Thursday, November 07, 2002

Election Karma

The elections of 2002 are over and now we are left with the intriguing results.
Although there were some big wins for both parties, there is no doubt as to which party
was the overall victor. As one network commentator put it, President Bush and the
Republicans won the electoral trifecta. That is they increased their control of the House,
they won control of the Senate, and Jeb Bush won the Florida Gubernatorial race. The
Republicans also won Governorships in several Democratic stronghold states such as
Maryland, Massachusetts, and Georgia. All in all a banner night for the GOP.
In analyzing the midterm election results, there are many factors which contributed
to the unexpected windfall for the Republicans. One must admit that the popularity of
President Bush had a large role in the election coup. Many candidates were assisted by
the Bush bump and were able to capitalize (no pun intended) on his approval rating. Even
Democratic candidates tried to grab a ride on the coattails of the President in their own
campaigns. W. has clout! Also, after 9/11 and the continuing war on terrorism, most
Americans still have more confidence in the GOP when it comes to matters of national
security. In addition, after the events of that horrific day, many people have rediscovered
a innate need for a more comforting and traditional way of life. Another element in the
GOP bonanza is the fact that many of the Republican candidates were able to gain traction
with their platforms.
However, an additional factor that aided the Republicans in their election gains
was an element that they had little hand in creating. That element was the almost complete
implosion of the Democratic Party. The Democrats failed to establish a cohesive agenda
which could rally their base to the polls and win over the undecided. They also created
such an aura of negativity around their party with the “win at all costs” mentality that it
turned off some of their base, pushed many of the independents over to the GOP side, and
energized the Republicans to get out and say “no” to the nastiness and corruption with
their votes. A short list of the DNC’s self inflicted wounds is as follows.

The New Jersey Senatorial race. Replacing the scandal ridden and trailing Sen. Robert
Torricelli with retired Sen. Frank Lautenberg after the replacement deadline was seen
as a blatant disregard for the law and an example of poor sportsmanship
Congressman McDermott and Congressman Bonior jaunt to Iraq. For two members of
the United States Congress to publicly question the honesty and integrity of our
president is one thing. But to do so while grandstanding in Iraq is nothing less than

The scaring (fill in the blank) constituents tactic. From seniors to women to minorities,
this was a tactic used throughout the DNC and in some cases it backfired. One of the
most blatant examples was the cartoon of President Bush pushing a wheelchair bound
senior over a cliff in reference to the social security issue. This polarizing tactic
seems mean spirited and divisive. It is also insulting to the more informed electorate.

The Hollywood factor. There is no question that the majority of celebrities are left of
center and that their activism is an important tool for the DNC. Getting the stars out to
raise funds usually causes few problems. However, certain personalities this year
went way overboard and offended many Americans. The average citizen has a hard
time stomaching the gratuitous vituperations of a wealthy and pampered elite.

Barbra Streisand and her policy memos to top DNC brass, website lambasting
of GOP candidates, and fundraising extravaganzas with the Hollywood elite.

Harry Belafonte and his Uncle Tom talk about Colin Powell and Condo Rice.

Jessica Lane asserting that she was embarrassed to be an American to the
foreign press while in a foreign country.

And the likes of Alec Baldwin, Julia Roberts, Martin Sheen, Woody Harrelson
and Sarah Jessica Parker and just about anything they say or do in reference to
the Republican Party.

The Cynthia “Oliver Stone” McKinney chimera. Rep. McKinney poured salt on an
open wound with the preposterous accusation that 9/11 was a Bush family plot. In the
same vein, Sen. Hilary Clinton brandishing a newspaper with the headline that “Bush

The Wellstone Memorial/Rally. From the rally chants to the disinviting of
Vice-president Cheney to the booing of Trent Lot, this just turned into a classless and
self denigrating debacle for the DNC.

DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe’s avowal to “get” Jeb Bush. This petty promise of
revenge against the GOP and President Bush was just immature and made the DNC
look like sore losers throwing a temper tantrum. And in hindsight, it was an extreme
waste of time, money, and effort for the DNC.

The list goes on but by now the point is made. Most political strategists agree that
“going negative” can work for a party during election campaigns. However, they also
agree that it works only up to a certain point. Beyond that point, the strategy has a
tendency to backfire and becomes a detriment to the goals of the party. The desultory
agenda of the DNC this election cycle left them with little more than a “beat up the
Republicans” platform. This nadir in politicking created a political backlash to the
Democrats and is in large part responsible for the Republican victories of 2002.