Rove's Misread of Tuesday's Elections

Bumped from the diaries -- Jonathan

In yesterday's Wall Street Journal Karl Rove presented a thoughtful opinion piece on how to read the results of elections to be held Tuesday in Virginia, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.  Regardless of Rove's projected outcomes in these elections, he makes the mistake of seeing the results, as most of Washington will see them, through the lens of partisanship, and he measures the outcome, only as Washington has come to measure all outcomes, in terms of partisan advantage .  

According to Rove, "Voters have lived under Democratic rule for nine months, and many of them, especially independents, don't like what they are seeing.  Tuesday's election will provide the most tangible evidence of how strong a backlash is building - and just how frightened centrist Democrats should be of 2010.  For Republicans, it looks as if hope and change are on the way."

I have a different view of what Tuesday's results may tell us and not because I am a Democrat.

To Rove "us" is the Republican party and "them" is the Democratic party.  This isn't just Rove's problem - most in both party establishments view the political world this way - with just as many seeing "us" as Democrats and "them" as Republicans.   But this view masks what is truly happening - and makes the establishments of both parties blind to what is coming in 2010.

Voters are increasingly seeing themselves as "us" and both parties in Washington as "them".  They are not going to discriminate between the two parties in 2010.   The results next Tuesday will likely demonstrate the voter's frustration with those in power, regardless of party.  Far from signaling a backlash against Democratic rule and hope for the Republican Party, the results on Tuesday will signal that in 2010 incumbents in both parties, of all ideological stripes should be frightened.

Take off your partisan glasses on Tuesday night and this is what you will see.

In Virginia, where Democrats have held the Governor's office for 8 years, I agree with Rove that Republican Bob McDonnell is likely to win.   Republicans will see this as a sign of resurgence.  That would be a mistake.   Question.  If George Bush were still President does anyone think Bob McDonnell would have any chance in Virginia today?    The reality is that something else is at work here.  And the results in New Jersey and New York will expose exactly what it is.

Virginia's race for Governor does not include a viable third candidate outside of the two major parties.  The races for Governor of New Jersey and for Congress in New York's 23rd district do have independent or third party candidates who are shaping the outcomes.

In New Jersey, Rove is correct in pointing out that, incumbent Democratic Governor John Corzine has been at 42% or above in just 6 out of 59 polls in the race conducted since January.   And Rove is correct in pointing out that this condition is usually terminal for an incumbent.  But it would be incredibly blind to see a GOP win in New Jersey as a sign of renewal and strength for the Republican Party.   Even with an incumbent Governor who can not rate much higher than 42% of the vote the Republican nominee Chris Christie can't seem to poll much higher and, as of today, the race is a dead heat because independent candidate Chris Daggett is pulling votes away from both major party candidates.   And, as Rove points out, the Republican Governor's Association's only attack that has worked against Daggett is that if you vote for him you might get Corzine.  In typical two party mind sync it won't be long before Democrats start arguing to the same people that if you vote for Daggett you might get Christie.

If Corzine wins on Tuesday, it would be a mistake for Democrats to breath a sigh of relief and view it as a sign of voters returning to the party fold - and, if Christie wins, the GOP would make a mistake to read such a victory along with a win in Virginia as a rejection of one party for another - or as evidence of renewed strength for their party.  Though no matter which of the two outcomes the mandatory partisan spin will claim differently.

The reality is that in terms of 2010 Republicans and Democrats should view the emergence of independent Chris Daggett and the antipathy that both major party nominees engender in New Jersey as a sign that both parties may be in trouble in 2010.  Incumbents from either party should be ready for surprises from the voters at the polls in November a year from Tuesday's results - out with the old, and in with the new, may be in regardless of party.

New York's 23rd Congressional District may be the race in which the outcome could be the most surprising and the most misread.    If Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman wins in New York's 23rd district this Tuesday the GOP will claim victory and say that Hoffman was a disgruntled member of their party who ran as a third party candidate only because the GOP didn't pick him - and alas their mistake was corrected by the voters and the GOP will welcome Hoffman into their fold.    This is pure folly.   If Hoffman wins it will be a rejection of both parties in a contest in which the hand picked party nominees and the party campaign committees themselves have spent millions of dollars, and many of those dollars are now being spent to attack Hoffman.

But it's too late - Hoffman may not pull it off - but even if he doesn't, and one of the major party candidates wins by a slim margin, his emergence in the race at all is a signal that 2010 is likely to be a very different election.

What we are seeing in 2009 is that incumbents or the "in" party in each race is having trouble holding on, and that where voters have a choice outside of both major parties enough voters are choosing the independent or third party candidate to rattle both major parties and effect the outcome, if not win the election outright.

I am a Democrat and have been a Democrat all my life and I want Democrats to win in 2009 and 2010.  But Republican, or Democrat, it would be a mistake to not see that both of our parties are in trouble and that many of our incumbents in 2010, in both parties, will be in jeopardy.  

The Republicans may have two gubernatorial victories on Tuesday and they may claim a victory in NY's 23rd - or they may only win none of the three contests.  In the best and worst cases the mistake will be to see a partisan victory or the results as a rejection of a single party.

What voters are ready to tell anyone who will listen is that they would like to reject both parties right now if they could.  They are trying to find a way to say to both parties, "We want you to change or get out of the way." Both party establishments are in denial.  Both party establishments are hard of hearing.  And, both party establishments are likely to see the results on Tuesday as Karl Rove sees them - a victory of one party over another.   That is the real danger in 2010 and beyond for both parties.

Tags: Democratic Party, Democrats, Election 2010, Karl Rove, new jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Republican Party, Republicans, Virginia (all tags)



I have no particular stake in tuesday's vote

...I actually won't manage to get to a voting place, but I hope R.T. Rybak pulls through to hold his seat as Minneapolis mayor.  He probably will; Obama is incredibly popular here, and R.T. was on the Draft Obama team.

Anyway, I'm actually not too concerned about 2010; if people are as anti-incumbant as you say, we should be able to hold onto the Senate fairly easily; our big wins in 2006 aren't coming due until 2012.

Furthermore, if Democrats pull out a health care plan that works and starts delivering, and the economy starts getting better for the general public (instead of just for investment bankers), Democrats should be set for 2012 anyway, as they'll be able to campaign on Republicans essentially wanting America to fail.

The favorable/unfavorable ratings are pretty clear: Democrats have a 20% higher favorability than Republicans.  That's not Monopoly money.

by Dracomicron 2009-10-30 11:09AM | 0 recs
We dont have much time to get a healthcare bill

We are going to have to do it within the next two months if it is going to happen.  

by Kent 2009-10-30 12:24PM | 0 recs
Re: Kent!

You're just like the boy eho cried "Wolf!" while he kicked the goalposts down the alley. And we all know how that worked out.

by QTG 2009-10-30 12:29PM | 0 recs
Re: We dont have much time

I thought we absolutely positively had to do it by October 15, or at the very latest before we get wiped off the map in Virginia and New Jersey next Tuesday.  Did we apply for an extension or something?

by Steve M 2009-10-30 12:34PM | 0 recs
Re: October 15th

but of what year?

by QTG 2009-10-30 01:17PM | 0 recs

Turdblossom has The Math.  The Math!

by JJE 2009-10-30 12:21PM | 0 recs
Shheesh Pay Me Some Cheese To Call These

This isn't rocket science.

Virginia is still a red state ... deep purple at best.    Democrats had a three way primary and ended up with a limp noodle.   Plus Democrats have held the governorship there for 8 years and every streak must end.  A Republican winning this isn't a surprise and means nothing other than a Republican won.

Jersey has been a Republican tease for a while   but the bigger factor I think is that any incumbent governor would be in for a tough race given the economy, housing market, etc.   Governors get blamed rightly, or wrongly, in bad times.

In NY you have Republicans splitting up a race that was theirs for the taking.    This isn't the first or the last time Club For Growth has mucked up a race.   I do think though that if Hoffman wins Republicans should be very nervous (heck even if he doesn't).   This teabagging is blowing up in their faces.   A lot more third party challenges in 2010 could hurt them badly.

by RichardFlatts 2009-10-30 02:57PM | 0 recs
Do you really think VA is a red state?

Have you been to Virginia lately?

"Virginia is still a red state ... deep purple at best"

Both US Senators are Democrats, the US House Delegation is 6-5 Democratic, and, as you point out, the Democrats have held the Governorship for the last eight years. The State Senate is controlled by Democrats, and Obama carried the state by 7 percentage points.

How, pray tell, do you declare that Virginia is a red state???

by BJJ Fighter 2009-10-30 10:02PM | 0 recs
Re: Do you really think VA is a red state?
Deep purple may be a better read, but there's been a tendency in VA to switch parties every time the parties in the WH change.
The sitting President's party hasn't won the VA gubenatorial election since 1973 and then it was an Democrat-turned-Republican ex-Gov (Mils Godwin) that did it.
by spirowasright 2009-10-31 11:42AM | 0 recs
Re: Rove's Misread of Tuesday's Elections

A thoughtful analysis and one with much merit.  I agree that the potential trend is towards disillusionment with the party system.  I, too, am a life long Democrat, from a family line of Democrats.  I find the embrace of Arlen Specter, at the expense of real Democrats to be a telling event (especially on the heels of how the Connecticut senate race was conducted by both parties).  And in NY, you have an up-and-coming city politician (but for much longer, hopefully) who refused to support her party's candidate until a few days ago when she gave a truly tepid endorsement.  What is going on with the leaders of this party?  The focus on process (winning, hedging your position, etc.) with little regard for core Democratic values is disturbing.  

On a much smaller scale, a third party candidate is running for a NYC council seat on the Working Families line.  He has a good chance to beat the incumbent.  

I think the decline in party affiliation may be a cultural phenomenon, reflecting the increased fragmentation of our society (the so-called long tail).  I personally have always desired a multi-party system.

by orestes 2009-10-30 03:24PM | 0 recs
Re: Rove's Misread of Tuesday's Elections

Partisanship in the U.S. through collusion by members of both parties gives cover to corporate policies that voters don't want, but both party seem hell bent on giving them under the banner of centrism. Centrism is the fulcrum upon which the corporate interests becomes the "center" or "pragmatic" because that is often the "bipartisan" solution.  Centrism in the form of plutocracy is a kind of third party, but not really.  The value of having effective third party operatives is that this would make these sorts of manipulation more difficult by creating different power centers. I actually like the Working Families Party because no only do they field their own candidates, but they also will endorse Democratic candidates. Thus they both work within and outside of the 2 party system. I imagine there are other non-plutocratic political forces on the right. If this were brought fruition it would shift the dynamics of the policies that we see.

by bruh3 2009-10-31 11:50AM | 0 recs
Re: Rove's Misread of Tuesday's Elections

You know I'm a partisan, but this remark isn't about my problem.

I do see the possibility of opening the system up to more Parties if the Republicans split in two, but only if the Democrats go through a similar split: either by Progressives forming a new Party or by more centrist Democrats joining the Moderate Republicans in some sort of new party or form their own new party. I think it would be an improvement, but wonder if it could get done peacefully. The more the merrier. I've always thought a parliamentary system would be better.

by QTG 2009-10-31 01:59PM | 0 recs
Re: Rove's Misread of Tuesday's Elections

A third party/parlimentary approach is not possible in a winner take all system. The system is set up and gamed by the two parties, including through artificially low numbers in the House (some estimates are that we should have 700 to 1000 representatives to address the large populations and money cost of running races). This will never happen because the GOP and Democrats want a monopoly. I would not care so much if I did not think that the money interests can game the present system in ways that are hard to defeat.

by bruh3 2009-10-31 02:39PM | 0 recs
Re: Rove's Misread of Tuesday's Elections

I agree with regard to the Working Families Party.  In the recent NYC primaries, the Democratic candidates they also supported won their primaries over the establishment candidates.  Since the election, there has been this attempt to mildly discredit the WFP, including an outrageous op-ed piece in the News by Koch and David Yassky warning that the WFP is too beholden to the unions and so unreasonable in their demands that they would cause real problems for the city.  It's a classic example of the current problem with the two party system- the Dem establishment trying to discredit an historic Dem constituency in order to try to retain control over the electoral process.  Shameful- but Koch should have been tossed out of the party years ago and Yassky is a Bloomberg acolyte.

by orestes 2009-10-31 02:14PM | 0 recs
Re: Rove's Misread of Tuesday's Elections

Someone at Open Left called the present Democratic leadership out as "children of Reagan." I like this phrase for several reasons.

The most important one is that it captures why reform with the present leadership will be difficult. I wrote this else where- but it seems relevant here. The key issue is that the present leadership is in my mind similar by analogy to Democrats of 1979.

They are dinosaurs of a dying moment in political history, but they are still in power so it is hard to get shit done while the mind set of the leadership remains focused on the last rather than future political movement.  

What we see- whether local, state or national is a party still focused on reacting to the Reagan revolution. Triangulation,c centrism, bipartisanship- are reactions to Reaganism. They are not the new Deal Democrats who saw them selves as the natural governing party. Now that the demographic shifts favor Democrats, in theory, the natural governing party should become the mantra rather than centrism. That's the reality, but the problem is no one believes it. So you get idiots like Koch who was adjusting to Reaganism in the 80s living in flashbacks.

It is like the Berlin wall came down, but they are still fighting the last war. Paterson- a liberal- tries to push through moderate plans. Not because this is what people want. But because he is told this is what moderates do. Never mind that there is no moderation left in the right. So they proposed more and more extreme solutions to be to the right of our right of moving center.

Some one made that comment about Rahm recently- that he's an old general fighting the old health care battle of 1993 rather than 2009. What this will cost party in the long term is unclear. There are signs that the PO may be better than we think, but right now given the politics, that is uncertain.  The truth is it should have been easier than this. But the mind set prevents it.

That's why I advocate 3rd/Inner parties. Parties that are both thirty parties and work within parties to force the political spectrum away from partisan battle fields into base and interest focused approaches like being anti plutocratic.

by bruh3 2009-10-31 02:49PM | 0 recs
Re: Rove's Misread of Tuesday's Elections

Yea, "children of Reagan" in the sense that they internalized the Mondale defeat with their worldview of what is possible; and for some of them, even moreso, going back to McGovern's defeat. You would think that Obama's win would have taken care of that, but it is due to the lack of initiative by Obama that it hasn't taken hold. I am coming to the belief though that Obama is likely to become very much of a taking the initiative type of President in early 2010-- however, I think it may be a very centrist type of initiative as well.

by Jerome Armstrong 2009-10-31 04:14PM | 0 recs
Re: Rove's Misread of Tuesday's Elections

I think the core issue in 2010 will be jobs. Thus, I expect to see a lot more with that issue in the weeks and months ahead.

by bruh3 2009-10-31 05:57PM | 0 recs
Re: Rove's Misread of Tuesday's Elections

I tend to take a more cynical view of the Democratic leadership.  I think the problem is that the overprivileged took over the party a couple of decades ago.  (Of course, the political class has tended to be wealthy, but there were greater opportunities for regular people to move up in the old machine days.)  And this class of people are less interested in doing good deeds than they are in their own comfort.  Alternatively, they may simply not have the proper spirit because they have never really had to fight for anything of significance in their lives.  They don't sympathize with the plight of the vast majority of Americans because they are completely divorced from their experience.  Accordingly, they also bring their weak values to the game- don't rock the boat, moderate change is really all you can get, you have to play the game in order to get anything done, etc.  That is why I find our best hope lies with the congressional black caucus and the few outspoken progressives.  Even reliable progressives (in voting) like Nadler, DeLauro are not out there fighting the good fight anymore.  They're all too willing to play the game.  

by orestes 2009-10-31 03:43PM | 0 recs
Re: Rove's Misread of Tuesday's Elections

This was intended as a reply to bruh3's comment above.

by orestes 2009-10-31 03:43PM | 0 recs
Re: Rove's Misread of Tuesday's Elections

I understand, but as you allude to in you comment, people like FDR were wealthy. Both Obama and Clinton were born out of the lower classes. There is something more than class identification that motivates them. I think there are two things- a)  Democrats are neoliberal ideologues who believe there is nothing wrong with free market fundamentalism that a little tweaking can't solve (they spent the last 2 decades putting out free market fundamentalist induced fires) and b) they are more afraid of the right (Reaganism) than they are of their own base.

This why I have said previously that if progressives truly want to obtain power, they must make the party fear them, which means torpedoing bills and showing the party what happens if progressives don't show up to vote in close elections, but announcing before hand (so the MSM can't game the statement) that they are not showing up to expressly remind those in power that if they treat progressives poorly they will soon be out of power.

This is why the right fears its base. The base is willing to destroy them. Now, this can be dangerous in that it can lead to extremism, but it can also be a tool in that it can lead responsiveness. Right now, the issue is not that the base is seeking extremism. A robust public option, for example, is not extremism. It is what the public wants. But because Democrats do not properly fear progressives, this was a bigger battle than it needed to be.

I can not imagine a progressive group creating the kind of fear that the right wingers do in the GOP. People think this is a good thing that we are not like them in this way. I disagree. Fear has its place when the carrot does not work. That's the lesson of FDR and others who passed progressive agenda.

by bruh3 2009-10-31 05:46PM | 0 recs
Re: Rove's Misread of Tuesday's Elections

I have no doubt, that as Trippi lays out, we will be told exactly the wrong thing about Tuesday's election results.

by Jerome Armstrong 2009-10-31 04:11PM | 0 recs
Re: Rove's Misread of Tuesday's Elections

I predict that if Democrats dont win at least one of NY-23, VA-GOV, and NJ-GOV, that healthcare reform will be dead.  These defeats will give the blue dogs the cover they need to block reform.  

by Kent 2009-10-31 08:14PM | 0 recs
Hee hee

Your predictions of doom are always welcome, Kent.

by Dracomicron 2009-10-31 08:45PM | 0 recs
I'm bookmarking this prediction.

NY-23: Hasn't gone democratic since the 19th Centruy
VA-GOV: DOA Dem candidate in a purple state, always polled poorly.
NJ-GOV: Unpopular Dem incumbent who has closed the poling gap.

And, uh, that's it. Three data points in an off-year election before the mid-term election of the first term of the President.

by NoFortunateSon 2009-11-01 05:53PM | 0 recs
Re: I'm bookmarking this prediction.

There are a lot of unpopular Democratic incumbents who will have to run next year.  Harry Reid, Blanche Lincoln, Chris Dodd, Ted Strickland, Deval Patrick, Chet Culver, and Bill Ritter all come to mind.  

by Kent 2009-11-01 07:31PM | 0 recs
Define unpopular

Incumbents often are, because by definition, they're politicians, and no one likes politicians. The question is whether they are going to be reelected. I see no indicators whatsoever that the country is willing to remotely trust the Republicans again.

by NoFortunateSon 2009-11-01 08:13PM | 0 recs
Look around the country

Two states appear ready to put far right wing Republicans in charge of their states and a district that Barack Obama carried by five points is about to send someone to Congress who's goal is to eliminate Social Security and Medicare.  People are turning to Republicans because they dont see Democrats standing up for their interests.  

by Kent 2009-11-01 08:49PM | 0 recs
Re: Look around the country

That's baloney, Dems aren't running to wingnuts, it's repubs and some indys going rogue.  This will not make the GOP stronger, it will make it more fractured

by KLRinLA 2009-11-02 08:10AM | 0 recs
Is there a right conclusion that can be drawn?

With so few races in an odd year election before the midterm the pundocracy can spin whatever they want from them. They'll try and make this a referendum on Obama and Health Care. Whatever. It's their job.

by NoFortunateSon 2009-11-01 05:58PM | 0 recs


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