Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Taking the Fight to Middle America

From the New York Times:

House Democrats, trying to capitalize on conservative dissatisfaction with Republicans, are reaching out to Christian voters with radio advertisements critical of Republican proposals to overhaul Social Security.

In a campaign tied to appearances by President Bush on behalf of House candidates later this week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has bought time on stations with Christian and conservative audiences to try to remind those who traditionally vote Republican of their party’s plan to add private investment accounts to Social Security.

While Republicans have stepped up efforts in recent years to cut into traditional Democratic strength among Catholics, Hispanics and older Americans, among other groups, the radio campaign is a rare effort by Democrats to appeal to a dependable Republican constituency.

“We are going to keep them back on their heels and make them compete for their own base,” said Representative Rahm Emanuel, Democrat of Illinois, chairman of the House campaign organization.

[…]

In an advertisement scheduled to begin running Wednesday in five House districts in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Virginia, an announcer says that “retirement has become an uncertain time for many of us.” The commercial goes on to suggest that the Social Security approach championed by Mr. Bush and many Congressional Republicans could undermine the stability of the retirement program while adding $2 trillion in federal debt.

Mr. Emanuel said the advertisement raised the debt issue to spotlight another sore spot among conservatives — the level of spending overseen by Republicans in Congress. The rise in the debt limit and criticism of the growth in federal spending bills is adding to unrest among conservatives that is contributing to low public support for Congress. Even if the party is unable to convert conservatives, the advertisements could help hold down Republican support in districts where races could be tight.

The premise of Thomas Frank’s book What’s The Matter With Kansas? is that the Republicans won over voters in the red states by exploiting emotional but distant issues such as gay marriage and Hollywood hedonism while screwing them over on such kitchen-table concerns as tax cuts only for rich, spiraling health care, the possible privatization of Social Security, and the drying up of the pensions.

But as poll numbers for the GOP and the administration head south, the Democrats have an opportunity to remind the folks in the red states that the most important issues are the ones closest to home: the local economy, retirement, and health care.

And it might also be a good time to remind voters that the last time the middle class was in distress and facing such issues — during the Great Depression — it sure as hell wasn’t the Republicans who came to their rescue.