09 August 2010

Eye On The Prize

Primary season will end in Colorado about 32 hours from now. Then, it is on to the 2010 general election. This time around, however, the most important races aren't necessarily those on the top of the ticket.

The most important prize is control of the state legislature, and with it, control of redistricting based on the 2010 census. While Colorado is unlikely to gain or lose Congressional seats, it is has seen significant demographic shifts within the state, and in any political system based on single member districts, the boundaries of the respective districts can change the outcome.

This time around, the difference between Democratic control of the redistricting process and Republican control, is probably on the order of a couple of Congressional seats and perhaps a dozen seats in the State House and State Senate combined, every election cycle for the next decade. This could easily be the difference between Colorado being a blue state and a red one.

Also, the longer Democrats control state government, the more the public and the establishment in the state will gravitate towards the Democratic party.

At the federal level, Democrats may lose some seats in Congress. In Colorado, the race to watch will be the Betsy Markey-Cory Gardner race in the 4th Congressional District, possibly influenced by an American Constitution Party bid. The other six House of Representatives incumbents seem secure.

In the U.S. Senate, Colorado is also one of the races to watch, but both of the candidates facing off in the Democratic Party primary for that race seem impressive compared to the Republican candidates facing off in their primary for the race. The Norton-Buck race has had far more pratfalls for its candidates, suggesting that neither is up to the job or mainstream enough in their politics, than its Democratic party counterpart.

At any rate, it is unlikely that Democrats will lose control of either the House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate in this election, as it has played out so far. It may become a little harder to break filibuster threats in the U.S. Senate, but that is about it.

Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if either of the Republican women in the U.S. Senate from Maine, or both of them, change parties as Arlen Specter from Pennsylvania did, as they have so often come to the aid of Democrats to break filibusters as it is and have seen their party move so far to the obstructionist right, that they might be more comfortable as Blue Dog Democrats than as Republicans at this point.

There is also a decent chance that President Obama will get to replace one of the five conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court during his term of office. So far, he has replaced liberals on the high court who have retired early to allow a like-minded President to replace them. But, ill health could force the hand of the high court's conservatives and end a long period in which conservatives have controlled the high court (although Justice Kennedy, who holds the swing vote on the Court is a moderate conservative, more in the territory of the dying breed of moderate Northeastern Republicans than Tea Party conservatives).

Republicans have made a bet that saying no to everything that Democrats have done for the past two years will win them the mid-term election. Democrats have made a bet on passing legislation to show that they have accomplished something and wrestled with the nation's problems.

But, if Republicans think that they have regained credibility as deficit hawks, they are sadly mistaken, and they are also wrong in thinking that the issue will resonate with voters outside their base. Opposition to popular bills in Congress, like extending unemployment benefits and stimulus aid to state governments, will deeply complicate their efforts to fight to keep the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy in place, and their defense of their votes in support of defense spending that Democrats opposed.

The Obama administration's health care reform is growing more popular, not less, as it is being implemented. By passing financial regulatory reforms, passing stimulus bills, passing some health are reform, and withdrawing troops from Iraq, the Obama administration is showing that it can do something. But, the GOP doesn't have an agenda to unite around, or party unity, as they did when they passed the "Contract With America." Instead, the primaries are leaving it with a cadre of candidates with an unusually high share of conservative crackpots compared to the candidates that it ran in 2008.

Republicans may get some short term political gain from grandstanding on the issue of immigration, but not much. The Obama administration's immigration enforcement record is unparalleled, and the administration's focus on narrowing its efforts to liberalize immigration laws to focus on recent graduates of U.S. high schools who have assimilated, are blameless because they came here with parents as juveniles, and are heading on to college or the military, is shrewd. While Republicans can get into a xenophobic rage, ill crafted laws like the latest round of state legislation in Arizona, don't help their case, nor does the reality that the facts are against them when it comes to portraying illegal immigration as a growing problem or a drain on the public purse.

The price Republicans pay for their temper tantrum on immigration, moreover, will be high. They are in the process of reaffirming their party as the party of thinly veiled racism, outflanked the efforts of the far left to establish themselves as the anti-globalist party, and shredding the compassionate conservative pitch that helped George W. Bush win his first election. This will cost them the votes of conservative minorities, the money of those with an interest in multinational enterprise, and the votes and time of mainline Christians for another decade or more.

Similarly, it is hard for Republicans to make a case for being more hawkish, when the President has increased the U.S. commitment to the war on terrorism and Afghan war that the Bush administration began, has increased defense spending, and has largely continued the weak on civil liberties approach to anti-terrorism tactics it inherited from the Bush Administration despite campaign promises to the contrary.

And, the rabid fear that gun rights would be eroded under a Democratic administration hasn't materialized. Instead, the Second Amendment has been recognized as an individual constitutional right that applies to both the state and federal governments, and no notable new gun control legislation has passed in the last two years. This takes the wind out of the sales of that effort to stir up fear.

Americans aren't happy with the status quo. But, while they may not be better off than they were two years ago, their are also not worse off, and the prospects for the future are brighter than than they are now. Equally important, the public still agrees that it is Republican and not Democratic economic policy that got us to where we are today. And, until the Republican party comes up with some fresh ideas on how to improve the situation, they will be hard pressed to make big gains in 2010.

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