Bill Whalen

Election 2011 Thoughts

The political landscape wasn’t all that dramatically different after Americans went to the polls Tuesday in the walk-up to next year’s election.

Mixed results and mixed messages by voters were a mixed blessing, it would seem, for the two parties.

Although Election 2011 produced little in the way of surprises, there were a few developments worth noting. To wit:

  1. Goodbye Hello Columbus? As expected, Ohioans overwhelmingly rejected a law limiting the collective-bargaining rights of public workers. Lest you think the Buckeye State is a Democratic Disneyland, Ohioans also passed (again, by a large majority) a resolution to “preserve the freedom of Ohioans to choose their health care.” Where does this leave the White House? Perhaps deciding that the same state that gave America “three yards and a cloud of dust” football is the right place to run a grind-it-out union-fueled-and-financed campaign next fall. The Brooking Institution’s William Galston, a former Bill Clinton advisor and long a favorite of moderate Democratic thinkers, has laid out a compelling argument for why the Obama campaign would be better off focusing on the Midwest battleground states instead of the New South and Mountain West swing states that fell into the Democrats’ lap in 2008. We’ll see if Tuesday’s results in Ohio have the White House rethinking the presidential map.
  2. Elections – The San Francisco Treat. The day before Tuesday’s vote, one of the candidates for mayor of San Francisco reported his office ransacked and burglarized. Such is life in “Babylon by the Bay”, where ballot-box lids have a funny habit of winding up . . . in the Bay. The real story wasn’t the vote (a city with one of America’s oldest Chinatowns was aiming to elect its first Chinese-American mayor). Instead, the bigger story was growing distrust of the voting system. In 2011, as in 2007, San Francisco employed ranked-choice voting – the same process by which the much-criticizedOakland Mayor Jean Quan backed into office. Having seen the mess Quan has made across the Bay in trying to cope with Occupy Wall Street, the SF Board of Supervisors may soon return its city to traditional runoff-voting, which would be a remarkable turnabout given that liberal bastions such as San Francisco love to brag about living on on the cutting edge on new democratic practices.
  3. Mississippi Wasn’t Burning. In the Magnolia State’s contest for governor, Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant defeated Democrat Johnny Dupree, the third-term Democratic mayor of Mississippi and the first black candidate to win a major party’s gubernatorial nomination in the state since Reconstruction. For a refreshing change, neither candidate went negative; in fact, Dupree ran this clever ad saying that the only color that mattered was “green”  (as in jobs, money, economic growth). Mississippi has opted for GOP governors four of the five past terms; the State Legislature continues totrend Republican. To give you an idea of how many times President Obama will be visiting next year: in an email to supporters last week, Dupree touted three endorsements. They were: Bill Cosby, former U.S. Agriculture Secretary and Mississippi Rep. Mike Espy and Ron Williams, a Gulf Coast businessman who at one point sought the GOP nod for governor. Notice anyone missing?
  4. So How Do Democrats Survive in the South? Just ask Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, who breezed to re-election in a state where none of the last three Democratic presidential nominees has cracked 41.5% (Obama pulled down only 41.1%, 300,000 fewer votes than John McCain). Cynics will note that old habits die hard in Kentucky – Democrats have lost only two gubernatorial contests dating back to 1950. But this was also a tale of two campaigns – one serious, the other at times silly. Beshear ran on piloting the state through hard time – cutting his own salary and furloughing state workers as examples of belt-tightening. The Republican in the race, State Senate President David Williams, tried to corner the incumbent as an ideas-light governor. When that failed, his campaign went negative – for example, criticizing Beshear’s decision to take part in a Hindu ceremony at the groundbreaking for a $180 million manufacturing plant owned by Indian businessmen in Elizabethtown. Apparently, voters didn’t care for a charge of “idolatory” getting in the way of job-creation.

Three other observations:

  1. In all, not a good night for the White House. Yes, the Issue 2 defeat in Ohio was a morale boost for Big Labor. Then again, the President purposely stayed out of the Ohio vote, lest he polarize the electorate. And his signature issue – national healthcare – received a bottom-swatting of the first order. How, exactly, does he plan to campaign if his record and is very presence are problematic?
  2. Mississippi voters rejected an anti-abortion “personhood” measure (here’s the text), but passed a measure expanding eminent-domain restrictions. The latter cause, Initiative 31, divided politicians (outgoing Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour opposed it; the two candidates seeking to replace him were in favor). The takeaway: it’s been six years sinceKelo v. City of New London sparked this debate, yet eminent domain remains a toxic issue in the public domain – one where voters consistently choose property rights over governmental ambition.
  3. The President can travel the least distance to find some of the most conflicted voters in America. Virginia elected both Republican and Democratic state senators Tuesday night. Although the GOP claimed to enjoy an edge in enthusiasm, voters seemed to be expressing a taste for divided government.  Why does this matter? Because Virginia, like Ohio, is crucial to Obama’s re-elect hopes. If Virginians were saying they want a government of checks and balances, then watch for the President to come out swinging in 2012 as America’s Backstop-in-Chief.

 

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