DGA Outlines Fall Strategy

DGA Outlines Fall Strategy

By Erin McPike - September 9, 2010

A day after the Democratic Governors Association rolled out its midterm strategy to tar GOP candidates as extremists, the DGA worked to dispel the idea that this year's elections will be akin to the 1994 midterm wave that swept a bushel of Republicans into office.

Paul Begala, one of three Democratic strategists on a DGA-sponsored panel who worked in the Clinton White House during the '94 wave, pointed out that the Republican Party has grown increasingly conservative with each passing cycle, and that may prevent the GOP from reaching the level of success it did 16 years ago. He noted that President Reagan was more conservative than President Nixon was; that House Speaker Newt Gingrich was farther right than Reagan; and that President Bush was still more conservative. Today, he indicated that the GOP's leadership is unclear, but that if it's former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, it's lurched even farther rightward.

Nathan Daschle, the executive director of the DGA, offered specific examples of what he considers extreme conservatism from GOP gubernatorial candidates in Florida, Maine, Minnesota and Pennsylvania. All four states went for President Obama by sizable margins in 2008, and half are currently governed by Republicans. Democrats expect to hold or win most of that quartet.

But asked which races to watch on Election Day, Daschle picked the gubernatorial battles in California, Florida, New York and Texas. The rest of the panel named roughly the same races as ones to watch, particularly because of the impact the governorships have on next year's redistricting process and the presidential election the following year. They failed to mention Ohio, where Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland is in an uphill battle against former Rep. John Kasich.

Begala zeroed in on Texas and quipped that Texas GOP Gov. Rick Perry "is the dumbest and the prettiest governor in America." The virtual polling tie between Perry and his Democratic challenger, Houston Mayor Bill White, should provide some evidence that this election cycle is not anti-Democratic and thus not a repeat of 1994, Begala argued.

Another point the group made to drive their message about the difference between then and now is how fractious the GOP has grown. Dee Dee Myers, a Clinton White House spokeswoman, said that the GOP was unified under Gingrich, but that the same unity is not in place with the current party.

The Republicans may have some difficulty with their base, but Harold Ickes, a deputy chief of staff in the Clinton administration, cautioned that Democrats share that problem. He scolded the Democratic base for having a fair-weather attitude toward its leadership. Begala later said that the way President Obama can assist Democratic candidates this fall is by firing up the base -- and he commended Obama's speech in Cleveland on Wednesday for just that reason.

Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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