More Trouble For Democrats In 2010

In the primary elections yesterday held in Indiana, North Carolina and Ohio (all states carried by President Obama in 2008) there was one defining characteristic. Turnout. Democratic turnout was abysmal and Republican turnout was up.

Turnout among Dem voters dropped precipitously in 3 statewide primaries on Tuesday, giving the party more evidence that their voters lack enthusiasm ahead of midterm elections.
In primaries in NC, IN and OH, Dems turned out at far lower rates than they have in previous comparable elections.

Just 663K OH voters cast ballots in the competitive primary between LG Lee Fisher (D) and Sec/State Jennifer Brunner (D). That number is lower than the 872K voters who turned out in ’06, when neither Gov. Ted Strickland (D) nor Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) faced serious primary opponents.

Only 425K voters turned out to pick a nominee against Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC). The 14.4% turnout was smaller than the 444K voters — or 18% of all registered Dem voters — who turned out in ’04, when Gov. Mike Easley (D) faced only a gadfly candidate in his bid to be renominated for a second term.

And in IN, just 204K Hoosiers voted for Dem House candidates, far fewer than the 357K who turned out in ’02 and the 304K who turned out in ’06.

By contrast, GOP turnout was up almost across the board. 373K people voted in Burr’s uncompetitive primary, nearly 9% higher than the 343K who voted in the equally non-competitive primary in ’04. Turnout in House races in IN rose 14.6% from ’06, fueled by the competitive Senate primary, which attracted 550K voters. And 728K voters cast ballots for a GOP Sec/State nominee in Ohio, the highest-ranking statewide election with a primary; in ’06, just 444K voters cast ballots in that race.

The 2010 mid terms really are beginning to look a lot like a slow motion train wreck. Turnout, and the voter enthusiasm that drives it, is the Democrat’s biggest problem. In daily luncheon debates with friends the discussion has turned in recent months from the topic of what might happen in the midterms to a more speculative topic: what alternatives do the Democrats have to save themselves in November? Today House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey announced his decision to retire from Congress. Apparently Chairman Obey sees more obstacles than solutions for his party. As Ed Morrissey noted, it is one thing to retire from Congress after a long career, it is another thing entirely to give up the chairmanship of one of the most powerful political positions in the U S government.

When committee chairs retire, it usually means they don’t expect to remain committee chairs for very much longer. When an Appropriations Committee chair retires — a position considered one of the pinnacles of Congressional power — then that goes double.

One of the most interesting elements of the 2010 midterm campaign is the difference between 1994 and 2010. In 1994 highly organized Republicans united behind a Contract With America agenda led by Georgia Congressman Newt Gingrich. Gingrich acted as both author and voice for that movement that toppled Democrats from decades of power. In the 2010 midterms the energy and voice seems to be emanating from two distinct groups: the Tea Party movement and a general anti incumbent mood in the electorate. The Tea Party is nowhere near as organized as Gingrich’s Contract With America campaign and the National Republican Party apparatus is unfocused and disorganized, yet Republicans enjoy sizeable advantages in the generic ballot and have already won stunning victories in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts. In the midst of this one has to consider the surprising retirements of Evan Bayh, Chris Dodd, Byron Dorgan and David Obey.

One theory at work is that politics are going local again (paraphrasing the late Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill) just two years after the biggest national wave election in recent memory. Or it could be that Americans have opened their eyes to the most liberal administration and Congress in recent memory and decided to resolutely reject policies that are so radically opposed to the way they conduct their own lives?

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