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Priming the Progressives

by Jo Freeman


Close to a thousand progressives gathered from all over the country last week to plan for a Democratic sweep in November. The fifth annual Take Back America conference saw few politicians but many political directors, policy wonks, and pollsters speaking to the faithful and priming them for action. Although the numbers attending were smaller than last year, their optimism was greater.

Robert Borosage, co-director of the sponsoring Campaign for America’s Future, contended that the 2008 election would bring not merely change, but a sea change in the political landscape. He predicted that the Reagan revolution of 1980 was about to be reversed.

This prediction was based not only on polls showing voter dismay with the failed Bush presidency, but careful analysis of voter demographics. In panels on the 2008 Election Map and the Emerging Progressive Majority experts said that important voter groups are trending Democratic, including youth and Hispanics. This was predicted by Judis’ and Teixeira‘s book The Emerging Democratic Majority (Scribner), but in 2004 they were a little ahead of their time.

Turning out the Democratic voter will be crucial to a commanding victory. Page Gardner of Women’s Voices, Women’s Vote Action Fund, pointed out that unmarried women are 25 percent of the eligible electorate and growing. They usually vote Democratic by two to one but go to the polls at lower rates than most groups. In 2004 only 59 percent voted. However in the SuperTuesday Democratic primaries (in the states whose exit polls asked marital status) unmarried women voted at much greater rates. Getting unmarried female Democratic voters to the polls in November could turn some red states blue.

To make this happen, six organizations announced multi-million dollar efforts to turn out the vote for progressive Democrats. Organized labor — especially the AFL-CIO and Change to Win — will provide at least $200 million in candidate support and advertising. Non-profits, like ACORN, will contribute with non-partisan voter registration drives.

This pragmatic approach governed much of the TBAC ‘08. Running parallel to the speeches were workshops on honing political skills, such as organizing your base, fundraising, outreach, and managing the media. Developing political skills among the grassroots is seen as the best means to hold elected officials accountable to progressive values.

Other speakers emphasized that "the day after" election day is just as important as the days leading up to it. Now that both of the leading Democratic party candidates have stated their intention to get out of Iraq (if not exactly when), many progressives are looking beyond Iraq. The AFL-CIO has decided to make healthcare a priority this year.

The enthusiasm at TBAC was in striking contrast to the 35th annual Conservative Political Action Conference which met in the same DC hotel in early February. With 6,000 registrants, it was the largest conference in a long time, but those attending were still pining for Ronald Reagan. Attendees cheered the plethora of public officials (including President Bush) and popular pundits who came to dump on the Democrats but spoke in hushed voices about how bad Bush has been for the Republican Party.

Judging from the responses to CPAC’s 2008 straw poll, conservatives think the most important issues the candidates should address are terrorism, Iraq, reducing government spending and illegal immigration. In the TBAC straw poll healthcare, the economy and the War in Iraq are the three top policy concerns.

Obama was the candidate of 72% of those who chose to sit down at a Politico computer and answer the questions in the TBAC straw poll. Only 16 percent chose Hillary. Since this was virtually the same as last year, it implies that those who supported other Democratic candidates last June probably shifted to Obama when their first choice dropped out.

There was another kind of straw poll at both CPAC and TBAC. CafePress sells candidate merchandise and charts the sales as a sign of support. Online sales of Obama products passed those of Hillary products at the beginning of 2008 and took off in mid-January. His products became so popular that as of mid-March they were 40% of all candidate products sold since last November. The progressives’ choice is proving to be quite profitable.

Editor's Note:

Jo's new book, We Will Be Heard: Women's Struggles for Political Power in the United States, has been published by Rowman and Littlefield.

CafePress also sells merchandise.


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