Monday, January 22, 2007

Think we were strong in '06? Wait until '08...

Remember November 7th? Remember the sweet, long-delayed taste of victory?

Well, with a little luck and a lot of hard work--and barring unforseen political catastrophes of one sort or another--we may well be on the road to another smashing November in 2008. It's certainly not guaranteed, but if I were a Republican, I would be sweating in a paroxysm of nervous agitation right now--for more different reasons than I can count.

Let's go through them one by one...

1. United Dems: DNC, DCCC and DSCC getting along fabulously.

Haven't you heard? After a long and messy feud that almost led to divorce and ugly war between the house of Rahm and the house of Howard, everything is hunky-dory again:

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the new chief election strategist for the House Democrats, welcomed Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean to his office Tuesday for a “jovial” meeting in which the two pledged to work together during the 2008 election cycle....

Both agreed that they would remain “on offense,” a principle that has become a centerpiece of Van Hollen’s early tenure. In a memo released last week, he said he would not only seek to protect the newly elected freshman Democrats, but also to expand the number of competitive seats.

They also discussed candidate recruitment.

“They have a lot of shared ideas,” one of the participants said. “[Dean] appreciates what’s happening on the ground and talked about engaging more people in the [recruitment] process.”

The article also talks about how "victory is a great aphrodisiac" and how the contours of the 2008 presidential race structurally lead to more clear-cut decisions about which candidates to fund and where. Largely due to strong victories in '06, much of the heat of that Howard-Rahm feud is over and done with--and it doesn't really matter who won, or who was right, because Democrats won. And the top Dems will be working with one another cordially to improve on our gains in '08.

2. Bush's anemic numbers.

As has been pointed out repeatedly today, the latest polling looks absolutely fantastic for Dems, and absolutely horrific for Bush.

Now, polls can certainly change--we've seen it happen before. The political effects of another large-scale terrorist attack or national pandemic are unpredictable and difficult to gauge--though I doubt they would help Bush at this point, and might hurt him badly. We have little reason to believe, however, that things will change much at least for Bush (and by extension for the GOP) over the next 18 months. American history provides us no examples of deeply unpopular lame-duck presidencies making any sort of dramatic recovery.

Meanwhile, the GOP has come off of the ideological moorings that Gingrich and Reagan built for it to become a full-scale Cult of Bush. They staked everything on the reputation and popularity of a single Unitary Executive, which the GOP congress failed so spectacularly to oppose that he lifted his veto pen only once in an entire six-year period. As he falls, so do they--and the fall has been steep with no recourse or rescue in sight.

Iraq is a mess. Afghanistan is failing. Social Security "reform" is dead. The Medicare Part D bill was a disaster. Anger over corporate greed is affecting even the wealthiest Americans. The immigration issue backfired in their faces (and in the long term, no political party will win without the Hispanic vote). I don't honestly see where they turn for political salvation from here.

3. Historical precedent.

Things look awfully bleak for GOP presidential chances merely on historical precedent alone, even if you discount current issues and political realities. As Mark Mellman, well-respected Democratic insider consultant (with all the myopia punctuated by strong flashes of brilliance that that entails), wrote so aptly on December 6th in The Hill:

While excitement no doubt grips GOP presidential contenders as they begin their quests, the truth is the Republican nominee faces rather dismal prospects in 2008.

Pay zero attention to the horserace polls now in circulation. Historically they have borne little relationship to the ultimate outcome. At this stage, Mondale led Reagan, to whom he later lost 49 states. Analysis of the underlying dynamics has proven a much more fruitful approach.

The most basic element of the 2008 dynamic is that a non-incumbent will be trying to extend Republican rule into a third consecutive term. Historically, that has been a very difficult feat. Since 1948, seven candidates, including Bush in ’04, have been incumbents seeking a second term for their party (note: a second party term, not a second personal term). Only one lost — Jimmy Carter in 1980. Non-incumbents attempting to keep control of the White House for their party beyond two terms — the situation Republicans face in 2008 — have fared much less well. Since 1948, the incumbent party has won only one of five such races. Voters weary of more of the same, while the party in power often runs out of intellectual and policy steam.

And Bush's anemic approval ratings don't help:

Far from a perfect linear correlation, but when incumbents’ ratings are low, it is particularly difficult to pass on the keys to the White House. Adlai Stevenson may have bombed anyway, but Harry Truman’s 32 percent approval rating did not help; nor was Lyndon Johnson’s 39 percent an asset for Hubert Humphrey.

There is so much more in this article that I highly recommend you read; I wish fair use guidelines allowed me to copy the whole thing. Mellman goes on to discuss the unpopular and quagmired "war" and the economy that is failing the middle class as further drags on the Bush coattails heading into '08.

The point, however, is that structurally, as a matter of historical precedent, the GOP will be fighting not only Democrats in their battle to retain the White House, but history as well.

4. The composition of Senate Races in '08.

While neither party truly expects to make strong headway in the House in '08 due to high presidential voter turnout that reinforces gerrymandered incumbent advantages (though I would certainly place greater bets on the Dems' increasing their majority than on GOP gains), it is in the Senate that Dems enjoy their greatest opportunities.

As Aaron Blake says in The Hill:

Senate Democrats will have a wider field of possibilities and probably more open seats available to expand their majority in 2008, though Senate Republicans will have several chances to pick off red-state Democrats.

Of the 33 seats up for election two years from now, 21 are held by Republicans. Eight of those 21 were elected with 55 percent of the vote or less in 2002, and in seven of them the incumbent is a freshman. The party also faces several retirement questions.

I won't bore you with the juicy details (you can read all about them in the article) and Markos has mentioned this several times before, but you really need to re-read that quote. Eight senators who got 55% of the vote or less in 2002 (!). Seven of them freshmen. Nothing is ever easy when it comes to unseating incumbents--but within that context, this is about as close as you can get to a gimmee without bringing dead girls or live boys into the equation.

And hopefully, the GOP's desperate bid to maintain their relative parity in the Senate will dry up money for the far more daunting task of making progess in the House--which should help our House candidates along as well.

5. The Money.

For most of us, a headline like the one in the LA Times that reads Lobbyists find New Congress is Open for Business is terrible news. We react with revulsion, anger, and the determination to wipe clean the dirty influence of big corporate money on the political process--and we're right to do so.

It's not all bad, news, however. The key sentences in the article can be found here:

Many lobby shops have been adding knowledgeable and well-connected Democrats to their rosters, turning away from the so-called K Street Project in which DeLay and other GOP leaders pressured such firms to hire conservatives and dump Democrats. emphasis added

"One of the lessons is that good lobbying is always bipartisan," said Scott Segal of Bracewell & Giuliani, a lobbying firm that maintained bipartisan credentials despite the GOP pressure.

Politics, you see, isn't just a winner-take-all game: it's a winner-take-even-more game. As long as Republicans ruled the roost and Tom Delay went spouting off about "permanent Republican majorities", the money kept rolling in for them in ever increasing proportions. Not anymore.

It may not be a comforting thought that Democrats are listening to business lobbyists, but the point is that the "K Street project" is slowly becoming unwoven--and that means greater fiscal parity between the two parties, even if it just means less money going to Republicans, and no extra money going to Dems. The GOP's vaunted money advantage will shrink rather than grow next cycle.

6. GOP Presidential Candidates don't excite the GOP base.

I don't really need to tell you much about this one. If you want to read a traditional media article about it, I suppose you could read this L.A. Times piece from yesterday.

The three supposed GOP "frontrunners" are 1) a "gang of 14" "maverick" Iraq-escalation-proposing septuagenarian hated by Dobson and the Christianist Right no matter how much he tries to embrace them; 2) a cross-dressing, thrice-divorced pro-choice, pro-gay-rights New Yorker; and 3) a hybrid healthcare passing, flip-flopping social liberal Mormon from Massachusetts.

As the L.A. Times article says:

There's absolutely no contender that is a bona fide conservative," said K.B. Forbes, who has worked for a number of conservative candidates and causes since the 1990s. "We have insiders, squishes and moderates running for president."

Imagine that our Democratic presidential frontrunners were 1) Joe Lieberman; 2) Ben Nelson; and 3) Zell Miller and you would grasp some semblance of the problem for Republicans. I wouldn't want to be them right now.

7. Strong Democratic Candidate Lineup

Let's face it: no matter who comes out the winner of the Democratic Party, that person is going to be one hellaciously battle-tested contender among a field of frankly outstanding and incredibly strong choices. Devilstower really said it best yesterday:

For the next year, the newspapers are going to be full of stories pitting Hillary against Obama. Add into the mix John Edwards, who has spent four years polishing his already powerful oratory and building his network. Mix the possibility of Bill Richardson bringing his direct, insightful voice to the race fresh from handling one of the most difficult diplomatic situations on the planet. There's enough drama and interest in the Democratic lineup to fill a dozen novels.

How much energy is this going to leave for talking about bloated old guy number one doing his best to spread more fear than bloated old guy number two? They're going to have to ad more pages to the paper just to get to a page boring enough for the Republican contest. Even Republicans aren't interested. You couldn't get a decent crowd in the cafeteria at Bob Jones University if Mitt Romney and John McCain were fighting to the death in lime Jell-o.

Hammer, meet nail. Back in 2003/2004, the right-wing was calling the Democratic contenders for president the "nine dwarves". Well, today we have some veritable political titans running for president. Regardless of whether you support each candidate or not, think about the field we're running (or talking about running):

Gore (???).

And the presence of second- and third-tier candidates like Biden, Vilsack and Kucinich only adds to the depth and character of the party, and the widely-ranging ideological and policy ground we cover.

Compared with the fireworks this crowd can produce, the American people will hardly care about Romney vs. McCain by contrast--nor should they.

8. Real policy victories for the American People in the House.

What the future may hold for Democratic accomplishments is cloudy at best over the course of the next 18 months. One thing is clear, however: Pelosi is off to a great start and the American people are noticing.

If these popular House bills stall in the Senate and/or get vetoed by Bush, it will be Bush and Senate Republicans who will take the heat for being obstructionists. The Democrats will have reversed the tables and become the party of "can", while the Republicans will have become the party of "can't".

If this factor plays out as I believe it will, there will be even stronger suppport for replacing Republican Senate candidates with "can-do" Democrats--and for replacing a suddenly veto-prone Republican president with a "can-do" Democratic one.


All of this bodes very well for Democrats in '08.

The door is open--so long as we work for it. All we have to do is have the courage to walk through it.


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