Rick Klein of the Boston Globe reported 11/12 that the seeds for the shift in congressional power were sown last year when Dems refused to get drawn into negotiations with Bush when he make privatizing Social Security his top domestic priority after his re-election. "[Democrats] never offered a complex counter-agenda," said Stephen Wayne, a government professor at Georgetown University. "They ran on the thing that they all could agree on: that this president and this Congress did not put us in the right direction."
"We had to fight that tendency that said you needed to have a plan when you're the minority in Congress," said Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who is in line to become House Financial Services chairman. "On Social Security, it was exactly right to say our job is to say 'no' to this," Frank added. "And it turned out that that was also the right answer on Iraq."
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid persuaded more than 40 Democratic senators to oppose privatization, assuring Dems could sustain a filibuster. An aide to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi recalls her giving the same curt response to several colleagues who asked when the party's Social Security plan would be released: "Never. Does never work for you?"
In the end, Bush never even introduced a bill. By campaign season, only Dems were bringing up Social Security private accounts -- as a weapon against Republicans.
REALIGNMENT: Chuck Todd of the nonpartisan National Journal concluded: "Forget 'red' and 'blue.' The country is basically divided into four voting blocs: the Democratic Northeast, the Republican South, the populist Midwest and the libertarian West. Democrats probably have a decent grip on those populist Midwest voters for a while (at least until the area transforms completely into a new economy). As for the libertarian West (home of the first state -- Arizona -- to reject a gay marriage ban), this is a region that is more up for grabs than it should be. And it's because the Republican Party has grown more religious and more pro-government which turns off these 'leave me alone,' small-government libertarian Republicans.
"As for '08: Tuesday was a good night for John McCain and John Edwards. McCain's a 'winner' because if the GOP realizes that its biggest impediment to winning elections is wooing back independents, then McCain's the natural heir for '08. Plus, the West is truly in play as a battleground region, making McCain more valuable to his party. As for Edwards, there were a lot of new Democrats elected to the House and Senate espousing his views on trade and the war. These folks aren't part of the Democratic Leadership Council. Barack Obama can also call himself a winner since he stumped for more Dem candidates than any other '08 prospect not named John Kerry. [By the way], Kerry is simply relieved that he won't become the Steve Bartman of Democratic politics. (Cubs fans know who I'm talking about)."
BUSH'S TOXIC TOUCH: Just two days after Bush campaigned for Rep. Jim Ryun, R-Kan., in Topeka, the former long-distance runner was defeated by Nancy Boyda (D) in a district Bush carried with 59% in 2004. CQ Weekly reported that more than 50 GOP-held districts featured highly competitive races, a playing field much larger than in previous election cycles. Of $83.6 mln that the NRCC reported in "independent expenditures" -- funds that the parties spend on TV ads and mailers without consulting their preferred candidates -- 96% was spent in districts defended by Republicans. The NRCC was forced to spend money in unlikely venues such as the Kansas district won by Boyda and an open Idaho district that the GOP barely held despite the fact that Bush took nearly 70% of the vote there two years ago. Just five districts now held by Dems were considered to be highly competitive, and the party appeared to retain them all.
UNSUNG HEROES were the candidates who ran hopeless races but forced Republicans to spend money where they shouldn't have had to bother. One of them in Texas, Ted Ankrum, was an entirely qualified candidate who grumbled that D.C. Dems wouldn't invest in his race against Rep. Michael McCaul (R), in a district that stretches from Austin to Houston. McCaul faced token opposition in 2004 and spent much of the general campaign helping other congressional candidates. But this year Ankrum spent $60,000, forced McCaul to spend $600,000 and held the right-winger to 55% in a district that went 62% for Bush in 2004.
In a race for Texas attorney general, David Van Os was another underfunded progressive populist. He visited all 254 counties and had the best slogan: "Fight 'em 'til Hell freezes over. Then fight 'em on the ice." Unfortunately, while he appeared to spend less than $150,000 and was largely ignored by news media, incumbent Attorney Gen. Greg Abbott had $7 million to spend and there were no icestorms on election day. Van Os got 37.2%, which appeared to be approximately the Democratic base in statewide races. The best finish by a Democrat was in a Supreme Court race, where Bill Moody (D) got 45% against incumbent Associate Justice Don Willett (R), who got 50.9%. But Dems gained six seats in the state House, giving them 69, while Republicans hold 80, with a special election pending to replace a deceased Republican legislator.
DEMS SEE MORE PICKUPS IN '08: Democrats expect to contest many of the 21 GOP-held Senate seats that are up for grabs in 2008 while Dems will defend only a dozen. CQ Weekly noted that five of the 21 GOP senators facing re-election in two years won in 2002 by fewer than 10 points, while only three of the Democratic candidates won by such tight margins. And Kos noted that in the House there are at least 56 districts where Republicans got less than 55% in this election or are otherwise vulnerable.
SUCCESS HAS 100 FATHERS: National Journal's Hotline reported Nov. 11 that DNC's 50-state strategy paid off with significant increases in Democratic voter share in Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, Indiana and Kentucky, picking off several key congressional races in Indiana and Kentucky. In Iowa, the coordinated campaign (helped by staffers sent in by Sen. Evan Bayh's All America PAC) picked up two congressional seats and both chambers of the state Legislature. More than 205,000 union members volunteered for the AFL-CIO's political program. They knocked on more than 8.25 million doors, made 30 mln phone calls and passed out more than 14 mln leaflets at workplaces and in neighborhoods. The AFL-CIO's program sent out more than 20 million pieces of mail to union households, not including those sent by affiliate unions. And the AFL-CIO's "Final Four" program in the final four days of the election proved to be a powerful counter to the RNC's 72-hour program. The AFL-CIO turned out 187,000 volunteers, made nearly 8 mln phone calls and knocked on 3.5 mln doors in the final four days.
The wave of voter rejection aimed primarily at Bush's failed Iraq policy was amplified by the on-the-ground efforts of over 185,000 MoveOn.org volunteers who made 7 mln get-out-the-vote calls in the closing weeks of the election. In many close races, the volume of MoveOn calls far exceeded the Democratic candidates' winning margins. In Kentucky 3, Yarmuth (D) defeated Northup (R) by 5,890 votes; Call for Change made 42,182 phone calls. New York 19, Hall (D) defeated Kelly (R) by 3,528 votes; Call for Change made 63,745. California 11, McNerney (D) defeated Pombo (R) by 9,355 votes. Call for Change made 39,007 phone calls.
JACKASS: James Carville puzzled many Democrats when, a few days, after the election, he called for the Democratic National Committee to replace Chairman Howard Dean, apparently because the Dems only won control of two chambers in Congress. Ryan Lizza of The New Republic reported (11/10), "Some big name Democrats want to oust DNC Chairman Howard Dean, arguing that his stubborn commitment to the 50-state strategy and his stinginess with funds for House races cost the Democrats several pickup opportunities." The candidate being floated to replace Dean was Harold Ford. Says Carville: "Suppose Harold Ford became chairman of the DNC? How much more money do you think we could raise? Just think of the difference it could make in one day. Now probably Harold Ford wants to stay in Tennessee. I just appointed myself his campaign manager."
In the 11/10 New York Times, Carville blasted Dean again: "The RNC did a better job than the DNC this year," he claimed, explaining that Democrats "succeeded because the party's House and Senate campaign committees compensated for what Mr. Carville described as the shortcomings of the Democratic National Committee, allowing the party to take advantage of a wave of voter resentment directed at Republicans."
Emanuel's original plan was to target 25 to 30 races. Throughout the campaign reports surfaced of D.C. Democrats, including Emanuel and Schumer, sniping at Dean for spending money on party-building instead of channelling funds to their committees for more TV ads. Emanuel and Schumer kept raising their own funds and were able to expand the field as they saw new opportunities. But many of those opportunities were due to the work of Dean's party operatives in the field.
Dean's supporters note that the 50-State Strategy had the GOP covering their assets in red states like Nebraska, Idaho and Wyoming while Democrats went on the offensive in the final weeks in Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Montana and Virginia and nearly cleared Republican Congress members out of the Northeast.
PROG DEMS BEAT DCCC, GOP: Two of the Dems who upset incumbent Republican Congress members were Carol Shea-Porter (N.H.), who was tossed out of a presidential event for wearing an anti-Bush T-shirt and John Yarmuth (Ky.), an alternative newspaper columnist who proudly supports affirmative action. Mark Schmitt of Prospect.org (11/13) noted that they first bucked candidates promoted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in primary races. Shea-Porter won a four-way primary, defeating a veteran state legislator who had DCCC support. The Republican that Yarmuth beat, Anne Northup, had been a perpetual Democratic target, with about $6 mln spent to defeat her since 1998. This year, the DCCC recruited an Iraq veteran, Col. Andrew Horne, to run against Northup, but when Yarmuth won the primary, the DCCC gave up on the race.
"Meanwhile, a good number of the perfect, heavily-funded, and aggressively recruited DCCC candidates, such as Patricia Madrid in New Mexico, fell short. Is there a lesson here? It's not a big sample size, but it suggests that in a district where a Republican was vulnerable to defeat, a plain-spoken progressive could do it at least as easily as a focus-grouped moderate. Perhaps even better."
Charles Pierce noted at Prospect.org (11/13) that Gov.-elect Deval Patrick was forced to run against establishment candidate (Attorney Gen. Tom Reilley) and Chris Gabrieli, a wealthy progressive. But after winning that campaign he was better prepared to beat Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey in what Pierce said "will go down in history as the worst political campaign ever run that wasn't directed by Bob Shrum or Susan Estrich."
NOT QUITE REVOLUTION: Max Sawicky notes at TPMCafe.com (11/13) that "a one-vote majority in the Senate makes it very difficult to enact industrial-strength progressive legislation. Bush is sure to veto anything he doesn't have to sign, and what is there to make him sign anything? Such votes are useful to score political points for 2008, but on some issues the damage is well-distributed to both sides." ...
"On the toughest issues facing the country -- US military intervention, nuclear proliferation, the long-run budget deficit, and global warming -- being a little liberal is not enough. These are very difficult political problems that will require significant changes in public opinion. The election results do not signify any such changes.
"For evidence of true progressive inclinations on the economic front, I look for advocacy of new spending initiatives financed by new taxes. And I look for admission that future health care spending growth will require tax increases. I don't see that anywhere -- just mealy-mouthedness about the Bush tax cuts on the top 1%. It's drivel. You need to reclaim much more in tax revenue than that paid by the top 1%, just to pay for spending that is already in the pipeline.
"The incoming Dems have spoken of balancing the budget, an exercise pointless at best, counter-productive both economically and politically at worst. ... They ought to be sharpening their knives for Ben Bernanke and the Fed on the drop in labor force participation since 2000."
Sawicky also noted that the populist Dems will have to force the party leadership to "rethink its dogma on so-called free trade."
UNEASY MAJORITY: Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) knows his Senate majority is as fickle as Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who sidestepped the Democratic Party the day after he lost a primary election to Ned Lamont, but assured voters he would caucus with the Dems if re-elected as an independent. Then, four days after his re-election with 33% of the Democratic vote and 70% of the GOP vote, told the Hartford Courant (11/13) he was "not ruling it out" that he could turn Republican.
AIR AMERICA AD BLACKOUT: An internal ABC Radio Networks memo obtained by MediaMatters.org indicates that nearly 100 ABC advertisers insist that their commercials be blacked out on Air America Radio affiliates. The memo dated 10/25 was obtained from a listener to the syndicated Peter B. Collins Show and published 10/31. Among the advertisers that insist that "NONE of their commercials air during AIR AMERICA programming" are Bank of America, ExxonMobil, Federal Express, General Electric, McDonald's, Microsoft, Wal-Mart, and the U.S. Navy. Those that blacklist Air America but are known to advertise on the conservative Fox News Channel, according to the website Spending Liberally, are Allstate, Aventis, Bank of America, Bayer, Chattem, Cingular, Clorox, Dell, eHarmony, ExxonMobil, Farmers Insurance Group FedEx, General Electric, Gillette, Hewlett-Packard, Home Depot, Hyatt, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft Foods, McDonalds, Merck/Schering-Plough, MGM, Michelin, Office Depot, Paramount, Philip Morris, Proctor & Gamble, Nestle, Nissan, Red Lobster, RE/MAX, Rentway, Sherwin-Williams, Sony, State Farm Insurance, Travelocity.com, True Value, United Healthcare Services, Visa, Wal-Mart, Walgreens. The Liberal Talk Radio blog (ltradio.blogspot.com) noted that some companies support some progressive talk radio, as they advertise on the Ed Schultz show. Those companies include Dell, Bayer, Epson Printers, Schering-Plough, Phillip Morris and Chattem. Office Depot, in particular, does extensive promotion with Shultz' show, and Shultz appears in their radio ads. Ironically, Schultz's show is featured on many Air America affiliates.
EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGES LIVE: Charles Pierce noted at Prospect.org (11/13) that despite concerns over an executive branch run amok, a Newsweek poll found that "69% said they were concerned that the new Congress would keep the administration 'from doing what is necessary to combat terrorism,' and two-thirds said they were concerned it would spend too much time investigating the administration and Republican scandals." That might cause Democrats to take a dive on killing the "unitary executive," but Pierce urged voters to grill Democratic presidential candidates on presidential powers. "There's no more important question on which to inquire of people who want to be the next president than what they believe the legitimate parameters -- or, more important, the legitimate limits -- on their power should be. Here's a hint -- anyone who prefaces their answer with the phrase, 'We have to understand that the world is different ...' isn't worth your time."
D.C. CYNICS WRONG ON RUSS: Glenn Greenwald noted at Salon.com (11/13) that when Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., announced in March that he would introduce a resolution to censure Bush for breaking the law by eavesdropping on Americans without warrants, pundits declared that he had handed a huge "gift" to the GOP. Many also dismissed it as a "political stunt," designed to promote his own presidential hopes. But Dems eventually opposed warrantless eavesdropping, culminating in a House vote just six weeks before the midterm elections in which 85% of Dems voted against a bill to legalize warrantless eavesdropping. "For the next six weeks, Republicans did everything possible to make the Democratic reluctance to abridge civil liberties an issue in the campaign, yet Democrats still crushed Republicans in the election. As but one example, 12-term GOP incumbent Rep. Nancy Johnson of Connecticut made her support for warrantless eavesdropping (and her challenger's opposition to it) a centerpiece of her campaign. She lost by 12 points." Then, on 11/12, Feingold announced that he is not running for president in 2008. Greenwald noted, "As their treatment of Russ Feingold illustrates, it is hard to overstate how misguided and just plain wrong Beltway pundits are about virtually everything, and how barren and corrupt inside-Washington conventional wisdom is."
SAVE YOUR MONEY: Ned Lamont (D) pumped over $14 million of his own money into a losing Senate bid. But PoliticalWire.com noted that Lamont wasn't alone. Pete Ricketts (R) plunked down more than $11 million to get trounced by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.) pledged $10 million on her landslide defeat to Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). The Center for Responsive Politics notes that the Nov. 7 elections "did not go well for self-financed candidates. Forty congressional candidates spent more than $500,000 of their own money in 2006. Only 23 of them even made it to the general election, and just six appear to have won."
PELOSI ENDORSES PAL: Presumptive House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) was criticized when she leaned into the race for House minority leader, endorsing her longtime ally, John Murtha (Pa.) over Steny Hoyer (Md.). Hoyer, who was the overwhelming pick of the Democratic caucus, has a bit more liberal voting record than Murtha, but neither of them approaches Pelosi's progressive credentials -- and it's her leadership that counts. Hoyer and Murtha both voted for the bad bankruptcy bill last year, though they generally are progressive -- or at least pro-labor -- on economic issues. But Murtha managed Pelosi's successful 2001 race for minority whip, when she beat Hoyer, and he has a reputation of undercutting Pelosi ever since.
MEMORY HOLE: How bad have things gotten? Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News notes at Attytood.com (11/8), "Bush names the man who was No. 2 in the CIA during the Iran-Contra scandal to run the Pentagon ... and America is relieved."
IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCS: Democrats in Austin recently were celebrating the election results and chewing over issues that the new Democratic Congress will consider when one of the group noted that it looks increasingly likely that the civil war in Iraq will cause the country to be split into three parts. To which one of the crowd replied, "Well, it may come to that but I sure hope Texas doesn't get stuck with the South again."
WHERE'S REALIGNMENT: Fred Barnes wrote 11/22/04 that "Karol Rove said last year that the question of realignment -- whether Republicans have at last become the majority party -- would be decided by the election of 2004. And it has. Even by the cautious reckoning of Rove, President Bush's chief political adviser, Republicans now have both an operational majority in Washington (control of the White House, Senate, and the House of Representatives) and an ideological majority in the country (51% popular vote for a center-right president). They also control a majority of governorships, a plurality of state legislatures, and are at rough parity with Democrats in the number of state legislators. Rove says that under Bush a "rolling realignment" favoring Republicans continues, and he's right. So Republican hegemony in America is now expected to last for years, maybe decades." To which Oliverwillis.com replied: "Not so much."
Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos noted that Republicans, thinking they had perpetual majorities, instituted a long list of policies that dramatically discriminated against the minority party in both chambers. They even threatened to do away with the filibuster.
"Me, I said at the time that I wanted to see the filibuster gone. Now Republicans will get to use it to stymie the Democratic agenda, just like opponents of civil rights used it to bottleneck important civil rights legislation in the 60s. But oh well. It is what it is," Moulitsas wrote. "But here's the key -- every bit of anti-minority party legislation the GOP implemented these last 12 years better be kept intact by the new Democratic leadership. Let them reap what they sowed. They deserve every humiliation they designed for those in the minority status."
Democratic leaders keep talking about bipartisanship. We'll see.
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