Political Mulligan!

Towards the end of April, we raised the idea of “Economic Mulligan;” The War in Iraq gave the economy a “do over,” rationalizing mixed to poor economic numbers (Good GDP, bad Jobs reports). That observation has been borne out, as the economy has grudgingly improved (lack of job creation not withstanding).

Now, Gerald Seib has brought the same “Mulligan” idea into the political arena. (Seib is deputy chief of The Wall Street Journal’s Washington bureau, writes the weekly Capital Journal column, and is a frequent guest on CNBC).

His article yesterday outlined the DNC strategy for dealing with the California recall: In the California Recall Mess, Democrats See National Message.

Some political commentators had observed that the Ah-nold candidacy “sucked all of the air” out of the political room. Howard Dean — perhaps peaking too soon (See “Howard Dean and the magazine cover indicator“) — appeared on both Newsweek and Time covers last week. The 9 dwarves had started collectively attacking the president, instead of squabbling amongst themselves. And, it was having an effect, as evidenced by Bush’s poll numbers drop (Political Polls and trend analysis).

The recall buzz, thrown into super high gear by Schwarzenegger (I thought Ritholtz was tough to spell), was a godsend to Karl Rove, Bush’s chief political strategist.

Here, according to Seib, is the Dem strategy in response:

If the nation’s attention is going to be focused on California, Democrats figure they need to at least get some mileage from it by rousing the party faithful elsewhere. So expect to hear them charging regularly that California, where Mr. Davis was re-elected just nine months ago, cements a trend in which Republicans reject electoral outcomes that they don’t like. This allows Democratic leaders to remind their core voters about their simmering anger over the 2000 recount in Florida, a message that Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe says his party hopes to carry straight into next year’s political campaign.

This is an interesting strategy — I have no idea if it will have any resonance with the centrist voters who ultimately decide elections. But its worth watching.

Seib continues:

For Democrats now, though, the best line of attack is to portray California as simply another example of power politics. First of all, Democratic leaders will cite the 2000 presidential election, in which, they contend, Republicans refused to allow a recount that would have shown Al Gore winning and instead forced a favorable but incomplete result through the courts until the Supreme Court gave them the election. The same tendency is playing out in Texas, Democrats argue, where Republicans are trying to jettison a court-drawn map of congressional districts by pushing through the state legislature a new map much more friendly to them, even changing state Senate rules to get it done. And though most Democratic leaders are less eager to cite this precedent, some will argue that the impeachment of President Clinton showed that Republicans refused to accept the outcome of the two presidential elections he won.

The Democratic argument is articulated by Mr. McAuliffe, the party chairman: “There’s a pattern that you’ve now seen developed. … This is about power for Republicans. They want to win it all. They will resort to any tactic.” On Monday night, at a forum for Democratic candidates in Philadelphia, most of the candidates picked up that approach. The Rev. Al Sharpton may have framed it best, proclaiming of Republicans: “They have introduced a new thing in American politics, which is called, ‘Let’s do it over again until we win.’ ”

October 7 is still 7 weeks away, but polls in California show 57% in favor of a Davis recall. The DNC strategy may not have an impact in California, but could be significant for the ’04 campaign. It also has a potential to backfire; the American public has a notoriously short memory, and an even shorter attention span.

As a strategist, I have my own ideas as to how I would run either the GOP and the Dem campaigns. Rove has been doing the strategically correct things; I’m less sure if the Dean or Kerry campaign is as well positioned strategically. You must be impressed with the Dean fundraising apparatus and their comprehension of the net as a political tool, even if you do not care for his politics. The Joseph Lieberman campaign appears to be stuck in the mud, squandering name recognition and whatever goodwill he had from his gentlemanly VP run. At the present rate, Lieberman will be completely marginalized by mid-September.

This is certainly going to be an interesting political season. In a 1966 speech in Cape Town, South Africa, Robert F. Kennedy said, “There is a Chinese curse: “May he live in interesting times.” Like it or not, we live in interesting times”

He had no idea . . . .

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