Pundits and the politicians will draw numerous lessons from yesterday’s election results. Some of these lessons may even be accurate.
Off-year elections results are primarily determined by local and state concerns. This is certainly the case in the races for governor in New Jersey and Virginia and the special election for the U.S. House of Representatives contest in upstate New York.
Yet there is little doubt that the national economic uncertainties and Obama’s difficult challenges on health care, global warming, Afghanistan and the economic stimulus package adversely affected the Democratic candidates.
Obama’s popularity remains fairly high despite these difficulties.
One thing is for sure: national security issues, whether nuclear weapons reductions, the war in Iraq or the possibility of sending additional troops to Afghanistan, played no role in yesterday’s results. Zero. Zippo. Nada.
If the November 2010 congressional elections – 38 Senate seats and 435 House contests – had been held yesterday, Republicans would have scored big gains.
But there are 12 months before the next congressional elections. Assuming that the economic upturn continues and a major health care bill is signed into law, both of which seem increasingly likely, GOP hopes for major gains are likely to be dashed.
The Republican civil war that played out in upstate New York may have continued reverberations. Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Richard Armey, the Club for Growth and Sarah Palin backed the conservative Doug Hoffman against the moderate Dede Scozzafava, who was nominated by local Republican leaders. As a result, they split Republican votes and allowed Democrat Bill Owens to emerge victorious. It is the first time the seat will be held by a Democrat in almost 120 years.
These hard right types would rather be ideologically pure than win elections.
It is this push to the right that has helped almost completely eradicate Republican members of Congress from New England, with Maine being the major exception. It has marginalized Republicans in California as well, Arnold Schwarzenegger notwithstanding.
Undoubtedly unfazed by the defeat, it is very likely that the hard-right conservatives will continue to target Republicans deemed by them to be too moderate, such as Governor Charles Crist, running for Senate in Florida; U.S. Representative Mark Kirk, running for Senate in Illinois; Carly Fiorina, running for Senate in California; and Utah Senator Robert Bennett, running for re-election in Utah.
The Republican civil war is also a warning for Democrats who seek ideological purity. An awful lot of Democrats were elected to Congress in 2006 and 2008 from districts with Republican leanings who vote a more moderate line than New York or California liberals. Some Democrats talk of mimicking hard-right conservatives by launching a campaign to drive out Democratic moderates. This urge should be resisted: Democrats should learn something from Republicans and accept ideological diversity in the Democratic Party.