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Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Tuesday there was a special election in New York to fill the seat of Representative Christopher Lee, who resigned after posting compromising photographs of himself on the web. The district is heavily Republican (+6), and yet the Democratic candidate came from behind and won. How did that happen?

Some people will claim that it was because in addition to the Republican candidate, there was a Tea Party candidate who received 9% of the vote. And indeed, if all of those votes had gone to the GOP, the Republican would have won. But there is no guarantee that Tea Party voters would always vote Republican any more.

As Nate Silver points out, even if all those Tea Party votes had gone to the Republican, it would have been a bad night for them. The Republican would have won (in a heavily GOP district) but not by nearly as much as they should have. The GOP should have held that seat by 12 points, but instead they lost it by 6.

The reason? The Democrats ran against Paul Ryan’s budget proposal, which included huge changes to Medicare. No Republican dares criticize Ryan’s proposal, even if it means death to their election chances — we saw what happened when Newt Gingrich mildly criticized it. The irony is that this proposal has absolutely no chance of being implemented, so why would any politician sacrifice their career for it?

Will we see open revolt in the normally lock-step Republican rank and file? For their sake, I hope so.



  1. Laurie wrote:

    Remember when we voted for the ‘best’ candidate &/or ideas?
    Seems like we now are forced to vote against the ‘worst’.
    The waters are muddy my friends.

    (This is not a commentary on any one in particular, merely a random observation)

    Wednesday, May 25, 2011 at 9:00 am | Permalink
  2. Dave TN wrote:

    Either the republicans will march lock step over the cliff like lemmings following the Paul Ryan proposal, or they will actually listen to ALL of their constituents’ instead just hearing the tea party Koch lead party line.

    Wednesday, May 25, 2011 at 9:29 am | Permalink
  3. Jeff wrote:

    I think it’ll like take them into the next campaign cycle to get their act together. They put to much faith in one piece of legislation, a rookie mistake that’s going to cost them this time around. People won’t get tired of defending their medicare like they get tired of hearing about budgets, taxes, recessions, and jobs. It hits too close to home.

    The Ryan budget has pretty much secured a second term for Obama and a takeback of the House by the Dems.

    Wednesday, May 25, 2011 at 10:10 am | Permalink
  4. starluna wrote:

    You all might be interested in this:

    The video is more interesting than the article (which is not very well written).

    Woodall and others who argue that Medicare should be dismantled are people who have apparently not studied the history of Medicare (or Social Security) to understand how incredibly important it was in both improving the health and lives of seniors and their families.

    Wednesday, May 25, 2011 at 10:26 am | Permalink
  5. Jason Ray wrote:

    Republicans have been committing exactly the same mistake the Democrats made in 2009 – mistaking voter anger at the current US condition as a mandate to implement their (extreme) vision. People are wildly unhappy about the country’s direction, fiscal condition, and future stability and the solution is NOT to try and ramrod through an extremist agenda.

    The situation is made much more complicated because there is no long term solution without making major changes in something a large number of people think is “untouchable”. If there was ever a set-up for a real third party breaking through, this is it. It is unfortunate that there are no really good examples of a third party (or a third party leader) visible at this moment.

    What I think we’ll see is Republicans in vulnerable races starting to distance themselves from whatever looks toxic. The Republican’s are in a bad place because they are also vulnerable to attacks from the Tea Party side, which means anything they do to move closer to the Tea Party – or the center – will significantly alienate the other side. Not too many Democrats have that kind of pressure from the extreme left.

    My prediction is that Obama will win a second term by a decent margin, and that the House and Senate will remain divided. Which side has a majority matters less than the fact that NO party is likely to have 60 dependable votes in the Senate, so whether the Democrats take back the House, or the Republicans just lose a little of their majority, probably won’t mean much.

    The biggest question in my mind is what comes out of the Biden talks now that the “Gang of Six” is a gang of 5. Will we see a deal like the Bush tax cut extension, where each side slathers on their extreme desires and the combination gets through? Or will we see a deal like the 2011 budget, where everyone huffed and puffed and then basically didn’t do anything of consequence. Or, most unlikely of all, will we see some real leadership and get something proposed that is solid, meaningful, and moves the country in the right direction? Pure partisanship says the debt ceiling deal should collapse so that both sides can use it as ammunition against the other, regardless of the terrible damage it will inflict on the country.

    I only hope and pray that we see enough wiser heads prevail.

    Wednesday, May 25, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Permalink
  6. ebdoug wrote:

    I have lived in district 26 since 1973. This is rural uneducated. I had someone say to me once that she doesn’t vote but if she did, she would vote Republican (without knowing anything about the person running or the issues) I went to a meeting once because one of my tax clients asked me. I found the people working in the Democratic office knew nothing about Obama. I was floored.
    Next to me is very rural county. I thought it was ironic that Jack Davis (the spoiler) got 14.5% of the vote. He has always been a Republican except when he wasn’t. My guess was this rural county when given the choice of two woman was going to pick the man. Women belong uneducated in the home.
    Here I was glued to this election. I took my neighbor to the dentist “Are you going to vote?” “Vote? Didn’t we just have an election?” Oh, my. In my county and the one above about 8000 voted in each county. The Republican Corwin won every area except Buffalo. Sad commentary on the lemmings.
    Above our town Web Site that I maintain. If you scroll down you can see how beautiful and isolated we are.
    Stay tuned. We have a beautiful town hall addition going on because the former Town Supervisor committed malfeasance out of ignorance and collected way too much taxes. (She brought the town to 100%assessment. I’m telling everyone not to worry as she would drop the tax rate. It was quite a few years before the County government caught up with her and she had to drop the tax rate. We had enough for a new addition. Not the million dollar one she wanted. She was voted out of office and, I’m sure, still does not know why)

    Wednesday, May 25, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Permalink
  7. ebdoug wrote:

    Whoops, I thought the Web Site would show up.

    Wednesday, May 25, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Permalink
  8. Bard wrote:

    ““Are you going to vote?” “Vote? Didn’t we just have an election?””

    The sad thing is that it’s not something limited to uneducated counties.

    Wednesday, May 25, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Permalink
  9. Morrius wrote:


    The Democrats forced a vote on the GOP healthcare plan, and it was defeated 57-40. The five Republicans who jumped ship were Scott Brown(MA), Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe(ME), Lisa Murkowski(AK)(remember her?) and Rand Paul(KY). Rand voted no because it didn’t go far enough.

    Wednesday, May 25, 2011 at 8:04 pm | Permalink
  10. ebdoug wrote:

    I was just thinking of Scott Brown yesterday. He may be a Republican, but he isn’t going to toe the party line. Snowe and Collins have always been Moderates. I was certainly routing for Murkowski to get rid of Miller when Murkowski staged her write in vote.
    By the way, back to 26th district: Again the Independent line supported the Republican. Someone is paying someone a lot of money. I’ll stick to”unaffiliated”

    Thursday, May 26, 2011 at 6:16 am | Permalink
  11. Anonymous wrote:

    When Scott Brown was elected, the right-wing machine declared all future elections were done. Because he was elected in Lefty-ville, it was a clear indication that Americans were on track with Republican policies. Scott Brown was a shining beacon of conservativism. Changing the face of America. Blah blah blah.

    Then something went wrong. He didn’t follow the hard right policies. He voted outside the block.

    And that’s why I think Scott Brown’s political career is over. Most Democrats won’t vote for him in general, unless the D candidate is a convicted serial killer. And the right are now eating him alive (RINO, closet socialist, etc.).

    Thursday, May 26, 2011 at 6:54 am | Permalink
  12. starluna wrote:

    Scott Brown is not an independent. He votes with the Republicans 95% of the time.

    I have had personal experience with Brown. He is an opportunist. And a jerk.

    Brown is conservative opportunist who won not because of any swell in conservativism/ Tea Party fanaticism in MA but because of poor and incompetent campaigning by Martha Coakley, generic sexism in our Democratic political machine, and complacency on the part of our GOTV organizations. And rain.

    Thursday, May 26, 2011 at 7:34 am | Permalink
  13. TENTHIRTYTWO wrote:

    I completely agree with you, and that was kind of my point. 95% is not good enough to wear the Republican brand. It is 100% or nothing. But was funny to see how quickly the tides shifted (from the next Reagan to a card carrying commie) on that 5%.

    Once I saw that Coakley referred to a Red Sox hero as a Yankee fan, I was pretty sure she was toast.

    Thursday, May 26, 2011 at 9:42 am | Permalink
  14. Jason Ray wrote:

    Scott Brown is unlikely to survive the general election against a good Democrat candidate, so he has to do everything he can to appear moderate from now until then. I don’t think it will be enough, but it depends on who the Democrats put up to run against him. Coakley ran a terrible and arrogant campaign, otherwise she would have won.

    Thursday, May 26, 2011 at 10:13 am | Permalink