Dr. Bob Holsworth laid to rest this Tip O’Neill wisdom during a presentation at the annual gathering of Virginia Democrats yesterday. Bob McDonnell’s Chairman of the Bipartisan Redistricting Commission talked a little about the political environment in Virginia. It will mean much for the future of American politics.
Dr. Holsworth has been struck by the volatility in the last three national elections (2006, 2008, 2010). He characterizes them as wave elections where Democrats ran the table in the Senate in 2006, had the Obama wave in 2008, then in 2009, 2010 there were counter-waves that have been fairly dramatic. Virginia seemed to flow with the national tide. 19 state legislatures changed hands this past election. Holsworth says that this is a reflection of the nationalization of politics. This, he argues, means that the Tip O’Neill maxim can rest in peace. Though there remains some truth to that, it is no longer an extraordinarily good explanation of trends.
40% of the people who voted this past November say that they voted to send a message to President Obama. All of the Democrats found out that they had running mates in Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.
Witness the debates between Deeds and McDonnell; many Holsworth moderated. The sessions always went exactly the same when they were on the same podium, he points out. They would give their five minutes of talking points.
McDonnell would turn to Deeds and say, “Creigh, what do you think of cardcheck? … What do you think of health care reform? … What do you think of cap and trade?”
And Deeds would always respond in very much the same way…get frustrated…and then he’d turn and say, “Bob, we’re running for Governor. We’re not running for US Senator. We’re running for things that Governors do.”
Holsworth says his sense was that though Creeds was right, the audience always responded more positively to McDonnell. Those were the issues that were on the minds of Virginians. “All you have to do is take a look at our culture to see this nationalization occurring.”
Listen to talk radio. The same three hosts…they are everywhere. It doesn’t matter where you are in the country, you hear the same message. I often talk about our own state…NOVA…(people in my business talk about NOVA and ROVA; the rest of Virginia). What’s the media market there for the most part?
Look at 2005 to 2008. The Democratic surge, he argues, corresponds with the plummeting popularity of George Bush. He became a millstone around the necks of Virginia Republicans. Then, in 2009/2010, the national environment shifeds and the rhetoric shifted. Many of those elections were absolutely nationalized. We are, he concludes, more connected to national issues and national trends than ever before. Off-year elections were supposed to separate us from the national trends. But now, if we are only one of two states holding off-year elections, all the media descends upon the state.
Though Holsworth says it is very difficult to predict what this means for 2012, when the wave will end or another begin, his sense is that the Republican wave will ebb. The rhetorical argument will not be received in the same way. In 2010 they could run against Obama, Obamacare, whatever, but they did not have a standard bearer of their own. The dynamic changes considerably because there will be a candidate with whom they will be identified. Finding an individual who can both het the nomination within the Republican Party and defeat Barak Obama will be no easy task. He reminded the audience that although the President’s approval ratings may not be extremely high, they are by no means historically low.
Regarding the 2012 Virginia Senate race he noted that Mo Elleithee thinks there may be 5 viable Democrats for the nomination. Holsworth doesn’t think there are five, but he believes it is more than one. Further, the race will be driven by the national scene. Additionally, the primary appears to have already begun and the Republicans are going to have to negotiate a 17 month primary that could be more heated than some are thinking right now.
Bottom line: Holsworth considers 2010 may have been the highpoint of the Republican wave. Whether the Democrats fully recover by 2012 is to be seen. But no more is Tip O’Neill relevant.