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Posted by on Nov 4, 2009 in Economy, Media, Politics, Society | 9 comments

Not Right-But Still Angry (Guest Voice)

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Tuesday’s elections were a rebuke to the right wing and a warning to Democrats.

They were also a timely reminder that President Obama needs to tune up his celebrated political organization and find a way to make Americans feel hopeful again.

The night’s biggest loser was the national conservative political machine — the wealthy tax-cutters at the Club for Growth and the Palin-Limbaugh-Beck complex. The Beltway Right shoved aside local Republicans in an upstate New York congressional race, imposed their own candidate who didn’t even live in the district, and went down in a heap.

To understand the importance of the defeat of third-party Conservative Doug Hoffman by Democrat Bill Owens in New York’s 23rd District, consider the narrative that would have been woven if Hoffman had won.

Combined with Republican victories in the New Jersey and Virginia governors’ races, a Hoffman triumph would have been heralded as the beginning of a new conservative revolution, a reproach to Republican moderates as well as Obama Democrats, and a sign that “big government,” including the Democrats’ health care plan, was on the run.

Instead, voters in the district (parts of which have been Republican since Abraham Lincoln) staged a different kind of rebellion. Furious that big conservative money and national personalities such as Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck had forced out Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava — the official, moderate, locally chosen Republican candidate — they turned to Owens.

The Democrat was the perfect candidate for a middle-of-the road protest. He had only recently been a political independent and presented himself as having no ideological edges. The spurned Scozzafava backed him, creating a moderate united front. June O’Neill of the New York Democratic state committee called Owens’ victory a “backlash” against “the way they treated our friend and neighbor.” We know who “they” are.

The Owens win puts the victories of Republicans Chris Christie in New Jersey and Bob McDonnell in Virginia in a different light. Both won governorships by focusing on the need to win voters smack in the middle of the electorate: moderates, independents and suburbanites. David Axelrod, Obama’s senior adviser, engaged in a bit of self-serving hyperbole when he said in an interview that McDonnell ran “not as a Sarah Palin Republican, but more as a Barack Obama centrist,” yet his point was right: McDonnell knew where the votes were.

So did Christie, who capitalized on a deep, personal disaffection with incumbent New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine. Christie, like McDonnell, managed in reverse the excite-the-base, win-the-middle strategy Democrats pursued so effectively in 2006 and 2008. Christie ran up huge margins in Republican counties, but also won over previously Democratic voters who were angry but not ideological.

Democrats will highlight Obama’s continued strong approval ratings in New Jersey as part of their larger argument that these contests were local in character. But the disaffection in both Virginia and New Jersey — and the unexpected narrowness of New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s re-election margin, despite his record-breaking campaign spending — should worry all incumbents, particularly governors seeking re-election next year. And after their strong showings in the last two national elections, Democrats happen to constitute a large share of the pool of incumbents.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, as he made his way to Corzine’s concession speech at a hotel here, said he sees an electorate in a dark mood. “There are two things happening,” the New Jersey Democrat noted. “One is fear. The other is punishment. Voters fear for themselves and their families, and they want to punish anyone who got them into this condition.”

What Lautenberg underscored is a spirit far different than the buoyant confidence Barack Obama inspired a year ago. And the Obama change-agents, particularly the young, were notably absent from the voting booths this week. In Virginia, a state Obama carried comfortably last year, a majority of those who showed up to vote on Tuesday said they had backed John McCain. This much more Republican electorate produced a GOP landslide all the way down the Virginia ballot.

That is the fact from this week that Democrats would be fools to ignore. It’s not a resurgent right wing that should trouble Obama’s party. Indeed, the stronger the right’s role in shaping the Republican message, the harder it will be for middle-of-the-road voters to use the Republicans to express their discontent. But for the moment, the thrill is gone from politics, and that is very dangerous for the mainstream progressive movement that Obama promised to build.

This column is copyrighted and licensed to run in full on TMV. (c) 2009, Washington Post Writers Group

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Copyright 2009 The Moderate Voice
  • Silhouette

    While I don’t want to diminish the verve and commitment of the dems/moderates to stay together and keep the momentum going, the rest of this article is rubbish.I watched Christie’s acceptance speech last night and the people in the audience reminded me of the pool-hall boys Samantha Bee [Daily Show] interviewed in her hilarious skit. It sounded like they were cheering on a NASCAR hero instead of a governor. I wonder if they can tell the difference when it comes to their own wellbeing? Let’s say they’re a little shortsided. And there were personal matters, difficulties with the incumbant that were more reflective of local issues and not reflective of “how the nation sees the democratic administration”..fer cryin’ out try though. And if this article serves to pump the momentum at and just left of center to keep up the good fight against the neocons, then it serves a good purpose.

  • dduck12

    This election was too small to draw overarching conclusions, but It may be safe to say the Dem/Obama momentum has at least been slowed. It could be that the middle has shifted a little to the right with the specter of the giant HCR cloud over a still sick economy.

  • JSpencer

    Well, I think EJ usually has a pretty good handle on whats going on, but the most on target thing in this article is when Lautenberg says he “sees an electorate in a dark mood”. That dark mood is shared by left and right from what I see.

    Maybe the stage is being set for a new 3rd party? Nah… that would be too much to hope for. 😉

    Something the D’s had better keep in mind, and that is the quickness with which the youth vote can become disillusioned and opt out. More dynamic leadership, more action, more spine would help that.

  • Father_Time

    Blue Dogs.

    Blue Dog jackasses are spoiling the democrat party from within. It is failure to get bills passed caused by a few “blue dog” democrats that have caused a lack of confidence in this administration.

    Fine. Purge the Blue Dogs.

    We do not need this crap in the party anyway.

    • JeffersonDavis

      I guess you don’t place any responsibility for the spoiling of OUR party at the feet of the social liberals (gay and lesbian alliance) or the bastardification of unions. I stand behind labor as I always have. But the way the national unions are politicized is wrong.

      The democratic party left me a long time ago, bro.

  • JeffersonDavis

    As for this article, I agree with Silhouette (for once).

    It’s crap.

    The real reason people turned away the Conservative Party in New York was because they didn’t want to play the obvious game that the two parties were playing. The CP tried to undermine the GOP. The Dems were just plugging along with some left-of-center schmuck. The GOP right-wing decided to pressure a moderate out. Then the PEOPLE said, “bull” to all of it, and elected the Democrat (who had the lowest numbers from the get-go).

    People nationwide are tired of these games. It makes it all too obvious that both parties are screwed up beyond recognition.

  • DLS

    As usual, Dionne is wrong, and out of touch with reality outside his little DC-centered bubble.

    The vote everywhere was largely about nation-wide issues. (The Dem mouthpieces promply claimed falsely that everywhere it was primarily about local issues.) #1 by far was the economy and jobs. #2, well behind, was health care, and the rest were insignificant compared to the first two. This was also a protest vote against the Dems’ misbehavior, and was not a “refrendum on Obama” only, but on all the Dems in DC, in general. Even that doesn’t explain everything. The New Jersey case actually involved two local issues of special interest, corruption and high property taxes, even more than the big nation-wide issues; the notorious New York contest (hyped by Dem mouthpieces and mis-described) featured a protest vote, likely against outsider interference, in the form of significant votes for the GOP candidate who quit the contest and endorsed the Democrat. And nation-wide, there was a disparity in the voter turnout — non-liberal voter turnout was noteworthy (with independents voting GOP typically by two to one for Democrats, proportionally), but so was the poor youth-vote and other strong-Obama-voter turnout. It would have been different had these people (who were complacent, or as confused or as incoherent as the Dems in Washington have been in recent weeks) had been more active.

  • DLS

    “It’s crap.”

    Of course it is. He might be right here or there superficially, but he’s frequently out of touch with what’s really going on, and is substituting his DC “Capital” Liberal Establishment Roman Vista of the Provincial Peasantry, and his politically-motivated wishful thinking for reality time after time.

  • DLS

    “It may be safe to say the Dem/Obama momentum has at least been slowed.”

    They slowed it themselves, by overreach and fracture and dysfunctionality — which they engineered themselves. This has been the case for weeks.

    The public is increasingly concerned by what they have been doing.

    And the far left is not happy, either, at what they see is stalled “progress.”

    (It was great listening to Ed Schultz yesterday afternoon!)

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