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Nov 04 2009

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“Grinding Gears”

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  • What a difference a year makes.
  • First of all, let’s dispense with normal White House boiler plate that always accompanies analysis of off-year elections. Yes, there are fewer voters who turn out, and yes, the elections are supposed to be about local candidates and local concerns. In addition, in this particular election cycle, the two governorships up for grabs have a history of voting against the Party that had won the White House the previous year.
  • For these reasons, Presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs all but dismissed the results and any connection they might have on the direction of the national agenda that Obama has set.
  • However, the calculated indifference of the White House is belied by the frantic efforts of the POTUS and leading Democrats to prop up its hard-pressed Democratic candidates over a real concern that Republican resurgence could impact Obama’s agenda, particularly among Red State Democrats in Congress who will face re-election in less than a year.
  • Consider that Obama went to NJ three times to campaign for Corzine.   And Obama did both a fund raiser and appearances with Deeds. In the race for NY-23, the White House even dispatched Joe Biden to talk to a quarter filled room of 150 people on behalf of Bill Owens; the Democratic candidate running against a candidate on the Conservative Party line that had polled 6% in early October.
  • So the feigned indifference is unconvincing in light of the record.
  • The fact is that Tuesday’s results should alarm Democrats in their backrooms, even if they won’t show it at their public podiums. The election was a blunt, flashing yellow light in favor of moderation; a message they ignore at their own peril.
  • Consider the statistics from the race.
  • Obama won in 2008 on the strength of his performance with Independents. Nationally, Obama won Indies by eight points over McCain; 52-44%.1 In New Jersey specifically, Obama beat McCain among Indies 51-47% and broke even with him in conservative Virginia 49-48%.2
  • This year, in both Virginia and New Jersey, Indies deserted the Democrats in droves; by 30 points in New Jersey and 33 points in Virginia.3
  • Interestingly McDonnell won in every age group, including the Democrats’ vaunted 18-24 demographic (+10).
  • As Congress prepares to consider health care, consider that both McDonnell and Christie won seniors, 65 or older; by 15 points in NJ and 20 points in Virginia.
  • As we look to deficits in the trillions, increasing unemployment and flat economic growth, those that came out to vote were also overwhelmingly concerned about the state of the nation; 89% in NJ and 90% in Virginia were worried about the direction of the economy.
  • Savvy Democrats should immediately see the danger signs for the course of Obamaism in the two gubernatorial elections, specifically with regard to base politics and its future expansion.
  • In New Jersey, Obama won in 2008 by 15 points. It is a deep blue state that has not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988.   Attempts by state Republicans to unseat or win NJ’s two Senate seats have bordered on the laughable. This is an Obama base state if there ever was one.
  • Consider that despite a hard economy, Corzine had an unlimited bank account, a 3-1 advantage in voter registration, no primary challenge, the strong support of the national party, overt campaign support from a number of Democratic luminaries –  including the President – and the added bonus of a third party candidate that drained votes from his Republican opponent.
  • And the Republican won.
  • It should be chilling to Obama advisors that Corzine was turned out even as voters gave Obama a 57% approval rating, well above his national standing.4
  • This suggests an emerging chasm between Obama’s personal popularity and his policy positions. Moreover, liberals who have crowed for a year about the marginalization of the Republican Party need to explain how such a “discredited and regional” Party was able to win beachhead right in the middle of the Blue State heartland.
  • Speaking to the future, Barack Obama’s win a year ago in Virginia – the first Democratic victory in the Old Dominion in 44 years – was heralded as the end of GOP dominance and an example of a new progressive realignment. Obama won the state by an impressive seven points, 53-46.5
  • Yesterday, Republican Bob McDonnell put that proposition to rest by winning the governorship by a whopping 18 points over his opponent Creigh Deeds. Deeds lost an amazing 22% of Obama’s total vote from ’08.  McDonnell even won the more liberal counties outside of Washington, DC – Loudon and particularly Fairfax – that were the key to Obama’s victory in 2008.6
  • In addition, McDonnell had coattails down ticket, with unified wins for the GOP for Lt. Governor and Attorney General, as well as at least four new seats in the House of Delegates.7
  • With these real challenges on the table, it is unnerving for Democrats to talk instead about their victories in NY-23 and in a lesser known congressional race to replace liberal Ellen Tauscher in California as proof of their continued popularity.
  • This is a terrible mistake for Democrats.
  • This Journal has already delved deeply into the politics and machinations of NY-23 and the contrived narrative of an ominous and intolerant conservatism that would sweep the country had the Republican won; a narrative as endearing to the Left as it is comically untrue.
  • A few things bear pointing out before the Democrats crow too loudly on the results from NY 23.
  • First, President Obama won the northern NY district in 2008, 52-48, showing that the district is more competitive now than it has been historically. Second, Representative-elect Owens won with less than a majority.8 More people voted for someone else than him.
  • Due to the chaotic handiwork of the Republican chairs in their backdoor nominating process, we do not know how the race would have gone had the Republicans nominated an actual Republican.  For that we will have to await 2010.
  • In this cycle, Doug Hoffman, an electoral novice whose political positions place him at the center of the policies pursued by Republicans in Congress, lost by a mere 3 points; hardly a Republican repudiation, particularly when you realize he was polling at 3 points in September.
  • As far as the race in CA-10 to replace Ellen Tauscher, the Democrats might not want to crow too much here either.  Ms. Tauscher was a dependable liberal in Speaker Pelosi’s bluest of blue base.  In 2008, Ms. Tauscher won 65-31% in a liberal district that is in a liberal state. Yesterday, however, that margin was shaved to 10 points for the Democrats.8
  • This becomes more important when you consider that the race was in liberal California and the winning Democrat was the former Lt. Governor and gubernatorial candidate with statewide name recognition. Yet Democrat Garamendi could still not match Ms. Tauscher’s margins against an unknown Republican.
  • I’m not claiming a Republican resurgence in California – just to be clear – but this is hardly the stuff of legend for Democrats.
  • So what is the take away from all of this?
  • Yesterday wasn’t a referendum on President Obama, but it was a de facto temperature reading for the state of the nation and the mood of the citizenry. It did not reflect well on Democrats.
  • There is an emerging distinction between President Obama, whose personal popularity remains mostly above 50%, and the policy agenda that he has embraced, that is increasingly unpopular nationwide. This election also acutely demonstrated that the Obama aura is not transferable when he is not on the ticket. 
  • The election was also proof of life of the “angry independent.”  While this group has been framed by the town hall protests and tea party activists, it is not limited to them and is emerging as bipartisan.
  • These citizens voted for Obama’s change in 2008. Yet many of the same problems that led them to reject Republicans in 2008 led these voters to reject Democrats this time.
  • In both NJ and VA, the economy was the top issue. Yet Washington leadership is focused on an unpopular heath care overhaul and then, down the road, Cap N’ Trade, making Washington appear out of touch with voter concerns.
  • Voters are seeking solutions.
  • Unemployment is too high and is going higher. There is little, authentic economic growth. Government expansion is too fast and too big, and the national debt and deficits are too large. In 2009, voters sought out pragmatic problem-solvers who say what they do and do what they say. These voters have lost confidence in Washington to solve problems.
  • But the bad news for Democrats in 2009 is not necessarily good news for the Republicans in the future – yet.
  • The Republican brand remains heavily damaged from the past eight years.
  • Republican winners this year were principled, small government conservatives; problem-solving officials who focused almost exclusively on kitchen table issues of the most importance to voters. While referencing national issues on debt, spending and government expansion, neither candidate campaigned specifically against President Obama.
  • If there is a model for Republicans moving forward, it is Bob McDonnell in Virginia. He is a fiscal and social conservative, who refused to run from his views when challenged by the liberal press – and particularly The Washington Post – but who consciously prioritized his agenda to pragmatically focus on economic concerns that appealed to both Republicans and Independents. McDonnell’s key selling point was competency over ideology.
  • In sum, 2009 was not so much a win for the Republicans as it was a loss for the Democrats. The centrist Obama of the campaign of 2008 gave way to the Leftist, partisan Obama of Washington in 2009, captive of Pelosi and the liberal special interests.
  • Voters thought they had voted this out and wanted another option.
  • But these voters are fickle, committed not by Party as much as they are committed by solution. Who can promote growth and opportunity?  Who can reduce unemployment? Who can reform health care and implement a common sense energy policy, improve schools and protect our shores? 
  • Republicans found a winning formula amid Democratic policy excess. Whether they themselves overreach in developing a winning strategy for 2010, based on this year, will be the key to victory next November.

1. CNN Exit Poll 11/08

2. Ibid

3. Exit Poll Data 11-4-09

4. Washington Post 11-4-09

5. CNN Exit Poll 11-08

6. CNN 11-4-09

7. David Leip, Almanac of American Politics

8. Polticalwire.com

 

1 comment

  1. C2

    Ida: I’ll take it under advisement. I appreciate your visit and hope you will come back often. Thanks for the kudos. Always appreciated.

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