Friday, July 17, 2009

Obama Addresses the NAACP

President Barack Obama - the nation's first African-American Commander-in-Chief - gave a terrific speech last night to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at their 100th Anniversary convention.

Will the GOP Continue to Lose Hispanic Votes?

Following Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court back in May, we commented that the GOP would be unlikely to filibuster her confirmation because of a fear of losing Hispanic votes.

Of course, with Sen. Al Franken being sworn in earlier this month, it is extremely unlikely that Senate Republicans could pull off a filibuster anyway. But even if they wanted to, as blogger Glenn Thrush said, “every GOP leader with a pulse knows that opposing her could accelerate the stampede of Latinos out of the GOP in the southwest, west and Texas.”

In fact, our very first post back in October explained how winning Latino support was putting then-Senator Barack Obama over the top in states like Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada. The GOP has tried to be cautious of the growing significance of Hispanic votes.

Apparently, that fact is of no concern to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Ranking Minority Member, Jeff Sessions (R-AL). Since the confirmation hearings began earlier this week, Sessions has been in (what appears to be) full campaign mode against her.

Just watch his message consistency as he questioned her on Tuesday:

Sessions knows full well that nothing can derail a Senate Judiciary confirmation like charges of racism. When President Ronald Reagan nominated him to be a District Court judge back in 1986, the GOP-controlled Judiciary Committee rejected him upon the following stories:

Senate Democrats tracked down a career Justice Department employee named J. Gerald Hebert, who testified, albeit reluctantly, that in a conversation between the two men Sessions had labeled the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)… "un-American" and "Communist-inspired." Hebert said Sessions had claimed [the NAACP] "forced civil rights down the throats of people."

…Hebert testified that the young lawyer tended to "pop off" on such topics regularly, noting that Sessions had called a white civil rights lawyer a "disgrace to his race" for litigating voting rights cases…

…Another damaging witness--a black former assistant U.S. Attorney in Alabama named Thomas Figures--testified that, during a 1981 murder investigation involving the Ku Klux Klan, Sessions was heard by several colleagues commenting that he "used to think they [the Klan] were OK" until he found out some of them were "pot smokers."…Sessions, he said, had called him "boy" and, after overhearing him chastise a secretary, warned him to "be careful what you say to white folks."

So, when you want to court Latino voters - as President George W. Bush did fairly well in his two national elections - letting a man like Sessions be the chief opponent of a Sotomayor confirmation seems like a particularly dumb move on the part of the GOP.

Why is Latino support so critical?

Hispanics are the second largest ethnic group in the United States, and they’re continuing to grow. As NBC’s Chuck Todd and Sheldon Gawiser pointed out in their book Why Obama Won:

"Young voters are more diverse racially and ethnically than older voters and are growing more over time. Just 62% of voters under 30 are white, while 18% are black and 14% are Hispanic…in 2000, nearly three-quarters, 74%, were white."

And as we all know, young voters were particularly supportive of Obama. The correlation is that as younger voters grow older - and more and more young people reach the voting age - Hispanics will become a more and more prominent voting bloc.

What makes Sotomayor’s Supreme Court nomination so important is that there are still few Latinos holding high offices in the U.S. government. Hispanics represent about 15% of the American population, but only about 6% of the House of Representatives and 2% of the Senate. Furthermore, in 2008, only 7.7% of federal employees in the civil service were Hispanic, with only about 3% holding senior roles.

This might be an important reason as to why Hispanics made up only 7.4% of the total vote in 2008 - they seldom have one of their own to support.

While there are many non-partisan groups for the advancement of Hispanics in public life out there - such as the National Association of Latinos in Elected Office, The Leauge of United Latin American Citizens, and La Raza - the most successful groups of these sorts would be partisan.

The reason is simple: those involved with the parties themselves are often more experienced and would have a greater incentive to build support by recruiting Latinos for public office (namely, building a base to win elections for their party).

And between their nativist stance on immigration and now Session’s stark opposition to confirming Judge Sotomayor, the GOP is becoming less and less likely to be the party to achieve this goal. Thus - despite their efforts to the contrary - it seems evident that the Republicans will continue to lose out on the growing Hispanic vote.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Campaigns Heat Up On and Off Capitol Hill

It’s Thursday, July 16, 2009. Here’s what we’re looking at:

Another interest groups runs a positive ad for an entrenched member of Congress. This time Health Care for America is asking constituents to thank Senators Chris Dodd and Harry Reid.

Meanwhile, interest group fights interest group (in fact, company fights company) in a tough public affairs campaign on the Hill. FedEx is attacking UPS for trying to get a federal bailout.

In fact, UPS isn’t trying to get a bailout at all – they’re supporting a bill that would (among other things) pave the way for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to organize with FedEx like they already do with UPS. As we said on Wednesday last week, there’s no “truth in advertising” law in politics.

Nonetheless, several conservative interest groups – including Americans for Tax Reform, Frontiers for Freedom, and Citizen Outreach – are asking FedEx to stop because the campaign is undermining their own anti-bailout efforts.

You may have seen in recent weeks that SarahPAC – Sarah Palin’s political action committee – is ramping up their fundraising efforts. Nate Silver at looks through their recent FEC reports and finds something interesting – the amount of money their raising isn’t significant, but the percent of small donations is much higher than most campaigns.

In Pennsylvania, at-risk incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) is taking a swing at his new primary opponent, Rep. Joe Sestak. From the Specter campaign:

Joe Sestak – AWOL

Dear Friend,

Q. In the 19-member Pennsylvania Congressional Delegation, who’s missed the most votes this year?
A. Congressman Joe Sestak. Sestak has missed 78 votes in Congress so far this year, or nearly 15%, while campaigning for his theoretical Senate run.

Q. Who has the 13th worst attendance record this year in the entire Congress?
A. Joe Sestak. That’s right. Only twelve other Members of Congress have missed more votes than Sestak in 2009, including two members who are in rehab, one recovering from back surgery and several under government investigation.

Q. Is it true that 97% of all members of Congress have a better attendance record than Congressman Sestak.
A. Yes. Sestak ranks that low -- 97% of all members of Congress have a better attendance record than Congressman Sestak.

Q. What’s Senator Specter’s attendance?
A. Specter has been present for 98.7% of all votes in the Senate this year.

As we mentioned before, Specter is likely to face a tough primary – and that’s despite the fact that he went so far as to switch parties in order to avoid one!

Finally, Democrats picked up a seat in California this week, as Democrat Judy Chu won a special election against Republican Beatty Chu in Los Angeles to replace Obama’s Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, in the House of Representatives.

Evidently, voters didn’t feel there were too many Chus to choose from.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How Political Fundraising Has and Will Continue to Change

Part 4 of our 10-part series: “21st Century Campaigning”

The internet has changed much of the way we work, retrieve information, and live our daily lives. In politics, the internet has changed the game in ways of transparency, public forum, and campaign outreach. In time, it may even be where we go to vote.

So far, however, the internet has had its greatest impact on one aspect of political campaigns in particular: fundraising.

Around the year 2000, candidates began maintaining websites regularly. By 2002, it was estimated that over half of Americans had internet access in their homes. And in 2004, the internet made its first big dent in American politics - it turned an unknown former governor from the tiny state of Vermont into a household name and political giant.

Howard Dean revolutionized the way campaigns were done - for both Democrats and Republicans - with his bid in the 2004 presidential race. In about a year he built a national network of activists and, with them, raised an astounding amount of money (tens of millions of dollars) from thousands of modest contributions.

Today the most important page of a campaign website is the “Contribution” section. The reason is simple: the average voter doesn’t go to a candidate’s website to make their decision (although many pundits and analysts suggest that’s beginning to change) but the average donor will contribute online.

And the typical campaign website won’t open with a candidate introduction or positions on the issues - it opens with a screen inviting the reader to sign up for email updates. Those email updates will occasionally be used to inform voters of upcoming events or the candidate’s positions, but the vast majority of the time they will be soliciting contributions - a move right out of the Dean playbook.

It also allows for campaigns to re-solicit from prior contributors - (usually) the most likely group of people to give again. In December we noted that even the Obama transition team used the campaign email list to get donations for the Inaugural celebrations.

Obama actually took the progress Dean had made one step further - he raised so much from small donations that he didn’t need to rely on lobbyists, PACs, or public financing. Sen. McCain’s presidential campaign account received only 54% of it cash from individual donors, compared to a whopping 88% of Obama’s campaign finances. And with online fundraising, they raised amounts that were previously unimaginable - more than $1 billion between them.

The result: public financing of presidential elections is bound to fade away. It may have even seen its last days in 2008, barring any new reform from Congress.

Many think it is unfortunate that public financing may (for all practical purposes) go extinct, but only time can tell. In January, Sherwin Hughes made quite an analogy between Obama’s fundraising mastery and a poker game:

“I liken right-wing conservative donors to gamblers. These poker players, drunk on their own hubris and wealth, are sitting down to a game of presidential stud, hold 'em or betting on horses at the track. The max buy-in is a cool $2,300…

…Those hands would ultimately be trumped. Millions of ordinary people sat down at that high stakes presidential poker game. The same people who haven't been invited to play for the last 8 years, and arguably the last 200, seated themselves with confidence at this exclusive backroom game. They pooled their $5 and $10 chips, raised, re-raised and splashed the pot. The cards were dealt face up and revealed a beautiful royal flush which consisted of the face cards of disenfranchised Americans, war veterans, and jobless individuals.”

Again, another implication of the internet in politics is the greater extent of transparency. Not only are campaign finance reports readily available at the Federal Election Commission’s online database, but and similar websites as well.

Candidates may be less likely to raise money from special interests with these resources available to voters. Obama himself refused to accept contributions from lobbyists, and has pushed the Democratic Party to adapt the same principle.

Nobody likes how expensive campaigns are becoming, but it all comes down to the internet - it’s fundamentally changed the way political campaigns raise money. In the end, it might even make campaign finance better.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sotomayor Hearings Start Off Partisan

Today’s opening to the confirmation hearings of Judge Sonia Sotomayor hit a hard partisan tone this morning. One only needs to hear the remarks of Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Ranking Minority Member Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to understand.

Read Leahy’s full remarks here.

Read Sessions’ full remarks here.

In fact, the GOP members of the Judiciary Committee have all hit Sotomayor hard on the “empathy” issue so far today. A party-split vote in the committee is very likely at this point.

To see the full hearings, visit the Judiciary Committee’s website for a live webcast.