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Lessons from election 2005

Lessons from election 2005
Commentary by J. Bradley Jansen
November 28, 2005

Lessons from Election 2005“>2005 Election

As we unbuckle our belts another notch after a family Thanksgiving dinner, it is a good time to take stock of our reasons for thanks in the public arena as well. Generally the only time the “conventional wisdom” is right is when acknowledging that the conventional wisdom is may be conventional but it is rarely wise. The take on the recent elections is a good case in point.

Democratic partisans have been crowing about the gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey as harbingers for their coming success in the midterm Congressional races next year. Also, pundits have used the recent elections as additional proof that the country has turned against the Bush Administration.

The argument that the election results are a repudiation of the Republicans in general and President George Bush in particular does not stand up to scrutiny.

First, here are the basic facts: In New Jersey, the Republican nominee for governor ran a lackluster campaign which thought its strongest closing argument was to use the opponent’s ex-wife’s personal views of her former spouse. Despite their best efforts (and being outspent), the Republicans increased their share vote by two percentage points in the gubernatorial race, and the Democrats dropped three percentage points from four years earlier. Last year, John Kerry won the state with 53% in the presidential race against Al Gore’s 56% in 2000. In short, New Jersey continues trending Republican.

In Virginia, the Democrats hung on to the governorship in a tight race with a slightly lower percentage of the vote than four years ago. While losing the vote for lieutenant governor’s office they used to hold and, at this writing, the attorney general’s race (which stays in the Republican column), the Democrats will control fewer offices then presently.

Of course, the referenda in California and Ohio provide a more complete picture. In both states, voters rejected radical plans to alter the system by which the state would choose its representatives to the U.S. Congress as early as the elections next year. Instead, voters in these two states chose the status quo ante. Exactly how the status quo (minus some support for the Democrats) was a “win” for the minority party and a signal of impending doom for the Republicans is a lesson in political spin.

A closer look at the vote in Ohio—probably the best political bell weather of any state—provides a unique insight into our collective political psyche. The four “Reform Ohio Now” issues promoted by a coalition “working to hold politicians accountable in Ohio” through a series of constitutional amendments failed two-to-one statewide (while another unrelated issue passed).

These results belie any delusions that the Democrats had the last presidential election stolen from them in the state just last year. Working America, a community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, was the organizational force behind the four electoral initiatives. Their aim was to fight “for what really matters—good jobs, affordable health care, world-class education, secure retirements, real homeland security and more [and to] work against wrong-headed priorities favoring the rich and corporate special interests over America’s well-being.”

In short, the Republicans should be giving thanks that the country continues trending its way. More importantly, Republicans should be thankful that their opposition generally continues peddling stale ideas that are soundly—and rightly—rejected by the voters. Ohio looks likely to replace the failed tax and spend governorship of Bob Taft (who is heir to the Taft legacy in name only and makes the current national Republicans looks like tightwads) with current fellow Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, the bête noire of Democratic conspiracy theorists. (In the spirit of full disclosure, the first campaign I ever volunteered for was Blackwell’s race for Congress in 1990.)

Having been born and raised in (old) Taft Republican territory, I am happy that voters are not just blindly voting in a partisan fashion. At the same time Ohio voters seem keen to replace an incompetent Republican for governor with a competent one, they are also prepared to boot out Republican Sen. Mike DeWine (who preaches fiscal responsibility, limited government and individual rights but does not vote for it). Democratic challenger Paul Hackett currently leads DeWine in the polls which should give Democrats something to be thankful for (and increases their chance of retaking the Senate)—if only their tired failure of an establishment would allow it.