Wednesday, November 08, 2006

All Politics is Local. Except when it is not.

The politics in the 2006 midterm election was decidedly not local.

This MSNBC/AP report on the election exit polls tells the story:
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."
This election turned on three issues - listed in order of importance:
  1. Corruption in Congress
  2. Iraq War
  3. Restoring Checks & Balances in Washington (Divided Government)
The House of Representatives flipped on these national issues. A lot of great Republican Representatives lost their jobs on these non-local issues.

The impact of the corruption issue is clearly visible in the 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":
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. "
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: "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."
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: "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."
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.

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.


Charlie said...

We now have divided government! Success!

donna said...

Busby, like Angelides, ran a very ineffective campaign. I've thought a lot lately about how Dems could do better in this district. They almost had a candidate that could have beat our local idiot Duncan Hunter, a very savvy vet who had to drop out of the race due to cancer. He was fiscally conservative, socially liberal, a vet - just the kind of guy who could have done well here in our suburban Yukon-driving land.

Busby started off well, but listened to the Dem party too much. By playing to the Dem base, she ignored the 60% of the district that is Republican. You don't win that way. Angelides made the same mistake. He did well in Dem areas, but lost those Dems who believed Arnie's move to the middle this year. Arnie ran a very smart campaign with a LOT of money. Look at the down races, and the Dems did pretty well, though. Angelides just didn't present himself well at all.

You play to the center, not your party. You let the party do its GOTV for you, and play to the persuadable voter on their issues. The Republicans have understood this for years. Busby should have tied Bilbray to his past record of corruption and carpet-bagging with chains, and she failed to do it. Instead she got nailed for a stupid comment on immigration trying to play to her base.

Hunter could be beaten the same way, tied to Bush and Abramoff and Michael Wade, but you can't piss off the local suburbia base. Hunter's record with vets is abysmal, and most people here don't even know that. Publicize some of his votes on veteran's issues, on his lack of support for military and guard families, and he'd be out in a heartbeat, but the military here is convinced he's got their back when he really just sells them out to defense contractors.

These are 2-1 Republican districts, and that's not changing anytime soon. You can't win here playing to the Dem base.

I don't go do my precinct inspector job with my libertarian-progressive chip on my shoulder, I just do my job, and they don't even know how I really feel about some of them. That's just how it is. If they start in with their right-wing bullshit, I just say, "no electioneering in the polls", and the same rules apply to me.

Yes, it's about balance. That's why a libertarian like me is supporting progressives right now. But I keep my libertarian registration. I want MORE opinions heard in our legislatures, not less. I like that Sanders is in office now, that Ron Paul is in office, that we now have a muslim representative in office. There has to be balance, or the system becomes corrupt.

mw said...

Agree completely with your comments and perspective. I also come from a libertarian perspective, but with a somewhat more starboard tack. Voted straight Democrat for Federal offices this election, consistent with the divided and balanced theme I focus on here.

I am starting to think about '08 now. Lots to chew on. It is already emerging that the "libertarian" vote (loosely defined as social liberals, fiscal conservatives) were the swing vote in this election as they abandoned the Republican party. The libertarian left voted as they usually would, the libertarian right switched. The large "L" libertarians voted for the Libertarian party and wasted their votes. Indications are that the country will remain roughly evenly polarized and balanced into '08. If we small "l" libertarians can find a way to hang together in '08 we could once again be the swing factor that determines the next president. Since the Dems have taken both houses, the "divided government" principle will argue for a Republican president. A concerted libertarian effort right now may help to put a libertarian leaning Republican in contention for the primaries. Chuck Hagel comes to mind as the best of the bunch (which will make first commenter charlie very happy). Just thinking out loud here ... obviously there will be a post, or two, or twelve on this subject in the not too distant future.

Thanks for stopping by and for your comment. - mw