Voters are Ready to Reject Republicans--But Can Democrats Get in Front?
October 18, 2006
Things are looking bleaker for the Republicans in the upcoming midterm elections. The news of the week is how many Senate races the Rs are abandoning--pulling national funding in Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Montana, and Ohio, where the Republican candidates no longer look viable, so they can focus their efforts on the places where they still have a chance to win. What could be more satisfying for Democrats than seeing the Rs struggling day after day with stories about the Mark Foley sex scandal, continuing indictments related to Jack Abramoff's web of corruption, and polls that show public confidence in the President and his party plummeting?
Voter discontent with the Bush Administration, especially across the Midwest, could reverberate through every level of government.
Will public dismay with the party in power lead to a massive change in government? There are signs that it could.
Lou Jacobson, deputy editor of the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, has just written a column describing how even downballot Republicans in state races around the country stand to pay the price in November for the generally anti-Republican mood. Jacobson quotes Thom Little of the State Legislative Leaders Foundation saying, “Republican leaders in states where control of the legislature is up for grabs tell me there is considerable concern about the national mood, particularly relative to Iraq, and relative to gas prices when they were higher.” And, Jacobson adds, that was BEFORE the Foley scandal broke. Depressed turnout by conservatives is the Republicans' big worry this year.
Voter discontent with the Bush Administration, especially across the Midwest, could reverberate through every level of government. Jacobson warns that, with five or six Republican-held governorships leaning Democratic, and toss-up races in Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Oregon, the Dems could win a majority of governorships. And some two dozen state legislatures could change hands this year. This could have long-term political consequences, because governors and state legislators will handle redistricting during the next term of office--potentially remaking the political map for the next decade.
Nowhere is this mood of change more palpable than in Ohio. A front-page story in the October 18 New York Times outlines the Republicans' disastrous troubles in that battleground state. Not only is the RNC pulling out, now that Republican Senator Mike DeWine is behind progressive Democrat Sherrod Brown by double-digits in the polls, but a huge majority of Ohioans say the country is going in the wrong direction. The Times quotes Republicans who are either staying home or
voting Democratic to send a message to Bush.
Interestingly, Ohioans rank jobs and the economy way ahead of issues like Iraq and terrorism as their number-one concern. They are convinced that the economy is in bad shape, and are in no mood to buy Pollyanna predictions that the Republicans will ultimately turn things around. Ohio voters' cynicism is fed by corruption scandals engulfing both state and national Republican politicians. The Democratic candidate for governor, Ted Strickland, is leading the Republican, Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, by a margin of 53 to 29 in a recent poll. Meanwhile Blackwell, who was supervisor of elections in the 2004 presidential vote-tally controversy in Ohio, has charged his staff with weighing whether to disqualify Strickland from taking office based on a technical issue involving the address he gave when he registered to vote (no one disputes that he is a resident of Ohio--only which apartment he uses most). That can't go over well with Ohio voters. The Times reports that only 30 percent of Ohio Democrats believed the 2004 vote-count was fair.
Corruption, election scandals, the economy are all hurting Republicans.
The news from Ohio confirms Sherrod Brown's analysis. When I interviewed him last month, he said that it was "kitchen table issues" and the Republicans' abandonment of the middle class that have fueled
But what about those other big issues: the war on terror and Iraq?
On Tuesday, President Bush signed new legislation giving the government broad powers to interrogate suspects using methods commonly viewed as torture--and to use secret military tribunals and secret evidence in these trials. While many Democrats voted against the awful terrorism bill, Brown was not among them. I saw him only a few days before he cast his vote. When I asked him about it, he said he had not yet read the "compromise" legislation hammered out by Bush and Republican Senators, led by John McCain, who objected to his evisceration of the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions. "What McCain understands, and Bush doesn't, is that torture ultimately hurts American troops--that they will be subject to the same treatment," Brown said.
McCain ultimately signed onto the compromise--though he was notably absent at the President's signing ceremony. Many people saw it as the price of Republican support in the 2008 Presidential race. The final bill still sanctions waterboarding and other grotesque and illegal interrogation techniques.
Brown's vote for the bill is harder to understand. He joined a minority of Democratic House members in support of it, even though he is leading in his race, and his strong stands against the Iraq war, trade policy and most Bush Administration policy have already defined him as a candidate of the left of the Democratic Party.
What was he thinking?
Across the country if Democrats really do as well as predicted, let's hope it's for a reason--standing up to the worst Administration in history, and rejecting the radical remaking of our country into a more and more unjust society.