The Real Test Is Saturday

First apologies for the absence.  I had hoped to liveblog Tuesday's results, but I have one word for you:  rotovirus.  After my bout with hand/foot/mouth disease two weeks ago all I can say is that life gets interesting after your kid starts pre-school.  They become glorified little germ factories.

Republicans are obviously in relatively high spirits after the thumpin' of incumbent  challenger Jim Martin in Tuesday's special elections.  It was pretty widely expected that Saxby Chambliss would win re-election, but most people expected at best an eight-to-ten-point win (the number I had in my mind).  Chambliss won by about fifteen points.

Reactions and interpretations to the election have been varied.  For a good roundup of reactions, check out MichaelW's post at QandO.  My sense is this:  It is a good datapoint for the GOP, but it is only one datapoint.  It is far too early to conclude that the GOP is on the mend, or that Democrats' standing with the voters has begun to decline.  On the other hand,  I think we have some good evidence for the following:

1) This election is only a datapoint, but it is a useful datapoint -- Although turnout was lower than the general election, this was a very high turnout special election.  Chambliss actually received about 200,000 more votes than he received in the 2002 midterm election, while Martin received about as many votes as Cleland did that year.  In other words, I'm more comfortable with using this election as a datapoint than I am with using most other special elections (not very).

2) "Save the filibuster" is a useful slogan for 2010 -- Democrats are going to have a harder time in the 2010 Senate midterms than many expect right now.  This isn't to say that they are doomed, or are going to lose seats, or anything like that; just that we have some evidence that the size of their majorities poses a potential problem for them.  One of the theories for why the President's party has lost seats in almost every midterm election going back to the Era of Good Feelings is that voters rationally choose to counterbalance the President by beefing up the opposition party.  If this is the case, then the prospect of truly unlimited power for the President's party should act as a significant brake on that party's ability to advance to sixty seats, absent some good luck (eg if the Senate election rotation was timed such that Republicans had open seats in heavily blue states like Rhode Island and California this time around, such that voters there wanted such power for the President, against the wishes of much of the rest of the country).

Polling data show that a good chunk of Martin's voters were concerned enough about the prospect of a filibuster-proof Democratic majority to call into question whether they would vote for him.  We don't know how many of Chambliss's voters in the special election echoed this concern, but given the Rasmussen result, we may be able to infer that they are not inconsequential in number.  And that's at a time when Obama has approval ratings in the 60s, something that is unlikely to last once he gets to business of actually governing.  Assuming that Obama's approvals only decline to the mid-50s by 2010 (which would be an outstanding result for him), the "save the filibuster" attack would hold considerable promise for a GOP that is only defending three seats in states that went for Obama by more than his national average (and only marginally so at that).

3) Obama had coattails -- We knew this before the election, but this gives us some idea as to the magnitude of how many people showed up just to vote for him.  I'd been skeptical that we'd really seen a permanent upward tick of black participation in the electorate, or that youth participation would remain as high going into 2010.  This lends some support to that theory.  For a fuller explanation, see Michael Barone's excellent breakdown of the November/December election results in Georgia.

4) The real test is Saturday -- On Saturday a Republican and Democrat will face off in the election for the Fourth Congressional district in Louisiana.  What makes this election somewhat useful is that this district has a similar partisan makeup to LA-06 and MS-01, two Republican districts that Democrats picked up in special elections earlier this year by running moderate-to-conservative Democrats.  While I will urge caution here because there are still important differences -- the Republican candidate is stronger than the Republican candidate in LA-06 and the Democrat is the urban candidate here (he was the rural candidate in MS-01) -- the fact that we have two relatively similar case studies of pre-Obama special elections to weigh against a post-Obama special election could allow us to draw some useful inferences here that we would not normally be able to draw from a special election result.

This should be a close race -- Democrats after all were winning open seats in the South with regularity before 2006/2008; see LA-05, LA-03, TN-04, etc.  But if Republicans win the Louisiana district by more than a couple of points, combined with the Chambliss result, we will begin to have some good evidence that the anti-Republican backlash of the last few years has really begun to subside.  Stay tuned.

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I don't think you can find anything from the South

If you can find the tide receeding, show it in the Midwest, the NorthEast, or the West.

As a partisan, I hope that Toomey wins the primary in PA. Be easy to defeat him, with Chris Matthews or someone else (I Hope someone else.)

It's possible that the filibuster, like earmarks may not have much of a hold on the electorate. But I'd have put odds on that supposition this year, and I wouldn't waste money on it for the midterm.

(also of note: the dems pushed hard for the IL and the other two seats, pr opportunities -- I don't see this with this one).

kind of unrelated but still important

Is there any push to update our voting systems? It seems like this is always something people whine about and then it is forgotten right after election day. The next two years would be a good time to get some basic standards in place, both to avoid another debacle like the Franken/Coleman race in the future, and more importantly, working on it now elimates what can appear as "voter suppression" when it's done 2 days before a major election.

Basic requirements for identification, access for poor people and those in remote areas, and updated voting ballots should all be priorities. Plus, voter registration efforts would help get Republicans out in front of groups that have abandoned them (minorities, young people) which would be a really good thing.

you make that push, and you find all the liberals beside you

me included ;-)

I want paper records of any electronic balloting.

I want a voting holiday -- let everyone get a day off of work, if you're going to have them wait in line for SIX hours.

I want every citizen issued a SINGLE voter registration. Track 'em every way we legally can -- driver's licenses, mailing addresses. Get everyone ready to go. I hate the whole "private industry" of voting registration. Too prone to stupidity, to cheating, even on behalf of good organizations, well run organizations like ACORN.

The Franken Coleman election is nearly as close as the one in Alaska, and the ones in Montana and Virginia last time were close too. Is there any way that we can standardize this election stuff? The challenges make my poor head hurt...

Just avoid anything too onerous about the whole identification thing -- the driver's license thing is a BAD idea, unless you want to give them out for free.

I do think that Republicans in office will think this a poor strategic move, as it benefits them to keep the poor and uneducated and young from voting -- as they're mainly democratic.


im not just talking about new registrations, but that process nees clarity as well. I'm talking about voting machines and updating old registrations when you move...everything. My mom says the ballots in florida are a joke...did you see the "challenged" ballots in the Franken vote? Absolute madness.

I don't think we need free driver's licenses, I think the campaigns should pay for them. I'm not for a voting holiday, but more polling places would help. And electronic voting machines with paper confirmations speed things up. In NC we have the most simple electronic machines...and at the end you go through and verify all of your choices. Make the campaigns pay for those too ;-)

having campaigns pay for drivers licenses

stinks of vote buying. But yeah, we really need to fix all of this. I like the idea of early voting... I think not having a voting holiday creates problems for a lot of workers, who can be called on to work overtime, and so might have problems voting. Meh. we could just have a vote by mail system like they do out west. seems to work well for them.

I'm jealous of you in NC. In PA we're still using ones without paper confirmations. very irritating.

Very good comments

I agree with you and Rising Tide, but would also echo Tide's comments that you probably aren't likely to find much support in the GOP for the idea.  Just curious:  how is Coleman-Franken a debacle?  It's just close, isn't it?  A manual recount is time-consuming but I don't see how an election simply that close is a debacle.

i think the GOP would like more standardized procedures

And better voting systems. We should demand better from both parties. An organization like ACORN shouldn't have to exist, and I think getting to that point is something the GOP would get on board with.

I think it's a debacle because they go back and forth challenging the "intent" of a voter, and deciding if ballots "count". Clearly people haven't figured out if you have to circle someone's name or fill in a box, and the fact that votes are randomly "lost" and then "found" is pretty sad in the 21st century.

Thanks for clarifying

Now I understand what you meant and would agree. I would also agree that standardized electronic systems with receipts would be an improvement or perhaps a system like Oregon's, which I understand is completedly conducted by mail.  Although I think organizations like ACORN do a public service in the current system I wouldn't mind seeing the current system replaced with something less vulnerable to monkey business -- I don't think ACORN was involved in voter fraud but why should any organization be paying people for submitting garbage registrations?  Just a waste of money and time.

acorn tries to not pay them.

they're actually well run. but if you hire five hundred people, there will be one bad apple, and you need to take a day or two to get rid of him.

I would love to see a full Netroots/Rightroots push for a better voting system.

Please dear God, give the nomination to Matthews.

As a partisan, I hope that Toomey wins the primary in PA. Be easy to defeat him, with Chris Matthews or someone else (I Hope someone else.)

As a partisan, I hope Toomey does win and I hope the Dems are stupid enough to put up that gasbag Matthews. I would gladly donate wads of money to watch Chrissy-poo -- thrills up his leg and all -- go down in a stunning, burning blaze of thrills-up-my-leg glory. Maybe he will go back to the bottle after his monumental defeat?

to doff my partisan hat for a moment...

Specter's approval ratings are below 50%. and you want someone who is less well known? In Pennsylvania???

Matthews "I've heard of him" rating might actually help him in this dagnasted state! They did elect Casey, after all. Probably thought they were voting for his father too.

I should thank my lucky stars that I don't live in Alaska or WV or AR, but... good gollee, does PA have to suck so bad?

Specter's Approvals

Are above 60% in Quinnipiac.


my bad. so at least a third of people who approve

of him don't want to be on record as saying they'll vote for him? man -- is this another chaffee moment?

So it's Jindal v. Obama down here?

Let's hope this guy wins so that it won't look bad for Bobby; Obama cut an ad for the dem, but no robocalls or field staff while Jindal offered a public endorsement but no campaigning.


Republicans are obviously in relatively high spirits after the thumpin' of incumbent Jim Martin in Tuesday's special elections.

Jim Martin was not the incumbent...

McCain will end up with 60 million votes

or close to it, the third most votes of all-time.  So when people talk about writing our party's obituary, keep in mind that 60 million people chose McCain/Palin on November 4th.  This easily could have been one of those 75 million/55 million elections given that Bush has a favorable rating of around 15%.

lots of ways to spin the numbers

but 60mm wasn't enough to win, and the demographics the GOP relied on (people who have voted republican their entire life/people that make between 100k and 250k) are dwindling. Plus the party is "split"/going through identity issued and is going to have to find a delicate balance to please all members.

The biggest problem is that half of the GOP refuses to acknowledge there is a problem; they really believe it this election was just a one-off event. They need to step back, take a look at how non-hardcore republicans view the GOP, and work from there.


After the 2004 election, the storyline was about how the American people had voted in back-to-back GOP Congresses and Presidencies for the first time since the 1920s, Democrats had become a party relegated to coastal redoubts, incapable of competing in the heartland, losing their grip on Hispanics, losing the New Deal generation through attrition (their only strong generational adherents), and had lost 97 of the fastest 100 growing counties.  This isn't to say that 2008 was a good thing, but it isn't as "end of the world" as people make it out to be.

Is the bailout an issue down there?

I believe GM has a large truck plant in Shreveport

Of course

Of couse, that Saturday is one important factor determining the election result.