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Hullabaloo


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

 

Democratic Pros and Cons-ervatives

by Tom Sullivan

Bernie Sanders got his close-up last night with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. There was nothing new policy-wise.

However, Sanders and Maddow discussed at length his 1996 vote on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which then-President Clinton signed. Sanders challenged Hillary Clinton's claim last week that President Clinton signed DOMA because he believed there was "enough political momentum" to amend the constitution [with regard to marriage], and that signing DOMA (as well as "Don't ask, don't tell" and the crime bill headed off worse outcomes. "You can't say that DOMA was passed in order to prevent something worse," Sanders said. In an indirect swipe at Hillary Clinton (who was not an elected official at the time), Sanders asserted that he made the tough choices when they were tough choices.

Maddow asked what Sanders would do as the Democratic Party's nominee to help Democrats win more down-ticket races and take back state legislatures and governorships. Democrats got hammered in 2010 and 2014 off-year elections. Sanders cited the contributors and volunteers who have turned out in large numbers to help his campaign. "The reason that I think I can help the entire Democratic Party at the head of the ticket is we have got to increase voter turnout. We've got to get low-income workers. We've got to get young people to stand up and fight back and get involved in the political process. And I think I can do that." Campaign 101.

Sanders did provide some insight into how his campaign is developing. It has grown so fast at this "crazy level" that he has not been able to "staff up appropriately," he said. Maddow noted that while polling ahead or close to Secretary Clinton in New Hampshire and Iowa, Bloomberg has Sanders is polling 43 points behind Clinton in South Carolina. Sanders admitted he has "a lot of work to do, specifically, in the African-American community and the Latino community ... we still have a long way to go."

My concern with both Clinton and Sanders if either is elected is that the Obama administration's obstructionist Republican congress quickly will become a saboteur congress. It is a clown car now. But with a woman or a "democratic socialist"? Being able to cope with that reaction and get anything accomplished will take political skills, moxie, and significant gains in both the House and Senate. The question is which candidate is best positioned both to win and to do that?

The upside to the Sanders campaign, as he mentioned, is the tens of thousands of volunteers and donors who have mobilized behind his campaign, including young people. Increasing voter turnout as Sanders hopes put Barack Obama in the White House in 2008 and 2012. But those supporters were not much help when they stayed home in 2010 and 2014 and handed Congress to the T-party. Getting Democratic voters to turn out for a charismatic candidate in a presidential year is one thing. Getting them to turn out again in off-year elections and vote down-ticket races every two years is quite another. The potential downsides to the Sanders campaign is whether or not he can pull together the campaign talent and infrastructure to win nationally and also navigate the arcane party mechanisms needed to secure the nomination in the first place.

The upside to the Clinton campaign is Clinton's staff will have both down cold. She has been promising DNC members that she wants to revive the party infrastructure that withered under President Barack Obama. Organizing for America point-whatever has been a bust. Super-delegates welcome the return of something resembling Dean's 50 state plan in hopes that party infrastructure will accomplish more than presidential candidates' personalities. By mid-September, Clinton had signed joint fundraising agreements with two-thirds of the states. Pledging to rebuild the party "from the ground up" sounds pretty good to Democrats in states controlled by T-party legislatures. The downside to the Clinton campaign is she has yet to ignite the kind of public excitement and enthusiasm Sanders has. And that counts for a lot.