Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Jeb Bush's Dilemma

Jeb has indicated that he will not be running in 2012. No one really thought he would. 2012 would still be too early for the Bush name not to be an albatross around his neck.

Which means he is hoping to run in 2012

Which means, he needs Obama to win re-election. But he mustn't ever seem to want Obama to win re-election, or else he'll be branded a traitor and won't be able to win a Republican primary.

Look for Jeb to remain relatively quiet as the contenders jockey for the 2012 nomination. He won't want to endorse some who's "out there" - like Palin or Huckabee. He won't want someone who is too much against the established dogma, a la Gary Johnson. Definitely don't look for him to support (so long as the primary is truly contested) the strongest candidate in the race.

Someone solid, but not too strong. With some good conservative credentials. Tim Pawlenty would be an example. He's got some blue collar, fiscal conservative "street cred," but also has the charisma of a twenty year old can of pickled herring. Also, I could see him picking Congressman Pence (if he runs for president, as he's been hinting he will - though some say he could run for governor of Indiana instead) - whose conservative credentials are nearly unmatched, but who, seriously folks, is never actually going to win or anything as crazy as that.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Democrats Need to Aim Low

At every political level, Democrats need to think smaller (at the policy level, they actually need to think bigger and establish clear differences between themselves and the GOP). The DNC, for example, over the next decade, needs to have two big goals - re-elect Obama and win state legislative seats.
The other stuff - Senators, Governors, Congresspersons - that's all the sexy stuff, but Dems need to focus on the scut work, the down ballot stuff that allows for future shifts.

At the local level, the Pinellas DEC shouldn't even be thinking about taking back Bill Heller and Janet Long's state house seats, nor Charlie Justice's state senate seat. They shouldn't be thinking about Harris' old county seat.

The only thing they should be thinking about are upcoming municipal elections.

Let me explain:

When the GOP won big last week, they won at a crucial time. Between legislative chambers they flipped and governor's mansions they took, they will control the outcomes for a significantly higher number of congressional seats in the upcoming redistricting process.

And there is, for Democrats, simply no way around this. Even if another Democratic wave should come along and sweep them back into power down the road, the underlying issue will remain.

There's an old saying, "it's not about who casts the votes - but about who does the counting." These days, it's not about what voters want, so much as who draws the lines.

Of course, in Florida, we recently passed Amendments to make the redistricting process open, impartial and transparent (not that Tallahassee won't still try and subvert that process), but nationally, the best thing Democrats can do to improve the long term odds of success is to start building state legislative majorities ahead of the 2021 redistricting.

Locally - and this is something I have harped on in the past - Democrats need to stop shooting for moon. Putting untested candidates up for county and legislative races that cost at least $150,000 to run is not a good way to win. Right now, too much of the Democratic bench consists of well meaning and hard working people who have neither an electoral base nor experience. This is especially true in the northern part of the county.

The failure to systematically organize and canvass for candidates for city council and mayor in cities like Dunedin and Clearwater represent the biggest failures of the last couple of years. In 2009, for example, a single mailer to Democrats and a concerted effort to institute volunteer phone banks and some canvassing for Deborah Kynes could have provided the the less than 200 additional votes she needed to win. It wouldn't have been as sexy as cheering for Charlie Justice in an uphill fight against Bill Young's millions, but would have been something where the DEC's limited resources could have made a difference.

You may complain that many of these local races are ostensibly non-partisan - I say, that when you have a mano y mano and there is only one Democrat in the race, then the DEC can fairly step in.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


Hindsight is 20/20, as they say, and I won't pretend that I recognized all these things at the time. But, with it's benefit, we can now see some things that should have been done differently.

There's no need to go into detail as regards what wrong at the legislative level - I think we can all agree that incumbent retention and challenger recruitment was handled badly. Too many seats went unchallenged or were left too late. Ron Saunders did not fundraise or recruit in a sufficiently strategic manner and, towards the end, the state party was stepped in. However, by that time, too much of the campaign season had lapsed. Locally, folks like Charlie Justice should never have been allowed to leave a state senate open and Long and Heller should never have been allowed to leave it late.

The field campaign was too much in the hands of Organizing for America (OFA). Unfortunately, OFA was focused on so-called "surge" voters - the big vault of infrequent voters who came out for Obama, but were not otherwise regular voters. While the theory sounded good and the work done with these voters will bear fruit in 2012, it was never going to do much for Democratic candidates up in the midterms.

Tellingly, the most surprising Democratic victories last night - difficult wins in swing states - were by Harry Reid in Nevada and Michael Bennet in Colorado. In each case, the Senate campaigns took control of the field away from OFA and went after traditional midterm voters, running classic campaigns, with central control at the state level.

Sink spent the spring and summer, keeping a low profile and focusing on stockpiling money for the air war to come.

In retrospect, this was the wrong way to go. It made sense at the time. In fact, it's probably what I would have done.

But it was clearly the wrong thing to do.

She should have been more aggressive during the contentious Scott/McCollum primary. She should have considered launching some real attacks at that time and definitely should have done more to define herself. Undecided voters really didn't know her, which left her vulnerable to Scott's misrepresentations. Though she had plenty of cash, she was never going to be able to match Scott on the air, so shepherding resources in order to try and match him would never work.

You can also say that when the voting public decides to trust a man who robbed billions from the taxpayers over a respect public servant, maybe nothing would have worked.

In any case, time to settle back and enjoy the cuts to education, public transit, healthcare to come.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Why Dismantling the Fifty State Program Was a Bad Idea

Howard Dean was excoriated by then DCCC Chair Rahm Emmanuel in 2006 over what he considered the wastefulness of the fifty state program, wherein the DNC paid state parties to maintain at least full time staff in every state. Rahm's objection was that it drew resources away from strategic districts to fund staff in areas that Democrats would never win.

In my opinion, over the course of 2006 and 2008, Dean was proved right.

Unexpected districts became viable Democratic targets, in part because infrastructure now existed in areas that had previously been ignored.

Tim Kaine, the current DNC Chair, did not completely roll back the fifty state program, incorporating some of its ideas into was is now known as Organizing for America or OFA. But he did pull back from the admittedly expensive proposition of funding full time staff across the country.

And it seems to be biting Democrats in the ass right now. We are seeing a reverse of the last two cycles, where incumbents Democrats who were never thought to be in danger are now facing their greatest challenges in years. Had the fifty state program still been in place, there would have been greater infrastructure in place to counteract this trend, as well a greater likelihood of detecting the danger early.

The national committees would not typically do much polling in these supposedly safe districts, but a qualified field staffer might get a sense from the ground that something is happening - because a good operative senses these things on a gut level as the small things (conversations, meetings, scanning local media) fall into place in the recesses of his or her mind and finally comes together in an educated "hunch" - and other qualified operatives will take those sort of hunches seriously (I spent years as a political researcher and when I went to my manager and said, "I can't tell you why, but I think 'X' is about to become an issue in this race," good manager listened and added a question on that issue on their next poll and readied a response).

In the absence of a fifty state program, too many incumbents were caught flat footed in October by the sudden realization that they could lose.

One also wonders whether a "67 county" program by the Florida Democratic Party to put full time, year round staff in every county could have averted some of the potential losses the party faces at the legislative level?

Monday, November 01, 2010

Jeb for President Starts Up Again

The new meme is that Jeb Bush will be drafted to run in 2012 in order to thwart a Palin nomination.

Everyone has generally assumed that Jeb intends to lay low, while still carefully tending to his base of corporate donors, occasionally appearing to make statements on a few key issues, and then emerging as the frontrunner for the GOP nomination in 2016.

He has of course, denied wanting to be president. And if you believe him, we should meet sometime, so we can discuss my wealthy Nigerian friend who needs your help transferring a large sum of money.

But it is entirely possible that the, for lack of better word, zeitgeist within the Republican establishment will pull him into a presidential race earlier than expected.

He would be an instant frontrunner in a Republican primary, buoyed by the Bush name (still garbage among the electorate at large, but gold among many primary voters) and the huge sums of secret and unregulated corporate dollars that would be spent on his behalf. He would even be able to pull some evangelical support away from Huckabee and Palin.

What to Expect Next Year

There may still be some surprises, but one thing appears certain - the GOP will hold more seats in Congress next year, they will continue to hold a strong majority in the Florida legislature (and may even achieve a veto-proof, supermajority), and the Florida Senate will replace the Florida House as the most radical body in Tallahassee (virtually all the moderate Republicans who once slowed down some of the radicalism are termed out this year and will be replaced by radical Republicans).

We can expect Senate President Haridopolous to try and gut education and infrastructure to pay for some sort of tax cut. The ostensible reason will be to improve growth and create jobs, but there is little doubt it will fail miserably. That strategy has been used for over a decade now and has been an unqualified failure. In the late nineties, the Clinton economic boom and then the real estate bubble that grew in George W. Bush's two terms help paper over what was going on in Florida, but when things went pear shaped, we had nothing to fall back on.

Funny story - as much as rich folks like a good tax cut, it turns out that good paying jobs are actually more closely tied to educational achievement and investment in infrastructure. That's why Florida is home to the HQ of 12 Fortune 500 companies, while the much more highly taxed and regulated New Jersey is home to 21 Fortune 500 company headquarters. It's also why "Taxachussetts" has an unemployment rate of 8.4%, while Florida's is 11.9%. It's why Wikipedia left St. Petersburg and moved to a more heavily taxed and regulated community in Northern California.

But, with radical new leadership, we can hardly expect such things to interfere with Tallahassee's plans for the rest us.

Nationally, the big question is when the Tea Party enthusiasm ebbs. And make no mistake, it will ebb, because the GOP establishment has no intention of giving them what they want. So-called Tea Party candidates who win tomorrow will be almost universally marginalized, except for those that can be co-opted (Marco Rubio is likely to be among the latter) into the usual backroom deals and politics. Lip service will be given to Tea Party ideals, but the actual business of governing will be handled in conjunction with the usual corporate lobbyists. Former Senator, master of pork barrel spending, and now uber-lobbyist, Trent Lott, will be far more influential than figures like Sharron Angle, Allen West, and Ken Buck, even if they win the election.

The results will, in time, be similar to what happened to moderates, disappointed that healthcare legislation did not go far enough and Latinos, disappointed that immigration reform was stonewalled in the Senate. They did not become Republican (just as Tea Parties will not become staunch Dems), but they did become disaffected in this election. Whether this will happen in time for 2012 or whether insensate anger against Obama keeps them in line for one more election, is up in the air, of course.