The Cloakroom Meaning of NJ And Virginia

Les AuCoin

What do the GOP triumphs in New Jersey and Virginia mean for Obama, mainstream Democrats and their agenda?

Ignore the palaver of the punditry; there’s no “megatrend” here. But the important micro question is: in the Democratic cloakroom, what will be the gut assessment of Obama’s power to punish or reward foes and friends–already an Obama weakness.

(Cloakroom calculations are no small thing; Reagan’s congressional successes rested on fear of reprisal and hunger for reward, which, as I saw again and again in the 80s, were powerful enough to buckle the knees of even stalwart Democrats. Conversely, Carter carried all the sock-’em of a ball of lint, and look where that got him and the Ds’ 50-year congressional majority.)

Nate Silver runs what savvy pols regard as the most accurate political forecasting website on the Net at Fivethirtyeight.com–a “must” bookmark. Silver explains that if the party’s wayward-leaners, especially Southern Democrats, conclude that The O is a non-factor in their backyard, they’ll be less inclined than ever to follow him on issues which are tough for them at home (i.e., health care, banking reregulation, etc.) – but which the national party desperately needs to stimulate its base.

In this calculus, Virginia’s loss spells Dixie trouble for Democrats because, unlike New Jersey, where an intensely disliked incumbent was sacked, the border state represented a general repudiation of all things Obama and Democratic. The GOP romped in down ballot contests and picked up at least five state legislative seats.

So if you’re a congressional Democrat from the South, this morning you’re likely planning to put more – not less – distance between yourself and Obama, Pelosi and Reid. But if you’re a Democratic centrist from any other region, nothing in the results suggest that it would be profitable to do the same. It’s up to party leaders to drive home that point, and this one:

Corzine’s repudiation in the Garden State was personal and contained. With Obama's help on the stump, Democrats lost but one seat in the legislature there and won local elections across the country. Moreover — not inconsequentially — Ds took New York’s 23rd congressional district, the Republican bastion where Sara Palin’s populist Movement Conservative bit it bad.

Obama should feel relieved that only 18 of the 50 House Blue Dog Democrats are Southerners and in the Senate, only one Southern Democrat, Blanche Lincoln, will face voters next year.

That’s the upside.

The downside? The 2010 elections, as with all off-year elections, are a referendum on the “in” party, meaning Democrats had better act smartly on not just health care reform but also unemployment, Afghanistan and climate change.

Without counting on nominal Democrats from Dixie.

Comments

  • (Show?)

    from Merkley's mailing to supporters on this:

    Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez today stated that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is a “top legislative priority” of the Obama Administration. The remark came during a Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing focused on the legislation.

    Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley, the chief Senate co-sponsor of ENDA, applauded the comment as a major endorsement of the Senate’s efforts to pass a fully inclusive version of the bill.

    “Today, we took two important steps forward on ENDA. First, we held the first Senate hearing on this bill in seven years – and the first ever Senate hearing on a fully inclusive version of the bill. Second, the Obama Administration has made a major public statement in support of our efforts. With the backing of the White House and growing support in the Senate and the House, I am optimistic that we can end discrimination in the workplace on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.”

    During testimony before the HELP Committee today, Perez said, “We have come too far in the struggle for equal justice under law to remain silent when our LGBT brothers and sisters are still being mistreated and ostracized for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with their skills and ability and everything to do with myths, stereotypes, and prejudice. And for this reason, the passage of ENDA is a top legislative priority for the Obama Administration.”

    that's pretty straight-forward (um, bad word?).

    also, note that Joe Liebermann is one of the sponsors. he's cretinous on many levels, but, as Gore was pointing out, he's an ally on others. there's a reason he did not become a Republican; this is one, i think. yes, he needs to be dumped in 3 years, but at least for this hugely important bill, he's on the right side.

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    Les AuCoin: In this calculus, Virginia’s loss spells Dixie trouble for Democrats because, unlike New Jersey, where an intensely disliked incumbent was sacked, the border state represented a general repudiation of all things Obama and Democratic.

    Really? I think somebody isn't up to calculus. It looks like they're failing grade school arithmetic.

    In Virgina, we had one candidate saying he didn't think any public option on health care was needed, opposed the employee free choice act (saying it would eliminate the secret union ballot, when it won't), voted against immigration reform every time he had a chance to do so, and was adamantly opposed to President Obama's energy conservation plans...

    ...and the other candidate was the Republican who won.

    To our right-wing punditocracy, that Democrats stayed home rather than vote for a non-Democratic Democrat, is a sign that Democrats need to become even more non-Democratic. But to me, all it means is this:

    If it's a choice between a genuine Republican, and a Republican in Democratic clothing, the people will choose the genuine article every time; that is, they will take a Republican before they will a phony Democrat, and I don't want any phony Democratic candidates in this campaign.

    • President Harry Truman

    President Truman was as right today as he was then. Give 'em hell, Harry.

    (Oh, and we picked up two seats in the Legislature, including winning a seat even Harry Truman never saw go Democratic. Somehow the pundits manage to find a way to dismiss that as only a fluke.)

  • Unrepentant Liberal (unverified)
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    Mr. AuCoin, from what I've been reading I think part your analysis is a bit off. I don't know myself about 'cloakroom calculus' but I respectfully disagree with one of your conclusions.

    If you look at Virginia, Mr. Deeds ran a terrible campaign and did all he could to run away from President Obama and the Democrat's agenda-and what did that get him? Soundly defeated. The Progressive Democratic voters who helped elect President Obama simply stayed home because although Deeds was a Democrat, he didn't support the issues the majority of Democratic voters wanted. Hello? We're are simply not going to vote for a Democrat who acts like a republican. Thanks but no thanks. We want 'Real Democrats' not republican-wannabe's.

    What that says to me is that the path to electoral success is not in Democrats heading to the Right but to simply remaining proud Democrats and supporting the President and the Democratic agenda.

    The extremely personally unpopular Democratic Governor of New Jersey Jon Corzine, on the other hand, supported Obama and the Democrats policies and managed to make a long shot race competitive, suffering only a 49-45% loss.

    That coupled with the republican vs teabagger republican action in upstate New York indicates to me that the GOP is assembling a circular firing squad-getting ready to purge those not worthy enough to be members in their dwindling cult.

    Pass the popcorn, please.

    I think the Blue Dogs will take a lesson from yesterday's election, but it very well might be the wrong one.

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    Les AuCoin:

    Obama should feel relieved that only 18 of the 50 House Blue Dog Democrats are Southerners

    Bob T:

    I think the problem for them is beyond regional -- I believe over 50 freshman Dems are in districts that went for McCain. No matter which region of the country they're in, they may have reason to worry.

    Bob Tiernan Portland

  • Connor Allen (unverified)
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    And the last poll I saw, in just the last few days, showed Blanche Lincoln's approval rating in Arkansas more than ten points behind Obama's.

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    Unrepentant Liberal:

    The extremely personally unpopular Democratic Governor of New Jersey Jon Corzine, on the other hand, supported Obama and the Democrats policies and managed to make a long shot race competitive, suffering only a 49-45% loss.

    Bob T:

    Man, what a spinmeister! I think this analysis is what you want it to be rather than what you actually think it might be. According to the usual progressive boilerplate explanations, we'll have to say that Corzine came close because of the advantage in money (mostly his own) rather than what his policy stances are, or getting help from Twinkle-Toes himself (Corzine ads showed Obama and Corzine with the text something like "Let's keep it going" - apparently not). Anyway, which voters were supporting this Goldman Sachs guy again?

    Unrepentant Liberal:

    What that says to me is that the path to electoral success is not in Democrats heading to the Right but to simply remaining proud Democrats and supporting the President and the Democratic agenda.

    Bob T:

    But then you added this: "the GOP is assembling a circular firing squad-getting ready to purge those not worthy enough to be members in their dwindling cult."

    You seem to be saying that the Dems and Repubs are doing the same thing, but you use different words to say it so you can claim only one party's doing it. No room for mavericks in the Dem party?

    Bob Tiernan Portland

  • steve (unverified)
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    Blanche Lincoln should and will probably lose, she has been a worthless senator by any measure, and not worth worrying about and certainly not worth a penny of party money to support. The DSCC should offer a pot of money to a primary challenger, but they won't, they'll give it to Blanch, which is why I no longer give to the DSCC. We can pick up reliable senators in OH and NH.

  • zull (unverified)
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    Each political party seems to have a subset that, whether consciously or subconsciously, seems to want a unitary executive, someone that pushes Congress around, bullies representatives into getting their agenda passed. They don't really have a lot of regard for the notion of separation of powers unless they're on the other side of the current executive's party affiliation. I really can't stand these people because they simply have no genuine respect for the Constitution or the rest of their fellow citizens opinions as well.

    These are the sorts of people though that want Obama to "get tough" and "bash some heads" and "push people around" to get what they want. Obama is a Constitutional scholar. Bush was a business student. Bush had no respect for the Constitutional separation of powers. There's a big freaking change right there, but that subset that secretly loves that unitary executive considers respecting separation of powers a "weakness".

    I voted for Obama because I felt he wouldn't interfere in Congress's business. The Executive executes and enforces the law. Congress makes the laws. Judicial tests the laws. When you have a leader that dabbles in the other branches, this country gets itself in trouble. That's the real reason we voted Bush out. The people who remained faithful to Bush were the Republican subset that enjoyed his striving to be all-powerful. If Obama did the same, only the subset on the left that wants the same would stay faithful. Remember that.

  • ashamed_obama_voter (unverified)
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    Sorry but you are seeing the natural result of an economic policy that is, on the domestic front, the moral equivalent of Bush's Iraq war. Obama and company have gifted trillions to blood-sucking financiers, who have siphoned away our nations prosperity, and gutted its social equity.

    Its time for progressive to abandon a democratic party that cares more for the rich than the poor.

    Fight the rich not their wars. Some day this war's gonna end...

  • Greg D. (unverified)
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    MSNBC has just quoted House Dem leadership announcing that the proposed House vote on health care reform will not occur on Saturday but maybe Sunday or some unspecified later date. I think this is the kind of collateral damage that AuCoin was referring to in the above post. Obama's "coat tails" appear to be limited or non-existent and the Blue Dogs and their friends are heading for the exits. Or so it seems to me.

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    Zull:

    When you have a leader that dabbles in the other branches, this country gets itself in trouble. That's the real reason we voted Bush out. The people who remained faithful to Bush were the Republican subset that enjoyed his striving to be all-powerful.

    Bob T:

    What you describe is the way all presidents have operated since, oh, sometime between the mid-teens and mid-30s, most likely the latter.

    Zull:

    If Obama did the same, only the subset on the left that wants the same would stay faithful.

    Bob T:

    That describes most of them. Remember, FDR is the model president in that regard. Pop Quiz! Which president attempted to increase the size of the Supreme Court so he could pick more justices who would guarantee that his agenda would get rubber-stamped?

    A. FDR B. Nixon C. W. Bush

    Bob Tiernan Portland

    Bob Tiernan Portland

  • Grant Schott (unverified)
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    The fact is that the presidents' party, regardless of the president, always loses seats during midterms and usually has at least one disastrous year with major losses. For example, even before Watergate in'74 , which helped make Les AuCoin the first Democrat Congressman from the 1st CD and swept in 75 Democratic US Reps, Republicans had already been losing under Nixon. Democrats had clear gains in the senate in '72, even with McGovern being slaughtered by Nixon.

    One clear exception was '02 with Bush II greatly misusing Iraq and post 9/11 patriotism to pick up seats for his party.

    Many congressmen/women and candidates from swing districts are always going to keep their distance publicly, even if they support the president, and some will see fit to not support him more often than that.

    Dixie Democrats have always been in that mold with a few exceptions like Dale Bumpers of Arkansas and Fritz Hollings of South Carolina in the last decade or so of his senate career. We have seen those Southern Ds who ventured too far to the left lose because of it. Senators Al Gore Senior, William Fulbright, Terry Sanford and Wyche Fowler all lost largely for being seen as too liberal. I greatly admired their convictions, particularly being pro civil rights and anti war, but they clearly paid a political price.

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