Bayh rolls out "Moderate Dems Working Group": Does it matter?

Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana announced plans in December to form an equivalent of the Blue Dog caucus in the Senate. Today his office rolled out the Moderate Dems Working Group:

WASHINGTON - A diverse group of 15 Senate Democrats today announced the formation of a new moderate coalition that will meet regularly to shape public policy. The group's goal is to work with the Senate leadership and the new administration to craft common-sense solutions to urgent national problems.

The Moderate Dems Working Group will meet every other Tuesday before the Democratic Caucus lunch to discuss legislative strategies and ideas. The Moderate Dems held their second meeting Tuesday to focus on the upcoming budget negotiations and the importance of passing a fiscally responsible spending plan in the Senate.

Leading the new group are Democratic Senators Evan Bayh of Indiana, Tom Carper of Delaware and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. Both Senators Bayh and Carper were successful governors before coming to the Senate. Senators Lincoln and Carper bring bicameral experience to the group as former members of the House of Representatives. All three leaders are honorary co-chairs of Third Way, a progressive Democratic policy group, and Senators Bayh and Carper have led the centrist Democratic Leadership Council.

At the working group meeting, Senator Bayh acknowledged that such a large group was unlikely to agree on all major issues before the Senate. Yet the Moderate Dems are joined by a shared commitment to pursue pragmatic, fiscally sustainable policies across a range of issues, such as deficit containment, health care reform, the housing crisis, educational reform, energy policy and climate change.

In addition to Senators Bayh, Carper and Lincoln, others joining the group are Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet of Colorado, Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Bill Nelson of Florida, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, and Mark Warner of Virginia.

A few things jumped out at me:

15 members is a quarter of the Democratic Senate caucus. That's proportionally larger than the Blue Dog caucus in the House.

Look how many first-term senators have joined up with Bayh: McCaskill from the class of 2006 and Udall, Begich, Hagan, Shaheen and Warner from the class of 2008.

Of the Moderate Dems, only Bennet, Lincoln and Bayh are up for re-election in 2010. Lincoln and Bayh are not expected to face tough challenges.  

Of the Moderate Dems, only Lincoln, Landrieu, Begich and Ben Nelson represent states carried by John McCain. Why did the others rush to join a caucus that (based on Bayh's record) will try to water down President Barack Obama's agenda?

Back in December Matthew Yglesias advanced a very plausible hypothesis about Bayh's agenda:

With Republicans out of power, the GOP can't really block progressive change in exchange for large sums of special interest money. That creates an important market niche for Democrats willing to do the work. It was a good racket for the House Blue Dogs in 2007-2008 and there's no reason it couldn't work for Senate analogues over the next couple of years.

Bayh's press release includes a ludicrous quote from Harry Reid:

Of the working group's formation, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, "If we are going to deliver the change Americans demanded and move our country forward, it will require the courage to get past our political differences and get to work. Established organizations like Third Way and new ventures like this group offer us a new opportunity to get things done, and I support every effort that puts real solutions above political posturing."

Raise your hand if you believe that Bayh's group is going to offer "a new opportunity to get things done."

The only good I can imagine coming of Bayh's venture is if the group gives some political cover to Democratic senators representing red or purple states, making it harder for Republicans to tie them to liberal bogeymen.

This optimistic scenario would pan out only if the Moderate Dems do not consistently vote as a bloc with Bayh. Earlier this month, David Waldman/Kagro X analyzed some Senate votes in which Bayh supported Republican amendments. If you click that link you'll see that various senators named in today's press release did not vote with the Bayh/Republican position.

For that reason, Waldman greeted today's news with a big yawn and doesn't seem worried that the Moderate Dems will do anything other than help Bayh show off how "moderate" he is.

The Russians say one should "hope for the best but prepare for the worst." As a Democrat who wants President Obama to succeed, I hope Waldman is right and the "Moderate Dems" are just using Bayh to bolster their "centrist" image.

On the other hand, if Bayh's group develops along the path envisioned by Yglesias, which I consider more likely, then Democrats really should prepare for the worst in 2010. The severe recession may make next year a tough environment for the president's party to begin with. If Democrats carrying water for corporate interests sink "the change we need," Democratic base turnout could drop significantly, as it did in 1994. Most of the Moderate Dems Working Group members will not face the voters until 2012 and 2014, but their obstruction could harm many other Congressional Democrats.

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The perils of having no record to run on

Via the Stinging Nettle blog, I found this piece in Politics magazine by Marty Ryall, who managed Senator Elizabeth Dole's unsuccessful campaign last year. Ryall's main subject is the grotesque "Godless" ad that Dole ran against Kay Hagan in late October. He contends that contrary to widespread opinion, backlash against the ad did not cost Dole the election. Rather, the ad was "our Hail Mary pass" that ran only because they felt they had no other chance to win.

As you'd expect from an operative who worked on a failed campaign, Ryall goes out of his way to explain why Dole's campaign was already in trouble before he came on in May 2008, and why she lost the election mostly for reasons out of his control. (For instance, Barack Obama targeted North Carolina and registered hundreds of thousands of new voters.) Ryall also claims that he and others intervened to make the final version of the "Godless" ad more fair to Hagan than the first cut. Whatever.

I was more interested in why Dole would have to resort to that kind of desperate attack. Ryall doesn't explicitly address that point, but this passage in his piece suggests Dole simply had nothing else to say:

We knew we had three weaknesses. A report by Congress.org had ranked Dole 93rd out of 100 senators in effectiveness. She voted with President Bush more than 90 percent of the time. And during the two-year period when she was chairman of the NRSC, she only traveled to North Carolina a handful of times.

No doubt external conditions helped sink Dole. But if she had built up a solid record during her six years in the Senate, Dole would have had a better chance of withstanding the Democratic wave. At the very least she would have had a better final-week message for voters than, "Atheists held a fundraiser for my opponent."

Democrats control the executive and legislative branches in Washington and many states. Current economic trends suggest that they may face a challenging political environment in 2010. I hope they will draw the right lessons from Dole's disgrace. Don't blindly follow failed policies and do something substantial for your constituents.

Having a record to run on is no guarantee of victory if the prevailing winds are against you. My very effective 18-term Congressman Neal Smith (IA-04) lost in the 1994 landslide. But it helps to be able to remind voters of some big achievements. In the worst-case scenario you'll lose with more dignity than Dole.

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The Ineffective Republican Smear Machine

There seems to be a theme developing this year -- if the final results end up reflecting the current polling that is. Barack Obama promises a deliverance from the "politics of the past", the "politics of division." He says often that "the American people are smarter than that" and so far his "faith in the American people has been vindicated." We just might be seeing that he's right. Greg Sargent breaks down the latest WSJ/NBC News poll internals:

- Despite months of attacks on Obama's allegedly sinister background and cultural identity, a solid majority of likely voters, 57%, say that Obama has a background and set of values they can identify with, versus only 39% who say he doesn't. Those numbers are virtually identical to McCain's, which are 57%-38%.

- Asked which would concern them more about an Obama presidency, his lack of experience or the possibility that he would raise taxes, 14% cite taxes and 20% cite inexperience. Forty-eight percent -- more than those two combined -- say that "neither is a concern." This, despite weeks of attacks on Obama as a lightweight and empty suit who wants to hike taxes on ordinary plumbers and hockey moms everywhere.

- Despite all the attacks suggesting that Obama harbors a secret and shadowy agenda that he has yet to reveal, a huge majority of 67% say that they know what Obama and Biden would do if elected.

Along the same lines, look what's happened to the North Carolina Senate race in the wake of Elizabeth Dole's "Godless Americans" ad. This is more than simply evidence that the strategy didn't work; according to Public Policy Polling, it is actively backfiring.

Elizabeth Dole's 'Godless Americans' ad has clearly blown up in her face, as Kay Hagan has now expanded her lead to seven points.

The ad may have helped Hagan to get Democrats unified around her, as that's where most of the movement in the last week has come. Where Hagan led only 76-18 within her party a week ago, those numbers have now improved to 83-14. The excess nastiness of the ad may have lost Dole any reputation she might have had as a moderate or bipartisan type, causing her to lose a decent portion of her crossover support.

If Republicans have as bad a night tomorrow as it's looking like they will, the right's misguided reliance on these tactics will be partially responsible. Who could blame them though, this shit has worked in the past (although there was evidence even from 2004 that Bush going negative may have hurt him more than Kerry ultimately.) Will the utter ineffectiveness of the right's patented slash and burn politics in 2008 mark the end of them? I wouldn't go that far but an Obama win would show that even in politics, doing the right thing and doing the politically expedient thing are sometimes the same.

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NC-Sen: Kay Hagan Fighting Back

Goal Thermometer

Kay Hagan, Elizabeth Dole's Democratic challenger for the North Carolina Senate seat, hit back quickly today against the despicable ad Dole ran against her, which accused Hagan of, essentially, being "godless." Not only did Hagan, who is an elder at her church and a Sunday school teacher, hold a conference call with reporters and call for Dole to pull the ad, but her campaign has already produced two response ads and put up a "This kind of politics will not be tolerated" ActBlue page on which she writes:

Elizabeth Dole should be absolutely ashamed of herself. I can't begin to tell you how outraged I am that she has attacked my Christian faith. Her latest ad is fabricated and pathetic. Enough. This kind of politics will not be tolerated.

We already have two response ads - watch them below - and please donate $100, $50 or $25 to help me directly respond to Dole's desperate, divisive and deplorable ads in a third ad.

Your support at this critical time is imperative to our success. But even more so - your support right now is imperative to change the politics of our country.

We need a new direction - leadership that will bring people together, not tear people apart. Leadership that offers new solutions, not the same old, tired rhetoric. The people of North Carolina have had enough. No more. It's about time for a change.

Best,
Kay

Watch the ads below:

Public Policy Polling, a Democratic polling firm out of NC, has often called the Hagan campaign one of the best run of the cycle and the rapid response against Dole really proves that point. Will this sort of smear from Dole work anyway? Tom Jensen of PPP doesn't think so and offers a silver lining to the Dole attack: it's a sure sign that "Kay Hagan's Winning":

Two thoughts occur to me today indicating that Kay Hagan is really winning her race (beyond the fact that eight of our polls in a row have shown that):

-The Dole campaign hasn't floated an internal poll, at least that I'm aware of, since July. [...]

-Their new Godless Americans ad simply smacks of desperation.

Let's make sure Hagan keeps on winning by contributing to her campaign at our Road To 60 ActBlue page. Hagan is currently at 153 donors. Let's show Elizabeth Dole that those tactics won't work this time by getting Hagan up to 200.

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Just Another "Godless" Democrat?

(cross-posted at Motley Moose)

As many of you are aware, Kay Hagan is currently fighting a tough battle against incumbent North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole. It's still a close race, but Hagan has opened up a healthy lead against her Republican opponent, some polls suggesting a 49/42 split.

That's the good news. The bad news is, Dole's campaign has its back up against the wall so tightly that it's lashing out in the most vitriolic way possible, a method which seems to have become increasingly popular among GOP candidates this cycle: attacking the Democratic candidate's faith. Dole recently released an ad (now being referred to as "Godless") attempting to portray Hagan as a heathen liberal by claiming that a leader of the Godless Americans PAC held a fundraiser in her honor. The ad asserts that Hagan "took godless money" and asks, "What did [she] promise in return?"

This is the sort of slanderous filth of which the esteemed Governor Palin would be proud (if she weren't already too busy practicing witchcraft).

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