Rep. Brad Ellsworth announced on Friday he would seek the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Evan Bayh. I touched on Ellsworth's history of throwing LGBT people under the bus in a post last week for Huffington Post. Today I want to touch on two more aspects: how Ellsworth is not only wrong on many other issues that concern Hoosiers, but how he is following a path that will blow the seat for Democrats faster than an Indiana twister.
How to Avoid a Repeat of 1994
Stan Greenberg, the noted pollster who served as an adviser to President Clinton just before the disastrous 1994 midterm elections, has a new piece out in The New Republic. In it, he describes how to avoid a repeat in 2010:
If I were writing a memo to the Democratic leaders, this is where I would begin. Put aside the rancor and gridlock and show a very different face. Take Paul Krugman's advice and quickly pass a version of the Senate health care bill. That will raise presidential and congressional approval ratings, just as Clinton bucked up Democrats by passing nafta and tax increases for deficit reduction--neither of which were popular at the time.
They must put the Republicans on the defensive. Make them an offer they can't refuse on bipartisan legislation they dare not oppose--jobs measures that help small businesses and energy-independence legislation. Then, force Republicans to cast tough and defining votes--on Wall Street bonuses and bailouts and limiting corporate spending on elections.
This seems like good advice to me. The problem is, Brad Ellsworth has been on the Republican side on all of it. Health care? He voted for the House version of the health care bill, but only after becoming the only Indiana Democrat to vote for the GOP's motion to recommit, which would have killed the bill. He even threatened to vote against the entire bill unless he got his way on his pet anti-choice proposal, and it's no guarantee he'll vote for a bill again.
Energy independence? Ellsworth voted against the American Clean Energy and Security Act bill. Jobs? Ellsworth was just one of 11 House Democrats to vote against the President's own stimulus bill -- a bill that created jobs for Indiana, only reluctantly backing a smaller version later. Bailouts? He voted to bail out Wall Street -- twice -- in late 2008. Foreclosures? He voted against the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act of 2009, which allows bankruptcy judges to modify mortgage loans to help families stay in their homes, among other means.
In other words, not only has Ellsworth tried to defeat legislation that would help middle-class Hoosiers who are struggling with their health care bills and mortgage payments, he's following exactly the opposite of Greenberg's advice -- casting the kind of votes that will sink a candidate for the Senate.
Ellsworth Has a Base Problem
But that's not the only thing. Another reason Ellsworth is a bad choice to be the Democratic statewide candidate is because it's hard to find Democrats who like him. One of the many missed lessons of 1994 was that Democrats that year had a base problem. As Mike Lux, another adviser to President Clinton in his first term, has pointed out, base Democrats in that year -- unmarried women, Latinos, and young people -- turned their back on their party across the nation and stayed home or voted for the other party, after helping Clinton win big two years prior. It's no surprise that these are the same key groups that lifted Obama to a victory in Indiana and nationwide less than two years ago, turning out and voting in dramatically high margins for the President.
But here's the troubling thing: according to Greenberg's own polling research, these groups -- along with African-Americans -- are increasing dramatically as a percentage of the American electorate. He calls them the Rising American Electorate.
Here's what holds them in common: they all have higher rates of unemployment, all vote heavily Democratic, all tend to have more strongly progressive issue views as compared to the rest of the population, all have smaller incomes and are more likely to be uninsured. And combined, excluding overlaps, they make up 52.1% of the voting age population.
Greenberg looked at the Virginia and New Jersey numbers for Obama. In 2008, the percentage of voters in that group made up 45% of the electorate. In 2009, it was just 36%. In New Jersey, the percentage of the electorate was 49% in 2008, while in 2009 it dropped ten points. In other words, these voters were discouraged at Democrats not delivering for them, and it killed our candidates.
A Recipe for Disaster
Ellsworth is following along a path that will virtually guarantee that all of these groups will stay home in 2010. Why would they vote for him? Besides all the reasons I listed above, he's a demagogue on immigration issues, which Latino voters care deeply about. As I pointed out, he's horrible on LGBT issues. That may work in his House district, but even in Indiana, you can't throw your entire base- Latinos, LGBT people, pro-choice advocates, African-Americans, environmentalists, low-income folks, young people, unmarried women -- under the bus and expect to be elected statewide.
That's okay, some might say, he's got cross-over appeal as a conservative Democrat. I don't buy it. Not in Indiana, a hotbed of teabagger conservatism, and not in 2010, when you've got a Washington Congressman as your candidate while polling shows Congressional disapproval is at a historic high and fewer than 1 in 10 Americans say members of Congress deserve re-election. Not exactly the most brilliant strategy.
Ellsworth has a base problem, and in 2010, more than ever, Democrats need their base to turn out. Demoralized Democrats stayed home in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts when their candidates didn't even have a record in Congress. If the State Central Committee chooses Ellsworth, a candidate from Washington with a voting record, it will prove to be the same story.
(Crossposted from my home blog, Bilerico Project. Come visit me there to see why both the Washington Post and the Advocate named us one of the top 10 LGBT political blogs in the nation.)