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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Candidate Quality and 2010

J.P. Green’s post earlier today on the possibility of Republicans as a whole becoming dangerously identified with their crazier or more extremist candidates raises a pretty fundamental question about the dynamics of this midterm election: To what extent are voters even paying attention to individual candidates, and how tolerant are they of crackpots?
In answering this question, it’s important to remember some factors that will affect election returns almost automatically. First, and I will keep harping on this so long as so many analysts continue to ignore it, this is a more pro-Republican electorate than the one that voted in 2008 or will vote in 2012, thanks to the age-old disparities in midterm turnout that are particularly damaging to Democrats this year. This gives GOPers something like a five or six percent swing completely separate from anything else that is going on. Second, the economy is in bad shape, and that hurts the party in power no matter how little it did to produce the situation, or how much worse it would be if the other party had been running the country. These are advantages for the GOP that a candidate will have to work pretty hard to lose, particularly in friendly or marginal states. And third, candidate issue positions and ideology are always less clear to voters than to the elites who tend to follow politics closely. It take a fair amount of candidate craziness to break through the broadbased voter consciousness.
The point J.P. is making is that this year’s Republican Party has generated such a bumper crop of craziness that this could be the unusual year when it matters a lot, and his question is whether it’s reached the critical mass necessary to brand the GOP as a whole.
I don’t know the answer to that, and in fact, don’t even know if the most conspicuously extremist Republicans (with the exception of Christine O’Donnell) will suffer enough opprobrium to lose. Democrats should obviously do everything possible to inform voters that there are lots of crazy people whose views are far from the mainstream with an R next to their names on the ballot; it would be political malpractice to do otherwise.
But the good news for Democrats is this: to the extent that Republicans are not held responsible, individually or collectively, for the craziness of their views, they will be lured (or indeed pushed by the radicalized conservatives in their party) into thinking they can be at least moderately deranged in office after November 2, and on the campaign trail in 2012, when the electorate will be more like the one than voted in 2008.

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