Stan Greenberg: Fight harder on economic issues, Dems

Veteran Dem pollster Stan Greenberg has long taken the lead in advocating that embattled Dems hew to a “keep and fix” strategy in response to GOP attacks on Obamacare. In an interview with me this morning, he said he saw nothing in the results out of Florida’s 13th district — which are widely being touted as evidence the Dem strategy isn’t working – to change his mind.

However, Greenberg offered additional advice. He said Dems should focus mainly on fighting the health care wars to a draw while simultaneously using economic issues to motivate the Dem base, to match GOP success in ginning up the base over the ACA. And he said Dems needed to go up with more ads to counter the massive spending against Obamacare from outside conservative groups — right now.

“This is essentially an even split, and not a wedge issue,” Greenberg said about public opinion on the health law, referencing a new NBC/WSJ poll finding Americans split 48-47 on whether they favor a Dem who would fix the law or a GOPer who’d repeal it. “You have to battle it, and battle it to a draw.”

Greenberg said the Dem failure to turn out their voters in FL-13 – and not opinion on the health law — was the decisive factor. (The First Read crew noted today that turnout in the district was barely more than half that in 2012, and that Dem voters “didn’t show up.”) Greenberg said, if anything, that the closeness of the race (given GOP turnout superiority) indicated that Dem Alex Sink had mostly neutralized Obamacare as an issue, given all the outside GOP ads hammering her over it.

“To me this confirms an even split on the issue when you join it,” Greenberg said. Sink pollster Geoff Garin went even further in a new memo, arguing that Sink’s “keep and fix” message had helped among independents but that low turnout among Dems had doomed her.

Plus, Greenberg argued that Dems should stick with “keep and fix” because they can’t ignore the issue entirely and can’t now turn around and “say I was wrong and apologize and now I’m against health care.”

But doesn’t the superior turnout among Republicans alone show Obamacare is working against Dems as an issue? Don’t Dems need to sell the law’s benefits more effectively, if only to turn out their voters?

Greenberg said Dems should rely on economic issues more than Obamacare for pumping up the base, once the health law is neutralized with keep-and-fix.

“Jobs are the priority, not health care – you need more than that to energize Democrats,” Greenberg said. “It could be the minimum wage. It could be what you’re going to do on jobs. It could be opposing trade agreements that cut jobs. It could be opposing Social Security cuts. These are issues that move Democrats.”

Greenberg also said the Medicaid expansion (which is taking on a political life of its own independent of Obamacare) could be used by Dems to motivate the base, because it’s impacting “real people.”

Greenberg insisted this whole playbook was the right one for red state Senate races, even though he allowed it is “tough territory.”

Greenberg did suggest, however, that it was time for Dems — and Dem donors — to step up with paid ads to answer attacks such as those being waged by Americans for Prosperity in Michigan and North Carolina. “We should not allow these attacks to go unchallenged,” he said.

Greenberg allowed the FL-13 loss was a short term problem. “It’s hurtful tactically, because Republicans will be energized by it,” he said. “Now they will throw health care at us and nothing else for another election — and also obstruct [the law] as much as possible.”

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.
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Greg Sargent | March 12