Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Right Party: Why the GOP Will Remain Dominant after November

I've blogged previously on the Democrats' chances to retake control of the House in the November midterms, as well as on the implications of the 50 congressional district primary earlier this month (see here and here). One main point I've stressed so far is that the Republicans enjoy structural advantages in their efforts to maintain majority control. That theme is addressed by Peter Wallsten and Tom Hamburger in this commentary in today's Los Angeles Times. Indeed, Wallsten and Hamburger have a new book out on the GOP's structural hegemony and the party's long-term plan to transform American politics. Here's an excerpt from the essay, discussing how the results from the 50th congressional demonstrate how the GOP builds and maintains power:

The fact is that over two or three decades, the GOP has painstakingly built up a series of structural advantages that make the party increasingly difficult to beat. And in the last five years, it has strengthened its hold under President Bush and his political guru, Karl Rove. Democrats need a net gain of 15 seats in the House and six in the Senate to take power. And Republicans may well suffer some setbacks. But if the GOP retains control of Congress despite such a gloomy political climate — or even if it keeps control of just one chamber and narrowly loses the other — party leaders can rightfully argue that their long-term goal of constructing a lasting political majority remains viable. The Republican fortress has many underpinnings, such as gerrymandered congressional districts that favor the GOP, an intellectual infrastructure that churns ideas through conservative think tanks and media, an ever-stronger political and policy-based alliance with corporate America, and the most sophisticated vote-tracking technology around. Some of the GOP advantages are recent developments, such as the database called Voter Vault, which was used to precision in the San Diego County special election. The program allows ground-level party activists to track voters by personal hobbies, professional interests, geography — even by their favorite brands of toothpaste and soda and which gym they belong to. Both parties can identify voters by precinct, address, party affiliation and, often, their views on hot-button issues. Democrats also use marketing data, but Voter Vault includes far more information culled from marketing sources — including retailers, magazine subscription services, even auto dealers — giving Republicans a high-tech edge in the kind of grass-roots politics that has long been the touchstone of Democratic activists. As a result, Republicans have moved well ahead of Democrats nationally in their ability to find previously unaffiliated voters or even wavering Democrats and to target them with specially tailored messages. Voter Vault, although it is a closely guarded GOP trade secret, is nevertheless easily accessible to on-the-ground campaign workers and operatives should they need to mobilize votes in a hurry.
I imagine Wallsten and Hamburger's argument is similar to that of Adrian Wooldridge and John Micklethwait's in The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America. Of course, the predictive power of their analyses will be tested by fall's midterm results. But Bush's polls numbers have come back up a little bit since the Zarqawi elimination, and the Democrats looked pretty divided this last couple of weeks in the congressional debates on an early Iraq withdrawal. I'm still skeptical that this year's elections will equal those of the electoral earthquake of 1994. We'll see!

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