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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Plan

by digby

I have no idea if Bloomberg will get into the race, but it's quite obvious that he is seriously considering it. This article in this week's NY magazine is a fascinating profile of his top aide and the plans that are being laid if he decides to make the jump:

Sheekey was miserable during the first term, adrift without a real role, until Bloomberg put him in charge of the city’s end of the 2004 Republican convention. One fringe benefit was getting to know Mark McKinnon, the Democrat turned Republican political consultant who helped make George W. Bush president...

[I]f Bloomberg runs for president, the money he spent in 2005 will look like a wise, cheap investment in research. All political campaigns attempt to target persuadable voters, but Sheekey created a cutting-edge “microtargeting” data-mining system. Where the money really helped, however, was by providing the ability to conduct repeated, fine-tuned phone polling. “It was not done on conventional norms—race, ethnicity, Democrat, Republican,” says Doug Schoen, who did Bloomberg’s campaign polling in 2001 and 2005. “It was tied in to psychographic and demographic variables. We called every voter in New York City two or three times. It was all part of a multimonth, multistage communication effort that largely operated under the radar, worked out by Kevin and us almost a year in advance.”

Sheekey’s other pet project in 2005 was recruiting a huge volunteer army. He hired Patrick Brennan to put it together. Brennan, a 32-year-old former Brooklyn public-school teacher and the gregarious son of a legendary NYPD chief, had become a savvy field organizer for SEIU 1199, the labor union. The next year, when five Bloomberg staffers went to Connecticut to help Joe Lieberman fend off Ned Lamont, Brennan oversaw their efforts. “Bloomberg’s people essentially took over Lieberman’s campaign,” one of Sheekey’s associates says. The victorious Connecticut Senate race was a test of whether Bloomberg’s staff could quickly affect the outcome in a contest outside New York.


Brennan now works at the Parkside Group, a political consulting firm on Nassau Street. For most of the past year, he’s traveled the country researching ballot requirements in each state. In mid-December, Brennan met for three hours in an Austin hotel with a partner in a major ballot-access firm, a company with broad experience in gathering thousands of petition signatures in a hurry.

“The Bloomberg people came to the meetings exceedingly well prepared,” says the executive, who asked for anonymity because his company has yet to sign a contract with Bloomberg. “What’s impressive about Bloomberg’s plan is they know how to segment the states. They know exactly what they’ll be doing on day one and what they’ll be doing on the last day, the filing deadline, and every day in between.” Lawyers and accountants have been lined up to fight the inevitable legal challenges to the 1.9 million valid signatures needed nationwide; the signature drive is expected to cost between $11 million and $20 million. Brennan met a second time with a representative from the petition firm in mid-January, this time in his New York office. “We’re ready,” the ballot-access operative says. “All we need is to hear a two-letter word: Go...”

In both mayoral campaigns Sheekey subscribed to a nonviolent version of the Colin Powell doctrine: Use overwhelming force. So he’d most likely start big, with Bloomberg’s announcement; Sheekey has told acquaintances he’s picturing a rally in the Rose Bowl. Maybe it’s merely Sheekey having a laugh, maybe not. What’s completely serious are his plans for an unprecedented media blitz. “The way Kevin sees it,” a Bloomberg insider says, “the major-party nominees will pretty much be in place by early March. Yet just as people’s political appetites are peaking, the spending of the major-party candidates will crater. They need to regroup and raise money for the general. A well-financed independent could get in when interest is high and seek to define himself.” Bloomberg’s advertising—on TV, on radio, on Websites, in mailboxes—wouldn’t be a brief March blast, either. “It would be inescapable, all the way until November.”

It does seem they are thinking this through very thoroughly and laying the groundwork. Bloomberg is obviously an egomaniac. (Somebody points out that there's a reason he's splashed his name all over every single thing he's ever done.) While the article says all he cares about is whether he can "win," since such things are always risky, I would suspect that he can be talked into believing that he can. At the end it says this:

“The more he hears Jeb Bush or Arnold Schwarzenegger say, ‘You could be president,’ the more it sinks in.”

So Jeb Bush is telling him he could be president? I guess it's possible that the Bush family is leaving Republican politics (more likely being asked to leave.) There are a whole bunch of allegedly post-partisan Republicans mentioned in this piece --- Schwarzenneger, Powell, Mark McKinnon, Maria Shriver, Lieberman.

Apparently this idea of getting past all the bickering really is sweeping the political class. Last night the Democratic rebuttal to the SOTU was a (mild) scold of partisanship and both Obama and Clinton discuss their respective skills in terms of being able to "get things done" through bipartisan cooperation. The Republican candidates aren't doing this at the moment, but they are fighting for the heart of their base and so worry they will turn them off by being anything but true blue conservatives. But they will have to tack to the middle as well, which both front-runners McCain and Romney are well positioned to do. Mr Straight Talk already has a reputation for being a maverick (and he has post-partisan Lieberman already out there stumping for him) while Romney's very existence is a testament to partisan "flexibility."

So, from the looks of things we may very well have a race with three candidates who will try to out non-partisan each other. And perhaps that's what the people really do want. After all, it is unpleasant to be fighting all the time. Maybe people really are clamoring for the congress to just stop ceomplaining, start compromising and pass legislation that the president can sign.

Of course, we had that for seven years. The Democrats mewled ineffectually from the sidelines but they didn't actually "fight" anything, and the president advanced his agenda nearly unimpeded. The rational I recall at the time was "elections have consequences."

The country finally rejected everything the Republicans had so smoothly accomplished and elected a Democratic majority in 2006. And the Republicans have responded by completely obstructing any kind of Democratic agenda, protecting their unpopular president from having to make unpopular vetoes and projecting a new argument that everything is stymied because of "partisan bickering." In other words, the Republicans created the illusion of a bipartisan disease and are now touting a "cure" that will only benefit them. They're good at that sort of thing.

Bush is out there today setting land-mines for the next administration and taking credit for making a decision that supposedly hurts both parties. Mitch McConnell is decrying the bickering Democrats for failing to be properly bipartisan by refusing to give tax "rebates" to billionaires to stimulate the economy.

I'm not criticizing Obama, here, so all of you passionate partisans don't get your knickers twisted and waste your breath sending me angry emails. I'm saying that the Republicans issue calls for "bipartisanship" (and use them to their advantage) when they are out of power. I'm sure that if either Clinton or Obama win the presidency that both of them know very well that Republican politicians do not operate in good faith and that they must be dealt with appropriately.

(As a matter of fact, I very much like the idea of the Democrats campaigning on behalf of "a new American majority" as Kathleen Sebelius was saying last night. That's powerful. But when Sebelius discussed this last night she forgot to explicitly brand this as a new progressive majority and I think that's a lost opportunity. If you want people to identify with your big ideas, you have to give them a label to call themselves.)

The media are incredibly corrupt, silly and self-centered about virtually everything and once Democrats are in power, they will take the Republican party line across the board that "the country put the Democrats in charge to stop all the bickering and they failed to do it. Look at all the fighting!" Of course, they will be the ones doing it, but that will not matter.

The Bloomberg candidacy is potentially interesting for two reason. The first is that he advances the theme thatt he big problem in Washington is that the two parties are equally to blame for the failures of the last few years because they couldn't "get anything done." That is very untrue, as we all know, because the Republicans got a whole lot done, it's just that none of it was good. This is not good for Democrats because there will be far less likelihood that anyone will be able to hold the Republicans accountable, which I think is a necessary aspect of this campaign in order to set up the mandate properly. None of the Democrats are doing a very good job of that, and since they won't go out on that limb even in the primary, I am not very hopeful that they will do so in the general. So, there isn't going to be a mandate to open the book on the Bush administration's past transgressions and to do so will break the so-called bipartisan agreement to "get something done." That's disappointing.

The other reason his candidacy is potentially interesting is the fact that we don't know from whom he'll take votes. On the surface, all those post-partisan Republicans make it appear that he'll take more from disgruntled Republicans. But considering that he's a divorced, pro-choice New Yorker I'm not so sure that true. If John McCain is having trouble with conservatives, it seems to me that Bloomberg certainly would. So, he must be looking to court independents and hoping to peel off a few moderate members toward the center in both parties. Unity '08!

It seems to me that this would scramble the decks significantly for both parties, but would ultimately do nothing more than ensure that whoever wins of either party only gets a plurality rather than real working majority.

Third parties don't win presidential elections. But they affect them, by forcing their issues into the debate, splitting up the coalitions and denying a true majority. If Bloomberg gets in I think he's nearly guaranteed to ensure that the new president doesn't get a mandate for much of anything but the status quo. And that is likely the point. The aristocrats don't want anybody messing with the system.

I still think it's highly unlikely that he will do it. I seriously hope he doesn't. But it's not all good news for Democrats if he does. We're already going to have to deal with the bad faith Republicans cleverly managing the bipartisanship angle with the press, and likely succeeding. Not having a mandate will make it much harder to do what needs to be done.

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