What Lessons For 2006 And Beyond Should Democrats Learn From 2004 And Hackett's Race?
(Graphic courtesy of Pew)
Pew came out with another poll yesterday which showed among other things that:
·Although there haven’t been swings in party identification over recent years, the GOP has gained support amongst middle and lower income voters;
·Bigger predictors of a voter’s party affiliation are race and church attendance, not income.
As the GOP has now fully become the party of whites of amongst upper and now middle-income groups, which may be a declining portion of the population, the Democrats retain the support of nonwhites and lower income whites. Since that part of the population is growing in our increasingly income-unequal Bush economy, Democrats are able to maintain an advantage when it comes to party identification.
Dispelling older conventional Democratic dogma that rich people were the core of the GOP base, Pew found that the two largest factors influencing party affiliation were race and church attendance, much more so than income. This is nothing new, as it has become clear that the true base of the GOP are white churchgoers, a subset of the populace that the GOP has cravenly manipulated for decades, as Thomas Frank outlined so well. But without jumping over a cliff about these findings, what should the Democrats do to compete?
First, there is nothing earth shattering in these results, as they only confirm that Bush won election last year by driving the white churchgoers from the pews to the polls by manipulating them with the moral values scare tactics on gay marriage and abortion, while promising them to keep their taxes low. The Pew findings validated this approach quite well. As I said, Thomas Frank has noted that the GOP has been able to get this subset, mainly in the red-states and particularly among middle and lower income whites to vote against their economic self-interest for years by stoking their fears and making them feel like victims. Democrats need to tie moral values into the GOP economic record, and have a message based on economic self-interest that isn’t hostile to the fact that voters don’t like paying taxes and don’t like bloated government and runaway federal spending, even though these same voters benefit from such spending. Reminding voters that it is now the GOP that is the party of “borrow and spend”, that is shoveling money to war and corporate welfare and not into health care and good jobs is a good place to start. Becoming the party of "Main Street, not Wall Street" and focusing on strong communities, not strong bottom lines will help as well.
Second, there are moral value issues that favor the Democrats, and they should run these issues into the ground as their own way to drive voters to the polls next year. Two of these issues are stem cell research and leaving Roe v. Wade intact. A corollary issue is the right to privacy. Democrats can marry these issues into a narrative that focuses on a rather libertarian appeal of a right to privacy, a right to be left alone, and a right to make your own choices. Schiavo can be used against the GOP here. And yes, the Iraq war can also be used as a moral values issue, given the number of voters who feel that Bush lied to get us into the war, and the increasing casualties.
Third, the Paul Hackett success in Ohio shows that Howard Dean is correct that the party needs to compete in all fifty states and run candidates in all congressional districts. Voters need to have choices, and the GOP must be forced to spend money everywhere and not get a free pass anywhere. There are dynamics in all 50 states that Democrats can exploit to make races in even safe GOP seats more competitive than thought possible, such as how the dissatisfaction with the Ohio GOP helped in the Hackett race. Hackett also showed that an aggressive candidate running right at the GOP and the White House record, on the platform of not being a Bush “rubber stamp”, backed by a higher turnout effort that Michael Barrone says is the Democratic response to the GOP 2004 “from the pews to the polls” strategy was a major reason why Hackett did so well. A great ground effort working with an inspired base, supporting a good candidate, coupled with what Newt Gingrich feels is a complacent GOP base, White House, and RNC indicates that 2006 can be a good year for Democrats. I have been as guilty as anyone of bashing Democrats for not being “good” Democrats, but the truth is that a good competitive Democratic candidate in Oklahoma may not be my idea of an ideal Democrat, yet the end result is what counts.
Lastly, Democrats should learn from the results in Pew’s poll and realize that their next presidential candidate has to look and be more comfortable walking the county fair eating corn dogs or walking the mall on a Saturday afternoon than they are windsurfing off Nantucket. Despite making the choice to focus on national security against an “all terror, all the time” incumbent and not focus enough on economics and values, Kerry got over 48% of the vote and probably won the Electoral College in what was also largely an anti-Bush vote, even though his campaign lost valuable ground not attacking early on. As impressive as this was in hindsight, the fact remains that folks didn’t like how he came across, nor his seeming detachment from everyday concerns when running against an incumbent who scared people from church to vote and talked of keeping their taxes low. Our next set of candidates have to be able to retake some of the vote that has wandered over to the GOP by being comfortable talking about faith, values, and money, and converse on how the GOP has made a mockery of all three. And the next set of candidates need to be realists about what it means to run against the modern GOP, which controls the media, the government, and the election machinery: attack with facts before being attacked, even attack the media, and make sure that you fight like hell for every vote everywhere.