The musings of one Andrew Langer - defender of liberty, passionate protector of individual rights, foodie. (Note: Said Musings of Andrew Langer are his own, and the views represented herein are likewise his views, and not the views of any other people, entities, foodstuffs, etc [unless otherwise specifically and explicitly noted].)

Monday, September 25, 2006

Horace Cooper: Democrats Will Miss In November

As I promised last week, here is GMU professor Horace Cooper's cogent piece on the possibility of the Democrats retaking either house of Congress in November (and for the uninitiated, the vaulter in the above picture is about to hit the bar - not clear it).

Democrats Will Fall Short
By Horace Cooper
September 25, 2006

The fall campaign is heating up in earnest and a pattern is repeating itself -- one that should look familiar. It's a pattern of Democrats preparing for their big win only to come up short on Election Day. Yet this reality has yet to dawn on Democrats. Today most Democrats still believe that they are likely to retake either the House or Senate. And perhaps they could afford this indulgence since so many in the media have repeated their boastful claims for much of the spring and summer. Tellingly, however, this reveals more about the media's political preferences than any political acumen.

On the surface it would seem the political environment is ripe for success by Democrats. But due to key strategic failures Democrats won't be able to take advantage of fallow electoral ground. And this shouldn't be too surprising. Even after losses in 2000, 2002, and 2004 Democrats refused to reconsider their political strategy.

Here are five reasons why the party of Jefferson and Jackson will come up short this November:

You can't go it alone: Unlike the privileged circumstances that Democrats have had for much of the 20th century, they're no longer the majority party in the 21st. During much of the last century party leaders had the luxury of knowing that if they simply got all of those who called themselves Democrats to the polls they could win elections handily. Today not even 40% of Americans self-identify as Democrats. But you wouldn't know it however based on the strictly partisan agenda they're campaigning on. As the last Presidential election demonstrated -- even with enthusiasm and elevated turnout -- Democrats can't win without help from independents and Republicans. Conversely, the GOP has proven again and again that it can win and even expand simply by appealing to Republicans and conservative independents. Even though their partisan message may very well mobilize Democrats this fall, once again that message will turn off Republicans and many independents. At best this strategy will only increase the margin of victory for Democrats in safe districts and at worse it could actually excite the opposition. Unless your party comprises at least half of the electorate or more, energizing your party's base while alienating independents and Republicans is a classic strategy for failure.

You can't get ahead while you're trying to get even: Going after Joe Lieberman because of his position on the war in Iraq is precisely the type of political mistake former House Leader Dick Armey warned against. Instead of using their resources against vulnerable House or Senate Republicans, leftist bloggers and other liberal activists in the party chose to settle scores. This is wasteful in terms of campaign resources and political energy. Instead of sweeping three GOP House seats in Connecticut, Democrats will be lucky to take one. And worse, instead of being available to campaign and fundraise for vulnerable incumbents or challengers in red states, Joe Lieberman is forced to stay home to fight for his own seat. And finally, despite the party's strategy of trying to minimize its anti-war faction in the public eye, this fight brings the anti-war activists front and center once again reminding the public of the party's remarkable ambivalence about promoting America's national security. This is especially destructive behavior in the wake of September 11. Settling scores that divert your party's resources and remind the public of your party's Achilles Heel is doubly harmful and thus is a strategy that limits the party's chances for success.

Races tighten in the fall: One of the strongest advantages that election analysts have had in making the case for a major win by Democrats this fall has been polls showing a generic preference for Democrats over Republicans. But this indicator is quite fleeting. Since 1998 Republicans have headed into the fall campaigns facing a deficit in the generic polls with a number ranging between 6-10 pts. In 2002 a year Republicans gained seats in the House and Senate, both Gallup and Time initially had Republicans behind as much as 9 points before the race tightened. Then as now the generic numbers tightened. Additionally contrary to conventional wisdom, the voters who decide late increasingly are increasingly just as willing to vote for incumbents as they are for challengers. Absent a gap greater than 5 pts on election day, Democrats will not be able to overcome redistricting gains made in 2002 or overcome red state Republican preferences in states like Virginia and Tennessee. Moreover since Republicans will remind voters that elections require that a choice be made between two parties, anti-Republican sentiment alone won't lead to victory. Additionally significant declines in gas prices and a dazzling upsurge in the stock market will dramatically attenuate the anti-GOP mood as November draws near. A strategy predicated on a double digit voter preference on Election Day for Democrats will yield disappointing results.

There isn't an anti-war majority in America: Democrats have misread surveys of Americans' opposition to the war in Iraq. As a result they've allowed the party to become closely identified more with its John Murtha -- Michael Moore "surrender first" wing. Notwithstanding the constant media barrage reporting every negative news story involving our troops and Iraq, the truth is that the growing anti-Iraq sentiment reflected in surveys is actually a convergence of two groups: traditional anti-war liberals who oppose all wars and pro-war hawks who believe that the war has been bungled because our troops are hampered by politically correct rules of engagement. A far better measure of American sentiment is a recent Fox News Channel poll showing that half of the public (51 percent) thinks the country's response to the 9/11 attacks was at the right level and a third saying the response was not strong enough. Only 13 percent think the United States overreacted to the attacks. While disturbingly high, anti-war Americans are only between 1/5 and 1/3 of the overall electorate. And although self-described Democrats make up a disproportionate number of this group, even all Democrats don't share the anti-war impulse of the party's base. For this reason even when Democrats alone are asked, they fail to identify the war in Iraq as the primary issue in the fall elections. A strategy which assumes that most Americans share the anti-war sentiments of party activists will alienate the voting electorate and won't even keep all Democrats on board.

You can't win while you're losing: Without a doubt perhaps the greatest reason that Democrats will fall short this November is that success requires wins across the board. In order to take over the House and the Senate they need the political equivalent of an inside straight. To succeed Democrats must defeat 6 Republican senators and at least 15 House Republicans. And if any of their own incumbents lose, then they would be forced to defeat even more GOP incumbents. In 2002 and 2004, elections in which Republicans made notable gains, GOP challengers swept nearly all of the competitive House and Senate races while the party as whole kept losses to a minimum. Today, Democrats face serious Senate challenges of their own in New Jersey, Minnesota, Maryland and Washington State. And in Georgia, Texas, Louisiana and Illinois Republican challengers are giving House Democrats a serious run for their money. A GOP win in any of these races will all but eviscerate any hopes of a Democrat takeover. And when combined with the GOP's phenomenal $30M GOTV (Get out the Vote) program Democrats run a serious risk of actually losing ground on Election Day. A strategy which fails to ensure that incumbents are secure before reaching out for gains is shortsighted and could leave the party worse off than it started.

In conclusion, Democrats aren't likely to takeover the House or Senate this fall and could even see losses. Without addressing their fundamental shortcomings, America's oldest political party competes in this election cycle burdened by strategic handicaps. In the 2004 Presidential election -- one in which the party's nominee received more votes than any Democrat in history -- Democrats had press, enthusiasm, and financial resources on their side and still failed to win. This year talk radio, right-leaning bloggers, state of the art GOTV efforts, flush campaign coffers and a changing political landscape will more than offset any advantages that Democrats have today. Indeed, the strategic failings that saddle the Democrats have turned what could have been a bumper crop election into what will very likely end up being a drought.


Horace Cooper is an assistant professor of constitutional law at George Mason University


Blogger The leftist southpaw said...

In all honesty, I was wondering if you would like to reconsider your projections given recent events? Not being snide, just thought I'd ask.

Whether the Foley incident SHOULD impact the entire GOP is a different matter than if it WILL. Agree?

October 04, 2006 2:39 PM

Blogger Andrew Langer said...

...and I'm not going to respond snidely, as it's a perfectly valid question.

Of course I'm reconsidering my projections given what's going on, not only with Foley but with the Speaker's office, the House Leadership generally, and everybody else in the political universe doing apoplectic backflips in a frenzied and discombobulated response to all of this.

Here's the thing - it's a given that Foley's got problems, and ought to be strung up by his thumbs, regardless of whether he was duped or what.

But there are far too many variables at issue right now for _ANYONE_ to make an accurate projection of what the political landscape is going to be like a month from now.

If it turns out, for instance, that the instant messages really _were_ a prank (regardless of Foley's culpability in responding to them), and that their release was carefully -timed to throw the election into turmoil, then this could seriously backfire against the Democrats.

I'm not saying that this is the case, only that it's a distinct possibility - and that predicting the outcome of the '06 elections rightnow would be a foolhardy enterprise.

To sum up: am I standing by my predictions in light of what's going on with Foley? Not at this point in time - either way.

I will revisit them at the appropriate time - probably more than once between now and election day. At the very least, I'll revisit them when I fill out my various "election pool" entries.

I'm actually out of town this week (which is why I haven't updated the blog). I happened to comment to someone that I picked a heck of a time to be out of town (my phone has been ringing off-the-hook since Friday).

That person commented back to me that it's probably a really good time to be out of town.

- Andrew Langer

October 05, 2006 6:07 PM

Blogger The leftist southpaw said...

I would be happy to join any election pools you can send my way. I will also extend a wager to you- whoever makes a more accurate prediction earns a guest post on the other's blog. One caveat- the post is limited in scope to an analysis of the election results and the impact it will have on policy over the next two years.

Do we have a bet?

October 11, 2006 5:20 PM

Blogger Andrew Langer said...

Sorry I haven't gotten back to you on this, Kess. It's been a busy week.

I'm normally very happy to accept such bets - especially given my record over the last few cycles. There's blog-related stuff that's been going on, though (happy to share this with you on the QT - e-mail me).

In any case, my advice to others doing prognosticating is to not lay down formal predictions until at least the end of next week (the 20th-21st). So, let's chat via e-mail, and solidify things over the next few days.

If that's alright.

- Andrew

October 13, 2006 10:16 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

So much for an informed opinion...

January 08, 2007 12:04 PM


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