David Sparks

Democratic gains, Republican losses

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By David Sparks
March 4, 2008

MOST of us haven't lost that junior high school delight in watching a good spat between the popular kids.

Thus it is for the conservative pundits these days as they revel in the Hillary Clinton vs. Barack Obama fracas. With their nomination wrapped up, Republicans have time to take pleasure in the spat between representatives of two big blocs of Democratic voters. They chortle over the dilemma facing the Democrats: The first time the Democrats have a woman as their potential nominee, her ascendancy is threatened by an African-American. They preen over the lasting damage that these groups will do to each other within the party.

These giggling Republicans might be whistling past the graveyard.

Beyond the short-term pleasure over two big Democratic icons duking it out, the institutional and tactical gains the Democrats have made during this nominating process will dog Republicans for years to come. The real problem for the Republicans begins after this presidential campaign cycle.

Start with condition of the battleground: an unpopular Republican president (61 percent disapproval), an unpopular war, and a shaky economy, produce an electorate in which 74 percent think the country is on the wrong track. Not exactly fertile soil for Republican organizing efforts.

Now add the Democrat gains in this campaign cycle:

The Democrats' 2008 turnout is up 88 percent from 2004, while the Republican contests have produced only a 7 percent increase between their last contested primaries in 2000 and 2008.

As of the end of 2007, the Democrat presidential candidates and party committees had raised more than $475,000,000 compared with $360,000,000 for the Republicans. This counters the traditional Republican financial advantage.

The voters' interest in this year's election was higher in February than in October of the last three presidential elections. This points to a significant increase in turnout this November, most probably benefiting the Democrats, given the trends.

The largely successful fund-raising effort by both Democrats gives the party access to a massive new wave of future donors. While Obama's million donor mark is the stuff of political lore, the fact that Clinton has maintained relative parity with the wildly popular Obama demonstrates the power of her campaign as well.

This financial success is mirrored in their campaign appearances - Republicans can only sneak glances over the fence and shake their heads at the kinds of crowds which have shown up to see both Democrats.

In politics, names and addresses of potential donors, helpers, and voters are assets, not just for the present, but for the future, as well. All the names of donors, people who have attended events, and probably even people who have clicked on campaign websites, are aggressively captured and preserved.

Beyond the accumulation and preservation of popular support, the Democrats are making important tactical strides.

The newest generation of voters, forming their opinions about their political allegiances for the first time, is also the most adept age group at using the Internet, the political technology of the future. These voters are drawn to the prospect of a woman or an African-American president.

On the other side, the Republicans will have run a 71-year-old white male, hardly the vehicle for attracting a new wave of voters.

In 1982, John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene predicted a future era of "high tech/high touch" in their book "Megatrends." Their premise was that technology would greatly enhance contact between people. That era is here in politics. Voters are moving away from knowing their neighbors, where precinct captains are valuable, to affinity groups. The Facebook/MySpace technology which the Democrats have so aggressively used captures that trend. Who uses this technology of the future? The age group which has been most energized by the Clinton-Obama contest.

Mechanically, Republicans will catch up to the technology. But they may never enjoy an exciting nominating process like the Democrats have in 2008, invigorating their party's future with new recruits. Despite all the excitement caused by the extended Obama-Clinton fight, the numbers suggest that there will be relative parity in this campaign between John McCain and either of the two Democrats. (McCain versus either Democrat is within the margin of error).

But, it may take the Republicans years to recover from what the Democrats have reaped from their nominating process in 2008.

David Sparks is assistant to the dean of the McCormack School of Policy Studies at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He held senior positions on the 1980 and 1988 Bush for President campaigns.

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