I have been in politics way too long to take anything for granted in this Presidential race, and I am way too superstitious to assume a victory no matter what. The strongly anti-Obama vote remains at a rock solid 45% no matter what ridiculous things Romney says or does, and there will be a few percent undecided right to the end, which means Romney will hang relatively close through the last weeks of this race. By everything I can tell, including both public and private polls I have seen, this is a 4 point race, and that is still close. World events, a weak Obama debate performance or some other kind of mistake, or any number of other things might still put Romney even closer before it is done.
Having said all that, Romney is in a world of hurt, primarily because of the way he has defined himself philosophically and values-wise to the American people. He has lost the essential debate in this race, and the Republican base has created a locked box that imprisons him and makes his comeback very difficult. It’s not just that he is down by a few points: the voting dynamics have solidified, and the chances for Romney’s vote to grow are severely limited because the key groups of swing voters really don’t like him. If Romney comes back and wins, it will not be because of Romney, it will be because of something big happening- a major Obama mistake, people falling asleep in the Get-Out-The-Vote operations, a huge international or economic crisis- that Romney has nothing to do with. Romney’s chances for winning are now out of his hands, so all the stories about whether the Romney campaign will ever get its act together are irrelevant. With a big Obama campaign mistake or an earth-shaking world event, Romney could still win this election, but he and his party have lost the debate over values, policy, and the future of the country.
Given that, we Democrats and progressives should- without losing focus for a moment on turning out the vote and finishing off the re-election job- begin thinking about the implications of a second term for Obama, and how we can begin working now to make it successful for most of the American people. That analysis needs to be done both on the political and economic side of things.
When it comes to politics, naturally the big story is the nature of the next Congress. Because we are winning the central debate, our numbers have gone up in competitive House and Senate races throughout the country. We need to keep driving home our winning argument about community, investing in our people, and fighting for a strong middle class - and we need to do everything possible(except in a few swing states and districts that lean Republican) to nationalize this election.
The chances for the Democrats to retake the House are now a lot better than the conventional wisdom has it, and my view is that for the sake of Obama’s second term the entire party needs to re-orient itself to that possibility. The Obama campaign, big Democratic donors, and the progressive movement should be willing to take the risk of starting to redirect some resources toward winning House races, because if we can take the House back it will be make a 2nd term so much better in terms of getting things done for the American people. We also ought to be working to expand the playing field, because that is how we took the House back in 2006 when through most of the cycle very few people thought we would: the DCCC started out only targeting about 25 races, and in the end more than 60 were competitive. We ended losing more than half of the closest races that cycle but still easily won the House back, and if we had only been playing in 25 races, Nancy Pelosi would not have been Speaker. Now is the time for the Democratic party, donors, and progressive groups to make the investments needed in enough 2nd and 3rd tier races to allow the possibility of riding the wave if it starts to build. Barack Obama’s 2nd term is going to look a lot better if he has a Democratic House to work with instead of the tea partiers currently in control.
The good news in terms of targeting is that many of the most competitive and potentially competitive House races in the country are concentrated in Presidential swing states. The Presidential target states- NH, IA, NV, CO, IA, WI, MI, OH, PA, NH, VA, NC- all have at least one first tier House target, most of them have multiples, and they all have 2nd tier races as well. But there are 3 more big states with large numbers of competitive races- IL, NY, and CA- where a lot of resources can and should be targeted as well. Fortunately, they are all big fundraising states, so when the President makes trips there to raise money, he should be spending some time campaigning for House candidates as well.
If Obama ends up winning this election by even just a couple of points, the chances for a Republican Senate takeover are slim to none, but to really give a 2nd term the kind of energy and push it needs, Democrats and progressives should be making sure that the strong progressives running in competitive Senate races get maximum assistance and support. Sherrod Brown, the progressive populist champion of Ohio’s middle class, needs to win re-election. And the party and progressives should give top priority to helping strong economic populists Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Baldwin, Mazie Hirono, Chris Murphy, Heidi Heitkamp, and Martin Heinrich win seats in the Senate. With these kinds of voices for working and middle class folks in the Senate, they will push the Obama economic team to be bolder and more progressive in their economic thinking.
Which leads me to economic policy. In a second term, the Obama economic team will need to think big and bold to get us out of the fundamental economic problems that have been 30 plus years in the making. There’s a brilliant new long term economic plan written by Jacob Hacker and Nate Loewentheil that lays out in detail how the Obama economic team should be thinking about economic policy for the next 4 years. We need to rebuild and revitalize the great American middle class, and allow low income people and young people starting out to climb their way into it; we need to invest in our people, our infrastructure, and our R&D; we need to revitalize the small business sector by giving them access to credit and leveling the playing field in terms of competing with big business; we need to raise wages, strengthen the pension system, and build on the reforms in Obamacare; we need to break up the Too Big To Fail banks and take on the power of Wall Street.
If Romney is elected, none of this will happen, and his and Ryan’s terrible budget policies will sink us back into a depression. But even if Obama is elected, progressives will need to push like crazy (both in the administration and in Congress) to get these kinds of policies that would lift the economy for the long term enacted.
This election is far from over, but Democrats have won the essential philosophical debate, and now have a real opportunity for a wave election. Let’s hope they take advantage of the moment to win the election, and then take advantage of winning to rebuild the American economy.