Sabtu, 25 Juni 2011

The failure of the electability argument

The failure of the electability argument

In the political battle of head versus heart, it's not even close this election cycle.
Candidate after candidate -- from Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson to Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter -- have watched as their appeals to electability (head) have been drubbed by their opponents' emphasis on core party principles (heart).
Two more candidates on the primary ballot tomorrow are trying to change that trend line, making the case that only by nominating them can their party hope to win in November.
Nevada businessman Danny Tarkanian sent out a series -- not kidding, a series -- of releases over the weekend touting the fact that he was leading Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) 46 percent to 39 percent in a hypothetical general election matchup.
"I'm pleased that I am finishing this race as Republicans' best hope to defeat Harry Reid," said Tarkanian.
Left unsaid? The fact that the same poll showed Tarkanian, whose father, Jerry, is the legendary coach of the UNLV basketball team, running well behind former state Assemblywoman Sharron Angle in advance of tomorrow's primary.
In California's Senate race, former Rep. Tom Campbell (R) has been making a similar electability appeal, noting that his moderate credentials and experience running statewide -- he was the losing GOP nominee for Senate in 1992 and 2000 -- make him the best choice to take on Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) this fall.
"Both of my two primary opponents lose to Senator Boxer -- one loses by six and the other by 10," Campbell said recently. "If we wish to replace Sen. Barbara Boxer -- and I surely do -- we've got to focus on this historic opportunity to do so."
Primary voters don't agree. In a Field poll released over the weekend, former Hewlett Packard executive Carly Fiorina led Campbell 37 percent to 22 percent with conservative state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore clocking in with 19 percent.
Unless something major changes in the final 24 hours of the campaigns in Nevada and California, it's a near-certainty that Tarkanian and Campbell will add their names to the list of candidates who relied on electability and lost.
The failure of the electability argument is based on two major factors: one race-specific and one national in scope.
When analyzing any of the races mentioned above, it is/was not entirely clear cut as to which candidate would give the party the best chance of winning in the fall.
In the final days of the race, Specter cherry-picked data that suggested Rep. Joe Sestak (D) would be the weaker nominee against former Rep. Pat Toomey (R) but there was plenty of evidence -- polling and anecdotal -- that Sestak's profile was more appealing to an electorate sick of politics as usual in Washington.
Ditto the Nevada and California Senate races. Tarkanian and Campbell may be running slightly stronger than their Republican primary opponents in the majority of general election polling data but the margins are far from conclusive and it's a long way between now and November.
Viewed more broadly, the "head appeal" being attempted by Tarkanian and Campbell runs directly counter to the general attitude -- read: angry -- that most voters are feeling toward government right now.
Grayson's massive defeat at the hands of ophthalmologist Rand Paul in last month's Kentucky primary was directly attributable to the fact that Paul ran as the candidate of the tea party movement while Grayson tried to run as a quasi-incumbent -- making the case subtly (and not so subtly) that nominating Paul put the seat in danger in the fall.
Voters are not in a compromising mood; they want intensity and anger from their politicians, not a strategic vote calculation about the best way to win in the fall.
While the heart versus head argument is even more lopsided in heart's favor in this deeply anti-Washington political climate, a recent history of primaries suggests the mismatch has been in place for a while.
The most notable example of that trend came in 2008 when then New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) made the case that nominating Barack Obama represented a major risk for the Democratic party. (Remember the 3 am ad?)
Democratic primary voters ultimately rejected that message, making Obama the nominee and eventually the president.
The only time in recent memory -- or at least in the Fix's memory -- where the "head" argument won out was in the 2004 Democratic presidential contest where Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry successfully argued that then Vermont Gov. Howard Dean was too much of an unknown commodity to nominate. (Dean helped make that case himself when, following his defeat in the Iowa caucuses, he let out the infamous stream of states he was planning to win followed by, yes, "the Scream".)
Primary voters are, by and large, not terribly strategic in their voting. They vote for the person they think best captures their own ideological beliefs, not the candidate they think can win. That sentiment is even more clear in an election cycle like this one where putting politics above principle is anathema.

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Sabtu, 25 Juni 2011

The failure of the electability argument

The failure of the electability argument

In the political battle of head versus heart, it's not even close this election cycle.
Candidate after candidate -- from Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson to Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter -- have watched as their appeals to electability (head) have been drubbed by their opponents' emphasis on core party principles (heart).
Two more candidates on the primary ballot tomorrow are trying to change that trend line, making the case that only by nominating them can their party hope to win in November.
Nevada businessman Danny Tarkanian sent out a series -- not kidding, a series -- of releases over the weekend touting the fact that he was leading Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) 46 percent to 39 percent in a hypothetical general election matchup.
"I'm pleased that I am finishing this race as Republicans' best hope to defeat Harry Reid," said Tarkanian.
Left unsaid? The fact that the same poll showed Tarkanian, whose father, Jerry, is the legendary coach of the UNLV basketball team, running well behind former state Assemblywoman Sharron Angle in advance of tomorrow's primary.
In California's Senate race, former Rep. Tom Campbell (R) has been making a similar electability appeal, noting that his moderate credentials and experience running statewide -- he was the losing GOP nominee for Senate in 1992 and 2000 -- make him the best choice to take on Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) this fall.
"Both of my two primary opponents lose to Senator Boxer -- one loses by six and the other by 10," Campbell said recently. "If we wish to replace Sen. Barbara Boxer -- and I surely do -- we've got to focus on this historic opportunity to do so."
Primary voters don't agree. In a Field poll released over the weekend, former Hewlett Packard executive Carly Fiorina led Campbell 37 percent to 22 percent with conservative state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore clocking in with 19 percent.
Unless something major changes in the final 24 hours of the campaigns in Nevada and California, it's a near-certainty that Tarkanian and Campbell will add their names to the list of candidates who relied on electability and lost.
The failure of the electability argument is based on two major factors: one race-specific and one national in scope.
When analyzing any of the races mentioned above, it is/was not entirely clear cut as to which candidate would give the party the best chance of winning in the fall.
In the final days of the race, Specter cherry-picked data that suggested Rep. Joe Sestak (D) would be the weaker nominee against former Rep. Pat Toomey (R) but there was plenty of evidence -- polling and anecdotal -- that Sestak's profile was more appealing to an electorate sick of politics as usual in Washington.
Ditto the Nevada and California Senate races. Tarkanian and Campbell may be running slightly stronger than their Republican primary opponents in the majority of general election polling data but the margins are far from conclusive and it's a long way between now and November.
Viewed more broadly, the "head appeal" being attempted by Tarkanian and Campbell runs directly counter to the general attitude -- read: angry -- that most voters are feeling toward government right now.
Grayson's massive defeat at the hands of ophthalmologist Rand Paul in last month's Kentucky primary was directly attributable to the fact that Paul ran as the candidate of the tea party movement while Grayson tried to run as a quasi-incumbent -- making the case subtly (and not so subtly) that nominating Paul put the seat in danger in the fall.
Voters are not in a compromising mood; they want intensity and anger from their politicians, not a strategic vote calculation about the best way to win in the fall.
While the heart versus head argument is even more lopsided in heart's favor in this deeply anti-Washington political climate, a recent history of primaries suggests the mismatch has been in place for a while.
The most notable example of that trend came in 2008 when then New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) made the case that nominating Barack Obama represented a major risk for the Democratic party. (Remember the 3 am ad?)
Democratic primary voters ultimately rejected that message, making Obama the nominee and eventually the president.
The only time in recent memory -- or at least in the Fix's memory -- where the "head" argument won out was in the 2004 Democratic presidential contest where Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry successfully argued that then Vermont Gov. Howard Dean was too much of an unknown commodity to nominate. (Dean helped make that case himself when, following his defeat in the Iowa caucuses, he let out the infamous stream of states he was planning to win followed by, yes, "the Scream".)
Primary voters are, by and large, not terribly strategic in their voting. They vote for the person they think best captures their own ideological beliefs, not the candidate they think can win. That sentiment is even more clear in an election cycle like this one where putting politics above principle is anathema.

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