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Republicans on the nose

May 14th, 2008

While most attention has been focused on the never-ending story of the Democratic presidential primaries, the Republicans have just lost a seemingly safe seat in a Mississippi special election, following two earlier losses including that of former House Speaker Dennis Hastert. As this CNN story says, this raises the prospect of a wipeout in November. The result is consistent with steadily declining Republican affiliation and massive rejection of Bush (who’s reached all-time lows in several polls recently). McCain is still managing to avoid much of the stench associated with his party, but it seems to me this will be a lot harder for him in the context of a general election, where I imagine he will be expected to campaign on behalf of vulnerable Republicans.

I don’t know, though, whether there’s a common pattern of upsets in special elections. Incumbent governments often do badly in by-elections in Australia, since it provides the opportunity for a largely consequence-free protest vote, but this logic doesn’t seem to apply in the US context. I’d be interested in any thoughts from readers

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  1. May 14th, 2008 at 17:20 | #1

    “John McCain will serve out George Bush’s third term”.

    Its a killer line that McCain will find difficult to combat.

    That said, I still think McCain has a good chance of winning, and even a McCain presidency would be infinitely better than what we’ve endured for the past eight years.

  2. Joseph Clark
    May 14th, 2008 at 17:38 | #2

    I imagine the poor showing is due to Mississippians realising out that the GOP is actually a front (in cahoots with tobacco industry lobbyists, global warming denialists, culture warriors and aliens) for the War on Science.

  3. jquiggin
    May 14th, 2008 at 17:51 | #3

    As you say, Joseph, voters are coming to realise that the Republican Party is a front for the most unsavory sections of big business and the wealthy classes of the US, masquerading as populists. I’m glad we agree on this :-) .

    Perhaps the War on Science aspect isn’t as salient in Mississippi as it is on this blog, but the Republicans have more than enough lies to go around, on the Iraq war, tax and many other issues, and they are being called on them.

  4. Domino
    May 14th, 2008 at 19:40 | #4

    I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect Mississippi has a high proportion of people in the military and is thus particularly susceptible to anti-war sentiments.

    In a Presidential election year, I think this can be considered a vote against McCain and Bush for their policy on Iraq.

    It could also be a recognition that the Dems are better on the economy than the GOP which is (through Bush) blamed for the crisis.

  5. Peter Wood
    May 14th, 2008 at 22:27 | #5

    I was interested to hear Barack Obama using the term ‘working families’. I wonder if he has figured that it has worked well Kevin. It was in the context of saying that McCain has been shifting the burden from special interests to working families or something like that. It does seem that the weakness of the Republicans is that it has become obvious that they have been representing unsavory interests.

  6. rog
    May 14th, 2008 at 23:39 | #6

    Republicans might be losing republican voters but could pick up plenty of red neck Clinton voters should Obama win the Dem position. At present McCain is trailing by ~5% to both candidates but thus may change if Hillary takes Obama as she falls down.

  7. rog
    May 14th, 2008 at 23:47 | #7

    “Working families” is an imprecise term, does it mean all the family are at work?

    As a “central narrative” (displacing “core promise”) working families has worked well

  8. Katz
    May 15th, 2008 at 00:04 | #8

    The incumbency argument doesn’t really hold in the US.

    In reality, owing to their majority in Congress, the Dems are the incumbent party in relation to congressional elections.

    This result looks particularly dire for Republican congressional candidates, but not necessarily for McCain.

  9. Ian Gould
    May 15th, 2008 at 00:06 | #9

    Rog, actually I expect that once Obama (and it almost definitely will be Obama) can stop the in-fighting and focus on MCain, the Democratic nominee’s lead over McCain will increase.

    It’s a horrible thing ot say, but I also suspect that when he’s once again under the full glar of the medai and forced to react rapidly to the Democratic canddiate’s statements, McCain’s age will begin to be a factor.

    A man in his 70′s can keep up 18 hour workdays for only so long.

  10. John Mashey
    May 15th, 2008 at 06:33 | #10

    I think the House of Representatives and Presidency will take care of themselves – I worry about the US Senate, for which Wikipedia offers a reasonable Summary of 2008 elections.

    Recall that a determined minority in the Senate can stop things cold with filibusters, unless there are 60 votes for cloture.

    Democrats have an unusual numbers advantage this year, as they hold 12 of the seats up for the election, whereas Republicans must defend 23.

    I’d guess it’s virtually certain that Democrats will gain seats in the House and the Senate… but the question is, will there be enough:

    Democrats
    Independent(s)
    Moderate Republicans (rare, as discussed here earlier, but Collins seems likely to win, and Snowe doesn’t have to run).

    Should there be a Democratic President and a larger House Democratic majority, but insufficient votes in the Senate for cloture … it’s going to be painful.

    Anyway, look at the races in doubt, and especially consider the Andrew Rice – James Inhofe race.

  11. rog
    May 15th, 2008 at 06:58 | #11

    Once the dems elect Obama it will be an age vs credibilty battle – at some point in time Obama may need to put forward some policy

  12. snuh
    May 15th, 2008 at 08:39 | #12

    this whole thing is pretty astounding. in the 2006 congressional elections, the republican in mississippi’s first got 66.43% of the vote. their candidate in the special election got only 46.26%.

    i.e., the swing was 20%! some of that movement must be because there was no imcumbent in the seat, but is that sort of swing even possible?

  13. Ian Gould
    May 15th, 2008 at 09:54 | #13

    Snuh – but what was the turn-out?

    Republicans may simply have chosen to stay home since there was so little at stake.

  14. may
    May 15th, 2008 at 10:03 | #14

    liars,cheats and devious bullies
    do what they do
    laugh about it and forget about it

    those lied to,cheated,conned and bullied,
    don’t forget.

    no matter how much the ones who think they have got away with it and dishonesty is a higher form of intelligence,

    they haven’t.
    it isn’t.

  15. swio
    May 15th, 2008 at 11:04 | #15

    There is a common pattern to special elecion success. Generally it is a leading indicator.

    Prior to the major congressional success the Republican party had in the early 1990′s where they wiped out Democratic majorities they had a good run of special election wins. In the lead up to the 2006 election the same thing happened in reverse with Democrats doing very well in special elections and then taking the congressional majority.

    Special election results are very important in convincing supporters, donors, sitting members and potential candidates of that there is a good chance of a return on their investment of time, money and energy in an election campaign. Losing this special election this badly is disastrous for the Republican party. Donors don’t want to give to a party with no chance of controlling congress as it will not have the power to return any favours (the Repubs are having trouble raising money at the moment), good potential candidates don’t want to waste time running and most importantly existing members decide to retire because being in the minority is a bit pointless and they don’t want to invest in a losing campaign. Currently there are 26 repbulican retirements. All this creates a spiralling downward circle. The last point is particularly important since the members themselves are often rusted on to their electorate and so its always very hard to beat a sitting member. 26 “open seats” is an enormous number for the Republicans to defend.

    On another note the real interest in the 2008 election will be the US Senate. The oddities of the Senate with its 6 year terms have resulted in Republicans having to defend an unusually large number of seats this cycle which would place them at a large disadvantage even if everything else was relatively equal. There is a small but real possibility of Democrats getting the magic 60 seat majority needed to actually pass stuff (due to a quirk of US politics you need 60 votes of 100 in the senate to pass legislation). If that happens and there are no surprises in the presidential and congress elections then Democrats could pass very broad sweeping legislation including universal healthcare.

  16. observa
    May 15th, 2008 at 12:09 | #16

    ““Working familiesâ€? is an imprecise term, does it mean all the family are at work?”
    No it just means pensioner and beneficiary families don’t really count much on Budget night when you reckon you’ve got them in your pocket, which brings me to my point about incumbency. You can inherit incumbency like McCain or Gordon Brown, but noone cares to remember all the broken core/L.A.W/commitments of Oppositions. Not so when they’re incumbents. In that sense Obama is probably the best of both worlds it seems.

  17. Terry
    May 15th, 2008 at 12:11 | #17

    The very obvious and pubic division on the Democrat side between Obama and Clinton has obscured the extent of the divisions on the Republican side.

    There is a view on the conservative side that Bush Jr. has squandered the Reagan legacy and that McCain doesn’t really stand for anything. The announcement of Bob Barr’s candidacy for the Libertarian Party as a sitting Republican is a sign of this.

    McCain has a tricky balancing act ahead of him of how to approach Bush year policies and capture some of what are likely to be the ‘Hillary Democrats’ who may be open to voting against Obama. Th vote in Mississippi also indicates that traditional Republican attack dog politics may not work as well this time as they did in 2004.

  18. jack strocchi
    May 15th, 2008 at 12:34 | #18

    The GOP will lose the next US election by a landslide – whoever the DEM candidate is.
    The US electorate has been drifting to the Left on most issues since the 1998 elections. The recent PEW polling confirms this.
    The GOP victories in 2000 2002 and 2004 were anomalous to trend, caused by electoral eccentricities weak DEM candidates and freakish military events starting with 911.
    The GOPs biggest asset is its mobilizable base. This constituency is demoralised by its partys miserable failures. McCain offers them GWB third term. They will stay at home in their droves unlike their DEM counterparts.
    The DEMs now have a stronger candidate the war in Iraq is lost and the economy is tanking. Plus it will benefit from GOP two term-itis. The public is sick of the incumbent. Time for a change you can believe in – if you are the credulous type.

  19. observa
    May 15th, 2008 at 12:47 | #19

    When you look at it closely, you can have some amazing examples of core promises/commitments to your base in Opposition. One that springs readily to mind is Labor’s base banging on about the Howard Govt’s preference for child care rebates vis a vis Labor’s vehement opposition and preference for community based child care funding. Then look what they did in their first Budget, upping the rebate from 30% to 50% without a murmur from the base. Strike me pink! as KG would say.

  20. observa
    May 15th, 2008 at 13:03 | #20

    “..the war in Iraq is lost..”
    Not so sure about that Jack
    http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,23701561-23109,00.html
    and by my reckoning neither is Rudd, given he’s not exactly racing to get out of this ‘bad war’ to concentrate on his ‘good wars’. We of course are only bit players in Iraq and Afghanistan, whereas Americans may just be sick of the lost blood and treasure in both theatres. Presumably that could be Obamas problem too in walking the good war/badwar tightrope, particularly if Iraq moves forward rapidly this year. There are signs it could and I reckon that’s Rudd’s dilemma too now.

  21. Andy McLennan
    May 15th, 2008 at 13:14 | #21

    I don’t recall any special congressional election in which the voters were thought to be trying to “send a message” by voting for someone who wasn’t really their first choice. When there are only two candidates that doesn’t really make sense except perhaps in a case where ideology and competence pull in opposite directions.

    Since there’s only one thing on the ballot, and it’s not regularly scheduled, turnout in special elections tends to be lower, with a disproportionate number of highly motivated high information voters. Based on that I would guess we’ll see more of the same in the fall, but a bit less so.

  22. observa
    May 15th, 2008 at 13:19 | #22

    Or to put it another way, sometimes core promises and commitments just get mugged by reality, which is not a problem in Opposition.

  23. Katz
    May 15th, 2008 at 14:21 | #23

    “..the war in Iraq is lost..�
    Not so sure about that Jack

    For the purposes of this thread the important thing is that the vast majority of US voters want the US to withdraw its troops from Iraq.

    They will get their way. Ipso facto, the war in Iraq is lost, so far as Bushite ambitions are concerned.

    Of course, victory conditions can be re-defined. Politicians can draw their finishing lines in many places.

    But one thing is certain, Bush’s finishing line will be expunged from collective memory.

  24. flapple
    May 15th, 2008 at 16:12 | #24

    Rog,

    If by your statement “Obama may need to put forward some policy” you mean to imply that he has no policies, I believe you are incorrect.

    As Matthew Yglasias says, Obama is chock full of policies.

    see

    http://matthewyglesias.theatlantic.com/archives/2008/01/the_beef.php

  25. Martin
    May 15th, 2008 at 22:53 | #25

    It seems that the Republican base is not too happy with McCain. For example, In the recent Pennsylvania primary, he only picked up 73% of the vote (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pennsylvania_Republican_primary%2C_2008).

    Much of this dissatisfaction is coming from the disaffected Evangelical base, who seem to be going on strike this year after failing to get Huckabee selected.

  26. Ian Gould
    May 16th, 2008 at 00:11 | #26

    Martin, McCain MAY choose a running-mate designed to pacify the evangelicals – Sam Brownback and Bobby Jindal are two possibilities.

    As is Huckabee himself.

    Of course, JohnnieMc has also been suggesting he may ignore the conventional wisdom and simply select somebody he likes who he thinks can do a good job – like Texas Governor Rick Perry.

  27. Martin
    May 16th, 2008 at 00:16 | #27

    For the disaffected Evangelicals, see
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/11/AR2008051101786.html “The Lord God … had warned them time and again… but they never ceased to scorn his words… until the anger of the Lord burst out… and could not be appeased. He brought against them” Barack Obama, it seems, “God gave them all into his power.” [2 Chr 25:15-17, REB]

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