If all of the United States were like Philadelphia, the Democratic Party would have a strategy for sweeping the 2004 elections. It would involve former President Bill Clinton, 2000 loser Al Gore, race-profiteer Jesse Jackson and actor/pundit/all-purpose political hack James Carville.
The tactics would be unfounded charges of racism, naked Bush-bashing and facile demonization of Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft. Using these methods, Democratic Mayor John Street of Philadelphia fought off an insurgent campaign by Republican businessman Sam Katz.
While Democrats in Mississippi and Kentucky did everything they could to detach themselves from the likes of Clinton, Gore, Howard Dean and Tom Daschle, the Democratic National Committee tried to make Philadelphia into a national race. One Election Day poster summed up the Democrats’ message: “Katz = Bush = Ashcroft.”
Street earlier had found himself trailing Katz in polls-incredible in a city where Democrats far outnumber Republicans-until a bug was detected in the mayor’s office. Original suspicion that Katz’s campaign, in a Watergate-type scheme, had planted the bug, disappeared when it became clear the FBI was responsible.
While this does not necessarily mean that Street was suspected of a crime, nonetheless, in most towns voters might have been put off. Not in Philadelphia.
Street immediately surged in the polls, taking the lead. Jesse Jackson visited the city and, together with some commentators and local political leaders, implied that the probe was racially and politically motivated.
Elmer Smith in the Philadelphia Daily News brought up the wiretaps of Martin Luther King Jr. that Robert Kennedy authorized in the 1960s. A Street campaign spokesman said, “This was an orchestrated attempt to smear a black, Democratic mayor during an election.”
When Bill Clinton visited Philadelphia, he felt Mayor Street’s pain. The impeached former President reminded supporters at a rally he knew what it was like to be the subject of a federal criminal probe.
It is telling that this was the only race this November that Democrats tried to nationalize. It shows that Street’s themes are the Democrats’ national themes. This is clear from looking around at two other favorite causes of the DNC this year.
In Texas, where lawmakers failed before the 2002 elections to draw a new congressional map reflecting the 2000 census, the state legislature set about replacing the court-drawn plan in the beginning of 2003. When Democrats in the state House of Representatives walked out and went to Ardmore, Okla., preventing a quorum, Beltway Democrats ran to their side.
By the time some state senators flew to Albuquerque, N.M., to prevent a quorum in the upper chamber, the obstruction in Austin had been taken over by the DNC. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) sent out daily e-mails about the “Texas Patriots” squatting in New Mexico.
National Democrats had also taken over the message. The new map, they charged, disenfranchised minorities. In fact, districts that had elected white Democrats were being eliminated in exchange for one new majority-Hispanic and one majority-black district.
So, the DCCC sent out press releases saying, “This map packs African-Americans and Hispanics into as few minority districts as possible.” In other words, rather than being minorities in many districts, blacks and Hispanics were now majorities in a few. The DCCC has already made it clear it plans to vilify the “Ashcroft Justice Department” when DOJ rules the map doesn’t violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The Democrats in 2003 are campaigning on race-baiting and Bush-bashing. Their national message is: Bush and Ashcroft are corrupt and racist.
Looking at the 2000 presidential map, one sees where this strategy worked: the blue parts of the country, where crime is higher and people are more likely to distrust neighbors and the police.
Most of the country, sadly for the Democrats, is not like Philadelphia.