osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,

The Election 2009 Rorscharch Test

When I was in college, I did my senior thesis on English reaction to the Japanese victory over Russia in the Russo-Japanese War. The cover quote was from a contemporary military writer saying: "It is extremely useful that in so short a time since I wrote [name of article on military reform] that events have unfolded to show that I was right."

I expect that is how assessment of the election results from yesterday are going to go. This from Redstate.org explaining why the outcome in NY-23 is a win for conservatives is a good example.

The analysis is not, as the IndecisionForever blog claimed, self-delusional. It is what happens when people look at complex and messy data that are necessarily incomplete. The author is right in showing that the NY-23 outcome demonstrates that the conservative wing of the Republican party has an effective kill switch that party leaders must recognize and account for in their selection of candidates (although the NJ governor's race undercuts this conclusion). It is unclear whether this will still be true a year from now, whether it will make a difference in "swing" districts, or whether satisfying the demands of conservatives may be equally destructive to the GOP's chances.

My personal predictions for 2010 based on 2009 is:

1) Look for the most nasty internecine primary fights in both parties in living memory. Both parties face the same demographic splits in mirror. Each party has a hardcore group of outsiders at odds with party leadership on philosophy, priorities, and the general conduct of the party. In neither party does there appear any interest on the part of leadership or the grassroots/outsider contingent to accommodate the other faction. It is not merely a fight over issues, it is a personal struggle for control and political survival in each party. No one is interested in playing along for the good of the party, because all four relevant factions are convinced that allowing the other faction to gain power is equivalent to party and personal destruction.

2) Regardless of who wins primaries, the candidate best able to respond to local issues/concerns will win. While this seems obvious, the last four election cycles (2002-08) were absolutely dominated by national issues, party loyalty, and the concept of a "referendum" on a national/party level. This was not just a matter of media perception. This was the fundamental basis of every campaign, both presidential and Congressional -- sometimes even local.

2009 saw the return of local to local politics. In NY-23, the candidate running as the ideological/referendum candidate lost to the entirely unimpressive local who had been put up as a sacrificial lamb in a district where it was perceived Democrats had no chance basically on the grounds that he was actually local. In the governors races, less than 20% on either side said that their vote reflected a position on Obama. In VA, the most impressive Republican blowout, McDowell made extensive efforts to make the race as much about local politics as possible, avoid ideological/litmus test issues, and brand himself independent of party. In NJ, the Republican Christie -- recognizing Obama's overall popularity, likewise took steps to reject the idea that his campaign was a referendum on anything other than whether NJ preferred him or Corzine as governor.

Since 2008, conservatives have developed an extensive grassroots mobilization/netroots constituency to match that of progressives. I continue to believe that the critical element in Dean's 50 state strategy was the insight that getting people to talk to their neighbors and show how these things relate to their own lives was critical to success. If conservatives can replicate this, they can win the ground game without falling back on Karl Rove's strategy of using ideology as motivator. By contrast, progressives can win even without support of the core Democratic machine if they are successful at implementing an Obama-style campaign without a charismatic leader as focal point.

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