Another Big Election Already? - Government
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SECTION: Government

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Another Big Election Already?

By Daniel B. Fisher

Article Date: 01-01-2010
Copyright(C) 2010 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.

The midterm election will test Obama’s strength and the ability of the Republicans to get their act together.

You’re probably wondering why you are reading an article on the 2010 midterm elections when it feels like Barack Obama was just elected president a short time ago. There is no doubt that 2009 flew by. It seems like it was just yesterday that we met Joe the Plumber and the country was reacquainted with Bill Ayers.

However, preparation for the 2010 campaign began the day the 2008 election results were finalized. Immediately, recently elected representatives and senators up for re-election in 2010 started to hold fundraisers, scout out their opponents, and lay the groundwork for the next campaign. Unsuccessful candidates (mostly Republicans) began preparing rematches. And of course, all those who follow politics look to the midterm election of a new president’s first-term as a test of his popularity.

The Lay of the Land 

There is no doubt the 2010 election is shaping up to be a tough one for incumbents. Despite winning overwhelmingly in November 2008, according to Gallup, President Obama’s job approval has gone from 67 percent approving of his job performance and 19 percent disproving in February 2009 to 49 percent approving of his job performance and 44 percent disproving at the beginning of December 2009.

With the Democrats controlling both chambers of Congress by substantial majorities and holding the White House, the sputtering economy and high unemployment rates are going to pose a huge problem for Democrats unless the situation improves dramatically during the next year. Additionally, as in 2008, the American people seem to be fed up with the inability of Democrats and Republicans to come together to solve key problems, despite President Obama running on a platform of unity and getting things done.

In 2008, Democrats won many congressional seats long held by Republicans. In fact, Democrats now represent 14 of the 25 most affluent congressional districts in the country, almost tripling their total held in 1995. Most of these Democrats are members of the Blue Dog or New Democrat Coalitions, groups for moderate and conservative Democrats. One example is freshman Rep. Mike McMahon (D-NY), who holds a seat previously occupied by Republicans in a district that John McCain actually won in 2008.

Similarly, freshman Rep. Walt Minnick (D-ID) won a seat in one of the most Republican districts in the country located in Idaho, one of the most conservative states. John McCain carried Idaho by over 25 percent of the vote.

Realizing the tough re-election ahead of him, McMahon took a stand against his party by voting against the House health care legislation. Minnick has joined Republicans on every key vote. McMahon, Minnick, and other Democrats representing heavily Republican areas are considered particularly vulnerable this election cycle. In fact, former Rep. Bill Sali (R-ID) who lost to Minnick in 2008, is heading toward a rematch with Minnick in 2010.

The 2008 election also saw Democrats score major victories by winning Senate seats previously held by Republicans. Senate seats in North Carolina, New Mexico, Colorado, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Virginia, Alaska, and Oregon all were taken from the Republicans. Fortunately for these freshman Democrats, they are not up for re-election until 2014.

As with any election, the 2010 midterm contests will be about turnout. Can the Democrats get the liberal base out to vote? Will the Republicans be able to fire up the conservatives? Already, liberal Democrats in Congress have warned the Obama administration that the base might not turn out the way they did in 2008 because of unhappiness with Democratic leadership in Congress and in the White House. During the summer, the Obama administration backed off its demand for a strong public option in health care legislation, a top-priority for liberals in his party. Additionally, the administration’s decision to send more troops to Afghanistan and the inability of President Obama to quickly close Guantanamo has dismayed many Democrats.

While liberals are disappointed, conservatives appear to be energized. With the unprecedented federal deficit, conservatives seem more motivated than in 2010 to make a difference at the polls. However, the Republican Party appears to be lacking leadership and a unified message in opposition the Democrats.

With the exception of President George W. Bush in 2002, recent history shows midterm elections in a president’s first term are painful. Just ask President Bill Clinton, who witnessed his party lose 54 House seats in 1994, in what is known as the "Republican Revolution." The question is, how will President Obama fare? 

Recent "Tests"

The first big test of President Obama’s political strength was seen on Election Day 2009 when Republicans won governors races in Virginia and New Jersey. In Virginia, Republican Bob McDonnell, a former state attorney general, soundly beat Democrat Creigh Deeds, a state senator. The win was notable because Republicans have not held the governorship in Virginia since 2002, and in recent years Democrats have made substantial gains in Virginia by holding both Senate seats and occupying six of Virginia’s 11 Congressional seats. President Obama beat Senator John McCain in Virginia by more than six percentage points in 2008.

More surprising than McDonnell’s victory in Virginia was the Republican triumph in New Jersey. Former U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, Chris Christie, gave Republicans the governorship for the first time since 2002 by beating an incumbent Democrat, Jon Corzine, by four percentage points. New Jersey has long been a solid Democratic state with Democrats occupying both Senate seats and eight of 13 House seats. President Obama won New Jersey by over 14 percent in 2008.

President Obama campaigned for both Deeds and Corzine and the results of those two races cannot sit well with Democrats. However, Election Day 2009 was not all bad news for the Dems. They picked up New York’s 23rd congressional seat when Democrat Bill Owens defeated Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman. The election was held to fill the seat of Rep. John McHugh, a moderate Republican who was nominated by President Obama to serve as Secretary of the Army.

It appears some of President Obama’s early magic has worn off and 2010 will be different than 2008. Just how different the results will be depends very much on what Congress has (or has not) done in 2009 and what votes will be taken in 2010.

Tough Votes in 2009

During the 111th Congress, Democratic leadership in the House and Senate has forced their members to take tough votes on controversial issues. Republicans for the most part have been able to hold their caucus together for key votes with few exceptions. In the House, vulnerable Democrats have opposed Democratic legislative priorities to increase their chances of holding their seats in 2010.

Thus far, there have been votes taken on three well publicized, highly contentious pieces of legislation during the Congress. The first bill, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA or "stimulus"), was a massive spending bill aimed at stimulating the economy and retaining (and creating) jobs. While most industry groups, including AED, supported the stimulus bill as necessary to help save an economy on the brink of a depression, fiscal conservatives came out full force in opposition. All Republicans in the House and Senate with the exception of three (Sens. Arlen Specter (PA), Susan Collins (ME), and Olympia Snowe (ME)) opposed ARRA.

The aftermath for those three Republican senators has not been pretty. Not only did the stimulus legislation help to spur a major anti-tax and anti-government movement (the so-called "Tea Party Movement"), but the uproar was one of the main influences for Sen. Arlen Specter leaving the Republican party and joining the Democrats. It is certain, representatives and senators have to live or die with their stimulus vote.

At the end of June, the House considered the American Clean Energy and Security Act ("climate change" bill). The legislation, strongly supported by environmentalists, is a priority of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and President Obama. However, the legislation is universally opposed by business and industry groups because of the large increase in business taxes that will result if it becomes law. The climate change bill passed the House 219-212 with 44 Democrats joining all but eight Republicans in opposition to the legislation. Democrats from energy producing states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio were dreading the vote on the climate change bill and for the most part, sided with the Republicans in opposition. Given the controversial nature of the climate change legislation, it will undoubtedly be a major campaign issue, especially if the Senate considers its own version of the bill in 2010.

Finally, the big topic of the Congress so far has been health care. Health care legislation has dominated the agenda in both the House and Senate for most of the year. In the fall, the House passed the Affordable Health Care for America Act 220-215, with the help of one Republican. Thirty-nine Democrats opposed the legislation. As CED went to press in mid-December, the Senate was beginning consideration of a health care bill. Whether or not the Senate approves legislation, health care is sure to be a hot topic in 2010, with those opposing the legislation feeling the wrath of the left and those supporting the bill getting hit on the right.

The Months Ahead

While there is plenty of ammunition from the 111th Congress thus far for both Democratic and Republican challengers to use against incumbents in the midterm elections, more tough votes are likely to come at the beginning of 2010. Generally, congressional leaders do not like members of their caucuses to take tough votes in an election year. However, because Congress has been so pre-occupied with a small number of issues and there are little accomplishments to show for their work, tough votes are expected until August.

The Senate must still vote on health care and climate change legislation. There are also a number of tax issues that both chambers are going to need to deal with in 2010 because of the expiration of the 2001 Bush tax cuts, including the estate tax. All votes on tax proposals will pit Democrats against Republicans and bring out the Tea Party Movement. Hopefully, Congress will turn to considering increases in the gas tax to pay for highway investment (one of AED’s top legislative priorities), which will surely be a fight between anti-tax Republicans and pro-infrastructure Republicans and Democrats.

One wildcard in 2010 includes the possibility of a Supreme Court fight. With five of nine Supreme Court justices over 70 years old, a retirement during the summer is possible. There is nothing like a good Supreme Court nomination battle to fire up the conservatives and liberals and to rally the base of both parties. In past years, conscience issues that the Supreme Court often considers, such as abortion, gay rights, affirmative action, and school prayer, bring the base to the polls in the next election. If there is a Supreme Court battle in 2010, there is no telling the effect it could have on the electorate.

No matter what the agenda, the early part of 2010 is shaping up to be a political blood bath, which means those running in the midterm elections will have a record to run on and defend against opponents.

There are No Guarantees in Politics

In politics, a year is a long time. Much can change between now and November, but the tide is definitely turning in favor of the Republicans. If elections were held today, it is likely the Republicans would come close to taking back the House, but would still be well-short of taking the Senate.

While there are no guarantees regarding what will happen when the midterm elections come around, one thing is for sure – now is a great time for AED members to get involved.

You will never find a politician more responsive to constituents’ needs and recommendations than in an election year. Get involved. Now is the time to contact your representatives and senators, especially if they are up for re-election, and discuss the issues important to you. Invite your member of Congress to visit your facility. Come to Washington to meet with your senator. Send a letter to the editor of your local paper commending or chastising your representative for his or her vote on health care. Work with your equipment industry colleagues to organize an ImPACt 2010 fundraiser. There are many ways to get involved and AED is here to help you.

Before the ads start dominating the airwaves, the smear campaigns begin, and a porn star runs for the Senate,* make a difference and get involved.

111th Congress

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