Advancing a Free Society

That Special Feeling

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The “o” word on Democratic lips today: omen, not Obama.

With last night’s upset Republican win in the special election in New York’s 9thCongressional, the president’s party worries that the grim returns are a harbinger of worse things to come.

If voters in a reliably “blue” district turn their back on Mr. Obama – NY9 last went for a Republican in the heady days of the Coolidge Administration, but last night a GOP candidate coasted to an 8% win – what says that for Democrats’ chances in swing states, much less the loyal base, a year from now?

I won’t argue with the embarrassment factor for the White House. It’s enormous.

And it’s worth paying attention to the Democrats’ attempt at damage control (hereand here): you might notice a parallel to the attempts at downplaying Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts special election in January 2010 (for Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat), which turned out to be a preview of the angry wave that swept Democrats out of the House later that fall.

But if it’s tea-leaf sifting you seek, let’s head out west to Nevada, also the scene last night of a congressional special election – the 2nd CD (all of Nevada, with the exception of Las Vegas), vacated when then-Rep. Dean Heller took over John Ensign’s Senate seat.

Here’s why Nevada’s worth the look:

  1. 6 Outweighs 29. In the outré world of electoral votes, Nevada is a bigger player than New York, even though the former has only one-fifth the electoral votes (6 in Nevada; 29 in New York in next year’s presidential contest). Despite the loss in NY9 last night, only in the most epic of Democratic meltdowns does the state go red (the last Republican to carry New York: Ronald Reagan, 1984). Nevada, on the other hand, is very much in play as the two parties compete in the “New West” of Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. The president’s candidate taking it on the chin has both parties thinking how much to invest in Nevada in terms of “ground” and “air” games next fall, which will have a ripple effect in other investment-heavy “battleground” states.
  2. Blue Tide Runs Out. NV2 isn’t enemy territory for Obama – he lost it by a scant 89 votes out of 300,000 cast in 2008.  Heller won that year’s House race by 10%. Last night, Republican Mark Amodei won what began as a competitive race by 22%. Turnout was light (only 33%), suggesting that voters not merely jaundiced, but so dispirited as to not bother to exercise their ballot. That’s quite a departure for a state that had record turnout in November 2008. Again, a bad sign for the Obama model of hope and enthusiasm.
  3. Medicare Didn’t Scare. Democrats believed they could repeat what worked in the May special election in New York’s 26th Congressional District –bash Republican plans to overhaul Medicare. Problem was, Amodeianticipated the attack: he ran an ad linking Democrat Kate Marshall to Obama; he also ran this ad, featuring his mother. The day after the vote, Democrats were insisting they’d ramp up the “Mediscare” attacks in future contests. Between that and Social Security reform, seniors may be in for a long 2012.
  4. Climate Watch. Pundits will be tempted to dismiss the NY9 results as a unique set of circumstances – the district’s 40% Jewish electorate wanted to punish Obama for his Israel/pre-1967 borders stance; as the district’s likely to be drawn out of existence, Dems didn’t fight go the death (or maybe they thought they didn’t have to fight too hard, given their 3-1 edge in party registration). Nevada offers a more worrisome climate for the party in power:high unemployment (12.9% in July, compared to 9.9% when Obama took office); disappointing leadership at the state and federal levels (scandal-plagued ex-senators and ex-governors); a silver bullet (Medicare) that didn’t impact, a changing electorate that reverted to old habits (Amodei carried the more liberal Clark County portion of the district by 23%).

Add it all up, and the President’s looking like a shakier bet for re-election – and not just in a state where gambling’s already popular.

(photo credit: grahamcartergc)