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Lessons from the silly season


Keith Gaddie December 7th, 2006

Let's take one last look over the shoulder to examine the smoldering wreckage of the 2006 campaigns. Lessons loom for all of us who watch politics or who try to make a coin or two off of the misery of...

Let's take one last look over the shoulder to examine the smoldering wreckage of the 2006 campaigns. Lessons loom for all of us who watch politics or who try to make a coin or two off of the misery of others that is electoral democracy.
 
To wit: "The public is smarter that Karl Rove." White House adviser Rove evidently was hermetically sealed in a mayonnaise jar underneath the front porch of Funk & Wagnalls since noon of 2004. The Bush win in 2004 came after early exit polls showed a John Kerry win.
 
Rove subsequently discounted most polling other than his own, to which he applied some special sort of "Rove Math" to determine political results. Rove held that Republicans would hold Congress in 2006, but the public disagreed, delivering Democratic majorities in both national chambers.
 
"Demographics are not destiny." Despite pronouncements of some Oklahoma Republican operatives that the demographics of Oklahoma could not be denied, demographics were not destiny. It was vehemently argued that Republicans would prevail in major statewide races because of white, churchgoing evangelical types who would "never" vote for a Democrat.
 
 The election eve TvPoll showed incumbent Gov. Brad Henry getting 60 percent support from regular churchgoers and 52 percent from the more-than-once-a-week evangelical crowd. Jari Askins ran behind those numbers in the lieutenant governor race, but led among every group except the more-than-once-a-week crowd, where she took two in five ballots.
 
"Negative campaigning works when it is true and relevant." Efforts to pull down Democratic candidates didn't go far because true content wasn't particularly relevant to voters.
 
Voters didn't really care that much about the Republicans' issues, because they'd heard them all before. Attacking Henry on crime failed because of his efforts to combat methamphetamine production. Henry delivered where it counted for swing voters " tax cuts " and he played bipartisanship to the hilt.
 
"You can say it, but if you can't pay for it, it didn't happen." Where were the Republicans' campaigns? Ernest Istook, Todd Hiett, Bill Case, Gary Jones, Brenda Reneau and James Dunn barely registered on the airwaves, and the organizational failures of some of these campaigns are sufficiently well-documented to not merit repeating here.
 
 While Republicans, smitten with a dozen years of success in Oklahoma, may have thought that they had cornered God and prosperity and the benefits that come with same, evidently there wasn't a prayer of raising enough money to run successful statewide campaigns.
 
"The center is back." Voters split their tickets all over the place in Oklahoma, electing Democratic executives and Republican lawmakers, while all over the country voters shifted Democratically in general. Both events mark a political shift to the center, which felt abandoned by the strong-arm, "with-us-or-with-the-terrorists" style of politics that trickled down from the brain of Rove.
 
Put simply, scaring the shit out of people with the "gay Mexican terrorists are coming" campaign doesn't work anymore. The electorate grew numb to entreaties of the neocon/social conservative playbook, which denied a reality evident to a body of voters who evidently are smarter than the hijackers of principled conservatism. - Keith Gaddie
 
Gaddie is a professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma and partner in TvPoll.com.
 
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