Don’t Neglect the Northeast

Periodically, someone says that the Democratic Party should pay more attention to the South. Amanda has just claimed that it should have “more people with noticeable Southern accents advocating progressive politics, if only to undermine the tribalism that makes white Southerners feel that Republican is an immoveable part of their identity.”

So let me be slightly contrarian and say that the Democratic Party should pay more attention to the North. Gore and Kerry’s sweep of every state north of the Potomac, except for one defeat in New Hampshire, has caused a lot of liberals to think the entire Northeast is like Massachusetts. In fact, Pennsylvania is a swing state, New Jersey’s Congressional delegation moved from 7-6 Republican to 7-6 Democratic in 2006, and Connecticut’s median voter is a Lieberman Democrat.

The sort of rhetoric that will get moderate Northerners to vote for you is the opposite of the rhetoric that will get moderate Southerners behind you. New Jersey and Connecticut are the richest states in the union, and have endless suburbs populated with fairly moderate people who would easily vote for a Giuliani over an Edwards. What plays to the middle class here is general appeals to realism, social liberalism, and promises to do concrete things for the middle class. Edwards’ class warfare rhetoric could just as well come from a memo entitled, “How to redden New Jersey.”

In the South, of course, that doesn’t play. Southern moderates want to hear you tell them about how much you love God, hate gays and atheists and foreigners, and will give poor people jobs. The Deep South has a lot of areas where pro-choicers are less electable than Klansmen. Edwards is appealing to those moderates by talking about poverty and health care to the exclusion of everything else, even though poverty and health care tend to be the issues that a President can do the least about.

Bush gave the Democrats a historic opportunity to lock the Northeast. He lost suburban counties that his father won in 1992 despite losing the general election, such as Fairfield, Connecticut (population 900 thousand); Bergen, New Jersey (900 thousand); and Suffolk, New York (1.5 million). This is both due to a general bluening of the Northeastern suburbs and Bush’s Southernness.

In 2006, the Democrats did in fact sweep the Northeast, which was overrepresented in House seats that switched from Republican to Democratic by a factor of 2. In 2008 they’ll have an opportunity to make the Northeast unassailable. It’ll be somewhat hard if Giuliani wins the nomination, which he probably will, but a Clinton/Giuliani showdown about abortion will probably ensure that no Republican can win an election in the Northeast for another generation. And given that the Republicans have five Northern Senators, this won’t bode well for them.

Make no mistake about it: locking New Jersey and hopefully Pennsylvania with Giuliani in the race probably entails conceding every ex-Confederate state but Florida and maybe Virginia. That’s perfectly acceptable; the Democrats can similarly lock the Southwest by putting the Republicans on the wrong side of public opinion on immigration, and thence launch incursions into Ohio, Colorado, and Florida.

What this demonstrates is that the perennial advice for the Democrats to ditch social liberalism is not a good idea. The Southwest is home to the only state to have rejected a gay marriage ban; the Northeast is home to the most pro-choice regions of the US. Winning swing Midwestern states like Michigan and Ohio requires economic populism, but the sort of populism that plays in those states involves more traditional emphases on unions and welfare than in the South, making it less likely to piss off moderates in New Jersey.

In 2008, the Republicans are not going to nominate a Texan. Their frontrunner is a New Yorker; their second most popular candidate is an Arizonan. It’s going to be hard enough already to get any political capital from immigration, on which issue Giuliani and McCain are both fairly liberal. In New Jersey and Connecticut (though not so much Pennsylvania) the Democrats win elections due to social issues and a few economic ones on which there’s a liberal consensus; pissing matches about taxes like the one Edwards is gearing toward are entirely counterproductive.

9 Responses to Don’t Neglect the Northeast

  1. SLC says:

    Mr. Levy makes a number of unfounded assumptions. In particular, the notion that Giuliani will be the GOP candidate and that he will be the toughest to beat. These notions are seriously in error.

    1. It is unlikely that the f****** born-agains will go for a man who has taken a moderate position on abortion and gay rights (apparently, Mr. Giuliani has a number of gay friends), and who is currently on wife number 3, after a scandalous divorce from wife number 2.

    2. These same problems would also render Giuliani vulnerable in the unlikely event he were to win the nomination, in addition to his wholehearted support of the Iraq war.

    In fact, the most dangerous candidate the Democrats could face in the general election is Chuck Hagel who does not have any of the negatives that the other GOP candidates have. In particular, he does not appear to be identified with the f****** born-agains, and has taken a very negative position on involvement in foreign wars (he was very dubious about the Iraq war from the get go and has publicly stated that the Vietnam war was a mistake and fought for dubious purposes). He has also expressed great reservations about a possible war with Iran. Thus, the Democrats would have a hard time using the Iraq adventure against him, particularly if his opponent was Edwards or Hilary.

  2. SLC says:

    Unfortunately, Mr. Levys’ analysis overlooks a number of facts.

    1. Gore could have won the election in 2000 by carrying New Hampshire. He was prevented from doing so by the whackjobs who voted for Nader (Nader got considerably more votes then the margin of Bushes’ victory).

    2. Due to reapportionment (states like New York and Massachusetts lost congressional representation), Kerry could not have won the election in 2004 by carrying New Hampshire.

    The only way a Democrat can win the 2008 election is by carrying one or more states that Kerry and Gore failed to carry. Unfortunately, these states are not in the Northeast. The most likely candidates would appear to be West Virginia, Colorado, Florida, and Virginia. It would appear that neither Hilary or Obama is a good candidate to carry any of these four states. Richardson would appear to be in the best position to carry Colorado (assuming McCain is not the GOP nominee) and Edwards would appear to be in the best position to carry one of the other three states (it should be noted that both New Hampshire and West Virginia would have to be carried for a Democrat to prevail, in the absence of winning one of the other three states). This is why there was so much early interest in Mark Warner who would have had a good chance to carry Virginia.

    The bottom line of all of this is a statement attributed to Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis (before he became senile). “Just win baby.”

  3. gatordem says:

    Abstract Nonesense is an apt title for this space.

    The real problem witht the theory espoused here is this: The Dems have been winning the North East. It is not really in question here. The problem with this theory is the one that cost John Kerry the election in 2004. For this electoral math to work, you MUST run the table. One loss (can you say Ohio) costs you the White House. The reach of the Democratic Party must be expanded beyond the North East.

    The Party must figure out how to win Florida, which can be done, and continue the march to predominance is the South West and Mountain States. The days of pandering to North Eastern liberals and losing elections are over.

    Get used to it.

  4. Alon Levy says:

    Gatordem, this theory didn’t quite cost Kerry the election. 2004 was a fairly weird election, mostly because of the Iraq war. Evidently, the same Rovian tactics that worked in 2002 and 2004 failed miserably in 2006. And even then, Kerry managed to almost win despite running an incredibly weak campaign, which featured gaffes such as failing to rebut the Swift Boat Veterans and not articulating a coherent foreign policy until the first debate.

    The days of pandering to the Northeast are indeed over. They were over sometime in the 1940s, when the last President from the New York-Philadelphia corridor died. Especially since the 1970s, both parties have heavily pandered to Southerners. All this will change in 2008, when the Republicans won’t run a guy with a drawl but rather a guy with a light New York accent. Trust me, you don’t want to lose Connecticut and New Jersey.

    Obviously, winning the Northeast is not enough. The best potential for gain is in the West, where the Republican Party is on the wrong side of public opinion on immigration, and the strongest element of the Republican coalition is libertarians rather than religious conservatives. Arizona, remember, is the only state in the US that has rejected a gay marriage ban in a referendum. In Colorado and Montana, public views on the environment are shifting left, weakening the Republican Party on the one issue that gave it the region in 1980. All that suggests to me that winning in the Southwest is a lot simpler and risks fewer losses in the Northeast that winning in the Southeast.

    Finally, there’s the Midwest, where the Democrats have opportunities in Ohio, Missouri, and Indiana, in that order. Those three states are mostly South-lite, but the “lite” part is important enough that soft left-wing economics, defined by universal health care and general anti-poverty programs, could work. Those are popular issues the Democratic Party is inexplicably to the right of most Americans on, including most Americans in the Northeastern suburbs. In contrast, Edwards is using hard left-wing economics, defined by class warfare rhetoric, protectionism, and support for massive government programs financed by deficit spending; those are necessary if the Democrats want to play in Appalachia, but only piss people off in the suburban Northeast and the entire West.

    SLC, Hagel is extremely unlikely to win the Republican primary. He’s now anti-war, a view shared by only 36% of Republicans and approximately 0% of the Republican base. He’s more reliably conservative on social issues than Giuliani and Romney and McCain, but since the most important Dominionist leaders are neoconservative, they’re as likely to accept an isolationist as they are to accept a left-wing populist (think Jim Wallis if my description of Obama as a proto-Dominionist infuriates you too much).

    So what’s likely is that the Dominionists will rally around McCain, the moderates and the technocrats will rally around Romney, and the racists and neoconservatives will rally around Giuliani. Among the three groups the neoconservatives are the strongest in the Republican Party right now.

  5. SLC says:

    Re Hagel

    I didn’t say that Hagel was the man to beat for the GOP nomination. In fact, I agree with Mr. Levy that he is very unlikely to get it. What I said was that he would be to toughest candidate for the Democrats to beat as he has the fewest negatives and has taken a strong anti-war position.

    Re neo-conservatives

    Mr. Levy is seriously in error in his claim that the neo-conservatives outnumber the born-agains in the GOP base. The neo-conservatives consist mostly of intellectuals like Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol, and Norman Podhoretz who represent only themselves. They were influential in the current administration because their followers like John Bolton had the ear of the important figures such as Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Cheney. However, their numbers are small. On the other hand, the born-agains are large in numbers (an estimated 30 million evangelicals in the US) and, like the left wingers in the Democratic Party, tend to turn out en masse in GOP primaries. Despite Senator McCains’ pandering, their leaders such as Falwell and Dobson don’t trust him and are unlikely to strongly support him in the primaries. Why should they when they have one of the own, Sam Brownback, in the running.

  6. Alon Levy says:

    Oh, Hagel will certainly be more electable than any of the candidates who have a chance to win the primary. For what it’s worth, I think that the same applies to Brownback, who’s the best candidate to beat Obama and probably Clinton (for Edwards, the best is Giuliani, who’s popular in the suburban Northeast and can successfully use racism to lock the South).

    The reason I don’t think Brownback will win the nomination is that the religious right would rather back someone who has a decent chance at beating Giuliani. McCain’s the most pro-life of the six serious candidates; back in 2000, Gary Bauer endorsed him because he pledged to appoint pro-life judges while Bush only promised constructionist judges.

    That, and when I talk about neoconservatives, I don’t just mean the intellectuals. I mean all the people who answered “Terrorism” in 2004 when asked about their most important election issue; those voted Republican in higher numbers than those who answered “moral values.” The pundits call them security moms. For what it’s worth, Republicans are likelier to be pro-choice (37% vs. 49% nationwide) than anti-war (36% versus something in the high 60s nationwide). Brownback is no Hagel, but he’s no McCain, either.

  7. SLC says:

    Re Brownback

    1. Brownback is a total whackjob; the Democrats would pay the GOP to make him their nominee.

    2. The polls cited are meaningless. The issue is, who comes out for the primaries. The f****** born agains show up for the primaries.

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