Hillary Clinton’s Message Works With Independents Too

It wasn’t that long ago that the big question everyone asked of Democrats was how they were going to compete in Southern states. It was assumed that only by nominating candidates from the South like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton could we hope to win the presidency. Most of that talk ended with the election and re-election of Barack Obama. Since then it’s been my fantasy that someday pundits will start asking Republicans how they are going to compete in states like Virginia…or better yet, West Coast states (which Reagan actually won).

But when it comes to the old trope about Democrats competing in the South, apparently Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman didn’t get the memo.

Hillary Rodham Clinton appears to be dispensing with the nationwide electoral strategy that won her husband two terms in the White House and brought white working-class voters and great stretches of what is now red-state America back to Democrats.

Instead, she is poised to retrace Barack Obama’s far narrower path to the presidency…

Martin and Haberman never get around to actually providing the numbers to demonstrate what they call Bill Clinton’s “national electoral strategy” and Barack Obama’s “far narrower path.” So here they are:

1992 Clinton electoral votes: 370
2008 Obama electoral votes: 365

The difference basically comes down to Obama trading off states like Arkansas, Kentucky and West Virginia for Florida, North Carolina and Virginia. Not exactly the chasm they made it out to be.

But the bigger point Martin and Haberman want to make is not as much about geography as it is about WHICH voters Hillary Clinton is attempting to appeal to.

Mrs. Clinton’s aides say it is the only way to win in an era of heightened polarization, when a declining pool of voters is truly up for grabs. Her liberal policy positions, they say, will fire up Democrats, a less difficult task than trying to win over independents in more hostile territory…

That very well may be the case. And firing up Democrats to actually get out and vote is not a bad strategy. But it totally misses what I noted from Brian Beutler’s article recently:

The nature of the strategy involves staking out a variety of progressive issue positions that enjoy broad support, but it’s not as straightforward as simply identifying the public sentiment and riding it to victory. The key is to embrace these ideas in ways that makes standard Republican counterspin completely unresponsive, and thus airs out the substantive core of their agenda: Rather than vie for conservative support by inching rightward, Clinton is instead reorienting liberal ideas in ways that make the Republican agenda come into greater focus.

Clinton’s “liberal policy positions” will have the Republicans running AGAINST raising the minimum wage, efforts to curb climate change, immigration reform, voting rights, campaign finance reform, etc. So please tell me who loses independents given that scenario? Someday perhaps national political pundits will acknowledge that it is the Republicans who have gotten so extreme as to make a core Democratic message appealing to a broad spectrum of the country.

Apparently that was also Dan Pfeiffer’s reaction to Martin and Haberman.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.