St. Louis Oracle

St. Louis-based political forecasting plus commentary on politics and events from a grassroots veteran with a mature, progressive anti-establishment perspective.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Campaign advice for Democrats in 2010

Some Democrat partisans have criticized me for not being a “team player” on their team, and for making Democrat candidates earn my support. Well, I’m a progressive independent, not a Democrat, and I will always require candidates (regardless of partisan affiliation) to earn my vote. Every voter should do the same. But in the spirit of the camaraderie of shared policy perspectives, let me offer a few items of free campaign advice to Democrats in this challenging election year, early enough to help.

I probably don’t have to tell Democrats to watch Martha Coakley’s campaign for the Massachusetts senate seat and then do exactly the opposite. That’s pretty obvious.

My advice to elected members of both houses of Congress: Change your leadership. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are dragging Democrats down. First, the easy one: Dump Reid. Democrats in general and Senate Democrats in particular are appearing to be hypocritical, blindly partisan enablers in covering for Reid’s outrageous racial remarks. The contrast with both their and Republicans’ handling of former Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) (after his praise for Strom Thurmond’s 1948 presidential candidacy) is playing well for Republicans. Ultimate progressive blog Daily Kos now openly speculates that Reid may be bringing all Democrats down with him. The latest weekly Daily Kos poll shows Reid’s favorability rating down to 29% with 61% unfavorable. Rasmussen is in the same ballpark with 31% favorable. Back in October an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll registered only a 14% favorability rating for Reid. Frankly, Reid needs more time to devote to his own reelection campaign, in which he now trails relatively unknown Republicans by double digits.

Here in Missouri, I advise likely Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Robin Carnahan to condemn Reid now and threaten to withhold her vote for him as majority leader. Most Democratic senators, including Missouri’s Claire McCaskill, are reluctant to challenge the sitting majority leader out of fear of retribution on their state appropriations and other ways in which he could make their tenure miserable. But Robin doesn’t have that worry. By the time Robin takes her senate seat, Reid is probably gone. On the plus side, throwing Harry under the bus (D’oh! I hate that cliche), though a cheap ploy under the circumstances, would nevertheless make Robin look like a fearless, principled independent, an impression she would like to cultivate. Robin should do it! Other non-incumbent Democrat senate candidates should consider doing the same. Whoever does it first gets the best press.

House Democrats have a similar problem with Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She registers just 35% favorable and 57% unfavorable in the latest Rasmussen poll and 42%-to-49% in the Daily Kos survey. The October NBC/Wall Street Journal poll put her favorability rating at just 26%. Her favorability numbers are worse than the lowest numbers former President George W. Bush ever recorded, and her unfavorables are actually worse than Reid’s. She is toxic to voters in all but the most progressive areas, as she (and especially her new private jet that she demanded the government buy for her so she wouldn’t have to stop and refuel when shuttling home to San Francisco) has become the symbol of what angry voters dislike about this Congress. If Republicans were smart, they would tie vulnerable Democrats to Pelosi and Reid instead of President Obama (whose favorability rating in the same Daily Kos poll is still 55%). Republicans will pummel red-district Democrat incumbents like Missouri’s Ike Skelton (who enjoy personal popularity with conservative constituents) with statistics of how closely they toed the line for Pelosi, pointing out that every “blue dog” Democrat votes to keep Pelosi as speaker. Replacing Pelosi could save 20 seats.

Next, instead of ramming through legislation on the power of your numbers with little or no discussion of the actual bills being passed, I advise Democrats to engage their Republican critics and discuss the issues, explain the merits of proposed legislation and persuade voters how it is in the public interest. Put the actual text of important bills out there for public inspection with time for meaningful discussion (not just 72 hours, and not when everybody is preoccupied with something else, like the Super Bowl). Try to look like you’re acting reasonably. At present, Republicans and “tea party” activists are winning the debate among independent voters pretty much by default. If your bill makes things better, explain why. And if it doesn’t, don’t enact it.

When campaigning, focus on the candidates in the contest, i.e., you and your opponent(s). Democrats this past year have wasted way too much time, effort and, most important, the attention of the voters, by attacking people who aren’t running for anything. While kicking Rush Limbaugh around never seems to get old, attacks on perennial whipping boys like George W. Bush and Newt Gingrich and new villains like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and bumbling national party chair Michael Steele are counter-productive and make Democrats look mean spirited. Palin, in particular, may be the new political “3rd rail” that Democrats need to avoid. Even progressive women who dislike Palin’s stands are offended when others (especially men) take cheap shots at her.

Next, to insure retaining control over Congress this year, Democrats need to go on the offensive. As I noted in my prior post, the President’s party loses an average of 16 house seats in an Administration’s first off-year election, and the ruling Democrats look to be facing losses that are worse than average. Their salvation is their 41-seat House cushion. The key to keeping control in the House and 60 working votes in the Senate (where loss of control is not realistically at risk) is to offset losses by taking some Republican seats. When Republicans seized control in 1994, all of their pickups counted because Democrats failed to take away a single GOP seat. The public’s anti-incumbent mood can cut both ways if Democrats file and support credible challengers against Republican incumbents. Republicans in Congress have even worse favorability ratings than Democrats. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s list of its targeted “Top Races” includes only 10 GOP incumbents. That’s not ambitious enough.

Finally, and most important, Democrat success depends on adherence to progressive principles. Politically disparate Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan demonstrated that voters react positively to strong leaders who stay true to their principles. After fair and open debate, Congress needs to use its majorities to send President Obama the Employee Free Choice Act and strong cap-and-trade and health care legislation. Weak bills are worse than no bill at all. Ideally the health care bill would be single-payer, because a compromise hybrid may not actually work. At minimum the final bill should have the promised “robust” public option and not discriminate against women needing to terminate unwanted pregnancies. But most important, Democrats need to “grow a pair” and finance it with the tax increases needed to generate the necessary revenue. Currently at least half the financing comes from cutting half a trillion dollars out of Medicare, a fact that risks losing even my support. If Democrats won’t make the fat cats bear their fair share of the load, they’re not worth fighting for.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Utimiately the Dems problem is one of substance over what I believe you are identifying as style, i.e Reid and Pelosi vs. who otherwise?

Yes the Dems need to grow a pair as you say but they are afraid to campaign on a tax raising platform because that is suicide. Obama promised no increases for 99% of the country. Healthcare is surely a tax increase.

How does 45m, Obama says 30m, others can justify a number much smaller, uninsured justify a command and control of 18% of the economy.

Obama did not win 60/40, just the Senate fell that way. His margin of victory does not justify the over reach that health care is.

Martha Coakley is the latest victim of the overreach. NJ and VIR previously until parity is reached.

January 18, 2010 at 7:25 PM  
Blogger IONE said...

I’ve been perplexed by the displays of ambivalence by elected Democrats towards the Progressive agenda for which Obama was elected. They’ve been cowed by Tea Baggers who wouldn’t vote for them under any circumstances. BTW, axing Reid and Pelosi is exactly what Conservatives want! They became targets for negative marketing soon after the President was inaugurated. Poll ratings are no measurement of effective leadership; results are.
Some fact checking would put the so-called Medicare ‘cut ‘in perspective. In short, that $500B has been an overpayment to insurers for Advantage Plans. There are other means of providing those services at considerably lower costs. But the same Reform opponents who started the ‘death panel’ fiasco have been marketing the efficient use of our tax dollars as a ‘cut.’
Respectfully, if you had watched any of the Congressional committee hearings and mark up sessions, you’d know how much time has been wasted trying to ‘engage their Republican critics and discuss the issues, explain the merits of proposed legislation and persuade voters how it is in the public interest.’ Republicans are under orders not to vote for Progressive reforms. They’ve voted against amendments they proposed! The Dems have deprived them of the ability to sabotage the Reconciliation process; the response has been whining about ‘secret meetings.’

January 19, 2010 at 7:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So whadda ya think Oracle. Is the President smart enough to do the Clinton pivot? I got my doubts. He can't do populism right. I think if you watch the SOTU speech closely you should seem him shrinking before your eyes.

I could be wrong but I expect the only thing Obama doesn't have that Carter had is Burt Lance.

January 24, 2010 at 9:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

IONE, it seems to me you re trying to lay a lot of the blame here at the feet of the opposition. Seems odd to me given the President has the largest majorities we ve seen in the legislature in decades.

Perhaps it s poor policy. To my thinking health care is pretty simple. Some significant majority, say 60% like their care, another 10-15% are probably satisfied. How can you expect to run through massive changes with unknown consequences. Tilting at windmills methinks. A guaranteed loser. Although I was a little more nervous this time toward the end.

Lastly, most agree there is an issue with uninsurables. I m excluding those who choose not to participate, illegals, and the like. What is this number 10-15 million. There s your problem, go fix it. Not adjusting care for 300 million others.

Classic overreach. But if the Dems want to cede control in a massive wave every 15 years I ll take that too.

January 25, 2010 at 7:19 PM  
Blogger Robert said...


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April 28, 2010 at 10:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a question regarding the word "progressive."
Looking at how the "progressives" in Congress pretty much ignore what their constituents want, isn't "feudalistic" more apt a phrase?
Seeing how "progressives" are also often Luddites, opposing so many aspects of modernity, making the ridiculous claim, for example, that modern technology destroys jobs, aren't "Luddite" and "feudalistic" both more apt?
Finally, considering that the "progressives" are so anti-freedom, so pro-coercion, so, in fact, reactionary, aren't "Luddite" and "feudalistic" and "reactionary" all more accurate than "progressive"?
Mary Jane Grass
Hamilton County, Tennessee

May 3, 2010 at 2:55 PM  
Anonymous said...

i like this

May 8, 2010 at 5:49 AM  
Anonymous TechnologyMonitor said...

I could be wrong but I expect the only thing Obama doesn't have that Carter had is Burt Lance. I agree with you

June 1, 2010 at 2:21 AM  

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