Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Saxby Chambliss and Tea Leaves

Senator Saxby Chambliss won easily in the run-off election yesterday in Georgia. Nate Silver, among others, views this as an ominous warning about the 2010 mid-term elections. I don't see it that way. Let's look at what happened yesterday and what's going to happen two years from now. First yesterday's run-off. Start by taking a look at this page from CNN. If you flip back and forth from Nov. 4 result to the run-off election, you'll notice that the county map didn't change all that much. What that indicates is that Martin's collapse comes primarily from lack of turnout a predictable result. Let's look at this race objectively. Chambliss had a whole host of advantages:
  1. He is the incumbent. There are few countries where the incumbency means more than it does in the United States. Martin was always climbing uphill on this one.
  2. Georgia is a red state. While I wouldn't be surprised if Obama puts Georgia in his early crosshairs in 2012, the state still voted for McCain in 2008. Martin got almost the same number of votes as Obama did on Nov. 4. (both were around 46%). Chambliss had McCain's support split off by a third party candidate putting him...
  3. Chambliss was just a few votes shy of 50% the first time around. This was not a reversal of election day or even a dramatic change in fortunes. Chambliss would have won the race on election day in many states. This isn't like Minnesota where the difference may end up being just a couple hundred votes.
  4. The Republican base was energized, the Democrats were not. The Republican base was spurred on by the threat of fillibuster-proof senate. The Democrats rely in Georgia, as they do in many southern states, on the turnout of the African-American community to boost their fortunes. With Barack Obama on the ballot Nov. 4th the Democrats had an easy sell among African-Americans. All across the US African-Americans voted in record numbers this time around. They weren't going to do that for Jim Martin, particularly when Obama wasn't campaigning on Martin's behalf.
So, what can we take out of this for 2010? That in states where a Republican incumbent is running for re-election in a red state where Barack Obama does not show up to support the Democrat, the Republicans may have an easy time of it. I don't think those are the races on the top of the target list for either party. I would expect Obama to be on the stump in 2010. That should energize the base for the Democrats. Two of the most competitive races will be Republican held seats in now blue Florida and New Hampshire. However, if the Republicans are going to make noise in 2010 they are going to have to knock off Democratic incumbents. That is not going to be an easy task. Chambliss victory provides no guidelines for knocking off an incumbent Democratic senator, something I believe the GOP hasn't done since 2004. Only if the GOP goal is to stem their losses is the Chambliss victory at all noteworthy.

Side Note: Do not credit Sarah Palin with this one either. I heard the normally astute David Gergen making this comment yesterday. Yes, she drew some crowds and media attention for Chambliss. However, crowds, like lawn signs, don't vote. Remember Obama's massive crowd under the arch in St. Louis? He lost the state of Missouri on election night.


KC said...

Saxby Chambliss is one of the biggests windbags in the United States Senate but he was always an overwhelming favourite to win the runoff. The third party candidate was a Libertarian and in my experience libertarians care more about liberty over their money than over forms of liberty. Also the lack of Barack Obama on the ballot no doubt hurt. All the factors were stacked in Chambliss' favour.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your post on this one, particularly as this race was in Georgia.

2 years is an eternity in US politics - most any politics anymore.

There may be some things to learn from the race, but I hardly think a Georgia Republican incumbent winning an election in a special run-off race is a harbinger of dire warning.

MoneyBonanza said...
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