Ranking the Democrats who would be President

My post this week at Communities Digital News talks about the top five contenders for the 2016 Democratic nomination in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s State Department email issues. Here’s how I would rank them in order of their chances of winning the nomination:

  1. Clinton
  2. Vice President Joe Biden
  3. Sen. Elizabeth Warren
  4. Martin O’Malley
  5. Al Gore

O’Malley has been polling behind Jim Webb and Bernie Sanders, but I think he is still more likely to win the nomination. O’Malley has a very narrow path to the nomination, but as a two-term governor he has shown that he can win elections and run a government. Webb is a one-term Senator who wouldn’t have even been that if not for YouTube; Sanders is a socialist who is clearly running to push ideas. If the top five are struck by lightning, the Democratic National Committee would be more likely to draft John Kerry than let either Webb or Sanders carry the banner for a cycle.

Al Gore is dead last because he probably won’t run, though he might dance with the notion of jumping in. If he did, his age and years of media experience would probably lead him to focus on an advertising-heavy campaign, like the one Rudy Giuliani tried to run in 2008. (Fun note: If it did shake out like that, his chances could rest with Florida… again.)

One factor that clouds the potential field is that Democrats might have a tough time in 2016 no matter who the nominee is. Biden, who will be 74 on Inauguration Day 2017, probably can’t wait until 2020 – Warren, who will be 67, might be able to. Her calculated risk may be that Clinton is the inevitable nominee but a probable loser in the general election. Acting like a good soldier now may win her Clinton’s favor and help for a 2020 challenge against an incumbent Republican President.

Why Obama’s “On the Ballot” remark was secretly genius.

About ten days ago, President Barack Obama seemed like he had decided to write political ads for Republicans by declaring that his “policies are on the ballot.” Republicans crowed and Democrats moaned that it was a mistake destined to hurt Democratic candidates, who are running away from the president with cartoonish urgency.

The last few days have indeed been poor for Democrats, but that’s largely the doing of a set of candidates who either forgot how to talk or who looked at their wheelchair-bound opponent with the suspicious disdain of Walter Sobchak. That all this followed the President’s comments is largely coincidence. Their undisciplined candidates have proven as adept at self-destruction as Republican candidates have been in the previous three election cycles.

Throw in an unfavorable issue environment, and 2012 is an election that could get away from Democrats. But as a recent Gallup poll shows, Republican voters aren’t geeked for November 4 like they were in 2010:


In other words, Republican gains in 2014 will be as much or more the result of disillusionment and lethargy on the left as it is about excitement on the right. Two years ago, these voters were excited and motivated – which is why Romney winning the supposedly vital “independent vote” didn’t help him at all.

Will independent voters be turned off by Obama’s policies being on the ballot? Maybe, but if you’re the Democrats, who cares? You won without them in 2012, and the only way to win in 2014 is to drag out the people who thought it was so important to elect and reelect the President.

Project Ivy and digital coat tails

Over at Communities Digital News, I have a new piece up about Project Ivy – the Democrats’ plan to deploy the digital tools that helped President Obama in 2012 and Terry McAuliffe in 2013 into down ballot races in 2014:

The data tools used this year may not help Democrats keep their hold on the Senate, or win more Governorships, or even gain ground in state legislative chambers. But all the data collected with those tools in 2014 will be mighty useful when a few hundred votes in Cuyahoga County could decide the White House in two short years.

Republicans may not need to match Democrats data point for data point to have a pretty good election cycle in 2014. But deploying their own tools with the future in mind will help build their abilities for coming cycles. 

You want more?  Here it is.

Democrats know they are facing an against-the-spread election this November. They’ll lose seats, but the question is how many. Dropping as many as five Senate seats to the GOP will look like a win if they maintain a voting majority for the next term.  And like a baseball team playing out the string with a 40-man roster in September, minor league talent in down-ballot races can help set the table for future victories.  Project Ivy isn’t really for 2014, it’s for 2016.

But if I bled Democrat blue there would be one major factor that rubs me the wrong way about Project Ivy: the name.

First off, ivy grows up, while the project takes high-level tactics and tries to push them down.  Maybe that strategy makes sense for Democrats, who put so much faith in federal government programs to cure the ills of small communities, but the metaphor is a bit off.

Second, remember Project ORCA? It was the widely panned GOTV app that Team Romney deployed in 2012, and was so named because the Obama team’s data processing system was nicknamed “Narwhal,” and orcas kill narwhals.  As it turned out, the narwhal was an octopus with tentacles everywhere, and orcas don’t do crap against octopi.  This metaphor is getting even more tortured, so let’s move to the point: A clever name often foreshadows failure.  The only political tactical operations with cool names that work are the ones you hear about after the election.

The best news for the GOP about Project Ivy might be the fact that the first news stories about it are in March 2014, and not the week after Election Day.

Thank the first responders, then enjoy the SPAM

Everyone has been standing with Boston and Massachusetts over the past week.  Finally, according to the Boston Globe, some political folks figured out a way to benefit from it.  The Democrats get the dubious honor of finishing first in the race to tastelessness:

Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was behind this tasteless tactic, sending out an email and tweet asking people to sign a supposed “thank you note” to the first responders. That would be nice except for the fact that in order to “sign” the note, you have to give the Democratic party your email account and ZIP code.

“We’ll collect every note we get and deliver them to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Tom Men­ino so they can pass along your 
 Schultz writes.

A note to the brave police and firefighters?  How sweet.  All you have to do to “sign” it is yield enough information that the DNC can figure out who your Member of Congress is and a way to contact you.  More important, they can tag you as someone who cares about first responders.  Then, if they were so inclined during the next budget crisis and certainly during  the next campaign, the Democrats can reach out to you and tell you how voting for their person means safety, while voting for the Republican means a living in a post-apocalyptic war zone where warlords fight each other over guns and gasoline while neo-feudal serfs cower in terror.

That is, if the Democrats were interested in using first responders as political chess pieces, which they would never do.

Same election, two messages

In the week of fallout since the most recent ground-shaking election day, Democrats and Republicans alike have been on the airwaves, trying to put it in context.  But have you looked at their postmortems side-by-side?

Marco Rubio owned the GOP message on election night:

But we know that tonight, the power in the United States House of Representatives will change hands. We know tonight that a growing number of Republicans will now serve in the Senate as well. And we make a grave mistake if we believe that tonight these results are somehow an embrace of the Republican Party.

What they are is a second chance. A second chance for Republicans to be what they said they were going to be not so long ago. You see, I learned early on in this campaign – in fact it’s what propelled me to enter it – that what this race was about was about the great future that lies ahead for our country, a future that Americans know is there for the taking. But it requires actions on our part.

The theme of the Majority That Lost Its Way has been a consistent message for Republicans since 2006 – in fact, less than a year into the Pelosi Era, Rep. Tom Feeney argued that a philosophically adrift GOP had squandered its power:

We lost the majority in 2006 because Republicans could no longer convince voters that we were the party of fiscal restraint and traditional values. Polls in the closing days of the last election showed that a majority of voters felt that Democrats were more trustworthy when it came to issues of spending, taxation and general economic development — that we could no longer be trusted to fight for the limited government and personal freedom that have always been cornerstones of our party’s beliefs.

Contrast that to the Democrats’ lines about “what it all meant” – including the President, who has been vocal in chalking up the Democrats’ failures to messaging strategy:

What I didn’t effectively, I think, drive home, is that we were taking these steps not because of some theory that we wanted to expand government. It was because we had an emergency situation and we wanted to make sure the economy didn’t go off a cliff. I think the Republicans were able to paint my governing philosophy as a classic, traditional, big government liberal. And that’s not something that the American people want.

The first obvious thing is that Republicans, even now, seem contrite for driving the car into the ditch when they held most of the keys from 2001-2007.  Since Democrats haven’t had the benefit of time – and still have the responsibility of governing – contrition may simply be a luxury they can’t afford at the moment.  Still, the difference in where each party lays blame for still-somewhat-recent losses is stark: Republicans blame themselves for not living up to the expectations of the people, Democrats blame the perception that they didn’t meet expectations.

Another underlying current worth noting in all of these quotes is that, despite apparent sea change in the election of 2008, America remains a nation that trends philosophically toward smaller government – with both parties trying to frame their arguments through that prism.


A Purple Congress: The best of all possible outcomes

Last night’s results – a historic wave of pickups in the House along with key gains that did not achieve a majority in the Senate – is the best possible playing field for Republicans nationally.

The reality of the Senate results is that the electoral map was bad for the Republicans in 2010 – but in 2012, counting independent seats in Vermont and Connecticut, Democrats are defending 23 of 33 seats up for re-election, with only one or two Republican seats obvious pickup opportunities.  (Plus, the Tea Party successes of 2010 should serve as a cautionary tale to incumbents like Orrin Hatch, who might not make the same mistakes that candidates like Mike Castle did.)

The Republicans did, however, scored a convincing win, and now control a legislative body – an important factor in a nation that buys as many Yankees, Cowboys, and Lakers hats as America does.

That means that Republicans can be proactive legislatively, and articulate a vision for the nation. And it also means that vision will run into a legislative buzz saw, because the Democrats control the other half of Congress and the veto pen.  In that fog of sawdust, who becomes the “Party of ‘No'”?

The GOP is in the enviable position of being, to paraphrase Reggie Jackson, the underdog and the overdog at the same time.

Of course, this means putting forward policies, and as the Democrats discovered, once you put something on paper it becomes a target.  And two years is, apparently, an eternity in politics.  But if Republicans can position themselves as the active minority party, their chances in the Presidential and Senate elections in 2012 will greatly improve.

Is Maxine Waters about to be James O’Keefe’s next YouTube star?

Mr. ACORN pimp himself, James O’Keefe, announced via Twitter today that Rep. Maxine Waters would be the subject of his next series of videos.  Here’s the preview:

Two things are evident: O’Keefe still understands the power of online video, and he still understands the power of timing.

The ethics charges flying around various Democrats are starting to look like a trend – much like Republican scandals leading up to the 2006 election painted the picture of a power-happy party inviting a rude awakening at the hands of voters.  Getting Waters on camera in a sting operation like this could make the ethics violations very real to voter and underscore the broken promises of Democratic gains in 2006 and 2008.

But on top of that, you can’t say enough about O’Keefe’s media-savvy release strategy, either.

By releasing a teaser, O’Keefe capitalizes on this week’s news cycle about Waters and her ethics charges.  After controversy surrounding his presence in a Senate office earlier this year (and the storm surrounding his associate Andrew Breitbart’s role in the Shirley Sherrod affair), he can expect that this initial release will lead to a round of denouncement from left-leaning talking heads; for a while the story will be that James O’Keefe has a Waters video.  The Congresswoman’s office will likely be asked to comment; maybe she’ll even say something embarrassing and unwittingly drum up more coverage.

True, O’Keefe could have gotten just as much coverage this week by releasing a completed video.  But what about next week?  This strategy allows O’Keefe, after the initial frenzy, to drop a second video and get another round of coverage.  And, the vile and hatred he receives from the left this week may make the release of the full video that much more newsworthy.

If it sounds familiar, it should – it’s exactly how O’Keefe and Breitbart set up ACORN to take itself down.

Hunting Macaca

Politico’s headline “Democrats seek ‘Macaca moments” aptly describes the DNC’s new Accountability Project, which invites citizens to record and upload videos of Republican politicians saying dumb things.

Because it’s actually a good idea, this has resulted in some hand-wringing on the right amid fears that Democrats are better at grassroots internetting than Republicans.  But that ignores why this is a good idea: the Accountability Project is a national aggregator and message device.  It seeks to crowdsource the Democrats’ messaging to take to most loony Republicans they can find and hold them up as the standard.  It is a pretty clear attempt to re-gain the reins of the national policy debate, which have slipped through the Democrats’ fingers in the past few months.

All that said, by driving messages that show the Republicans are out of touch, Democrats will save their skin and keep control in November.  (They may have done so anyway, but a few macaca moments will help curb GOP momentum.)

So how to combat this?  It’s pretty easy.

Republicans have cameras too, and Democrats are just as prone to saying and doing stupid stuff in front of those cameras.  What if some enterprising conservative with a flip cam catches them in a gaffe, then uploads the video?  It would seem the obvious way to hold the Accountability Project accountable.

3 Ways the Democrats Won on 4/15

And that isn’t counting a penny of tax money, either.

Yesterday was a big news day. Tea partiers marched here in DC and elsewhere to define their core principle: that the federal government is too big, that high taxes siphon money out of the economy, and that government programs tend to make matters worse, not better. Overall, yesterday’s messaging seemed positive for limited government activists.

But the opposition was smart, too.  Nationally, Democrats drove three well-timed news stories – two by President Obama, one by Sen. Harry Reid – that added up to a communications masterstroke.

1.  President Obama announced we’re goin’ to Mars (eventually).

This was a good story to grab headlines on the other side of the tax day protests.  Instead of trying to directly engage, President Obama simply highlighted a use of taxpayer money that many folks from both sides of the aisle agree with: scientific research.  The space program specifically creates tons of jobs not only in research but in manufacturing the components of Major Tom’s tin can.

You can’t answer a call for lower taxes with the stance that taxes are just fine.  However, showing a positive use of tax dollars can undermine that message.  It wasn’t a happy coincidence – the Florida trip has been on the President’s schedule for weeks, if not months.

There’s another, more subtle attempt at differentiation here, too.  The announcement of an advanced science program will now be played on the same newscast with footage of grassroots protesters – citizen activists who, in their haste to participate, misspell signs and don’t have a staff of speechwriters to help them articulate their views.  Without actually saying it, Obama gets to present his side as better-educated and smarter than the knee-jerk, anti-tax tea partiers.

2.  President Obama signed an executive order permitting hospital visitation rights to same sex couples.

This is another point of differentiation – and a chance to bait his opponents.  Most of the focus of tea party activism has been on fiscal policy, and many Americans tend to agree with the most conservative segment of the electorate that the government spends too much and spends it wastefully.  For social issues, there is less common ground, and yesterday’s announcement has the potential to begin peeling off moderate voter support from the Republicans.

Making this announcement on a busy news day means that there won’t be much media discussion – unless someone at a tax day rally goes off message, and gets captured in a YouTube video proselytizing about moral codes.  Then it feeds the idea that tea parties are run by intolerant bigots.  It’s a win-win for Obama – either his announcement slips almost completely under the radar, or it’s a chance to take shots at the other side.

3.  Sen. Reid announced that financial reform package will hit the U.S. Senate floor next week.

The Democratic talking points for November are already written: Republicans are the party of Wall Street.  They will attempt to make this distinction with a bad financial services reform package scheduled to hit the floor next week.

Like the other two examples, Reid’s announcement serves to distinguish the Democrats from limited government activists by calling for a larger government for an ostensibly good cause – safeguarding consumers and investors.

There’s also a great strategy in this timing that has nothing to do with tea parties but everything to do with tax day.  The folks who would be most likely to oppose this legislation would be financial professionals, who understand that it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  If they had the time to do it, they might rally their customers and colleagues, making the case that the bill would actually hurt efforts to keep the players in the financial system honest, and mobilize a strong push against the bill.  They haven’t had time, of course, because over the last two weeks, financial professionals have been working around the clock at their day jobs – because yesterday was April 15.  So when the bill hits the floor next week, they won’t be ready to stir up opposition.

Gearing up already?

Passion is important in politics because it helps win over the uncommitted moderate voters; excited activists are the ones making phone calls, dragging people to the polls, and giving one side the image of a winner.  In 2008, then-candidate Obama’s campaign enjoyed demonstrable shows of emotion from his supporters.  In 2010 that excitement is trending toward the right – so far.

But it isn’t to early (or too late) for the President and his allies to begin letting some air out of that balloon.  The further he can create the perception of a gulf between conservative activists and the values of moderate voters, the more Republican chances in 2010 and 2012 will deflate.

3 Unfortunate Predictions about Health Care

Sunday looks like D-Day for President Obama’s push to overhaul health care.  There is plenty of speculation flying around about votes in the coming days and what those mean for votes in November.

How will health care affect the political environment over the coming eight months?  Some humble predictions:

1. Health care will only be a short-term political liability for Democrats if it doesn’t pass – if it does, it will be a short-term benefit.

The bitter battle over health care is one reason that voters are souring on everybody in Washington.  The sooner that debate is over, the sooner Democrats can focus on things like regulatory reform and passing out money like Jack Nicholson’s Joker in Batman ’89 while asking, “Who do you trust?” – both of which are much easier to craft messages for.

But there’s more than that.  The opposition to Obamacare (both official and unofficial) has highlighted long-term effects for the American health care system and federal budget – unfavorable comparisons to British and Canadian health care systems, excessive cost, and even shortages of care and care givers.  These won’t take effect by November 2010 or even 2012.

If the health care overhaul passes – and the expected state challenges are quick and quiet – Democrats will trumpet their progress for the next three years while accusing Republicans of lies and scare tactics.  Obama is right to link the passage of health care and his party’s political fortunes.

2. It’s probably going to pass, and it doesn’t matter how.

As Dan Flynn opines, the reason there hasn’t been a vote already is because there aren’t enough votes.  Until Nancy Pelosi can amass 216 Democrats to support whatever parliamentary gymnastics she has to do to get a bill through the House, there will not be a vote.  When the vote comes up, bet the house – it’s getting through.

3.  The “Repeal Obamacare” movement will get less traction than one might expect.

Entitlements are the gifts that keep on giving.  They don’t actually help end poverty, they don’t give people a comfortable retirement, and they don’t help people who have lost their jobs find new ones.  They do provide platforms for politicians to promise even more entitlements.  When entitlements fail to fix the problem they were meant to solve (or make it worse), the answer is generally to dump more funding into the failed program.

Even failed programs can be elevated to third-rail status.  Remember the left-wing backlash against President George W. Bush’s Social Security reform?  You can expect a similar reaction to future attempts to roll back Obamacare.

Like Social Security reform, real health care reform – that involves doing more than just getting more people into a broken system – will require a long-term, sustained effort that changes how our culture views our government.

Bonus prediction: By the way, whatever the outcome of the vote on Sunday, people with money will always get the health care they need and want.