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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Was Election a Triumph for Dem Conservatives?

Ezra Klein kicks off the soon-to-be-heated discussion about the meaning of the election with a provocative article in the American Prospect, “Spinned Right.” Klein shoots the interpretation of the election results as a triumph of conservative politics full of holes. A sample:

…the conservative election meme is a myth. Hard-right ballot initiatives, from the abortion ban in South Dakota to the gay marriage ban in Arizona, went down to defeat. It’s the first time that’s happened to an anti-gay marriage ballot initiative. Meanwhile, the stem cell initiative in Missouri passed.
More tellingly, every Democrat elected supports raising the minimum wage. They all support stem cell research. Only nine describe themselves as pro-life. And the most conservative Democrats, mainly those running in the South, largely went down to defeat. In Tennessee, Harold Ford, whose campaign focused on his church-going ways and conservative values, lost. Jim Webb is up by a few thousand votes. Meanwhile, unabashed progressives like Sherrod Brown, Ben Cardin, Sheldon Whitehouse, and former socialist Bernie Sanders cruised to victory. As Tom Schaller has noted, the flip-rate in the South was a meager five percent. The real transformations came in the liberal Northeast, where a slew of not-quite-left-enough Republicans were felled by a phalanx of progressive candidates, and the Rust Belt, where economic populists took out a series of traditional conservatives.

New Donkey Ed Kilgore and other Dems take a different view. As Kilgore notes:

But the results do not provide a good argument for Democrats to write off Enemy Territory and focuse on their Blue State geographical base.
15 of the 28 Democratic House gains were in Red States, most of them in Red or Purple Districts.
3 of the 6 new Senators are from Red States.
3 of the 6 gubernatorial pickups for Democrats were in Red States.
About half of the state legislative gains were in Red States.
We are beginning to turn Purple States blue, and Red States purple. I can’t imagine why any Democrat would think of this as bad news, but there is clearly a point of view among Democratic intellectuals that messing around with voters in Red State areas, particularly in the South, represents an exposure to ideological contamination.

This interesting debate is just cranking up, and it will likely go on for a long time. One thing all Dems can all agree on; it’s a hell of a lot more fun to argue with each other after an historic victory.

2 comments on “Was Election a Triumph for Dem Conservatives?

  1. Josh Alcorn on

    Chris – I agree with you on your point about the different meanings of “progressive.” If you look at what Leader Pelosi wants to focus on in her first 100 hours, it’s economic and national security issues. Stem Cells as well, but as Ed Kilgore notes, even Heath Schuler supports that.
    I suppose these issues are easier to label progressive. But they also cut to the heart of what it means to be American: we like to think we are a meritocracy. The Dems have a great chance to give people a helping hand; that, I think, will prove to America we stand for the same things that they do.

  2. Chris Glaze on

    This seems to come down to what we mean by “progressive” and what these different voting groups share with the progressive perspective. Definitely not an either/or (although self-id questions in polls force it that way).
    Minimum wage and stem-cell research will be good places to start, but I think it will be very important to articulate how these issues represent a key part of the progressive perspective: we value truth and results.
    So Democrats should take this opportunity to set the national agenda and show Americans that they have a lot more in common with the progressive perspective than they may realize.


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