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“Enthusiasm Does Not Equal Organization”: Decentralized Political Organizing Could Be A Problem For Team Sanders

Journalists are just now coming to grips with this, and there’s always a danger on such subjects of buying campaign spin. But there does seem to be a growing recognition that Hillary Clinton’s campaign differs from its 2008 predecessor because of a pervasive emphasis on organization-building in the states.

WaPo’s Matea Gold and Anu Narayanswamy come at the story from a different angle today, noting that HRC’s high “burn rate” for contributions is being driven by systemic investments in campaign infrastructure:

Details in the newly filed reports paint a picture of a campaign harnessing the latest technological tools and constructing the kind of deep ground operation that Clinton lacked in her 2008 bid. That kind of organizing capability has gained importance as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), one of Clinton’s rivals for the Democratic nomination, has drawn large crowds and gained ground in polls….

Clinton’s operation is paying rent in 25 cities across nine states, Federal Election Commission filings show. Along with about 340 staff members on the payroll, the campaign had hired nearly 60 field organizers by the end of June.

“It’s a sign that she’s approaching the campaign differently than the last time,” [David] Axelrod said. “They didn’t have as thoughtful an approach to laying the foundation for that campaign, and it ended up hurting them when it ended up being an organizational fight.”

At the “Politico Caucus” subsite, where there’s a sort of large focus group of early-state “Insiders,” the judgment is even clearer, per Katie Glueck:

Asked to assess what Clinton is doing right, and wrong, in their states, almost every Caucus participant — Democrats and Republicans — answered the question of what she’s doing right by saying Clinton has pulled together a strong staff and is doing all of the little things right when it comes to being organized for the early state contests and beyond.

“Doing right: building and investing in a monster field operation. Scares the hell out of this Republican knowing that many of those staff will easily pivot to organizing for the general election,” an Iowa Republican said.

“HRC is building a campaign rooted in organizing,” added a New Hampshire Democrat. “I’ve been to several house parties & campaign events and there are always new faces present — faces that weren’t involved in the 2012 presidential race. There is absolutely no one taking this primary race for granted whatsoever.”

“The organizing strategy is straight out of the Obama 2007 playbook,” an Iowa Democrat added. “The crew is enthusiastic and well-trained on the basics (pledge cards, pledge cards, pledge cards). Sanders and O’Malley will find it impossible to compete with the sheer size of the organizing.”

In New Hampshire, in particular, Democrats also largely lauded Clinton for visiting more rural parts of the state that are often overlooked. And across the board, her staff was praised for keeping cool amid the rise of Bernie Sanders.

Meanwhile, there’s also some recognition that the impressive enthusiasm that suffuses Bernie Sanders’ campaign is not automatically transmittable into a good organization, helpful as it is. At TNR earlier this week, Suzy Khimm suggested that the Occupy-influenced passion for decentralized political organizing could be a problem for Team Sanders:

Sanders is betting that passion will enable him to surmount the serious obstacles he faces in broadening his base of support. But that also means the campaign needs to find a way to corral popular enthusiasm into more traditional, on-the-ground organizing if Sanders wants a real shot at expanding his base beyond largely white, liberal enclaves. That means convincing more supporters to embrace a more centralized, hierarchical type of organizing, while still preserving the authentic, grassroots populism that Sanders embodies for his fans.

Iowa will be the acid test of this challenge. Caucus rules place an emphasis on local organizers knowing exactly what is expected of them in almost any circumstance, within the rubric of a Caucus Night strategy with some central direction. The epitome of the organization-outbids-enthusiam hypothesis occurred in 2004, when Howard Dean’s armies of orange-hatted volunteers may have done more to alienate than to organize Iowa Democrats, leading to a disastrous third-place finish despite strong poll numbers and an endorsement from Tom Harkin.

It’s all hypothetical at this point, of course. But neither crowd sizes nor expenditure numbers precisely capture the kind of qualities a campaign needs to win in a place like Iowa.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 17, 2015

July 28, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Who Can Resist Bernie Sanders’s Strange Allure?”: An Insurgent Candidate Whose Realistic Chance Of Becoming President Is Fractional

So Bernie Sanders is lighting it up in Iowa, reports the Times, knockin’ ’em dead, outdrawing Jeb Bush and all the Republicans.

The excitement is palpable. And yet, I will make a prediction to you now. Sanders will win one primary: Vermont. If I’m proven correct he will have done exactly as well as another Vermonter, Howard Dean, who entered the primaries in 2004 positioning himself to the left of the major candidates. He forgot about the importance of field organizing, got chewed up in Iowa over a scream (unfairly so, actually), and after being the favorite for about two weeks in December 2003 went on to enter 31 primaries and win just the one, in his home state.

What is it about Vermont? Is this just coincidence that Dean and now Sanders have emerged as the most prominent and credible left-flank candidates of recent times? Probably not.

Vermont’s demographic changes in recent years, the way counter-cultural types have flocked to places like Burlington, are unique; neighboring New Hampshire is a very different place, and even Massachusetts, while liberal, features a different kind of liberalism, at once more blue-collar (think Fall River and Lowell) and more pointy-headed (all those universities). In a sense, what Texas is to the GOP, Vermont is to the Democrats: the party’s ideological ground zero.

This is not of course to say that Sanders has anything in common with Ted Cruz beyond the fact that both are U.S. senators. For one thing, if Cruz is drawing crowds upwards of several hundred in Iowa, he’s keeping it a pretty good secret. And the fact that he’s not drawing such crowds reflects the most obvious difference between the two, namely that Cruz says lots of unpopular crazy extremist things, and Sanders is mostly just saying things that are probably a little out there in terms of the Washington conventional wisdom but are not in reality crazy at all, like reining in the power of big banks.

Sanders makes a great foil to Clinton because he is everything liberal activists believe (sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly) she is not. He’s blunt, she’s circumspect. He doesn’t care what anyone thinks, she’s uber-cautious. On a debate stage with her and Martin O’Malley, Sanders can just tee off and say exactly what the rank and file wants to hear in ways that neither Clinton nor the former Maryland governor can.

Liberals love this because they don’t get much of it in political life today. On the Republican side, the candidates fall over themselves to prove how conservative they are, and indeed the word “conservative” flies out of their mouths every 18 seconds. Democrats are usually terrified of speaking that bluntly, so when one does—and Sanders isn’t a Democrat, but let’s not get technical—liberals swoon. So he’ll generate crowds and enthusiasm and he’ll press Clinton on some issues. All to the good.

He probably won’t have the money or the field operation—hers, in Iowa, is already formidable—to challenge her in a serious way. But the great unanswered question here is not about him, but about Clinton, to wit: How deep is the dissatisfaction with her among liberal Democrats?

If you follow the political pronouncements of the liberal activist class closely, you might think it’s very deep indeed. The whole Draft Warren movement, led by, is (or do we now say was?) predicated on the conviction that Clinton is certain to sell the liberal base out to Wall Street. One hears this a lot among insiders, and if this is a conviction that is widely shared by rank-and-file Democrats, then Sanders can certainly exceed my expectations.

But I just don’t think the distrust runs that deep. I have before me here a Gallup poll from March showing that Clinton is rather popular among Democrats and the Democratic-leaners questioned in this surveyed. Her favorable-to-unfavorable rating was 79 to 13 percent, or a multiple of six. Sanders’s numbers were 21 to 8. (Interestingly, Elizabeth Warren’s were 37 to 9, a multiple of just four, and with a surprisingly high 53 percent having no opinion.)

Seventy-nine to 13 isn’t what I’d call dissatisfaction. The key fact is that the 13 are overrepresented in the chattering class and among the most committed party activists. It’s always been this way among the group we might call super-insiders, the people who blog and tweet and are willing to do things like drive 70 miles across the plains on a weeknight to go see an insurgent candidate whose realistic chance of becoming president is fractional.

The Clinton appeal to this set has always been limited. I can’t pinpoint exactly why it is. For starters, the Clintons never curried their favor or flattered them. In her case, of course, a lot of it has to do with her support for the Iraq war (which Bill backed too, to the extent that his position mattered). More broadly, the Clintonian issues palette has never jibed very closely with the special passions of this plugged-in activist class I’m talking about.

Take for example net neutrality under Title II, which is of great interest to this group. Clinton endorsed net neutrality after Barack Obama made his announcement, but she’s never been associated with the issue, and even in the act of endorsing Obama’s position, she sounded pretty meh about the whole thing: “As I understand it, it’s Title II with a lot of changes in it to avoid the worst of Title II regulation. It’s a foot in the door … but it’s not the end of the discussion.”

It’s easy to get the misimpression that there’s more rank-and-file resistance to Clinton among Democratic voters than there actually is. And the press of course doesn’t like her and wants a race. All this will work to Sanders’s benefit. A significant number of Democrats may want to send Clinton a warning shot, keep her pivoting leftward; but the idea that there’s a large bloc of Anybody But Hillary Democrats out there is just a fantasy.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, June 2, 2015

June 3, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Liberals | , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Don’t Blame Liberal Media For Giuliani Gaffe”: The Go-To Explanation Among Conservatives For Almost Everything That Happens

We’ve had a terrific demonstration over the last week or so of why the belief in liberal media bias is so strong.

It isn’t because of actual liberal media bias. Academic research finds plenty of ways the press gets things wrong, but an ideological slant isn’t one of them.

Most bias has to do with the industry’s norms (stories involving the president get more play than articles about governors, and so on). In some cases, the self-interest of the media plays a role, whether it’s promoting freedom of the press, for example, or building up anyone who might take on Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination as a way to build interest in that snooze fest.

What sustains the belief in liberal bias? It’s the go-to explanation among conservatives for almost everything that happens, and has been for at least four decades. Repeat something long enough, without strong opposition, and people will accept it.

So the reaction to the Rudy Giuliani story, in which the former New York mayor claimed Barack Obama didn’t “love” America, invoked howls of media bias from conservatives. Some said it wasn’t a story at all — Giuliani hasn’t been in office for years, so who cares what he says? Isn’t there real news out there? Others were upset that Republican candidates were pressed to agree or disagree with Giuliani — look, the liberal media is trying to make conservative politicians look stupid!

But we had an almost perfect parallel in the coverage of Howard Dean’s complaint that Republican Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin shouldn’t be president because he didn’t graduate from college.

Giuliani left office in 2001, ran for president in 2008, has since been out of active politics but shows up on TV all the time. Dean left office a year after Giuliani did, ran for president in 2004, was Democratic National Committee chairman through 2008, has since been out of active politics but shows up on TV all the time.

Republicans were forced to take a stand on whether Obama loves America; Democrats were pressed to say if they thought a college dropout was unqualified to be president.

The Giuliani story was bigger only because attacking the president is a bigger deal than attacking one of many Republican presidential candidates, and New York (where much of the national media is based) trumps Vermont.

Both accusations were pretty much denounced by everyone; both sparked predictable partisan bashing and a few interesting reflections.

But liberals didn’t go crying about conservative media bias in the Dean-Walker case because they don’t see every news story as an example of prejudice against them. Conservatives do.

For example, they screamed that the media ignored the scandal ending the career of Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber of Oregon, but as Philip Bump explained, this too was caused by ordinary press norms, not ideological bias. Kitzhaber’s scandals were undercovered (at least in the national media) compared with those of Republican Chris Christie because Christie is running for president and he’s a governor in the New York area. Think about it. The press hardly ignored scandals costing Democratic Governors Rod Blagojevich or Eliot Spitzer their jobs. It’s just that Democrats never interpreted those firestorms as examples of Republican media bias.

There’s nothing wrong with pointing out when news coverage is wrong or wrong-headed. But ideology isn’t at the root of those mistakes and biases.


By: Jonathan Bernstein, Columnist for Bloomberg View; The National Memo, February 25, 2015

February 28, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Media, Rudy Giuliani | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Handy Way To Shift The Discussion”: How Republicans Will Use Scott Walker’s Lack Of A College Degree To Stir Class Resentment

Since we’re now all fascinated by Scott Walker, there’s been some discussion in the past few days of the fact that Walker would be the first president in many decades who didn’t have a college degree. He left Marquette after four years, and though he apparently was quite a few credits short of graduating, most people would regard it as an unwise career move when you’ve come that far. Nevertheless, Walker did fine for himself, and some conservatives are now holding up his example as a triumphant rebuke to liberal elitism. Anticipating the scorn Walker will receive from those elitists, they rattle off lists of the high-achievers who didn’t get a degree, like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg.

From what I can tell, the only liberal who has actually said that Walker’s lack of a degree is problematic was Howard Dean, in an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. But Dean’s one comment keeps getting cited (see Glenn Reynolds or Deroy Murdock or Charles C.W. Cooke or Chris Cillizza) as evidence that “liberals” are looking down their snooty noses at Walker, and by extension, at the majority of Americans who don’t have a college degree.

Which leads me to believe that this is a vein Republicans may be tapping into repeatedly, particularly if Walker becomes the GOP nominee. It wouldn’t be anything new, though if he himself indulged in it, Walker could come by resentment of pointy-headed intellectuals a little more honestly than, say, George H.W. Bush, graduate of Phillips Andover and Yale, who sneered in 1988 that Michael Dukakis represented the “Harvard boutique.” Walker also recently started battling the University of Wisconsin (beloved within the state, but about which voters in Iowa have no similar feelings, I’m guessing), which should help him portray himself as a crusader against the tenured enemies of real Americans.

Anti-intellectualism has often been an effective way for Republicans to stir up class resentment while distracting from economic issues. It says to voters: Don’t think about who has economic power and which party is advocating for their interests. Don’t aim your disgruntlement at Wall Street, or corporations that don’t pay taxes, or the people who want to keep wages low and make unions a memory. Point it in a different direction, at college professors and intellectuals (and Hollywood, while you’re at it). They’re the ones keeping you down. You got laid off while the CEO took home $20 million last year? Forget about that: The real person to be angry at is a professor of anthropology somewhere who said something mean about Scott Walker because he doesn’t have a degree.

There are going to be more than a few Republicans who see in that argument a handy way to shift the discussion away from economic inequality while still sending the message that they’re on the side of ordinary folks. Here, for instance, is Rush Limbaugh yesterday:

The stories are legion of all the great Americans, successful, who have not graduated from college. And of course the two names that come to people’s mind right off the bat are me and Steve Jobs. And then some people throw Gates in there. So there are three people who have reached the pinnacle, who have not gone to college, and those two or three names get bandied about all the time in this discussion.

But it doesn’t matter. To the elites, that doesn’t matter, it doesn’t mean that they are qualified to be in the elite group. And the elite group in Washington is what we call the ruling class or the D.C. establishment, both parties, or what have you. And it’s especially bad in the Drive-By Media. That is one of the most exclusive and I should say exclusionary groups of people that you can imagine.

If you look at it as a club and look at the admittance requirements, it is one of the most exclusives things to get into. It doesn’t matter how successful you are, doesn’t matter how much money you make, whether you’re more successful than they are, whether you earn more than they do, whether you have a bigger audience than they, doesn’t matter, you are not getting in that club.

Something tells me that somewhere at the RNC there’s an intern who just got an assignment to monitor every bit of mainstream and social media she can for any moment where a liberal says something condescending about Walker. Then Republicans can wave it about like the bloody shirt of liberal elitism. It’s a lot easier than coming up with an economic plan that doesn’t involve upper-income tax cuts.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, February 17, 2015

February 20, 2015 Posted by | Education, Republicans, Scott Walker | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Kicked To The Curb”: Republicans’ Self-Hatred Swells To The GOP Vs. Its Own Base

Does any modern political party besides the GOP hold a huge segment of its base in contempt? I’ve written a lot about how Republicans have failed to make inroads with Latinos, young voters or women since their 2012 defeat, but what’s really interesting is the way they continue to deride many of their older, white, working-class voters, too.

When Mitt Romney insulted “the 47 percent” of Americans who pay no federal income taxes, he failed to notice that the vast majority of them are white, most of them white seniors, the most reliably Republican voters in the country. A large portion of the people Paul Ryan describes as “takers” – vs. productive “makers” – are likewise older whites. And although Ryan and his party want to turn Medicare into a voucher program – run by exchanges, much like the Affordable Care Act – they tried to hide that fact during the 2012 race because it was hugely unpopular with their base.

The latest insult came from former senator and 2012 presidential runner-up Rick Santorum. On CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday Santorum complained that the Affordable Care Act has meant that “sicker, older” people are getting health insurance (h/t Crooks and Liars.) Santorum told Candy Crowley and former Gov. Howard Dean:

Well, let me just add that one of the solutions that President Obama tried to accomplish was to let people keep their own insurance. It turns out that a lot of insurance companies are actually allowing that to happen, and that could cause even more problems for Obamacare, because that means fewer and fewer people getting into the exchanges. And the ones who, at least to date, it’s just facts Gov. Dean, the ones in the system are much older.

I talked to one insurance company today, a third of their enrollees are over sixty years of age. That is not how an insurance system would work, but those are the people signing up and the folks who can keep their plans because they’re more customized and lower cost, will now. And the folks who are going to get into these exchanges are going to be probably sicker, older, and as a result, premiums are even going to go higher.

First of all, it’s not clear Santorum is right about this. Some states are seeing unexpectedly high proportions of younger people sign up for coverage. In Kentucky, 41 percent have been under 35; in California, it’s 22 percent, which is proportionate to their share of the population. Still, the enrollment rate in California is highest for people over 55. That’s not surprising, or permanent: Based on the experience of Massachusetts, older people tend to sign up for coverage first; younger enrollees do it closer to the deadline.

But assuming that Santorum isn’t wrong (admittedly a leap), what is he saying? That people over 60 who don’t have coverage shouldn’t be able to get it? We know these people are white, and presumably – since they’re not eligible for Medicaid, which covers many of the poor and unemployed — they’re working people. But Santorum says “that’s not how an insurance system should work.”

Luckily Howard Dean was there to disagree. “I think it’s great that we’re insuring people who can’t get insurance that are over 55 and 60,” he told Santorum and Crowley. “That’s what this is supposed to do.”

Of course, if insurers are unhappy with their older customers, Rep. Alan Grayson has an answer: his “Medicare for All” bill, which would allow anyone who wanted to to sign up for Medicare instead of a private insurance plan. Back during the ACA debate many liberals wanted to see that option, but it was vetoed by insurance interests. Opening up Medicare to people 55 and older would help stabilize the program – although they’re the older edge of the ACA pool, they’d be younger and healthier subscribers in the Medicare pool – and provide an alternative for those priced out of or under-served by the private market.

Still, the big news this weekend was that the federal website that lets most people access insurance exchanges,, is mostly fixed. That’s why Santorum was reduced to railing against those takers in the GOP base. On Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace attacked the ACA as “income redistribution.”

And, of course, Santorum insisted that the ACA’s troubles raised questions about “the president’s competence.” Dean wasn’t having that either.

“That’s right-wing talking points against this president,” Dean replied. “From day one, they’ve tried to undermine him as a human being … I lose my patience with this nonsense. I do believe that the facts are going to be determined by what happens on the ground. Three months from now, a lot more people are going to have health insurance, and a lot more people are going to be happy with all this.”


By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, December 2, 2013

December 3, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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