Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Contra 1994 II: Bring Out Your Not-Quite-Dead Democratic Hopes!

Hopes of Democrats to take at least one house of Congress in November are not quite dead. Much could happen between now and November. But yesterday’s election results suggest that, like Monty Python's Cartman, practical political analysts shouldn't be too finicky about the difference between the current state of such hopes and actual death.

Yesterday's special House election to fill the San Diego area seat once occupied by corrupt and disgraced Randy "Duke" Cunningham was by far the most-watched election nationally. The victory of Republican Brian Bilbray over Democrat Francine Busby is being widely described as "narrow," in a "solidly Republican district," and marred by Busby's "verbal gaffe" (that illegal immigrants needed no papers to vote) in the final days of the campaign that supposedly damaged her candidacy. But Mr. Bilbray was not an incumbent (an additional advantage Republicans will generally hold in November). He also overcame the Cunningham corruption scandal, meaning that the "Republicans are corrupt" message Democrats were hoping would bring them at least the House had scant effect even in a district in which the message was at its strongest. But most significant of all is this: Busby barely exceeded the percentage won by Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) in the 2004 presidential race. Busby's margin is nothing short of a disaster for Democrats' November hopes. It is also worth remembering that Democratic turnout may have been increased by the hotly contested California Democratic gubernatorial primary, although the tone of that campaign had recently turned so negative that Democratic turnout may have been tamped down a bit. The agony of the liberal Los Angeles Times over that primary and other Democratic statewide showings is summed up nicely in today's editorial:

The Democrats' shrill and shallow campaign ads may be off the air, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger embarks today on a statewide bus tour. Maybe the winner of Tuesday's Democratic gubernatorial primary can take a few days, a few hours — OK, a few minutes — to pause and consider how to articulate a more positive message about the state's future. The primary did little to boost the enthusiasm Democrats feel for their state candidates, and voters were also skeptical about two ballot measures to increase public spending on preschool and libraries.
"Shrill and shallow" pretty much sums up the nature of national Democratic efforts, too. But the mainstream media is still in the denial stage after yesterday's quasi-death, including the New York Times coverage of Tom Kean Jr.'s Republican nomination to challenge Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez in New Jersey. Even the Times had to grudgingly admit that early polls indicate "a tight race," although the coverage labors mightily to suggest that Mr. Kean has problems with the Republican base - while supplying no real evidence of such problems.

What is most striking about what happened in New Jersey yesterday is that the Republican candidate for the Senate in that liberal, pro-Democratic state is highly viable. Indeed, the Times reports that Mr. Kean is "attacking Mr. Menendez as a corrupt political boss with dubious character." Yet this is a year in which the mainstream media tell us corruption is supposed to be an issue working in favor of Democrats. And, of course, we are also told that this is a year ripe for a big Democratic win generally. Yet there were few signs of such a coming win in either California or New Jersey, states in which the signs should have been strongest.

If history is a guide, the November elections will bring some normal Democratic gains - midterm elections normally do favor the party not holding the White House - although the 2002 elections were an exception. And some strong individual Democratic candidates will probably chalk up special personal victories (CUSTOMER: Who's that, then? CART MASTER: I dunno. Must be a king. CUSTOMER: Why? CART MASTER: He hasn't got shit all over him.) But it's looking less and less like a Democratic year.

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