Is the Republican victory in the September 2011 special election in the NY 9th Congressional district further enticing an independent presidential candidate in November 2012?
The November 1991 special election for the Pennsylvania Senate seat became a pacesetter for the November 1992 Presidential election. Democrat Harris Wofford – who represented the disenchanted middle class – defeated Republican Dick Thornburgh – a classic establishment candidate – and became the first Democrat to win a US Senate seat in Pennsylvania in thirty years. Wofford, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Labor, defeated Thornburgh, the US Attorney General under Reagan and Bush and twice the Governor of Pennsylvania. Paul Begala and James (“It’s the economy stupid”) Carville ran the campaign, which was dominated by healthcare and the economy. They nationalized the campaign by focusing on President Bush’s domestic failures, and laid the groundwork for Bill Clinton’s 1992 Presidential victory.
The November 2009 gubernatorial victories by Republican challengers Chris Christie – in deep “Blue” New Jersey – and Robert McDonnell – in Virginia – were pacesetters for the November 2010 Federal and State Congressional and Gubernatorial elections. Christie is the first New Jersey Republican to win statewide in 12 years, and McDonnell is the first Republican to enter the Governor’s mansion in Richmond since 2002. Both focused on independent voters, playing down divisive social issues, such as abortion, which used to dominate political campaigns. Instead, they highlighted job creation, foreclosures, taxes and the ballooning deficit, criticizing big government and President Obama’s economic policies. Their campaigns were perceived by voters nationwide as a prelude to – and a text book for – the November 2010 midterm election. They created momentum towards the worst Democratic midterm defeat since WWII.
The January 2010 victory by Republican Scott Brown in the race for the Senate seat of the late Ted Kennedy intensified the momentum, yielding a wave effect all the way to November 2010.
Will the September 2011 NY special election follow in the footsteps of the aforementioned campaigns, producing nationwide ripple effects?
When the middle class and independent voters are apprehensive about the integrity and capabilities of the establishment, and their anger approaches Howard Beale’s “I am mad as hell and I won’t take it anymore,” then policy-makers should be concerned.
If a Republican can win in the NY 9th Congressional District – which had not elected a Republican in 90 years – and in a senatorial race in Massachusetts, then no incumbent is secure.
The defeat of incumbents and candidates who are identified with Obama is further shortening Obama’s coattails. From a coattail President in 2008 Obama has been transformed into an anchor-chained President in 2011, causing an increasing number of Democratic legislators to distance themselves from the White House.
The NY special election centered on the predicament of the middle class: job insecurity, pessimism, deficit, big government, taxes and the price of gasoline. It was another referendum on President Obama’s job performance (including his attitude towards Israel), drawing the involvement of former President Clinton, Governor Andrew Cuomo, organized labor and former mayors Giuliani and Koch. However, even the most articulate establishment reassurance stands slim chance when pitted against the genuine long-term fury of the rank and file electorate.
The anti-establishment rage – targeting the Executive and the Legislature – has highlighted key constructive features of the US political system, which are unique among Western democracies: the central role played by the constituent; the complete separation – and equality – of powers; the full independence of each of the three branches of government; the primacy of legislators’ loyalty to the constituent over loyalty to the party or to the President.
Will the current candidates for the November 2012 Presidential election be able to earn the trust of the middle class and independents? Or, could the outcome and atmosphere of the September 2011, November 2010, January 2010 and November 2009 elections be a springboard for an independent Presidential candidate, who would leverage the leadership draught in both parties, galvanize the dissatisfied independents, and learn from the errors committed by Ross Perrot?