Reading the Electoral Tea Leaves
All eyes, for now, are focused on the gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey. Will those races be referenda on Obama and the Democrats? Yes, to some extent they will. If Republican candidates win those two races, that reflects upon the Democratic Party and its national leader. But off the national media radar, there are plenty of other smaller elections — special elections for state legislative seats — which already show serious political problems for the Democrats.
The following list shows: (1) a particular state legislative seat which has held a special election in 2009; for example, the first race listed is the election results for the 89th District of the Maine House of Representatives, (2) the percentage of the vote that the Republican candidate running in that district received in the 2008 general election last November, and (3) the percentage of the vote that the Republican candidate received in a special election this year in the very same state legislative district.
GOP Vote 11/08
GOP Vote 2009 Special Election
Maine House (89)
New Hampshire Senate (3)
South. Carolina House (30)
New Hampshire House (4)
Pennsylvania House (124)
GOP + 2%
Alabama Senate (7)
Delaware Senate (19)
Florida Senate (28)
Tennessee House (62)
Oklahoma House (65)
The data speaks for itself: in the very same legislative districts, Republican candidates have been doing much better in special elections after Obama took office than Republican candidates did in November 2008, when large numbers of black voters and young voters turned out to elect Obama. The big jump for Republican candidates appears in Red states (Oklahoma, Alabama, South Carolina, and Tennessee), in Blue states (Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maine), and in Purple states (Florida and New Hampshire.)
These little elections across the nation confirm what polling data trends have shown: the nation as a whole is moving away from the Democratic Party and toward the Republican Party; the intensity of Republican voters these days is greater than Democrat voters; and these reach across all parts of the nation.
Some of the Republican wins are real eye-openers. Republicans have never had a state representative from Oklahoma’s 65th District and Delaware’s 19th Senate District has been represented by Democrats for a long time. Democrat dominance had been so strong in those two districts that Republicans did not even field candidates in the 2008 general election. The 30th House District in South Carolina had not been represented by a Republican in thirty years. In several of these races, Republicans lost the state legislative race in November 2008 and then captured the seat in a 2009 special election.
The tea leaves from these little races all over the nation should hearten Republicans and trouble Democrats. Other recent elections, like the surprising Republican win in the Albuquerque mayoral race earlier this month, confirm this trend. Democrats tried hard, when polls in Albuquerque showed that a Republican might actually make the runoff election, to bolster the Democrat front runner. These efforts failed. In yet another Purple state, voters in the largest city in the state have moved away from the Democratic Party and embraced the Republican Party.
But on November 3, 2009, both political parties will know quite a bit more about the strength and consistency of these trends toward the Republican Party. While voters in New Jersey and Virginia are choosing their governors, voters in those states will also be electing state legislatures. If Republicans, who only control one of the four legislative chambers in those two states now, make major gains and maybe capture a legislative chamber in Virginia or New Jersey, that is very good news for Republicans. Virginians will also be electing other statewide elected officials, like Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General, Republican victories, and particularly the size of Republican victories, will tell a great deal about whether Virginia is a Red state once more.
But the careful political eye will look at state legislative races on November 3rd in other states. Alabama, Michigan, South Carolina, Georgia, Missouri, New Hampshire, and Washington will all have special state legislative races on the first Tuesday in November. If Republicans do well in these races, then a general Republican trend will receive powerful new evidence. Republicans, to be sure, will need to stand for something positive and principled. But right now it seems that the average Obama voter in 2008 is, today, apathetic, troubled, and wavering.