by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
November 9, 2009
MEMO TO DEMS: IGNORE THE BASE AND YOU'LL LOSE ELECTIONS
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- For political junkies, the off-year elections held around the nation on Tuesday were pretty thin gruel. There weren't many surprises.
In Virginia, we saw that when Democrats field a lousy candidate for governor, like Creigh Deeds, that lousy candidate will lose.
In New Jersey, we saw that when an incumbent, like Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, goes into his re-election campaign with an approval rating in the 30s, you generally lose.
In Maine, we again saw that if same-sex marriage is presented to the voters to decide upon, it gets rejected.
And in upstate New York, we saw that the Tea Party Republicans don't have as much clout as they think.
Off-year elections are generally decided by local concerns more than national ones, and the exit polls show that the right-wing narrative - Tuesday's elections were a referendum on the Obama Administration - to be pure bunk.
Voters in Virginia told CNN pollsters that they did not see their state's gubernatorial race as an opportunity to voice opposition to the president. A 55 percent majority of voters said it was not a factor. Eighteen percent said their voting decision was made out of support for Obama, while just 24 percent said that their vote was one of opposition.
The polling numbers were similar in New Jersey, with 60 percent saying that Obama played no role in their gubernatorial vote, 19 percent saying that their vote was one in support of the president, and 20 percent saying that their vote was in opposition to Obama.
And in both states, Obama's current approval rating roughly matches the percentage of the vote he got in 2008 - 51 percent in Virginia, 57 percent in New Jersey.
The losses of Deeds and Corzine were not surprising. As for the special election New York's 23rd Congressional District - a place near the Canadian border that has elected Republicans to Congress since the Civil War - Democrat Bill Owens came away the winner in a race that many saw as a test of the electoral strength of Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin and the rest of the far right "Tea Party" faction currently taking over the GOP.
Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava was attacked for being a moderate. She was eventually forced to withdraw from the race, and the far right threw its support to conservative Doug Hoffman. As a result, Scozzafava threw her support to Owens and the GOP lost one of its safest seats in Congress.
The real lessons can be drawn from Tuesday's election results for the Democrats is that when the elements that gave you victory in 2008 aren't present in 2009, you lose.
The exit polls showed that just 10 percent of those who cast ballots in Virginia were under the age of 30, compared to one-fifth of the voters last year. Nearly a third of those who cast ballots in Virginia in 2008 were minority voters. This year, the figure was 20 percent.
Young people and minority voters were the blocs that helped Obama win in 2008. They mostly stayed home in 2009. And if they do likewise in 2010, the Democrats are in trouble.
"2010 will be a base election," wrote Markos Moulitsas, proprietor of the political Web site Daily Kos.com. "The party best able to turn out its core voters has the best chance of winning. If Democrats want to see a repeat of Virginia at the national level next year, then they should cave to Blue Dogs and the media nabobs and water down reform efforts (whether in energy, health care, financial services, or immigration)."
Tuesday's results weren't a resounding endorsement of the Tea Party brand of conservatism, nor was is it reflection of dissatisfaction with Obama. Instead, it offered warning signs to both parties.
If Democrats run tepid centrists - Deeds being a good example - their base won't turn out. If Republicans give themselves over to the Beck/Limbaugh crowd, they will turn off moderates and independents who might be inclined to support a reasonable conservative.
If Democrats remember what won them control of Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008 - upholding the principles of what Paul Wellstone called the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party - they should be successful in 2010. If they forget, next year's elections will be a painful wake up call for them.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for nearly 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For extra added thrills, read . .