What are the lessons of Tuesday's off-off-year election?
Republican spin doctors are proclaiming that the phoenix has arisen and a newly popular GOP is poised to cast out the spendy liberals in 2010. Democratic spin doctors are saying that all politics are local and a fratricidal GOP is still bent on eating its young.
If the shoes were on the other feet, both the GOP and Dem pundits likely would be saying exactly the opposite. So, if anyone is inclined to listen to partisan spin doctors, take two tablets of salt and call me in the morning.
Nearly a week later, a few patterns seem apparent.
The country is edgy. Despite the recent stock market froth, unemployment remains high, government debt is way outside people's comfort zone, and many voters are not convinced that the know-it-alls in DC know what the hell they're doing. Wary independent voters are displaying a fickle streak.
The economy's shadow has fallen over environmental issues. The big green groups are debating how to build support for climate legislation - make scary talk about dying polar bears and rising sea levels, or happy talk about putting people to work building wind turbines and installing solar panels.
For all his commanding presence, President Obama couldn't persuade the young legions that thrust him into the presidency last year to bother voting this year to elect fellow Democrats running for governor in New Jersey and Virginia.
For the Democrats, the gubernatorial results in those two states were a cold shower. If they know what's good for them, they had better figure out how to woo back those fickle independents and how to roust young Democrats out of their houses when the One isn't on the ballot.
As for the Republicans, party leaders still haven't come to terms on what kind of party the GOP should be - a big tent or a straitjacket.
Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina falls into the latter camp. DeMint has curious ideas about basic math, as he seems to believe that growing the party depends on keeping people out of the party. In a CQ article about Senator John Cornyn, the Texan who is charged with Republican candidate recruitment and fund-raising for next year's Senate races, DeMint offered the following gem: "(Cornyn) is trying to find people who can win. I'm trying to find people who can help me change the Senate." Ohhh-kaaay.
The consequences of following the DeMint Theorem that 2-2=4 were on full display in New York's 23rd Congressional District, which held a special election to fill the House seat representing the Empire State's northern reaches.
Outside agitators who couldn't tell the difference between Oswego County and Ozzie Osbourne swept into the district to make it the beachhead of a right-wing revolution. From the commanding heights of imperious ideology, Dick Armey granted an audience to local newspapermen to pronounce that the St. Lawrence Seaway and other workaday local issues are "parochial." Sarah Palin breezed through to order the locals to "vote their values." The everybody-is-a-sellout-except-us teabaggers crowed that their cardboard cutout candidate would sweep all before him.
Late Tuesday night, we saw how well that turned out. The 23rd District gave Nancy Pelosi another Democrat to work with, the first one representing the North Country in the House since the Grant administration. That was four years before Edison invented the light bulb, which still hasn't turned on inside a lot of heads at GOP headquarters. As my dad used to say to bumblers: nice move, ex-lax.
Farther south, Republican gubernatorial candidates Chris Christie and Robert McDonnell thought it would be more effective to talk about issues that voters are actually interested in. They steered clear of divisiveness, stuck to kitchen table matters, and as a result, both Christie and McDonnell are now governors-elect.
Practical problem-solving usually trumps ideological frenzy, especially as winter approaches in a nervous world. That's a good lesson for 2010 candidates, regardless of party.
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