The most extreme elections outcomes, such as the 2010 election of Republican Scott Brown to replace Democratic icon Ted Kennedy or the 2011 shocker of Democrat Kathy Hochul’s victory in a conservative stronghold in upstate New York, grab the media spotlight. However, congressional dominance and control of the presidency is usually determined by elections with much less flash and fanfare.
The most recent off-year election provided the Democrats with plenty of reason for hope in 2012 but also indicated areas of concern–and both the flashy and mundane were represented.
The Democrats had a great election where high-profile issues were at the forefront, including the repeal of Republican-supported restrictions to collective bargaining for public workers by a crushing margin of 61% to 39%. The victory for unions even prompted conservative hero Governor Kasich to say, “The people have spoken clearly. They might have said it was too much too soon.”
Similarly, Democrats–and all women–had a major victory when Mississippi’s radical anti-abortion Parenthood Amendment was defeated. The amendment actually attempted to define the term person to include “every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof,” meaning that even the use of the “morning-after pill” would be murder.
Democrats also claimed a less publicized but major victory with the recall of Michigan state Representative Paul Scott. Scott had a record of limiting collective bargaining rights, making it easier to fire teachers, and attacking gays. (Can anyone say Tea Party?)
Those victories make loud and clear statements that when Republicans go too far for even moderates of their own party, defeat will follow. That’s great news for the Democrats since it shows that a clear message and highlighting the extreme nature of many Republican policies can be an effective campaign tactic.
The danger for Democrats in 2012 lies in more subtle elections, where the outcome will turn on less polarizing topics. A good example is a local election in Westmoreland County, which is in southwestern Pennsylvania. While this region supported McCain over Obama in 2008, Democrats outnumber Republicans by over 30,000, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.
Despite the advantage, Republicans had a clean sweep on Tuesday, marking the first time in 60 years that Republicans have had control of the county commissioners board.
When Democrats presidential candidates win in Pennsylvania, it’s typically because the Democratic strongholds of Pittsburgh in the southwestern part of the state and Philadelphia in the southeastern part of the state carry the more conservative areas elsewhere. Think of James Carville’s famous quote, “Pennsylvania is Philadelphia in the east, Pittsburgh in the west, and Alabama in the middle.”
If a poor economy and a general desire for change erodes Democratic support in the key areas of Pennsylvania, as well as other regions of the country where flashy issues are not part of the election, then it could make us quickly forget about the bright sides of any national election.