The Kill Your Own Base Strategy

Taegen Goddard touched on this briefly over in Breaking Blue, but I'd like to devote a full post to it here, because it really blows my mind.

I have engaged in a decent amount of berating lately toward members of the progressive activist base who, in response to poor Democratic candidates, have indicated that they will do little or nothing to support the Democratic cause in 2006. I stand by those comments, because I feel the progressive response to any given political situation can never be to do nothing. I think this is especially the case when progressives are so desperately in need of strong, extra-party (outside of the party, not a third party) organizing to make sure that in the future we will have more power so as to, among other things, prevent the selection of poor Democratic candidates. However, in the interests of equal opportunity berating, I also want to make it clear that the Democratic Party has been doing a terrible job of firing up its base in recent elections, and it has cost them dearly at the ballot box. Just look at this remarkable data from Gallup (emphasis mine):While a seven-point margin would give Democrats majority control of the U.S. House of Representatives if all registered voters actually participated in the 2006 election, it is likely many voters will not do so. Typically, this early in the election year Gallup does not ask the "likely voter" questions that are designed to identify the subset of registered voters (RV) who are most likely to vote. Still, our experience over the past two mid-term elections, in 1998 and 2002, suggests that the RV numbers tend to overstate the Democratic margin by about ten and a half percentage points.I am not the world's biggest fan of the Gallup poll, but Mother of God. We have lost up to 10.5% in the 1998 and 2002 elections on turnout? If we had that 10.5% swing, our deficits in each of those elections would have been turned into victory margins nearly equal to what Republicans put together in 1994. (click here for more info on this)

This is far worse than I think anyone previously imagined the Kill Your Own Vote situation was for Democrats. If this is really true, and Democrats are doing 10.5% worse among Likely Voters than they are among Registered Voters, then I think it goes without saying that we are losing a lot more votes in midterm elections by trying to appeal to swing voters at the expense of our base than we would by trying to appeal to our base at the expense of our swing voters (not the mention the wasted resources this causes us). If this data is accurate, then the only way Republicans have managed to stay in power since 1994, besides stealing the occasional election, is by turning out their base. 10.5%? 10.5%! That is insane, just insane. There aren't that many swing voters out there anymore. Someone better explain to me how dropping 10.5% of our vote through an unmotivated base is somehow helping us win elections. Move to the center and cooperate with Republicans, indeed. Fat lot of good that has done us at the ballot box.

How Can We Create A Change Election in 2006?

I have been following an email discussion on this topic, but I thought I would present my response to the entire MyDD community, because I would like to hear your feedback and ideas. The important thing to remember in this discussion is that we are looking not at different tweaks and temporary adjustments that would just lead to victory, but that would actually lead to a significant, long-term change in the electorate.

This is a big and important question that we need to try and develop an answer for. Using a wide selection of my post-2004 election writings, I have placed my rundown of the most common ideas in the extended entry. In the comments, I would like to hear your ideas (and so would quite a few other powerful netroots progressives).

I am going to post one idea above the fold because, unlike everything else I discuss, it is based upon something I have never posted on in the past:

1. Clearly differentiating ourselves from Republicans. I'm all for this idea and for its sibling, "moving to the left." I actually believe that it is absolutely necessary in order to create a change election. After all, how can there be a big change if the electorate doesn't think that a big change is possible?

The problem with this is, I think it has already happened in the mind of the electorate. Long term NES data shows that more than any time since the start of public polling, the country believes there is in fact a clear difference between the two parties (see here), and that it matters which party wins any given election (see here and here).

Conclusion: If voters believe now, more than at any other time in history, that there are important differences between the two parties, and that it matter which party wins any given election, then maybe clear differentiation isn't the Holy Grail many have long thought it was. I still think it is good that it happened, because I'm not sure how a change election would be possible otherwise. But I don't think we need to do something in 2006 that already appears to have been accomplished in the mind of the electorate.

In the extended entry I consider several other ideas, including talking more about values, the "Culture of Corruption" frame, the 50-state strategy, running on national security, running on any issue besides national security, pointing out that Republican control congress and moving to the right / center.

There's more...

Gary Hart on Hackett

Old Politics at its Worst, by Gary Hart

Based on news reports alone and knowing nothing (thank goodness) about behind-the-scenes politics, the pressure brought on Paul Hackett, the bold Iraqi veteran, to abandon his campaign for the U.S. Senate from Ohio is deplorable.

This is simply old politics at its worst. There is a party which hand-picks its candidates, decides who can and cannot run, directs money to the favorite candidate, and dictate terms.

Up till now, that party has been the Republican party.

Now, it seems, my Democratic party is once again imitating the Republican party in a desperate effort to regain power. With the McGovern democratic reforms in the early 1970s, political bosses were diminished and grassroots voters were elevated. The theme was, Let the people decide.

Telling Paul Hackett that he cannot run for the Senate, and purportedly calling contributers to dry up his funds, is the worse kind of old politics. It will drive voters away from the supposedly "open" party, the Democrats, and further add to public cynicism about how politics in America is played in the early 21st century.

Shame on us.' pressuring-paul-hackett-t_b_15637.html

Some history:

'At the 1968 Democratic National Convention, McGovern stood as the flagbearer for some of the supporters of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy, losing the Presidential nomination to Hubert H. Humphrey, and coming in behind Minnesota Senator Eugene J. McCarthy as well.

However, during the convention a motion was passed to establish a commission to reform the Democratic Party nomination process. [White pp. 17-20] In 1969 McGovern was named chairman of this Reform Commission; due to the influence of former McCarthy and Kennedy supporters on the staff, the commission significantly reduced the role of party officials and insiders in the nomination process, increased the role of caucuses and primaries, and mandated quotas for proportional black, women, and youth delegate representation. [White pp. 24-33]  These changes eventually facilitated McGovern's successful own nomination at the 1972 Convention

McGovern's campaign manager in the 1972 election was future United States Senator Gary Hart.' vern

There's more...

Primaries Are Often Good!

I'm not from Ohio and don't know enough about what is going on there to go far too out on a limb, lest it break off.

We must never forget that principles and results are more important than politics.  There are plenty of Dem. politicians who I don't like but who get results -- the problem is that I really can't say that, yet, about the current leadership crowd.  

I do think the Dem. leadership is being shortsighted in, apparently, adopting a policy that primaries are bad and all sorts of manipulation is justified to avoid primaries.  Regardless of what is right according to some sort of moral judgement, I just think it is poor political judgement.  This comes from a party leadership that does not exactly have a good record over the past 10 years or so.  Tom DeLay was a skunk, but until he went too far with ethics he was darn effective.  Who among the Dems. is effective?  Time will tell.

Case 1: Wisconsin 1988, a 3 way primary for the US Senate between Rep. Jim Moody, Millionaire Businessman Joe Checota and State Senator Russ Feingold.  Who raised & spent the most money? Checota & Moody by a LONG shot.  Who won, Feingold and he has held the seat ever since in a swing state.  The "kingmakers" of the time wanted Feingold out, if they had got their way a Republican would probably hold the seat today.

Case 2: 2002 Maryland, the primary was to succeed Gov. Paris Glendening, a not terribly popular two term incumbent who could not run for another term.  The establishment choice was Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, daughter of Robert Kennedy.  Popular Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley badly wanted to run.  The party establishment put HEAVY pressure on O'Malley to forego it.  O'Malley bowed to the pressure.  Townsend proved to be a poor candidate -- she had never had to run in a contested primary.  She would have been a stronger candidate had she beaten O'Malley.  Conversely, most observers believe O'Malley would have beaten current GOP Governor Bob Ehrlich.  O'Malley is trying again in 2006, he has a tough primary.

Case 3 2004 Presidential -- the strategy was get the primaries over ASAP and unite quickly behind the (fairly narrow) winner of Iowa & New Hampshire.  Kerry had other problems but this strategy was flawed -- for more reasons than I have time to write about.

A great Dem. leader who had his own problems with the grassroots of his time said that "It's better to have 'em inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in." That was Lyndon Johnson.  Increasingly, netroots activists are being forced outside of the tent of Democratic politics.  Somebody needs to make it a bigger tent, even if there are a few primaries.

Howard Park

There's more...

Luntz Switching Sides?

This could be interesting:After being uninvited to a House Republican retreat last week, pollster Frank Luntz was invited to attend one by Senate Democrats in April by Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Roll Call reports.

Said one House GOP leadership aide: "That's why we don't want Frank Luntz at our retreat. We're not sure what side he's on. We're not sure if he's on the side of the companies paying him, on the side of the GOP, or on the side of the Democrats."

Meanwhile, the Washington Post provides some background on the 1998 feud between Luntz and newly-elected House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) that led to the controversy. I find this particularly interesting because I'm a hack rather than a wonk. Even though I am really, really left wing (to a degree that may shock some readers), when it comes to politics my mind is focused more on political machines and institutional power than on public policy. For this reason I think that it is particularly important that Republicans seem to be sending off one of the main cogs in their political machine. The basic reason behind this seems to be a combination of revenge and that Boehner views political strategy different than past Republican leaders:After the 1998 midterms, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) resigned -- in part because Republicans failed to gain seats in a year when President Bill Clinton was battling impeachment. Days before the GOP caucus met to hold leadership elections, Boehner appeared on several Sunday talk shows making clear that he and Gingrich had often parted ways on strategy.

Luntz said at the time that Boehner made a "big mistake" by criticizing Gingrich, and he heaped praise on Rep. J.C. Watts (Okla.), who was challenging Boehner for the conference chairmanship. Watts beat Boehner -- throwing the Ohioan unceremoniously out of leadership.

Eight years later, Boehner is back, and even Luntz acknowledged in an e-mail to his staff that the Ohio member "is not a fan of myself or my work," according to an account in Roll Call. "That's just the way it is." This could simply be a personal dispute, but it could also be that Republicans are going to begin moving in a different strategic direction under Boehner. Considering recent Republican success, that is fine by me. As long as he sticks to the strategy side and not policy, I'll happily welcome a successful political consultant like Frnak Luntz over to our side. After all, could he really do any worse than our guys?


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