Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Election Hangover 2010: Connolly vs. Fimian

Connolly                  Fimian
I am, in a perverse way, actually rather pleased with the election results from yesterday.   The Red Tide of Tea Party activism did pretty much what was expected, as the simmering, aimless discontent of the American lumpenproletariat once again ran the bums out. 

Honestly, they deserved to be run out.  When you're running on a basically populist record, and you can't seem to articulate it in ways that connect, you fail.  Democratic leadership was notably pathetic, and seemingly incapable of doing anything other than ceding the talking points of the right.  If you can't stand on your accomplishments, and make a compelling case against your opponents, then you need to be shown the door. 

In my own congressional district, the VA-11th, the election is not yet over.  Two years ago, this was a strongly blue district.  It went solidly for Obama.  Yeah, we've got our share of angry white men, but the district is nonetheless urban and moderate.   Yet somehow we've ended up with a too-close-to call race between a Democrat and a hard-line tea partier.  As of this morning, the differential between Gerry Connolly (D) and Keith Fimian (R) is only 500 votes, out of over 200,000 cast.  There were voting machine failures in two precincts, so we're heading for recount country.  This is, especially in the context of the 11th district, really amazing.

Why?  Here you have a Republican who wants to massively slash federal spending.  The primary source of income in this area...for good or for the federal government.  If Fimian won, and the policies he and his movement support were enacted, there'd be a massive loss of jobs in his district.  That would include not just federal employees, but private companies and small businesses that contract with the government.  It would include all the folks who do construction and homebuilding and repair, and all the folks who provide services, because if the economy in this area was forced to rachet back, that's just how it's gonna roll.  I've seen plenty of Tea Party/Fimian stickers on the back of working pickups, and I've thought to myself, fool, you're voting yourself out of a job.  This isn't rocket science.  Heck, it isn't even leafblowing.   That's straight up just the way it is.
Totoro would know how to win in the 11th District.

Why so close?  I think, ultimately, that falls to the guy representing the Democratic party.  This was the Democrats election to lose, and Connolly...well...he's got problems.  Sure, he looks a bit like a Celtic Totoro, and we all love Totoro, but that can only get you so far.

He is, for lack of a better term, a career politician.  Two weeks ago, I sat around the dinner table with my extended family, and we talked politics.  Everyone in the room is a lifelong Democrat, the sort of person who never, ever, doesn't vote.  We're talking unionized teachers and social workers and contractors.  As Blue State as you get.  Not one soul there was enthusiastic about Connolly, and reported that in other conversations they were having, their friends weren't enthusiastic, either. Why?

He already has something of a reputation as being a tick overly career focused.   But Connolly also blew a huge, huge hole in his enthusiasm base when he came out vigorously in favor of keeping the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy.  Yeah, he might believe that.  But whatever the motivation, it came across as both that it seemed to show quivering hindquarters to the right....and pandering, the sort of thing you do if your concern isn't the national interest, but making sure you have wealthy donors backing your campaign.  If the only national level news you're making dispirits the people who are voting for you no matter what, it'll drive off those whose commitment level is lower.

No matter what the result of the inevitable recount, there are lessons here for Democrats.  And...opportunities for those who'd like to change the direction of national political discourse.