Political experts reflect on election, predict what's next

11/04/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Democrats everywhere are experiencing a massive election hangover, one that’s especially painful in Florida. Now they’re picking up the pieces. Two key political analysts were in St. Petersburg teasing out the many things that made the election season that concluded Tuesday such a windfall for the GOP.

It’s a gloomy, drizzly day in Tampa Bay. In a St. Petersburg Yacht Club ballroom overlooking the city’s grey harbor, Audrey Greenberg says she’s feeling dejected.

"The mood of the country is depressing. Most of my friends are depressed about the leadership in our state because we don't feel like it represents us."

Few people in Tampa Bay watched the midterm elections as closely as St. Petersburg Times Political editor Adam Smith and USF political science professor Susan McManus. Today the two spoke about what quickly became an unusual election year at a Suncoast Tiger Bay Club event. McManus says the final nail in the coffin for Florida Democrats was voter turnout.

"Turnout was terrible for Democrats in urban areas. It was really high in the rural and suburban counties, particularly along I-4. Why? It comes down to two things; unemployment rates and foreclosures, and I'd add a third, predictably low turnout of young and minorities in mid-term elections."

Of course, a lot happened in the months leading up to Election Day. McManus says the season started out looking as though the tea party would split the GOP vote, but the opposite happened.

"The most problematic schism was clearly within the Democratic Party over the treatment of Kendrick Meek versus Charlie Crist. Whether it be donations or endorsements, etc."

Adam Smith says the big winner this year was the GOP’s strategy of keeping the message simple – and constructing a common enemy.

"...And it was ' I'm not Barack Obama, we're going to fight Barack Obama' and it worked. It was a national election and people are so fed up with the economy and they're blaming the party in charge, particularly Obama that they'll take it out even on people running in the state."

While that strategy may not be rocket science, it clearly didn’t grace the pages of the Democratic playbook. Tiger Bay Club member Audrey Greenberg, says the Obama administration had an opportunity to show what it has accomplished, but blew it.

"I think part of Obama's ...the disappointment with Obama is we thought 'Oh my gosh, here we've finally got a guy that can articulate and he can tell us what we need to hear and I don't think he spoke to the issues of what his administration did do. And the difficulties...I think he got a little bit bullied by having to answer so many of the things that were thrown at him from the right. Like health care."

Smith says some candidates, namely Democrats independent Charlie Crist did enjoy reprieve over the summer as the BP oil disaster dragged on by opposing offshore drilling. But due to a disaster with apparently more staying power, the BP catastrophe is out of sight, out of mind to many voters.

"I think the economy was so overriding everything that once the oil disaster was over it just wasn't a high priority."

So now that Election Day has come and gone, Democrats and progressives are bracing themselves for a wild ride. McMannus says the glum economy, paired with a short collective attention span, make for a busy political pendulum.

"I think we're in a period of American history of waves. We're going to have one of these elections after another until the economy resolves itself because people are impatient when it comes to economic recovery. And they're going to toss people out until they get it resolved."

Audrey Greenberg says she’s afraid of what an uber-Republican majority will mean for Florida.

"I don't know what type of leadership Rick Scott is going to exude. Certainly the House and Senate in Florida aren't known for their real progressive positions and I think it's going to just go nowhere."

Smith says he expects the same thing to happen in Washington, but there might be a silver lining for the President.

"I think it's going to be a total gridlock. And I think in a way, I'm not the first person to say this, Barack Obama got a break because now he's got at least a foil in the same way that Bill Clinton did."

He adds that, here in Florida, the next few years will sure be interesting for people in a certain line of work.

"Next year is going to be a phenomenal year for people in my business. The people who cover Tallahassee, we are looking at a uh...really the Republican party is going to be tested like it's never been tested before. The real challenge is going to be restraint."

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Democratic Shift

According to Rachel Maddow, the Progressive Caucus lost 4 of 80 members, the Blue Dog's lost 24 out of 53 members, and THAT is the real shift in Congressional power. The enthusiasm gap that cost so many seats had much to do with a normal mid-term drop in turnout, but it would have been less of a factor if the Obama administration hadn't done so much to deflate the enthusiasm of it's progressive base. Not prosecuting the crimes of the Bush administration let some air out of our balloon. Not pushing for a public option in the health care reform, telling the DOJ to fight the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, and to challenge the gay marriage reform in California and Massachusetts, leaving 50,000 troops in Iraq, etc. Attacking the 'professional left' as though we were the George McGovern Democrats of 1972. This is an informed demographic that needs to rely on principled victories, not compromised success. I was asked to make some phone calls. My friends didn't vote, and I didn't encourage them to vote, because they have retreated to the cynicism of "it's the same old thing." It wasn't supposed to be. One other thing. The youth vote preferred Democrats to the GOP by 16 percent. With only a 20 percent turnout, it wasn't enough to turn any tides, but without a genuine leadership how long is that advantage going to last? It is our task as older progressives to keep educating younger voters on the history of Repbulican abuses of power, but we need leaders who won't keep undermining our efforts. We need to point to standard bearers who can ignite our pride with their integrity, not with their defeatist efforts at political manuvering. That is the one thing Tea Party candidates bring to the table, even with their abysmal policies.

Pass the peas...

The other reason Republicans can get them to the table is… Republicans will say Grace then serve up some red meat and taters with salt and real butter on homemade buttermilk biscuits, washed down with a domestic beer….. buurrpp….. excuse me.