So what should Democratic candidates do to survive 2010? A strong consensus has emerged among Democratic operatives, based on a strategy developed under the guidance of pollster Geoff Garin. Garin declined to be interviewed for this story, but other party strategists say the most crucial order of business in each contest is to prevent Republican challengers from turning the race into a referendum on the Democratic candidate, the Democratic Party, President Obama, or all three. Rather, they say, Democrats need to turn the public's attention to the failings of the Republican candidate and the national GOP.There are a couple of problems with a strategy of going negative. First, the national GOP does not present a target-rich environment, precisely because it lacks real power. A few months ago, in fact, the rap against the national party was that it was "leaderless." Second, a negative strategy contradicts a major premise of Obama's election, namely that he would transcend such approaches. As he said the night he won the North Carolina primary:
Democratic pollster Celinda Lake says that as soon as her clients know who their opponents will be, her advice is "to get them [the Republican candidates] defined." Democratic candidates, Lake and others say, should pre-empt Republicans seeking to present a positive image to the public. Among the techniques to achieve this goal are floating negative stories in the press, taking full advantage of sympathetic bloggers to create a hostile portrait of the GOP opponent, and actively using "less visible" means of communication such as phone banks, direct mail, and canvassers.
More importantly, because of you, we have seen that it's possible to overcome the politics of division and distraction; that it's possible to overcome the same old negative attacks that are always about scoring points and never about solving our problems. We've seen that the American people aren't looking for more spin or more gimmicks, but honest answers about the challenges we face.