Campaigns matter

Posted: Aug 25, 2006 12:01 AM
Campaigns matter

Every election year we are treated to some grandiose theory that will predict the outcome. One instructs us that the party in power in the White House always loses seats in non-presidential election years. Another predicts that the president's party loses badly in the sixth year of an incumbency.

Those old saws are at least rooted in experience, but other election year gimmicks are simply invented. Remember the "angry white males" of 1994? They were a fiction. It turned out that there were no surveys showing that white men were particularly angry that year (except for the media types who were incensed that Republicans won).

How about soccer moms? They were supposed to be the magic that put Bill Clinton in the White House. Not so. Married women gave 41 percent of their votes to Clinton and 40 percent to Bush in 1992. (Perot took 19 percent.) Lately we've heard about the importance of NASCAR dads and security moms. What's next? Let me guess: single Internet addicts.

A great deal of ink has been spilled on the "right track/wrong track" poll results. Some are combining these numbers with the demonstrated anti-incumbent sentiment in a few primary races (Lieberman in Connecticut, Murkowski in Alaska) to predict a very turbulent year for incumbents. But the right track/wrong track question is a Rorschach test. Analysts as well as those polled see in it what they wish to see.

The question, posed in a variety of ways by different polling companies, asks whether voters think that "in general, the country is moving in the right direction or is off on the wrong track." In November 2004, 51 percent said the country was off on the wrong track, and yet the incumbent president was re-elected by a comfortable margin. Today, the wrong track number is considerably higher, at 71 percent. Yet it isn't clear that this dissatisfaction works exclusively to the Democrats' advantage. It may be that voters are dissatisfied over federal spending, or gay marriage, or the state of the culture.

If the Democrats are going to take the Congress in November, it will be on the strength of issues, and as a result of particular campaigns, not on some mythical swing voter group or the six-year itch.

Democrats are hoping that disillusionment with the war in Iraq will launch them to victory -- though their other hoped-for theme, "the culture of corruption," froze to death in Rep. William Jefferson's freezer. Democrats also cobbled together a Contract with America lite called "A New Direction for America" that would take America in quite an old direction. They would reverse the Bush war on terror in favor of a defensive crouch ("fully man, train and equip" our first responders), provide taxpayer subsidized college tuition "for all" and "stop any plan to privatize Social Security."

If Republicans do lose the House and Senate in 2006 (and I predict they will not), it will not be due to that stirring Democratic platform. Instead, it may be the case that the GOP base is simply too exasperated with Republican leadership to show up in large numbers. The country remains about evenly split between the parties, so lack of enthusiasm by one side or the other can decide elections.

The Republican base is roiling over two matters: illegal immigration and federal spending, specifically earmarks. The failure of immigration reform can plausibly be laid at the feet of Democrats in Congress. Earmarks are another matter. According to National Review, earmarks have grown tenfold since 1995. As the Christian Science Monitor reports: "When Republicans took over the House in 1995, there were five earmarks in the Labor, Health and Human Services bill, amounting to $2.4 million. By FY 2005, the number of earmarks attached to this bill had soared to 3,014 or $1.18 billion." There are a great number of Republican voters who look at those numbers and ask, "Why bother to vote?"

Were it not for the Islamofascists and their tireless struggle to destroy our civilization, Republicans might be looking at disaster in November. As it is, with the Democrats stubbornly opposing the war in Iraq, the detainments in Guantanamo, NSA eavesdropping on al Qaeda calls and the Patriot Act, it seems the Republicans may slip back into office -- though narrowly.