Thursday, July 06, 2006

Midterm vs. Long-Term Strategy

A conflict is growing within the Democratic Party between Howard Dean’s long-term 50-state strategy and the short-term requirements of winning the 2006 midterm elections. It is essentially a conflict between the campaign strategy for this fall and a strategy for rebuilding the Democratic Party over many years, if not decades to come.

The disagreement includes differences over what kind of national message to adopt, and especially when to publicize it, but centers on the allocation of money. While Dean and his supporters emphasize the need to continue to invest heavily in their strategy to make the party competitive in all 50 states, particularly Rahm Emanuel and Charles Schumer, along with many others, are increasingly concerned that this will not leave enough money for the DNC to make sure that the Democrats win back both the House and the Senate.

The Washington Post had originally reported on this conflict, especially between Dean and Emanuel, back in May. For the very hands-on role that Emanuel and Schumer play in congressional races, see yesterday’s piece in the Los Angeles Times.


Here are some excerpts from
Howard Dean and his supporters on the long-term logic, and possible short-term implications of the 50-state strategy. It is interesting to note how ultimate objectives shape both the strategy itself, including priorities and sequencing, and the criteria by which it should be judged (empahses added):
"They can say what they want, but we've been doing it the old way for a while and it's time for a change," Dean said in an interview. "To find out if the 50-state strategy is going to be successful, you'll have to wait for a couple of presidential cycles. It won't be deemed a failure, because I'm going to keep doing it."

"We're going to be in 10 states on behalf of the Senate and we're going to be in 38 to 40 House races," Dean said in the interview, disclosing such numbers for the first time. "We're going to devote significant resources, but we're going to do it in the context of preparing ourselves for '08 and beyond."

Those who support Dean's strategy of boosting Democratic performance in all corners of America - even in Republican "red states" - say the burden for winning midterm races rests with congressional leaders. They say Dean's vision to strengthen the party is a long-term approach that, in the end, could be more important than winning a few House or Senate seats this year.

"It's a difference in mission," said Mark Brewer, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party. "If we're going to become competitive again in the national elections, we need to have a national strategy to make states more competitive."

Those close to Dean say he pays little attention to assessments from the party establishment. Since being elected 18 months ago, he has reveled in being labeled an outsider.

His most loyal admirers are far from the capital and he visits them often, traveling places seldom listed on a political leader's itinerary. On a recent day, he flew to the Virgin Islands, where locals declared him the first chairman of either national party to make an official visit.
In contrast, Emanuel, along with many Democrats, is increasingly worried that they will not have enough money to compete with Republicans on the ground, especially in close elections. By definition, the imperatives of an electoral strategy are short-term and center on the allocation of scarce resources (emphases added):
"Will we have the resources to run an effective ground campaign for this election?" Emanuel asked. "This is not a contest between the 50-state strategy and the midterm election. It's a question of whether we are going to have the money for the midterm election."

Disagreements among Democrats over campaign strategy - particularly regarding the allocation of money - are hardly new. But relations between Dean and other party leaders have reached hostile levels, according to interviews with more than two dozen well-placed Democrats. And some fear the tensions could give Republicans an advantage in on-the-ground mechanics and money for the midterm election.

Beyond state party officials, though, many Democrats wonder whether the 50-state strategy is another chapter of Dean's failed White House bid in 2004, which raised a record $50 million yet failed to win a single contest outside his native Vermont. These Democrats worry that the national party will be out of money and unable to compete with Republicans in the final weeks of the campaign.
The NDN’s Simon Rosenberg predicts that Dean will necessarily be judged by the outcome of the elections, whether he likes it or not:
"It's an audacious and bold redefinition of the party," said Simon Rosenberg, founder of the progressive New Democrat Network, who challenged Dean for party chairman. "But at the end of the day he will be evaluated more by what happens in the elections than how much money the state parties have. Regardless of whether that's fair or not, that's what the judgment will be."
Is there stil time to find a compromise between the requirements of these two very different types of strategy? The outcome of the elections and the future of Dean and his strategy will tell.

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