We are less than 24 hours away from the polls opening in Mass. Some final thoughts (unless something really big breaks):
Concerning the Democrat rally yesterday, which I listened to, the crowd was fired up to be sure, at least when Obama took the stage. But as Politico noted, the crowd was mostly college heavy. That is a pretty significant fact. Nothing says narrow campaign than a hall full of not very diverse people. It signals the problems with Coakley’s campaign. She needed to broaden her appeal and she has not done that. Sure, the press today will cover the rally, but it says something about her campaign that she cannot get a diverse group of people to come to a rally.
The rally was strongly partisan. Obama seemed to come to the rally to remind voters that Coakley is a Democrat that is independent. But, do we really think that Coakley will be independent enough to vote against the health care bill? Unlikely. And this is what needs to be discussed: is the rhetoric persuasive? Elections are certainly run in part as to how they look and feel. However, arguments must be made in a campaign, and the public certainly weighs those arguments when going to the polls.
Some of the other rhetoric also seemed odd. Obama blamed Bush for the current economy. I am not sure how much longer such rhetoric–even if it is true–will work. In fact, it is not likely to be working anymore. The problem is that the Democrats have been in control of Congress since before Bush left office. I think the voters know this. To blame Bush then is to blame one’s own party–or at least admit one’s own party is also responsible for the bad economy. In other words, both Republicans and Democrats are to blame for the poor economy. When Obama blames Bush, it may certainly work, but only to a point, and only to the Democrat base. And the anti-incumbent mood in the country reflects the blame both parties are getting. Further, Obama promised the “stimulus” would go a long way to fixing the economy and stem unemployment. It has not worked. The public seems well tuned into this. In 2010, Democrats are going to have to resort to a different argument.
The Health Care Millstone
Obama came to Mass yesterday and rarely mentioned health care. He also repeated the basic campaign messages of the Brown campaign–a big no-no in campaign 101. To pretend that this election is not about the health care proposals in D.C. is to ignore the facts on the local ground in Mass. Brown is campaigning in part as a no vote on the current plans. He made it a central message of his campaign. The health care bill is unpopular nationwide, and in Mass 10 of 17 voters disapprove of either bill. That is not a positive sign for Coakley or Obama, or the Democrat Party moving forward in 2010. It is the health care bill unpopularity that has given Brown a chance to win this election.
Look for Democrats to move forward ignoring/changing debate on health care and moving toward jobs. If the Democrats push through a health care plan though, it will be difficult to explain why they thwarted the will of the people–and being a progressive means taking direction from the people.
Controversial bills can kill a party. Just ask Stephen Douglas.
The Rhetoric of Anger
There is plenty of anger to go around, and both parties are seeking to harness it. Yesterday, Obama dropped his hope rhetoric for the politics of anger. He has become less post-partisan and is not talking like a Democrat. But the talk of fighting for X or fighting for Y is problematic on some level–it means that they are fighting for one part of citizens against another part of citizens. It is a Taming of the Prince in some way because the batle is with rhetoric and not arms. Politics is certainly about division, and people divide over concerns of justice. The potential problem for both parties is that in the fervor to tap into public anger, it is less a rational appeal, and more an emotional appeal, to the people. The Democrats will have a difficult time in using this anger for electoral gain because it is their policies the people are angry about. The Republicans will not be able to harness the angry electorate unless they come up with a positive message (that is they stand for something instead of against something in general).
Both parties should craft a more moderate and reasonable message for 2010. If the Democrats pass the health care plan, Republicans will likely need to do little except cash in on the anti-Democrat sentiment in the public. [side note: the argument that the people will come to love health care and the new entitlement does not work since the plan does not really kick in until years down the road. Taxes will be high, and the public will not see any material benefit. Democrats really cannot wait 4 years for the public to realize the benefits of health care–it will kill the party if they try it]. But, for the unity of the Union, a reasonable debate on policies and issues is better than whipping the public into a frenzy. That is called demagoguery. A responsible party would downplay anger and appeal (more) to the reason of the citizenry. Pitting one part of the citizenry against another part is not good for the republic.
But if I read the ABC News report on anger correctly, the President and Coakley are slow to recognize that the anger is directed at both parties. When their rhetoric does not demonstrate a bit of mea-culpa to it, the voters will be less likely to vote for the party (canddiates) that appear “not to get it.” It may have been a big mistake for Obama to not recognize only half of the anger of the citizens–the other half is directed at Democrats. Here is Brown’s most recent speech. The differences (in tone and substance) between Obama and Brown is pretty stark.
Obama is talking a lot about how Wall Street is raking it in at the expense of main street. I am not sure this class warfare stuff will gain Dem candidates much in the long run. Why? Because most people are in the stock market, and right now they see their portfolios increasing. If the rhetoric from the leadership is to punish the people that are making retirement accounts, etc., increase, it may backfire. Obama and Coakley really hit the class warfare theme hard Sunday. The other problem with this type of rhetoric is that it reminds the voters that the Democrats have been in charge for almost 2 years, and still the rich get rich. Why are there still problems with the banks and Wall Street that they have not cleaned up? It is an obvious question that the Dems need to answer better. However, voters are not necessarily pro Banks and Wall Street unqualifiedly. They are suspicious (envious?) of those classes, and are willing to soak the rich if it means it lines their pockets in some way. So, the classic class warfare rhetoric is a Dem staple, but in these times, it may actually work against them since they are, indeed, in charge.
PJM and PPP released polls in the last 24 hours. Both have Brown over 50%. Almost all polls have brown above 50% now. Some are within the margin of error, while other also capture a slight Coakley uptick in numbers. Both Coakley and Brown have lost in their favorability ratings, but Coakley’s unfavorables are higher than her favorables. That spells almost sure defeat. The PPP poll even notes how excited pro-Brown people are. That means Brown’s supporters will turn out tomorrow. Will the Democrats? It is Coakley’s only hope at this point (again barring a crisis of confidence in Brown in the voting booth).
Advantage Brown, even though the Kos/Research 2000 poll has the candidates tied (at the moment that poll is a big outlier, and probably because the poll was conducted over the weekend! That means Democrats were likely oversampled, and Brown supporters under-sampled).
Even if Coakley wins, the lessons from this election should hit the Democrats & Republicans hard. This election should not be this close. A Democrat should have a lock on the election. Alas, we go into tomorrow not knowing who will win, with a Republican ahead in the polls, but the polls don’t vote.