Upper Left Coast

Thoughts on politics, faith, sports and other random topics from a red state sympathizer in indigo-blue Portland, Oregon.

Friday, November 10, 2006

It's a great time to be a Democrat!

Except for the fact that I'm not one.

Others have spoken about the election in a more timely manner, but I don't hear enough dealing with reality. Face it, Republican friends -- we got our hind-ends handed to us this week. I like to read and listen to Hugh Hewitt, and agree with him much of the time; but, I find that as elections draw near he tends to see GOP victories where there is no victory, and he predicts Democrat defeats where there is no hope.

Tuesday night -- even as Rick Santorum and Mike DeWine and Michael Steele and Tom Kean and Mike Bouchard and Jim Talent were all falling short of the lofty expectations laid by Hewitt over the previous 48 hours -- Hewitt was insisting this was no Democratic wave. I suppose if you want to define a wave as the Democrats picking up 54 House seats (a la 1994) and a filibuster-proof Senate majority, then it's not a wave.

But when the best story of the night is that Joe Lieberman beat Ned Lamont in Connecticut, when you consider that the Democrats won all but one closely-contested Senate race (the win was Tennesee's Bob Corker, who beat the self-imploding Harold Ford by 3 points when the polls gave Corker a 6-point lead) . . . that sounds like a wave to me. Regardless of the fact that the election results were close around the country, they were still close in favor of the Dems. As President Bush said in his press conference Wednesday:
Look, this was a close election. If you look at race by race, it was close. The cumulative effect, however, was not too close. It was a thumping.
Others who are much smarter than me have speculated on the reasons behind the wave: the war, government spending, scandal, John McCain, etc. And I'm sure all those are true to an extent.

But I want to focus on the landslide in Oregon, which saw the re-election of a vulnerable Democrat governor, the Democratic takeover of the legislature, and the rejection of every conservative ballot measure. Can we attribute that Democratic slaughter to a national wave of anti-Republicanism? Perhaps partially, but I'd argue that the national picture was not solely responsible for the local landslide.

So what happened? I'm not an election analyst, but I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night, so here's my two cents:

First and foremost, Ron Saxton did not inspire the electorate. Polls showed Ted Kulongoski was among the most vulnerable incumbents in the nation, but I don't think Saxton ever found a way to explain why voters should vote for him instead of against the governor. Saxton never hit any heart issues -- cutting government 10 percent may be attractive to some, but it doesn't rally the troops when the ballots arrive. That's not to say Gov. Kulongoski was better at putting out a vision (in fact, he was pathetic in that regard, just like his entire first term) but Saxton didn't inspire swing voters to consider him.

I think that mindset trickled down to the legislative level, as Republicans appeared to take their House majority for granted, while the Democrats were fighting tooth and nail for every fingerhold they could find. Why the GOP would take the majority for granted in blue Oregon is mystifying, but that's how it seemed to me.

In this way, it was similar to the national race. The Republicans never did a good job of putting forward bold ideas, instead relying on the Democrats-would-be-worse meme (not to say they had no ideas, they just never found any that stirred the heart). The GOP campaign -- like Saxton's -- was more about asking the voters not to vote for the other guy.

I'm not smart enough to identify what Saxton should have done differently, but I suspect he did all he could with who he was. And that clearly was insufficient. Along those lines, I also think this election put to rest the idea that a moderate urban Republican can win in Oregon. Ron Saxton had all the "right" credentials -- a Portlander, experience in education, moderately pro-choice, not an extreme right-winger.

And yet, the county numbers show a Republican bleed across the state. Unlike the 2002 election, the 2006 Kulongoski campaign took Washington, Clackamas and Marion counties from the Republicans, including a 9-point majority in Washington County that stuck a dagger in the heart of Saxton's goals.

Saxton lost votes in 19 counties compared to Kevin Mannix's numbers, and Kulongoski gained votes in all but six counties. Just in the Tri-County area alone, Kulongoski gained more than 20,000 votes over his 2002 totals; half those votes came in Multnomah County, where Saxton also lost almost 7,000 votes (and where Mannix earned 29.3 percent of the vote compared to Saxton's 25.3).

The biggest shocker, however, was Marion County, where Saxton lost nearly 10,000 votes compared to 2002, while Kulongoski's numbers stayed static and he won a slim plurality in the county. Voter turnout in this county was 9 percent lower than 2002, and it was all Republicans! This makes me think 1) Saxton's messages about cutting spending and PERS hit home with all those government employees in Salem, and 2) Republicans didn't think much of Saxton's message.

And basically, that sums up the entire election: liberals may not have been thrilled with Kulongoski, but they'd sooner hire Mark Foley as a babysitter than vote for a Republican. They know where their bread is buttered.

Unlike 2002, the 2006 results cannot be blamed on a third-party candidate. Even if you combined the totals for Constitution, Libertarian and Pacific Green candidates and gave those votes to Saxton, it wouldn't make up his deficit.

There was also very little on the ballot to inspire conservative turnout. The parental notification measure was about it, and that really doesn't have the star power of, say, same-sex marriage as an issue.

So what's the lesson? My fear is that Hasso Hering of the Albany Democrat-Herald is correct:
For anybody seeking statewide office, the practical lesson is plain to see: Forget it unless you embrace the liberal platform. But as long as we have partisan primaries, candidates with a liberal platform are never going to win a Republican nomination for statewide office again. So Democrats have a lock on these offices — governor, secretary of state, labor commissioner, superintendent of public education, and probably all the spots on the appeals courts too — for as long as the eye can see.
However, Hering goes on to argue that Oregon Republicans of yesteryear were "progressives in one way or another," and asks if that lesson will sink in with Republican primary voters. I'd argue that primary voters gambled on that lesson with Saxton, and that gamble drew snake eyes.

I'm too young to remember Republicans like Hatfield, McCall or Atiyeh, but I'm not sure you can compare politics of the 1960s and '70s with the politics of today. I do fear that Hering speaks the truth about a Democratic lock on statewide offices, especially with the power that unions hold over the Democratic Party.

However, we're so afraid that liberals will tarnish a true conservative with the "extreme" label (regardless of whether the shoe fits) that we run to the first moderate Republican we see. Maybe, just maybe, the answer is not to select a Republican who embraces a "liberal" platform, however Hering might define that term. Perhaps it's time to stop worrying about what the left thinks of us and find the best person to hold the conservative banner. Maybe the answer is to nominate a solid conservative who can clearly communicate conservative ideals with some charisma, who isn't tainted with scandal or questionable loyalties, who isn't already a lightning rod for left-wing attack dogs (e.g. Bill Sizemore), and who gives Oregonians a reason to vote for him instead of against his opponent.

Some would argue that selecting a "solid conservative" would just put us in the wilderness for another gubernatorial term. And it might. But the closest we've come to Mahonia Hall in recent history is Mannix in 2002, and he was the closest thing to a "solid conservative" in the last 20 years.

I know, I don't ask for much. But I think he's out there.


  • At 11/10/2006 5:56 PM, Anonymous eddie said…

    I chalk it up to the theory that mindless repetition of phrases, that may or may not have any bearing on reality, works. I can't tell you how many people I've heard using the terms: quagmire, corruption (the people tend not to use the 'Culture of' part), Bush lied, etc etc. It helps that the media has dutifully parroted the phrases... and now they're all listed as reasons why folks didn't vote Republican.

    I guess in 2 years we need to come up with baseless accusations and catchy phrases of our own.

  • At 11/10/2006 7:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    On the national races, they were hard-fought and narrowly won. I believe that there were three or so reasons for this:

    1) In the sixth year of a Presidency, the mid-term elections tend to produce a significant loss of seats at the national level. The same thing happened when Clinton was in office.

    2) Incumbent Republicans demonstrated that they weren't really all that different from their Democrat counterparts, in that deficit spending increased, rather than decreased.

    3) Republicans refused to address in any significant manner the pressing issues of border security and illegal aliens. Most people recognize that it is impossible to effectively wage a "War On Terror" in the absence of border security.

    You know things are pretty bad in that department when a guy can run three elephants and a mariachi band back and forth through the Rio Grande for an hour and a half without raising any eyebrows.

  • At 11/13/2006 8:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Two questions:
    1) Why is it that any time a moderate Republican loses, it is proof that a moderate can't win, yet when a conservative Republican loses, it is also proof that a moderate can't win?

    2) Why don't Oregon Republicans actually pay attention to electoral history. This is the second right-of-center Oregon blog I've seen claim that the Democrats also lost seats at the second mid-term of Clinton's Presidency. The Democrats GAINED House seats in 1998 and held even in the Senate and governorships (while the Republicans, on net, lost a governorship).

    Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Oregon Republicans keep losing not because our candidates aren't liberal enough or conservative enough, but because they don't learn from their mistakes or the mistakes of others.

  • At 11/13/2006 8:44 AM, Blogger Ken said…

    Taking your questions in order:
    1) I haven't seen that argument. Please point out where I made it, or where you saw it.

    2) I don't recall claiming that the Ds lost seats in Clinton's second mid-term, but you're absolutely right -- they gained a few seats.

    But let's look at the numbers, because Clinton's term was hardly typical. The Rs went from a 14-seat Senate deficit to a four-seat advantage in 1994 and a 10-seat advantage in '96, which they held for the rest of Clinton's term.

    House Ds had a 267-167 lead in the middle of Bush 41's term, but Rs took a 230-204 lead in '94. Ds cut it to 223-211 in '98.

    So the fact that the 1998 election saw Dems win five extra seats out of 435 is not especially relevant, considering what they experienced in 1994.

  • At 11/16/2006 4:36 PM, Blogger Mitchell said…

    "1) In the sixth year of a Presidency, the mid-term elections tend to produce a significant loss of seats at the national level. The same thing happened when Clinton was in office."

    This is factually bunk. The Democrats GAINED seats in the 1998 mid-term election. The GOP held seats went from 228 to 223 in the House and remained numerically static in the Senate.

    But keep up the work in avoiding reality GOPers.

    p.s. as to the thesis of the blog article itself, maybe finding a candidate who didn't suck as a candidate (not about the moderate GOP issues but as ability as a candiate) might help. But hey, track hard-right and watch the middle become permanently encamped in the Democratic column.

  • At 11/16/2006 4:40 PM, Blogger Mitchell said…

    "2) Incumbent Republicans demonstrated that they weren't really all that different from their Democrat counterparts, in that deficit spending increased, rather than decreased."

    LOL again reality escapes the GOP poster. This demonstrated that there is a CLEAR difference between the parties and their incumbents. The Democratic administration (Clinton) got rid of deficit spending and created surpluses, while the GOP spend like drunk sailors on the national credit card.

  • At 11/16/2006 5:11 PM, Blogger Mitchell said…

    "House Ds had a 267-167 lead in the middle of Bush 41's term, but Rs took a 230-204 lead in '94. Ds cut it to 223-211 in '98.

    So the fact that the 1998 election saw Dems win five extra seats out of 435 is not especially relevant, considering what they experienced in 1994."

    Except you forgot the 1996 year cycle where the GOP lost 8 House seats and only picked up 2 Senate ones. Face it, the GOP has been bleeding seats since 1994 and had a brief spike in 02 and 04 because of the vote Democratic and evil-brown people will kill you fear-mongering crappola, and the bottom finally dropped out on you guys in 2006 which, BTW, occurred AFTER the 2000 redistricting which was rigged by numerous GOP controlled legislatures and Governorships to favor GOP districts (witness Texas as but one example). In fact the Dems now hold only 4 seats shy in the House the number the GOP held when the 1994 "revolution" took place which was the zennith of GOP majority control of the House in modern times. The only time they held more was the year Lincoln was elected and during Reconstruction. It is also worth underscoring that the new Democratic majority in the house is far more stable since it is not based on the vestigial echos Dixiecrat block in the south, but rather built out of Democratic resurgence in the NE and the mountain west. The GOP's last redoubt will be the deep south, but even there they are losing grips because of demographics. The ONLY group the GOP won this time was white evangelical protestant males and even there they bleed votes to the Democrats this time because of economic issues and the war. The GOP lost every other religious and racial block, and also lost the female vote by some 55% to 45% according to exit polls.

    The bottom line is that the public is finally not falling for the GOP shtick of voting for a party that does not hold the widely held positions on numerous issues, from tax equity to abortion, all of which the Democratic party is in line with the overwhelming majority in poll after poll. As the adage goes, you can only fool all of the people some of the time.

    Get your parties head out, and move to the center and jettison the theocon whacks which is why I left the GOP some time ago and you can make headway if the Democrats drop the ball (in which case they would deserve the wake-up call).

  • At 11/20/2006 4:38 PM, Blogger Ken said…

    Brief spike in 02 and 04 because of the vote Democratic and evil-brown people will kill you fear-mongering crappola

    Yep, that's what it is -- crappola. Stick to the facts. The facts are that the Democratic Party had a strangle-hold on Congress in the 1950s and '60s, and has been (in your words) bleeding seats for the last 30 years to bring the Congress more in line with modern American politics.

    The House went from a 150-seat D advantage in 1974 to an 82-seat lead in 1992, and since 1994 the Rs have held no more than a 30-seat lead. A few seats are still in play, but Ds will have about a 30-seat lead when the 110th Congress begins.

    In the Senate, Ds held a 36-seat lead in 1964, but that dwindled to 17 seats by 1978 (despite Watergate and Vietnam!). From there on, it was a chess match: Rs took over for six years under Reagan, Ds took over for eight years until the '94 election, Rs have held since then (other than the tie in 2000), and Ds will have a 2-seat lead next year.

    Contrary to your contentions otherwise, the GOP lost just two House seats in 1996, but still held a 22-seat lead; they gained two Senate seats in 1996, which gave them their biggest Senate advantage in 68 years.

    The fact that the Ds hold roughly the same number of seats as the 1994 Rs is not especially relevant as a harbinger of returning D domination, but rather as a swing on the shallow political pendulum that has been American politics of the last 25 years.

    So please, give up this crap about how Rs are losing their grip, they're out of touch with polls, and are bleeding seats. The number don't play any of that out.

    And if you're a centrist former Republican, I'm John Kerry.


Post a Comment

<< Home