5 Theories on the Meaning of Today's Elections

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Today's handful of state elections are receiving wide attention for what they do and don't say about national politics. These are the most important races and the Wire's coverage of what they mean: Virginia governor, New Jersey governor, New York City mayor, Maine's gay marriage law, New York congressional race. (More on NY-23 here, here and here.) Conservatives are already reevaluating national strategy on the basis of today's expected results: Republican Bob McDonnell will likely win Virginia, Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York City, third-party candidate Doug Hoffman in New York State, with both Maine and New Jersey contested. In aggregate, what do today's elections mean for national politics and what do they portend for the big races in 2010 and President Obama's reelection campaign in 2012?

  • The End of Moderates  Rush Limbaugh foresees the deaths of moderate Blue Dog Democrats and of moderate "RINO" (Republican in name only) Republicans. He pegs it to the three-way NY-23 Congressional race (background here). "[Republican Dede] Scozzafava has screwed every RINO in the country. We could say that she's guilty of bestiality. Everyone can see just how dangerous they are. You know, 2010 might be a nightmare for PETA. Two animals might become extinct: RINOs and Blue Dog Democrats. Pelosi's going to kill off the Blue Dogs, and conservatives are gonna finally get rid of RINOs."
  • Democratic Base Sagging  Liberal blogger Chris Bowers worries about Democrats losing interest. "Democrats are not as enthusiastic and well-organized as they were last year," he writes. "So, Democrats are facing a twin problem of a national Republican gain of 2-3%, combined with lower enthusiasm among their own base.  While it is not yet a recipe for Republicans to regain control of Congress, it is certainly a recipe for Republicans to make real gains in the 2010 elections.  As a party, Democrats should address these problems rather than pretending they don't exist."
  • A New GOP Brand  Nate Silver says Republicans have a branding problem and even suggests they change their name to the Conservative Party. "The Democratic brand is marginal in about half the country, but the Republican brand is radioactive in about two-thirds of it. The biggest story of the cycle is that a non-Republican conservative, Doug Hoffman, might win. Counterfactual: if Hoffman had in fact been the Republican nominee in NY-23 all along, would he be in the same strong position that he finds himself in today? Methinks not." He writes of the GOP adopting Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman as their own, "while the upside is that Republicans are re-branded as conservatives, the risk is that conservatives are re-branded as Republicans."
  • GOP Wins Good for Obama?  Peter Beinart flips the conventional wisdom, arguing that Democrats losing some off-year battles is a good thing for Obama. "Presidencies have an arc. The key is to make sure that your trough comes early so that you’re gaining strength as reelection rolls around." Beinart notes that both Reagan and Clinton had rough midterm elections in their first terms but went on to re-election, whereas George H.W. had a successful midterm. "So let’s imagine that Democrats lose next week because the GOP’s conservative base flocks to the polls while liberals stay home. For Obama, that wouldn’t be so terrible. The more confident right-wing Republicans become, the more likely they will nominate a Palin-like zealot in 2012. And the more likely Obama will be able to use the GOP’s zealotry to lure independent voters to his side, as Clinton did in 1996, when he made Newt Gingrich a central focus of his reelection bid."
  • Absolutely Nothing  The Atlantic's Joshua Green cautions against over-analyzing. "Along with tarot cards and goat entrails, a lot of people believe they can divine hidden meaning from the results of off-year elections," he writes. "The pointless thing about prognostications, even ones as vague as these, is that they can't factor in any of the changes that could occur in the interim. And there are bound to be plenty of them: major health-care reform seems likely; a weak economy and high unemployment seem possible; and the introduction of a compelling Republican agenda is at least feasible."

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