Democrats won’t win by running against Bush

Even though he wasn’t on the ballot, Democrats ran against George W. Bush in 2008 and won. This isn’t 2008, and that strategy won’t work again. It’s a historical lesson: we can’t fight the current war with the strategy and technology of the last one. I pound my head against the wall every time I see something like this:

Watching yesterday's forum on "Meet the Press" -- which featuring NRCC Chair Pete Sessions, NRSC Chair John Cornyn, DCCC Chair Chris Van Hollen and DSCC Chair Bob Menendez -- it appeared to be a Bush vs. Obama debate by proxy… Van Hollen: "During the whole eight years of the Bush administration, we actually lost over 600,000 private sector jobs." And Menendez: "It's not just talking about President Bush; it's the policies that they espouse that are in essence Bush's policies. Those led us to a 72% percent increase in the debt from $5.7 trillion to $9.8 trillion when Bush left."

I’m reminded of a discussion between two pundits I heard on public radio last week, though unfortunately I don’t remember which show so there's no link or transcript. One pundit mentioned that Obama has been president for 2 ½ years. A couple minutes later, the other said basically "Wait a minute; you said two and a half when it’s actually one and a half. I don’t blame you for the slip because neither I nor the interviewer caught it, which speaks to the fact that Obama is now an entrenched reality in voters’ minds and that he owns all the problems he faces."

Politicians have to find a way to play to the voters’ mindset rather than patronizing them by trying to change it, and this year it is, “Talk to me about today’s problems, not yesterday’s. You’re in charge now so I will blame you.” It doesn’t matter if there are too many problems to solve in just two years, and it doesn’t matter when the problems started or why. Many voters feel too busy living their lives to educate themselves about the details, or feel that “common sense” means the problem is what it looks like at first blush and don’t tell me otherwise. Hence the new Pew poll that finds most voters think Obama started the bailouts, and hence Republican Senator Bob Bennett’s comment that voters “confused TARP and the stimulus plan. They confused TARP and the omnibus bill. They confused TARP and the president’s budget.”

Unfortunately, Democrats aren’t going to get the chance to correct voters about the Bush policies. A candidate gets just 30 seconds to be quoted in a news story and 30 seconds to shoot an ad, and just three points voters will remember from a fair booth or local speech. Don’t give them a ten minute economic lecture or timeline – find something concise that shares their focus on the now. They won’t even listen if you start with a focus on the yesterday. They’ll walk away muttering, “Typical politician, pointing fingers and making excuses.”

So unless your opponent was a prominent member of Bush’s economic team, a better campaign line than blaming Bush would be, “Thanks to Democratic policies, the private sector has created jobs for six straight months after losing them for every month since 2007. Tea party opponents, however, want to get rid of those policies, as well as Social Security and the Civil Rights Act.” You could add “We could have done even more if the Senate opposition was focused on policy rather than politics,” but that’s starting to get into the procedural weeds about which non-junkies don’t want to spend time learning. When it's time to talk about your opponent, talk about the current opponents - John Boehner's pro-BP and pro-Wall Street comments, the aforementioned Rand Paul and Sharron Angle - not about the past.

The moment you say the magic word Bush, voters will think you’re shirking responsibility and ducking blame. It doesn’t matter if it is indeed Bush’s fault and it doesn’t matter if you’re not to blame – we’re talking about perception and about November, not about policy or truth. So again, Democrats have to share the voters’ focus on today, not waste time trying to get them to think about yesterday. Don’t rerun the 2008 campaign when it’s not 2008.

Sen. Schumer Leads Opposition to Citizens United V. FEC With New Proposal

As most of you probably know by now, Citizens United V. FEC was the biggest SCOTUS decision this year, and arguably for awhile.  The 5-4 decision supposedly ended a limit on corporations first amendment rights, according to some of the advocates for the decision. 

I personally enjoyed Slate writer Dahlia Lithwick's take on the decision, saying that it creates a "Pinnochio Project" in which the Court transforms "a corporation into a real live boy."

McCain-Feingold advocates most likely wanted to beat their heads against a wall once they caught wind of this decision, because it was a proverbial slap in the face.  

Public opinion of what currently stands is overwhelmingly negative. A Washington Post poll taken after the ruling this February showed 8 of 10 respondents were opposed with 65% of polltakers being “strongly opposed” to the ruling. There isn’t even much of a partisan divide when it comes to opposition of this ruling. Bipartisan opposition of this ruling continues, and Congressional Democrats have a lot on their plates when they try curtail some of what the ruling set in place.  

Democrats plan to introduce legislation next week that would sharply limit the ability of foreign-connected companies to participate in U.S. politics and require greater transparency from corporations, unions and nonprofit groups that pay for political advertising, according to a confidential summary of the bill.

Source: Washington Post

The legislation being proposed wouldn’t fully negate the decision made by the Supreme Court by any means. The crux of the bill would address would require greater transparency from corporation, unions, etc. who finance political advertising while limiting non-domestic companies participation in American elections. Other facets of the bill would include executives or group leaders to include their names on ads that they fund, much like McCain-Feingold’s “Stand by your ad” provision

According to the summary, obtained by The Washington Post, the legislation would require corporate chief executives or group leaders to publicly attach their names to ads, much like political candidates are required to do. It would also mandate disclosure of major donors whose money is used for "campaign-related activity."

Many Republicans are in opposition to the plan constructed by Schumer and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). <Insert collective gasp of disbelief here>  

Campaign finance reform, has been a controversial issue in American politics for a long time and will continue to be. The McCain-Feingold Act (Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act) was the first type of legislation in any form to amend/change the Federal Election Act of 1971.  The law was passed in 2002, meaning for 30 years the same election standards were in place. Even at that, Russ Feingold and John McCain had been working on getting this through Congress for almost 8 years.

The act faced opposition by everyone's favorite Senator, Mitch McConnell, and eventually led to a Supreme Court case.  McConnell V. FEC challenged the Constitutionality of McCain-Feingold.  

Schumer and crew hope they can rally some support from Republicans to help pass legislation for this, but only time will tell if that plan comes to fruition.

DCCC head not afraid of nationalized election

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Chris Van Hollen told Greg Sargent that he isn't worried about Republicans nationalizing this year's House races:

They’ve got a very tough argument to make,” Van Hollen told me, speaking of Republicans. “If you want to nationalize the election, you also bring in Bush and Cheney. If they do that, they open the door to the question: Why would you give the keys to the guys that drove us into the economic ditch and then refused to help get out of that ditch?”

“If you want to talk about President Obama’s record, you have to recognize that he inherited a mess that was given to us by Bush and Cheney,” Van Hollen continued. “You can’t argue one without having to address the other. We will ask a simple question: How did we get into this mess and what have Republicans done to get us out of it?”

One tricky thing for the DCCC is that making the election about Obama could help some incumbents by driving up Democratic turnout, but many House Democrats in Republican-leaning districts will prefer to emphasize their "independence" from the president's agenda. Most of the 42 Democrats in the DCCC's Frontline program represent more conservative districts.

I do agree that it's imperative for Democrats to remind voters whose economic policies made the past decade a lost one for the middle class while the wealthiest made a killing. Although we can't make this year's election primarily about George Bush, Democrats ran successfully against the "party of Hoover" for many election cycles.

UPDATE: Republican activists are upset that RNC Chairman Michael Steele predicted his party won't take back the House majority this year.

Van Hollen names Braley Vice Chair of DCCC

Bruce Braley (IA-01) was elected to Congress in 2006 with the support of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's "Red to Blue" program. In 2008 he helped manage the DCCC's Red to Blue efforts. For the next election cycle, he's been promoted again:

The DCCC today named the second of its three Vice Chairs - Congressman Bruce Braley (D-IA) will serve as Vice Chair for candidate services, responsible for the DCCC's offensive efforts including recruitment, money, and training.  

DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen said, "The DCCC will stay aggressive this cycle and continue to challenge Republicans who are out of step with their districts.  As a former chair and former member of the Red to Blue program, Bruce Braley knows first hand what it takes to be a successful candidate; his battle tested leadership will be a real asset to our candidates facing tough elections."

Congressman Bruce Braley brings his experience as chair of the DCCC's successful and effective 2008 Red to Blue Program and as a former member of the Red to Blue Program.

Vice Chair Bruce Braley said, "I'm looking forward to continuing my work at the DCCC in this new leadership role.  It's critical for us to continue assisting our candidates with the money, messaging and mobilization they will need to get elected in the 2010 election cycle.  I will work hard to help our candidates win their races."

Congressman Bruce Braley will serve as Vice Chair for candidate services.  The DCCC's candidate services include recruiting, money, and training.  A Vice Chair focusing on Member participation will be named at a later date.

Last month, Van Hollen named Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida the DCCC Vice Chair for incumbent retention. Given her refusal to endorse three Democratic challengers to Republican incumbents in south Florida, it was appropriate for Van Hollen to remove her from a leadership role in the Red to Blue program.

The third vice chair "will seek to increase House member participation in DCCC efforts," which presumably means getting more safe Democratic incumbents to pay their DCCC dues.

So Braley's niche will be finding and capitalizing on opportunities to pick up Republican-held seats. 2010 is likely to be a more challenging environment for Democratic candidates than the past two cycles, but it's good to know the DCCC is planning to remain on offense as well. We have a chance to achieve a political realignment, given the Democratic advantages with certain demographic groups in recent elections. Building on our success in 2006 and 2008 will require the DCCC to do more than protect our own vulnerable incumbents.

Good luck to Representative Braley in his new role. He'll be quite busy the next couple of years, with a seat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and a Populist Caucus to lead.

There's more...

Van Hollen to Continue at Helm of DCCC

For the first time in a decade, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will have a two-term chairman. Chris Cillizza has the scoop:

After bringing at least two dozen new Democrats to the House in Tuesday's election, Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) has agreed to try to duplicate that achievement in 2010 as chair of the caucus's campaign arm. He also will take on an added role, coordinating policy decisions between the House and President-elect Barack Obama's administration.

[...]

While Van Hollen will continue with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for the 2010 election cycle, it is not yet clear whether the committee's senior staff will also remain.

The 2010 cycle will be more difficult for Chris Van Hollen than was the 2008 cycle. Traditionally, the party in control of the White House loses seats in the House of Representatives during midterm elections (though this was notably not the case in 2002 or 1998). However, judging by Van Hollen's performance thus far as DCCC chair, House Democrats clearly have an able leader for their electoral efforts.

Since taking over the reins of the DCCC last year, Van Hollen oversaw roughly two dozen gains for his caucus, an impressive achievement considering the large gains posted by Democrats the previous cycle. This success came both from strong recruiting efforts and from a robust fundraising organization that brought in significantly more campaign cash than did the National Republican Congressional Committee.

And looking forward, although there is reason to believe that the 2010 cycle will be rough for House Democrats, there are factors that should help the party, as well. For one, even though it is likely that House Republicans will pick up seats next fall, there isn't a whole lot of reason to believe that they would be able to reclaim control over the chamber. As a result, institutional donors aren't likely to begin to shift back their support from the Democratic Party to the GOP for fear of alienating the party in power, which is likely to maintain power. Moreover, Republican recruitment was simply abysmal this cycle, and given the likelihood that the party will remain in the minority for some time to come, as well as the fact that Republicans did not do a great job in state legislative and other down ticket races this fall, it's very possible that recruitment isn't going to be significantly better this time around.

So Van Hollen clearly has his work cut out for him -- but that doesn't mean I'd count him out.

There's more...

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