What message did voters send to us on Election Day 2009? Simple answer: It’s the economy, stupid. While no single election has complete or perfect tea leaves, the ones steeping at the bottom of today’s political pot make for interesting reading.
Clearly, the awful state of the economy was the number one issue. In most jurisdictions where a clear choice was on the ballot, voters rejected the change the left has been seeking. Except in Seattle and King County, that is, where high taxes, big-government regulation, and an increasingly business-unfriendly climate again carried the day.
The message local voters sent to Olympia is that drinks are on the house and the bar is open. Just how long will it be before they run out of somebody else’s money? And who should wonder why Boeing is saying “See ya!” Nationally, politicos who support big-ticket, high-tax measures like Obama Care and cap and trade (really cap and tax) and ideas like card check had better take pause. Where the thinking behind these measures was implicitly on the ballot, notably New Jersey and Virginia, they lost.
In New Jersey, the breathtakingly unpopular liberal Gov. Jon Corzine was ousted in a race that was supposed to be close, but wasn’t. In the Virginia governor’s race, the more conservative Bob McDonnell gave an electoral smack down to the more liberal Creigh Deeds that bordered on the humiliating. In both states President Obama made several campaign appearances for the loser.
Voters said they don’t want business as usual, and they crossed party lines or voted differently than they did a year ago in order to send the message. One McDonnell ad that resonated with them stressed low taxes, minimal regulation, and keeping Virginia a right-to-work state. Jobs, baby! Independent voters did a 180, while the always youth vote, which rarely materializes, didn’t show up. Seattle and King County excepted, voters were ornery, and, like in Maine on gay marriage, they balked at the politically correct thing.
But this election was not about the resurgence of the Republican party. We saw that in upstate New York's 23rd congressional district, where wearing a party label doesn’t cut it when you have a track record only Nancy Pelosi would love. Ask Dede Scozzafava, the moderate Republican who pulled out of the race. The New York state message is that free-market, low-tax, limited-government voters will no longer tolerate being kicked to the curb for the sake of “party unity.”
Brand loyalty no longer matters because there’s no trust in the brand. We don’t get our news from the same old untrustworthy sources, and we don’t trust a party label to deliver on policies we want and need. Maybe this explains why many are peeling away from the Republican Party and identifying themselves as independents, the bloc of voters who decide races.
In the past year, we’ve seen an unprecedented rise in conservative and libertarian grass-roots activism. Tea parties and Congressional health care town hall meetings that scare the daylights out of elected officials have shown individual voters that they can make a difference, if united. Party elites who mistakenly regard the sentiment expressed at them as an endorsement of the party or their leadership are clueless.
It’s not the party label that matters in this changed climate so much as the issues. Party leaders better figure this out. It’s time for them to do the bidding of those who cast the votes, walk the precincts, and write the $50 and $100 campaign checks. “You need us more than we need you,” is their message. It’s going to be rough and messy. The people taking power back from politicians are prepared to lose a few skirmishes, as with the final vote in NY-23, electing a Democrat, in order to win the war.
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