Here are my own election winners and losers, plus some “too early to tell” entries.
Barack Obama. Duh. This Hawaiian born and bred biracial intellectual with minimal experience has become perhaps the most unique and remarkable politician in American history. Now we’ll see if he can fix the mess that George Bush and congressional Republicans have made of this country.
Michelle Obama. The Right tried to demonize her into being an anti-white angry black woman who does terrorist fist bumps with her pals-with-terrorists husband. But like her husband, the more you saw of her, the better you felt about her.
I think she benefitted from not being a silent trophy wife; her speech at the Democratic National Convention and numerous media appearances showed her to be articulate, smart, and personable. I have no doubt that America is embracing her as the new First Lady.
Democrats in the Southeast: Who would have predicted even two years ago that a black Democratic presidential candidate would win in Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida? And how about the fact that Virginia and North Carolina both sent Democrats to the US Senate this year?
The bottom line is, the southeast has become a new battleground for the parties, after being owned by Republicans the prior two elections. And they could have more success there in the future, if they play their cards right.
Democrats in the Industrial Midwest: The last two northern Democrats to be nominated as presidential candidates were both from Massachusetts. They both lost. This year a candidate from the Midwest gave it a try, and found success.
Observers are saying that the proximity of red states like Iowa and Indiana to Obama’s “home” state of Illinois was a factor in his victories there. I bet that a lot of Democrats from the Midwest are looking at themselves in the mirror and thinking, maybe I’m next.
At least, Obama’s victory disturbs the conventional wisdom that only a southern Democrat has a chance of winning a presidential election.
Organized Labor: Make no mistake, labor put a lot of money and manpower into this election. The Democrats’ success in Pennsylvania and other Great Lakes states is owed in part to their efforts.
Now we’ll see what organized labor wants, and how much they can get from Obama and the Congress. A bail-out for the auto industry seems first on the list.
Internet Based Campaigning: The Obama campaign has become a legend in its own time thanks to its masterful use of the Internet to organize, communicate, and raise money. By the next presidential cycle, everybody will be doing it-or at least, they’ll try.
Cornell Belcher and Leah Daughtry: You probably don’t know these two black technocrats who work for the Democratic Party, but you should.
Cornell Belcher is the first African American to serve as polling director for the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Belcher was also a pollster for the Obama campaign. He had the insight that the Democrats could find enough pockets of strength that even a black man could win the presidency. And he was right. (Although he would be the first to say that the toxic environment for Republicans was a huge key to this election.)
Brooklyn’s own Leah Daughtry was the CEO of the Democratic Convention in Denver. After some grumbling in the press that Convention planning wasn’t going well, Daughtry went on to run a flawless event that saw the party unify and set the stage-almost literally, with Obama’s acceptance speech in a football stadium-for Democratic election victories this month.
And African Americans should observe that, contrary to the idea that Democrats take them for granted, qualified folks from their community are being given positions of power “behind the scenes” in the Democratic Party. (And kudos to outgoing DNC Chairman Howard Dean for his efforts to diversify the party organization.)
Hispanic Voters: Obama won 66% of the Hispanic vote. I understand that the Obama campaign invested heavily in media buys targeted at Hispanic voters. And the campaign benefitted from the support of New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, who helped spearhead Hispanic outreach efforts in his own state and the West.
Now we’ll see how the Democrats reward them. And Hispanics will be looking for payback-because if they don’t get it, Republicans will be only too happy to take advantage of their discontent.
The Southern Strategy: The Republican strategy of using racial polarization to win white votes in the South may be reaching the end of its useful life. Barack Obama, a black Democrat, won three Southern states, and got 47% of the vote in Georgia. The South wasn’t solid for the GOP this year.
Meanwhile, there is widespread belief that the Republican’s southern-leaning politics have turned off voters in the North and the West coast, leaving the GOP with less and less territory to eke out a win.
Southern Whites: Outside the South, Barack Obama got almost 50% of the white vote. In the South, he got only 30% of the white vote. In the deep South states of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, Obama got less than 15% of the white vote.
Are white southerners introspective enough to see that they have problems with being so contrarian to the rest of the nation? That certainly hasn’t been their hallmark in the past.
Religious Bigotry in Politics: The serial attacks on Muslims, and North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole’s singularly disgusting “Godless” political ad did not provide any political benefit to the Republicans, and rightfully so. In the case of North Carolina, the “Godless” ad might have back-fired, and increased support for Dole’s opponent, Democrat Kay Hagan, who won NC’s senate race.
I don’t know if this will discourage religious-based attacks in the future, but at least for now, the public has shown they won’t be swayed by such nonsense.
Public Financing of Presidential Elections: Barack Obama broke his promise to accept public funds for his presidential run after the Democratic Convention. And why not? He would have gotten $84 million in matching funds from the government. Instead, he raised over $150 million – in the month of September alone.
Now all future candidates will be looking to see if they can match Obama’s fundraising success. Without some kinds of changes, this might be the end of public financing for presidential campaigns.
Hillary Clinton: A combination of bad policy decisions (voted for the Iraq War); poor campaign strategy (for example, ignored caucus states during the Democratic primaries); and bad luck (who knows what would have happened if Michigan and Florida hadn’t been penalized for early voting) derailed Clinton’s presidential bid. Obama’s win over her is one of the biggest upsets in history.
But she gets credit for being a stalwart campaigner for Obama. She still remains a champion for women in politics. If she were just 4-8 years younger, she’d be the odds-on choice for the next presidential nominee. But it seems she’s decided that this was her first and last run for president.
Fox News and Conservative Talk Radio: They threw everything they could at Obama, but he’s still standing. Fox News is no doubt wondering if anybody in the new White House will give them interviews or return their calls. If life really is fair, the answer would be no.
Frank Luntz: Luntz is a pollster for the Republican Party and Fox News. At a brunch for California delegates to the Republican National Convention in September, he said Republicans shouldn’t get discouraged if John McCain is trailing in the polls, because the “Bradley effect” would make up for some of that.
The Bradley effect refers to the 1982 California gubernatorial election when then Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley was leading in the polls against George Deukmejian. Bradley lost the race. Analysts believe voters lied when they said they’d vote for Bradley, when in fact they were unwilling to vote for a black man.
Luntz thought the same thing would happen to Barack Obama. It didn’t; the final vote numbers pretty much matched the pre-election polls. GOP pollsters need a new way of thinking that doesn’t depend on white voters lying about their willingness to vote for a black man.
Black Republicans: Even before Barack Obama made it big on the political scene, young blacks were aligning with the Democratic Party in increasing numbers. And Obama’s emergence and success will further cement their support for Democrats.
Could this lead to black Republicans becoming a dying breed? It’s way too early to say, but Republicans need to do something or else they might lose a whole generation of black voters to the Dems. And some would argue that it’s already too late.
Too Early to Tell:
Sarah Palin: She’s a unique and charismatic political figure, like Obama. But she lacked Obama’s smarts, looking-ahead ambition, and experience with national politics. She wasn’t ready for this, and the media took to her like a predator going after wounded prey.
With a few years to clean-up her image and learn, she could be a factor. We’ll see.
Black Voters: They were huge this election. Blacks were 13% of the total vote, up from 10% in 2000 and 11% in 2004. That helped make the difference in close elections for several states.
The question is, can they be depended on in future elections? Or will their turnout drop without Obama at the top of election ballots?
I think a lot more work needs to be done to make black voters a dependable election force, in close elections or elections in the South. Because if they’re not a dependable political force, that lessens their power and influence in the long run.
It will be interesting to see how much of the black vote turns out for the Georgia Senate runoff election between Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss and his opponent, Democrat Jim Martin. Martin has no hope of winning if black voters stay home; we’ll see if they sit this one out.
“Pre-Racial” Black Politicians (like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton): We keep hearing that Obama and other young black politicians are ushering in an era of “post racial” politics. I don’t buy it.
Maybe Obama didn’t need guys like Jackson and Sharpton to win. But that’s not what matters in the long run.
In the long run, the black community needs guys like Jesse and Rev Al to bring voice to the voiceless. They’ll challenge Obama on issues relating to lower class blacks, and they should. Somebody has to.
Black Republican Michael Steele: Former Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele is apparently vying to become chairman of the Republican National Committee.
His selection for the top position of the Republican Party would send a strong signal that the GOP is serious about diversity. But Steele is a northern moderate (that’s two strikes); and being an African American probably knocks him out of the box. Right now he must be considered-dare I say it-the dark horse candidate.