Friday, June 27, 2003

Clean Hands, Clear Conscience, Empty Wallets

The Democratic Party has a problem. We're too good for our own good. Acting on good government principle and ignoring liberal interest groups, the Democrats pushed McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform and won. But now it's become clear that, because of the law, the GOP has a massive fundraising advantage over the Democrats. Soft money has dried up and hard money--with its limit increased to $2,000 per donor per candidate--is now king.

This is the main thrust of "The Democratic Party Suicide Bill" in the current issue of The Atlantic Monthly by Seth Gitell, borrowed heavily from by George Will in a recent column. Both consider it a massive disadvantage to the Democrats and, in the short term, I tend to agree.

However, there is an underlying factor here that may wind up boosting the Democrats's strength, especially in 2004--public opinion. One of the biggest stories over the past few days has been Team W's fundraising blitz around the country. It cannot be lost on working- and middle-class voters of all political stripes that Bush's donor base is made up of people who benefitted hugely from the Bush tax cuts.

Ideology dictates to the GOP heads that there's nothing wrong with that. It's the free market at work. But most of the country--even, I would imagine, voters who identify with the Republican party--smell a quid pro quo for the rich here. I scratch your back with tax cuts and you throw me a kickback come campaign season. Liberal grand dame Helen Thomas has dubbed it "payback time." The more the Democratic Party can highlight this, the worse for the 2004 reelection strategy.

The big question, then, is whether or not the party will be able to shine a spotlight on GOP greed. It's possible, but it will require a great deal of dot-connecting and publicity hounding, but it will also have to be simple enough that it doesn't sound like so much clatter about "lockboxes". Here's a few quick examples of what I'm talking about. The rich are getting richer, but paying less in taxes. Bush's biggest fundraisers--dubbed "Pioneers"--are big business fat cats the White House has done huge favors for.

Just like Team W did, juxtaposing Saddam and Osama so often that many Americans now believe Saddam was behind 9/11, Democrats must make hay of the connection between money and influence and the GOP. In theory, it should be an easy sell. At the very least, it's got the advantage of actually being true.

posted by Scott | 6/27/2003 | |

No majority winner in primary

I honestly did not see this one coming. Howard Dean had the highest total as expected, bringing in 48.87% (139,360) of the votes. He was followed by Dennis Kucinich with 23.93% (76,000 votes) and John Kerry at 15.73% (49,973 votes).

So how was DemWatch's handicapping?

Pretty damn good, if I do say so myself. My guess was Dean, Kucinich, Kerry, Graham, Edwards, Sharpton, Gephardt, Lieberman, and Moseley Braun. The actual results were Dean, Kucinich, Kerry, Edwards, Gephardt, Graham, Moseley Braun, Lieberman, and Sharpton.

The biggest surprise for me--aside from the fact that there was no majority winner--was Sharpton's last place finish and Moseley Braun and Gephardt's solid performances. I also thought Graham's anti-Bush fervor would be enough to overcome his image among MoveOn voters as a hawkish old white Southerner. I was wrong on that. None of the candidates after the top three managed to break single digit percentages, meaning that their total vote difference was minimal. So, were a few hundred participants to change their minds here or there, the outcome could have looked vastly different.

And the biggest story that MoveOn really isn't publicizing is the performance of Wesley Clark as a write-in candidate. The as-yet-still-non-candidate, even without his name displayed among the others, garnered a very respectable 2,968 votes--almost double Al Sharpton's total.

Honestly, as there was no winner and by extension no endorsement or money, the first MoveOn primary is not going to have much impact on the race. It will, however, be looked at for years to come as the the event that got the ball rolling on internet democracy. It was a process with some very real problems, but they were problems very similar to the ones encountered in real world democracy.

posted by Scott | 6/27/2003 | |

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Borrowing from Sharpton

Anyone else notice that Al Sharpton's "not tax cuts, but tax shifts" argument has become the party line among his fellow Democratic candidates? The Note points out that both Dean and Kerry have injected this language into their rhetoric.

Over a month ago, Sharpton said, "when you have to pay more money for mass transit, when you have to pay more money for sales tax, that's a tax on working-class people... [t]axes have gone up all over this country."

He may not win the nomination, but he's certainly earned himself a seat at the policy making table in the Democratic Party.

posted by Scott | 6/25/2003 | |

Rove & Co. worried about Davis recall effort

Republicans in California and DC are of two different minds when it comes to the current drive to force a recall vote on Governor Gray Davis. On one hand, the pro-recall crowd sees a win by the GOP candidate as momentum booster for Bush's 2004 campaign. The other side disagrees, worrying that the state's problems will just be inherited by the next administration regardless of party and that it's better just to have something to blame the Dems for.

I tend to agree with the latter, though I think there's more to it than that. Go back and think about the Clinton impeachment. Now think about the 2000 election. What if Gray Davis is recalled, not so much because he broke any laws or did anything morally wrong, but because the GOP doesn't like him? Also consider that recall financier, GOP Congressman, and possible gubernatorial candidate Darrell Issa was allegedly involved in more than one attempted car theft insurance scam in the early 80's.

It paints the picture of the GOP as a gimme gimme party of entitlement. What they can't earn, they take by force. Hardly the image Team W wants to project in the 2004 election.

posted by Scott | 6/25/2003 | |

Howard Dean wrap-up

By now, just about everyone's had a chance to take a shot at Howard Dean's Lost Weekend--his son's arrest, Meet the Press, the official announcement, and all of the wackiness in between. Even my fiance went out of her way to let me know that she thought the Meet the Press appearance was a trainwreck.

To be fair, I thought Russert was a little rough on Dean, especially on the question of how many troops America has on active duty. His answer, "somewhere in the neighborhood of one to two million people," was not all that bad, considering the actual number is around 1.4 million, but Russert continued to hammer him on it.

At The New Republic's Primary page, Christiane Culhane gave Dean an F for intellectual honesty and Johnathan Cohn gave him a D for general likeability. I thought Cohn was a little generous.

According to Terry Neal of The Washington Post's Talking Points, Donna Brazile--no enemy of Dean's--was left commenting, "[w]asn't that awful?"

Zev Chafets of the New York Daily News declared Dean's MTP performance to be a "fiasco." "Dean seemed to go out of his way," he wrote, "to antagonize every core Democratic constituency." He cited Dean's support for the death penalty and his derogatory mention of Rwanda as key examples.

This all leaves me wondering if the Dean campaign is beginning to implode. That is, after all, what happens to the brightest stars. Unless things change--and they very well might--my guess is that Dean will probably become the Democrats' John McCain in 2004. He will get the base excited, get outsiders involved, and really make the election an event to be watched. In this scenario, unfortunately, what he will not do is become the party's nominee for President.

posted by Scott | 6/25/2003 | |

If only the Democratic Party had useful military bases near Iraq...

An AP report from March 2 is claiming that "Many big Names in Democratic donor base uncommitted in presidential race." As there is almost a year to go until the primaries begin, this should really not be too much of a problem. However, let's take a look at how unpredictable the scene really is.

The AP report focuses almost solely on Hollywood. Not a bad idea, considering Tinsletown's a major source of Democratic dollars. However, it's not the only source. John Kerry, for one, has a good deal of money in the bank from past fundraising efforts as a senator, not to mention his wife's millions. John Edwards, whose name the GOP would love to change to "Wealthy Trial Lawyer John Edwards," also has quite a bit of personal wealth. Like Kerry, Representative Gephardt and Senators Lieberman and Graham have money stockpiled from past campaigns.

Howard Dean, however, may have the most unlikely ace-in-the-hole. Former DNC Chairman Steve Grossman, a man "at the center of national Democratic fundraising efforts," is signed on as Dean's finance chairman. And when it comes to attracting Hollywood money, the endorsements of heavyweights like Martin Sheen and Rob Reiner will certainly help the good doctor.

posted by Scott | 6/25/2003 | |

Hitchens vs. Kerry

Christopher Hitchens has written a piece for Slate bashing John Kerry for saying that the White House misled him on the Iraq war. "The Gullible Mr. Kerry" is notable for a few reasons.

One, it seems to be the debut of Hitchens as an out GOP shill. All of the non-sensical talk about Democrats and the Democratic Party seems like it's flowing right from the mind of Jonah Goldberg. He writes about the Dems being to blame for Vietnam as if it holds some bearing since Kerry went to Vietnam, Kerry's a Democrat, and... I'm not really sure where he was going with that, to tell you the truth. In classic Hitchens fashion, he abruptly ends that line of thought and shifts back onto topic.

Two, Hitchens is still a pinko at heart. I'm sorry. This is the first time I've ever felt like I was edging dangerously close to red baiting and it feels gross. But why does Hitchens feel the need to defend Ho Chi Minh in the middle of an article about Kerry? Basically, he implies that Truman is to blame for Vietnam and that Uncle Ho was really a good guy at heart... I don't know. It's all a little weird.

But back to Kerry. The main thrust of Hitchen's argument is that if Kerry is so easily misled, he should not be the President. It's an interesting point, but one that barely hides a pretty important omission: Senators do not have access to the same depth of intelligence and analysis as the White House. It's just that simple.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I've always been a huge fan of Christopher Hitchens. He's a fantastic writer, a brilliant mind, and a prize-fighter of a debater. This piece just strikes me as intellectually dishonest and that's a very sad threshold for Hitchens to have crossed as a writer.

posted by Scott | 6/25/2003 | |

Dems Defeated On Medicare

Three proposed improvements to the Senate's pending Medicare Drug Benefit legislation were defeated by the GOP yesterday on nearly party line votes.

The Washington Post reported that Barbara Boxer's proposal "to eliminate a gap in benefits that would occur each year after drug costs reach $4,500 and before they hit $5,800," Jay Rockefeller's proposal to prevent the "more than one-third of retirees covered by employer plans" from losing their "drug benefits under the bill as written," and Frank Lautenberg's proposal "to begin the drug program in 2004 instead of 2006" were all defeated. The respective votes were 54-42, 52-43, and 54-41.

If this, coupled with the size of the last two tax cuts, does not prove that the GOP is not serious about providing serious assistance to those in need, I don't know what does.

posted by Scott | 6/25/2003 | |

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Gephardt Wins Another Union Endorsement

Man, these unions just do not want to listen! They were supposed to wait for one big union endorsement, but they keep jumping the gun to back Dick Gephardt. The latest union to endorse Gephardt is the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Shipbuilders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers with 100,000 members. (One of whom happens to be my uncle who, oddly enough, isn't a big Gephardt fan.)

This is Gephardt's fifth union endorsement. So far, he's got the backing of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, Office and Professional International Employees Union, Ironworkers Union, and the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers. All in, that's just about half of a million workers whose unions have endorsed Gephardt. Not bad at all.

posted by Scott | 6/24/2003 | |

Dean News Daily

Not surprisingly, following his official announcement of candidacy, Howard Dean is all over the news.

The biggest story is yesterday's announcement. The performance and rhetoric was just about standard for what we've come to expect from Howard Dean, if a little bit more moderate, focused on Bush rather than his fellow Dems. It was the type of performance that, even if he does not win the nomination, will earn him massive praise at the 2004 convention.

The second biggest story is today's primary. Dean's heavily favored and some of the other candidates are crying foul. We'll see how the results look in the coming days. A loss here would be devastating to the Dean campaign.

Lastly, Slate's William Saletan has an interesting piece up taking on Dean's conservative critics. Saletan sees Dean essentially as a centrist in liberal's clothing. He evenhandedly bashes Dean for faking left and running right as well as Dean's critics for crying liberal about an essentially moderate candidate.

posted by Scott | 6/24/2003 | |

The Note Tackles Dem Fundraising

Until the actual Q2 numbers are made public, we really won't know what each of the candidates brought in. But here, courtesy of The Note, is some info that will maybe give an idea as to who brought in what and from whom...

"Edwards: in early June, he raised more than $100,000 at an Alabama fundraiser held at the home of grocery chain owner Greg Calhoun with special guest Evander Holyfield. In late May, 38 sponsors paid $2,000 a pop at the home of a North Carolina doctor. And the two home-town birthday fundraisers probably took in a not inconsequential amount of money.

"Kerry: According to the Boston Herald, he grossed about $300,000 in early June at four fundraisers in Boston. We don't know what his top-dollar Yale Club fundraiser on June 5 took in, but those Yalies sure know how to throw the cash around.

"Gephardt: A campaign spokesman says that last night's Barry Manilow concert fundraiser (sans, apparently, Mr. Manilow) raised $400,000.

"Graham: We'd bet his fundraising weeks in South Florida are a steady source of cash, and the Bobcats certainly help, but we don't know of any big event he's put on."

posted by Scott | 6/24/2003 | |

Monday, June 23, 2003

MoveOn primary Tuesday!

The first presidential primary is not being held in Iowa, New Hampshire, or even Michigan this year. Instead, it's online. is holding their first ever virtual presidential primary Tuesday, proving just how important the internet has become to political campaigning.

The MoveOn primary has become somewhat of a big story of late and is destined to get bigger as the results roll in--perhaps in time for the evening news.

The smart money is on Howard Dean, whose campaign has used the internet to great advantage in this very young campaign season. And with his official campaign announcement being held earlier today, he's certainly got the advantage of being the candidate with the most recent media coverage. A poor showing for Dean--an extremely unlikely scenario--will look very bad for the campaign.

Almost all of the other candidates have the advantage of being the underdog in a primary that, albeit symbolically important, is of little real-world consequence. Moderate candidates like Graham, Lieberman, and Edwards will do well to not finish dead last. John Kerry, ever in competition with Dean, may do better than expected, if only because his supporters would love to show up the Dean camp on their perceived home turf. Liberal candidates Kucinich, Sharpton, and Moseley Braun would shock most of the mainstream press with decent showings. And Dick Gephardt? That's a tough call. While Gephardt may make a very strong general election contender, this early in the game, his possible future supporters will probably split their votes for more exciting candidates (Kucinich), more popular candidates (Dean), or more 'electable' candidates (Kerry). However, Gephardt, Moseley Braun, Sharpton, and Graham do not have links to MoveOn or info about the primary on their websites. Automatically, I've got to knock those candidates down considerably for their lack of outreach. You can't win this thing if your supporters don't get out the vote.

So without further delay, here's how I see this thing shaking out. First to last:

Dean, Kucinich, Kerry, Graham, Edwards, Sharpton, Gephardt, Lieberman, Moseley Braun

Whatever you do, please don't hold me to it.

posted by Scott | 6/23/2003 | |

Sunday, June 22, 2003

Post profile of Dennis Kucinich

My theory had been that The Washington Post was running its series of profiles in order of electability. Boy was I wrong!

Okay, I make fun of Dennis Kucinich too much. As the Post profile points out, "Kucinich exudes a unique charm." His personality and background make him an appealing candidate to many. Of Kucinich's chances in the Iowa primary, the state party chair points out "[w]hat matters here is not money," but rather "organization and people being fired up about your message."

But as the state AFL-CIO head observes, Kucinich running in the Iowa primary with little money and no media machine is "kind of like going into a gunfight with a pocketknife."

At least Dennis knows that, if nothing else, he's got Ben Cohen. I guess now it's only a matter of time before Ben & Jerry's starts making tofutti.

posted by Scott | 6/22/2003 | |

Rainbow/PUSH Coalition Presidential Forum

No news as it hasn't happened yet, but C-SPAN will be covering the event live today at 4PM ET. Just thought DemWatch readers might like to know.

posted by Scott | 6/22/2003 | |

Grover Norquist is insane

Why else would he keep making such insane public statements with absolutely no sense of self-censorship? It's as if the man is a walking excerpt of the vast right-wing conspiracy's user's manual.

The latest Norquist nugget? "The best way to 'lobby' to be in next year's tax cut is to cheerfully support the president's tax cut this year."

The funniest thing about Grover Norquist--beside the fact that he's been bleeding the GOP's dirty little secrets with increasing frequency--is that he just has no comprehension of the fact that some Americans are actually liberals. In his view, we're just confused conservatives.

Whatever, Grover. We're here. We're liberal. Get used to us.

posted by Scott | 6/22/2003 | |

Dean's performance on Meet the Press

This is going to anger more than a few of you, but I have to be honest. Howard Dean was a disaster this morning on Meet the Press. He was defensive, irritable, and combative. I hate to say it... he reminded me of Bush.

Just one blog's opinion.

posted by Scott | 6/22/2003 | |

Ralph Running Republican? Really?

Ralph Nader is back in the news talking about another presidential campaign. But this time, he could run as a Republican. As many already know, he's politically independent, not even a registered Green--the party that backed his candidacy in the 1996 and 2000 election cycles. "Wouldn't that be interesting?" he wonders aloud.

Nader now acknowledges differences between the Democrats and Republicans. "The Democrats are D-plus, the Republicans are D-minus." He qualifies, "[o]n foreign and military policy it's hard to find any difference."

The Agence France Presse report finds Nader complaining that he is essentially a persona non grata among seriously liberal policy groups. He also complains that Congressional Democrats are not opposing Team W forcefully enough. What he does not do is acknowledge that he has any responsibility for the current political state of affairs.

posted by Scott | 6/22/2003 | |
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