Newsletter: Is Hillary Clinton progressive enough? Not yet

A young woman sits near a number of Bernie Sanders campaign posters that are still posted at the Innisfree Poetry Bookstore & Cafe, a popular hangout for students at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
(Brennan Linsley / Associated Press)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, The Times’ letters editor, and it is Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. Don’t forget to celebrate International Observe the Moon Night tonight (yes, it’s a thing). Before then, let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

Millennials have never been Hillary Clinton’s strong suit, and even with the Democratic presidential nominee’s poll numbers improving over Republican Donald Trump, they make up a core demographic of the left that Clinton has yet to completely shore up.

More than any other candidate — including Libertarian Gary Johnson, who polls distressingly well among adults age 18 to 35 — Clinton shares the progressive values of millennial voters. She needs to hammer this point home if she wants to win more of them over, says former Bernie Sanders pollster Ben Tulchin. He writes in a Times op-ed article:

As the pollster for Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, I learned a lot about what issues engage this generation. Sanders didn’t start off with overwhelming support from millennials, after all. His campaign had to develop a strategy to earn their vote, and Clinton could still do the same.

We learned from an extensive amount of survey research and focus groups that millennials are fundamentally progressive. How progressive? Among Democratic and independent millennials in some states, support for gay marriage is as high as 92%. Still, they feel they’ve been dealt a bad hand of economic recession, wage stagnation and political gridlock. They want income inequality, racial justice and climate change addressed urgently.

Their mediocre job prospects and high levels of college debt led to overwhelming support for Sanders’ plan for free college tuition; up to 90% of Democratic and independent millennials in key states back the idea. But it wasn’t just economic issues that resonated with this generation. We also had to address social justice and criminal justice reform....

Clinton cannot simply roll out a policy speech on a college campus and move on. Instead, her team must drive it home with college students and other millennials everywhere day after day, and it must be echoed by a savvy social media campaign.

Another opportunity for Clinton is to take a stronger stand in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in response to the recent shootings of unarmed black men by police. We found this was one of the most potent issues with millennials, regardless of ethnicity, in nearly all of the 46 states in which we polled.

If Clinton were to stand firmly with African Americans and fully acknowledge their grievances with the criminal justice system, that would likely surprise millennials. Taking such a bold stand on a controversial issue would help Clinton connect with them on a cause about which they care deeply. While her advisors may recommend a more risk-averse approach, I would argue that this move makes political sense. Her upside with this large progressive generation could be significant, whereas even moderate Republicans are solidifying against her, leaving her little room to grow with them.

While Clinton appears to have gotten a bump after the first presidential debate, her lead is still too thin considering she’s running against the most unpopular candidate in modern presidential history. She has a legitimate opportunity to make headway with this sizable and progressive generation. If the Clinton campaign gets the strategy, tone and focus just right, millennials can make the difference in this election and put the country’s first female president in the White House.

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Clinton should also talk about her husband’s infidelity. It’s no secret that Bill Clinton is a serial adulterer, writes Virginia Heffernan, and besides, being married to an unfaithful spouse is something to which millions of Americans can relate. She writes: “If, in the next debate, Donald Trump ventures to ask Hillary Clinton about her husband’s infidelities, I hope she’ll see this not as an attack to be tightly parried but as a lob to be smashed. I hope she’ll see how breaking her silence can help the many women and men who may grieve yet steadfastly refuse to blame themselves, seek their own happiness, and flourish in spite of marital betrayal.” L.A. Times

It’s the electoral college, stupid. So read this FAQ by constitutional scholar Akhil Reed Amar and come away less ignorant about the quirky, indirect way Americans (or their electors) pick a president. You’ll find out that the establishing of the electoral college had little to do with balancing power between small states and big ones and more to do with slavery. L.A. Times

There’s one guy who would be helped by Donald Trump’s tax plan: Donald Trump. The man who probably paid no federal income taxes for years or even decades likes to brag that his reforms would hurt rich earners such as himself the most. As far as anyone can tell, that isn’t the case, writes Doyle McManus. In fact, the opposite is true: Repealing the estate tax would benefit Trump’s heirs, and lowering the top marginal rates for individuals and pushing down corporate taxes would surely be a boon to the Republican nominee. L.A. Times

Tired of cyclists flouting the rules of the road? Then change the rules. Every time Los Angeles proposes a change to the roadways that would better accommodate bike riders, drivers complain that cyclists routinely blow through stop signs and disregard other laws, implying they do not deserve special treatment. But there’s a problem, writes Tom Babin: Traffic laws were written for multi-ton motorized vehicles, not bikes. Our laws should be updated to legalize practices that already exist, Babin says. L.A Times

Uh-oh, Californians are returning to their old water ways. A more normal rainy season combined with short memories have conspired to boost water consumption in California, a troubling development that the Sacramento Bee’s editorial board says must be reversed. The Bee recommends swift government action: “This is a new world, as the climate accord underscores. And hoping for the best won’t make the heat less hot or the drought less brutal or human nature any less human. If California is to hold onto the historic strides it has made in saving water, the water conservation mandate should be restored.” Sacramento Bee

If you haven’t noticed by now, yes, I’m back after five weeks away. Thanks to the readers who wished me well during my leave, and thanks to my colleague Matthew Fleischer for ably filling in for me. I am thrilled to be back.

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