Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is an associate professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and author of The Stronghold: How Republicans Captured Congress but Surrendered the White House.

Recent Articles

Tactics Make Perfect

A few weeks before the Democrats' 2002 midterm disaster, I found myself at a political event seated next to a longtime Democratic congressman. During a lull, I asked him why Democrats were unable to nationalize the congressional elections as Republican Newt Gingrich did in 1994. “It's a lot tougher for us,” he bemoaned. “We're more heterogeneous, and it's hard to find a message we can all agree on.” He was more or less right: The Democrats are the bigger tent party, making it difficult to fashion a national policy umbrella under which 200 incumbents and another 200-plus challengers can fit comfortably. Take Iraq, this election's most salient issue. Prominent national Democrats have staked out at least four positions. Feingold Democrats opposed the war from the start and want America to withdraw. Kerry-Edwards Democrats voted for the war, complained frequently about its management, and later admitted their war votes were a mistake. Hillary Democrats are akin to Kerry-Edwards ones, only...

Sore Loserman

A day before the Connecticut Senate primary, Paola Roy was still struggling with how she would cast her vote. Then she happened to stumble into Joe Lieberman at one of the senator's final campaign stops, in the small town of Southington. Roy immigrated to the United States from Sicily in 1971, and not until the early 1990s did she go through the process of gaining her citizenship. She lives in Plantsville, a small hamlet next to Southington, both of which are home to significant Italian-American and French-American populations. With an Italian first name and French surname courtesy of her late husband, this longtime state employee and mother of two was a useful barometer for Lieberman's support in this largely working-class area 20 miles southwest of Hartford. If he hoped to thwart Greenwich businessman Ned Lamont's surging primary challenge, Lieberman needed to close the sale with voters like Roy. After chatting with folks at a dozen tables inside Anthony Jack's restaurant, Lieberman...

Cat Scratch Fever

It was moments before my panel with political consultant Dave "Mudcat" Saunders on the significance of the South to the Democratic Party at the Yearly Kos convention last week in Las Vegas. Another political consultant, Joe Trippi -- who was added to the panel at the last minute by the moderator, MyDD blogger Jerome Armstrong, himself now also a political consultant -- leaned over to Saunders and said, "Do we even have to have this panel? Can't we just say, 'Mudcat is right,' and get out of here?" Thus my amusement, following the panel, when a disgruntled audience member came forward to insult me -- the guy living on a state university professor's salary -- as "just another slick consultant." I presume the heckler was among those who hollered when Saunders opened his remarks by saying I could "kiss [his] rebel ass" for even suggesting that Democrats need to build a non-southern majority as their best and fastest route back to national power. How ironic that the attendee's reflexive...

Party Crashers

How ironic that liberal bloggers Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, after teaming up to transform online politics, offer a stinging critique of the Democratic party using a medium that's been around since Gutenberg: A book. Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics (Chelsea Green) is muscular not only in its language, but in how Armstrong and Moulitsas play the heavies with a variety of Beltway insiders, consultants, and other political “experts” within the mainstream national Democratic party. Knowing both authors (disclosure: I blogged for Daily Kos during the 2004 election), readers can be assured that Armstrong and Moulitsas blog the way they speak, and write the way they blog: In the sometimes caustic but always conversational tone that makes otherwise arcane “insider” topics accessible to non-Beltway readers. Regular visitors to their respective websites, MyDD and DailyKos , will be familiar with many of these criticisms and...

New Math

The conclusion from Iowa is that former Gov. Howard Dean (D-Vt.) and Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) lost because their machines were no match for the positive, resonating messages Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John Edwards (D-N.C.) used to motivate caucus goers. That story line is only half-correct. The important back story from Iowa 2004 is that Kerry's field organization, though perhaps smaller in size, was far more efficient and better organized to catch Iowans as they fell away from both Dean and Gephardt. Call it the Kerry trapeze net -- or, more accurately, the Norris-Strasma-Whouley net. In midsummer, Kerry's state director, John Norris, started identifying which way registered Democrats on Iowa's voter list were voting or leaning. Nothing new about that approach -- all campaign staffers with any brains and enough resources do that. But Kerry's team did things a little differently, emphasizing quality over quantity, depth over breadth. Instead of focusing on the "hard count" of...

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