Still crazy after all these years.

Notes from the political sidelines.
Nov. 10 2006 12:52 PM

Still Crazy After All These Years

The nuttiest congressional district in America keeps its reputation intact.

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But give Democrats credit. Apart from a foolish summer fling with Ned Lamont and a late Laugh-In cameo from John Kerry, Democrats did just about everything right and ran their best campaign in a decade. Field marshals Rahm Emanuel and Chuck Schumer ignored the virtual industry of self-help nonsense that has paralyzed Democrats' chattering classes and went back to a simple, proven formula: From the suburbs to the heartland, elections are won in the center.

Emanuel and Schumer went out of their way to recruit candidates that could put the party's best face forward in otherwise-hostile territory. Despite pressure from various interests, they refused to impose ideological litmus tests. The result? Democrats did the opposite of what Republicans have been doing (and what losing Democratic campaigns usually do). Instead of shrinking their tent, Democrats made their big tent a lot bigger.

Winners like Heath Shuler of North Carolina, Brad Ellsworth of Indiana, and Gabby Giffords of Arizona are straight out of centrist casting—candidates with broad appeal who have put Democrats back on the map in red districts that the party hasn't won in years. With mainstream Democratic candidates who weren't vulnerable on values and weren't afraid to hit back when attacked, Republican social issues were the wedge that didn't bite.

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Against Bob Casey, Rick Santorum spent more than $20 million to lose a swing state by almost 20 points. (Santorum did, however, get one of the biggest cheers of the night at the DCCC party—for his concession speech.)

In fact, the best news of the 2006 elections is the opportunity it gives Democrats to earn the lasting support of the independents and disgruntled Republicans whose votes just dropped in our laps. Tuesday was the death knell for Rovism—the quaint and now fully discredited theory that majorities are built not by expanding support with ideas that work but by mobilizing extreme minorities with ideas that aren't meant to be enacted and wouldn't work if they did.

Ever since watching Rove's success in 2002 and 2004, some on the left and in the blogosphere have been trying to persuade the Democratic Party to follow suit and develop our own smashmouth politics aimed less at persuasion and more at motivating our base. As Lamont discovered, that approach wins primaries—but as Joe Lieberman showed him, that's no match for pragmatic problem solving in a general election.

Today's elections, fought in territory where the Democratic Party needed to expand its reach, showed how many swing voters there are—enough to turn districts, states, and even entire houses of Congress. As Republicans found out the hard way, the elections also proved that parties can't count on any American's vote if they can't solve the country's problems. That's the most important lesson Democrats learned this year: It is better to beat Rove than to join him. ... 11:58 P.M. (link)

Webb Up Early in Virginia: Last Friday, the New York Times made one of the safer election predictions of this cycle. The article, "In Virginia, Women Make the Difference," went out on a limb to say, "This exceedingly tight contest, one of a handful that will determine control of the Senate, may be decided by how women vote." May be decided? Unless a million Virginia women stay home and let the men do all the work, how women vote seems likely to be, if not the deciding factor, at least one of the top two.

This just in:Slate has exclusive exit poll results from Virginia. A Democratic poll worker in northern Virginia emailed the numbers: "My early exit poll after doing visibility for Webb—14 middle fingers and 35 thumbs up." That means Webb is above 70 percent in northern Virginia, and winning among women, hands down.

The other early return from Virginia is less promising for Democrats. In his 2006 Crystal Ball predictions, famed University of Virginia pundit Larry Sabato is predicting that Democrat Larry Grant will defeat Republican Bill Sali in Idaho-1. Sabato makes clear that he's mainly gambling on the race for the thrill of beating history's long odds. But the fact that an Idaho Democrat is now favored to win a House seat suggests that expectations have gotten seriously out of hand. Grant's only hope is that it comes down to how women vote. Sali, the Republican, likes to tell women that breast cancer is their own fault. ... 2:29 P.M.

Worry Beads: Most of my Democratic friends planned their Election Day weeks ago: vote; knock on some doors; then spend the rest of the day worrying about electronic voting machines. Some went to the polls early so they could inspect the Diebold dragon firsthand; others voted absentee so they could free up an extra hour to worry about it.

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