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Nov 13, 2008 7:22 pm


History and Rove's Analysis



Karl Rove has an op-ed in today’s WSJ pointing to history to suggest that 2010 will be a good year for Republicans. Writes Rove, “In a sign Mr. Obama's victory may have been more personal than partisan or philosophical, Democrats picked up just 10 state senate seats (out of 1,971) and 94 state house seats (out of 5,411). By comparison, when Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter in 1980, Republicans picked up 112 state senate seats (out of 1,981) and 190 state house seats (out of 5,501).” The Dems also gained fewer House and Senate seats than did the Republicans in 1980.

Such results, however, strike me as a confirmation of how different the contemporary climate is from even the recent political past: the combination of massive fundraising advantages for winning candidates and district lines drawn to maximize partisan advantage make major congressional upsets (a requirement for huge turnover) unlikely. Unlike Reagan, who carried into office with him numerous weak GOP House and Senate candidates (who were promptly defeated in 1982 and 1986, respectively), there were very few downballot Dem upsets last Tuesday. Virginia’s Tom Perriello and perhaps Maryland’s Frank Kratovil were the only two real surprises from the House contests; there were no major Democratic upsets on the Senate side.

Indeed, according to a list just published by Open Secrets, the key predictor in congressional outcomes wasn’t party ID or ideology but money. Incredibly, 112 House races “involved a candidate with zero financial opposition”—and “the biggest spender was victorious in 397 of 426 decided House races and 30 of 32 settled Senate races.”

To show how much more expensive House races have become, consider the example of North Carolina’s 8th district, one of the 29 House races in which the bigger spender lost. The 8th was last a competitive district in the early 1990s, when Democrat Bill Hefner held the seat. In the 1990 election, when Hefner was targeted by national Republicans, he raised $656,000; his opponent raised $300,000. This year, the incumbent Republican in the 8th, Robin Hayes, raised more than $2.5 million—almost four times Hefner’s total from less than two decades ago—and the victorious challenger, Larry Kissell, raised $1.1 million. In short, House candidates—even in the relatively rare competitive House districts, like North Carolina’s 8th—who can’t raise $1 million have almost no chance of winning.

Of the two successful Senate candidates who raised less than their opponent, one was Jeanne Shaheen, who scarcely counts—she raised $5.92 million to incumbent John Sununu’s $5.93 million. The only significant gap occurred in North Carolina, where Kay Hagan raised $6 million to incumbent Elizabeth Dole’s $15.7 million. Yet Hagan benefited from a massive ad campaign financed by the DSCC, including what was clearly the best campaign commercial of 2008: A third underfinanced senator may yet come from the 2008 crop, since yesterday’s vote tally showed Democrat Mark Begich erasing a deficit of more than 3000 votes against Ted Stevens. Begich now leads by just over 800 votes, with 40,000 votes still to be counted. Most of those votes come from pro-Begich areas, and it appears as if the Democrat will narrowly prevail.

The striking aspect of the Alaska result? The conventional wisdom was that Stevens would win if he was acquitted of corruption charges, but lose if the jury found him guilty. The jury found him guilty on all seven counts, just a week before the election. Yet those who voted early or absentee (the votes counted yesterday) went strongly for Begich. Those who voted on Election Day—after Stevens’ claim to innocence had been demolished—favored Stevens.

That Stevens’ conviction would seem to help him politically wasn’t the only anomaly from the election results. The other came from California and Proposition 8, which passed despite polls showing it likely to fail. The breakdown was mostly as expected: younger, secular voters overwhelmingly opposed the ban; older church-goers and evangelicals supported the largely Mormon-financed effort.

The unexpected finding from the exit poll: black voters, who, energized by the Obama candidacy, formed 10 percent of the electorate, voted 70-30 to ban gay marriage.

Race and culture, not ideology or partisanship, seemed to explain the result. For instance, according to the exit poll, white Democrats voted 79-21 against the ban. Liberals voted 78-22 against the ban. And Democrats who had wanted Obama to win the nomination voted 69-31 against the ban. Black voters were overwhelmingly Democratic, liberal, and supported Obama to win the nomination. Based on these figures, African-Americans should have been among the strongest opponents of Prop. 8—not among the measure’s strongest supporters. In fact, had blacks voted on the measure in the same percentages as their fellow Democrats, liberals, and Obama nomination supporters, the measure likely would have failed.


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Ralph E. Luker - 12/6/2008

Brother Hughes, You ignore the facts that Obama had the financial support of Soros plus 3,999,999 other contributors, that Feingold was McCain/Feingold, that George Bush's administration was a near insuperable burden for McCain's campaign to bear, that McCain's campaign was very poorly conducted, and that his nominee for Vice President was manifestly unsuited for public office, much less being a heart-beat from the presidency.


Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 12/6/2008

Two things did in McCain. Huge, monolithic black turnout, and the Soros money... 2010 will be somewhat better for the GOP, with no Obama on the ticket and all those black voters staying home as usual.


Ralph E. Luker - 11/23/2008

Your notion that a DC verdict on Stevens is "laughable" and black votes against California's Prop 8 is an "outreach opportunity" is contradictory, at the least. You don't laugh at people you're trying to evangelize. More precisely, R.R. Hamilton may. Rational people don't.


R.R. Hamilton - 11/23/2008

The author says, "Those [Alaskans] who voted on Election Day—after Stevens’ claim to innocence had been demolished—favored Stevens."

The notion that Alaska voters would view a D.C. jurors as delivering an unbaised verdict on a Republican is laughable.

The author further says, "The unexpected finding from the exit poll [of California Prop 8 voters]: black voters, who, energized by the Obama candidacy, formed 10 percent of the electorate, voted 70-30 to ban gay marriage.

"Race and culture, not ideology or partisanship, seemed to explain the result."


I think this looks like an "outreach opportunity" for conservatives who want their ideology to seem more welcoming to blacks -- and to Latinos, who voted similarly to black on this issue.


William Hopwood - 11/14/2008

Mr. Johnson writes:
"Indeed, according to a list just published by Open Secrets, the key predictor in congressional outcomes wasn’t party ID or ideology but money."

It should also be noted that the cited reference also says:
:
"...Barack Obama declined public financing for the first time since the system's creation and went on to amass a nearly two-to-one monetary advantage over John McCain...."