Saturday, November 8, 2008

Keeping the Public Engaged

Now that the Presidential campaign has been over for four days, many major players are taking time to relax. Senator John McCain told an aide "I got nine racks of ribs, and I will be cooking them up," and President-Elect Barack Obama started wearing his weekend clothing.

The Press, however, seems to be having more difficulty accepting an end to the race. After all, they have known nothing but following the Presidential campaign for the past two years.

For reporters, the hardest part about the race being over was the end of reporting on Governor Sarah Palin. Lucky for the ones at Newsweek, former McCain campaign aides were all too happy to dish out the darkest secrets now that their candidates lost. Fox News quickly picked up the story.

Others, such as Politico, decided to devote a special webpage to reporting on the days between the Election and Inauguration.

Even the Obama staff has responded to the decrease in Obama-related internet traffic by introducing, the official website of the Office of the President-Elect. Were you unaware that there was an official office of the President-Elect too?

Of course, if and when the media stops reporting on electoral politics, what will you be looking at then? Better yet, what will we be looking at?

(HINT: You'll have to keep coming back to find out)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Reshaping the Republican Identity

Since the nation-wide electoral defeats Tuesday night, the GOP has been discussing strategy for how to save their party in light of what appears to be realignment.


This comes as former Bush speechwriter David Frum writes extensively on the fall of the GOP in 2008 and how the Republicans can make a comeback.

Current divisions are growing tense within the Republican Party between the populist Evangelicals and the anti-tax neo-conservatives that better characterize intellectual libertarians than President Bush.

The best case study of this tension is Governor Sarah Palin, who continued to embolden the values voters and other populist Republicans, but seriously turned-off the elite neo-cons who were the center of Reagan's GOP.

Peggy Noonan, Christopher Buckley, Kathleen Parker, David Brooks, and Thomas Friedman all wrote negatively of the "Wasilla hillbilly" - including remarkable criticisms such as "she is out of her league" (Parker), "a mark against John McCain, against his judgment and idealism" (Noonan), and "she represents a fatal cancer to the Republican Party" (Brooks).

Our personal favorite may be "If BS were currency, Palin could bail out Wall Street herself" (Parker again).

Even former Reagan Chief of Staff, Ken Duberstein, decided to endorse Obama because of Governor Palin.

Still today, as President-Elect Obama begins his transition to the White House, rumors about Palin continue to haunt the GOP.

On the issues, the Republican Party is having difficulty framing winning arguments on trickle-down economics, climate change, and health care reform. The key issues that Lee Atwater used to bolt the Republicans for over twenty years were welfare and crime, but today they have little resonance.

Demographically, Republicans are scared of their dwindling support among Latinos and other groups. House Minority Leader John Boehner has argued for the party to redirect efforts to win back voters in the Northeast and Great Lakes states.

Republicans may even have to take a cue from the UK Conservative leader, David Cameron, who has had to move his party away from the neo-conservative movement promoted by Thatcher and closer to the middle.

But no matter what the strategy is, the key will be winning moderates that are disillusioned with the populist Evangelical movement without offending their base.

There is even confusion as to how to handle an Obama presidency - over whether they should work with the President so to not appear hyper-partisan, or to criticize him at every move in order to win what battles they can.

Already, a memo has been circulating Washington criticizing Obama's pick of Rep. Rahm Emmanuel (D-IL) for Chief of Staff, and pointing out Iranian President Ahmadinejad's congratulations to Obama. At the same time, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) applauded the Emmanuel pick, and Republican strategist Craig Shirley criticized the GOP for only knowing how to attack a political foe.

No matter what path the Republicans take now, it seems they will be unable to keep their current coalition together - let alone bring in enough moderates to win some elections - for some time.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Why 2008 is as Historic as They Say

On Tuesday, Barack Obama won eight more states than Al Gore did in 2000, and nine more than John Kerry in 2004. Yet he could not pick up Montana, North Dakota, Georgia, or Missouri, which newly became toss-up states this year.

But something happened in these states.

In fact, something happened across the entire country. According to a map in today's edition of the New York Times, the vast majority of counties nation wide saw dramatic increases in Democratic performance. Even in Utah, the most Republican state in the nation, not a single county showed more support for the Republican ticket than it did four years ago. Salt Lake City, for example, carried McCain by only 2,000 votes, compared to 80,000 for Bush in 2004.

The same was true in Indiana, which narrowly slid into the Obama column. Even in reliably Republican, rural counties, there was as much as a 20% increase in performance for the Democratic nominee.

A Brilliant Campaign

No one can deny that this was, in part, due to the brilliant and revolutionary campaign put together by David Plouffe and David Axelrod.

Conventional wisdom in campaign politics is, and has long been, "Fifty-Percent Plus One", and Karl Rove had been able to get as close to that number as possible in 2000 and 2004. The old "divide-and-conquer" negativity tactics of Lee Atwater were combined with new micro-targeting techniques to deliver moderate voters to George W. Bush while emboldening his evangelical base.

There is no question about it, Rovian political strategy delivered Bush his wins in 2000 and 2004 - but it was not a sustainable strategy for the Republican Party. Not only have Americans become desensitized to negative ads and micro-targeted contact with Republican operatives, they are tired of being pitted against one another.

So Plouffe and Axelrod followed the lead of Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean and employed the now-famous 50 State Strategy, opening offices in every state, including the Republican states of Montana, Utah, and Georgia, among others.

Democrats in these states, who had never seen a Democratic campaign before, eagerly volunteered to get out the word about the junior Senator from Illinois. They registered new voters and convinced independents and moderate Republicans to support the candidate of change.

They built upon the successes of other Democratic campaigns in states like New Mexico, Colorado, and Virginia, rather than ignoring these places to try to guarantee a win in more populated states such as Florida and Ohio.

Most importantly - while they failed to win all of these Republican states - they set up the infrastructure and volunteer bases for future Democratic candidates. As the blue shift continues, local Democratic parties and activists will be ready to capitalize on it. While "Fifty-Percent Plus One" might give you a victory for any particular election, it does not create the atmosphere for a party legacy.

A Brilliant Candidate

And then there was Barack Obama. His speeches and his ground game touched millions of voters who had always been cynical towards the electoral process. But he was not only inspirational – he was inclusive.

Part of it was that he had to be. Early on, he needed to win over white Democrats in Iowa to win the caucuses. When he won, he convinced the strong African-American base of the party that a black candidate – or at least this black candidate – was viable in the eyes of the majority.

Yet it did not end there. Throughout the entirety of his candidacy, his message was that of a united nation – inseparable by the divisions of class, religion, and race. There was no populist America or elitist America; no Christian America or non-Christian America; no black America or white America. From the very beginning, in his introduction to the country four years ago at the Democratic National Convention, he made his mantra clear: "There's not a liberal America and a conservative America, there's the United States of America."

Even after the decision was made, the votes were tallied, and he was clearly the President-elect of the country, the message continued. "We rise and fall as one people…to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn: I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too."

Unlike the claims made by Bush after he won 51% for his second term, it was clear that Obama did not believe his victory was a mandate. He was well aware that nearly half of the country did not trust him, but he made clear he wanted to work with them, and listen to them "especially when [they] disagree".

And with this mantra he has kept throughout the past four years – with only the possible exception of a few words at a fundraiser in San Francisco – he touched the hearts and minds of people in Montana, Indiana, North Carolina, and even Utah.


But a brilliant campaign and a brilliant candidate were not the only factors towards this victory. Regardless of whether or not the Obama campaign had succeeded in the primaries – or even began at all two years ago – the word of this election would still have been "change".

Throughout history, political realignment has been fairly consistent – a 25-35 year phenomenon in which a moment of historical significance brings people to shift their political leanings to one party, and pass the loyalty down to their children. But as time goes by, demographics change and loyalty fades, until a new moment of historical significance that creates new party loyalties.

It happened in 1860 when the new Republican Party rose to support abolition, free land, and tariff policies that were at odds with the South, creating a long period of Southern hate for the GOP.

It happened in 1896 when Democrat William Jennings Bryan evoked populist approval for his tirade against the Gold Standard, putting off the more populated Northeast, and giving way to firm Republican control of the country for the next 32 years.

It happened in 1932 when Roosevelt introduced his New Deal policies to relieve the country in the wake of the Great Depression, granting large Democratic majorities nationally.

It happened between the late 1960s and 1980 when FDR's coalition of Democratic supporters was split by the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War – and when Ronald Reagan brought the GOP into the neo-conservative movement.

Finally, the results of neo-conservative ideology and its populist Evangelical twist have created a new realignment.

Realignment Today

Nationally, Americans are more than ready for an end to the Bush Era. But there are other changes happening regionally as well.

Let's begin in the West, where Hispanic populations have boomed in states like Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado. Between the surge of Latino voters and other new voters going west for new jobs, Obama won big because Republicans were doomed.

From the New York Times:
The broader problem here was Republican infighting — over immigration, small government versus large government, and socially conservative issues," said David F. Damore, a professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Between the libertarian tradition of the West – currently at a crossroads with the Evangelicals in the GOP – and the strong Republican rhetoric against illegal immigration, Republican candidates failed in Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada. Not only did Obama win these states, the Udall cousins won Senate seats in Colorado and New Mexico, and Democrats were elected in House races across the southwest.

In Montana, the folksy Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer easily won his re-election. In Idaho, Democrat Walt Minnick was elected to Congress. Even in Wyoming, the home state of Vice President Dick Cheney, the Democrats nearly picked up a statewide seat.

On the opposite side of the country – the northeast – the GOP was all but eliminated. Christopher Shays (R-CT), the long-time incumbent and last Republican House member from New England lost his re-election to Jim Himes, a politically unknown challenger. Senator John Sununu (R-NH) lost his re-election to former Governor Jeanne Shaheen.

Their ties to Bush rocked the incumbents, but there was something else happening. After years of being labeled elitist, anti-American, not part of "real" America, Northeasterners were not going to tolerate the Republican Party anymore. The "Fifty-Percent Plus One" strategy that pitted the populists and Evangelicals of the country against the Northeast had come back to bite the GOP.

Then there are the Great Lakes states, which early on appeared to be the central front in the war for the White House. As the financial crisis got worse and worse, state after state became out of reach for John McCain.

He completely pulled out of Michigan, the RNC stopped their ad-buys in Wisconsin, and even Republican Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann seemed at risk in Minnesota – not to mention Senator Norm Coleman. Eventually, Ohio was declared "leaning Obama" and the so-often Republican state of Indiana was competitive.

But the one reliable region for the GOP – where Rove had built the base – was no longer safe. This is, of course, the South.

While states like Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Louisiana (thanks to the demographic realignment of Hurricane Katrina) supported McCain in greater numbers than Bush, the Bible Belt was seriously competitive. Obama won in the former Confederate states of Virginia and North Carolina. Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) could not garner the 50% needed to avoid a run-off, and Senator Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) was handedly defeated. Even Senator Wicker was at some risk in Mississippi.

But these gains for Democrats are not new, or a coincidence. They are part of a realignment that began in 2006.

The Iraq War, corruption scandals, and budget deficits left the competence of Republicans in question and Democrats were elected to enough seats to take back both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Meanwhile, Democrats picked-up State Legislatures and statewide administrative offices nationally.

Perhaps the best example is Virginia where Governor (now Senator-elect) Mark Warner (D-VA) created jobs for southern Virginians and metropolitan liberals spilled into the DC suburbs. As a result, the Democratic Party grew a base in Virginia to elect Governor Tim Kaine and Senator Jim Webb.

Or in Rhode Island, where moderate Republican Senator Lincoln Chaffe was defeated for no other reason than the party he belonged to.

Or even Colorado, or Ohio, which had similar stories that year.


It is not certain that Obama could have done this without his Plouffe and Axelrod – or whether the three of them could have done it at all four years ago.

But this much does appear to be true: Barack Obama was the right candidate with the right campaign at exactly the right time.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What We've Done - Sherwin Hughes, Political Strategist, Milwaukee, WI

As an African American man living in the United States, it is very easy to grow increasingly cynical of a country that is often increasingly suspect of you.

This great electoral victory is not just a triumph for African American’s; it is a true national triumph in which we all shall share collectively. Is this Black history? Yes. Is this American history? Absolutely.

An Electoral College landslide and a decisive accumulation of popular votes, equate to a mandate so strong it shall re-write the pages of campaign strategy for the next 100 years.

When placed within the context of American history, this event assumes an even deeper significance. Every bead of sweat dripping from the very brows of tireless marchers for justice, every tear cried and opportunity lost as a result of De facto and De jure, every drop of blood shed during the struggle manifested itself perfectly on the evening of November 4th, 2008. A civil rights movement executed. A dream no longer deferred.

President-elect Barack Hussein Obama has ignited the American spirit in ways not seen in a generation. 21 months ago, I could not fathom that the “skinny kid with a funny name” could oust the Clintons, build a swollen grassroots organization, and turn a bitterly divided nation into a place that has reignited my pride. We can now focus on being great once again. It is for that in which I am most thankful.

Make no mistake; Senator John McCain is a good man. Senator John McCain is an American hero. As evident by his very eloquent concession, he shall continue to be a servant of this nation. I wish he, nor his republican colleagues, no ill will. However, I remain ever cautious. For the Republican Party is returning to the proverbial drawing board and will eventually reinvent and rebuild.

Politics aside, this campaign was far more. It kindled our most intrinsic values of hope, optimism.

As I celebrated with the best of them into the early morning of November 5th, I saw things that rocked my very core. Streets flooded with jubilant souls, horns honking, banners waving, and an indiscriminant expression of human love. This campaign did something to us – something absolutely divine.

Politics included, this campaign awoke the better angels of the American nature, and as a result, bent the seemingly fixed lines that characterized the political map of red and blue states.

Even though most of us, in the generation of X, have never bore witness to such a monumental testament of the American will for change, the work is not done.

It is the duty of every American, regardless of political stripe or affiliation, to make sure that President-elect Obama does not walk alone. What he needs now is far more tangible than a vote. He needs our hearts, minds, and steadfast will. I stand before you ready to submit all three—with shining pride.

A weak economy, coupled with two wars abroad and a healthcare crisis, shall take the same determination to resolve as the election took to win. Please pledge with me to commit. As we stand shoulder to shoulder under the direction of a new commander in chief who bears the burden of a nation fractured by eight years of thoughtless policy.

As cliché as these words may be, and as long as they have been a part of my oration, they have never possessed a much more poignant meaning: “God Bless America”.

Preview: What do these Democratic wins mean for Electoral Politics? By HSG

Barack Obama is the new President-Elect of the United States. The Democrats will control at least 56 seats in the Senate, and an estimated 258 of 435 seats in the House of Representatives.

In addition, Democrats won state races for Governor, State Legislatures, and other offices across the country.

What did the GOP do wrong? What did the Democrats do right? What does this mean for the American political landscape?

We will examine these questions tomorrow in a special Post-Election exploration of the revival of the Democrats and the fall of the Republicans.

Everything's Bigger in Texas - Even Irony - By Kelly Fero, Democratic Strategist, Austin, TX

Forty-four years ago, a Democrat from Texas signed the most far-reaching legislation in history to secure African Americans the vote, then famously remarked that he had just cost his political party the South for at least a generation.

Last night, America voted for an African-American to be their next President — and his stunning victory came, to a large degree, courtesy of a Republican from Texas.

If Lyndon Johnson and his fellow Texans were the improbable champions of civil rights, having grown up in the segregated South, George W. Bush and his Lone Star State ideologues were supposed to be the compassionate conservatives. Yet, Bush’s failed presidency ushered in the national hunger for change that propelled the first African American into the Oval Office.

They say everything is bigger in Texas — even irony, it would appear.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Happy Election Day

This is for anyone who has ever worked on a political campaign.

(WARNING: One reader said he wanted to throw his laptop at the wall halfway through the video)

And a "thank you" to supporters:


Monday, November 3, 2008

One More Day

With only one more day until the Presidential Election, here is what we're looking at:

1) Barack Obama's grandmother passed away due to cancer this morning. The McCain campaign has offered their condolences.

2) Chuck Todd gives his Election Eve synopsis. Could he be the next Tim Russert? Yesterday he was considered a dark horse, today he's at the top of the list.

3) Pundits on "Morning Joe" discuss the growing success of the Democratic Party - particularly the success of the Obama campaign - and the uniqueness of this election.

4) Although we can no longer find a specific post for it, reports that 40% of Florida's total population has already voted!

5) 14 Pundits contribute predictions to this year's Washington Post Crystal Ball Contest.

6) Finally, those of us who are Democrats and Irish-Americans will certainly appreciate this video from the homeland.

One last thing, make sure you know where to vote. Of course, it is likely that 100% of this blog's readers know exactly where to vote, and at least half of them probably voted early. But just in case, visit