NDN Blog

A Year of Opportunity for Democrats - Looking Ahead to the Fall Elections

Last week we took a deep dive on what Clinton and Trump have to do to put their parties back together after contentious primaries.  This week I look further forward, and offer an early take on what the landscape might be for this fall's election in an admittedly unpredictable year: 

Current Polls (all data from the Huffington Post Pollster aggregate) -

Party – Dems lead in Party ID 36/28, and in favorability 46/47 (minus 1) to the GOP’s 31/60 (minus 29), a substantial margin. Congress, which is controlled by the GOP, has a historically low approval rating of 14 (14/72).

The President/Party Leaders – President Obama’s job approval is 49/47, and his overall approval is 48/46. Vice President Biden’s approval is 47/37, and Bernie Sander is 51/40. On the other hand, there are no major GOP political figures with net positive approval ratings – Ryan is 32/39, Kasich is 36/39 and McConnell is 17/43.

Trump vs. Clinton – In the latest Huff Po aggregate, Clinton leads by 7 in direct head to heads with Trump, 47/40. Her approval rating, while low, is far better than Trump’s, 41/55 (minus 14) to 33/62 (minus 29).

The Issue Landscape – There isn’t an obvious opening on domestic issues for the Republicans this cycle. The economy is vastly improved from where it was, and should continue to do well through the fall. Annual deficits are a 1/3 of what they were. Health inflation has slowed, and tens of millions have insurance who didn’t have it before. Energy prices are low, and the US is making real progress is transitioning to a better energy future. On immigration, one of Mr. Trump’s signature issues, the country is with the Democrats, and not him. The basket of issues around “security” remain the GOP’s one obvious opening, with Obama at 39/48 in his handling of foreign policy, and the Secretary having some lingering issues from her time as Secretary of State. Expect a tremendous level of engagement from the GOP on “security” issues this year.

The Map – As we covered in previous posts (here and here), the map is particularly advantageous for Democrats this year. The significant overlap among the states/districts Democrats need to win for the President, Senate and House both allow Democrats to maximize a Presidential state advantage, and use efficiencies gained through coordinated efforts to go on offense in states like Arizona, California, Georgia, New York and North Carolina, Additionally, Trump’s hard line immigration approach will make Democratic success in states with heavily Hispanic populations like Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Virginia and perhaps even North Carolina more likely.

Expanding the map to more states and voters is also important for Democrats to not only ensure that they win, but that they can govern effectively. Due to low turnout and only a small number of targeted Presidential states, only about one in three of eligible voters cast their ballot for President Obama in 2012. By expanding the map, Democrats could get that number up, creating more buy-in from the American people, or the “consent of the governed” our founders intended. This extra level of support could make become meaningful in a closely divided Congress next year.

The Choice of Vice President – For Donald Trump there seems to be one really good pick – John Kasich – and lots of less helpful ones. Kasich brings delegates to wrap up the nomination quickly, has as good a favorable rating as any GOPer in the country, has deep governing experience to complement Trump’s inexperience, hails from the region of the country where Trump must win, and is the Governor of the state where the GOP Convention is taking place. Kasich’s standing inside the Party will grow for “taking one for the team” by joining the ticket. I just don’t see how this doesn’t happen.

As for the Democrats, my money is still on Tim Kaine of Virginia. He is a former Party chair, governor and is deeply respected by people on both sides of the aisle. He hails from a swing state, speaks fluent Spanish, is Catholic (Rustbelt, Hispanics) and reinforces the “steady hand on the rudder” sensibility that will likely be a core Democratic offering this year. There are other good choices out there – Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Mark Warner, Elizabeth Warren, etc – but I think Kaine just feels like the right choice for this race at this time.

Looking Ahead – Six months out, signs point to this being a year of significant opportunity for the Democrats. The playing field leans Democratic right now, and the map is particularly advantageous to Democrats this year. The Party’s leaders are well liked, and it has a strong track record of success in each of the last two Presidencies and in winning national elections. Taken together, all of this gives the Democrats a formidable advantage against an unpopular GOP without well regarded leaders and very little to show for their time in power over the past generation.

While the basic structure of the race favors Secretary Clinton, Trump is only 7 points behind at this point. Clinton’s high negatives will give Trump an opportunity to make his case. His even higher negatives and lack of a true campaign at this stage of the race are enormous liabilities for him, ones that will make it very hard for him to turn this into a competitive race in the months ahead. But expect very aggressive attacks around the “security” theme (note 1st major policy speech was on foreign policy), and on her honesty and overall leadership capabilities. Also expect the GOP to come together rapidly around Trump in the months to come, as on may of the major issues – tax cuts, climate denial, Obamacare repeal, hard line immigration policies, interventionist/jingoistic foreign policy – is very much a mainstream Republican.  While Trump appears weak today, he has been over-performing expectations for almost a year now, and cannot be written off.

While perhaps playing defense on “security” issues and her own record, there is a real opportunity for the Secretary to go on offense as the next CEO of a party with well liked leaders and a strong track record of success now in two Presidencies. It would be wise for the Clinton campaign to spend the time through the July Convention leading a national effort to tell the story of Democratic governing success (jobs, deficit, health care, energy/climate, equal opportunity for all, political reform, safer world), establishing the basic contrast of D progress/R decline prior to rolling out her closing argument and shifting the focus to her candidacy at the Convention itself.  Helping the Democrats understand and own their own success will make every Democrat stronger up no matter where they are on the ticket.

It will also be remarkable to see a very popular set of Democratic leaders – Biden, Bill Clinton, both Obamas, Sanders, the VP – standing alongside and campaigning with Secretary Clinton in the months ahead. That image of a powerful team lead by an experienced leader (and first woman!) will not be easily answered by an unpopular, isolated Trump and a deeply unpopular Party without a single national leader with net positive favorability ratings. An unprecedented “Democratic Team” that includes two former Presidents could end up being an extraordinary advantage for her this fall.

To address her weakness with Millennials, Clinton would be wise to do two things: 1) showcase younger, compelling leaders like Cory Booker, Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris, Gavin Newsom, Joe Kennedy at the Convention, giving them outsized and very public roles, and showcasing them thru post-broadcast media and forums; 2) adopt a far reaching plan to renew our democracy and reform our politics, along the lines of something I published last week. Whatever the Clinton plan is for bringing along the Sanders world, particularly Millennials, it must be an aggressive and serious effort, and should begin right away.

Conclusion – All signs point to it being a year of opportunity for Democrats.  Though Trump should not be underestimated, the hole he and his party have dug for themselves is very deep.  It remains to seen if they can make the fall election competitive. 

More on the 2016 Election - Be sure to review our deep dive on the 2016 map and the opportunities it offers Democrats; our tally of the Presidential primary debates audiences which finds the GOP far outperforming the Dems; the Democratic bench is stronger than it appears; Clinton should become a champion of political and electoral reform; thoughts on the "children of Reagan;" my in-depth interview with conservative author Matt Lewis on what the GOP can learn from a generation of reform and success on the center-left; my long form magazine piece on the descent of the GOP into a reactionary mess, anticipating the rise of Trump; Rob Shapiro on Trump's economic plan and the crackup of the GOP. 

"Monday Musings" is a new column which looks at the national political landscape and is published most Mondays here on the NDN site. You can find previous columns here. It also appears each week on the London-based progressive site, Left Foot Forward

Full disclosure: I am supporting Hillary Clinton for President, and have given the maximum contribution to her campaign. I am not, however, a consultant to, or paid by, any campaign or party committee.

Renewing Our Democracy, Restoring Consent - A Note to the NDN Community

This week I published an op-ed on the US News website that lays out a three part plan for modernizing and improving how our democracy works in America.  I hope you will take a few moments to read it in the coming days.  It is one of the more important pieces I’ve written in recent years. 

I draw particular attention to this piece because I’ve become convinced that getting more people to meaningful participate in the process of choosing their leaders, restoring the “consent of the governed” imagined by our Founding Fathers, is an essential and necessary step in restoring faith in our institutions and moving our nation successfully into the 21st century. 

I and NDN have dabbled in these issues over the years.  I was one of the first non-Oregon investors in the Oregon vote by mail experiment in mid-1990s, one that has helped created a voting system with among the highest citizen participation in the nation.  I was an early champion of the use of the Internet in US politics as a way of lowering the barrier of entry for every day people into the political system, even putting the first American political party on line (the Democrats) in 1993.  I was an architect of the plan that added a southern and southwestern state to the early DNC nominating calendar, allowing voters of colors to play a much greater role in choosing the Democrat’s nominee.  And recently, NDN successfully advocated for an improved DNC debate schedule, allowing tens of millions of people to become better informed in their choice for President in 2016.

I also sit on the board of the Tisch College for Civic Life at Tufts University, arguably the leading academic institution in America today looking at citizen engagement and healthy societies.  I am honored that I will be teaching a class there this fall on American politics that will be allow me to spend a bit more time looking at these issues.    

I write all this to the NDN community today as a way of saying that I and our team will be committing far more time and energy to the basket of issues around political and electoral reform, and restoring “consent.”  As I look ahead over the next few years, I have become convinced that the distance many Americans feel from Washington must be addressed head on or progress on so many other issues that we care about will be disappointingly elusive.  

And there is urgent international context to this discussion as well.  If America is to remain steadfast in our commitment to advancing democracy abroad, our own democracy must be an exemplar, not a laggard or even an embarrassment (5 hour lines to vote!).  Acknowledging that even we in the world’s oldest democracy don’t always get things right, and can make improvements, will be an inspiration to other nations and advocates looking to modernize and improve their own political systems. 

Thanks for all that you do for us here at NDN and the many other organizations and leaders our community supports each and every day.

Best,

Simon 

Unpublished
n/a

Putting Their Parties Back Together

2016 Overview - With big wins in New York last week fueling them now, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are on track to win their Party’s nomination this July. The central story in US politics these next few months will be how each of them puts their parties back together after what has been a contentious primary season. The challenges for Trump and Clinton are different, and perhaps can best be summed up by the national polling aggregate graphs from the Huffington Post below.

Today, Hillary Clinton has an insurmountable lead in delegates and has essentially won her nomination, but Democratic voters remain remarkably split between her and Bernie Sanders. For Clinton, putting her party back together will revolve heavily on the perception of how Sanders and his followers are treated, both at a national level and in every state. Given the success of the Sanders campaign against overwhelming odds, and his very high standing in the polls, many Sanders backers will be expecting to play a meaningful role in the emerging post Obama Democratic Party. Accommodating the Senator, his many delegates and his followers, will be a fundamentally difference process than the successful Obama Clinton rapprochement in 2008. The defeated Senator then was a professional politician with future ambitions, and the Clinton world knew how to fall in line and get on board. We simply cannot expect the same from Sanders and Sandernistas across the country.  Many are new to politics, and come at the process with a degree of contempt for the system.  For Clinton 2008 was a "loss."  For Sanders 2016 will be seen by him and his supporters as a "win." Additionally, that there is such a wide held perception that the DNC and “the Party” improperly intervened on Clinton’s behalf in the primary renders the Party, its Chair and the Convention itself a far less effective tool for reconciliation than is usual.

The team around Clinton is a sophisticated bunch, and I am confident they will be able to make all this work. But the constant references to one finds on social media to “we got on board in 2008, your turn,” while perhaps comforting to Clinton supporters, is not now, and will not be a compelling argument to the very different sensibility of the Sanders world. 

Trump, on the other hand, is in a less advantageous delegate position today than Clinton but does not face the kind of popular alternative Sanders has come to represent. It is possible that if a more attractive and less extreme alternative to Trump had emerged in the primaries than Cruz, Trump could have been beaten. But it didn’t happen, and as one can see from the graph above, recent polling has Trump gaining and his two opponents losing ground. In some ways he enters this next phase in a more dominant position than Clinton, as he has doesn’t have a real opponent any more. Yet, his party is far more deeply fractured than the Democratic Party, and putting it back together would be an extraordinary challenge for any nominee, let alone one without political experience. What will make Trump’s job a bit easier is that he is not really at odds with his party on the big issues, arguing for big tax cuts, an interventionist foreign policy, a hard line immigration agenda, climate denial and rolling back Obamacare. He is perhaps louder, more boorish and less experienced than more establishment Republicans, but the ideological distance between him and Paul Ryan may be closer than the one between Clinton and Sanders today and thus easier to bridge than many realize.

The Pick of Vice President - The choice of Vice President will be an important step in this process of putting the party back together for both Clinton and Trump. I still think Senator Tim Kaine has the edge on the Democratic side – swing state, Spanish speaker, Catholic, former Party Chair, good guy, principled thoughtful national leader. He will help reinforce the “steady hand on the rudder” narrative that will contrast well with Trump this fall. But given my analysis above, will also be interesting to see if a nod to the next generation would be appropriate this time, with folks like Cory Booker and Julian Castro getting an extended look. Regardless of who Clinton picks, it would be wise for her to make a group of emerging, compelling Democrats – Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, Joe Kennedy, Kamala Harris, Gavin Newsom for example – co-chairs of the Democratic Convention this summer. Something significant will have to be done to excite and engage younger Sanders supporters. Celebrating our inspiring next generation of leaders, the ones who will inherit the party after the age of Clinton, Reid and Pelosi, would be one savvy step in this effort.

For Trump, there is one pick that seems to make so much sense that I have to believe it will happen soon – Ohio’s John Kasich. He brings delegates to help wrap up the nomination. He brings unparalleled government experience to complement Trump’s inexperience. He hails from the swingiest of general election states, and the site of the GOP convention. He will be an effective bridge to the “GOP establishment.” Given the events of recent days the cost of this deal clearly has gone up for Trump, but assume these talks are already well underway. There is just no one else who brings more to the ticket now than Kasich, and getting him to come on board will be of the most important tests of whether the Trump makeover has any chance of succeeding.

Further Reading - Two good reads from the last few days on this next phase of the process - The New York Times's Adam Nagourney "Can Clinton Feel the Bern?" and Politico's Gabriel Debenedetti's "Sanders Caught in a Political Trap." 

More on the 2016 Election - Be sure to review our deep dive on the 2016 map and the opportunities it offers Democrats; our tally of the Presidential primary debates audiences which finds the GOP far outperforming the Dems; the Democratic bench is stronger than it appears; Clinton should become a champion of political and electoral reform; thoughts on the "children of Reagan;" my in-depth interview with conservative author Matt Lewis on what the GOP can learn from a generation of reform and success on the center-left; my long form magazine piece on the descent of the GOP into a reactionary mess, anticipating the rise of Trump; Rob Shapiro on Trump's economic plan and the crackup of the GOP. 

"Monday Musings" is a new column which looks at the national political landscape and is published most Mondays here on the NDN site. You can find previous columns here. It also appears each week on the London-based progressive site, Left Foot Forward

Full disclosure: I am supporting Hillary Clinton for President, and have given the maximum contribution to her campaign. I am not, however, a consultant to, or paid by, any campaign or party committee.

Consequential Days Ahead

2016 Overview – As we discussed last week, the central question in the Presidential race now is whether Clinton and Trump can use the late April states to reestablish control over their nominating contests. Both are polling well in New York (April 19th), and on April 26’s “Super Tuesday” of Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. If the polls hold, both Trump and Clinton will enter the final month of primaries in very dominant positions, raising questions about whether their opposition can or should continue. So there is a lot riding on the outcomes of these late April states.

On the Democratic side, the margin in New York will matter.  Polls have Clinton with double digit leads.  Recent states have found Bernie overperforming public polls, however, and in other large states like Michigan and Wisconsin without other contests Sanders has been able to close very strong.  My guess is that the final outcome will be closer to mid single digits than 15 points. But whatever it is, the final margin tomorrow night will be important for setting the stage for the five states voting next week.  

How Do Dems Make Peace? If Clinton does as well as is expected over the next week, calls for Sanders to drop out will get very loud. Clinton needs Sanders and his spirited following for her general election campaign. How will the peace be made? What can Sanders show his supporters they got for their remarkable run? Greg Sargent of the Washington Post wrote a few pieces on this matter last week, suggesting that at least one partof the deal could be the Democrats’ adopting significant changes in their own party nominating process at the July convention. Among the things Sargent says that could be considered are eliminating caucuses, establishing an independent process to schedule debates, opening up primaries to independent voters, limiting the number of states that can vote on any given day and more.  His pieces are well worth a read, and offer some smart thinking about the road ahead. 

Is Trump getting a makeover? Perhaps the most interesting development in the Presidential race is the apparent rebooting of the Trump campaign. Shaken perhaps by unexpected losses, inadequate political preparation, legal challenges for his campaign manager and historically high disapproval ratings, it appears that Mr. Trump is in the process of professionalizing his campaign. This is a deeply pragmatic step, both by him and his party. He is still the likely nominee, and Republicans need to do everything they can to salvage his candidacy as a blowout this year will do particular damage to Rs across the country. With long time establishment figure Paul Manafort joining the Trump campaign, it will now become acceptable for others to follow, justifying it as “good for the party.” This sensibility will eventually extend to Trump’s choice for Vice President. If offered, the pressure on folks like Kasich, Walker and Rubio (all named by Trump for his shortlist) to join the Trump ticket, “for the good of the party,” will be immense. And my assumption is that one of them will indeed hop on board.

Whether all of this will be enough to make the general election competitive given the damage Trump has already done to his brand of course is the big question. But remember, for the GOP, there is a huge and consequential difference between Trump losing with 48% of the vote, and losing with 45 or 44%. One early sign of this makeover will be in how Trump handles his victories over the next week. Will there be a change in tone? Style? Language? Worth watching.

More on the 2016 Election - Be sure to review our deep dive on the 2016 map and the opportunities it offers Democrats; our tally of the Presidential primary debates audiences which finds the GOP far outperforming the Dems; the Democratic bench is stronger than it appears; Clinton should become a champion of political and electoral reform; thoughts on the "children of Reagan;" my in-depth interview with conservative author Matt Lewis on what the GOP can learn from a generation of reform and success on the center-left; my long form magazine piece on the descent of the GOP into a reactionary mess, anticipating the rise of Trump; Rob Shapiro on Trump's economic plan and the crackup of the GOP. 

"Monday Musings" is a new column which looks at the national political landscape and is published most Mondays here on the NDN site. You can find previous columns here. It also appears each week on the London-based progressive site, Left Foot Forward

Full disclosure: I am supporting Hillary Clinton for President, and have given the maximum contribution to her campaign. I am not, however, a consultant to, or paid by, any campaign or party committee.

Can the Frontrunners Reassert Control?

2016 Overview – The later part of April provides both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton the opportunity to reassert degrees of control over their nomination battles. Both frontrunners are polling well in the upcoming contests – delegate rich New York on April 19th, and then April’s “Super Tuesday” of Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island on April 26th. . This is a welcome stretch of favorable terrain after what has been a tough few weeks for both candidates. 

In a recent column, I discussed how Trump’s refusal to embrace a modern and complete campaign – fundraising/bid budgets, paid advertising, grassroots organizing, delegate operations, etc – was a potentially fatal mistake. At some point, many have believed, the improvised, impulsive, free media driven Trump start up of 2015 was going to have to mature into a real organization in 2016 if he were to take advantage of the opportunity he had given himself. Over the past few weeks Trump has begun to pay a real price for his stubborn decision to run his effort on the cheap. He gave a series of terribly ill-advised interviews which reinforced how unprepared his was for the Presidency of the most powerful nation in the world. In Colorado this past weekend, he lost every delegate at the statewide convention to Ted Cruz, soon after losing almost all of the delegates in North Dakota and just two months after getting out-organized by Cruz in Iowa. This morning Trump even admitted his own children had missed the registration deadline to vote for him in New York next week. These kind of “can he play this game” mistakes are further driving the GOP establishment/party professional class away from him, a dynamic that is becoming so powerful that it could not only deny him enough delegates at his Convention, but create a sufficient public rationale for finding an alternative to him in Cleveland even if he recovers his standing and ends the primary with a string of victories.

Secretary Clinton faces a different set of challenges. Whereas Trump’s problems are largely of his own making, the Clinton campaign is facing a far more spirited challenge from Bernie Sanders than almost anyone could have predicted. The Sanders campaign has dramatically outraised the extraordinary Clinton fundraising machine this quarter, won 8 of the last 9 contests, and appears to have pulled even in national polls with the Secretary. Whether all of this is enough to catch Clinton in the upcoming run of states where she has, according to early polling, meaningful leads, we will find out soon. The Clinton camp can find solace in that many of the remaining states have “closed” primaries, meaning only Democrats can vote. This will blunt the Sanders advantage with independents. Unlike Trump, she is likely to cross the delegate threshold needed to win the nomination in June. Additionally, the Sanders campaign has made a series of significant public missteps in the last few weeks, reminding us, perhaps a bit like Trump, of his own inexperience of playing the game at this level.

The Sanders camp, on the other hand, will find solace in that in many recent contests he has over-performed against the public polls, some by dramatic margins. No colleges are on break this month, unlike March, which is another thumb on the scale for Sanders. And of course he has the momentum from his remarkable wins of late, most notably his 14 point win in Wisconsin last Tuesday. All of this makes the Sanders Clinton debate on CNN this Thursday night the most important debate so far for the Democrats.

Sanders, Cruz closing in national polls - A close read of recent national polling shows a changing race in both parties. On the Democratic side, six new polls found two Sanders’ leads, two slight Clinton leads and two with bigger Clinton leads. Four of the six found the race essentially tied. Using the Huffington Post poll aggregator, the Clinton lead is now 2.5 points, 47.8 to 45.3, down from 11-12 points from just a month ago. On the Republican side, Trump now leads Cruz by just 9 points, 41 to 32, down from 18 points, 42 to 24, just a month ago. Looking at the charts below, you can see that in each the slope of the lines indicates that public opinion in the race is moving rapidly right now away from the frontrunners. Will it be enough? Can Trump and Clinton use these coming states to recover their momentum? We will see. 

More on the 2016 Election - Be sure to review our deep dive on the 2016 map and the opportunities it offers Democrats; our tally of the Presidential primary debates audiences which finds the GOP far outperforming the Dems; the Democratic bench is stronger than it appears; Clinton should become a champion of political and electoral reform; thoughts on the "children of Reagan;" my in-depth interview with conservative author Matt Lewis on what the GOP can learn from a generation of reform and success on the center-left; my long form magazine piece on the descent of the GOP into a reactionary mess, anticipating the rise of Trump; Rob Shapiro on Trump's economic plan and the crackup of the GOP.  

Source: http://elections.huffingtonpost.com/pollster

"Monday Musings" is a new column which looks at the national political landscape and is published most Mondays here on the NDN site. You can find previous columns here. It also appears each week on the London-based progressive site, Left Foot Forward

Full disclosure: I am supporting Hillary Clinton for President, and have given the maximum contribution to her campaign. I am not, however, a consultant to, or paid by, any campaign or party committee.

Sanders, Cruz Soldier On; A Year of Opportunity for Democrats?

If current polling holds tomorrow night and Cruz and Sanders prevail in Wisconsin, it will give them a vital boost heading into a very important stretch where the terrain looks less favorable for them – New York on April 19th and then the Northeastern “Super Tuesday” of Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island on April 26th. Polls from the past few days show Trump with large leads in these late April delegate rich contests, while Clinton retains about a 10 point lead in New York. So while each frontrunner may take another hit this week, April could be the month where both Trump and Clinton finally put their race away.

Having said that, these last few weeks have been challenging ones for both frontrunners. Sanders racked up big wins in recent states, and had another impressive record breaking fundraising month in March. Video of Clinton in an angry exchange with a voter got her off message this week, and the campaign has yet to really find its footing again. Recent Trumpian interviews with the Washington Post and New York Times have been disastrous for him, reinforcing not just his radicalism and misogyny but his extraordinary ignorance of global and domestic affairs. Polling showing him slipping behind Cruz in Wisconsin raises questions about whether we are beginning to see evidence of a broader Trump weakening (Tues am - NBC/Survey Monkey finds evidence of some Trump slippage this week). I remain unconvinced that Cruz or Kasich at this point are strong enough or capable enough to take full advantage of a potential Trump stumble, and am keeping my money on the one with the hair to prevail outright on the 1st ballot in Cleveland.

As of press time, the Sanders and Clinton campaigns had not resolved their differences to settle on a date and place for a promised 9th debate. This is an unfortunate occurrence, as people voting in April, May and June deserve their own fresh debates. I put the blame for this debilitating squabble squarely on the DNC (Democratic Party), whose original, inadequate schedule had the last English language debate taking place on February 11th, when only 2 of the 50 states would have voted. Remarkably, when confronted with the inadequacy of the schedule, the DNC repeatedly ruled out adding any additional debate beyond this early February one, suggesting that DNC expected/wanted the primary to end in March not June. The reason these debates are negotiated upfront, long before the voting begins, is to avoid exactly what is happening now – in the heat of battle both the Sanders and Clinton campaigns are having to spend time negotiating with one another (no easy thing), and fighting this out in the media rather than talking about the issues that will drive the fall election. That we are even talking about this at this point is a sign of the extraordinary mismanagement of the debate schedule by the DNC this cycle (Tues am - the two sides agreed to next Thursday, April 14th for a Brooklyn debate). 

A Year of Opportunity for Democrats? Several reports this week signaled that the election could be shaping up to be a year of opportunity for Democrats. A new report from Gallup found Party ID starting to break open for Democrats, moving from 42/42 in October to 46/40 today. (see the graph below). Gallup’s daily track of the President’s approval rating, a key shaper of broader public opinion, has been consistently finding Obama in the low 50s, even hitting 53% this past week. Both the 46% Party ID and 53% Presidential approval are highs for the President’s second term, and suggest a very favorable environment for the Democrats this fall. 

A new poll by Stan Greenberg’s Democracy Corps found similar movement toward Democrats, away from the Republicans and early indications that key elements of the Democrat coalition have begun to become far more engaged in the election. House specific questions yielded similar results, suggesting that the movement towards Democrats we are seeing could extend below the Presidential level. As my own recent analysis of this year's electoral map showed, Presidential success for the Democrats in 2016 is likely to have a disproportionate impact on the battle for the Senate and House, potentially even putting the House in play.

Despite the rancor of this tough political year, it could very well be that these numbers reflect the public giving credit to the President and the Democrats for a job well done.  Millions more are working today, and wages have begun to tick up; annual deficits are a third of what they were, and interest rates remain low; the President's health care reform has insured 20m people in just its first few years and health care costs have slowed; the global energy paradigm is changing in ways good for the planet and the United States; and while the world remains a challenging and difficult place, far fewer Americans are dying today than during the previous President's terms, diplomacy has been introduced into the Middle East, the President has advanced a far reaching plan for Asia anchored in his hard fought TPP, etc.   Much has gone right these past 7 years, and the country is stronger for it.  There can be little doubt that this record of achievement will be used effectively by many Democrats this fall to help draw a stark contrast with a generation of ineffectiveness and ideological extremism on the other side. 

So, yes, this data is early, and much can happen. But every election takes on a specific set of characteristics as the cycle unfolds. And at this point, there is a growing body of evidence that this could be a year of enormous opportunity for Democrats to not just win the Presidency but to make up valuable ground lost in the very tough 2010 and 2014 midterms.

More on the 2016 Election - Be sure to review our deep dive on the 2016 map and the opportunities it offers Democrats; our tally of the Presidential primary debates audiences which finds the GOP far outperforming the Dems; the Democratic bench is stronger than it appears; Clinton should become a champion of political and electoral reform; thoughts on the "children of Reagan;" my in-depth interview with conservative author Matt Lewis on what the GOP can learn from a generation of reform and success on the center-left; my long form magazine piece on the descent of the GOP into a reactionary mess, anticipating the rise of Trump; Rob Shapiro on Trump's economic plan and the crackup of the GOP.  

"Monday Musings" is a new column which looks at the national political landscape and is published most Mondays here on the NDN site. You can find previous columns here. It also appears each week on the London-based progressive site, Left Foot Forward

Full disclosure: I am supporting Hillary Clinton for President, and have given the maximum contribution to her campaign. I am not, however, a consultant to, or paid by, any campaign or party committee.

A Very Good Week for Bernie Sanders; Our Creaky Democracy

The unpredictable 2016 race gave us some new twists and turns last week as Bernie Sanders won 6 of 7 contests by shockingly wide margins – 82/18, 79/20, 78/21, 73/27, 70/30, 69/31 (incl Democrats Abroad). As many of these states were small and did not award many delegates, the essential trajectory of the race hasn’t changed – Clinton still holds a commanding lead. To date she has won 56% of the delegates allocated through voting, and retains a strong lead over Sanders in most national polls. But these convincing wins give Sanders and his team a powerful rationale to soldier on through what will be a busy April: 

April 5 – Wisconsin

April 9 - Wyoming

April 19 – New York

April 26 – Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island

The nature of the April schedule is going to be very consequential to both the Sanders and Clinton campaigns. Sanders has done far better on days when fewer people were voting, using the power of his campaign/message to make significant gains (think MI on 3/8 or these last round of states) against the natural name ID advantage Clinton has wielded effectively, particularly on the two Super Tuesdays, March 1st and 15th. The first three April states are one on one contests, which have historically played to Sander’s advantage. New York, however, is a closed primary (no independents), and the Clinton brand remains awfully strong in the Big Apple. But it is the final batch of states on April 26th which may indeed be Bernie’s last stand. He has not performed well on these big Tuesdays, and if Clinton can come close to replicating her previous Super Tuesday performances it could end the race once and for all.

Alternatively, if Bernie can surprise in Wisconsin and New York, April 26th could be a day of enormous opportunity for the spirited Sanders effort.

Given Bernie’s need for name ID in these large contests in late April, it should be no surprise now that the two campaigns have now begun to squabble about the previously agreed upon April debate. Debates matter in American politics, and one should not underestimate the power of debates to help insurgents gain recognition and support. A far superior GOP debate schedule has yielded 186m viewers, and helped power a telegenic insurgent, Trump, into a commanding lead. On the Democratic side, a late and poorly designed debate approach has yielded just 66m viewers, denying the Democrats’ plucky insurgent national air time that could have made a difference for him, particularly in those Super Tuesday states where he just did not have the time or money to compete in so many states simultaneously. So watch this week for news on this new round of debate over debates, and be sure to see our report on the debate audiences so far. 

As for Trump, it is belief he is going to win the Republican nomination. I will spend more time on Trump next week, but at this point I just don’t see how Trump isn’t the GOP nominee.

Our Creaky Democracy – We’ve seen it all these last few months – no paper ballots in Iowa, preventing a recount in an historically close election; 5 hour waits for voting, and far too many people leaving lines because they couldn’t wait any more; voters denied the ability to vote due to new draconian “Voter ID” laws being implemented for the first time; and the absurdity of “caucuses,” which guarantee a very low turnout even in a Presidential campaign. We are long overdue for a big national conversation about how to update our democracy for a new century – look for more from us on this in the coming days. The US must be an exemplar for the very best election practices, and we have a lot of work to do to get there in the years ahead.

More on the 2016 Election - Be sure to review our deep dive on the 2016 map and the opportunities it offers Democrats; our tally of the Presidential primary debates audiences which finds the GOP far outperforming the Dems; the Democratic bench is stronger than it appears; Clinton should become a champion of political and electoral reform; thoughts on the "children of Reagan;" my in-depth interview with conservative author Matt Lewis on what the GOP can learn from a generation of reform and success on the center-left; my long form magazine piece on the descent of the GOP into a reactionary mess, anticipating the rise of Trump; Rob Shapiro on Trump's economic plan and the crackup of the GOP.  

"Monday Musings" is a new column which looks at the national political landscape and is published most Mondays here on the NDN site. You can find previous columns here. It also appears each week on the London-based progressive site, Left Foot Forward

Full disclosure: I am supporting Hillary Clinton for President, and have given the maximum contribution to her campaign. I am not, however, a consultant to, or paid by, any campaign or party committee.

Trump and Clinton Look Unstoppable Now; Some Thoughts About the 2016 Map

2016 Overview - Yes, there are scenarios where Clinton and Trump could come up short this summer. But they are increasingly unlikely, even remote. A Trump Clinton match up looks assured now, and what a titanic battle it will be.

Over the next week Democrats will vote in six states, Republicans four. The frontrunners are likely to lose some states in this patch. The nature of the states gives Sanders a bit more of a “comeback” opportunity, so there could be some drama this week. But it is also an opportunity for Trump and Clinton to re-assert their control over their nominating processes.

I spent some time recently looking ahead to a fall Clinton Trump matchup. A lot is unknown at this point but we do know a few important things: Clinton is consistently over 50 percent in the early match ups; Obama’s approval rating is now up in the high 40s, low 50s, a critical development in the race; the Electoral College Map still favors the Democrats; and on the big issue – can Trump flip enough white men to put the Rustbelt in play? - there just isn’t a lot of evidence yet that he can (and more here). For more on the fall, I recommend these good, early pieces from Dan Balz, Ron Brownstein and Greg Sargent.

The 2016 Electoral Map – New House rankings from the Cook Report now suggest that there is at least a mathematical possibility the Democrats could retake the House (they would need to win 30 of 31 targeted races). A bit surprised by this, I spent some time with the 2016 map and Cook’s rankings of all the Federal races. Using the Cook rankings (with one change - I moved AZ Senate into Tossup/Lean GOP), I came up with the following cheat sheet and thoughts about a possible expansion of what has been a very small Presidential map for Democrats:

Presidential 10-15

Dem Hold (10) - CO, FL, IA, NH, MI, NV, OH, PA, VA, WI

Dem PickUp (3) – AZ, GA, NC

Dem Watch (2) – MN, NM

Senate 8-11 (Dems need to pick up 7 seats net for a majority)

Hold (2) – CO, NV

PickUp 1st Tier (8) – AZ, FL, IL, NC, NH, OH, PA, WI

PickUp 2nd Tier (2) – GA, IA

House 37 - (31 Dem PickUps and 6 Holds, 30 net needed for majority)

AZ (2), CO (1), CA (4), FL (5), IL (1), IA (2), ME (1), MI (2), MN (2), NE (1), NH (1), NJ (1), NV (2), NY (6), PA (1), TX (1), UT (1), VA (2), WI (1)

Key Takeaways - In 2016 there is remarkable overlap between the Presidential and Senate target states. 9 of the 10 top tier Presidential states also have priority Senate races (and Dems are trying to make the 10th, Iowa, competitive at the Senate level), whereas only 3 of the Presidential states in 2012 and 2008 also had competitive Senate races. This overlap offers the national Democratic Party coordination opportunities that could produce enough economies of scale to free up resources to expand the national map. Why is this important? It has my belief that in the Obama era the national Party has not taken enough responsibility for winning elections beyond the very small number (10) of states in each of the last two Presidential cycles. Expanding the map as we discuss below will not only help the Democrats win the Senate, but now that the House is mathematically in play, maximize gains in the House (and of course help at the state and local level too).

The counter of course is that it is too risky to spread limited resources too thin. Hunker down, the argument goes, weather the Trumpian storm, win the Presidency, remake the Supreme Court, etc. But this is an unusual electoral map offering unique opportunities this year; Trump as GOP nominee ensures substantial resources allowing Democrats to consider going on offense; and if successful, could allow Democrats to not just win but have a chance of getting some of their agenda through Congress next year. Let’s look at two highly leveraged expansion paths:

Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina– Each of these longer shot Presidential targets also have targeted Senate races, and given where the polling is today in the Senate, it would be wise for the Democrats to put more races in play. There are questions whether any Southern state is open to the Democrats with Trump on the top of the ticket, but more will be known about this soon. Arizona looks particularly attractive this time as early polling has both the Presidential and Senate races as toss ups; there are also two Congressional seats in play; and Hispanics could be motivated by a ballot that may have both Arpaio and Trump. It should be noted that in 2008 team Obama ran a serious well funded campaign targeting Hispanics in nearby states with similar Hispanic populations - CO, NM and NV - turnout increased between 30 and 63%. Given where the polling is now, the first ever well funded and sophisticated Hispanic effort lead by the nominee could turn Arizona into a purple, lean blue state, as we’ve seen in other states with large Hispanic populations where the national party has invested.

Adding these three states would leave only the Illinois Senate race outside the national Democratic Party map and solely up to the DSCC to manage - though Illinois natives Obama and Clinton might have something to say about that.

California and New York - The map also suggests that the national Democratic Party and nominee should consider mounting some kind of coordinated effort in both New York and California. 19 of the 37 targeted House seats fall within the expanded 13 state map. 10 more fall in New York and California. Mounting targeted campaign in NY and CA to drive up turnout – something no national Democratic party has done in decades – could help put 10 more House seats in play. This means 29 of the 37 target House seats would fall under the national coordinated campaign’s reach, leaving only 8 of the 37 House races and solely up to the DCCC. This kind of coordination and leverage would be unprecedented in recent national politics, and could make the difference not only in the Democrats winning the White House, but in flipping the Senate and getting the House very very close.

So the national party strategy could look like:

National Party Coordinated Strategy

Pres/Senate (10) – CO, FL, IA, NH, MI, NV, OH, PA, VA, WI.

Expansion 1/Pres P/U and Senate P/U (3) – AZ, GA, NC. 

Expansion 2/Maximize House Impact – 17 targets in core 10 Presidential states, 19 in expanded map. 10 more in CA, NY.

Expansion 3/Presidential Watch (2) – MN, NM (states closer than expected in 2012).

Will the nominee and national Party expand the national map, taking advantage of unprecedented economies of scale and highly leveraged opportunities specific to this cycle? I hope so.

Oldie But Goodie - “In this election cycle the Republican’s angry war against modernity has escalated and appears to have become institutionalized. It is almost as if the more the world moves away from the simplicity of the Reagan moment the more angry and defiant – and of course wrong – the Republican offering is becoming” - Simon Rosenberg, “Forward, Or Backward?” September, 2012

More on the 2016 Election - Our tally of the Presidential primary debates audiences which finds the GOP far outperforming the Dems; the Democratic bench is stronger than it appears; Clinton should become a champion of political and electoral reform; thoughts on the "children of Reagan;" my in-depth interview with conservative author Matt Lewis on what the GOP can learn from a generation of reform and success on the center-left; my long form magazine piece on the descent of the GOP into a reactionary mess, anticipating the rise of Trump; Rob Shapiro on Trump's economic plan and the crackup of the GOP.  

"Monday Musings" is a new column which looks at the national political landscape and is published most Mondays here on the NDN site. You can find previous columns here. It also appears each week on the London-based progressive site, Left Foot Forward

Full disclosure: I am supporting Hillary Clinton for President, and have given the maximum contribution to her campaign. I am not, however, a consultant to, or paid by, any campaign or party committee.

Tuesday May Be The Last Day to Stop Clinton, Trump

Consequential Voting Tomorrow – Both parties face meaningful elections tomorrow, the second “Super” Tuesday of the 2016 race for President. 5 big states vote – Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio. The polls are close in enough states that we really don’t know what is going to happen. And after polls missed so badly last Tuesday in Michigan, it would be wise to question whether inexpensive polls of large states can accurately capture a volatile and unpredictable election every time.

Having said that, the likely outcome tomorrow is Trump and Clinton win enough delegates to keep the march to their nominations on track. The big questions tomorrow: can Sanders replicate his big Michigan win, and prevail in the Midwestern states of IL, MO and OH to offset Clinton’s likely wins in FL and NC? And can anyone defeat Trump outside of Ohio? A lot of the spin tomorrow night will depend on many states Clinton and Trump win, and whether it appears they are weathering their challenges, or being weakened by them.

As we gather tomorrow night to watch the results come in, keep two stats from Sanders’ Michigan win in mind: he won the white vote 57/42, and received 30% of the African-American vote. If he can keep those margins in the coming states, he will do well tomorrow night. If not, will be a good night for Secretary Clinton. 

Successful Insurgents - Regardless of what happens tomorrow night, we have to take a moment to reflect on the success of the three insurgent newcomers to the national political stage – Cruz, Sanders and Trump. Running for President is no easy thing, and for the three of them – with very limited national political experience – to get this far against experienced and talented opponents has been remarkable to see. To me it speaks to the power of the “system is broken” narrative each of them are carrying in their own way this election, a narrative so powerful that it is propelling these candidates far beyond where anyone believed they would go. I’ve discussed the need for Hillary Clinton to adopt a more direct narrative around this sentiment in previous columns, and have several quotes addressing the issue in Ryan Lizza’s thoughtful new piece in the New Yorker.

The loss of faith in "establishment politics" here in the US is very similar to what we are seeing in Europe today. Is it a crisis of the "West" itself: an end to 20th century politics here and in Europe?; something passing, something grave? Commentators here and in Europe should be spending more time exploring the similarities of what we are experiencing today, as indeed the challenges appear to be similar in scope and scale. A new piece by the very able Alex Seitz-Wald of MSNBC reminds us that none of the remaining 4 leading candidates for US President support the Trans-Pacific Parternship, an ominous sign for the global order indeed.  

No One Should Be Surprised By The Rise of Trump – Over the past few months, I’ve written a lot about the rise of Trump, even predicting this summer he would win the GOP nomination. I share two recent excerpts from my weekly column which help explain why no one should be surprised by the power of the Trump candidacy with Republicans:

GOP in full freak out over Trump (3/7/16) – While the GOP’s attacks on Trump escalated this past week, most notably in Mitt Romney’s high profile speech, I find these protestations a bit hard to take. Where exactly does Trump differ from the current GOP “establishment?” He is for large unfunded tax cuts which would drive up deficits and harm the economy; repealing Obama’s health care plan; a militaristic foreign policy; and for getting the 11m undocumented immigrants to leave. Even on trade, hard to argue that he is all that different right now from the Washington Republicans refusing to vote on the President’s hard fought TPP deal. The differences between the Romney and Trump approaches are far more about style and biography, and far less about their governing agenda. Donald Trump is very much a creation of modern Republican politics, and one can understand how worrisome that is to so many on the right.

But let’s be clear about one thing – if you don’t think exploitation of racial fear hasn’t been at the center of Republican politics for 50 years now, you just haven’t being paying attention. So Trump’s new found dominance in the GOP, particularly when his two remaining opponents, are, dare we say it – Hispanic! – should be no great surprise to anyone.

Strength of Reactionary Forces in GOP Not News (2/24/16) – Hard to know the exact date when reactionary forces began to truly assert themselves in the modern GOP. You could argue these sentiments were there from the beginning, congealing around Nixon’s Southern Strategy and its response to the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. We could look to Bush’s “Willie Horton” ads in the 1988 Presidential campaign, which put a black man who had raped and murdered at the center of the national debate. You could point to 2005 and the emergence of the Minutemen, and the GOP House’s passing of the Sensenbrenner Bill, which called for the arrest and forced deportation of all 11m undocumented immigrants in the US. Perhaps it was in Barack Obama’s ascent to the Presidency in 2009 and the rise of the Tea Party. Or in 2015 with the forced abdication (self-deportation?) of Speaker Boehner just months after he gave the GOP their biggest House majority in 80 years. As I wrote in my long form magazine article in Letras Libres in late 2012, whatever date you cite you could see this descent of the modern GOP into a reactionary, angry mess coming for years now. What it lacked was a charismatic leader to pull it altogether from an inchoate jumble of grievances into a coherent, compelling argument and movement. Well, in 2015 that leader emerged. Donald Trump.

More on the 2016 Election - Our tally of the Presidential primary debates audiences which finds the GOP far outperforming the Dems; why it is time to take Trump seriously; the Democratic bench is stronger than it appears; Clinton should become a champion of political and electoral reform; thoughts on the "children of Reagan;" my in-depth interview with conservative author Matt Lewis on what the GOP can learn from a generation of reform and success on the center-left; my long form magazine piece on the descent of the GOP into a reactionary mess, anticipating the rise of Trump; Rob Shapiro on Trump's economic plan and the crackup of the GOP.  

"Monday Musings" is a new column which looks at the national political landscape and is published most Mondays here on the NDN site. You can find previous columns here. It also appears each week on the U.K. progressive site, Left Foot Forward

Full disclosure: I am supporting Hillary Clinton for President, and have given the maximum contribution to her campaign. I am not, however, a consultant to, or paid by, any campaign or party committee. 

Syndicate content