Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Spending Your Political Capital in 2006

Depressingly, America's future now seems to depend in large part upon the Democratic Party. America desperately needs the Republicans out of power, and the 2006 midterm elections offer that possibility--if people give money and give it appropriately.

In 2006 the Republican party is vulnerable in ways it hasn't been in recent elections. And it deserves to be. Republican social conservatives are reaching further and further right for their support and their agenda, Republican fiscal conservatives have been replaced by big-spending pod-creature lookalikes from the planet DrunkenSailor, Republican hawks are busy listening to your phone calls, and Republican power-brokers are making their phone calls from prison phones. Meanwhile, sane, responsible Republicans (at least those without presidential ambitions) are conspicuously wondering who gets to keep the dog if they break up with the party.

Sadly, the Democrats don't seem to have figured out their strategy yet. DNC Chairman Howard Dean and Illinois Rep. Rahm Immanuel (who's in charge of the Democrats' efforts to retake the House) are reportedly banging heads over how to take advantage of the Republicans' disarray. Dean wants to spread the DNC's money more evenly across the US on the theory that the Democrats will never build a healthy party if they have to write off the south and the mountain west in every election. He thinks that if the DNC can build a real apparatus in current Republican strongholds, Republicans will have to play better defense and spend more of their money in areas that they can currently take for granted. Rahm thinks that the Democrats will win in the long term only if they can win in the short term, and he thinks that it's suicidal to be planning for the long term when another two years of Republican control of all the branches of government will let Republicans rearrange the goverment to make retaining that control even easier.

They're both right, of course. And both of their goals are necessary, if not easily reconciled. Poll after poll shows that if the 2006 midterm elections were about what the voters thought of the President and the Repubicans in Congress, the Democrats would be shoo-ins to regain control of the House and Senate. Sadly, the elections aren't entirely about the will of the people. Republican gerrymanders over the past decade have given them too many unfairly "safe seats" and US population distribution works out such that Democrats are often clustered in relatively few, densely populated districts, while Republicans are spread more evenly throughout the country. (The great big red map we saw after the last election tends to be the result of Republicans winning a lot of 51-49% districts while, in general, the Democrats win bigger in fewer.) The Democrats do need a broader party infrastructure in the long term and they do need to get the Republicans out in the short term. Neither seems possible without the other.

Let's hope that Rahm and Dean can work out a compromise and move forward. The less bitching and infighting they do over this, the better off the Democrats will be this year. After all, whether or not Dean has already spent too much of the party's money raised for this election ($64 million of $74 million) doesn't change the fact that the Republicans have raised almost twice that (about $140 million). The Republicans have more to spend and they have all the advantages of being in power. So the DNC needs some damn unity and discipline and--frighteningly--the rest of us need the DNC.

Whether Dean or Rahm has the right strategy for the DNC, small Democratic donors should lean more toward Rahm's model than Dean's in their own individual giving. Anybody opposed to the Bush administration's policies (about 70% of the country at the moment) needs to target their giving and their support. Money is a nasty and depressing fact of political power in this country, and it's crucial to give candidates in key elections at least some of your money this year. And you should be giving some money this year, as much as you can. I will be.

The BBC has a list of elections that are likely to be close this year. I'm sure other places do too. If you have ones you like, please add them as comments.


At 6:37 PM , Blogger Mike M. said...

I suspect Dean is right, though not by much. His 50 State strategy is risky, for sure. But, it's also similar to how the Republicans, a party that had not controlled both houses for deccades at the time that I was in high school, took over just a couple of years later. His faults aside, Dean gets that in the long term, only a national strategy can build a national majority. The Immanuel approach, focused more on vulnerable seats right now, CAN pay short term dividends, but they tend to be fleeting. Also, remember, no matter what national polls say, people tend to like their representatives (and, of course, incumbents have huge advantages over challengers) so even what looks like a vulnerable seat might not be.

Dean has the Republican playbook down, I think. For years, election cycle after election cycle, Republicans languished in the minority but, the whole time, they were building the think tanks, the magazines, the locals parties in every state, and it eventually paid off in a way that the left has not, so far, been able to counter.

If Dean's allowed to pursue his strategy over more than one election cycle, we might someday be reading books and articles about how the Democrats came out of nowhere to retake the government.


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