On The Ground: Winning with The 50-State Strategy

New Jersey is a very blue state. Democratic Governor, Democratic Legislature -- both houses -- two Democratic US Senators, seven of thirteen Democratic Representatives in the US House. It's a solid record for the state's Democrats.

But people tend to forget that the Republican Party here is not dead. Just look at the list of folks staffing Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign -- his campaign manager, national political director, and national field director are all undeniably capable veterans of New Jersey GOP politics. In New Jersey's outlying counties, the Republicans are a serious force to be reckoned with.

Democrats have put up some solid challenges to Republican hegemony in New Jersey's exurbs. In the Morris County town of Long Hill, Dean activist Gina Genovese became the first Democrat to serve on the township committee in 2004 and then became the first openly gay mayor in New Jersey in 2006.  And perhaps most impressively, Democrats in Bergen County have run the tables on the once-dominant Republican Party, and are now gearing up to target Santorum-level homophobe state senator Gerald Cardinale in the 39th District, who has compared same-sex marriage to pet owners wanting to marry their dogs.

But this week we saw an example of a Democratic gain in GOP territory that can be directly tied to the DNC's 50 State Strategy. Rosi at Blue Jersey has the story:

Tonight, in my tiny town of Flemington, New Jersey, Mark Legato (D) beat out Julie Luster (R) for a contested Borough Council seat Legato won in November by just one vote and Luster has contested ever since. We won by 30 votes tonight.

Our secret weapons were two young women in sneakers and blue jeans who pounded out our GOTV program over a sleepless two days in the inadequately-heated Hunterdon County Dem HQ. It was more efficient, more productive and frankly, one hell of a lot more fun than anything we have ever done. The Republicans didn't know what hit them. And it drove the win.

One of the fundamentals of Gov. Howard Dean's 50-State Strategy is Show up everywhere. And that doesn't mean just mayor's races in Salt Lake City, state contests in Alaska or gaining ground in the Show-Me State. For this to work it also has to mean that we concede no vote even in the most crimson portions of very blue states. Places like Hunterdon County. 50-State Strategy = 21-County Strategy.

This isn't abstract. Mary Campbell and Colleen Montgomery are the "two young women in sneakers and blue jeans" Rosi's talking about. If you've been active in New Jersey politics at all of late, you know them and you know how tirelessly they've been working to advance Democratic victories in the state. And they are on the ground in New Jersey as part of the DNC's 50 State Strategy team.

This is the 50 State Strategy in action, winning races at all levels, even if by the tightest of margins. This is how the Democratic Party is being reborn.

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Why Is Brian O'Dwyer So Angry?

When controversy strikes, it's often hard to keep up with all of the players and their allegiances. Take the latest dust-up over Edwards staffers Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan. Sure, there were the usual suspects like professional offendee Bill Donohue and right-wing opportunist Michelle Malkin. But what about some of the other folks involved? Take, for example, the Christian Alliance for Progress, who accused Matt of "intolerance and arrogance." I know I'd never heard of them until this flap.

And what about Brian O'Dwyer of the National Democratic Ethnic Leadership Council? As reported by Ben Smith at The Politico, O'Dwyer pushed a statement to the media reading, in part, "Senator Edwards is condoning bigotry by keeping the two bloggers on his staff. Playing to the cheap seats with anti-Catholic bigotry has no place in the Democratic Party." Now, whatever you think of the comments made by Edwards' staffers, it's hard to imagine that any Democrat thinks Edwards was "condoning bigotry" by not putting them out on the streets.

Politics being what it is, I had trouble taking O'Dwyer's anger at face value. Sure, I can buy that he found the comments truly offensive. But why would a good Democrat like Brian O'Dwyer publicly bash a fellow Democrat like Edwards with such force? After all, Brian O'Dwyer is a good Democrat who has given money to candidates like Ned Lamont and whose family tree includes his father Paul, President of the New York City Council in the seventies, and uncle William, Mayor of New York from 1946 to 1950.

Could it be that O'Dwyer's anger is less about the words of one blogger and more about his own personal political loyalties? After all, O'Dwyer has given $12,100 to Edwards opponent Hillary Clinton since 2000 -- more than he's given to any other single candidate. And according to his official bio, he was the National Co-Chair or Irish-Americans for Clinton-Gore in 1992 and 1996.

I'm not accusing the Clinton camp of orchestrating this campaign against Edwards. After all, O'Dwyer was relatively late to the game. But it's simply impossible to believe that it was anything but his loyalty to Clinton that led O'Dwyer to join in the right-wing pile-on.

UPDATE: It seems that there's some discrepancy between the reports at CampaignMoney.com, which indicates O'Dwyer gave $3,000 on 1/13/06 and Newsmeat.com, which says $3,000 was returned to him on the same date.

Whatever the case, my original point still stands -- O'Dwyer has been a Clinton partisan and major donor to her political campaigns.

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NJ-Sen: Video - Kean jr, On the Run

(Cross-posted at Daily Kos)

This weekend, I relayed the story of GOP Senate wannabe Tom Kean, jr. running away from reporters after rightfully being criticized by Senator Bob Menendez (whose campaign many of you know I'm working for). Kean, jr couldn't take the heat and, in the face of reporters' questions, did nothing but repeat canned talking points. At one point, he even tried to cut the questioning off by ducking into an elevator. To prove that this was simply an attempted reporter dodge and not an actual trip to another floor, the elevator never left the sixth floor.

Many of you have been clamoring to see the sight for yourself.  Many have lamented, "if only there was a video of this escapade." Well... lament no longer. Tom Kean, jr not only runs from the issues -- he runs from the reporters. Watch for yourself! (And please by all means, feel free to pass this along to your friends.)

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NJ-Sen: Kean, Jr. Runs Away (Literally) From The Fight

(Cross-posted at Blue Jersey and Daily Kos)

All of us here at the Menendez campaign have been pretty fed up with the petty attacks against the Senator, from NJ GOP chairman Tom Wilson's Ann Coulter-isms to Kean, Jr.'s own vague and unfounded personal attacks. Now, there are a few options for responding to this kind of Rove-style campaign. You can ignore it. You can send out surrogates to protest. Or you can confront the tactics, head on. Senator Menendez insisted on the latter.

Friday morning in Atlantic City, at a meeting of the New Jersey Association of Counties, Senator Menendez had some choice words for Tom Kean, Jr.

My record is clear, and I will not stand by another minute and let my opponent malign me or my service to the people I have represented throughout my career.  Tom, you may be playing with George Bush's campaign playbook, but you're on the field with a different kind of Democrat....

One week ago, his state party chairman stooped to the lowest form of politics, and said that if I had my way, the terrorist Zarqawi would still be alive to murder innocents in Iraq and plot attacks against our country.  And Tom Kean, Jr.?  No, rebuke, no apology, not a word.

That's not a campaign of courage, that's a campaign of cowardice.

You have to earn the right to talk about honesty and integrity and frankly Tom, when it comes to ethics and character, you have no standing to lecture anyone.

What was Kean's response to the speech? Well, even though he was supposed to be sitting on the stage with Senator Menendez, he chickened out and waited outside until the Senator was done speaking. He then went up to the podium and delivered the same canned speech he'd been planning all along, with absolutely no response to the Senator's comments. After Kean, Jr. spoke, reporters tried to get him on the record. No such luck. As Josh Gohlke of the Bergen Record put it, Kean and his crew "stampeded down a carpeted hallway and into an elevator."

Several reporters managed to keep up, blurting out questions the candidate was determined not to answer.

Did he care to respond to Democratic candidate Robert Menendez's scathing speech just a few minutes earlier in the same ballroom? Was he, as Menendez charged, a lightweight armed only with empty attacks?
The Kean contingent stampeded down a carpeted hallway and into an elevator. The reporters and questions squeezed into it with them. Kean kept repeating a few slogans.

"I'm proud of both my record and my vision for the future of the country," Kean reiterated, this time with finality, as everyone spilled back out of the elevator and he hurried off. "Thank you very much!"

After talking for a few minutes, the reporters realized they had entered and exited the elevator on the same floor. So ended a strange episode in a campaign that is reaching impressive levels of absurdity, given that it's only June.

When the only impressive aspect of his campaign is the new level of absurdity he's been able to reach, Tom Kean, Jr.'s got to be wondering what he's doing in this race at all. The Beltway Republicans think they're going to win this race the same way they've won races all across the country -- shoveling fear and smear. Welcome to Jersey, Rove. It's not going to work this time.

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Menendez For Senate - Kicking Off The Campaign

(Cross-posted at Daily Kos and Blue Jersey. Bumped--Chris)

This is an incredibly exciting week for all of us here at the Menendez campaign. While we've been hard at work for some time now, we're just starting to work at the new headquarters in New Brunswick and are "officially" launching the campaign today with two events in North and South Jersey. Even though New Jersey's considered a "blue" state and Senator Menendez has something of an incumbency advantage, this race is far from over. The rightists have been crowing, for example, over poll numbers that indicate a tight race, or even a lead for Kean Jr.

However, the polls they've been citing have largely been from partisan Republican firms like Strategic Vision and Rasmussen. In fact, the GOP's clamoring for bona fide good news in this race has even caught the attention of Media Matters, which has repeatedlycriticized the partisan Republican Beltway media for pushing absurdly pro-Kean Jr talking points. Meanwhile, truly independent polling forms like Quinnipiac have shown Senator Menendez in the lead.

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Standing Up To Big Oil

(Cross-posted at Blue Jersey and Daily Kos.)

In my first official post as a Menendez for Senate staffer, I'm really excited to announce the launch of StandUpToBigOil.com. As many of you have probably heard by now, Senator Menendez is fighting back against Big Oil and their allies in the Republican Congress. The Menendez plan will force Big Oil to foot the bill for a 60-day suspension of the federal gas tax to ease the burden of outrageous prices at the pump. Senator Reid and the DSCC have been touting the Menendez plan for a few weeks now, and it really seems to be gaining traction.

Here's the proposal, in a nutshell. As both retail gas prices trend upward with no relief in site, the federal gas tax -- currently $0.184 per gallon -- would be suspended for 60 days, ideally during the traditionally high-priced summer driving months. This tax holiday would be revenue neutral, however, as it's paid for by a repeal of the tax breaks and corporate welfare Republicans have made sure to protect for their cronies in Big Oil. Even though word of the Menendez proposal has made its way around the netroots, this is an important point that's been too often overlooked. Senator Menendez is going to stand up to Big Oil and make them pay for real relief at the pump.

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Taking A Leave

It brings me great pleasure (and a little bit of sadness) to tell you all that I will be taking a bit of a hiatus from MyDD to work full time on the campaign of Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey. Since his appointment to the Senate early this year, Senator Menendez has done nothing but impress me. He was the first member of Congress to stand up and say no to the Dubai ports deal. He's stood up to credit card companies, putting forward a Credit Card Bill of Rights in the Senate to protect consumers. And right now, he's heading up efforts to ease the immediate financial burden on Americans at the pump while also focusing on the long-term prospect of achieving real energy security.

The national GOP has pledged limitless support for the Senator's challenger, Tom Kean Jr. Already, national Republicans like Dick Cheney and John McCain have been dropped into the state to raise money for Kean Jr, who's focusing his campaign on the Kean family name. In fact, he's running a campaign based largely on his father's name, going so far as to drop the "Jr" from all of his campaign materials. In the "about" section of Tom Kean Jr's own website, he doesn't list accomplishments in state government at the top of his biography. The page lists his family connections first -- his grandfather the Congressman and his father the Governor. Even scrolling down the page, aside from some volunteer posts, awards, and committee memberships, there's nothing to indicate that Kean Jr is either ready or worthy to represent the state of New Jersey in the United States Senate. It's no wonder the DSCC has declared Tom Kean Jr to be Too Junior For Jersey.

Despite the fact that right wing Republicans from all across the country have been backing Kean Jr behind the scenes, he's still pretending to run as one of those rarest of endangered animals, a "moderate" northeastern Republican. But on the issues, he's made it clear that he's interested in going to Washington for one thing and one thing only -- to be another rubber stamp for George W. Bush and the national Republican agenda. He's already indicated that he supports a "stay the course" non-strategy for Iraq and wants to make the Bush tax cuts (whose benefits he greatly enjoys) permanent. And his voting record is actually among the most partisan in the New Jersey State Senate.

I've decided to focus all of my attention on the Senate race and take a hiatus from MyDD until after the election is over. I'll be popping in from time to time as a representative of the campaign, of course, especially since we're counting on solid support from the netroots. The Republicans have declared New Jersey one of top Senate target. Political handicapper Stuart Rothenberg went so far as to call the seat "the Republicans' best Senate takeover opportunity" in an interview with The Washington Times. I respectfully disagree, but I do admit that this race will be anything but a cakewalk. (To be fair, I should note that Rothenberg seems to have backed off a bit on that.)

Before I go, I want to thank Jerome and Chris for bringing me aboard last summer, as well as Matt and Jonathan, and all of the people here who are part of the MyDD community. I'm lucky to have been given access to such an awesome platform and I won't soon forget it. This site truly is something special and I look forward to working with everyone here from a slightly different perspective in the months leading up to the election. In the meantime, feel free to visit me at Menendez for New Jersey, where we're going to be implementing some exciting new changes over the coming weeks that I'm sure you'll be hearing about. It's going to be an exciting race.

Hey Pundits! Pay Attention!

If there's one thing I hate hearing from the Beltway conventional wisdom crunchers, it's the old nugget that Democrats have no ideas. Thomas Friedman is only the latest offender, but he takes the charge to a whole new level, not only falsely insisting that Democrats have no ideas, specifically on energy policy, but even demanding that a whole new third party spring up with ideas that he can get behind.

In response, David Roberts eviscerates Friedman's absurd criticism over at the Gristmill blog, pointing out that it's not the Democrats' fault that pundits like Friedman just can't be bothered to actually pay attention.

We know what Republicans would do on energy if they had power. They have it; they're doing it.

The Democrats have no power to implement policy, and when a party with no power to implement policy announces a set of policy proposals, no one listens -- not the press, not Friedman. But that doesn't mean they don't have policy proposals.

Beltway pundits strive above all else to be unpredictable, unorthodox, "outside the box." Pointing out that the current batch of Republicans running Washington is corrupt and destructive, and that the Democrats are advancing better ideas, is "partisan." It's "shrill." Worst of all, it's inside the box. Boooring.

Nonetheless, almost all these "pox on both their houses" stories are vapid. If one party proposes to do what you want, and the other party stands in the way, the solution is not a third party. The solution is for the second party to stop standing in the way.

If I can make a suggestion to my fellow Democrats, especially since this is an election year, take it upon yourself to really study, learn, and absorb one or two Democratic policy proposals you particularly agree with, and how they'll be help the average American. As I mentioned the other day, David Sirota's new book is full of great ideas, but many others can be found at CAP, PLAN, the DGA, DMI, etc., etc., etc. Very few people really want to talk policy, but every time you're confronted with tired jokes about the lack of Democratic ideas, you'll be armed with at least one progressive policy proposal as a counter.

While this may seem like something of a waste of time, it's important to remember that in an election year as tense as 2006, it helps to have handy every bit of information that reinforces for the typical voter that Democrats are ready, willing, and able to start fixing the disastrous policy results of the Republicans. There's a small army of Thomas Friedmans out there in the traditional media who have a seeming stake in drawing false equivalences between the two parties. For whatever reason, they take great joy in pushing a politics of hopelessness. And it's up to every Democrat to help fight back.

Fighting Back Against The Hostile Takeover

David Sirota posted here the other day to talk about his new book Hostile Takeover, but I also wanted to weigh in with my two cents. For those of you who have already read and enjoyed Crashing The Gate, Sirota's new book will serve as an awesome follow-up. That said, it's important not to view Hostile Takeover as another book giving broad-brush advice to Democrats on what they've been doing wrong and how they can change course.

Though Hostile Takeover certainly skewers errant Democrats for pursuing losing strategies and buying into corrupt ideologies, it's far more targeted than that, making it, in my opinion, one of the more vital political books I've ever read. For one thing, it's laid out less like a standard political tome full of one consultant's advice and more like an encyclopedia. Pick up the book, open to any chapter, and there's the issue, spelled out from top to bottom, complete with myths, lies, heroes, hacks, and solutions. In fact, I almost wished he'd serialized the chapters, if for no other reason than progressive politicians could stash them individually in their pockets. The book is chock full of real world examples of the impact of bad policy decisions and the incredibly obvious steps to take to fix them. It goes beyond talking points though, serving more as a primer on the most pressing issues facing the country. If you've ever felt that your knowledge of policy was lacking in certain cases (I know I have), Hostile Takeover's a great way to get clued in.

Near the end of Crashing The Gate, Jerome and Markos write that they "like to believe that the ideas that will lead the Democratic Party to a new governing majority already exist, but they need to be articulated clearly." The "solutions" that close every chapter of Hostile Takeover serve as an answer to that call. The current oil crisis facing the country? "Make every car in America a flexible-fuel vehicle." The fact that there are nearly 46 million uninsured Americans? "Extend Medicare to all citizens." People are crying out for tax reform? "Fix the regressive payroll tax." And of course, this just scratches the surface of the policy proposals Sirota offers up in the book.

One of the things I always try to do in my writing, which Sirota is brilliant at, is to make sure that the connections are made between bad policy decisions and the real world impact those decisions have on real human beings. We get so caught up in issues in the abstract that we tend to lose sight of the fact that real people lose out when so many political decisions are made. This book painstakingly pieces together the corporations, their industry groups, the lobbyists, the campaign contributions, the members of Congress, the legislation, and -- finally, that most important piece too many political writers leave out -- the impact on peoples' lives.

Piecing together all of this information, it's easy to see where some people would want to roll over and play dead. But that wasn't the feeling I was left with after reading the book. The book accomplishes all of this with a sense of humor, never making its goals seem too impossible. If there's one thing people like David, Jerome, and Markos have brought to the Democratic table over the last few years, it's a sense of empowerment. This is not a politics of disengagement and despair. The fight won't be easy, and it won't likely end with the next election, but with this kind of intellectual firepower on our side, I'm pretty confident we're going to be able to win it.

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Why High Gas Prices Are So Bad For the GOP

Lately, I've been struggling to collect my thoughts on high fuel costs. The most obvious thought, the one that crosses my mind every time I spend upwards of $40 to fill up the tank of my relatively fuel-efficient Honda Accord, is that high gas prices suck. It's a defacto pay cut. But there are other thoughts. One of them, not uncommon among progressives, is that perhaps such high gas prices are a good thing, finally providing the catalyst for change that we've so long needed to get people thinking about greater fuel efficiency standards and maybe even alternative energy sources.

No matter how you read the current situation, it's definitely not good for the Republicans, regardless of whether or not the Democrats have all of the answers. In fact, there may not be any "answers" in this case. Gas prices seem poised to stay high for some time to come. While there is certainly room for temporary fixes -- increased federal incentives for fuel efficient vehicles, a temporary gas tax holiday, an increased commitment to providing alternatives to single occupancy vehicle traffic, etc. -- the fact of the matter is that, unless we start talking seriously about alternative fuels and massive shifts in energy and transportation policy, these are well-intentioned band-aids. Mind you, I think it's important to stem the middle-class bleeding on fuel costs in the short term, but there's a big difference between long-term solutions and short-term fixes.

Something I read tonight really helped me start putting things in perspective. Even though Democrats may not have all of the answers, it truly is important to strenuously point out that at the heart of the problem sits the Republican Party and the Presidency of George W. Bush. David Roberts of the Gristmill blog makes the case that Bush's "most grievous blow to this country" has been "his utter failure to prepare the U.S. for the 21st century energy situation."

The best thing Bush could have done the minute he came into office is focus like a laser on reducing demand: tax carbon, tax gas, raise fuel-efficiency standards, plough money into any and every alternative fuel. Reduced demand would help hold prices down in the short term and help the country prepare for the day when they inevitably rise. Fucking around with supply -- drilling in ANWR, off the coasts, in the West, and everywhere the hell else, fiddling with refinery permits, removing environmental standards on gas -- is at best a delaying tactic.

He's catching on, but only nominally, too little too late. A couple of shocks -- another war, another terrorist attack, a natural disaster that knocks out a significant supplier -- and we could teeter into geopolitical chaos. We no longer have the moral, economic, or military muscle to keep a lid on it.

The Republicans' solutions have continued to focus on the supply-side, promoting more drilling in sensitive areas and overturning environmental standards. This is incredibly stupid both in terms of policy and politics, continuing to reinforce that they are simply not equipped to deal with the realities of $3-plus per gallon fuel. Everyone seems to know that high gas prices are bad for the GOP, but not enough people seem to be talking about the real reasons why. It's not just about gas taking a bigger bite of people's paychecks, though that's certainly important. It's not even just about the fact that the crisis at hand has been exacerbated by the ruling Republican Party, if not worse. George W. Bush and the Republican Party, despite mounting evidence that this situation was on the horizon, were simply too weak to do anything to prepare the American people for it. This is why is high gas prices are so terrible for the Republicans. It's not just something happening on their watch -- it's a direct by-product of their utter failure to lead.

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