The politics in the 2006 midterm election was decidedly not local.
This MSNBC/AP report on the election exit polls tells the story:
This election turned on three issues - listed in order of importance:
Exit polls: Scandals hurt GOP more than war
In exit polls, 3 of 4 people said corruption was key to their vote
"The Iraq war and congressional scandals hurt Republican candidates in the midterm elections, as the GOP lost the advantage on their central issue of terrorism, exit polls found. Three-fourths of voters said corruption and scandal were important to their votes, and they were more likely to vote for Democratic candidates for the House. Iraq was important for just two-thirds, and they also leaned toward supporting Democrats. Voters who said terrorism was an important issue split their support between the two parties... For some voters, it was important to have a balance of power in Washington."
- Corruption in Congress
- Iraq War
- Restoring Checks & Balances in Washington (Divided Government)
The impact of the corruption issue is clearly visible in the Tradesports.com GOP Control House Contract that we have been tracking in recent weeks:
Up until October, the contract was predicting a 60% probability of Republicans maintaining a majority in the House of Representatives. Within a few days of the Foley scandal hitting the news, the contract was showing the Republicans with less than a 35% chance of controlling the House. The trend was already down, which is attributable to eroding confidence in the administration's handling of the war. That trend probably would have put the Republicans below 50% by the election, but it would have been much much closer. The Foley scandal kicked Republican hopes over the cliff. It is interesting to note, that for all the publicity and gnashing of teeth over John Kerry's botched joke, it had absolutely no effect on the contract or the election. Zero. Nada. None.
I participated in an interesting off-again on-again dialog on this topic with a blogger who goes by the moniker Moon across both our blogs throughout the election season. It started with his post on his blog Moonage Politcal Webdream coincidently subtitled "All Politics is Local":
In a comment on that post, I agreed that all politics is local, but disgreed that Busby lost because the Dems ran a national campaign. She lost because she was an ineffective local candidate. We continued the conversation when I subsequently linked to his blog from my post "The Unexamined Meme" and opined that the "all politics is local" hurdle was exactly the challenge that the Democrats would have to overcome to take the house and further speculated that the "Divided Government" meme was just the cattle prod needed to get the electorate over that hurdle. That prompted this exchange in the comments:
MOON: "I have stated many times here that all politics is local. Not heeding my advice, the Democrats have very openly and vocally made this year's races a referendum on Bush, again. The early result? Brian Bilbray defeated Francine Busby for the 50th legislative district in California. "
There was one final exchange, back on Moon's blog again, in a post a few weeks ago he entitled - "It's the economy, stupid":MOON: "There is no relationship between "all politics is local" and having a divided government. None... History has proven an ebb and flow of political control in the US, the Dems will get it back at some point once they quit shooting themselves in the foot and the majority Democrat voters don't feel compelled to vote for any party but their own. I'm just pointing the way for them. Quit harping on contrived and hard to understand national issues and address local issues and they'll win."
MW: "I didn't say there was. I did say that I would like there to be. The link is purely aspirational. The notion (hope), is that the concept of Divided Government becomes popularized enough, that voters consciously decide that Divided Government is more important that local issues or their preference for an individual candidate. It's a way to "give permission" for fiscally conservative voters to vote for a Democrat in '06."
That prompted more discussion on his blog. Mostly about ways I thought the election could be nationalized (Rumsfeld, Hastert vs. Pelosi, Divided Government, etc.). But, that is all moot now. The results are in and the lessons learned. This election was indeed a national referendum. Corruption in Washington trumped "my congressman's an honest man". The Iraq war trumped local representatives bringing home the bacon and local jobs. And "Divided Government", became a rationale for some of us to vote for a party that we did not agree with.
MOON: "I'll try to make this simple. All politics is local. I don't mean that in the sense that people don't care about the War in Iraq or pedophiles in DC. I mean that the overwhelming issue is how each individual voter perceives their situation. Sure, they may totally disagree with the War in Iraq, but if their representative is bringing in jobs that affect them, and their economic situation is satisfactory, their situation will trump a war IN Iraq every single time. The only district that will be affected by the sex scandal is the district he represented. People love good gossip, but it's meaningless in their individual world. And, I don't know how often I've heard people talk about how crooked everyone in DC is, but my Congressman's an honest man."
This election transformed a 30+ Republican majority in the House to a 30+ Democratic majority in the house on the basis of national issues. In the next election, Tip O'Neill's maxim will likely again hold sway. But the politics and issues that determined this election result was unarguably not local. Full stop.
Well, except in California District 50. Where Bilbray beat Busby yet again. Because when the Democrats ran this three time loser local candidate in California District 50, politics did remain very local indeed.
Divided and Balanced.™ Now that is fair.