Aug 5th 2010

Nine Keys to Democratic Success in the Mid-terms

by Robert Creamer

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist and author of the recent book: "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," available on
To hear some pundits tell it, the out come of the Mid-terms is preordained disaster for Democrats. Not so fast. Much depends on how Democratic candidates frame their efforts - and how Progressives in general frame the political debate over the next three months.
Here are nine keys to Democratic success:

1). The election narrative -- the election must be framed as part of a struggle between everyday Americans and corporate special interests.

Everyday Americans believe the economy is a disaster and the country is on the wrong track. They won't change that view until the economy actually improves.

The Republicans are doing their best to pin the blame on the leadership of Democrats. Democrats are absolutely correct to frame the election as a choice between moving America forward and going back to the failed Bush economic policies that allowed the recklessness of the Big Wall Street banks to collapse the economy, and cost eight million Americans their jobs.
But we need to make certain that we are not only offering a choice of policies - we are offering a choice of leadership. On the one side, those who will fight for the interests of everyday Americans and on the other, leaders who stand up for the interests of Wall Street, insurance companies and Big Oil.

We need to describe a narrative that is about struggle - not policies and programs.
This is especially important when Democrats talk about Congress' many accomplishments this term. In fact, this has been the most productive Congress in recent history. But if a candidate tries to talk about "accomplishments," that will not resonate with the experience of everyday voters.

Instead we should talk about "battles won." Democrats won the battle with Wall Street and the Republicans to rein in the power of the big Wall Street banks. We won the battle to begin holding insurance companies accountable and prevent them from discriminating against people with "pre-existing conditions." We won the battle to rescue the economy from the death spiral created by Bush administration policies and the recklessness of the big Wall Street banks.The language of struggle, and "battles won" has enormous advantages:

It allows us to talk about what Congress has done in terms that everyday voters can understand. It takes their pain and unhappiness and explains why it happened.

It places the blame where it belongs and creates a narrative with a clear antagonist and protagonist.

It allows us to be on the offense - not the defense.

It positions our candidates as outsider champions for everyday voters and their values - not insider apologists for what Congress has "accomplished."

It creates the basis for a powerful mobilization narrative that engages the emotions of anger and inspiration.

2). The antagonist in our narrative should be defined as the corporate special interests - Wall Street, insurance companies, Big Oil - and their Republican enablers.

We are much better off doing battle with these massively unpopular special interests than we are engaging in purely partisan warfare.

It is also much easier to convince voters that the big Wall Street banks, insurance companies and Big Oil are responsible for the economic disaster (which they are) rather than simply Republican policies (which are equally responsible). By tying special interests to Republicans we go to their motivation - to whose side the Republicans are on - not simply the effectiveness of their policies. And, of course, it is true that Republicans and the big corporations are, practically speaking, synonymous.

3). Remind the voters that when the Republicans were in charge, they wrecked the economy and created zero private sector jobs.

George Bush and the Republicans cut taxes for the rich and allowed the big Wall Street Banks free rein to engage in the reckless behavior that collapsed the economy and cost eight million Americans their jobs. They said that their policies would "grow" the economy. Yet, every dime of growth went into the pockets of the wealthiest 2% of Americans and, worse yet, Bush produced zero new private sector jobs.

The New York Times
reported last year that, "For the first time since the Depression, the American economy has added virtually no jobs in the private sector over a 10-year period. The total number of jobs has grown a bit, but that is only because of government hiring."

Now compare that to the Clinton administration where the rich paid Clinton-era tax rates. Of the total of 22.5 million new jobs, 20.7 million, or 92 percent, were in the private sector.

Do we really want to give the keys back to the people who completely failed to create jobs and wrecked the economy just two years ago?

4). It's all about turnout.

We obviously need to do everything we can to move persuadables - but at the end of the day, just as in 1994, this election will be decided by who turns out to vote. That means two things:

Our campaigns and party committees must make a major priority out of the mechanics of GOTV. No message works better to increase turnout than: "I won't get off your porch until you vote."

The language of struggle must be used to engage base Democrats who have been discouraged
or demoralized. Basically, we have to describe the midterm elections as the Empire Strikes Back: "The Wall Street Banks, insurance companies, Big Oil and other wealthy special interests see this election as their best opportunity to reverse the results of the election in 2008. They want to turn back the clock to the failed economic policies of the past so they can undo Democratic victories that will hold them accountable. They want to have free rein once again to siphon off every ounce of economic growth for themselves at the expense if middle-class families. They're counting on us to sleep through the election. We have to stop them."

5). The Arizona Immigration Law, persuasion and turnout among Hispanics.

The difficulty passing comprehensive immigration reform (which mainly had to do with the unwillingness of Republicans to work on the issue) had caused substantial levels of demoralization in the Hispanic community. Had we been successful, we could have used inspiration as a major tool for voter mobilization there - no such luck.

But when the Republicans passed the Arizona Law (SB1070), they handed Democrats a cudgel. The Arizona law goes to the identity of Hispanic voters - as does the Lindsey Graham proposal to repeal the 14th Amendment.

For that reason we have already seen in the polling how, when they support the Arizona law, electoral support for Republicans among Hispanic voters drops. In the last Presidential election Hispanics broke Democratic by 76%. That should now increase. Increasingly leaders in the Latino community are also using the bill to harness anger and fuel turnout.

Their basic message goes something like: The Republicans who passed the Arizona law - and those who support it around the country - completely disrespect the Latino community and its enormous contribution to America. We have to go to the polls on November 2 to show them that if they don't respect us, we will no longer allow them to occupy positions of public trust.

6). Seniors.

Seniors will show up disproportionately to vote in this election. As a consequence, a big chunk of persuadable voters is over 55 years old.

Congressman Paul Ryan and his friends have handed us a silver bullet to move these constituencies. They actually say out loud that:
· Republicans want to cut benefits and privatize Social Security.
· Republicans want to abolish Medicare and replace it with vouchers for private insurance.

These two positions are like political Kryptonite. Focus groups and polling show them to be devastating attacks on Republicans. We have to put these two issues squarely on the public agenda in September and October.

7). Wall Street Banks.

Polling around the country indicates that a three-part attack on Republican connections with Wall Street is especially powerful.

Congressman X received almost a million dollars from big Wall Street banks, then he voted for the bank bailout and against holding the big Wall Street banks accountable.

a). Contributions
b). Bailout
c). Against holding Wall Street accountable

Where Democrats voted for the bailout, we can make the distinction clearly that our guy also voted to hold the big Wall Street Banks accountable and the Republican did not. Most Republican challengers will have received money from Wall Street and opposed the Wall Street reform bill.

8). Staying on Offense

If we're on the defense -- we're losing.

A top message priority of every campaign and political operation must be to always stay on offense - defining the debate in terms of our frames - constantly challenging the Republicans.

9). Defining our candidates as outsiders.

The insider-outsider dynamic is key.

This is not a political environment where it is helpful to brag about how powerful or connected you are - or how your long term of service helps you deliver for the district. It's not a time to highlight all of your "accomplishments."

In general, voters think the "elites" in America have screwed everyday Americans in order to feather their own nests (and they're right). Instead, they want leaders who can effectively lead the charge against the bastions of elite power. That certainly isn't the Republicans who are owned by Wall Street, Big Oil and the insurance companies.

To win in this environment, our candidates need to portray themselves as populist outsiders, not elite insiders. In the end, whoever wins that battle will prevail on November 2nd.

Robert Creamer's recent book: "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," available on

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."
Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.  ..... It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less ​human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected."
Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."
Mar 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Back in 1992, Lawrence H. Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, and I warned that pushing the US Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target down from 4% to 2% risked causing big problems. Not only was the 4% target not producing any discontent, but a 2% target would increase the risk of the Fed’s interest-rate policy hitting the zero lower bound. Our objections went unheeded. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan reduced the inflation target to 2%, and we have been paying for it ever since. I have long thought that many of our economic problems would go away if we could rejigger asset markets in such a way as to make a 5% federal funds rate consistent with full employment in the late stage of a business cycle."
Mar 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Under these conditions, the Fed is probably worried that markets will instantly crash if it takes away the punch bowl. And with the increase in public and private debt preventing the eventual monetary normalization, the likelihood of stagflation in the medium term – and a hard landing for asset markets and economies – continues to increase."
Mar 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs in the United States and other advanced economies are fueling a raging debate about whether higher inflation could be just around the corner. Ten-year US Treasury yields and mortgage rates are already climbing in anticipation that the US Federal Reserve – the de facto global central bank – will be forced to hike rates, potentially bursting asset-price bubbles around the world. But while markets are probably overstating short-term inflation risks for 2021, they do not yet fully appreciate the longer-term dangers."
Feb 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, calls to “build back better” from the pandemic imply some awareness of the need for systemic change. But the transformation we need extends beyond constructing modern infrastructure or unlocking private investment in any one country. We need to re-orient – indeed, re-invent – global politics, so that countries can cooperate far more effectively in creating a better world."
Feb 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "So, notwithstanding the predictable release of pent-up demand for consumer durables, face-to-face services show clear evidence – in terms of both consumer demand and employment – of permanent scarring. Consequently, with the snapback of pent-up demand for durables nearing its point of exhaustion, the recovery of the post-pandemic US economy is likely to fall well short of vaccine development’s “warp speed.” "
Feb 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human rights abuses under Erdogan are beyond the pale of inhumanity and moral decadence. The list of Erdogan’s violations and cruelty is too long to numerate. The detention and horrifying torture of thousands of innocent people for months and at times for years, without being charged, is hard to fathom. Many prisoners are left languishing in dark cells, often in solitary confinement. The detention of tens of thousands of men and hundreds of women, many with their children, especially following the 2016 failed coup, has become common. It is calculated to inflict horrendous pain and suffering to bring the prisoners to the breaking point, so that they confess to crimes they have never committed."
Feb 20th 2021
Courtyard of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, circa 1670, (Job Adriaenszoon Berckheyde).
Feb 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "Global regulators will no doubt be concerned about a potential volatility spillover from digital asset prices into traditional capital markets. They may not permit what could quickly amount to effective proxy approval by the back door for companies holding large proportions of a volatile asset on their balance sheets."
Feb 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Since Russians began protesting opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s imprisonment, the security forces have apparently had carte blanche to arrest demonstrators – and they have done so by the thousands. If Russians so much as honk their car horns in solidarity with the protesters, they risk personal repercussions. The official response to the protests goes beyond the Kremlin’s past repression. It is war."
Feb 6th 2021
EXTRACT: " Biden, Roosevelt was certainly no revolutionary. His task was to save American capitalism. He was a repairer, a fixer. The New Deal was achieved not because of Roosevelt’s genius or heroism, but because enough people trusted him to act in good faith. That is precisely what people are expecting from Biden, too. He must save US democracy from the ravages of a political crisis. To do so, he must reestablish trust in the system. He has promised to make his country less polarized, and to restore civility and truth to political discourse. In this endeavor, his lack of charisma may turn out to be his greatest strength. For all that he lacks in grandeur, he makes up for by exuding an air of decency."
Feb 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Europe must not lose sight of the long game, which inevitably will center on China, not Russia or relations with post-Brexit Britain. China is already establishing a presence in Iran, and demonstrating that it has the capital, know-how, and technology to project power and influence beyond its borders. Should it succeed in turning the Belt and Road Initiative into a line of geopolitical stepping-stones, it might soon emerge at Europe’s southeastern border in a form that no one in the EU foresaw."
Jan 29th 2021
EXTRACT: "One sign of this change is that, unlike all recent Democratic administrations, Biden’s hasn’t paid obeisance to Wall Street by giving bankers top jobs. The new Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, is a former Federal Reserve chair and academic who has made it clear that she understands the country’s pressing social needs. Moreover, Biden consulted Warren on her economic views, and has named a former Warren adviser as Yellen’s deputy. Yellen’s appointment demonstrates that Biden shares the insight that enabled Trump’s rise: that too many Americans feel that they cannot get a fair share. "
Jan 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "Barack Obama cautioned in his final speech as president that, “Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.” Yet isn’t that exactly what America has been doing? In a decade punctuated by the global financial crisis, the COVID-19 crisis, a racial-justice crisis, an inequality crisis, and now a political crisis, we have only paid lip service to lofty democratic ideals. ... Sadly, this complacency has come at a time of growing fragility for the American experiment. Internet-enabled connectivity is dangerously amplifying an increasingly polarized national discourse in an era of mounting social and political instability. The resulting vulnerability was brought into painfully sharp focus on January 6. The stewardship of democracy is at grave risk. "