Obama goes to Allentown

Not my musical tastes but relevant to the Democrats’ current electoral woes… Have the Democrat’s prospects in the upcoming mid-term elections improved? They remain dire. The upcoming special elections in Pennsylvania and Hawaii are likely to be lost by the Democrats. The Pennsylvania special election is in the 12th district in the former steel-making and coal mining region of south western Pennsylvania (Allentown is not actually in the district but it’s metaphorically close as a Pennsylvania blue-collar town, and  on Pennsylvania steel see And the Wolf Finally Came). Pennsylvania-12 district was the only one to vote for John Kerry in 2004 and John McCain in 2008. In Hawaii a defeat would be the result of there being two Democratic candidates but in Pennsylvania-12 21% of self-identified Democrats plan to vote Republican and 21% of Democrats also want health care reform repealed. Democratic electoral strategy seems to focus on appealing to those voters who backed Obama strongly in 2008. Democratic National Committee chair is quoted by Mike Allen:

“[DNC] Chairman Tim Kaine is expected to lay out in a speech Wednesday the party’s latest plan to energize its base and appeal to such distinct groups as African-Americans, Latinos and younger voters … Democratic Party officials say they are not leaving white voters behind … But to stave off anticipated losses in the midterm elections … they have to bring out a large percentage of Americans who voted for the first time in 2008, half of whom were black, Latino or young voters. Mr. Kaine, in the prepared text of his speech, calls this ‘our first priority’ and says it could bring a gain of 2% to 4% of votes cast in key races, ‘which is a significant margin.’”

Marc Ambider is I think largely correct:

The Democrats midterm message is easy to understand: we’ve done things to help you, and Republicans are obstructionists for the sake of politics, want to bring back failed Wall Street friendly ideas, and are increasingly captive to the Tea Party audience. This is a good message for the core of the Obama coalition, but does it work for the midterm electorate — particularly this midterm electorate? Obama ran on a fundamental promise to make government work for the better, and Republicans believe they’ve blocked him from achieving that goal, and that the economy, combined with their own scorched earth strategy, has left voters extremely skeptical of government intervention again. Midterms are about noise, not volume; usually, the most exercised partisans and their lackeys will react against the president in power, creating a referendum of sorts. Voters tend to be older and whiter. The new Democratic platform does little to recognize this demographic. The party is getting annihilated among whites, even in states like California. Declaring that the Democrats are the party of accomplishments is one thing, but it really does not matter to swing voters in all those House seats straddling the Appalachian Trial, the industrial Midwest and the Rocky Mountain region that the U.S. is once again beloved in the world, that Obama is a man of science, or that he appointed a Latina to the Supreme Court.

Ambider’s comment reminds us of an unresolved question in American electoral studies. Republicans are wealthier than Democrats, but liberal Democrats are wealthier than conservative Democrats. In the post-2008 euphoria many liberals forgot that there are still many conservative Democrats and plenty of these are in Pennsylvania-12. Thus the United States Studies Centre should have funded my grant application on this ! On the other hand do I really want funding from an organisation that employs Tom Switzer?
Obama won in 2008 because large numbers of 2004 Bush voters changed their vote because they were unhappy with the Republicans’ record in government. It is true that the Democrats have outmaneuvered the Republicans recently on key legislative issues such as health care reform and financial regulation. in Australia Kevin Rudd has been politically outmaneuvered by an opposition that has modelled itself on Republican tactics of obstruction. However Rudd is likely to be easily reelected whereas the Democrats will suffer major losses. The question is what happens if the Democrats lose their House majority? I see almost no consideration among liberals of what what would happen after this. Mathew Yglesias is an exception:
My prediction is for huge Republican gains in the midterms followed by lots of talk about conservatism on the upswing and Obama’s need to readjust followed by a bunch of gridlock and Obama cruising to re-election.

This is largely accurate. By 2012 the political rewards of economic recovery will be clear. Conservative commentary about the emerging economic recovery even now is beginning to take on a somewhat delusional air.

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