As we wait for the votes to start trickling in, and get ready to focus on a vast landscape of close races, it’s a good time to pause and reflect on some unclose races where the bad guys have already lost. First up, there’s Ricky Santorum of PA, who is sort of a poster boy for all those big-time Washington pols who get a little ahead of themselves. Not that long ago, after establishing himself as a hero to the Cultural Right, and serving as the Senate point man for the lobbyist-shake-down K Street Strategy, Ricky was lookin’ damn good in the mirror each morning. Indeed, as recently as late last year, he was maneuvering to succeed Bill Frist as Republican Leader in the Senate, and envisioning himself occupying the Oval Office in 2009. He reportedly regarded the Democrat who is likely to trounce him tonight, Bob Casey, somewhat like a pit bull regards a raw steak. Now Ricky’s about to become an ex-senator. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.Then down in FL, there is Senate Republican Nominee Katherine Harris, who perfectly represents the blowback from the savage Bush-Cheney endgame in 2000. Having done more than anyone outside the Supreme Court to secure the presidency for W., she became the Conservative Republican Base Champion par excellence, and thus could not be denied a Senate nomination when she asked for it. Her bizarre, if-you-love-Jesus-you-gotta-love-me campaign, which was marked by repeated resignations of her staff and consultants, will end tonight with an ignominous defeat by Bill Nelson. And for dessert, Democrats could pick up her old House seat. It wouldn’t be quite accurate to call OH Secretary of State Ken Blackwell the Katherine Harris of ’04, but there’s no question in my mind that he aspired to the title. Along with Harris, he’s a living advertisement of the case against partisan election administration. He’s also so violent a cultural conservative that none other than George W. Bush (according to the recent Bob Woodward book) called him a “nut.” And in his doomed gubernatorial race this year, he showed his class by letting his campaign drop broad hints that his opponent was gay, soft on sexual predators, or both. On top of everything else, his political meltdown tonight should convince GOP strategists that African-Americans are not going to vote for just anybody who is African-American.When these three folks go down hard tonight, I will pause to enjoy the moment. And let’s not forget the earlier fine moment when another bad guy, Ralph Reed, lost the opportunity to lose tonight (the Republican who beat him in the Georgia Lieutenant Governor primary, Casey Cagle, is in a tight race with distinguished Democrat Jim Martin tonight).
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.