Hillary Clinton knows she needs a governing coalition in Washington, and the electoral map presents an opportunity
Last week, I surveyed the early landscape for the autumn elections and found that it is a year of opportunity for Democrats. This week we drill down on one piece of this story – 2016’s electoral map.
One of the great lessons of the Obama and Clinton presidencies is that it is not enough just to win a Presidential election; to move their agenda from promise to law, a President must also create a governing coalition that remains in power over time. For Hillary Clinton, the success of her presidency may depend in part on whether she can also produce a Democratic majority in the Senate, and potentially the House, next year.
Given that we’ve just seen the party in power suffer enormous losses in three consecutive mid-term elections, the Democratic Party must not just be focused on winning the Presidency this year but winning as many Senate and House seats as possible to help prevent Clinton’s governing coalition from being just a two year aberration.
The good news for the Democrats is that Senate and House seats they have to win in 2016 have a remarkable and one-time overlap with their Presidential targets. Using the Cook Report rankings as a guide, here is a rough breakdown of how 2016 looks (Democrats need to pick up 7 Senate seats and 30 House seats to gain a majority):
Presidential/Senate targets (9) – CO, FL, IA, NH, MI, NV, OH, PA, WI
Presidential only (1) -– VA
Expanded Presidential/Senate targets (3) – AZ, GA, NC
Senate target, non Presidential (1) – IL
House targets in expanded Presidential/Senate battleground (20) – AZ (2), CO (1), FL (5), IL (1), IA (2), MI (2), NH (1), NV (2), PA (1), VA (2), WI (1)
House targets in CA/NY (10) – CA (4), NY (6)
Other House targets (7) – ME (1), MN (2), NE (1), NJ (1), TX (1), UT (1)
What this breakdown suggests by competing in just 14 states (AZ, CO, FL, GA, IA, IL, MI, NC, NH, NV, OH, PA, VA, WI), Democrats will be able to hit all their Presidential and Senate targets and more than half of their House targets. Adding California and New York will bring it to 30 of 37 House targets.
By historical standards, this is a remarkably concentrated and efficient map. It means: a strong showing at the Presidential level will have disproportionate impact on Congressional races (coattails on steroids); it is an enormous opportunity for Democrats through their digitally enhanced coordinated campaigns to gain efficiencies that will allow more time/spending on expanding the map to states like AZ, GA and NC.
The Clinton campaign’s success at raising high dollar monies and the Sanders success at low dollar fundraising suggests the Democrats will have enough money to contemplate a more expansive effort if the Clinton-Sanders rapprochement is successful; and it means that the national campaign committee with the hardest job – the DCCC (House campaigns) – will be able to throw far more of its resources into those seven races outside the national footprint.
Given the innate advantage Democrats have at the electoral college level, and the debilitating early demographic and political challenges of the Trump experience (not sure it is a campaign yet), one could understand how the Clinton campaign and national party would play it safe, stay focused on the core ten states needed to win the Presidency, and feel understandably that electing the first woman President was a big enough job for any Presidential campaign.
But the map and circumstances of this year suggest a more aggressive, and yes, perhaps more risky approach.
What will this aggressive campaign look like exactly? It means making it explicit that the national campaign map is now 16 not just ten states (the 14 above plus portions of CA and NY). It means running paid advertising and establishing coordinated campaigns in all 16 targeted states, including a national strategy to win over Millennials led by Sanders campaign veterans.
It will also involve deploying the candidate/VP and Biden, Obama, Sanders and Bill Clinton to these states, and letting the broader Democratic community know about this strategy to give them something incredibly powerful to fight for – ideological control of Washington – and not just something to fight against – Trump.
I have no doubt that this ‘man on the moon’ kind of approach would produce an enormous outpouring of financial support at all levels for the party, and broader citizen engagement and activism in these critical elections. Its audaciousness and ambition itself will be a tonic to the risk adverse culture of Washington that so many Americans have grown weary of, and will signal the nation that the Democratic Party and its new leader mean business.
At a practical level, the Democrats can pull it off. A Clinton-Sanders deal would mean sufficient resources. We have an unusually rich and popular surrogate pool that will need to be deployed in creative ways for Democrats to gain advantage from this structural opportunity.
The controversial DNC Clinton joint fundraising committee has meant the operational mechanisms for managing all this have been in place already for some time. The Clinton campaign is being run by folks like Robbie Mook who come from the Party, understand how the Senate and House campaign committees work, making this kind of cooperative arrangement possible.
And the far more sophisticated data driven tactics of a post Obama Democratic Party means the upside of a truly coordinated campaign are far greater than in the past – much more can be gained with better technology and targeting.
Given the unusual map of 2016 and the Democratic Party’s enormous operational/technological advantages, this is a particularly bad year for the Republicans to offer a deeply unpopular, unsophisticated candidate. The question for the Democrats now is whether they will seize the opening they now have and turn what is likely to be a good year into a great one.
Simon Rosenberg is the founder of the think tank NDN/NPI. In the run up to the US election Left Foot Forward will be reposting his weekly analysis of the campaign trail as a UK exclusive. You can find previous columns here
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