Election Message: The Progressive Base Needs a Jolt

Bill Scher

What do last night’s election results tell us about the electorate? Some numbers from New Jersey, Virginia and Maine.

In 2008, Sen. John McCain lost the presidential race in NJ after garnering 1,613,207 votes. In 2009, Chris Christie won the governor’s race with 1,140,134 votes. (Barack Obama had 2,215,422 votes while Gov. Jon Corzine received only 1,038,170.)

In 2008, McCain lost VA after getting 1,725,005 votes. In 2009, Robert McDonnell won the governor’s race with 1,159,003 votes. (Barack Obama got 1,959,532 while Creigh Deeds got a mere 815,350.)

In 2008, McCain lost ME after earning 295,273 votes. In 2009, Maine’s gay marriage law was repealed with 292,667 votes. (Barack Obama won Maine with 421,923 votes, but gay rights forces only could get 260,537 to the polls.)

It’s not unusual at all for elections in non-presidential years to attract lower voter turnout. And lower turnout elections reward motivated bases. Right now, conservatives are more motivated than liberals.

Of course, local matters loomed very large in the NJ and VA races.

Most incumbent executives — Republican and Democratic — are feeling heat because the recession depletes tax revenue, forcing governors and mayors to either raise taxes, cut services or both. This rarely breeds popularity, and doomed Gov. Corzine.

In Virginia, the Republican stressed job creation. The moderate Democrat struggled to deliver a consistent message on economic matters and tried to discredit his rival on social issues. In a recession, that didn’t fly. (Nor did it when conservatives forced out a Republican with a liberal record on social issues in the upstate New York congressional race.)

But the above numbers are so striking. It’s clear that the big turnout which sent Obama to the White House with a progressive mandate was not stirred yesterday.

While conservatives are amped up to defeat what they see as a socialist government takeover of everything, liberals are conflicted about the compromises being considered to get anything passed by a Senate supermajority and a ideologically diverse Democratic caucus.

As I noted yesterday, the latest CNN poll still shows America is a center-left nation, with 58% of the public seeing the President’s programs are either “just about right” ideologically or “not liberal enough.”

No one in Congress should view last night’s results are reason to delay and dilute health care and energy reform legislation any further. On the contrary, it is a clear signal that the progressive base needs a jolt. The antidote is swift, bold legislative action.

For additional election thoughts, check out Digby.

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