The Democrat playbook is all too predictable.
There’s an old saying describing Democrat campaign tactics in conservative districts–”vote left, press release right.”
Tom Daschle’s comments on Thursday were simply another work of art in a very full exhibition of this strategy.
Comment A: “I give the effort (rebuilding of Iraq) overall real credit.”
Comment B: “It is a good thing Saddam Hussein is no longer in power. It is a good thing we are democratizing the country.”
The Rapid City Journal reported that Daschle “praised the Bush administration’s war and nation-building work in Iraq and said he has no serious concerns about the lack of weapons of mass destruction.”
Nope, that’s not Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, or Sean Hannity. It’s Tom Daschle. Apparently he has joined the ranks of the media loathed “neocons.” If only.
These comments were directed toward a Chamber of Commerce meeting in South Dakota’s capital of Pierre. Apparently Daschle still talks to the rich and evil half of the people in John Edwards’s “Two Americas.” So not only was he talking to the enemy, he was pandering to the enemy.
The readers know what this is about. It’s about the only thing people like Daschle understand–keeping power.
But, let’s highlight a few salient and driving factors behind Tom Daschle’s obvious about face on Iraq:
1. By almost any measure, South Dakota is an exceptionally Republican state. Recent party-registration figures in South Dakota are 48.1 percent Republican to 38.5 percent Democrat. Registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats by more than 43,000 voters.
If that isn’t enough, South Dakota has voted for a Democratic president just four times since being admitted as a state. The state is reliably Republican even in lean years. For example, Bob Dole won South Dakota in 1996 with 46 percent of the vote.
And, most importantly, South Dakota is Bush country. Bush beat Gore by roughly 72,000 votes in 2000 and won the state with 60 percent of the vote.
2. If Al Gore’s message didn’t play well in South Dakota in 2000, how well do you think a liberal from Massachusetts who favors gun control, is stridently pro-choice, and voted against the death penalty for terrorists who kill Americans abroad will do in 2004?
3. Democratic Senator Tim Johnson narrowly defeated John Thune in 2002. To pull off this feat Johnson had to: (a) vote for the president’s tax cut and advertise his vote on TV (a tax cut Daschle voted against), (b) play up the fact that he is generally pro-life, (c) focus attention on his son’s admirable service in the military, (d) get lucky enough to have a pesky libertarian candidate take 3,070 votes away from Thune, (e) turn out an amazing number of Native Americans on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Shannon County, and (f) focus almost exclusively on the question of who can bring home the most pork. All of this got Tim Johnson a 528 vote victory out of 337,508 votes cast.
This is a difficult strategy for Daschle to replay since he doesn’t have Johnson’s votes or credentials to run right, has lost clout when he lost the majority, and will be feeling pressure above ballot.
All this has to leave Tom Daschle feeling as edgy as an underweight wide receiver going over the middle. He’s got to be hearing footsteps.
The strategy is clear. Daschle knows that he’s in a conservative state. He knows, given party-registration numbers, that he has to peel away at least some Republicans. His team has already done the math and realized that if Bush wins 60 percent of the vote in South Dakota again, Daschle will need to get 17 percent of these Bush voters to vote for him and not Thune in order to win. That’s some tough math.
Tough electoral math has added up to a very large set of television buys for Daschle in his home state, toned down rhetoric, a vote to ban partial-birth abortion, and a focus on local issues.
All this suggests that Daschle will attempt to mute the high-profile issue differences between himself and Thune and make the issue clout.
Pay no attention to all those major policy fights over the last four years. Can’t we talk some more about ethanol and earmarked projects?
This muting process will be as entertaining as it is bizarre, and we can look forward to at least several more attempted repositionings in South Dakota.
About face! Forward march!
–Robert Moran is a vice president at Republican polling firm Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates. He is an NRO contributor.