As my colleague The Moose reported earlier today, Ralph Reed gave Georgia Democrats something to get excited about by officially announcing his candidacy for Lieutenant Governor in 2006. This race, folks, will be more fun than a barrel of monkeys at a creationism conference.Why, you might ask, is the Lordly Ralph, the legendary architect of Christian Right politics and more recently the extremely successful Georgia GOP chairman and Bush-Cheney strategist, so interested in presiding over the Georgia State Senate? In an earlier post, I suggested that he may be the victim of the Raquel Welch Syndrome, the natural if often hopeless desire to become respected as a serious practitioner of one’s chosen art, whether it’s acting or governing. But I’ve since learned that Reed has harbored a burning ambition since childhood to serve as Chief Executive of the Empire State of the South, and views the LG job as a stepping stone to that Seat of Power, a necessity since one of his political makeover projects, Governor Sonny Perdue, is running for re-election in ’06.But first Ralph must overcome a primary challenge from another guy who’s been seeing a future Governor in the bathroom mirror since he became old enough to reach the sink, Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, the scion of a well-known political family who’s been elected statewide three times. The first published polls show Oxendine with a healthy lead over Reed. And he will not readily concede Christian Right support to Ralph: in his first race for Insurance Commissioner back in 1994, Oxendine’s big proposal was to exempt churches from paying some state tax on insurance policies, arguing that he didn’t want to “tax God” (you just can’t make this stuff up).But I suspect that Oxendine’s campaign against Reed will be, to paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson, “like sending out a three-toed sloth to take turf from a wolverine.” With all due respect to the Insurance Commissioner, he’s not exactly a Big Strategic Thinker. In fact, he’d probably draw even odds in a game of State Capitals with Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, the guy who’s besmirching my surname in his campaign for governor this year.Should Reed dispatch Oxendine, the real fun will begin. Former state legislator Greg Hecht, who ran a respectable but losing campaign for Congress in 2002, has already announced for the Democratic nomination. But the buzz is that Hecht will likely face one of my favorite politicians, Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond. Thurmond is a smart, charming, funny, and accomplished African-American with a proven track record of biracial appeal (he used to joke that he did particularly well in heavily-white counties bordering South Carolina where they thought he was Strom Thurmond’s grandson).If Reed is the GOPer in the race, the Democratic nominee, whoever it is, will have no trouble raising money in-state and nationally, and will need no more than fifteen minutes to compile an oppo-research file so toxic that they’ll have to handle it with tongs. Indeed, Oxendine aside, the biggest obstacle to a Reed candidacy may be the possibility that Ralph will have to take crucial time off the campaign trail to cool his heels in various courtrooms and congressional hearing-rooms preparing to explain his alleged role in the ever-widening Abramoff Indian Tribe Casino Shakedown scandal, a truly bizarre tale of corruption and hypocrisy that is likely to tranfix the whole hep political world at some point this year. I’m not the only one who’s looking forward to the moment when Reed has to testify before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee chaired by Sen. John McCain, the object of the famous 2000 South Carolina primary smear-and-whispering campaign by Bush operatives, reportedly under the direction of one Ralph Reed.If that’s not enough intrigue to keep you bookmarking that Atlanta Journal-Constitution web page (or checking out Reed’s exceptionally cheesy campaign site), there’s additional irony in Ralph’s aspiration to become Lieutenant Governor of Georgia. In between his better-known gigs with the Christian Coalition, the 2002 Georgia coordinated campaign, and the two Bush campaigns, Ralph tried his hand at being a down-home paid political consultant. In 1998, he was the key strategist for a Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor named Mitch Scandalakis, who ran a series of ads that (a) made an overt racial appeal, and (b) accused his opponent, Mark Taylor, of a completely fabricated cocaine addiction. Not only did Ralph’s candidate get righteously stomped like a Klansman at a Hip-Hop club; the backlash against his tactics took down most of the whole state Republican ticket.If that’s not enough irony for you, there’s this: when Ralph’s Republican buddies took over the state Senate in 2003, they stripped the Lieutenant Governor’s Office–occupied by the self-same smear target Mark Taylor–of most of its considerable powers. If Ralph somehow wins, he will have to go back to those same senators (assuming his party hangs onto control) and explain why he needs to lord it over them with powers denied to his predecessor.All in all, it’s going to be a wild ride.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
Pouring over the details of the gubernatorial recall election in California, some significant patterns emerged, as I noted at New York:
The overwhelming defeat of the effort to recall California governor Gavin Newsom was a big victory for a Democratic Party that has had its troubles lately. With the margin of victory for the “no on recall” campaign roughly doubling the already-robust advantage shown in pre-election polls, the earlier scare that the recall threw into the ranks of the Golden State’s dominant party dissipated entirely. With about three-fourths of the expected vote now counted, “no” leads “yes” by a 63.8 to 36.2 margin (which could get even larger if the usual pattern of last-cast mail ballots leaning Democratic manifests itself once again).
The “no” vote was remarkably close to Joe Biden’s performance in California in 2020 (he won 63.5 percent). Given the extreme partisan polarization that underlay the recall vote (exit polls showed 89 percent of self-identified Republicans voting “yes” and 94 percent of self-identified Democrats voting “no”), that means the partisan patterns of the presidential race were reduplicated to a remarkable extent in a non-presidential special election, where Democrats often experience a “falloff,” particularly when they control the White House (and in this case, the governorship). That’s great news for California Democrats, and not a bad sign for Democrats nationally, who are bracing for the midterm losses the “White House Party” typically suffers.But in assessing the implications of the results, it’s important to look back at what happened down ballot in California in 2020, while looking ahead to the most critical 2022 battleground, the fight for control of the House. Of the 13 net House seats Republicans gained in 2020, four were in deep-blue California. There is no likely path for Democrats to hang onto House control in 2022 without flipping some or all of those lost seats in one of their strongest states.
Precisely because of the reduplication of the 2020 patterns, there’s really nothing about the recall returns that suggests Democrats are sure to claw back some House seats in California. Two of the four seats Republicans flipped in 2020 (with Asian-American women Young Kim and Michelle Steele as candidates) were centered in Orange County. While “no” won in Orange, the recall race there was closer than the Biden-Trump contest of 2020. A third battleground seat was the one Republican David Valadao won in a very competitive section of the San Joaquin Valley. The recall improved on Trump’s 2020 performance in every county in his district (e.g., Trump won 55 percent in Kings County, but “yes” on recalling Newsom won 63 percent). These results could reflect an intensifying alienation of this heavily agricultural area from Sacramento’s environmental and water-supply policies. Or it could reflect a drop-off in Latino turnout that could spell disaster for Democrats in close 2022 races. Either way the recall numbers should give pause to Democratic optimism about midterm House races.
One study of 2020 returns in California showed Latino turnout trailing non-Latino turnout by about 10 percent. One mail-ballot tracker for the recall showed the turnout gap between Latinos and non-Latino white voters swelling to 20 percent. Youth turnout for the recall was also terrible, exit polls suggest. Yes, these are constituencies that are difficult to mobilize in special elections. But that’s also true of midterm elections, which is a problem Democrats in California and elsewhere need to solve.
The bottom line is that Newsom won the Democratic and Democratic-leaning elements of the California electorate by strongly encouraging partisan polarization via his lavishly funded campaign. This was the obvious smart strategy in this heavily Democratic state. It’s less clear the same strategy will work wonders downballot for Democrats in 2022, which they probably will not have a big financial advantage and shifts in public opinion away from the presidential winner may have settled in, as they did for the last three presidents. Even if Democrats hang onto their monopoly of statewide offices and their super-majorities in the state legislature, any failure to make progress in House races could contribute to the much-dreaded moment when Californian Nancy Pelosi hands over her gavel to Californian Kevin McCarthy, and the Democratic trifecta that gives Biden a chance to implement his agenda comes to an end.