Nothing was more notable during last week's DNC convention than the way Democrats brandished several once-presumed third-rail issues in order to bolster their election chances. After the constant mentions of reproductive rights, DREAMers, and same-sex marriage, one might have thought women, immigration activists, and gays were Democrats' sole constituents.
As it turns out, they aren't. They just happen to be extremely important, and the Democrats seem to finally be heeding the message of 2010: The base matters.
Two years ago, these constituencies weren't super excited about President Barack Obama or the Democrats. Failure to champion immigration reforms, pass pro-LGBT legislation, and protect abortion access in health-care reform left these key constituents bewildered.
But following the fallout from November 2010, Democrats took a page from the Republican playbook: Dance with the ones that brung you. Congressional Democrats pushed through "don't ask, don't tell" repeal while the president endorsed same-sex marriage, provided relief to immigrant youth known as DREAMers, and made sure that contraception would be covered by health insurers under the Affordable Care Act.
The resulting lovefest between Democrats and progressives feels as though they have taken their vows anew.
The Huffington Post cooed, "LGBT Caucus at Democratic National Convention Is Happiest," and an NPR story featured gay DNC treasurer Andrew Tobias effusing about how easy his fundraising job had become.
DREAM activist Benita Veliz beamed into the cheering crowd as she became the first undocumented youth to address a Democratic convention.
And Sandra Fluke, who became the poster child for contraception coverage after House Republicans excluded her from a hearing on insuring birth control, delivered a prime-time message from the DNC stage. Fluke beamed that Democrats, instead of trying to "silence" her, "invite me here and give me a microphone, to amplify our voice," drawing a distinction between Democrats and Republicans.
But if that's too anecdotal for you, the numbers don't lie.
President Obama now holds a significant lead among Latino voters, at 66-percent support vs. Romney's 27-percent support, according to Latino Decisions polling. If it seems a sure thing, it sure wasn't at the outset of 2012, when 53 percent of Latino voters said they were less excited about President Obama than in 2009, and just 30 percent reported being more excited -- an enthusiasm deficit of -23 points.
But President Obama managed to turn those numbers on their head in June of this year, with his new policy pronouncement to halt deportations and provide work permits to undocumented youth. In the days following the announcement, Latino Decisions polling found "49% of Latino voters said it would make them more enthusiastic about Obama, compared to 14% who were less enthusiastic, a net enthusiasm advantage of +35 points."
On women's issues, voters trusted Obama over Romney by 21 points (55 to 34) in a post-convention Washington Post/ABC poll.
But especially important to the president will be inspiring all the single ladies to get out and vote. Unmarried women, a key progressive bloc, voted overwhelmingly for Obama in 2008 when they represented 23.2 percent of all voters. But they accounted for just 19 percent in 2010, when Democrats got trounced, according to pollster Celinda Lake's analysis. Lake believes some Democratic losses could have been averted "had unmarried women been targeted with stronger turnout efforts."
Decisive numbers aren't in yet, but Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg made a point of predicting that Obama's numbers would rise among both single and professional women following the convention.
Self-identified lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender voters are trickier to track, because they're a relatively small percentage of voters, but many of them let their money do the talking. Following Obama's endorsement of same-sex marriage, fundraising jumped from $3.4 million in the three days prior to the announcement to $8.8 million in the three days after it.
What's most striking about all these issues is that for several election cycles now, Democrats have shied away from leveraging them in the general election in their never-ending pursuit of independent and swing voters. Had any Democratic operative recommended this bold approach just two years ago, they might have been demoted, laughed out of Washington.
But as it turns out, what's good for the Democratic base is also what's good for the party. President Obama is basking in the convention afterglow of a 4- to 6-point edge over Romney (depending on the poll) and a 5-point leap in his Gallup favorability ratings (from 45 percent to 50 percent). Obama's campaign also outraised Romney's in August ($114 million to $111 million), the first time since April.
There's a lesson in here for political operatives: Inside the Beltway wisdom isn't always wise. It wasn't but several months ago, for instance, that many in Washington painted doomsday scenarios about President Obama coming out for same-sex marriage.
But good news for the Dems: The honeymoon is just getting started and, so far, no apocalypse in sight.