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Kevin Buck: Random and rambling ruminations

Democratic Voices

Posted: June 21, 2010 8:11 p.m.
Updated: June 22, 2010 4:55 a.m.

The primary season is behind us now, and the battle lines for the November elections have been drawn. Republicans in charge of the Senate and House campaigns are now quietly backing away from predictions of taking back Senate and House majorities. Clearly it is still a noble goal, but the events of the past couple of months have made it an increasingly unrealistic one.

The anti-incumbent mood of the electorate includes Republican incumbents as well as Democrats. This alone evens the playing field. Then there is the phenomenon of voters disliking all politicians, except their own. Congress has a 90 percent reelection rate and the recent primaries confirm this. Incumbents in both parties fared well.

We are five months out from the general election, and things are not looking so bleak for the Democrats anymore.

That bit of optimism aside, Democrats need to prepare themselves for some losses. It is a political given that the party in the White House loses seats in Congress in mid-term elections. However, Republican hopes for a 1994 sweep back into power have been dampened.

There are several reasons for this: A Democratic edge in fundraising, Michael Steele, better messaging discipline (and a better message) and a keen awareness of the 1994 political debacle.

However, I believe the main reason the Democrats will hold their majorities in November is the tea party political phenomenon.

I am pleased with the tea parties for many reasons and on many levels. Anything that gets citizens more involved in the political system — left, right or center — is a good thing. I know from personal experience that gathering with like-minded fellow travelers to shake your fist at entrenched power is not only great fun, it is cathartic as well.

I also know that politicians merely pay lip service to grassroots movements and then they turn around do whatever benefits them the most. For all their sound and fury, there is not much of a chance of the tea party gaining any significant political power, just as there was no real chance of anti-war hippies and the radical left gaining power in the ’60s and ’70s.

The center rules American politics. Radicals on the left and right make good copy and great visuals for the media, and professional politicians use them in a variety of ways, but in the end they will be ignored and business as usual will proceed — arrogant and unfettered. 

One of the best Republican Senate pick-up opportunities this election cycle was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s seat in Nevada. Most pollsters and pundits had already written his political obituary until the tea party’s candidate, Sharon Angle, defeated the mainstream Republicans’ first choice, Susan Lowden. Angle brings so much crazy to the game that, except for Fox News and right-wing radio, she will not, or has been advised not to speak with any other media. This race has been put firmly back into the Democratic column.

The Rand Paul experience with the media, after his surprise win in the Kentucky primary, taught the National Republican Senatorial Committee that you cannot let the “lamestream” media interview their tea party candidates. In one interview, Dr. Paul put Kentucky back in play.

Mark Rubio in Florida is another example of putting a sure Republican Senate seat up for grabs. With tea party backing, he ran popular Republican governor — and sure winner — Charlie Crist out of the race and out of the party. Running now as an independent, Crist is now polling ahead of both Rubio and the Democratic candidate.

So we are seeing tea party candidates who appeal to the very conservative wing of the Republican Party, enough so to win primaries, but who have no way to garner the support of the mushy center where general elections are won and lost.

The other scenario in play is that of tea party candidates running as independents, because they do not believe the Republican candidate in the race is sufficiently pure. The main result of this is the conservative votes are split, giving any Democratic candidate a chance they may not otherwise have had.

The political pendulum is never static; the only variable is how large the swings are. There was a massive swing to the right in 1994. In 2006 and 2008, it came back to the left.

After the votes are counted in 2010, the pendulum will inch to the right, but leave the Democrats in power. I can live with that.

Kevin Buck is a Santa Clarita resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Democratic Voices” runs Tuesday in The Signal and rotates among several SCV Democrats.


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