Local politics is national?

I don't often agree with Inquirer columnist Tom Ferrick. But I think he's at least partially right in his latest column which predicts a seismic change in the electorate this fall.

We are listening for tectonic plate movement among the electorate, one of those rare seismic events that result in great change.

We have evidence it may be occurring, caused by discontent among the voters. Mostly, it's the Iraq thing. It also may be a George Bush thing.

But the question before us is: Will it translate on Election Day into an anti-Republican thing, buffeting the ruling party, swallowing incumbents up whole?

That is the fear among Republicans. That is the hope among Democrats. Will it come to pass?

Ferrick thinks the Republicans will lose because of Iraq. He also discusses the "bellwether" Rick Santorum race -- a race he sees Santorum as destined to lose:
No, the bellwether is not Rendell vs. Swann. It is Santorum vs. Casey.

The incumbent junior U.S. senator has two problems.

One of them is Rick Santorum - his record, his baggage, his red-meat conservatism in a blue state.

Santorum is working hard on this problem. His opening salvo is about $5 million in TV advertising run over the summer months to add some pastel touches to his hard image.

(I've seen his ads, as a matter of fact, and I haven't had to look that hard.)

According to Ferrick, the ad campaign is working:

It has had the desired effect. It has made his numbers move. He went from a double-digit deficit to a single-digit deficit in most public polls.

His problem is, as one commissioner put it, "The race is still all about him. It is currently - and will be all about him."

Add to this the potential of anti-Bush, anti-Republican, anti-incumbent tectonic plate movement.

Is the combination - if it comes together on Nov. 7 - enough to take Santorum under, even with his $20 million-plus campaign?

It sure is. Several commissioners think Santorum's goose is cooked.

"Everything I know about elections tells me he loses," said one commissioner. "If he wins, the guy should run for president because he's found the secret to winning in a blue state."

If the election were held right now, I think the Republicans would lose. The problem with that kind of analysis is that elections never seem to be held when the "right now" phrase is uttered.

It's tough to predict the election results, but if the traditionally Republican suburbs of Philadelphia are any indication, I'd say they're in trouble.

Whether that's a national analysis, I don't know. Is Pennsylvania "national"? Considering that three of the closely watched races in which Republican congressmen are being targeted for their seats are right here, maybe it is national. Veteran Inquirer reporter Larry Eichel reminded the Inquirer readers recently that local is national:

At this point, you might not know that three of the most competitive House races in the country are taking place in the Philadelphia suburbs.

But you will come October, assuming you watch television.

The national parties' campaign organizations have reserved an astonishing $16.1 million worth of commercial time on Philadelphia's television stations in the month leading up to the election on Nov. 7.

That doesn't include ads funded by the candidates themselves or various interest groups.

The National Republican Campaign Committee has booked about $8.4 million, according to the public files at the stations, for Reps. Curt Weldon, Michael Fitzpatrick and Jim Gerlach.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is in for $7.7 million on behalf of the challengers: Joe Sestak, Patrick Murphy and Lois Murphy.

"There's an amazing amount of money," said local political consultant Doc Sweitzer, who is advising Sestak. "But the stakes are high, and there's no presidential election."

The Democrats are considered to have such a good chance of unseating these three Republicans that they "would spend more money here than anywhere else":
The reason why so much is slated to be spent here is no secret. Strategists from both parties think the Democrats have a chance to win the House for the first time since 1994. And around the country, there aren't that many districts that appear competitive and thus worthy of investment.

Nationally, the DCCC has set aside $51.5 million for television in 32 districts, according to the Hill, a Washington newspaper that covers Congress. That report indicated that the Democrats would spend more here than anywhere else, not surprising given the high cost of advertising in the Philadelphia media market.

No estimates are available for the size of the Republicans' national television war chest.

Elsewhere, Eichel points out that all three are doing all they can to distance themselves from President Bush:
...all three are distancing themselves from the president, downplaying their GOP credentials, and stressing their independence from national party leaders.

On their campaign Web sites, the word independent pops up more often than Republican.

All point to what they consider a badge of honor in this campaign year: a low score on the party-loyalty rating compiled by Congressional Quarterly, which monitors the House and Senate.

This year's scorecard ranks Fitzpatrick as the third least loyal Republican among all 231 Republican House members, with Gerlach seventh and Weldon 14th. All three are more independent in their votes this year than in years past - some much more so. Gerlach, for example, voted the party line 82 percent in 2005, but just 66 percent this year.

Whether those ratings and the votes that produced them will help insulate the threesome from a seemingly disgruntled electorate remains to be seen.

As I've predicted before, I think that if the Republicans lose the House, a different kind of war will begin -- a war of blame.

As can be seen, the Democrats are saying it's all about Iraq, and if they retake the House, this argument is certain to get louder.

The right wing of the Republican Party has already staked out the position that it's all about...

Immigration!

Well, Santorum is running on an anti-immigration, border enforcement platform, and he's going out of his way to highlight his disagreement with Bush on that issue. As Larry Eichel points out, so is Congressman Gerlach.

What troubles me is that if Santorum and the Philly-area congressmen are unseated after campaigns based on a tough approach to immigration, how would that make immigration the issue? I mean, are there voters out there who will say they voted for Democrat Bill Casey because Santorum and the Republicans were too soft on immigration? I doubt it.

Which is not to say the issue is Iraq. But at least in Pennsylvania, I don't think it's immigration.

Nationally, says MSNBC's Tom Curry, both parties are running on immigration and Iraq:

Can both be right? Only if what's a winner in one district — a message of getting tough on illegal immigration, for instance — is a loser in another district.
So far, it doesn't appear that the voters are quite as worked up about immigration as they're supposed to be. In one early test, the Bush Republican defeated an anti-immigrant challenge from the right:
In an early test of the immigration issue, Rep. Chris Cannon, R- Utah easily won the Republican primary in his district Tuesday, fending off challenger John Jacob, who took a hard anti-illegal immigration stance and was backed by Team America, a political action committee created by Rep. Tom Tancredo, R- Colo., the most outspoken foe of illegal immigration in the House. It was a rebuff for Tancredo and a win for President Bush who had endorsed Cannon.
In Pennsylvania, Santorum is banking on opposition to illegal aliens. And the Democrats are chafing at the bit to predict that the stragegy will backfire:
Democratic pollsters and strategists say Republican efforts to use the immigration issue to win in November are doomed to failure.

Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg said voters aren’t as fired up about illegal immigration as Republicans think they are.

“From what I’ve seen in the national (survey) data, we have a very polarized debate in Congress and yet a pretty moderate electorate, even in states like Arizona,” Greenberg said.

Joe Garcia, the director of the Hispanic Strategy Center for the New Democrat Network, a group that identifies key issues and rallies Democratic voters, said of the Republicans’ election-year immigration push, “They’re about to engage in what will probably go down in history as one of the more nefarious acts of political expediency and baiting of a community that we will have seen in our lifetime.”

Clearly, there is a lot of anger over the immigration issue. But how would that explain the defeat of a conservative like Santorum?

As I've said before, I think the immigration laws should be enforced, and the border needs to be secured, but any consensus on issues such as building a fence has been rendered impossible -- because some people scream so loudly that they alienate the rest.

Like it or not, there is Iraq fatigue among a substantial percentage of the voters around here. Adding immigration fatigue to that does not strike me as a winning strategy.

But I could be wrong.

Not that it really matters what I think, but if I were asked to perform a political autopsy in advance of the Republicans' death, I'd probably point out that the right wing in Pennsylvania is not especially strong to begin with. They tried like hell in the Toomey campaign, but they couldn't manage to unseat moderate Arlen Specter in the primary. Sure, they can be counted on to vote for Rick Santorum. But consider the bulk of the mainstream voters in the barely Republican Philadelphia suburbs. They voted against Toomey, and had to be asked nicely to reelect Arlen Specter, which they did along with the rest of the state -- which Bush lost. (While it could certainly be argued that Pennsylvania Republicans are a bunch of RINOs, how will that help Santorum win?)

In the two years since that election, Bush has been vilified relentlessly as a a stupid, far-right, religious warrior who talks to God before sending troops to their death, etc.

And now the strategy is to run against him from the right? In Pennsylvania?

Sorry, but the math just plain doesn't work.

(Unless the goal is to lose.)

posted by Eric on 09.06.06 at 12:51 PM










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