Pew Research: Centrists Deliver For Democrats

Though repeatedly hammered here and at other media stops throughout the election season, the netroots are still in deep denial that it wasn’t their efforst that made the big difference this week, it was centrist candidates and voters. Pew Research has the numers: The political center forcefully asserted itself in Tuesday’s midterms. The national exit poll showed that political independents, who divided their votes evenly between George Bush and John Kerry in 2004, swung decisively in favor of the Democrats. With roughly nine-in-ten Republicans and Democrats casting ballots for representatives of their parties, just as they did two years ago, the Democrats’ 57%-39% advantage among independents proved crucial…

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At the center of the firestorm on the netroots is Rahm Emanuel, credited by Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Charley Rangel (among others) and most national media and political entities with winning the House for the Democratic party. Fearful that Howard Dean isn’t getting the credit they feel he deserves, there are calls this week from the far left of the party to minimize Emanuel’s role in the party.

No one is listening.

Instead, Emanuel is expected to become chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the fourth highest post among House Democrats. This according to the Chicago Tribune:

Rahm Emanuel, who led his party’s successful campaign to take control of the House, will not try to ride the wave from the election victory into the high-visibility congressional leadership post of Majority Whip.

Instead, he will run for the chairmanship of the House Democratic Caucus, the fourth highest post among House Democrats. Emanuel’s leadership of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has been widely credited with providing the infrastructure to transform the shift in voter sentiments to a Democratic victory.

Bonnie Erbe has a warning for Democrats:

Democratic candidates who picked up GOP-controlled House seats were centrists, not extremists. As of this writing, five states approved amendments suggesting gay marriages be banned and another five voted to join the roster of states that would require employers to pay higher minimum wages than the federal minimum of $5.15 per hour _ all indications of a centrist electorate, not a liberal one.

In the Washington Times, Barry Casselman explains why he believes Democrats won this week:

What is not so obvious is why the Democrats did so well. The first and obvious reasons that have already been suggested are dissatisfaction with the Iraq war, and disappointment in the work and character of the Republican Congress itself. Clearly, these factors played a large role.

I would further suggest, however, that the always critical swing group of voters were unhappy about the general movement of drift from the political center in the Beltway. To be fair, both parties have allowed this to happen in their internal debates, but I would argue that only Republicans strongly displayed this in their campaign. Mr. Bush and his political advisers, sensing the ambivalence of its conservative party base, felt that their primary objective was to re-ignite the loyalty of that base and to follow their long-term game plan of winning elections by turning out their base voters in greater numbers than the Democrats did. This worked in 2000, 2002 and 2004, and presumably it could work in 2006. But years of governing had taken a toll for Republicans in the political center where they had recently competed successfully and won elections.

The Democrats had lurched to their base, a rabidly anti-war, anti-Bush, tax-and-spend populist base, but Democratic political managers, sensing a potential electoral disaster in a year that was theirs to win, pulled back after the nominating phase of their campaigns and ran against GOP incumbents without the extreme rhetoric of their base.

They were given a warning of this disaster when, indulging the leftist blogosphere and neo-socialist wing of their party, Connecticut Democratic primary voters defeated long-time centrist Sen. Joe Lieberman in their primary. The new Democratic nominee, Ned Lamont, echoing the base rhetoric, instantly fell behind Lieberman after he decided to run as an independent. Three GOP incumbent Connecticut members of Congress, considered very vulnerable, suddenly were given new life by the Lamont fiasco. In fact, at least one and possibly two survived.

The left base demand for immediate withdrawal from Iraq, much ballyhooed in the nominating phase of the Democratic 2006 campaign, was overridden by most Democratic candidates for the House and Senate (excepting those in very liberal districts). Democrats instead primarily argued against the Bush administration’s performance in Iraq, and deftly avoided putting forward any plans of their own.

Even before the nominating phase, Democratic House and Senate leaders took special care to recruit strong and usually moderate candidates for their most winnable challenges to GOP incumbents. Looking down the list of Democratic winners in the Senate, for example, it is hard to find a hard-line-left candidate among them. Instead, the new senators, including Amy Klobuchar in Minnesota, Jim Webb in Virginia, John Tester in Montana, Bob Casey Jr. in Pennsylvania, and Claire McCaskill in Missouri are all moderate liberals or centrists. (Sherrod Brown in Ohio leans more to the left, but his easy win was predetermined by GOP scandals in that state.)

I think the same is mostly true in the large number of House seats the Democrats won this time. A case in point was the upset of conservative GOP Rep. Gil Gutnecht in Minnesota by moderate Democrat Tim Walz.

Such issues as abortion, stem cell research, gay marriage and gun laws, each long considered advantageous to Republicans in elections, failed to turn the tide of the 2006 elections back to the GOP. In some conservative congressional districts, these issues proved decisive, but overall, the social conservative agenda was overridden by other issues for the voters in the center, those voters who usually provide the margin of victory in close races.

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