Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tea Party Candidates and Conventional Wisdom: Why the Democrats Got it Wrong

So Democrats are rejoicing and Republicans fretting the victory of Christine O’Donnell in Delaware.

Conventional wisdom is that the GOP worry that her victory as an extreme candidate makes it harder for the party to pick up enough seats to take back the Senate. Conventional wisdom is that the GOP is cannibalizing its moderates and pushing the party to the fringe right.

Conventional wisdom that Democrats can win since voters will repel from these extremist candidates. Conventional wisdom may be wrong.

There are two clear truths in politics–-angry people vote and messaging is important. The Democrats seem to have forgotten this and are banking on voters turning out against the Tea Party candidates. They should wish for a pony too.

First, think about the fact Rod Stewart was correct-–it is about passion and the same is true in politics. Passion or anger are the genesis for the political motivation to participate. Rarely do contented, alienated, or disaffected vote. In 2006 and 2008 the Democrats had the anger and passion and they voted. This year they do not and they may stay home.

Second, the Tea Party people have the passion and anger and they are participating. They will be there on November 2, in the same way they have been there during the primaries.

Third, in off year elections we can anticipate a national voter turnout of about 40%. In areas even less. If 90% of life is showing up, and if politics is also about mobilizing a base, the Tea Party candidates have an advantage. A small group of highly motivated (angry) voters showing up in a election with low turnout means they will have a big impact on races. Even if they are only 10% of the total turnout, that is enough to change outcomes when only 40% of electorate votes.

Third, Democrats are counting on moderate and swing voters being shocked by the extremism of the Tea Party candidates and not voting for them. Here the Democrats are presupposing these voters realize the Tea Party candidates are extreme. The Democrats need to message on this and have thus far failed to do so.

Fourth, even if they message, Democrats need an alternative. Voters, including the swings, are upset with the status quo. They want an alternative? What is the Democratic narrative? “The other side is nuts, stay with us.” Some message.

In 1980 voters had initial and significant hesitation with Reagan. Carter and the Democrats tried to cast him as a extremist nut. It failed. Angry voters upset with the status quo opted to take a chance and go with Reagan, preferring change over status quo.

So the Democrats should not count on being saved by the Tea Party take over. Democrats still need a message–-an alternative and they are running out of time. They have a McCain problem. In 2008 McCain had to run against the status quo and for change when the GOP had controlled the White House for the last eight years and Congress for six of the last eight. Now the Democrats are being forced to run against themselves.

What are they doing is dumb. Beyond hoping for a GOP meltdown, they are making a classic mistake they always make–-run to the right and ape the GOP. That will not work. Who do you vote for if you want change? The GOP or a party acting like the GOP? The real alternative for the Dems is a progressive one–-run against Wall Street, the banks, and big business. But given how much money they have taken from them, don’t look for that to occur.

1 comment:

  1. Why is that people will complain about Congress … yet only a third of the voters bother to participate ?

    Candidate O’Donnell garnered 30,563 votes versus Congressman Mike Castle’s 27,021.
    The total votes cast … drum roll please … 57,584.

    57,584 votes … that’s it !
    If you consider that there are 182,796 registered Republicans, that’s a pretty poor showing.

    According to my analysis, 57% of self-described DFLers failed to participate in August’s primary … and that number may be high as the strong support for Maureen Reed and Barb Davis-White in the Sixth District makes me think that there could have been some MN-GOP cross-over … and Dayton won those counties in a higher percentage than other metro areas … thus if MN-GOPers thought that Dayton had more baggage thus making him the easier candidate, he would be their choice.

    If I could offer one piece of advice for Democrat US House candidates it would be to talk about the Senate and what that make-up will do to enacting legislation. Talk about Rand Paul, Sharron Angle, Joe Miller, and Christine O’Donnell.
    Cap-and-Trade will not pass next session … so if the Republicans bring it up, just say that “although I am very concerned about climate change and feel that the world needs to address it, BUT (pause here) being a realist, I know that the Senate will not approve any legislation. For my Republican challenger to bring this up is simply to excite the voters with fear of tax increases … there will be No Tax Increases related to Cap and Trade because there will be No Cap and Trade legislation.”

    The TEA Party movement and invigorated Conservative Republicans have essentially taken people like John McCain and Lindsey Graham from being potentially supportive of some form of climate change legislation to making it DOA.