Wednesday, May 12, 2004

The Western Strategy
Ezra over at Pandagon has started a nice discussion of the Western Strategy. I'm a big fan of the Western Strategy. Though I have mentioned it in passing a few times, I haven't gone into it in any detail. It's time to fix that, I suppose (warning: pedantic background material follows).

The Western Strategy is a simple demographic observation. For years the West has been divided into a safe Democratic West (the coast states) and a safe Republican West (the mountain and basin states). Demographic changes along the southern edge of the Republican West are turning some of their safe states into swing states, with the possibility that they might eventually become out and out Democratic in the near future. The states most often mentioned are New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada. The demographic changes in question are mostly the rapid growth of the Hispanic population, but the rapid urbanization of some areas (in the form of retirees) is also an important factor.

There is more strategy involved here than just waiting for the fruit to fall from the trees.

First, is how to appeal to these states. Hispanics are not a monolithic group of loyal Democrats. They are a diverse population of many competing factions and interests. Republicans have been courting them for years hoping to make Hispanics their Blacks (a formula that is offensive on more levels than I care to go into at the moment). Fortunately, these efforts have been more than balanced out by the anti-immigration and racist idiot wings of the Republican Party. Of course, the more attention Democrats pay to the Hispanic vote the more opportunities we have to come across as condescending panderers just like the Republicans.

Second, is when to make that appeal. This is a question of resources. It would be nice if we

UPDATE:What happened to the rest of my post? Dammit. This is an attempt to reconstruct what I started to say. I only have a partial copy here. Assume the original was at least 30% more brilliant.

Second, is when to make that appeal. This is a question of resources. It would be nice if we could contest every office in every state. But we can't, so we perform a classic triage of the states. Some states are so safe that the national party doesn't need to spend too many resources there. Some are so Republican that it would be a waste of money to spend there. Both parties spend most of their money on the states that fall in between, that are genuinely in play. If the same states always fell into the same categories there would be no point in having this discussion. They don't, and the parties are constantly monitoring for tiny changes that might shift a state from one category to another. Even if the Southwestern states aren't ready to go Democratic, we might be able to force the Republicans to spend a lot to keep them. Money they spend keeping Nevada in their column is money not available to fight for Ohio.

Third, is the question of whether the Western Strategy replaces our older strategies or is in addition to those strategies. Although this is also a question of resources, it is most often voiced as the question, are we giving up on the South. For forty years the Republicans have been taking the South away from the Democratic Party. This shift is almost complete. For the duration of this shift Democrats have held as an article of faith that we cannot elect a Democrat to the White House without a few southern states. After the last census some Democrats noticed that this is no longer true. If Gore had taken New Hampshire, as Kerry is likely to do, he wouldn't have needed Florida.

So should we give up the South? My feeling is "No." The South-less Strategy leaves no margin for error in the presidential election. The South-less Strategy ignores other parts of the government to concentrate on the White House. Although there are now very few statewide races that a Democrat can win in the South, there are plenty of individual districts that are winnable, and we need those districts to regain control of the House.

The South-less Strategy is short-sighted. The Republican tide has peaked in the South. The more the Republicans turn the South into a one party system, the more any dissatisfaction with the staus quo will turn to the Democrats. We need to maintain a visible presence and organization in the South to sieze these opportunities when the appear.

Does this mean I'm against the Western Strategy. At this point my answer is "No" on this, too. We can't afford to surrender any complete region and the West is likely to pay dividends before the South will.

It is important in any discussion on strategy to remember that the Republicans are making these same calculations (even though their leader can't pronounce the word "strategy"). While we try to take the Southwest from them, they are trying to take Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, and Wisconsin from us. It might not be possible to keep all of those states. The key is to make sure that for every state we lose we take a bigger state from them.

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