll indicates Dems enjoy a 14-point advantage among registered voters in races for congressional seats "if elections were held today." The poll also reveals a widening gender gap, more like a gender gulf, really, with women now giving Dems a 26 point advantage in their congressional districts. The poll found that 54 percent of all respondents wanted the Dems to control both houses of congress.

The poll also indicates that, even though Bush apparently gets a small post-Zarqawi bump in his approval ratings, he is more of a liability for congressional candidates than an asset. More than one-third of respondents said they would be less likely to vote for a congressional candidate who had Bush's endorsement or who supported his policies, 45 percent said it would not matter and less than a fifth said they would be more likely to vote for a Bush-supported candidate.

The poll also addresses current opinion trends on a range of issues, including Iraq and immigration. For the time-challenged, LA Times columnist Ron Brownstein has a wrap-up here.

June 29, 2006

SCOTUS Redistricting Decision and Dems' Future

by Pete Ross

New Donkey's Ed Kilgore has a post that nicely limns the SCOTUS decision on redistricting. As Kilgore explains:

It's clear a sizeable majority of the Court has decided that mid-decade reversals of redistricting plans are not barred by the federal constitutution, and a less-sizeable majority refuses to consider re-redistricting as grounds for strong suspicion that illicit political gerrymandering has occurred. But the Court appears to be all over the place, as it has been for more than a decade, in determining when if ever political gerrymandering can violate the Constitution.

Meanwhile, a 5-4 majority of the Court ruled than one of the districts in the DeLay Map violates the Voting Right Act as a straightforward dilution of Hispanic voting strength. But the decision about how to deal with it was dumped back to a District Court in Texas, which must now decide whether there is anything they can do about it between now and November. Obviously, fixing one district could affect many others.

The SCOTUS decision Allowing the Texas legislature to redistrict twice in two years was clearly wrong and it encouraged abuse of political power. By upholding most of DeLay's gerrymandering initiative, the High Court did the Democrats and the country no good, except for the finding that, yes, it did illegally disempower Latino voters in one of the districts and violate the Voting Rights Act. As Kilgore says "No one can any longer foster the illusion that the U.S. Supreme Court will do anything to stop the madness." We're going to be stuck with a GOP-dominated SCOTUS into the forseeable future, so the Dem strategy should assume little relief from the courts. The solution? Kilgore recommends:

But no one should forget that the one place in which a DeLay-style GOP partisan re-redistricting foundered was Colorado, for the simple reason that the state's own constitution banned mid-decade redistricting. Looking ahead to the next decade, states should strongly consider emulating Colorado's ban on the practice of overturning congressional and state legislative maps every time partisan control of state government solidifies or flips.

The Colorado model may indeed be a force for stability, but it may not be such a good thing in the long run for the Democratic Party, or the nation for that matter, given the rapid population increases of Latino and African Americans and the extraordinary mobility of Americans. State laws permitting redistricting once in mid-decade, as well as after every census, might better serve a healthy mix of both demographic reality and stability.

June 28, 2006

GQR Survey Reveals Swing Voter Priorities

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research has a new report "Swing Nation," which offers clues for securing the support of swing voters. In the executive summary of the study Anna Greenberg and David Walker explain:

Swing voters embrace an agenda that invests more money in new clean energy, affordable health care for all and strengthening education with these investments paid for by eliminating recently passed tax cuts for corporations and people making over $200,000 a year. But swing voters also make plain their concerns about the deficit and government accountability.

The study, conducted 5/20-25, is based on a survey of "self-decribed Independents and near-independents" in "swing congressional districts" and "swing senate seats" identified by the Rothenberg Political Report, Charlie Cook and Larry Sabato. The survey reports that Dems have a strong lead among swing voters in key House races 45-28 percent, and an even larger lead among swing voters in swing state senate races, 53-31 percent. See the article for a complete list of swing districts and states.

June 27, 2006

Dems Take Lead in Midwest Bellwether

A new poll in bellwether state Missouri has Democratic challengers taking the lead in campaigns for both U.S. Senate and Governor --- and over incumbents. The poll, conducted 6/19-22 by Research 2000 Missouri, finds Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill, State Auditor, leading GOP Governor Jim Talent in the 2006 Senate race by 49-43 percent. McCaskill leads among independents by 14 points, 53-49. In the 2008 race for Governor, Democrat Jay Nixon, Missouri Attorney General, leads incumbent Republican Governor Matt Blunt by 50-40 percent. Among Independents, Nixon holds a 16 point lead, 57-31 percent.

This is great news for Dems, considering that Missouri is a near-perfect bellwether state, mirroring the national demographic profile closely and picking 26 of the last 27 Presidents.

Hint for Dems: The poll also found overwhelming support for a new tax! By a margin of 62-30, respondents favored increasing the tax on every pack of cigarettes by 80 cents --- to help finance Medicaid, health care and smoking prevention. "Providing Medicaid coverage for the poor and disabled" was the leading concern of poll respondents, ahead of avoiding tax increases, education, the economy, gas prices and other concerns.

June 26, 2006

Stampede of the Rinos or Ain't Nuthin' the Matter With Kansas

by Pete Ross

Paul Harris of the Guardian Unlimited Observer reports on the resignation of the Kansas GOP Chairman Mark Parkinson and his candidacy for Deputy Governor --- as a Democrat. Writes Harris:

His defection to the Democrats sent shockwaves through a state deeply associated with the national Republican cause and the evangelical conservatives at its base. Nor was it just Parkinson's leave-taking that left Republicans spluttering with rage and talking of betrayal. It was that as he left Parkinson lambasted his former party's obsession with conservative and religious issues such as gay marriage, evolution and abortion.

Sitting in his headquarters, the new Democrat is sticking to his guns. Republicans in Kansas, he says, have let down their own people. 'They were fixated on ideological issues that really don't matter to people's everyday lives. What matters is improving schools and creating jobs,' he said. 'I got tired of the theological debate over whether Charles Darwin was right.'

Could this be a harbinger of a nation-wide trend of substance-hungry Republicans becoming Democrats? Maybe, suggests Harris:

...in a swath of heartland states such as Kansas, Democrats are seeing the first signs of their party's rebirth. Parkinson is not alone in switching sides. In Virginia, Jim Webb, a one-time Reagan official, is seeking to be a Democrat senator. In South Carolina, top Republican prosecutor Barney Giese has defected after a spat with conservatives. Back in Kansas another top Republican, Paul Morrison, also joined the Democrats and is challenging a Republican to be the state attorney-general.

...Parkinson's defection encouraged other moderates to abandon a party controlled by right-wing religious zealots. In political terms they are called Rinos, or Republicans in Name Only. If enough Rinos desert, the strict ideologues in the party are likely to drift further right.

Yeah, we know, this is largely anecdotal. But significant Rino defections have also been documented in recent polls (see Alan Abramowitz's May 17 EDM post, for example). And if a former state GOP chairman is too through with his party, something probably is going on. Harris sees the trend as being influenced by high-performing Dems, in this case Kansas Governor Kathleen Sibelius :

One of the key reasons Kansas Democrats are in fighting mood is their governor, Kathleen Sibelius. Sibelius's vote represents an island of Democratic blue in a sea of Republican red on the political map, and she has impressed by reaching the middle-ground voters in a startlingly successful first term. Shunning the hot-button social issues, she has focused on education, jobs and health. This has earned her approval ratings touching 68 per cent in a state that was overwhelmingly pro-Bush in 2004.

Sibelius has cracked the political holy grail: persuading heartland Republicans to vote Democrat. 'Her style works here, and then bringing over Parkinson to the Democrats has been the coup of all coups,' said Professor Bob Beatty, a political scientist at Washburn University near Topeka.

Sibelius appears to be a serious comer. True, Kansas Dems still face an uphill struggle. But they have a fighting spirit, well-expressed in a resonating slogan for their '06 campaigns, "Hope in the Heartland" --- may it be heard in all states.

June 25, 2006

Can Dems Match GOP Ground Game?

Peter Wallsten and Tom Hamburger have an article in Sunday's L.A. Times "The GOP knows you don't like anchovies," which paints a daunting snapshot of the GOP's data-mining and voter turn-out machine. The article's exhibit "A" describes a strong GOP ground game in the recent CA-5 election in San Diego:

Democrats appeared to enjoy yet another advantage: More absentee ballots were being submitted by Democratic voters than by Republicans. The advantage did not last long. Jolted to life, the GOP machinery revved into high gear as activists poured into the district. They scoured the party's computer database for sympathetic voters who had requested absentee ballots but had not yet submitted them, knocked on their doors and called them on the phone. Suddenly, thousands of additional votes had been secured, and by election day, the GOP had turned around a costly deficit — with 10,000 more Republicans than Democrats voting absentee.

The authors see the GOP having a nation-wide high-tech edge, including "the most sophisticated vote-tracking technology around." They cite "Voter Vault," a database program that tracks voters by "personal hobbies, professional interests, geography — even by their favorite brands of toothpaste and soda and which gym they belong to." It was highly effective in targeting key constituencies in individual districts, according to Hamburger and Wallsten:

...The new-and-improved GOP database helped Republicans begin to peel away select pieces of the old Democratic base, such as politically conservative and pro-Israel Jews, as well as socially conservative blacks, Latinos and blue-collar workers. In Cleveland, Republicans in 2004 compiled a list of Russian-speaking Jewish immigrants who they knew backed Bush's stance against Islamic terrorism, then organized a rally entirely in Russian on the Sunday before the election.

Wallsten and Hamburger point out that the GOP leaders have set a new standard for mining federal government databases:

All administrations are political, of course. But never before has the White House inserted electoral priorities into Cabinet agencies with such regularity and deliberation. Before the 2002 midterm elections, for instance, Rove or Mehlman visited with the managers of many federal agencies to share polling information and discuss how policy decisions might affect key races.

Democrats also have formidable ground game assets, like unions and advanced expertise in on-line fund-raising. But it's clear Democratic campaign strategists must now assume a substantially-stronger GOP voter turn-out program -- and plan accordingly.

June 22, 2006

Confronting the "Cut and Run" Label

Mid-term campaigners should consider a couple of good ideas for dealing with the GOP's tactic of demonizing Dems with the "cut and run" label. The first one comes from Gadflyer Paul Waldman:

So how do they [Dems} get on offense? Simple: make it about Bush and the Republicans. When a reporter asks you, "The Republicans say you want to cut and run, what's your response?", do not - DO NOT - repeat the phrase "cut and run" in your answer. The answer should be about the Republicans, not about you: "The Republicans want to stay in Iraq forever. We want to figure out how we can redeploy our forces. While our troops are fighting and dying every day, Republicans tell us that everything in Iraq is going great. What planet are they living on? Do they have a plan to end our involvement there, or do they think our children and grandchildren should be dodging IEDs in Tal Afar, too?" Make it about THEM. Put THEM on the defensive. And when the reporter says, "Democrats are divided on this. How will you win in November if you're divided?", DON'T TAKE THE BAIT. Don't talk about how the plan you favor differs from other Democratic plans. Talk about the Republicans, for God's sake.

The second comes from a comment at MyDD by ralphlopez, who suggests:

"It's not cutting and running, it's getting the war on terror BACK ON TRACK, by securing the victory in Afghanistan, focusing on bin Laden, and getting our troops out from the middle of a civil war. Our presence in Iraq is LOSING the war on terror, not winning it..."

Then there's the ever-quotable Rep John Murtha, also from the ralphlopez comment:

You know who wants us to stay in Iraq right now? Al Qaeda wants us there because it recruits people for them. China wants us there. North Korea wants us there. Russia wants us there.

Better if the 'back on track' slogan could be used without mentioning 'cut and run,' as Waldman argues. 'Back on Track' does evoke an image of a train out of control, which is as good a metaphor for the Administration's Iraq policy as we're likely to find, with the possible exception of a demolition derby.

June 21, 2006

'Mapchanger Attitude' Needed for a Blue America

by Pete Ross

The premier issue of The Democratic Strategist is out, with a host of progressive heavyweights contributing interesting articles, all of which are highly recommended. Today we plug TDS's lead piece by My DD's Jerome Armstrong, "Replacing the Battleground Mentality with the Mapchanger Attitude in the Democratic Party," a call-to-arms that opens with a stirring vision of victory:

Ten years from now, the Democratic Party will have fully broadened its election strategy beyond the battleground mentality that dominates strategic thinking today. Democrats will be a national party, leaving no uncontested race anywhere in the nation, and will have rebuilt a party infrastructure down to the precinct everywhere in the nation. The Democrats will have regained their majority status as the governing party, and the mapchanger approach to elections will have been the reason.

Armstrong lays out a persuasive case that cherry picking states, races and districts is a strategy that never really served the party well:

As the Democratic Party shrinks from a national party into a regional stronghold, the battleground also shrinks further and further. In the 1992 and the 1996 Presidential elections, with three candidates in the race, as many as 30 states were viewed as competitive battleground contests up through Election Day. In 2000, that number dropped to just 17 by Election Day. In 2004, the number of contested states early in the presidential contest stood at 18, and was whittled down to about eight by Election Day.

The battleground strategy - or more accurately obsession - that the Democratic establishment in DC pursues of narrowing electoral campaigns to ever shrinking "swing states" is self-defeating. It does not build any new converts to the party, it makes it easier for the Republicans to walk away with huge chunks of the country unchallenged and it starves the Democratic Parties in those "red" states.

...Further, the battleground mentality leaves half the country without a contest of ideas. We abandon progressives in rural areas of the country and let Republicans rule there, without even a contest - and those Republican incumbents then go out and raise money for Republican challengers in contested races.

Armstrong has a lot more to say about the merits of the "mapchanger" approach vs. the "battleground" strategy, and also the destructive effects of the paid consultant system. We'll just conclude with this sample:

In contrast, the mapchanger attitude urges an aggressive and broad challenge to Republicans. It provides the national party with the best opportunity to utilize the tens of thousands of grassroots activists in every state and congressional district. The power of people becomes the strongest resource and gives the national Party the ability to pour resources into those states or districts that become surprisingly contested.

TDS will not be narrowly focused on short-term goals like winning the next ('06) election. Instead co-editors Stan Greenberg, Ruy Teixeira and William Galston and their writers will explore longer range strategies for building a permanent Democratic majority --- a welcome and much needed challenge to be met by Democrats in every state.

June 20, 2006

Can Dems Win the State Legs in '06?

Oceans of ink (and mountains of bytes) have been devoted to the Democrats' prospects for winning control of the U.S. Congress in November. But not so much has been written about another critical priority for Dems in '06 --- winning control of state legislatures. This is an important goal, not only because state legislatures pass laws that have an impact on our communities, but also because they are the key to redistricting for the U.S. House of Representatives and the "farm clubs" for future congressional candidates.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Republicans have a less than one percent lead (62 seats) over Democrats in holding the nation's 7382 state legislative seats. The GOP has the majority of both houses in 21 states, compared to 17 for the Democrats. Eleven states have divided control and the unicameral Nebraska legislature has nonpartisan elections. Less than two dozen state legislators in the nation are independents or third party members. And if you take a peak at this map, the southeast doesn't look so red --- Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, North Carolina and Mississippi are solid blue in terms of control of state legislatures.

Not all state legislative seats are up in November. Some are term limited (268 seats in '06) and a few states are not holding elections for their state house or senate or both this year. Other states stagger the seats up for election every two years. But voters in the 50 states will elect 6181 state legislators.

That's a lot more races than the Congress's 435 House and 33 Senate elections, and so in a sense the vote for state legislators may be a better barometer for political trends leading up to 2008.

Democrats could win control of a majority of state legislatures, but it will require a broad rout of the GOP. Their best chances for pick-ups, numerically speaking, are AK (-4 Senate); IN (-4 House); IA (-2 House and tie Senate); MN (-2 House); MT (tie house); NV (-3 Senate); and TN (-1 Senate). However Dems have similarly small majority margins to defend in CO (both houses); Maine (both houses); MS (House); MT (Senate); NJ (Senate); NM (Senate); OK (Senate) and WA (Senate).

The races in the state legs may not be as flashy as those in the Congress. But the state legislatures will be passing laws about immigration, same-sex marriage, funding for education, taxes and many other issues that affect our lives. And do watch the vote for state legislators for clues to the Democrats' chances in 2008.

June 19, 2006

Mid-Term Challenge: Getting Focused on the Big Question

Josh Marshall adds to the buzz about the "embarrassingly lame" Democratic slogans "A New Direction for America" and "Together, America Can Do Better." Says Marshall in today's TPM post:

...Newt Gingrich was so on the mark, ironically, when he suggested the Democrats' slogan should be "Had Enough?" (As a way of understanding Gingrich's particular genius, consider that "Had Enough?" and "A New Direction for America" are actually two ways of saying the exact same thing -- with the first forceful and infectious and the second limp and denatured.) Everything else the election is allegedly about is chatter. The details are so many fine points about making the sale, framing the question. And, yes, those are important. But that is the question. And nothing the geniuses on either side do will change that from being the question.

All polls point to "yes" being the answer to the question. But Marshall makes another point worth noting:

Political insiders consistently overstate the importance of slogans and programs. Political tides aren't unleashed or weathered because of message discipline or thematic fine-tuning. They come about because of failures or victories abroad, big motions in the economy, or judgments coalescing in the public mind in ways that are as inscrutable in their origins as they can be transparent in their effects.

The thing to do with a weak theme, Marshall argues quite convincingly, is to ignore it and focus on what's important:

So, yes, the new theme is dopey and flaccid. But the only thing worse than that would be getting too upset about it. On the Democratic side, the punch of this election is going to come from individual candidates willing to be fiercely candid with voters and fight Republicans tooth and nail.

Let's be honest. What is this election about?

It's not about the Democrats. 2008 may be about the Democrats. Maybe 2010. Not 2006. 2006 is about George W. Bush and the Republican party. And, specifically, how many people are fed up with what's happened over the last six years and want to make a change? The constitution gives the people only one way to do that in 2006 -- put a hard brake on the president's power by turning one or both houses of Congress over to the opposition party.

Marshall is right that it's time for Dems to get past the hand-wringing about message and anxiety about image. We just don't have the time left for more navel-gazing. With less than five months to go, it's time to get voters focused on answering the big question, "Had enough?" --- and mobilizing a record mid-term turnout to answer "Hell, Yes!".

June 17, 2006

Palast: RNC 'Scrubbed' Black Troops from Voting Rolls

Greg Palast has a bombshell article, "Massacre of the Buffalo Soldiers" on his web page (and also reported on Democracy Now) charging that the Republican National Committee organized a campaign to 'scrub' African American soldiers serving overseas from the voter registration rolls. Here's how he tells it:

A confidential campaign directed by GOP party chiefs in October 2004 sought to challenge the ballots of tens of thousands of voters in the last presidential election, virtually all of them cast by residents of Black-majority precincts. Files from the secret vote-blocking campaign were obtained by BBC Television Newsnight, London. They were attached to emails accidentally sent by Republican operatives to a non-party website.

...Here’s how the scheme worked: The RNC mailed these voters letters in envelopes marked, “Do not forward”, to be returned to the sender. These letters were mailed to servicemen and women, some stationed overseas, to their US home addresses. The letters then returned to the Bush-Cheney campaign as “undeliverable.”

The lists of soldiers of “undeliverable” letters were transmitted from state headquarters, in this case Florida, to the RNC in Washington. The party could then challenge the voters’ registration and thereby prevent their absentee ballots being counted.

One target list was comprised exclusively of voters registered at the Jacksonville, Florida, Naval Air Station. Jacksonville is third largest naval installation in the US, best known as home of the Blue Angels fighting squandron.

How effective was the RNC campaign? Palast says,

Over one million provisional ballots cast in the 2004 race were never counted; over half a million absentee ballots were also rejected. The extraordinary rise in the number of rejected ballots was the result of the widespread multi-state voter challenge campaign by the Republican Party. The operation, of which the purge of Black soldiers was a small part, was the first mass challenge to voting America had seen in two decades.

There's more at Palast's website, and in his new book Armed Madhouse. The R's have a long, sordid history of sleazy shenanigans to surpress African American votes, and it would be surprising if similar campaigns were not underway for the November election. The hypocrisy of the RNC trumpeting their support of our troops in Iraq, while scheming to suppress the ability of Black soldiers to vote is beyond disgusting. Shame on the mainstream media if they don't get on this story in a big way.

June 16, 2006

Dems Pin Hopes on Blue 'Burbs

Timothy Egan's piece in today's New York Times "'06 Race Focuses on the Suburbs, Inner and Outer," offers the not so surprising conclusion that Democrats will do better where population is denser. But Egan's article notes changes that provide some encouragement for Democratic candidates:

After years in which Republicans capitalized on rapid growth in outlying areas, Democrats now see an opportunity to make gains in close-in suburbs where changes in the composition of the population are working in their favor. In a dozen or so Congressional districts that are leading battlegrounds in the midterm elections, older, more densely packed suburbs are trending Democratic, helping to offset Republican dominance on the sprawling exurban frontier.

...the mix of demography and politics has been playing out in many districts. In the cluster of counties outside Philadelphia — Bucks, Delaware and Montgomery among them — John Kerry in 2004 improved on the vote of Al Gore four years earlier. Similarly, in Fairfax County, Va., Democrats carried the presidential race easily in 2004 after losing to Mr. Bush in 2000. In Colorado, Democrats made big gains in the populous Denver suburbs of Arapahoe and Jefferson Counties, though Mr. Bush won both, by small margins.

And in the aging suburbs outside Chicago, Democrats have gradually made enough gains that they think they can now win the seat being vacated by Representative Henry J. Hyde, a 16-term Republican. The district includes much of DuPage County, still reliably Republican but becoming more Democratic as it grows.

Egan discusses a study by Robert E. Lang and Thomas W. Sanchez entitled "The New Metro Politics," which is generating buzz among political strategists:

...Dr. Lang and other experts note that the exurbs in the fastest-growing counties provide a very small share of the nation's vote, and say bigger gains can be had by either party in focusing on places of transition, where older and newer suburbs meet. In looking at the 50 biggest metropolitan areas, which have about 150 million people, Dr. Lang found that 90 million lived in a somewhat older suburb and that only 5.6 million lived in the exurbs, where Mr. Bush's vote was strongest.

Clearly, suburban demographic trends are boosting Democratic prospects in November. For a more in-depth analysis of the transformation of politics in the 'burbs, see Ruy Teixeira's March 31 EDM post "Exurbia: The Next Frontier."

June 15, 2006

WSJ Poll: Support for Dem-Controlled Congress Grows

The latest Wall St. Journal/NBC News poll brings more good news for Democratic congressional candidates. The survey, conducted 6/9-12 by the bipartisan Hart/McInturff polling team, finds that 49 percent of registered voters prefer a Democratic-controlled congress after the November elections, compared to 38 percent favoring Republican control. The figures show a 4 percent increase for Dems and a 1 percent decrease for the GOP since the last (April) poll. Poll respondents also said they were more concerned about continuing Republican control with "not enough" change than Democratic control with the "wrong kind of change" by a margin of 51 percent to 36 percent. Further, as John Harwood notes in his WSJ report on the poll, voters

...prefer Democrats by a wide margin on issues such as health care, gasoline prices and the economy, while traditional Republican advantages on values and terrorism have shrunk.

Five months before Election Day, Democrats also enjoy an edge on voter intensity. Some 60% of self-described Democrats expressed a very high level of interest in fall elections, compared with 52% of self-described Republicans.

The poll results suggest that Democratic candidates may have some challenges ahead in honing their policies on Iraq and immigration. But, with less than five months until the election, it's clear the GOP has a lot more to worry about.

June 14, 2006

"Take Back America" Conference Lights Path to Victory

The Campaign for America's Future "Take Back America" Conference concludes today with an impressive array of presenters, including Sens. Russ Feingold and Barack Obama, Reps. Bernie Sanders, Jan Schakowsky, Sherrod Brown and Lynn Woolsey, luminaries like Eric Boehlert, Kevin Phillips and Gar Alperovitz and a host of leading activists. The conference features sessions on topics of interest to Democratic campaigners, including: "Media Reform: A Critical Issue of Our Times," "The Cost of Corruption Campaign: the Defining Issue in 2006" and "Eruptions: The Public Moves Against the War," among others. The Campaign For America's Future website offers access to selected multimedia content of conference proceedings at the end of each day. Also available at the CAF website is "Straight Talk" by Robert Borosage and Stan Greenberg, described as "a manual for candidates and activists that outlines how to argue the progressive case for this fall's elections." Synopsis and download available here.

June 9, 2006

DCORPS: Dem Challengers Must Nationalize Election

Democracy Corps has an important new study directed to Democratic congressional candidates challenging GOP incumbents. The survey is available here, and the analysis by Stan Greenberg and James Carville can be read here.

Carville and Greenberg say their survey numbers indicate that Democrats must “nationalize” the election to recapture the House or the Senate.

Disillusionment with Bush has grown so strong that our tests show that a Democrat who runs against Bush and the Republicans performs better than one who runs only against the Republican incumbent.

They stress the importance of Democratic challengers stating clear, strong positions in confronting GOP “wedge” issues, such as immigration, national security and Iraq, while advocating equally lucid policy alternatives regarding energy, American jobs, drug prices and congressional pay raises. The DCorps survey also shows that proposals to make college tuition tax deductible and to inspect 100 percent of containers coming into the U.S. also inspire broad support. They urge Democratic challengers to reassure voters that they oppose “precipitous withdrawal” from Iraq (to avoid GOP “cut and run” accusations), and articulate instead a more credible option, such as “phased redeployment over the next 12 months.”

Greenberg and Carville urge challengers to make a strong effort to engage and turn out African American and Latino voters, and especially unmarried women who tend to support Democratic congressional candidates by a large margin (29 percent in the survey), but who also have an unusually low turnout rate. There are many other interesting recommendations in the DCorps study, backed up by solid opinion research.

June 8, 2006

Illegal Immigration as GOP's Wedge Issue

David Corn's "Illegal Immigration: A GOP Issue That Works?" in The Nation merits a thougtful read by Democratic strategists and campaigners. On the heels of the Dems' narrow loss in CA-50, Corn writes:

If the Ds cannot pick up a seat when an R is nabbed on bribery charges and tossed into prison, that's a sign that the "culture of corruption" charge (see Jack Abramoff) they are campaigning upon may not do the trick in November...

Without reading too much into the results of one race, there is good reason for Democrats to worry: illegal immigration. Bilbray hyped his support for tough border enforcement, siding with the House Republicans' keep-'em-out/toss-'em-out approach and attacking the Bush-favored Senate compromise position that blends a (convoluted) path-to-citizenship with steps to beef up the border. And that might have won him the race. During the campaign, Bilbray called for building a fence "from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico." Celebrating his victory, Bilbray said, "The president proposing amnesty was absolutely a big problem. In fact, it wasn't until I was able to highlight the fact that I did not agree with my friends in the Senate or my friend in the White House on amnesty that you really saw the polls start supporting me strongly."

However, as Adam Nagourney notes in his New York Times post-mortem on the CA-50 vote:

...Whatever disadvantages the Republicans had here, this is, with some notable exceptions, about as friendly ground as they are likely to find in the months ahead. This was never considered a truly contested district, and most of the districts where both parties are focusing their energy and money are less reliably Republican than this one.

Republicans will be hard-pressed to duplicate that expensive and elaborate campaign they waged for Mr. Bilbray in every district where an incumbent is under assault.

Of the 10 most competitive races for House seats now held by Republicans, as identified by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, only 2 had Republican margins of victory in 2004 greater than the one posted by Mr. Cunningham here that year. Of those two, one is held by Representative Bob Ney of Ohio, who is under federal investigation in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, and the other by Representative Jim Kolbe of Arizona, who is retiring.

Corn may be right that immigrant-bashing will trump gay-bashing and flag-burner bashing as the wedgie of choice for Rove & Co in the months ahead. But any gains the Rs make through immigrant-bashing will be at least somewhat offset by losses in Hispanic votes for GOP candidates. Still, Dems in states experiencing high rates of Latino growth should prepare for similar versions of the Bilbray strategy --- and get seriously busy registering Hispanic voters.

June 7, 2006

Elections Message -- Voters Want Change

We didn't win the big one, CA-50, losing by less than 5,000 votes with 90.2 percent of the vote reported at this posting. But, in a way, we did, according to Chris Bowers' insightful analysis at MyDD:

In 2004, Busby lost the CA-50 by 22.0%. Today, it looks like she will lose by around 4.5%. And that was with the NRCC spending $4.5M on the race. If Republicans want to spin losing 18 points after spending $4.5M of committee money as a good thing, go for it. After all, spin is basically why they spent so much money on this race. By blowing their wad in a solidly Republican district, they wanted to change the media narrative on the election in their favor. It will probably work, given how subservient and generally inaccurate the media tends to be when it comes to Republicans and elections. In reality, for a Republican candidate to pull 49.5% of the vote in a district with 44.5% Republican registration is shocking. Given those numbers, Bilbray probably managed all of 20% of the vote among independents.

No matter what the media says, no Democrat should be mistaken about this result. First, this is a huge, seismic shift in our favor that bodes extremely well for November. If we receive an 18% shift nationwide, we will win the House easily. If Republican candidates are pulling only 20% of the independent vote, the Indycrat realignment is still on.

Was immigration reform a wedge issue that favored Bilbray or Busby in this north San Diego district? The WaPo wrap-up says Busby probably would have won, if not for a gaffe encouraging illegal immigrants to vote. If so, the Busby vote was all the more impressive. If there are any exit polls, it will be interesting to see how immigration reform played out. In any event, Busby gets another chance to beat Bilbray in November, and 5,000 more votes seems doable.

The other big story is a huge victory for netroots in the Dem Senate primary in Montana, where state Senator Jon Tester, favored by many progressives, beat state Auditor John Morrison by a healthy margin, a victory Bowers describes as "Historic" and "Revolutionary." Tester's chances are excellent, but he will need more dough to take this seat for the Democrats, and Bowers' article has the links for those who want to contribute.

Voter anger about corruption was a common denominator from coast to coast, according to the AP wrap-up:

Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico and South Dakota also held primaries. Corruption and allegations of corruption -- in California, Alabama and Montana -- crisscrossed the country. Immigration was a campaign issue from the South to the Plains.

Concern about immigration reform cuts both ways and may prove to be a washout, nationwide. But corruption, along with increasing dissatisfaction with the mess in Iraq, will most likely sharpen the Democrats' edge between now and November.

June 6, 2006

Eight Elections Today Hold Clues for Mid-terms

Today is D-Day, for Democrats, as well as historically, with 8 elections to watch for some real-world clues about the Democrats' (and the GOP's) prospects coming up in November. These include: Alabama - Primary; California - Primary / Special Election CD 50; Iowa - Primary; Mississippi - Primary; Montana - Primary; New Jersey - Primary / Special Primary CD 13; New Mexico - Primary; South Dakota - Primary. CA 50 is the marquee contest, with the Montana Senate campaign a close second. Look also for an overall "throw the bums out" trend which should bode well for Dems.

Swing State Project is probably the best place to hang out for early results analysis. DavidNYC has asked local Dems to submit tracking sites, and you can most easily check local newspapers through the clickable map at newspapers.com. Sometimes local TV stations are quicker on the draw, especially those with live webcasting, and they can be tapped through Newslink.

June 4, 2006

GOP Tries Gay Marriage Again

By Alan Abramowitz

Americans are deeply dissatisfied with the failure of the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress to address the major problems facing the nation including the deteriorating situation in Iraq, our growing dependence on foreign oil, health care, education, and the environment. But Republican leaders have finally come up with a strategy to deal with growing public discontent--bring back gay marriage. On Monday President Bush will again announce his support for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Despite the fact that the amendment has no chance of being enacted, Republican strategists hopes to use the issue of gay marriage to distract the public from the war and other issues and to energize its conservative base--just like they did in 2004.

The problem with this scenario, however, is that the strategy didn't even work the first time. There is no credible evidence that the issue of gay marriage actually helped the GOP in 2004. Gay marriage referenda were supposed to increase turnout and support for President Bush among religious white voters. But they didn't. Turnout increased by the same amount in states with and without gay marriage referenda on the ballot and George Bush's share of the vote increased by the same amount in states with and without gay marriage referenda on the ballot.

According to national exit poll data, in the 11 states with gay marriage referenda on the ballot, regular churchgoers made up 46 percent of the white electorate in 2000 and an identical 46 percent in 2004. The percentage of regular churchgoers who voted for George Bush was 72 percent in 2000 vs. 74 percent in 2004, an increase of two percentage points. But this was less than the three point increase in support for Bush among all white voters.

The gay marriage ploy didn't work in 2004 and it is highly unlikely that it work in 2006. Maybe the Republicans should try something different this time--like dealing with the real problems facing the American people.

June 2, 2006

Dems' Challenge: The How and When of Leaving Iraq

Adam Nagourney's article in today's Grey Lady, "War Handicaps Senators in '08 White House Race" discusses the political fallout facing Senators who voted for President Bush's Iraq War initiatives as they struggle to navigate their way through the current Iraq quagmire. There may be some drama here and there in the upcomming presidential primaries about different Senators' votes on Irag. But it's more likely that American voters will be less interested in votes that helped get us in Iraq, than how and when a candidate is going to get us out. Two years from today, in the heat of the '08 presidential campaign, no one who doesn't have "loser" tatooed on his/her forehead will be defending open-ended US military occupation of Iraq, regardless of their earlier Senate votes supporting the war.