May 19, 2010

Incumbency sir, is a crime (Part 2)

(continued from Part 1)

Rand Paul defeated the establishment Republican in Kentucky in what is largely seen as a victory for the Tea Party movement.  This could be spun as anti-incumbency but it isn't.  It's anti-Big Government.  The Tea Party is many things but the one common theme is trying to re-capture some fiscal sanity.  So the win by Rand Paul is a victory for that idea.  Democrats currently personify the antithesis of that idea.  Ironically, the spin continues.
Johnathan Chait at The New Republic thinks the Rand Paul win was a big deal - for Democrats;

Democrats will run Jack Conway against Rand Paul. This puts the Kentucky Senate seat in play -- Rand is the favorite but Conway has a shot. I have a pet theory that a politician's name is a major factor -- I'd guess being named "Jack Conway" is worth several points more than being named "Daniel Mongiardo."
More importantly, they left still sees this as evidence of an anti-establishment (i.e. incumbency) movement.  Marc Armbinder from The Atlantic;
Rand Paul first attracted attention in Kentucky because he was Rand Paul. Then he married his anti-government message to his father's economic libertarian movement. He parried against an opponent, Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who embodied the establishment.
For the left, never a group to see fault in themselves, the problem is not modern liberalism and big government progressivism.  The problem is voters are feeling angry and the target are incumbents.  Here's the problem with that argument - if the incumbents were enacting popular legislation, if they weren't exhibiting more of the same hyper-partisanship that their majority now allows them to do without consequence or much obstruction, then the voters clearly wouldn't be angry.

But voters clearly are angry.  And that 0 for 4 Obama record seems pretty clearly to point to the direction of much, if not most, of that anger.  Rand Paul's victory does indeed send a reminder to the GOP - don't play the liberal game of outlandish spending, politics as usual and disdain for Main Street because it will only hurt you in the end.  Unlike the Democrats, Republicans have a better chance at hearing that message because they have much more to gain right now by doing so.  Something that has been missing from government for the longest time has been accountability to the people, especially after the false promises that President Obama made about openness and accountability.  He served himself in getting elected, but he also served to help whet the public's appetite for those things before not delivering on them.  He's paying the price .  Accountability is likely to be a big part of the GOP message this fall, and it's about time.

The last race that needs some attention last night is the PA-12 race where Democrat Mark Critz defeated upstart Republican Tim Burns in a special election to replace John Murtha.  A Tim Burns win would have been something on the scale of a Scott Brown win in Massachusetts.  But despite apparent momentum and a national focus on the race, Tim Burns was defeated 53% to 45%.  While that was a decent showing it was far from expectations and a big disappointment for Republicans.

Democrats can argue that not only did this end the Democrats losing streak, but that also that the Tea Party movement is not invincible.  But this loss represents more of a tactical campaign miscalculation than a rebuke of conservatism.  As Jennifer Crider of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee points out in the L.A. Times, "Critz won PA-12 with a message of creating jobs and stopping the outsourcing of American jobs. ...Tim Burns lost by nationalizing his message."

The L.A. Times draws a reasonable conclusion from the Critz win - well at least partially;
Maybe Tip O"Neill was right. Maybe all politics really is local. If that's true, Democrats have a chance to keep the House even in an atmosphere of anti-Washington fervor. Especially if Republicans -- at war within over Republican National Committee leadership and "tea party" passion -- keep thinking this election is about their power instead of the voters' concerns.
I said partially.  Republicans aren't at war within.  But the Critz message of local issues, and jobs, certainly has the potential to overcome a national message. Democrats can use that as a template to try to minimize the damage in November.  But they playing field isn't static.  The GOP defeat in Burns may be a blessing in disguise since the special election only fills the seat until November.  Burns will get another kick at the can soon enough and the GOP gets handed a valuable lesson to not take anything for granted and to learn from the tactics as much as the Democrats did.

In the end, incumbency is not the issue.  Politicians are elected to deal with issues.  The issues facing the country are jobs, the economy and national debt.  Health care was never the big issue until the Democrats forced it to become the issue by ignoring bigger and more real problems.  The meme that the mood of the country is anti-incumbent is simply not accurate.  The mood is anti-Big Government.  That said, the mood can certainly be co-opted by Democrats who find the right way to frame their message during the campaign.  Smart tactics by Democrats could be enough to overcome enough individual races to minimize the impact of GOP gains this fall.  That's something the country cannot afford - literally.

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