Since Election Night the pundits on Fox and CNN and MSNBC have been furiously pontificating, the Democrats declaring, Well, it’s not really all that bad, and Republicans arguing back the Democrats got drubbed and voters repudiated Obama.
But what really happened was a typical odd-year election.
President Obama hasn’t ended the recession so Democrats (who thought Obama would heal all our ills by now) are in a bit of a funk. Independents are disappointed too but don’t have the impediment of party loyalty – so they went a step further and gave the President a kick in the pants. And Republicans just naturally are outraged and marched to the polls in droves.
So just like Reagan and Clinton before him Obama lost an odd-year election – but, remember, both Reagan and Clinton came back to win reelection handedly in 1984 and 1996.
The victories in Virginia and New Jersey are welcome news for Republicans after a long dry season – but hardly signs the time has come to write President Obama’s political obituary.
The most interesting race of the night was New York’s 23rd Congressional District – where a Democrat won a seat that’s been Republican since Ulysses Grant was President.
Two battles see-sawed back and forth during the race: One between Republicans and the other, at the end of the election, between Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman and Democrat Bill Owens.
The Republican inner-party fight was battle royal with an odd mixture of ideology and hardball New York politics.
Usually in New York the Republican and Conservative Parties work hand-in-glove and endorse the same candidate – but this time the Republican establishment in Washington ran rough-shod over the Conservative Party and hand-picked a liberal Republican, Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, no conservative could support.
The Washington Republicans essentially presented New York Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long with a fait de accompli and dared him to cross them – and Long sent them a message right back by recruiting a Conservative Party candidate.
No doubt Long knew – and hoped – his party’s nominee could win. But no doubt he also knew even if Doug Hoffman lost it could mean defeat for the liberal Republican. Long was practicing New York hardball politics and his message was direct and simple. He was saying, Alright, let’s see if you can win a three way race and, I reckon, if you can’t next time you’ll think twice before sandbagging conservatives in New York.
The Conservative Party won its battle with the Washington Republican Establishment hands down, crushing the NRCC’s candidate so decisively she collapsed and withdrew before the end of the race.
So, even before Election Day, Long had accomplished his goal. He’d more than accomplished it: For the first time since pre-Reagan days there was an open breach between conservatives and Republicans in Washington.
Then two days before the election Dede Scozzafava played a little bare-knuckled New York politics of her own: She endorsed Democrat Bill Owens, the Democrat, sending conservatives the same message they’d sent her 8 weeks earlier: I may not win but I can keep you from winning.
And it looks like her endorsement had teeth: Owens won Scozzafava’s home county 2 to 1 and won the election.
Measured in ads run and dollars raised Democrats also out fought both Republicans and Conservatives hands down. As soon as Owens announced the Democrats put an effective campaign on tracks and proceeded to out-spend the other candidates from the opening bell to the closing gun.
By comparison, the Washington Republicans miscalculated, picked a weak candidate, stumbled charging out of the chute, never got back on their feet and, in the end, their campaign collapsed.
The Conservative Party faced a harder task. Unlike the Republicans or Democrats they didn’t start the race with political war chests bulging with cash – they were flat broke and had to build a national fundraising campaign overnight. The fact that they succeeded in eight weeks is a minor miracle. They also had a credibility hurdle to clear: They had to convince voters a third party candidate had a real chance to win and that a vote for Doug Hoffman wouldn’t be wasted.
They accomplished both goals – but then Scozzafava threw them her curveball.
Winners and losers?
Well, clearly the Democrats picked up a Republican seat. But count Mike Long a winner too – it’ll probably be a long time before Washington Republicans pick another fight with the New York Conservative Party
And the big losers: Washington Republicans. They picked a weak candidate, ran an even weaker campaign and, then, their candidate endorsed Bill Owens and handed Democrats a Republican seat – and another vote for Nancy Pelosi in Congress.
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