Yesterday I offered a somewhat sobering take on the mid-term elections from a Democratic perspective. My analysis basically went like this: Everything is going to hell. The Democrats want to make the election all about abortion while the Republicans want to make it about crime. Crime is trumping abortion.
It has occurred to me since I posted that piece that I was not offering constructive criticism, only gloom and fatalism. I do think Democrats have a chance, not to turn this around into a resounding victory, but to blunt the Republican gains and to save Gov. Tony Evers in Wisconsin, if nothing else.
They can do that by abandoning their current strategy and instead going on the offensive on the crime issue. So far the Democratic response to blistering Republican accusations that they are soft on crime is two-fold. One response is no response, just change the subject to abortion. The other response is to deny and explain. But, as one old campaign hand once told me, “when you’re explaining you’re losing.”
Senate candidate Mandela Barnes is taking the brunt of these attacks and his response is soft ads in which he makes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or goes grocery shopping while explaining that his parents were hard-working and middle class. He says that accusations that he is for defunding the police are lies, all evidence to the contrary given that he has been recorded as saying pretty much just that, though he has since changed his stance.
Actually, I don’t think Barnes’ ads are terrible. Republicans are trying to make him out to be a scary Black man and Barnes’ natural easy-going personality and his emphasis on middle class values play well to defuse that. Fine. That was a good thing to do. But now he’s got to go on the offensive.
Rather than ignoring crime or simply denying that he’s soft on it, he needs to attack Sen. Ron Johnson on that very issue. It’s too late to change the subject. Republicans have already won the high ground. They’ve made crime the issue whether Democrats want it to be or not. So, now we need to fight on the ground of their choosing.
And it’s not that hard to do. Start with the fact that RoJo votes against everything, especially spending bills. He’s got a 12-year record of voting against stuff. In all those bills there have to be many provisions that would have — or could be stretched to be interpreted as having — funded or supported first responders. So, add ’em up and cut an ad that says something like, “While Ron Johnson was voting for big tax breaks for himself and his friends, he voted 27 times to deny badly needed help to our first responders. Ron Johnson. Millions in tax breaks for himself and his pals. But not a dime for our heroes.”
Tim Michels and Ron Johnson. Soft on crime. Hard on our first responders.
I have no idea how many times it was that RoJo voted against first responders. Somebody would have to do a little research. But I like 27 because it sounds accurate and because it’s enough to be shocking but not so high as to strain belief. Oh, let’s just go with 27. Make Johnson say, “That’s a lie! I only voted against cops 23 times!”
And Evers can attack the Republican Legislature and his opponent, Tim Michels, by extension. Polls show that crime is a big issue, but it’s right there next to gun violence. Republicans have the advantage on crime, but Democrats have the upper hand on guns. So you could have an ad featuring the sound of a gavel and pictures of mass shooting sites. “Tony Evers called the Republican Legislature into session to pass common sense gun reforms favored by 80% of Wisconsinites, including 70% of gun owners. And Robin Vos and the Republicans (sound of gavel) said ‘no’. Tony Evers called for new funding for police and first responders and (sound of gavel) they said ‘no’ again. So, who’s really on the side of public safety? Just say ‘no’ to Tim Michels and Robin Vos.” (Note: Vos’ approval ratings are much lower than either Evers’ or Michels’.)
Of course, smarter people than me who do this for a living and who are armed with polling and focus group data can do a better job than a guy sitting around in his pajamas under an afghan and sipping coffee while reading the newspapers online. But I think the idea is sound. It’s the Karl Rove strategy of attacking your opponent at his point of strength. It’s why Rove went after war hero John Kerry on his service record just as he was about to face Rove’s client, George W. Bush, who had skirted service in Vietnam. Remember the “Swift Boat Veterans”?
Look. let’s not sugar coat it. Things look bad for the Democrats. But there’s a month left and it’s not over until it’s over. And it’s not over yet. My advice: attack the other guys hard on exactly the issue they think is their strength. Because, folks, what do you have to lose?