Liberals spending unwisely

Once again, a Democratic PAC is wasting big money.

Published August 11, 2008 9:43PM (EDT)

With all due respect to Steve Philips -- a great guy by every account I've heard (never met him) -- and his liberal allies in PowerPac, what in the hell are they thinking when they decide to spend $10 million in voter registration efforts in the South?

As I pointed out in a July 1 New York Times Op-Ed, in general African-Americans are already registered and vote at high rates in the South. In fact, in 2004 they were 17.9 percent of age-eligible voters in 2004 and 17.9 percent of Election Day voters. (In the 39 non-Southern states, however, they were just 8.4 percent of voters despite being 8.8 percent of the age-eligible electorate; if there is a black registration/voting problem it is outside the South.)

PowerPac will invest in Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia. Of these, only Virginia makes sense. Why?

Well, consider that, according to the Census Bureau, nationwide 64.4 percent of African-Americans were registered in 2004, and 56.3 percent voted. (That's not 56.3 percent of the 64.4 percent; both are shares based on the age-eligible black population as divisor.) Now, let's compare PowerPac's four target states against this national benchmark -- Georgia: 64.2 registration rate, 54.4 turnout rate; Mississippi: 76.1, 66.8; North Carolina: 70.4, 63.1; Virginia: 57.4, 49.6.

Basically, Mississippi and North Carolina are already outpacing national averages for black registration and turnout, with Georgia on par. (Notice that all three were nevertheless uncompetitive in 2004.) Only Virginia -- arguably Barack Obama's best shot in the South -- looks to be in serious need of PowerPac's dough. Spend whatever you intend to spend on registration drives in the Commonwealth, I say.

Or, how about, um, Ohio? The black registration rate in the Buckeye State in 2004 was 70.3 percent and turnout was 65.5 percent. Those rates are eerily similar to North Carolina, but the two states are different in one very, very crucial respect: Ohio was very close four years ago, but North Carolina was not. So why would North Carolina be elevated above Ohio? Even if there's more room for growth in North Carolina with such investments, the gap to be closed in Ohio is much smaller, making it a better investment. (Strategy, by definition, means making tough choices with scarce resources, which is why Howard Dean's "50-state strategy" is actually an oxymoron; targeting everywhere is the very definition of the absence of a strategy.)

So, I must ask: Why are earnest, well-funded liberals so unstrategic when it comes to spending their (and sometimes your) money? "Philips said his group would spend about seven million dollars in the South, leaving about three million for advertising targeting Hispanic voters in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Texas," reports the Politico's Ben Smith. Huh? Even if the first (and larger!) chunk is intended to be a long-term investment, shouldn't winning and gaining power be the primary objective?

A better strategy by PowerPac would be to spend $8M on the Hispanic vote in the Southwest, with the remaining $2M on minority voter registration efforts in Virginia and Ohio.

By Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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