A few observations on Tuesday’s elections, with a hat tip to my colleagues Paul Rogers and Ken McLaughlin for their thoughts:
CALIFORNIA GOP: Tuesday’s results seem to be a vindication and victory for the “Brulte Doctrine,” spelled out by the state GOP chairman at his party’s convention in March: Don’t waste much effort trying to win unwinnable statewide races, but instead rebuild the party by “grinding it out on the ground” in local races – a strategy that will take several election cycles to bear larger fruit.
Despite their buzz, Ashley Swearengin and Pete Peterson couldn’t make it happen statewide: as it stands now, it looks like a 5.6-point loss for Swearengin in the controller’s race and a 5-point loss for Peterson in the secretary of state’s race. Those are respectable losses but losses nonetheless, and I submit that the GOP putting more money and party resources behind them might actually have resulted in wider margins of loss – I think they did this well in part by distancing themselves from partisanship.
Instead, Brulte’s GOP concentrated on denying Democrats their legislative supermajorities – and now it’s “mission accomplished” in the state Senate while the Assembly still hangs by a thread as vote-by-mail ballots are counted.
In doing so, the GOP is hatching a new generation of up-and-comers. Exhibit A: Catharine Baker, who at this hour is up 3.8 points over Democrat Tim Sbranti in the East Bay’s 16th Assembly District race. Baker, an attorney hailed as a cream-of-the-crop “California Trailblazer” at her party’s convention in March, was far outspent by Sbranti, who already had some name recognition among the electorate as Dublin’s mayor. But GOP officials and activists came from around the state to pound the pavement for her, and it looks like it could pay off with the first Bay Area Republican sent to Sacramento since Guy Houston was term-limited out (in the same part of the East Bay) in 2008.
CONGRESS: Anyone who’s surprised that Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate and gained seats in the House isn’t very well-versed in history. A two-term president’s party almost always loses ground in his sixth-year midterm.
Sure, President Barack Obama’s job-approval rating stood at 42 percent (per Gallup) on Tuesday. And President George W. Bush’s job approval was at 38 percent in November 2006 as Democrats picked up five Senate seats and 31 House seats, making Harry Reid the new Senate Majority Leader and Nancy Pelosi the new House Speaker. And President Ronald Reagan was riding high with a 63 percent job-approval rating in November 1986 (although he was about to take a precipitous dive as details of the Iran-Contra scandal came to light) as Democrats picked up eight Senate seats, putting Robert Byrd in the driver’s seat, and five House seats to cement the majority they already had.
The exception was President Bill Clinton, who saw his party pick up five House seats in 1998 – a stinging defeat that left Republicans in control but forced Newt Gingrich to resign as Speaker – while the Senate was a zero-sum game. Clinton, under fire for the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal, still was at a 66 percent job-approval rating at the time.
But Bubba always had a way of defying the odds.
MARIJUANA: If Oregon and Alaska got enough younger voters out to the polls in this midterm election to approve marijuana legalization, just imagine what California can do in 2016’s presidential election with an initiative forged in the trial-and-error of four other states’ experiences.
KANSAS: Kansas has had private-sector job growth that lags the rest of the country, and adopted tax cuts big enough to blow a still-widening hole in the state budget requiring school closings, teacher layoffs and increased class sizes – but doubled down with its Republican governor and Republican U.S. Senator. I guess you can lead a Jayhawk to water, but you can’t make it drink…