Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Primary 2010 Post-Mortem: We Put the "Goober" in Gubernatorial

What a chore that was.

We have about ten million elected offices here in Texas. Between local, county, state and school board offices, I'm not sure I can even count high enough to enumerate the number of offices I vote for on a regular basis. I know people who vote only for a couple of races at the top of a ticket and skip the rest of the ballot, but I can't roll that way. I have to read each and every bit of the ballot, and make a decision. Which means that it usually takes me a good five, ten minutes to mark the ballot, even when I'm basically picking half of the races at random. (Skipping, picking randomly, same difference ... in the end, those races always get decided by the handful of voters that actually vote for a reason, so the rest of us do no real harm.)

I was wrong about the Republican primary, by the way; it didn't turn on class, but on discontent. Somehow, Perry was able to turn lingering voter discontent against Washington against Hutchison, while simultaneously playing on his experience at the expense of Debra Medina, who was trying for the Tea Party vote. In the end, all Medina ended up doing was to come close to forcing a runoff that she wouldn't have been part of. For all my doubts about Perry's mental acuity, there's little wrong with his political instincts; that was a rather deftly-executed pivot. His commercials set my teeth on edge -- there's that damned outdoorsy jacket again, it comes out every campaign -- but there's no denying their effectiveness. He'll be using that riff for November. Count on it.

But the Democrats aren't running a faceless apparatchik this time. Bill White, the former mayor of Houston, was in a six-man race, but his seventy-plus-percent vote sure doesn't reflect that. A successful businessman, then a successful mayor of Texas' largest city, he's liable to give Perry a run for his money. It's going to be hard to paint White as a tax-hungry business-hater, given that he not only got his start as an entrepreneur, but cut taxes every year while Houston's mayor. It will be curious to see where the lines of attack develop.

The victory speeches give us some clues. Perry will probably keep fanning the flames of discontent towards Washington. White, on the other hand, pointed out how much debt has been added to Texas' balance sheet on Perry's watch. (Mind you, the governor has damn-all to do with that, but the recriminations will be fun to watch.)

Meanwhile, David Dewhurst, the incumbent Lieutenant Governor, cruised unopposed to the Republican nomination, and will face Linda Chavez-Thompson in the general election. This race, as always, will slide completely under the radar even though the Lieutenant Governor is an extraordinarily powerful office by comparison with their colleagues in other states. As I've said before, it's the Lieutenant Governor that really runs the Legislature. A trained monkey could probably do the Governor's job...

Now, to look ahead to the Fall elections ... one thing hasn't really changed from two years ago. The General Election will turn, as the last one did, on voter discontent. Rightly or wrongly, that's probably going to attach to the Democrats. It's happened to the party that's held the Presidency in two previous mid-term elections during economic downturns: 1982 and 1994. In 1982, the Republicans took a drubbing, and in 1994 the Republicans took the House. Bush avoided this in 2002, owing to a lingering rally-round-the-flag effect. That notwithstanding, the trend has generally been for the party that owns the White House to pay a stiff penalty for not turning things around quickly enough. It ain't right or fair, but it is what it is.

That said, the pieces are all on the board for a recovery. So, any talk of a Republican resurgence in 2012 is at best premature. Even if they win majorities in one or both houses, Obama will be able to tack to the center and make them look like loonies. If anything resembling a strong recovery is underway by spring 2012, he'll enjoy all the advantages of incumbency. Our last three two-term Presidents -- Reagan, Clinton, and Bush -- enjoyed improved economic conditions late in their first term that boosted their re-election bids.

Let the Tea Party rave as they will. The economic news between now and early 2012 will set the stage for the next election. If the Dow's up and unemployment's down, it's going to be rough sledding for the Republicans.

1 comment:

Manifesto Joe said...

I am hopeful for White's chances. But Perry, for all his surface buffoonery, seems to have something in common with a fellow buffoon, George W. Bush: He keeps on winning. He has a knack for bringing out his right-wing base, as he did during the primary. The independents may hold the key. I think, and hope, enough of them are tired of having a laughingstock for governor.