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Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Other Election Campaign

First, there was Hillary Clinton's win in W. Virginia. That didn't last long, big headlines-wise. Barack Obama knocked her off the front page yesterday by accepting the endorsement of former Democratic opponent John Edwards. "There is one man who knows and understands that this is a time for bold leadership," Edwards told an enthusiastic crowd. "There is one man that knows how to create the change, the lasting change, that you have to build from the ground up. There is one man who knows in his heart that it is time to create one America, not two. And that man is Barack Obama."

It was a series of events that sucked up all the election newsroom oxygen. They were high profile, fraught with consequence, history unfolding before our eyes. Of course, history is always unfolding before our eyes. It's like the weather -- you're not going to wake up one morning to find that there won't be be any that day. History is the human word we apply to the linear nature of time. The clock always ticks, just as there's always something happening in the atmosphere.

And our big national election news has overshadowed a story that marks a remarkable change in the electoral weather. That same tuesday that gave Clinton W. Virginia gave Republicans a reason to worry. It marked a string of three losses in special elections for the House of Representatives. Losses in heavily conservative districts.

Graphic from anti-Childers ad The Hill:

Democrat Travis Childers won Tuesday’s Mississippi special election runoff for Sen. Roger Wicker’s (R) former House seat, handing Democrats the biggest of their three special election takeovers this cycle and sending a listless GOP further into a state of disarray.

Childers led GOP candidate Greg Davis 53-47 with more than 90 percent of precincts reporting. Turnout increased substantially over the 67,000 voters who cast ballots in the April 22 open special election, with more than 100,000 voting in the runoff.

Childers, who beat Davis 49-46 three weeks ago but came up just shy of a race-ending majority, joins new Democratic Reps. Bill Foster (Ill.) and Don Cazayoux (La.) to give Democrats a trifecta of upsets in conservative House districts over the last two months.

The GOP has always used what I call a "crosses to vampires" election strategy. They find something that freaks their voters out, then hold that something up in campaign ads -- voters are then supposed to run screaming from the Democrat, like vampires from crosses. Sometimes it's terrorism, sometimes it's taxes, sometimes it's abortion, sometimes it's guns. In the Childers/Davis race, Republicans thought their cross might be Barack Obama, so the neocon front group Freedom's Watch ran ads featuring two election day crosses -- Barack Obama and taxes.


I guess I've already spoiled the ending to this story; the GOP's electoral Van Helsings failed. The vampires didn't run screaming from Childers. For the GOP, it was a massive failure -- one sure to have many in the party worried about their chances in November.

"The Republican brand is badly damaged," former Republican candidate Mike Huckabee said. "... people can't just go out there and ride the elephant down Main street because if they do the elephant is going to get shot out from under them." Especially when they have no crosses to protect them.

Of course, liberals don't have many reasons to cheer Childers' victory -- other than adding one more seat to the majority. "Republicans said that the Democratic victor in Mississippi’s 1st District, Travis Childers, successfully used a conservative Republican anti-tax, pro-gun, pro-life message," reports the New York Times.

"We know the message works,” said Missouri's Roy Blunt, the GOP's No. 2 in the House. “We’ve got to do a better job connecting that with Republicans. And I personally think there’s a substantial and adequate time to do that."

The good news lefties can take from Blunt's reaction is that it shows that Republican leadership just doesn't get it. The GOP has so much going against it right now, including unchangeable history. Sure, they stand for guns and fetuses and low taxes, but their electorate is asking, "What have you done for us lately?" The Bush tax cuts have helped only the very wealthy, Republicans only talk about abortion, and no one's actually coming to take their guns away -- in fact, no one ever has. Republicans don't have a cross to ward off electoral defeat, they have a scarecrow -- a straw man stuffed with phony fears and with promises they have no intention of ever keeping. It worked for a few decades, but sooner or later people wise up.

When Foster won in Illinois (for former Speaker Dennis Hastert's seat), the Washington Post called it "a major symbolic win." It wasn't until Cazayoux won in Louisiana that the media began to see trouble for the GOP -- Politico called that "the second major defeat for Republicans in less than two months in a House special election." Now that Childers has won, Washington Post's Chris Cillizza calls it "a huge stunner" that many see as "a sign of things to come in the fall."

One of the measures I've been using to decide who I'll support is the question of who'd have the broadest coattails. I chose Obama, in part, because he's bringing in new voters that I want at the polls in November. But it may be that this is an election where coattails don't matter. It may be that the "Republican brand," as Huckabee put it, is so cracked and tarnished and disreputable that people will vote Democrat because they can't bear more broken promises, more war, more corruption, more torture, more erosion of their rights, and more neocons nuts who think world domination is America's birth right. It may be that Republicans have screwed themselves irrevocably and no crosses can help them -- the damage is already done and the next two years (at least) will have to be spent repairing the "brand."

It may be that the weather has changed, the wind has shifted, and that change will last for a good long time. It may be that a cold front is moving over the Republican party, blotting out the sun and withering their crops in the fields.

It may be that, come election day, people will be waving flags that are flags once more -- not symbolic crosses to ward off their fears.


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