Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Democrats take a knock at the polls

A year ago today the American people came out in unprecedented numbers to elected a liberal President who was on record as opposing the Iraq war, in favour of equal rights for gays and who actually thought that the climate was changing and this had something to do with us humans.

This contrasts somewhat with election results out today that show Americans in Maine, New Jersey, New York and Virginia had begun to shift back to the right. However, all is not lost.

Maine: set back for equal rights

Voters in Maine overturned the state's newly written gay marriage law by 52.75% to 47.25%. When the state legislature brought in the right for gay people to marry earlier this year it sparked a reactionary, well, reaction led by the Catholic Church who petitioned for a referendum on the issue before it could be implemented.

Although this defeat is extremely disappointing we should note how close the vote actually was and I wonder if we had such a referendum in London, for example, would over 47% of people vote in favour of gay marriage? We should also note that voters in Maine also chose to expand the medicinal uses of Marijuana on the same night, so there is still hope for them.

Incidentally, in Washington State voters were asked to approve same sex civil unions (essentially everything up to, but not including, the word marriage) which it seems that they have done.

New Jersey: Republican takes safe Democrat governorship

The biggest blow of the night for the Democrats was the loss of New Jersey governor Jon Corzine, in what should have been an easy contest. However, he was a candidate mired in scandal and who was widely seen as mishandling the economic crisis even while promising the moon.

We should also note that his victorious Republican rival is a state prosecutor who'd made his name locking up politicians, you can see why people liked him!

Virginia: Republican take governorship

It was the battle of the right wingers in Virginia where the "pro-life, pro-family" Republican candidate beat his anti-health care reform Democratic rival. A fair few lazy journalists have been discussing this result as a rejection of Obama but seeing as he wasn't on the ballot paper and the Democratic candidate disagreed with the prez on most major issues of the day we enlightened few shall exercise a little more caution.

New York: the right comfortably win Mayoralty

Republican-leaning independent Mike Bloomberg was re-elected as Mayor of New York defeating his rivals handily. The election campaign came at a reputed cost of $100 million for Bloomberg compared to a measly $8 million spend from the Democrat camp so I'm left wondering why he didn't do even better.

The news is not all bad though. In New York the Republicans managed to lose a safe congressional seat through that time honoured election losing technique of having a civil war. The Republican Dede Scozzafava was a moderate, pro-choice candidate who so offended the right by her refusal to be barmy that titans like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck waded in to hound her and support a mad dog rival candidate.

So vile were the attacks that Scozzafava took the late decision to stand down from the race and endorse the Democrats who then managed to take the previously unassailable right wing stronghold.

Can we draw conclusions?

While the results were certainly bad for the Democrats last night they were just a snap shot of the electorate in very specific areas - massively influenced by local events. The voting out of scandal ridden or anti-reform Democrats can't just be laid at the door of Obama's record in office but is very much about the fact that these were very weak candidates that were completely unable to mobilise left of centre voters.

I think the results show two main things. Firstly that the Republican right exists and is on the offensive. Secondly that where they overplay their hand they split their own side and lose the fight. We can see this happening in the health care debate where all their talk of death panels and equating Obama with Hitler has actually driven many moderate Republicans into the Democrat's camp - literally in the case of Dede Scozzafava.

It seems to me that if the Democrats want to keep winning elections they need to stick to a radical and principled agenda whilst leaving the door open to the more moderate supporters of the Republican cause. Most Republicans are not Glenn Beck style foaming ideologues and can be won be over - but ironically not by those Democrats who are indistinguishable from the Republicans, and there are many of them.


Obama London said...

Hi Jim, I think you're unduly pessimistic on the NY Mayoralty - to me this was the big surprise of the night. No one really expected that race to even be close, and in the end he won 51-46 - I'd expected a bigger blowout than that, especially considering the ridiculous amounts of money spent, as you mention. I think what we're seeing across the board is more of an anti-incumbent local election than any broader trends of left vs. right.

ModernityBlog said...

I would agree there's probably a degree of anti-incumbency sentiment and that can affect the picture, but I think more importantly the state of the American economy is the issue, once it bounces back Obama's popularity and, to a degree, the Democrats should rise.

Jim Jay said...

You're right of course - the fact that he threw so much wealth at the campaign and still only just staggered in first is something to celebrate.

Really I should give all the results in keeping with my ultra-geek persona

Michael R. Bloomberg Rep. 557,059 50.6% Incumbent
William C. Thompson Jr. Dem. 506,717 46.0
Stephen Christopher Con. 18,277 1.7
Billy Talen Green 8,964 0.8
Francisca Villar P.S.L. 3,517 0.3
Jimmy McMillan 'rent is too damn high party' 2,615 0.2
Joseph Dobrian Lib. 2,004 0.2
Daniel Fein S.W.P. 1,496 0.1