If Democratic activists and voters don’t answer what former Obama advisor David Plouffe called a “screaming siren,” we’ll face Sen. Mitch McConnell’s “modest contract” on America. (More)

Senate Midterms: McConnell’s “Modest Contract” and Plouffe’s “Screaming Siren” (Non-Cynical Saturday)

Yesterday Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told The Weekly StandardI’d like to have a chance to be the offensive coordinator.”

TWS describes Sen. McConnell as offering a “modest contract” on America, one that includes revenue-neutral tax reform that shift more of the tax burden from billionaires and big corporations to hardworking families. It also includes repealing the Affordable Care Act, and passing a piecemeal immigration bill that will break up families and offer no path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented workers already in the U.S.

That is “modest,” John McCormack writes, because:

[I]t’s unlikely to inspire Tea Partiers. “In Washington, what passes for bold is, ‘Hey, we’re for revenue neutral tax reform.’ It’s like, I don’t care. I would just as soon be back at home or practicing medicine,” Kentucky’s junior senator Rand Paul said in a recent speech.

“It’s really up to him”

Minority Leader McConnell admits that his agenda has little chance to become law with President Obama wielding a veto pen:

I think that will depend on him. If your definition of achievement is actually having something signed into law, we obviously have to be completely honest with our supporters that that will depend upon him being willing to support what we’ve done.
If he hangs out on the left, like he has since the 2010 election, honestly I think it will be difficult to get right-of-center achievements signed into law. If he moves to the center like Bill Clinton did who signed welfare reform and agree with a Republican Congress to balance the budget, we may be able to do some business together. It’s really up to him.

Indeed forcing Senate Democrats to vote against and President Obama to veto red meat bills seems to be Sen. McConnell’s real agenda:

We will pursue also a lot of the good ideas that have been percolating both in the House and Senate. Over there, they’ve passed a lot of legislation that is very, very good and drops into a black hole. That won’t happen anymore.

It’s less about advancing policy than framing campaign ads for 2016. But to do even that, Sen. McConnell must first get reelected.

“I think we are going to crush them everywhere”

That’s what Sen. McConnell told the New York Times this week. But he wasn’t talking about Democrats. He was talking about conservative groups and GOP primary challengers, adding “I don’t think they are going to have a single nominee anywhere in the country.”

His main target is the Senate Conservatives Fund:

Mr. McConnell’s ad, his first singling out the Senate Conservatives Fund, raises a criticism that Speaker John A. Boehner and other Republicans have leveled at the activists – that they are fund-raising and business enterprises more than political operations. The ad refers to unnamed news media reports that assert that the PAC “solicits money under the guise of advocating for conservative principles but then spends it on a $1.4 million luxury townhouse with a wine cellar and hot tub in Washington, D.C.”

The Daily Caller’s Alexis Levinson offered the SCF’s response:

Asked for comment, SCF Executive Director Matt Hoskins took shot back: “Mitch McConnell doesn’t care that we rent a townhouse for office space. He is upset that we support Matt Bevin and are running ads that expose his record of helping the Democrats pass bailouts, more debt, higher taxes, and funding for Obamacare.”

“We have a turnout issue”

While GOP infighting may be entertaining, Democratic activists shouldn’t butter that popcorn yet, as David Plouffe explained:

David Plouffe invoked the Democrats’ loss in a special election in a conservative Florida district as a “screaming siren” for the party.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be a harbinger. We have a turnout issue. And I think that this is a screaming siren that the same problems that afflicted us in ’10 – and traditionally we’ve had tougher off years than presidential years – that could face us again,” Plouffe told Bloomberg TV’s Political Capital with Al Hunt in an interview set to air Friday night.

Last month, Talking Points Memo’s Sahil Kapur explained why 2014 will be an uphill fight for Democrats. In the Senate, Democrats must defend 21 seats including four in GOP-leaning Arkansas, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Alaska. Republicans must defend only 15, all but one in solidly conservative states. The lone exception is Maine, but Sen. Susan Collins enjoys a 63% approval rating.

To avoid another 2010, Democrats must address a chronic weakness: low Democratic turnout in midterm elections. Specifically, we have to mobilize young and minority voters, and voters with lower incomes, as ProjectVote’s Lorraine Minnite and Jody Herman explained:

The populations that vote in midterm elections typically are smaller, older, and usually whiter than those in presidential elections because congressional elections lack a unifying campaign at the top of the ticket that can draw out voters who are less interested or less informed about politics.

“A lot of old-fashioned motivation”

The Washington Monthly’s Ed Kilgore agrees:

It could be the difference between a tough year with limited losses, setting up Democrats for a boffo 2016 when the Senate landscape improves immensely and a presidential electorate is in play, and something more like 2010. And Plouffe’s right: there’s no magic technological instrument at hand. It will take exceptional targeting, but also a lot of old-fashioned motivation. A good start would be a refusal to take the bait and panic over Obamacare, which remains more or less a wash, best as we can tell.

In midterms, Democratic candidates should focus on motivating their own voters behind a unified, progressive agenda. The good news is that they seem to recognize that, as the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent explained:

[T]his is all about creating a framework within which voters can be made to understand the actual policy agenda Republicans are campaigning on. This is what the Bain attacks on Mitt Romney were all about: Dem focus groups showed voters simply didn’t believe Romney would cut entitlements (per the Paul Ryan plan) while cutting taxes on the rich. The Bain narrative made Romney’s actual priorities more comprehensible.

The Koch attacks are designed to do something similar. They aren’t really about the Kochs. They are a proxy for the one percent, a means through which to tap into a general sense that the economy remains rigged in favor of the very wealthy. Placed into this frame, GOP policies – opposition to raising the minimum wage; the Paul Ryan fiscal blueprint, which would redistribute wealth upwards; opposition to the Medicaid expansion, which AFP is fighting in multiple states – become more comprehensible as part of a broader storyline. In that narrative, Republican candidates are trying to maintain or even exacerbate an economic status quo that’s stacked against ordinary Americans, while Dems are offering solutions to boost economic mobility and reduce inequality, which are increasingly pressing public concerns.

Democratic candidates consistently framing the GOP as the party of billionaires and big corporations against hardworking families will motivate more grassroots activists, and effective targeting will help those activists reach more would-be voters.

Specifically, we need to target young, minority, and low-income voters for vote by mail enrollment in states that allow it. In states that don’t have vote by mail, we must target those voters for repeated GOTV contacts.

It’s comfortable to call Democratic “super voters” and hear positive feedback: “Oh thanks for calling! Yes, of course I’m going to vote!” That feels good, and phone bankers need at least some of those feel-good calls. But to close the turnout gap, we also need to hear “There’s an election this year? Already?”

The more times we talk to those voters … the more likely we’ll have reasons to smile on November 5th.


Happy Saturday!