Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Election Day 2009

The Republican Party enjoyed two key victories in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races thus halting the Democrat's momentum. While the results should concern the White House, Republicans have plenty to worry about as well.

It is a truism in politics that after a party wins the White House it loses ground in midterm elections. For example, take New Jersey. Democrats had hoped that President Barack Obama's continued popularity would lift Governor Jon Corzine across the finish line. But Gov. Corzine was a weak candidate who spent a personal fortune on a largely negative campaign. Exit Polls indicate that 60% of those interviewed said President Obama was not a factor in their decision. And those who said he was a factor split evenly on the question between negative and positive.

It was just one year ago that young as well as minority voters poured into voting booths in record numbers across the nation inspired by a very special candidate with a powerful message of change. Yesterday, according to exit polls, a majority of voters in both New Jersey and Virginia said President Obama had no impact on their vote. In fact, turnout was low in most of the elections yesterday. The young and minority voters were not motivated enough to come out and vote. Is this a symptom of a bigger problem for Democrats in 2010? Could the president have had a favorable impact had he delivered on his pledge to change Washington, even just a little?

Many Americans voted for President Obama because they wanted change. The economy had been nearly destroyed by financial institutions that were running up record profits on questionable and unregulated trading practices. Now some of these surviving financial institutions, backed taxpayer money, have returned to business as usual. There has been little or no new regulation for this system. Yet millions of Americans are still hurting. Foreclosures continue to increase and unemployment is stuck around an unacceptable 10%.

Many Americans were looking for change in Washington, an end of politics as usual. Yet the raucous debate over health care, the powerful role of special interests and the focus on short term political gains these past few months proves Washington is not ready for reform. Hope for change has been doused with a bucket of cold reality.

Deficits are climbing at record levels and will be passed on to our children. And Americans fear that tax increases and terrible inflation lurks right around the corner. This as they cope with the nightmare of two wars. US soldiers are dying in Iraq, an unnecessary war, and Afghanistan, where there is still no clear strategy for victory or a respectful withdrawal. Today most Afghans view Americans as occupiers, just as they did the Soviets and the English.

Meanwhile, the far left and the far right have become more intense and much louder. The differences have sharpened; the knives have been drawn. It is more than political; it has now become personal. The vast middle, teeming with independents who had sided with President Obama, are being tossed about the main deck as the ship of state is being buffeted by the bluster of partisanship. All of this is being intensified by cable news and bloggers.

The Republicans should be sitting in the catbird seat. Except they have become the party of no, and are now embroiled in their own civil war. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steel and some moderates are now up against the conservative wing led by Former Governor Sarah Palin, Governor Tim Pawlenty and Rush Limbaugh. Never mind that President Ronald Reagan's success was the result of a broad coalition of traditional Republicans and independents. The party came apart in New York's 23rd Congressional District, where conservatives threw their support to a conservative who doesn't even live in the district. The result was a nearly unprecedented win for the Democrats.

There are a few takeaways from yesterday's election. First, for the White House: focus on the economy. Where are the jobs? Where is the financial regulation? Where are the promised budget cuts to lower the country's deficit spending? If there is not some tangible progress with America's economy by 2010 President Obama will be a drag on many Democrats in tightly contested districts.

Second, Governor Corzine: you can't win an election with negative ads when you have nothing positive to say about your own record. In fact, negative ads never work in the long run, even when you do outspend your opponent three to one. It is possible that you will be best remembered as the Governor who attacked his opponent's waistline.

Third, Republicans: what were you thinking in New York's 23rd Congressional District. You managed to cause a backlash in a predominantly Republican district, called national attention to your inept management and brought light to your internal battles.

And finally, no wonder most eligible voters decided not to participate on election day.

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