Liberals find backing in poll numbers

By Perry Bacon Jr.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010; A15

Progressive groups, worried that Democrats are too cautious, are speaking the language that lawmakers may hear clearest: poll numbers.

After Republican Scott Brown's election to the Senate in Massachusetts on Jan. 19, a coalition of liberal groups released a survey of Bay State voters who backed Obama in 2008 and who voted for Brown or did not vote in the special election. The findings, according to MoveOn.org, one of the groups, showed that respondents "worry that Democrats in power have not done enough to combat the policies of the Bush era" and want "stronger, more progressive action on health care reform."

Those findings parallel MoveOn's priorities; other surveys might suggest another course for Democrats. But the poll illustrates a shift in tactics by liberal groups, which are increasingly funding polls that buttress their view that Democrats should govern as a populist, liberal party instead of from the center. The blog Firedoglake recently released polls showing the political weakness of some conservative Democrats, whom the blog has been criticizing.

Another liberal group, The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, released surveys last year from Arkansas, Indiana and Nevada showing that a government-run, or "public," insurance option was popular in those states, trying to get the support of three Democratic senators in tough reelection fights: Evan Bayh (Ind.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and Harry M. Reid (Nev.).

Congressional Democrats privately fume at some of the surveys, questioning the methodology and the wisdom of showing the political vulnerability of Democrats.

The groups have no plans of stopping. This week, they plan to release a survey showing that voters in Colorado strongly favor the public option, looking to push Sen. Michael Bennet (D) to back the use the legislative process called reconciliation to get a health-care bill passed. That process requires 51 votes instead of the usual 60.

In Newt they trust

President Obama's appearance before House Republicans last week dominated headlines, but party strategists say lawmakers might have learned more from the person preceding him: former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).

Gingrich masterminded the GOP congressional takeover in 1994, but in the past decade he was largely ignored by the party. Now he has reemerged as one of the top counsels to GOP leaders in Congress.

Speaking Friday to House Republicans, Gingrich said it is too soon to offer voters any formal policy document, such as the 1994 Contract with America. Instead, he said, party officials should go on a listening tour and encourage GOP activists to submit ideas for a document. Then, around six weeks before the election, according to those who heard his remarks, Gingrich said Republicans should release their proposals. (The original Contract was unveiled in late September 1994.)

Gingrich is already touting his own vision. In the February issue of the conservative magazine Newsmax, he listed ideas including a 50 percent cut for two years in the payroll tax paid by both employers and employees to help create jobs; legislation that defends the right to speak about faith in public; and requiring bills to be posted online 72 hours before any vote in Congress.

Working together?

An endangered congressional Democrat may be getting help from an unlikely source: Republicans. Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and John McCain (Ariz.) will lead a group of lawmakers who will introduce legislation on Tuesday to bar funding for trials in U.S. civilian courts for alleged conspirators in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It is the latest move in the GOP's strong opposition to moving detainees from Guantanamo Bay.

The bill will also have a Democratic backer: Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. That is not shocking; Democrats have expressed concerns about holding the trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammed in New York City. But the event could easily turn into an ad for the reelection campaign of Lincoln, whose poll numbers are among the weakest of any Senate Democrat running in 2010.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company