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The Foolish Strategery of Democrats Who Oppose Health Care Reform

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For some perspective on the wisdom of the Democrats who are opposing health care reform, let's go the elections last Tuesday. New polling analysis from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and Women's Voices Women's Vote is pretty powerful, and I recommend it to all the Democrats who voted no on the health care bill and every single one of their political consultants: the bottom line, friends, is that everything you do to depress Democratic voter turnout in your district is another nail in your coffin.

Greenberg has put together an overlapping collection of demographic groups that he calls the Rising American Electorate: unmarried women, 18-29-year-olds, African-Americans, Latinos, and other people of color. When you add them all together (taking away overlaps), they are currently 52.1% of the voting age population in this country. These demographic groups all share certain characteristics:

  • They are all increasing as a % of the adult population, because their growth in the population is outstripping the growth of other demographic groups

  • They all tend to under-perform in terms of coming out to vote, although how much changes dramatically depending on the election

  • They all tend heavily Democratic in their voting, as opposed to the rest of the electorate which votes far more Republican

  • They all tend to have more strongly progressive issue views than the population as a whole

  • They all average less in income, and have higher unemployment rates, than the population as a whole

  • They all have higher rates of lacking health insurance than the population as a whole

So let's go back to the VA and NJ numbers. In VA in 2008, the percentage of voters in that Rising American Electorate group was 45%. In the 2009 VA electorate, the RAE % dropped to 36%. In NJ in 2008, the % of the electorate that was in the RAE category was 49%, whereas in 2009 it was only 39%. These RAE voters didn't come out to vote because they were discouraged that Democrats that they had invested their faith in weren't delivering tangible benefits for their lives.

The Democrats in marginal districts who are patting themselves on the back for taking the "safe" vote by voting no on health care reform are fooling themselves, and in a great many cases dooming themselves in the next election. If the part of the electorate that strongly favors you drops by 10% (or more) in the next election, do you really think you can win a competitive race? And does not helping your party and your President deliver health reform help you or hurt you in turning out the Democratic vote? I'll let the geniuses advising these members of Congress to vote no try to explain that one.

The Democrats who oppose health care reform are also hurting themselves in a lot of different ways besides depressing turnout:

  • They damage the brand of the Democratic Party as an effective party that can get things done

  • They hurt the approval rating of the President they will need campaigning and raising money for them next year

  • When Democrats like the President nationally are making the case as why Dems in 2010 deserve re-election, they will use the passage of health care reform as their number one selling point, leaving you on your own to explain why you deserve re-election

  • They lessen their ability to raise money from all those Democratic activists and interest groups who care about health care

  • They dampen the enthusiasm of volunteers back home

  • They dramatically increase the likelihood of primary opposition, in 2010 and beyond (do you think Democrats back home, and the progressives who fund primary campaign challenges, are ever going to forget that you tried to kill health care reform?).

I was in the Clinton White House in 1994 after we lost on health care, and these same demographic groups- young people, Latinos, unmarried women -- turned their back on us. I remember seeing the focus groups, and having the reports back from the doorknockers: these hard-pressed voters who had been so excited about Clinton in 1992 felt like he and the Democrats in Congress had let them down, and they had no enthusiasm for coming out to vote.

I look at Democrats like Altmire and Adler in the House (whose Democrats were won by Obama because of big turnouts by all those RAE voters), or Blanche Lincoln in the Senate who is up for election next year, and really wonder about their political judgment. If Lincoln opposes health care reform, she dramatically increases the odds that someone like Lt. Gov. Bill Halter will challenge her in a primary from the left (and that if he does, he'll get a lot of financial support from people all over the country), which would be a bruising fight costing a lot of money, and she virtually guarantees that less black folks, young people, unmarried women -- i.e. the Democrats in Arkansas -- turn out to vote in the general. I mean, even Walmart is supporting health care reform: how much more political cover do you need, Senator? The political thinking here is stunningly bad.

As a loyal Democrat, I hope these Democrats opposing health care reform come to their sense -- not just for reform's sake, but for their own.

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