The Bigger Picture
Published on November 19th in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
If this month’s mid-term elections in the United States were not a barometer of Americans satisfaction or dis-satisfaction with President Obama’s performance in office this past year, are there any insights into American voter sentiments that members of either the Republican or Democratic political parties can draw from them?
While I could be wrong, I think both parties could learn some valuable lessons from the mid-term election results that they could apply when they are developing strategies for next year’s national and state elections.
I will start with the Republican Party which emerged victorious in the only two state governor races that were contested this month. Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele loudly crowed to the news media that the mid-term elections heralded a “Republican renaissance” which was a bit over the top in my estimation. However overblown Steele’s analysis may have been, this was to be expected since any electoral success by Republicans in the mid-term elections was bound to be wildly celebrated by Republicans given the party’s notable lack of success in the past two national elections.
But hyperbole aside, the Republican candidates for governor in New Jersey and Virginia did execute successful campaign strategies that led to a Republican takeover of two governors’ offices currently occupied by Democrats. But the strategies both of these Republicans used to win those elections are ones that the social conservatives who now dominate the Republican Party would be wise to take note of.
Both Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie avoided any discussions or debates about their positions on the social issues that Republican social conservatives hold so dear. Both men instead focused on the need for jobs and economic development coupled with tax reductions as they appealed to moderate and independent voter’s concerns about these “pocketbook” issues. As a result they were able to win a plurality of their states’ independent voters similar in size to the one President Obama and many other Democrats got from these same voters in last years national elections.
The other important thing Republicans need to consider is the fact that a much lower voter turnout in both of those elections also contributed to their candidates’ success. The younger and minority voters who typically favor Democrats were largely absent from the polls on election day which in turn allowed the Republican Party’s older and predominately white voters to cast a larger percentage of the election’s votes than the percentages attributed to Republicans in a national election year. So the bottom line is that the Republicans who won these state elections two weeks ago succeeded because they ran in favor of something, like jobs and economic development, instead of against everything President Obama and national Democrats propose such as healthcare reform.
There were also two special elections in New York and California to fill vacant seats in the US House of Representatives that Republicans have conveniently tried to ignore. That’s because while they were winning two governors elections they were also losing these two elections for the national Congress. While the California contest was in a heavily Democratic district that the Democratic candidate John Garamendi was expected to win, such was not the case in New York’s 23rd Congressional district.
In fact this largely rural New York district had never before elected a Democrat to Congress and the Republican Party had held this seat for more than 125 years. This was one of the most Republican House districts in the country and the last time any other party held this seat it was the Whig party back in the 1850’s.
The District’s Republican Party chiefs selected a moderate Republican, New York State Assemblywoman Dierdre Scozzafava, to run against an attorney and US military veteran, Democrat Bill Owens, to fill this vacant US House position. However, judging by the comments of potential 2012 Republican Presidential candidates Tim Pawlenty and Sarah Palin you would have thought Ms Scozzafava was a die hard liberal Democrat.
When Republican social conservatives objected to the choice of Ms Scozzafava because of her support for abortion rights and gay marriage, this special election quickly morphed into a national cause celeb for right wing media figures like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. They urged their followers to instead support the Conservative Party candidate Bob Hoffman and right wing activists from around the country promptly descended on New York to campaign for Mr. Hoffman. Conservative activists did so because viewed the election as both a referendum on President Barack Obama and a fight over the soul of the Republican Party and or a victory for grassroots conservatism
Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty saw which way the wind was blowing, so to curry favor with conservative activists, they promptly turned their backs on Ms Scozzafava and endorsed Mr. Hoffman too. The ensuing “civil war” that then erupted between Republican moderates and social conservatives finally led Ms Scozzafava to withdraw from the race a week before the election and endorse her Democratic opponent instead.
Police were later summoned to several polling places on Election Day to deal with overzealous electioneering by Hoffman’s social conservative supporters. Hoffman, who was leading in pre-election polls, responded to his defeat by accusing Democrats of trying to steal the election and slashing the tires of a campaign volunteer. The local police chief later said that there had been no tire slashing and that the campaign worker simply “drove over a bottle and cut his tire”.
Yet, in spite of their unexpected loss of a Republican Congressional seat, Republican activists nonetheless claim the election in New York was a “victory for grassroots conservatism”. I’m sorry but I just don’t see how Hoffman losing a Republican seat by running as an anti-Obama social conservative while McDonnell and Christie are winning elections by avoiding this strategy is a “victory for grassroots conservatism”. I must say it never ceases to amaze me that so many Republicans still believe they must appease the Party’s social conservatives in order to get elected. This tactic worked real well for Hoffman didn’t it?