Yesterday election sweep of governorship Virginia and New Jersey, plus the trouncing Arnold Schwarzenegger took in California was less of a foretelling of the future and more of a missed opportunity for the Republican Party.
It's true that Republicans are running from President Bush as if he were the first known case of the avian flu, but Tuesday's election results could have been had with a approval ratings from a year ago; before the veil of invincibility completely fell from the once powerful "war president".
Virginia is near the gravitational pull of the Beltway, but tends to vote fairly conservative. It's also the home state of Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, who enjoys enormous popularity in Virginia and probably would be a strong presidential candidate if not for his abnormally large teeth. To have the Democrat, Tim Kaine, win on the heels of Warner's record is not surprising. All account out of Virginia was that Jerry Kilgore was a weak candidate whether the country was head over heels for the President or not.
Much was talked about Bush's last-minute stop in Richmond the night before the election and whether it was a sign of his weakness or that Kilgore wanted to distance himself from the Prez until the last minute. In fact, Bush's presence in Virginia, despite the GOP loss, helped Kilgore at the polls by energizing the base. Kilgore was still trounced, but far more complex factors were underlining the defeat than Bush's unpopularity.
In New Jersey, the win by Sen. Jon Corzine wasn't a surprise. The mega-millionaire from the Garden State had the uniquely Jersey political machine well-oiled and the cash to make it operate. In any election year, a Republican winning in the increasingly Democratic New Jersey would have been a huge upset. His challenger, Doug Forrester, has been a loser at big time politics and his defeat by Corzine was easily foretold.
In California, Gov. Schwarzenegger has never linked his political future to the President. Whether it's because the Golden State is one of the bluest of blue states or The Governator's conservative credentials are fairly moderate; both sides have been weary of the other. The special election in California and the initiatives Schwarzenegger backed was dumb politics.
In a cash-starved economy as California, spending millions of dollars for a needless election frustrated many. On top of that, Schwarzenegger picked fights with some of the most heroic and cherished institutions in America--nurses, firefighters and teachers! How a positive outcome could have came out of this needless acrimony is beyond many.
Democrats should not judge the GOP's poor showing last Tuesday as the beginning of the end of their majority, but there were more important factors in the way they ran these campaigns and how some of their tried-and-true tactics failed them.
You should expect everything and anything from Republican strategists. These are the political operatives who made a war hero out of a coward by thrashing a five-year POW and a senator with a purple heart.
In Virginia, Kilgore used the same undignified tactics of calling voters and passing false information. Voters in Virginia, received a recorded message that was surreptitiously spliced together and said:
I am running for Governor and I am not afraid to tell you where I stand.
I am conservative on issues of personal responsibility. As a former Christian missionary, faith is central to my life. I oppose gay marriage. I support restrictions on abortion: No public funding and parental consent. And I've worked to pass a state law banning partial birth abortion.
Karl Rove used the exact same ploy in the 2000 South Carolina primary where the message said Sen. John McCain may be unstable from his stint in a Vietnamese prison camp and possibly fathered a black child. This sort of underhanded trick didn't work this time.
In New Jersey, Forrester drummed up controversy by showcasing Corzine's ex-wife on a 15-second television spot. She said, " "He let his family down, and he'll probably let New Jersey down, too."
What both these dirty tricks show is that the difference between the atmosphere in Washington today and last year is that the bread and butter of the Republican party, that is, the ability to win only when the issue are buried in favor of titillating stories is over.
Voters in Virginia, New Jersey and California have all seen these types of shenanigans before and they responded by voting for what's best for their states. If the American people force politics to be played solely on issues, then that could be the lasting marker of last Tuesday's elections.